Cement Shoes

The crux steep corner pitch of Cement Shoes

Climbing hard.  If you are anything like me, this is one of the main reasons for climbing.  Giving it everything and pushing beyond what I believed possible brings me some serious fulfillment.  I have worked hard to strengthen my willpower and determination and I hold my ‘try-hard’ as my most valuable climbing assets.  I may be mistaken, but my reading on the subject and personal experience has led me to believe that the try-hard muscle is like any other muscle; when you stress the tissue, it responds by growing stronger.  Like other muscles, repeated stress without enough rest can lead not to strengthening, but overtraining and a halt in progress.

                I’m happy when I am able to give it my all, day after day, and this effort usually results in sending my projects.  This certainly feels great and brings fulfillment to climbing, but depending only on my own success for climbing fulfillment is relying on a shallow resource and leads to missing out on sharing in the joys and successes of others.  At times in my climbing, I have had trouble truly sharing the joy of a partner’s success when I am failing.  I am not proud of those times, but I think that feeling is well known to many climbers who push themselves.  Over the past few years I have been able, most of the time, to enjoy the success of others just as much as I find joy in my own achievements.  To me, this is not only an essential piece of rock climbing, but also in every aspect of life.
                Had enough of reflection and reading generalities?  Yeah, so this reflection stems from my past weekend, which was one of the best climbing weekends I have ever had.  If it isn’t obvious from my first three paragraphs, I didn’t climb as I hoped to, and I didn’t send (anything).  Despite this, I was able to participate in a process which far overshadowed any personal disappointment in my performance.
Greco relaxing in beautiful May Utah weather
A few posts ago I mentioned working on a new route with Dave Bloom at Indian Creek.  Dave had spotted the line years ago, a sweeping, brutally overhung corner, painted by the elements in the beautiful shades of the desert on a clean Wingate canvas.  This feature had loomed above the right side of Scarface for millennia and had been passed over by climbers for decades.  Six years ago, Dave and Mat Greco put up the first pitch, 100 feet of exciting and varied 5.11+, to reach the striking corner hanging above.  They climbed the steep corner and placed the anchors, but were unable to free the pitch.  Fast-forward six years, time flies, and Dave and Mat haven’t been back to the climb since that first foray.
Fall 2012, Dave’s efforts to make it back to the climb are thwarted by a practice helicopter rescue at the base of the climb.
April 2013, the long awaited return to free the route.  I led the first pitch and reached the too-perfect party ledge between the pitches with a gritty smile on my face.  The dirt and sand which filled the first pitch were even worse on the hanging corner above.  Dave gave valiant effort, but the pounds of dirt filling the crack made a free ascent nearly impossible.
May 2013, we returned armed with brushes, extra shirts, and more time.  The plan unfolded over the few days we had to finish the line; Day one, climb at another crag, warm up, get some climbing in before the efforts began on the project.  Day two, we would aid the corner and give it a thorough cleaning.  The first hiccup in the plan arose in the second phase of the mission:  I forgot the brushes.   Solution; long-sleeve polypro cleaning equipment.  I aided the corner and cleaned the crack and the walls as well as I could we set up for Dave’s attempt.
Hiking in as the clouds begin to build
As he racked up and began to calm internal conditions for the send, a meteorological tempest began building.  The day had begun with beautiful intermittent cloud cover, and as I led the first pitch and cleaned the second pitch rain and swirling winds began and the clouds grew darker.  Thunder rumbled and the skies grew even darker as we huddled in the sheltered belay, preparing for the ascent.  The ominous thunder and wind reached a crescendo as Dave unclipped from the anchor and cast off towards stormy skies.  Bolts of lightning flashed across the sky, playing a multisensory duet with his precise foot cams, strenuous body stemming, and ruthless thin hand jams.  Rain fell from charcoal clouds, soaking the surrounding buttresses, but the severe angle of the corner kept Dave and the climb dry.  Thunderclaps ripped the sky and broke the spell as Dave’s hand shot from a silt-coated jam and his body fell, swinging free on the rope beneath his gear.  Dave gave an impressive effort in awe-inspiring conditions, but the thin layer of silt coating the crack made the incredibly insecure jams even more slippery.  As the squall passed, Mike Broad and I both top-roped the crack, cleaning with our bodies and hands as we went, and Dave decided to rest up and conserve his strength for one final shot on our last day.
That night, Dave, Mat, and I fueled up with a power trio of meats, hot dog appetizers followed by green chile bacon cheeseburgers.  As dark clouds marched overhead and raindrops pelted our camp, we each slipped into our own pleasant protein-induced coma and dreamed of the next day’s mission.  Cold cloudless skies and the unobstructed rays of the sun woke us the next morning and we began the multi-step voyage back to the crag.  Coffee gave way to breakfast; our camp was broken down and folded into the van.  After a not-so-brief stop for a deposit at the Beef Basin Bank of America, we were on our way, hiking up with our goal in sight, high above the trail.
The right side of Scarface, Cement Shoes
is visible in the center of the photo
We began with some warm-up pitches, and watched the sparse clouds race across the sky.  The sun beat down on the sandstone walls as we climbed the first pitch of the project.  The temperature-induced friction loss weighed on my mind as Dave followed the pitch.  While the rest of the wall baked in the sun, the crux corner above was protected by its radically steep angle.   Racking and rituals of preparation were repeated and I gave what affirmations I had to offer.
“ The rock is cleaner, the temps are great, and you know what to do!”
Dave recited his key beta aloud.
“You just can’t stop, it’s all about keeping moving, remind me to breathe slow”
He left the belay with confidence, the clear skies in stark contrast with the tumultuous conditions of the previous day’s efforts.  As he moved into the crux section, the corner steepened and tightened, pushing his body out.  Fluidity and efficiency were embodied as he placed each piece of gear quickly, fought the pull of gravity, and powered through the crux, reaching the anchors and closing the final chapter of a story six or more years in the making.
Cement Shoes (2 pitches, 5.12+) was established by Dave Bloom and Mat Greco and freed by Dave in May 2013 while Mat shot photos from above.  The climb is located on the right side of Scarface, near Twitch and The Cleaner.  The crux second pitch corner is likely the steepest pitch at Indian Creek and is truly a proud first ascent for an influential figure of Indian Creek, the Doctor Dave Bloom.  I was happy to help support Dave and Mat and I found true joy in the success of my friends.
The FA team of Cement Shoes after the FFA, Mat Greco and Dave Bloom


One thought on “Cement Shoes

  1. Pingback: Joel Unema, Grass Roots Climbing | The Mad Rock Team Blog

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