Here's something I wrote about soloing Clean and Jerk for the first time a few years ago. There haven't been many trip reports recently, help so I thought I would inject some life in the site: Why do I do it, orthopedist this thing called soloing? What is it that drives me to climb rocks without rope, without protection? Is it ego? Insanity? Ability? Am I just impressionable, a consumer whore of the climbing “rags”, a wannabe Reardon? If I can, why not? Because I could die, or be hideously maimed or crippled if I fail. But that’s not a possibility…. right? If I thought that could happen I wouldn’t do it, or would I? So many questions, and so few answers, as I tie my climbing shoes at the base of Sports Challenge Rock.
I’m in J-Tree for the weekend with a group of mostly beginners, setting up routes and, in general, not climbing at my limit. I have the itch to do something new, unique, or challenging. They are still making breakfast. I’ve already visited some friends in another campground, made afternoon climbing plans, and returned to the group site in Sheep’s Pass because there is an attractive, smart, funny, single woman there that I want to climb with that morning. However, I get bored waiting. The itch is nagging. This is the perfect opportunity. I drove out alone, my regular partners have all bailed for one reason or another this weekend, and this one route has been under my skin for months. As I head for the truck, the woman I met tells me to be safe. “I won’t,” I joke, smiling and laughing. It was a joke right? I solo safely, right? The questions have begun. I get in the truck and head for Real Hidden Valley listening to 92.1, the only radio station that my truck picks up, and I listen to bad music all the way there.
I realize that between the caffeine that I’ve ingested and the adrenaline of anticipation I’m feeling quite jittery and decide to warm up and test my self on Betty Jo Yablonski. My first lap up, I’m hesitant at the top, having no recollection of the reachy move. The caffeine has me on edge. I’m not enjoying myself. I finish the highball boulder problem and come back down. I’m thinking this isn’t the day, but I decide to do Betty one more time. This time she’s more enjoyable. The holds are there, the movement is more static and smooth, and I calm as I perfect the movement on the boulder problem. I am ready.
I get down, change shoes, and head for Sports Challenge Rock. There is purpose in my stride, I am on a mission. I wonder if there will be anyone on the route, I try to remember the moves, the cruxes. I focus on the fact that I’ve never fallen on the route despite multiple leads and top ropes over the past few years. As I approach I see a family has scrambled to the top and is on their way down. There are no hikers around in view of the route. Perfect, it’s just me and the climb.
I round the corner and see the route, Clean and Jerk. It is so beautiful. I’ve climbed it many times, but why does my head (or is it my heart?) want me to do it ropeless? As I sit, tying my shoes, the questions rage. I pull my laces and look up at the 60’ gently overhung rock above me, my mind running like a hamster in a wheel. Unanswered question after unanswered question. I tie an overhand and ponder the uneven rocky terrain beneath the climb. I finish my knots and inspect the only potentially tenuous section 40’ up the climb and wonder what will happen when I get there, not if I’ll fall, but how I will solve the problem. My confidence is building. As I told myself I would, I ask one last time, “Am I ready?” Standing and chalking up, I answer my own rhetorical question. Despite the questions, the lack of understanding, this is something I must do.
I walk over and grab the first holds and focus on not doing a single move I can’t reverse. I throw a foot up into a smear, then the other onto a rail. I rock over my hands, toeing hard to reach the next hold. Above are a series of crimps which seem huge to me this time. I’m focused. I pause 15’ up at the base of the crack. I can easily reverse what I’ve done. I’m ready to proceed. As I reach up for a single lie back move and find my first hand jam I find all questions dropping away. I’m home, I’m in a crack. Jam after jam lead me up the route quickly and efficiently. When I arrive at the tenuous section I pause, work out the most secure way to move up, and proceed with ease. The final overhang looms above. I pause in a comfortable pod. Normally it would be a rest, but I’ve climbed so quickly and efficiently I’m not fatigued in the least. I inspect my surroundings. I see hikers. They see me. We are all experiencing this wonderful park in different ways. I love it here, it is beautiful, but this is my last time in J-Tree for the season. It is getting hot and it is time for bigger, larger climbs in the mountains. After a minute I turn back to my climb. I reposition and reach up for the horizontal cracks and knobs above and finish the climb.
On top, I realize the affect the adrenaline had. I’m breathing hard. My body ramped up for me, accommodating me and my goal. I walk down the back. The family that was on top is now on the ground. As I approach, they turn around to see me, hearing me, I’m still breathing hard. I smile. I try to calm myself. It is time to head to Intersection Rock and meet up with the group, with the woman. I think about her, and how I have trouble flirting sometimes. I have the confidence to solo, but not to flirt where there are no tangible consequences. How strange the human mind is.
As I change shoes, I return to the question, “Why?” I don’t know. I’ll probably never know, but it is something I do. It is part of who I am.