What lies at the Center

It’s been a few years since I’ve climbed on the east side of the gally extensively. But since my introduction I’ve been told to go check out a couple lines that lie on the moderate to easy end of the spectrum, even for my limited gear climbing abilities, by some hardcore “gally” climbers. Men’s Rea 5.10 R or X, Callis’s Warts and Corns 5.8 R, and The Joker 5.9

On one of my initial trips up to Black Line buttress my friend Kevin Volkening did a ‘vision quest’ style ascent of Callis’s Warts and Corns 5.8 R. This may sound easy but an excerpt from the forward to the guidebook may help clear things up for anyone who hasn’t climbed in the canyon before:

On a recent trip to Yosemite a team of Montana climbers decided to do the Regular Route on Lower Cathedral Spire. There was some argument as to which of us should lead the third pitch, which has the following description in the guidebook: “This variation starts with a 5.9 boulder problem or an A0 move off a bolt. Next, the climbing follows steep, loose, and poorly protected 5.7 flakes that will scare even the solid 5.9 leader.” After completing the pitch, we all agreed that had this route been in Gallatin Canyon, The description would have read; “Proceed upward over pretty good rock, 5.5”

One of the joys of being a Gallatin canyon climber is that almost anywhere else you go the climbing will be easier for the grade, better protected, and, in general, a lot less scary.” – H.J. Schmidt

I don’t remember what Kevin thought of the gear, or how scary it was, but I remember clearly that he was pretty excited that he had to sling a flat quartz knob for pro. Almost three years later and several long conversations about the safety and ease of the three aforementioned routes I finally decided to go find out for myself.

The first route for our day was the three pitch route The Joker on the Watchtower formation. Rumors are that the Joker is a scary runout pitch that has made 5.13 climbers cry. This may have very much been the case in 1969 when Pat Callis did the first ascent with only a rack of Hexs, no bolt in sight, and maybe EBs if he was ahead of his time.

From the joker we walked over to Callis’s on the river facing buttress of Blackline buttress. Remembering only the slung knob I slowly made myself ready to climb. With no expectations my experience on Callis’s Warts and Corns was much safer than I expected.

The last route of the day took us to Men’s Rea a crack that leads to a horizontal at halfway and then forces you to the blunt arete. I have talked both the Bill Dockins (FAist) and Pat Dyess about this route together and separate. Together they only know of 4 ascents of the line including my own. Bill was adamant that the route is only R though he placed no gear through the arete section like all the rest of us have. When I arrived at the top instead of a jubilant shout I just hollowly clapped my hands a couple times and thought “well, I don’t ever have to do that again.

Climbing for me has always been about the emotions. The mental aspect of climbing is different for each discipline but they all share a common felling of tranquility for me. When I found myself at the top of Callis’s and immediately looked around to find someone topping out the next two largest formations to my north at the same time. The joy, excitement, and calm clarity of that moment was just mind blowing. It’s a special head space that I love and have only found climbing. Maybe relief is a better word, I just can’t put my finger on how to describe it. This is the feeling that keeps me coming back for more.

Climbing has a flow, a rhythm, like a dance, the flow brings with it emotions and feelings that are unique to the environment that brings you to them. Climbing has lead me through  just about every emotion from pain to excitement, and from happiness to hate. I think that is why I go climbing, I can clear my head sometimes to break through to the core of myself to find what lies at the center; that joy on the top of Blackline Buttress all by myself, yet so close to the others on the Waltz and Pineapple Buttresses, or to find that hollowness that came to me at the top of Men’s Rea standing there with the wind whipping by and the clouds swirling overhead ominously.

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