An amazing end to a rock season that should not have been

As usual, I am writing about a previous trip/experience as I am preparing for the next one…

I could not have asked for a better route or partner to put a cap on a rock season that really was not supposed to happen. To go from this summer’s near-death sepsis, stays in and out of the hospital due to SCI-related issues, and on-going health stuff all throughout the Fall, to climbing Cloud Tower (5.11d/12a) last Tuesday was truly amazing. The route is described as “[o]ne of the best long free climbs of its grade in the country…If you climb at this level, you will not have lead [sic] a full life without experiencing The Cloud Tower!” (Source: Mountain Project which, like all things on the internet, is the truth). Now Eben and I can say we have led a full life :)

The two long starting 5.8 pitches of Cloud Tower are a good way to get warmed up. They were not trivial in the cold though. I know I certainly was shivering a great deal and having difficulty feeling my fingers, due to the low temperatures and north-facing aspect of the climb.

The start of Cloud Tower.

Eben getting us off to the right start on Cloud Tower.

The third pitch consists of a perfect hand-sized crack, which I really wish was much much longer.

Eben following on pitch 3, the perfect hands pitch.

Eben following on pitch 3, the perfect hands pitch.

The crux pitch is 11d sustained tips. It was quite hard!

That manky quarter inch bolt was very reassuring...:-/

That manky quarter inch bolt was very reassuring…:-/

What makes the route great is not a single pitch, but the combination of the pitches; the route really has it all. Some nice easy pitches to wake you up, perfect hands, sustained tips, wider hands/fist/off-fist (my nemesis), a cool chimney and tunnel through into a whole other world, and then a killer final pitch. The contrast between the dark, lichen covered north facing wall to a face that looks straight out of Indian creek was very striking.

The cool tunnel through in pitch 6. People much larger than myself would have some difficulty fitting through.

The cool tunnel through in pitch 6. People much larger than myself would have some difficulty fitting through.

When you emerge from the tunnel through, you are greeted with this view and pitch. Magical.


View from the small ledge at the bottom of the final pitch 7.

The other side of the tunnel through. Magical.

Looking up at the final pitch.

And, of course, an obligatory selfie at the top of the route. Can you tell how stoked Eben is even after our beat down? I didn’t think so. The flash on the camera must have been on because it was close to dark by then.


We could have done without all the ropes getting stuck on the way down, and frigid north facing climbing. If someone could just rotate the canyon 90 degrees, and make sure the weather on all my climbing trips is warm, that would be greeeeaaat (Bill Lumbergh Office Space voice).

Sure, there have been the epics pre-accident, but the combination of the taxing approach on my post-accident body, the hard crux pitches, the rather crappy rope-eating descent and reverse approach, made it one of the most challenging and rewarding climbing experiences I have had. The approach is supposed to take a little over an hour…it took me 1 hr 40 min (there was a little bit of wandering around but not much), and the reverse approach was not much easier because of the loose, sandy shit I struggle on. I know for most people that is not a very long approach, but for me it was. Eben was a total chief for carrying the entire, sizable rack, leading the crux pitch, and navigating us back to the car in the dark.

I was able to make my flight out of Las Vegas that evening and not have to wear the same climbing clothing for the plane ride back to Boston. I was pretty wrecked from the long day but it was totally worth all the aches and pain, because doing Cloud Tower was a big deal to me. Knowing that I have it in me to get to the base of and do routes like this – decently long approach and pretty hard grade – makes me excited about the future possibilities I previously thought were now closed.

I am flying to Hong Kong tomorrow to spend about ten days with family. I always have a great deal of anxiety about the long flight (~20 hours). The long periods of sitting and confined space wreak havoc on my back and neuropathy in the left leg, so I am really hoping the pain can be managed all right in Hong Kong (and back here when I return).

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