I can’t stand theme parks. Disneyland, Legoland, Sea World, Santa Claus Land (later renamed Holiday World after being bullied by godless cappuccino drinkers). Call me a humorless prig, a terrorist who hates America. That’s fine—I’ve been called worse by the LOL cats living a lie on supertopo.com. Maybe I would like Dolly Parton’s theme park, Dollywood, but only if it’s how I envision it, with 36DD slopers on indoor woodies.
Before continuing, I must acknowledge congenital complicity in the creation of at least one of these themed monstrosities. My grandfather Victor Bisharat was behind the construction of Disneyland. G-pa was an eccentric architect hired by Walt Disney himself to design a world that would eventually go on to dupe hundreds of thousands of children into believing that we live in a happy place. It’s terrible. But how can the origin of such grievous historical ripples ever be accurately pinpointed? Can you charge J. Robert Oppenheimer with the death of millions simply because he discovered the explosive energy latent in unstable atoms, later to be used in the atomic bomb?
Alas, what’s done is done, and there’s no reason to cry over Mickey Mouse, blasting entire civilizations into oblivion, or even spilt milk.
Theme parks are overcrowded and undereducated, not to mention fantastic diversions from more important things in life—they devote actual “lands” or “worlds” to telling a particularly perverted story to large masses of people. But that’s not what bothers me. Theme parks whip hapless gumbies into a group frenzy that gets so out of control, even smart people start wondering if they can fly.
The real genius behind theme parks is their manipulation of these robots—as a columnist, I’d love to have that power. Sure, TNB has a gonzo fist symbol (thanks for the design, Ma), as well as an entire online store run by sweatshop pygmies screen-printing the TNB fist onto organic cotton shirts. There’s even a weekly eBlast for the poor and easily entertained. But T-shirts, eBlasts and insignias are nothing compared to the colossal power of a theme park.
Indeed, what would “TNB World” look like? Let’s brainstorm. A good place to start, I’d say, is listing TNB’s recurrent themes. To wit: Tuesday night binges at the boulders, sleeping in the dirt but keeping your head high, being down to go up, coming to sarcastic terms with your love of rock, ego-comforting irreverence, trying really hard on technically easy routes, miserable failure, occasional success, never accepting advice from anyone who climbs the same grade as you, the middle finger to anyone who takes climbing too seriously, jihad, sweet hippie love on crash pads, and, of course, the ongoing conflict between Myself and the FuGus (f’ing gumbies), who consistently try to sabotage my game in the vertical ghetto.
TNB World might just offer something for everyone, a wonderful place where human drama meets fifth-class rock. For it to be a theme park, however, it must be adventure on the cheap, a Wal-Mart of risk, something that is open to the masses and gives anyone “this tall” a ticket to ride.
Fortunately, there’s no need to go out of my way to create TNB World since it basically already exists: in that amusement park called Yosemite Valley, and on those low-speed roller coasters more commonly called “multi-pitch moderates.”
Ah, the “classic” multi-pitch moderates of Yosemite … so much fun, so many things to go wrong. That’s what makes them exciting and worth doing. But before entering the odd human zoo of TNB World, you must know a few things.
GET IN LINE, ROBOT! Classic multi-pitch moderates are to gumbies what mountains of sugar are to ants. Any route between the grades 5.7 and 5.10+ and between the star ratings three and five is going to be absolutely swarmed. This common knowledge leads to a predictable behavior among route aspirants—all robots vie to be the first at the base of the route in order to have it to themselves. Climbers have been known to reach the base by sunup, and sometimes earlier. This is Bad Style.
Anyone insecure enough to think that he’ll need every single minute of daylight to get up a thousand feet of easy rock climbing is likely a gumby (at best), and should be regarded with extreme suspicion. As a rule, the earlier that teams reach the base, the more dangerous they are.
