The Little Things

As above, so below.

Hanging here with my arm shoved to the elbow into a crack on a towering piece of granite some 200 meters above the valley floor, this phrase pops into my head.

According to Wikipedia, it’s a saying that originated with Hermetic philosophy, referring to some manner of understanding the world by understanding oneself. But, in my particular situation, looking up at down at 50 meters of continuous, identically wide hand cracks, it’s a lot more literal.

As in, “well fuck, that crack above me looks just like that crack below”.

Normally, this wouldn’t really be a problem. In fact, this crack is one of the most fun pieces of rock I’ve ever climbed - a perfect hand crack some might say. Perfect that is, save for one thing. I’m out of protection.  

This crack is so uniformly wide for nearly it’s entire length that it only take gear in two sizes - red #1 cams and gold #2 cams. Maybe, in a pinch, you can squeeze a green .75 in and pray you don’t fall. Unfortunately for me, I started this pitch with only three cams and two nuts that fit into this crack and, since I dropped the caribiner racked with my large nuts a third of the way up the pitch and placed my last cam some twenty feet below me, I’m starting to have a minor meltdown.

A few feet above me, the bomber foot placements I’ve been depending on to comfortably run this pitch out are about to disappear, leaving me the choice to either continue up the crack, or try my luck stepping a few meters out to the right towards some faint finger holds and foot nubbins.

I search my harness for something I can place, or some creative way to fit a piece of protection. I have a large, blue #3 cam, a tiny purple cam smaller than my pinky, and three nuts in descending size from the one thats about the size of an almond. I have a couple slings left, but I already know that I’ll need those to set up an anchor at the treed ledge above. In other words, the only protection I have is not falling.

Pushing the word “fall” from my mind, I breathe deep, jam my other hand into the crack and mutter “fuck me” under my breath, silently praying that the crack widens enough to place that #3.

No luck. There are a few promising spots, but no goldilocks placement for what’s on my harness.

Twenty feet turns into thirty, turns into forty. Or, at least that’s what it feels like. Whatever the actual distance, it’s enough that a fall would have serious consequences.

Finally, the crack starts to narrow. Looking up I can see the belay tree less than 15 feet away.

The narrow crack splits into a dozen tiny slits, most too shallow and too narrow to get my finger tips into, let alone place a piece of protection. My left hand slips on a hold and my heart leaps into my throat.

Above my head, up and to the right, a tiny crack narrows into an even tinier constriction. I reach across my body, unclip a purple nut and gingerly wedge it into the crack. For a second, it disappears from my view, but with a slight shift up, I can see it, resting perfectly in the constriction.

I clip a quick-draw to the wire running from the nut, clip my rope to the quick-draw and exhale for the first time in what feels like half an hour.

I float throughout the next few moves to the tree. Sling it and start hauling the rope, taking special care not to dwell too long on the massive gap of blank rock between my last two pieces of protection.

For that moment, my brain knows I’m safe, all because of one tiny piece of metal and for some ridiculous reason I mutter to myself “you know, it’s the little things”.

Cameron Fenton