Canyon Tales
Shimrock the Hard Way
by Rob Heineman

RAM   •   “I remember when Ryan Hull, all 6’4” and 250 pounds of him ...”


Well, Ram, now ya got me wonderin’ . . .

When Tom took me ‘through’ Middle Leprechaun this weekend, he assured me I was just the second largest person to do it. And while Ryan seems to have a couple inches in height on me, your numbers would seem to indicate that my superior beer belly and greater heft would make me larger in the one dimension that seems to matter in this shamefully cruel, discriminatory, micro slot.

Yes, Tom Jones, weighing in at a trim 180, known as ‘he of little weight, sense, or mercy,’ led the way. Paul Schmidt, a more reasonable 190 pounds, had his moments in his trip through his first tight slot. And me? Well, let’s just say I brought our average group weight up to 210. And I did go through some of the wider spots. The rest of the grim ordeal one could think of me more as the high altitude reconnaissance unit.

The night before, I was restless and apprehensive. Our camp was comfy, plenty of beer, but the trek to the base of Sandtrax only confirmed that I should have set up the groover before our little jaunt. Stark, incapacitating fear. I’m the guy who gets claustrophobic panic attacks when he gets food caught in his teeth. (Helps explain the beer diet.) And here I am in a camp I call the Leper Colony, wishing some of my less utile body parts might just drop off.

Okay. So some big guy named Ryan has done it. And Tom says I should do it. He’s only let me down once before. It was my bachelor party rock climb, a 5.10c in the Black Corridor, rigged with a beer hanging off every bolt. Tom was belaying. Having chugged four beers over the course of 50 feet of climbing, I was feeling a tad less sharp than normal. In fact, I couldn’t feel anything below my knees. But I could still see. I’m on the crux, and my top rope has a loop of slack dangling below my feet. Further down, Tom is staring at a sweet young thing stemming her way up a corner. I had some choice words for him, probably similar to my current vocabulary, but overall a forgivable transgression.

The hike up is pleasant enough. In we go. No problem’s until ...

“Uh, Rob, you probably want to go high here. 5.6 chimneying up, scoot across 40 or 50 feet, pretty reasonable back down.”

OK, got it licked. A ways further, I try a thin spot facing left. Wrong again. Panic starts creeping in. Up canyon ten feet, turn around. Face right, put the bulge in the small of the back, exhale, I’m through. A long stretch of pretty thin stuff.

“I think we’re about a third of the way through.”

Not what I wanted to hear.

Shortly thereafter, “Uh, Rob, better go high.”

Paul is gracious enough to muscle my pack along the bottom. Up, not too bad. Over. Over some more. Some more. A ledge I can almost stand on. Switch the back to the other side. Over. Over some more. A tight spot, back and knee. Gonna lose some skin doing this. Another spot with good feet on both sides, so I switch back to having my back on the left wall. Across some more. Chimney down some, then lock the torso with the arms and skitter down. The shirt rides up, a little more skin gone—ready for this to be over.

I share the bottom world for a while with Tom and Paul, but it’s not going to let up. Tom is always off.

“Uh, here’s the real stuff. Better go up.”

Paul helps me scout for a spot to get up, but it’s looking grim. Feet on a sloper, step up to the next, back on the wall. Then, the void. There’s a foot hold on the left wall, up and quite a stretch. I can just stretch my left foot to it. I’m now 10 feet up , left foot high, right foot lower and upcanyon on the left wall, hands on a good hold, but six feet away from my left foot. I’d have to press up on that foot into a full body stem.

No way!

The belly flop from 12 feet up just isn’t a good option. Try again. Nope. Can’t commit. Six feet downcanyon—back on right wall, feet up, big bulge in my gut. Left foot up in tight, hands below butt, press, squidge, squidge, right foot up, squidge, made it. Paul attaches my pack to the bunny strap. Up another twenty feet, let the grand traverse begin. Good feet for the first hundred feet. I edge across slowly. I’m way behind, but the brain is stuck in low gear.

“How far do I have to go?”

“Further.”

The blank spot ahead troubles me. The sun is shining. Snowflakes patter around me. The bottom of the canyon is black. I don’t really want to be there, but I sure as hell don’t want to be here. I move across to the blank spot. Thinking too hard about the wrong things. Ping!! My left foot is off. My right is pretty far to the side but holds.

Concentrate.

I start into the blank spot. Feet up high, sticking well, not as bad as I imagined. Fifty feet goes reasonably quickly. Well, as tortoises go, anyway.

“How far do I have to go?”

“Farther.”

“HOW F@#&ING FAR??”

“Uh, at least around the next bend in the canyon.”

I see some chockstones well below me. They look inviting, but no. My arms are shot. Chimneying with feet on the right wall, and squirming hips and shoulders on the left. Everything hurts. On and on. CRACK!!! Everything my back is on has just given way, about an inch. Loose flake no more, held in place only by me.

“Rockfall coming.”

I ease to the side. Off it goes, clattering to the canyon floor in a pile of dust.

“Quit altering the route.”

Yeah, thanks Tom. Another fifty feet.

“OK, once you’re over that loose flake, you can start down.”

Over the flake, down a few moves.

“What’s it like under that bulge?”

“Good foothold.”

Down a bit, stretch the left foot onto it. Crunch. Top couple inches turn to sand. Guess I’m the first to use that one. Ditch the pack, fifteen feet to the floor. Into the tight part. Knees hurt like hell, elbows, back—what doesn’t? Paul comes over to help. Offers his shoulders to stand on, but I don’t want to. Guess I’m thinking about how mine feel. I squirm on down. I’m sitting on his helmet.

“Uh, well, I guess just collapse.”

Like he had any choice. Terra firma again. I sit. My right tricep wants to cramp.

“Resting again?” with a smile.

“Blow me. That sucked.”

It’s not over. Crappy feet, trying to stay a little off the floor, fearful of the slip down a foot or so that might wedge me for good. Paul leaves me things to stand own—his pack here, another spot his helmet with mine on top. Just enough to get me through. I try to reach back to retrieve the helmet—no way, no how. Over rocks under rocks, but we’re getting there.

We reach the junction with the right fork. I’ve never been so happy to see graffiti. Shouldn’t be there, but I know what it means. Paul and Tom are up exploring the right fork.

“I’m heading on.”

Wide again. I can breathe. The adrenaline is gone. Suddenly I’m cold. I say goodbye. I don’t think I’ll be back.

Thanks, Tom. But really—what were you thinking?


The Big Guy

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© 2004 Rob Heineman