Think I’m making this up? At sometime well past 9:30 a.m., I was flaking my rope at the base of the East Buttress of Middle Cathedral when suddenly I heard the whistle of a svelte object in total free fall. Something was ripping through the air at tremendous speed straight for me. I crouched down and put my hands over my head just as I heard the dull thud of a nut tool striking the hard dirt two feet in front of me. It had embedded itself into the ground and was sticking straight up in the air.
“Hey!” I yelled up at nothing in particular. Two faces popped into view from the second-pitch belay ledge.
“You dropped your nut tool,” I said, madly slicing the air with their stupid gear-spike.
“Oh, nuts,” one dude said.
“Oh, sorry,” said the other.
“What time did you get here?” I snapped.
“Just tell me, dammit! It’s important! What time did you get to the base?” The question was gratuitous—the fact that they were carrying a nut tool in the first place was probably the only indication I needed that I had a couple of serious gumbies, and possibly robots, on my hands.
They looked at each other. “Six or so? I don’t know.”
My partner Eric and I gave each other vertiginous looks, where the background falls away quickly and the shot zooms in on the eyes. We were fucked and we knew it. Nothing could be done. They had reached the base before dawn and had only made it to the top of the second pitch. Climbing beneath them would be suicide, worse than the Northwest Face of the Devil’s Thumb.
A good climber knows when he’s beaten. My partner and I went to the store and ate five It’s Its, the chocolate-dipped oatmeal-cookie ice cream sandwiches that are more addictive than climbing.
FREE PASS TO EPIC
The problem with classic multi-pitch moderates is their invitation to screw up without consequence. People bring a certain irresponsible shit-dick mentality to these routes, and that’s also Bad Style.
“The point isn’t to get to the top,” says Freddie Wilkinson, the vice president of public relations at TNB World and former welterweight champ of multi-pitch moderates. “The point is to get to the top quickly and without clusterfucking. These routes should force parties to adjust their techniques (e.g., more simul-climbing, using two-piece anchors instead of three-piece ones, carrying a lighter rack and less gear), rather than treating them like a longer version of cragging routes. Many folks don’t get this.”
So, climbers head up on these routes with a free pass to mess up. I bet some even invite it. Climbers love reading a good epic story so much that they secretly hope an epic happens to them. Then they will come away with a single interesting story to tell their children. Maybe if they climb slowly enough up Royal Arches and forego rappelling the route, perhaps (i.e., hopefully) they’ll get benighted and have to eat squirrels, or each other, to live. Wouldn’t that be nice?
CUT THE ROBOTS AND YOU SHALL LIVE
By now you know what Bad Style looks like, but are you familiar with Good Style? Most climbers aren’t, because most climbers don’t know how to laugh. Good Style involves waking up with a hangover, washing your face in the river, stealing coffee and taking three hours to eat four pounds of bacon with a side of egg whites (the yolk is bad for you) that have been fried in a full inch of residual pig fat. After drinking so much coffee that your toenails vibrate, you’ll probably want to go take a crap—if you don’t, you might need to see a doctor. Find somewhere nice and private—this is your time to reconnect with You. Don’t rush; meditate; focus on the out-breath. And after you’re done, crawl out of the hole beneath Bachar-Cracker and stretch; it’s finally time to consider the idea of going climbing.
For many, the worst part of the theme-park experience is the long lines. Some of the “rides” can have as many as two or five parties working their way up the thousands of feet of granite. Consider not climbing at all. That’s a perfectly reasonable option.
But should you deem some particular slab of “super mega classic crack climbing” worth getting after, it is essential to learn how to Pass the Robots. A little PTR may just be the most enjoyable part of the multi-pitch moderate experience.
Polite climbers will ask first. I can’t personally recommend this as it has never once worked for me. The robots explain that they woke up at 4 a.m. specifically so they wouldn’t have to climb below anyone. They insist that climbing below other parties is dangerous, an underhanded remark directed at me. They always say, “Sorry, man, we’ll go faster,” or however belay-submissives talk. And of course, they never do … because they can’t … because they are gumbies.
