Rarely can you climb one route and feel completely satisfied. The curse of the addicted climber always rings true–just one more climb. Yesterday, one more climb was not necessary. My wife and I walked joyfully down the trail at dusk with not a tinge of regret at having done a mere two pitches on the cloudless and perfect, early spring Sunday afternoon. Arriving at the parking lot of the Southside of The Looking Glass at the crack of noon, we headed up to the familiar moderate area of classic flaring cracks and eyebrow face climbs. The Southside is a great place to get your bearings on the incredible granite of The Glass. The climbs are all fun classic cracks, like the quintessential finger-crack corner Rat’s Ass(5.8), the bomber jams of Bloody Crack(5.8), and the long slabby finger-crack The Zodiac(5.8+). On the way up the trail, my mind was undecided on what our prize should be today. My mental nemesis route called Windwalker(5.9), was the only route on the Southside we hadn’t done, so with a hesitant and loud sigh I agreed to have a look and possibly try it. I have looked at the route on numerous occasions, but the rumors sung in my head and created a surge of doubt and hesitation each time I thought of trying it. An old-school traditional climber once told me, “Yeah, it is pretty cerebral, but doable.” Famous last words I thought to myself. If this friend says its cerebral, what does that really mean? I climbed with him four times and never once saw an ounce of fear or hesitation from him, so what would I be in for on this journey? Run-outs between gear, sketchy protection, steep eyebrows, slabby crimping, balencey and technical moves–yes all of the above apply here. North Carolina standard fare. Old school 5.9, bold and brilliant. I should have known by the name Windwalker, that it would be good. The name conjures up images of a wise shaman who travels the desert with the shifting winds, always seeking answers, always moving and learning. This climb today calls on these same skills of mental and physical clarity of purpose.
Eyebrows are a curious horizontal crack feature in climbing and look like an eyebrow from a distance(see photos). It takes a few times to get use to climbing on them, but when you master the mantel, high-step, palm, crimp and balance routine, you have got it made. Eyebrows love to eat up small Metolius or Alien cams and Lowe Tri-cams are indispensable(these are names of particular climbing protection pieces). But eyebrow climbing is very heady and run-out between pieces of protection. A climber routinely has to make three or four moves to a promising eyebrow only to be denied protection. They are then forced to climb a few more feet to the next horizontal, which must have pro, you hope. Windwalker is the same game of hit and miss protection, but enough is there to make your heart and mind shout joys of thanks each time you click your rope to the carabiner. The clicking sound is one of relief and relaxation, where torments of anguish are temporarily eased, and the mind can focus again on the next few feet and the next few moves. To succeed on Windwalker, one must be like the shaman, seeking, searching, moving. From the opening moves out of a shallow corner onto the arete and face, the route starts dishing out the business. Rounded crimps and shallow eyebrows challenge the mind and yet to the faithful, yield the right of way and offer passage. A blend of fear, balancing acts on semi-stances, and faith brings one to the final bulge that has good horizontal crack jams and underclings. High step on the slab, and you are free again and then a perfect horizontal eyebrow belay calls out ten feet below the nice 5.5 corner of pitch two. This cerebral pitch was one of my favorites on the Southside. It has been a breakthrough pitch for me and helped me develop the tenacity to go with the moment and persevere. Afterall, climbing is a lot about keeping going and seeking adventure. As the late Derek Hersey said, “Having a look around the corner.” When we can go forward in the face of the unknown, seeking answers in our physical craft, answers that ease the wandering, restless spirit within, then we can find great joy and peace in these moments. We can know that life can sometimes bring one closer to truth and closer to finding ultimate realities. Not bad for an old-school 5.9 eyebrow climb, eh? Any questions?
(Written March 6, 2006)