Full Circle: Moonlight Ascent of Leonids (II 5.9 El Cajon Mountain)

Back in February of 2006, healing I climbed my first multi-pitch route. I had been climbing for about 3-4 months at the time, women's health mostly indoors and on toprope. My hands were still soft, my forearms puny, my gear still shiny, but my mind was gung-ho on this new sport which promised to transform me from a boy into a mountain scaling demigod. So when Neal (former Vertical Hold climbing gym employee) offered to take me on my first multi-pitch climb, I almost slimed myself. Carrying all the gear and water up to the base of the crag was my first appetizing taste of the succulent glory that can be squeezed from punishment. I suffered for what seemed like an eternity at every belay station, while Neal lead every pitch. It was cloudy and freezing cold with a bitter wind, my hands were frozen, my feet felt like a fat Renaissance chick forced to wear a corset, and I was too scared to take a piss...I knew I had found my calling! Rappeling all the pitches was just as exciting, especially the airy hanging rappel over the roof of Triton Tower. Neal had to take a shit when we got down, and without any toilet paper, used his own sock to wipe his ass and then insisted that we pack out the "shit sock" in a ziplock bag...brilliant! Finally, I had something to brag about to women at bars and a manly story to tell around campfires.Fast forward 2 years, several 14,000 foot peaks, epic climbs, winter ascents, multi-day expeditions, incredible friendships, breathtaking beauty, raw truth...and now I am getting ready to leave the place where I discovered this way of life (San Diego) for a place where I can live it to the fullest (Boulder, CO). I thought that Leonids would be perfect to climb under a full moon, with its Southwest facing wall, close bolts, many features, and spectacular location.I picked up Jack around 630pm in Ocean Beach and we were at the trailhead by 730pm. The hike was far more pleasant without the typical East County San Diego heat, and the almost full moon allowed us to do it without headlamps. A hike that is usually silent, save for heavy breathing and footsteps, was now accompanied by an incredible nocturnal soundtrack. Frogs, crickets, and the competing yelps of coyotes cut through the cool evening air. The triangular shaped face of El Cajon Mountain loomed larger and larger, illuminated by a pale moonlight and sliced down the middle by the black shadow cast by Triton Tower. The area to the left of this shifting scar marked Leonids, one of the finest multi-pitch 5.9 sport routes anywhere. After 45 minutes of sweaty hiking, we were at the familiar base of the route. The temperature was a perfect 55 degrees, no clouds, no wind, and a big white moon rising fast in the eastern sky.Jack lead the first pitch in great style, without the use of a headlamp, and brought me up. The handholds were easy to spot by moonlight, but the feet were a bit trickier. The rock was still warm from a full day basking in the sun. I got up to Jack at the hanging belay and took the lead. Gil cruised the second pitch and thanks to my suggestion about taking 2 extra draws, had just enough to lead it and have 2 draws for the anchor. Normally, when Gil leads, I become distracted staring at his beautiful toned but-cheeks flexing as his powerful legs support the weight of his chiseled torso, but in the dark I was able to focus on the beautiful scenery below me. The endless granite boulders looked bone white under the glow of the moon, strewn across the ground 200 feet below like pebbles kicked from a gravel path into the surrounding grass.

While belaying Jack up to the top of the second pitch, a wispy fog began to blanket the valley below. It looked like something out of a scary movie, and by the time Jack reached me, the fog covered the entire valley floor like a whimsical ocean of mist. Soon it covered everything including the bottoms of distant mountains and the city lights in the distance. This effect is one of the most awe-inspiring of nature's myriad performances. Seeing the clouds from above gives you a literal sense of being above the rest of the world, and a feeling of great privilege. But seeing the clouds from above illuminated by the light of the moon is something I will never forget...despite the pale nature of the light, its image will remain burned in my mind's eye for as long as I live.

I lead the third pitch while Gil sat on the ledge below, probably thinking about how he was going to romanticize our climb on Pullharder. I asked him for some slack at one point and could've sworn I heard him sobbing and talking to himself about how beautiful the scenery was...what a pussy! That guy thinks that climbing shit in the dark is badass, but I eat climbs like this for breakfast! Despite his overly emotional nature, Gil lead the fourth pitch flawlessly, making it look like 5.4+ instead of 5.7. No amount of flowery writing or crying can ever diminish Gil's extraordinary manliness...he's my hero.

Jack and I stood on top of El Cajon mountain admiring the eerie halo in the clouds surrounding the full moon directly above. It reminded me of the full circle I have made since embarking on my journey out west in 2005. We rappelled down and hiked out, reaching the car around midnight. I introduced Jack to climbing when he moved here in the fall of 2006, and it is really great to be climbing with a friend who I knew before either of us had the faintest idea what climbing was. I would like to thank Jack for his willingness to learn, his fearless leading, and his tolerance of my poetic ranting and frequent flatulence.

There is no greater metaphor for life than climbing mountains.