One time this threesome of really ugly people was ahead of us on the Moratorium. Homeboys would not let us pass. No way! We waited at every belay, and climbed right on their asses whenever they moved. Upon reaching the top of the third pitch, my partner and I decided to rap rather than finish the uninspiring fourth pitch. At the bottom we snuck about 20 pounds of rocks into the Uglies’ packs, just for their own good.
But why resort to such childish tactics when you could be an adult? … That is to say, when you could do what you really want. Pass without asking. This, of course, is a more advanced maneuver, and it requires being a smug and inconsiderate asshole. Like I said, you have to be an adult.
I realize this isn’t a very useful how-to piece, but I will say this. You’ll need a good partner to feel comfortable simul-climbing together. The only way to pass gumbies is while they are immobilized at their four-piece anchor like flies stuck in a web. Knowing when to pass takes confidence and experience. Don’t rush it. Sometimes it’s best to wait till you see an opportunity to run two pitches together. If the leader falls, then the game goes to jungle rules. Anything goes. Clip their gear, use their helmets for footholds. Be creative.
When it comes time to pass the poor gumby, give him or her a nod. You want to be friendly, but only superficially. Don’t make conversation. Three-word sentences are the limit.
“How ya doing?” etc. Don’t say what you’re really thinking: “Get out of my way, you robots!”
I love forms of communication that don’t require actual words. This is a recurrent theme in Steven Spielberg movies, and there’s a reason. Probing the boundaries of human relationships through unspoken dialogue is the shit! I was lucky enough to experience this firsthand one year when I passed the same two climbers on three different routes over the course of two weeks.
These climbers didn’t know how to laugh, so their style was poor right off the bat. They carried sour faces beneath their crooked helmets, and walkie-talkie devices were strapped to their chest harnesses. One climber was the definitive leader; the other only followed. They climbed silently and without evident enjoyment.
The first time I passed them was on some feel-good 5.11a in the Cathedral area. I forget its name, but I do remember a little 5.10+ boulder problem leading into the business. My partner and I sat for 15 minutes watching Leader Gumby flog himself on the bouldery section, falling again and again and again. Finally and resignedly, he offered us the opportunity to pass. “You can try, if you want.” My partner and I obviously did the move without any trouble and continued onward. As we rappelled, the dude was looking more like Bail Gumby than Leader Gumby.
The second time was on one of those Middle Cathedral routes. Leader Gumby saw my partner and me charging up the face like psychos. I distinctly remember the expression that overcame Leader Gumby: His face tightened and became determined; his eyes narrowed and his lips puckered. It said, “There’s no way these two virile, cocksure cowboys will pass me again.”
Leader Gumby turned to the rock and started climbing fast. It was impressive. I tried to keep up with him, but he was moving really well and quickly. I felt a sinking feeling that I might not be able to catch him, and that would make me look pretty stupid as I was on the same pitch. Imagine if he reached the belay before me. It would be, at best, awkward.
Leader Gumby reached a blank section that turned steep. It was the type of climbing that required delicate technique—not speed. He was stymied and started pawing everywhere, like a mouse trying to climb up the side of a metal pail. Finally, his spastic efforts gave out. “I can do no more,” he said, and fell onto a nut. I passed him by going out right, where the easy jugs were.
The final showdown between Leader Gumby and myself was on Half Dome’s Regular Route. Leader Gumby and Belayer Gumby had started at probably 3 a.m. They were seven pitches ahead of us by the time my partner and I started climbing.
Still, of course, we smoked right up the wall and were skirting their belay within an hour. This time Leader Gumby made no effort to race. He looked beautiful and serene, waiting courteously so that I could pass. What a pleasant demeanor! Through the unspoken language of multi-pitch moderates, we had finally defined our relationship. Through climbing, I had bonded with a complete stranger.
As I passed by, Leader Gumby smiled at me, and then he let out a giant, relieving laugh, the way someone would suck oxygen after being under water for too long. Even he had come to accept that amusement parks are simply meant to be amusing.
Andrew Bisharat loves multi-pitch moderates, especially when he gets to come down to the ground between each pitch.