Friday, March 28, 2008

A Friend in Need

I'm not sure if I'm smiling or grimacing in this photo. I might be smiling, because I've just reached the top of a beautiful route: the Psychedelic Wall on Ben Nevis in Scotland. Or I might be grimacing, because the ropes have just come tight at my waist, and I still have to climb over the little cornice atop the cliff, and my last pro is about 50 feet below me. I was climbing with Des Rubens, a Scottish climber, as part of the British Mountaineering Council's biannual winter meet, which assembles climbers from all over the world to sample Scottish ice with British hosts. I usually climb with 60-meter ropes; Des was using 50s. I'd misjudged the available rope, and now I was at the cords'—and my wits'—end.

Fortunately, at that moment another climber at the international meet, Maciej Ciesielski from Poland, happened to stroll by and notice my predicament. He quickly built an anchor a few feet back from the lip, allowing me to high-step onto the summit plateau. We got a good laugh out of it later that night at the pub. A year later, just a few days ago, Maciej sent me this photo, bringing back a flood of good memories. (I wrote about the experience in Scotland in a five-part blog series called Rime and Punishment at

The international meet was unforgettable: On this single day on Ben Nevis, I shared ropes and laughs with climbers from Belgium, England, Israel, Italy, Poland, and Scotland. With the dollar in the depths, it's not easy to travel to Europe and have experiences like this. Fortunately for American climbers, an international meet is coming to the U.S. this fall. The American Alpine Club is hosting a meet that will bring climbers from as many as 25 countries to sample the unique sandstone cracks and towers of the Utah desert in early October. U.S. hosts are needed, and if you're comfortable leading 5.10 at Indian Creek and enjoy meeting climbers from around the world, I highly suggest you check this out. I guarantee it will be a week of climbing you'll never forget.

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