Thursday, November 05, 2009

Not Too Big to Fail

Joe Puryear has just posted one of his superb desert trip reports (24 towers in 20 days) at SuperTopo. Buried in the post, in a caption to Joe's photo of the Cobra in the Fisher Towers, was this nugget:

"A warning to all about the Cobra: the Cobra shuddered and swayed twice while we were on it. I've never heard of or had it do that before. Fun times..."

I climbed the Cobra many years ago, but when a group of friends repeated it recently after doing nearby Ancient Arts, I stayed on the ground and took photos. One time up the Cobra was fun; twice seemed like pushing my luck. The summit is a tilted block merely balanced on a spindly neck of pebbly stone. The tower didn't shudder or sway when I climbed it, nor when my friends did it a couple of years ago. But if the Cobra is swaying now, it may be about to strike. Who will get the "last ascent?" And who will get snake-bit?

Postscript: A friend from Europe wrote after reading this item: "I feel the final sentences in your post incite people to do something which perhaps they shouldn't. Surely if the block is unstable, if it took millions of years to form in the fragile desert ecosystem, then perhaps we climbers should lead by example and call it a day." Come to think of it, he's right. To protect this cool, unique formation—to say nothing of climbers' lives—this climb ought to be "retired" for good.

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