A little walk in the canyon



I used to climb. I wasn’t very good, but I had a lot of fun being out in the Big Blue Room and doing something unusual with my friends. Back in 1991, due to some remarkable turmoil in my life, I was fortunate to fall in with a good group of people that tended to do a lot of rock climbing. Joe Hallman asked if I’d ever been climbing and I told him I’d done some climbing and found it cathartic*, but I didn’t really know what I was doing. He said there were plenty of people in our group who could teach me, but I might want to take a class.

Luckily it was the start of fall semester and I really didn’t have anything going for me in the way of classes, so I found that there was a Rec and Leisure class being taught by Harold Goodro, who is a bit of a legend. I had no idea when I signed up that I was going to get instruction from someone who had been doing first ascents back in the 1940’s. I really liked the class, and I liked going with my new friends even more.

For the next several years I climbed as often as I could. The Saturday morning meet-up at the mouth of either Big or Little Cottonwood Canyons was almost a religion. And almost every year seemed to start with a misguided attempt to climb Bongeater Buttress before the snow was off the low elevations. There were epic moments and tales that went near legendary among us, getting retold and morphing into running inside jokes, but the era seemed to end too quickly. I took a big leader fall on the second pitch of The Thumb, hitting the deck and breaking both ankles.


One day after the fall, both legs went black pretty much from the knees to the tips of the toes.

Within a few weeks I tried hobbling along (on crutches, no less) to be a belay-slave and try to stay connected with the group.  On one of these ill-conceived ideas Dave and I went up to Hatchet Crack so he could get a climb in and I wouldn’t feel like I was missing out on the rest of the summer. I say ill-conceived because Dave suffered a serious fall of his own and I was in no position to do anything to help. It was one of those “Now we know never to do that again” rule making moments. But Dave got down ok (sort of)


Those were only two of the three semi-serious injuries sustained in my time of climbing . Usually it was a really great time.


Bryce on Mr. Sandman, Big Cottonwood Canyon 1994


Dave on Dreamscape, Big Cottonwood Canyon 1994


Jack on Lisa Falls, Little Cottonwood Canyon 1995

I climbed a handful of times after my fall, but not enough to really get my confidence fully back. I led an easy pitch on Lisa Falls in the fall of 1995 and was excited for the next year. But by the next year I was working mostly full time and marriages and real life kind of split up our climbing group. I was discovering a talent for making pottery and that seemed to take my time in a big way. But every time I drove past a crag on a road trip or took a drive up the canyon and memory lane I always assumed I’d get back to it. As the years turned into decades I figured it was just one of those “I usedta do” things. I met a young married couple that was lamenting the expense of gear and how they could only do bolted routes. I gave them my rack, because it wasn’t doing any good in my closet. I did hang on to my shoes and harnesses out of some sort of nostalgia.


Last (recorded) lead climb on Lisa Falls

Then recently I began to have such an itch. I wrote it off as midlife crisis time, but I’d awake thinking of climbs in the past and have to dig out my trusty climbing manual to find out what the name of my favorite climb was, because I’d forgotten it in my dotage.


Then a few weeks ago I ended up calling Bryce to see if he could help me solve a social conundrum. We chatted awhile and he mentioned that he still climbs some, but he thought we’d probably all grown a little more tame in the intervening years (and he actually had a helmet yesterday, something that we’d never taken any sort of liking to). He said he’d like to go out because he hadn’t been much this year if I was willing to go along and see what I could do. I was under no illusions that I was in shape enough to do very much, and I was right to assume so, but I thought I’d give it a whirl.

I drove us to Creekside Wall and Bryce led an easier route on it, and I followed. Or at least I tried. I slowly got to within 8 feet or so of the chains before my arms and legs gave out fully and I had to be lowered off. I glimpsed the edges of the excitement I used to feel, but my mind rebelled at the knowledge that I used to stand on these 3/8″ lips jutting out from the wall as impossible. I called down to Bryce with the old standby, “It’s like stairs!”, which did elicit a laugh from below.

Bryce thought we should go upstream a bit and hit the Salt Lake Slips and try an easy one there, so my pack back on, a big monster with an ugly rope that probably out to be retired, due to its age. I took a few steps and fell into the creek bashing my elbow, but somehow sparing my camera. My legs still hadn’t recovered from the climb. Eventually we made it up to the Slips and there was quite a crowd there. Bryce picked out a climb, but I knew I wasn’t even going to be able to get my shoes back on. I was willing to continue to play the dedicated belayer, but Bryce said if I wasn’t into it we could just bail. I looked around at what seemed like unusually clean-cut kids, for the climbing crowd and realized the harness I was wearing was possibly older than most of those that were there. I rested a bit more and realized that the ratio of boys to girls in the groups was closer to even than it was in my day, which I think says something positive about the growth of the community.



Creekside Wall from yesterday, somebody has gone through all bolt-happy.

I’m not sure that I’ll be able to put in the time to get strong enough to really climb again. My blown-out ankle wasn’t a problem yesterday as it had been in the past, and I’d always considered that the weak spot for my future. But maybe it’s something I need to do, and seeing that picture of Harold Goodro climbing in his 70’s might shame me into it.

* I wrote about the first time awhile ago, but I wouldn’t recommend going back to it if you missed.