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The Free Salathe 7/3-4/03

By Jim Herson

If this was some interminable Tolstoy drival I'd have to wax ad nauseum on the agony of the unattainable. And then once the airhead aristocrat finally takes note of our sniveling little heroine, I'd have to wallow in self-pity on the disappointment of the mundane. But this isn't and unlike love, rock never disappoints. While indeed the fun was in the chase, actually redpointing the Free Salathe wasn't, in fact, all that unpleasant.

Ashok's keen insight into parenting -- that parenting doesn't teach you patience, it teaches you submission -- is even more remarkable considering that he wasn't present last week when I begged Hans to drag me up the Salathe. Hans, a daddy of two, easily submitted after I went on and on about Anne's imminent labor and the simultaneous posting of my gear on E-Bay. Hans, whose big hearted generosity is his greatest weakness, thankfully agreed to give me one last shot at the big stone before I was put out to pasture. One complicating factor: Jacqueline had just soloed their newborn, Pierce, and adorable 2yr, Marianna, for the last 5 days and so even though he had no right to ask for another 2 days off he did and Jacqueline came through big time! Sure Jacqueline has soloed not only The Nose but also Lurking Fear in a fierce storm, but this was pushing the envelope. Go Jacki!!

A slight problem: the forecast. Redpointing the Salathe for me isn't worth even attempting in temperatures over 80 degrees. The forecast was for 88. So I mentioned to Hans that we needed to beat the sun to the Teflon Corner (P24). Problem solved.

It was the typical late drive up, lousy sleep, up at 3:30am only with a strange twist of not burning the first two hours of daylight on breakfast. Starting by headlamp I was quickly reminded that this could be the year for new headlamp batteries when I took a ridiculous fall on P3. Doh! Regrouping Hans got us to the top of the Ear in 3+ hrs. Here we came to a fork in the stone, one well travelled with success assured. We took the one first freed. At a time of day when my mental and physical abilities are normally maxed operating the coffee grinder, I was facing the technical crux of the Salathe, P19. Fortunately this first hurdle was cleared and soon after we hit the Teflon Corner in the shade -- an unheard of luxury! -- and the second hurdle was also thankfully cleared. That is thankfully it was dry! We noted the claw marks left three weeks ago when, gripped out of my wits, I slipped on wet mossy slime and almost went for quite the ride.

Without pushing it Hans had us to the base of the Headwall in 9hr 20min with only one pitch climbed in the sun! We could have easily cut that time if I hadn't welded in all my placements, encouraged Hans to sample the outstanding Teflon Corner, and sent Hans scavenger hunting on the nearby Excalibur. Perhaps I should explain the Excalibur detour.

I pride myself on having patented the perfect Salathe rack. For the wide bits we pack 2x #2 and one #3 Camalot, all for the corner pitch leading upto the roof, P29. Leading this corner messes with my mind as there's a bunch of way dicy fixed mank, probably original equipment. The #2s and #3 are my security blanket. Just recently one of the fixed pieces broke. A #2 Camalot might protect there so I agonized all night about packing an extra #2 but of course forgot. So it was a bit disconcerting when on the Spire I dropped a #2 camalot. Whoopsie.

"Uh, Hans, I kind of dropped the #2. Would you mind lowering all the way down Excalibur [which is under the Spire] and have a look-see?"

Hans came up with a lot of ancient gear but no #2. I was ready to punt as I didn't think I could lead the corner without it but Hans assured me I could with the bomber #3. So it was then quite a shame to arrive high on the corner pitch ready to slam in the bomber #3:

"Uh, Hans, any idea where the #3 might be?"
"Yeah, it's on my harness."
"I see. Any chance of you keeping this between us?"
"OK, watch me!!"

Boy do I feel like bozo having lugged around these boat anchors for years! Turns out the Salathe goes free on a #2 Camalot.

At the lip the shade gig was over. While we waited for the direct sun to move off the opening flare moves we did the typical big wall thing while dangling over a 2500' abyss: I called Anne to see if she was in labor (she wasn't) and Hans called to schedule a vasectomy. Actually Hans had to call back to get the appointment nurse and Anne lied.

OK Anne doesn't lie. I had asked if she was in labor. She said "No". Now had I asked "Hi Honey, have you had any bleeding and did you just spend the morning connected to a fetal stress monitor" she would have said "yes". But not wanting to let a little uterine hemorrhaging ruin a good redpoint she never elaborated. What a woman!

We spent a long time at the lip contemplating strategies. Originally the Salathe Headwall went free in three pitches (5.13a, 5.13a, 5.13b). Typically these days it's done as two pitches (5.13b, 5.13b) and ideally it should be done as one monster pitch! It's only been linked this way once, by Yuji. It has always been my dream to link it in one and I once even came close to doing it. I've always wanted to try it again but couldn't afford another six months to de-pump. I've redpointed it as two pitches a good half dozen times but today I was desperate and couldn't risk it. Time had expired, the buzzer went off, and I was chucking one from mid court, style be damned. (Besides I had already eliminated one intermediate belay on P19.) I was willing to chop it into the original three pitches. (There is a common misconception that Skinner and Piana added this first belay station on their historic first free ascent. They didn't.) One tempting alternative we considered was to chop it in three and go for a 12hr Salathe-Free-in-Half-a-Day ascent. But after much soul searching and encouragement from Hans I decided to give it a go as two pitches and if I fell to rap back down in the morning and finish it as three. Talk about abusing your partner's good will!

We hung out a while longer. Hans played on the corner and roof pitches remarking something to the effect of

"Gosh, I really wish I hadn't spent all that time on the Nose when the Salathe is just so excellent!"

Then at 4:00 I took off and although there was a cool breeze it was still a grippy 93 degrees on the Valley floor. I never stood a chance. The locks weren't horrible but they were sweaty and eventually I slimed off up high where the business begins.

We aided off and for the first time in a week I enjoyed a full night's sleep which was worth the trip alone! After a very slow start we rapped back in and I had an awful TR warm-up on the Headwall. Now I was depressed. I came all this way, stacking the deck with Hansy, and I didn't have the guns to finish. Hans was not impressed with my whining. Eventually we rapped down to the first anchors and this time in perfect temperatures and in the shade the Enduro hurdle was cleared.

The last Headwall thankfully plays to my strengths -- excruciating finger locks. The first 20' to the alcove went well despite constant flash backs to a previous attempt when I zippered this pitch. Now I was sitting in the alcove 15' below Long Ledge with one final 13b boulder problem left. And then an epiphany came to me in the form of the little sweet nothing Anne had whispered in my ear as I was heading out:


A rigorous Clintonian parsing could find very little wiggle room in that one and so as cowards of my gender are apt to do I clamped down and eight moves later the dream was realized!!!



Unfortunately I can't say how long the Salathe buzz lasted. 90 hours later the buzz was eclipsed when Anne delivered a magnificent baby boy!!

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