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The Pain in Rain

Wet weather wandering on Mount Wilson

by Larry DeAngelo

Normally, when something is large, you don't expect it to move quickly. When you push lightly on something massive, you don't expect a dramatic acceleration. Most people would not expect an eight hundred pound block of sandstone to be an exception to this rule. And yet . . .

Friday was grey, drizzly, and wet enough to put a literal damper on Red Rock climbing plans. A scouting mission developed to explore some of Mount Wilson's convoluted topography. The three of us took just one rope and a little gear, intending to go as high as we could with as little as possible.

It didn't take long for the day to become more than the relaxed scramble we had anticipated. Steep cliff sections were often climbed without the rope, but not because it would have been useless. Easy gullies were wet, muddy, and slick. When you escaped the mud by moving onto the rock, you had to contend with rain-softened holds and fragile flakes.

terrain

Mostly scrambling terrain leads upward . . .

We continued upward, sometimes on easy ground, sometimes over technical rock. Somehow, the hoped for magical pathway never opened an easy route to the summit.

not easier

The route wasn't really getting any easier.

A final roped pitch took us to a good ledge with about three hours of daylight left. It was obvious that the summit lay five or six pitches above us. It was equally obvious that the appropriate direction was down. As Karsten belayed Joseph up to our perch, I explored the area for an alternative descent.

turnaraound

It looked like a good spot to turn around.

A reasonably friendly-looking gully descended to our right. It might be easy to reach via a narrow chimney that separated our ledge from the main wall. I peered down the fifty-foot slot, attempting to divine if an unroped downclimb looked tolerable. Maybe so. At the top of the chimney, there was a large boulder wedged in the opening. It was huge-- four or five feet long, three feet wide and maybe a foot thick. Being a paranoid soul, I was motivated to confirm the block's security before climbing underneath it. I gave it a little push with my left foot, expecting to encounter the inertia of an eight hundred pound boulder. Nope! WHAM! It dropped out of there like a mousetrap snapping shut.

The clatter was terrific as it roared down the chimney. The echoes faded into a funereal silence and the pungent smell of rockfall enshrouded the ledge. "Are you okay?" called Karsten. When the rock fell, it smacked the side of my ankle really, really hard. I put some weight on the foot. There was no additional pain (let me stress the word "additional"). I interpreted this to mean that no bones were broken. "Good enough," I said. "Let's get out of here"

There was already some nasty swelling, like I was trying to hide a tennis ball in my sock. I could walk, which seemed like a good thing. There wasn't really anything else to do, so I decided to not even look at it until I got home. We did a lot of downclimbing, and five or six rappels, and finally got off the mountain just as it got dark. It could have been worse.

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