Monday, December 22, 2008

A November Afternoon -- From Jay Knower

Editor's Note: Jay wrote this a few years back.

A November Afternoon
Jay Knower

No cars were parked in the CCC parking lot. The leaves had recently fallen off the trees. I had missed the fall colors because I live in New Hampshire. Now the leaves were a slippery brown mass beneath my feet as I made my way up the trail. I had flown back home, back to Devil’s Lake, for just a few days. I had to get away for a while.

I made my way to Full Stop. The rock held a little more friction that the typical nightmarishly slick quartzite, so I figured this climb would be a good warm up. Shoes on, chalk bag opened, I began climbing. Full Stop with the elephant ear. Full Stop with the three hard moves. I topped out and headed down the access gully past Peter’s Project.

Peter’s would be next. I had soloed this many times when I lived in Baraboo. The crux moves down low could be rationalized as a boulder problem. The upper crux before the top always felt just about right. And so it did as I topped out again. What was she thinking? Did she really mean what she said?

Down the gully again and to the base of Berkeley. We climbed this together last summer. She led it. I had never soloed it. The bulge always felt awkward, like I was missing something. This time I found what I had missed and gained the bigger holds above. Into the hanging chimney and onto the top. The sun was bright over the South Bluff but the wind did not encourage me to linger at the top.

I feel like everything in my life is falling into place, except this one thing. Down Boy Scout and up Brinton’s. The traverse feels easier when I solo this. I don’t have to think about the gear. I remember when I first toproped this climb. I remember when I soloed it four times in one week. This time, it felt the same as always. Right hand jam, reach to the big bucket. Done.

Callipigeanous was in full sun. The bottom is really just another boulder problem, though a little higher than the crux on Peter’s. And harder. I was at the ledge before I realized my decision. “I am soloing Callipigeanous,” I thought as I rocked over onto the arĂȘte. The realization brought neither panic nor worry. It was just a matter of fact. I wonder what she is doing right now. Leaving was the right thing to do. The sun was still high to the south.

I have always wanted to solo Congratulations. As I walked down the trail, the crack looked so perfect: not slimy, but crisp. I told myself: “Don’t commit if the first fingerlock feels bad.” I knew this was a lie as I climbed the first few feet: I would climb the route no matter how the fingerlock felt. She led this last summer. We sat together on the top. Now I am alone at the Lake. The top out moves gave me pause, but I remained focused. I did not sit on the top.

I whooped. The sound bounced off something far away and echoed back to me. I thought about soloing Birch Tree. That crux move had always felt so tenuous, with the awkward body position and that right-foot smear. But, I felt plugged in, confident. I moved up to the crux. Left foot on right side of the crack. Get the crimp. It didn’t feel right. Is our relationship over? My body was in limbo. It doesn’t seem simple anymore. I released my left hand and shot it toward the large jug. I will have to go back to her. I stuck the hold with a yell.

I had one foot across the line that separates calculated risk and recklessness. I forgot I was soloing. For a split second, I thought I was on toprope, that I had room for error. I did not have room for what was building inside me. Confidence was giving way to craziness. Yet, I wanted to solo ten classic routes at Devil’s Lake. Only three to go . . .

Double Overhang would be perfect, I thought. My first lead. I was getting tired, but the climb fell below me. Second Coming was next. Another boulder problem, though the laybacks felt strenuous because I was over gripping. I will call and I will tell her about my day at the Lake. One more route. The sun was getting low and the wind had teeth.

I walked to Watermarks because the wall gets the last sun at the Lake. I began climbing. After the crux, I turned around and looked directly at the sun. The light was diffuse, orange. Birds floated in the water near the South Shore, waiting for the impetus to fly south. The quartzite glowed as if it were lit from within. Maybe things will work out.


  1. I like this, thanks for re-sharing it. Was this on the old climbingdl site? I remember reading it a long time ago, I think before I knew you, but yet knew Kayte. Dunno, I'd totally forgotten about this, good to re-read it.

  2. What a great read. I really enjoyed it. I could picture it all in my mind. Thx for sharing Jay.