"Warren Harding is not coming down." This is how John "Largo" Long describes the first instants of Harding's epic nihgt bolting the Headwall to make the first ascent of El Cap. He wasnt' going to quit, as simple as that. Whit these words deeply carved in my mind, I took my chances, on friday night, and drove 400 kms to the Dolomites to close a problem at the Città dei Sassi area, hoping that the around zero temps would make the previous days' rain dry or freeze. I tell you right now: I failed. I didn't climb the problem, despite, seriously, being able to, and now I will have to wait for the ski season to end, and for the winter snow to melt.
How can I tell I could have done it? Because I feel it. Because I did all the moves many times, and because I only failed on the crux move (that's why it's the crux) cruising the rest of the problem, including the straight exit, which not only is safer than the original, delivering you on the pads, if you screw, instead of in a rocky pit of horror, but, even more importantly, it's also harder, involving a hard cross through and a dropdown move before the topout. It's a hybrid sequence, I know, but since the problem is an eliminate, I can choose to climb it without risking fractures, if it's also harder.
The first move is an easy one, from a good left had edge to a good undercling. Never fallen there. The second one takes you from the undercling, with your left hand to a good, but downfacing edge, with just that small catch on the lip that enables you to cling on. Never fallen on that. Then you have to swap feet, drop your right knee, transform your body in a steel plate and match with right hand on another decent edge, again downfacing. I only fell there once, when my left had ripped from the greased edge and I smashed my right tricep on the boulder underneath. It hurts alot and I've been lucky not to hit my elbow. Then there's the crux. Again swap feet, you take your left foot as high as your left hand on a seam, you bolt it there and you drop down your left knee, with your leg vertically to the ground. You keep your right shoulder in place with some additional power and you go left hand to the last crimp, a good one, luckily almost horizontal. Then, if you want to risk your legs, you dyno to the right, and you better catch the jug, otherwise a heli rescue awaits; if you don't, you do my exit. Right foot on spike, again steel tension and you cross with right had to a good seam, you drop down left hand and match, go to the lip and mantle safely with your body directly over the pads (and a rock, anyway...).
Am I sad? Yes, alot. My girlfriend spotted me in sub zero temps for some hours, and I couldn't reward her with the send.
Am I happy? Yes, I am. I tried this problem in july 07, and man, I was light years far. The only good thing was that I had four pads and two strong spotters (instead of two pads and a girl of this last weekend) and I could do the dangerous exit (and that's why I know mine is harder). One year later I unlocked all the moves in just a couple of hours, and managed to have a few good tries, feeling close to the send.
I can still feel my body in the crux move, I can feel how good it felt to static that move, to static the matching, to dropdown to the seam. These feelings can't lie. So why didn't I do it? Because climbing is no maths. Because cold temps can't make it even with 80% humidity. Because I was feeling guilty watching my girlfiriend freezing between my attempts despite having also a wool blanket. Because I was very sad about being deprived of good friction, and finally, because I couldn't just crush it.
So what now? Nothing, just more hard work. The same hard work that I'd put in with the send under my arm. Yes, just the same. Maybe just that little bit of plus motivation. I tried. It didn't go. That doesn't take anything from the general dignity of the effort.
The important thing is that I didn't come down without knowing that I had given it my whole self, my whole body, my whole mind, my relationship, my left tricep, my righ shin, my cut Solution's velcro lace, my car's stolen stereo, everything that happened during these two days I devoted to the problem: my faillure and my success. My happiness and my sadness. Every moment I spent awake in my bed, every meter I drove with my car. Every thought, every calory, every laugh.
To be fulfilled in a failure, is both a nightmare and a dream come true.