The Nutcracker

The Nutcracker, a beautiful 5.8 classic route. Jamie and I were told that this climb was a must do so we indulged. Last Sunday, we arrived at the route at around 10:30am and were met by a group of three climbers already making strides on the first pitch. We decided we would wait it out until the group ahead of us reached the second pitch. We waited at the bottom of the climb and socialized with our two new Australian friends who were waiting behind us to climb. They told us many climbing stories from their past and we soon offered for them to go ahead of us. As experienced climbers they would take far less time to climb the route than us.

Jamie and I started the climb at about noon and anchored ourselves at the bottom of the next pitch. We were now waiting for the group of three to climb up this pitch. Our speedy Australian friends had bypassed them and escaped the traffic jam. We sat on the rock ledge, waiting, and melting under the sun when another climber’s head popped up from behind a rock, finishing the first pitch. We soon had two new friends that happened to be part of the same group as our previous Australian friends. We chatted and asked them about climbing strategies and skills, the next few days they would be climbing The Nose of El Captain. Several hours later now and these friends decided to bail on the route to head back to the ground. They rappelled off our anchors so they wouldn’t have to leave gear on the wall but that left Jamie and I with the only option of finishing the climb.

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The next pitches were finally available to climb and the race to finish three pitches before it got dark began. We made it to the bottom of the last pitch as the remnants of light were disappearing.We had only one headlamp and it was decided that the lead, Jamie, would need it most. To exasperate the situation more the crux, the hardest part of the climb, was still to be faced. The crux was a committing, exposed move that required a sort of pull up with no feet. Our Australian friends had given us the beta, info on the climb, for this move and we knew we had to find the jug, easy to grip hold. Jamie climbed on with the head lamp lighting her way as she approached the crux. I sat anchored into the wall with by body dangling in my harness. I was losing circulation in my legs as I witnessed Jamie searching for the jug and foot holds on the slick granite. If she didn’t commit to the move, she’d fall and hit the ledge below. I sat there helpless and started to pray for her safe passage up the wall. Her bubble of light disappeared over the rock and I knew she’d made it! A few minutes pass and she yells down to me in a nervous voice, “Be ready for a fucking huge fall if this piece doesn’t hold!” She disappeared into the darkness as I fed her rope. She’d make it to the top soon and then it’d be my turn to climb.. in pitch darkness. As a follower, the danger of the climb is significantly reduced because I am on top rope. Our communication had to be on point in this situation because I was flying blind. I felt the rope tighten on me and I removed the anchor system. I started to climb up, feeling the cracks in the rock. I had only my vision to see the shade changes of the surface I was climbing on. I made it to the crux and yelled up to Jamie. I struggled to find the few protruding features on the rock as Jamie tugged at the rope taking any little bit of slack there was. How was I going to make it over the crux? I needed to take some weight off the rope so Jamie could pull in the slack. I flung my right heel up and over the crux making me horizontal on the rock. It worked. I was now almost over the crux. It wasn’t as graceful as I would have liked but it would do for the current circumstances. The time was now 9:30pm and we were both at the top of The Nutcracker grateful to have our feet on solid ground.

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