Supposed to meet my partner at 8:30am in the Uberfall, and I was hurrying because I was late. Only by a few minutes, but I do like to be prompt. Besides, I had not had my morning constitutional yet, and that's something one doesn't want to leave til the last minute, which usually occurs at some point,finding ousrself deep in fear leading a wild pitch or slung into a hanging belay while our partner takes.....waaaaayyyyy to lonnnnngggg.
Scurrying toward the area, I don't see David anywhere. And I spy the UberPooper, as the outhouse at the Trapps in commonly called. There's no pack set on the ground out front, nor is there a line of people, so that means it's available. David seems like the sort to be on time too, and so I am pretty pleased to get this reprieve from his punctuality.
As I pass Ken's Crack, a popular classic route that is one of the few true crack lines at the Gunks, I notice a blue backpack along the trail.... Not thinking twice, since my eye's on the stall and I don't want to get sideswiped by someone in the short distance I need to travel, I ignore it.
Almost to the pooper, I become aware of some movement on the wall and look up to see a person climbing the route Boston(5.5). Realizing it's my partner, I look down to see who he's roped up with. Nobody! He's freesoling the route.
Now, I knew David was a punctual sort of person, but I never figured him to be a freesoloing type. I was a bit taken aback, since I'm such a chicken that I can get nervous on a Less Than v0 bouldering traverse if it goes more than four feet off the deck. It always surprises me when I realize someone else has a different mindset than I do.
Not wanting to disturb him, I try to sneak off to the side, while getting out my camera. The big question was...of course... Do I snap the shutter if he starts to come off? I KNOW! That's terrible. But...well....? Would YOU, or wouldn't you?
At any rate, David has seen me, and he shifts his stance to downclimb. He's just coming into the crux of the route, an offwidth chimney with a tricky exit, and I suppose it would be a good time to bail. If there was any hesitation on his part.
Still unsure what was up, I told him to continue, and not worry about keeping me waiting, which was his reason for starting down. After all, it was my lateness that gave him so time that needed filling in the first place! And so, up he went.
I did get some shots, and was pretty nervous as he hesitated at the crux. I guess perspective is a little bit sharper when your climbing style passes the realm of a clean lead into the purity of freesolo. At any rate, David took his time, assessing the moves needed and being sure he was solid as he made the sequence. Relief was palatable as he topped out.
Funnily enough, that UpberPooper is featured in an other freesoloing experience I witnessed at the Gunks. It was probably two years ago, and I was climbing with Richard, known to many in the climbing community as DrKodos. We were headed to get on Apoplexy and I stopped to use the john. When I came out, Richard was nowhere around. Then, I spied his pack, a grey haulbag, resting along the trail at about the same spot as David's blue one in the story above. But...where was Rich?
I finally saw him; he was soling Ken's Crack, as two young women dilly-dallied over starting the route on a toprope.
That was my first time seeing someone climb completely free and it shocked me that he'd choose a stage such as this, in the overly popular Uberfall, on the most visible 5.7 in the Gunks, on a beautiful(crowded) Saturday afternoon.
But...that's Richard. All the world's a stage, and he's taking the lead role.
Watching his intentional movements scared the crap out of me, but he told me he'd done this line, in this style, literally hundreds of times. Even so - I couldn't help feeling a sense of outrageous fear, as I imagined myself up there.
Freesoling is not for me, I'm pretty sure. Although, I was watching some friends climb Three Pines(5.3) last weekend, and I sort of had an urge to go for it.(Boy, would they have been mad. I had turned teaming with them on the route!). I knew, beyond all doubt, that I could do that first pitch, up and down, with no problem.
And I have done some scrambling in Joshua Tree - a place where the line between third and fifth class climbing or highball bouldering is all a matter of personal perspective. But, I'd kept a read on each move's reversal, and backed off when I couldn't fully guarantee the next move upward.
I still have plenty of room to grow with my climbing experiences before freesoloing would be a viable way to take it to another level. Perhaps I'll never know what it's like to go fully free. But I do admit that I have some admiration for those who can. The most common arguments (selfish, dangerous) may make sense to some people, but I have witnessed enough of those same folks making selfish and/or dangerous decisions on high to question their authority on the topic. Dead is dead, whether it's a freebird who took a mistep and found their wings clipped, or a roped climber who fell on badly placed gear and one piece too many pulled.