Climbing Big Wall First Ascents is one of my favorite things in the world to do. Every summer I find myself devoting the entire summer be spent in remote wilderness settings with steep granite cliffs always nearby. There is an inexpressible beauty in sharing a wilderness venue no other human has experienced; doing something ambitious, committing and challenging. Always with your best friends and all in your own backyard. Through all the overwhelming joy and contentment that can come from such a journey or multiple journeys stacked upon each other, there is a price to pay for all the heavy-duty toiling our team gets up to.
Ferrying gear 25kms into the Daniels River Valley. PC: Wildland Media photo
By the time we arrive in camp, it may have been days since we set off. We usually get a fire going, set up a comfortable domicile and start gawking at our surroundings. This is just the beginning of the entire trip, so care is taken to go slow, and regulate the crazy exertion our bodies are about to go through. A trail is cut to the wall, a line is chosen, and we commit to the route.
Strung out high above the valley bottoms creature comforts such as shade, fresh water, a bath in the river, or just a simple restful nap are no longer options. The workload of the wall begins to settle in. Most of what we do is muscle memory, along with a lot of intuitive decision making made on the fly. Out of all the madness, there is a method to it all, the key to keeping Pandora's box shut is simply referred to as Rope management.
This mundane term means constantly, over and again, running the lengths of multiple 70 meter (210ft.) ropes back and forth through your hands from dusk ‘til dawn. Even with thick leather gloves covering your hands, the exertion is unavoidable even for those with the toughest of skin. Every night as you and your partner wrestle into your sleeping bags, you are starkly reminded of the toll your hands took to get you this far. Swollen and burning flamingo pink. Overwhelmed by a blown up, monkey paw feeling, your hands are aching for recovery. But you are three days from the top, and five from basecamp.
Day 3 on a big wall first ascent. X-treme Organics is the secret weapon.
The news is positive. Thankfully, in your arsenal lies a concoction bordering on the edges of modern science and dermatology. A skillfully considered collection of herbs, flowers and all that is good luckily exist to soothe what skin you have retained and to exponentially increase the rate of recovery for your worn down fingertips and palms. First things first; before dinner gets going, you whip out your large tin of X-treme Organics Climbers Balm. Painfully twisting the top off, you immediately hurl a huge dollop of this life-saving salve all over your rugged, battle-worn baboon mitts. The skin soaks up the first wave of specifically formulated, organic skin care medicine rapidly. Like an oasis in the desert, the salve hydrates all that is in need. The coarse creases and cracked all over folds begin their transformation back to supple normality. You wait ten minutes, dilly-dallying over dinner, appreciating your unique, splendid, never before seen view. Your skin having absorbed the first dash of climbers balm begs for another dose. You slap on another thick layer. This second cycle gives real relief to the burning ache in your hands. The throbbing, swollen pump pulsing through your palms is being extinguished. Thank god. You recline into an ocean of plush comfort for the night. Eight hours until that 70m rope is once again running ceaselessly over your vulnerable calluses. Ready to do it all over again thanks to this unassuming secret weapon. Calm and armed with your arsenal of skills and tricks up your sleeves you cast off into the realm of deep sleep.
By Evan James.
Follow Evan and Zoe's adventure on Instagram @bcbedouin & @zoemanz