Index Gothic

It's been nearly a month and a half since I re-injured my "weakest link": a collateral ligament in one of my fingers. Time off from climbing is good, although it might be better when not necessitated by injury. But then again, injury is good for reminding us that we are, after all, still made of flesh and bone despite our sometimes lofty intentions. A quandary, I say.

Anyway, this post isn't supposed to be about me; it's about Jeanna. She has been climbing brilliantly lately without me there at the crag to "encourage" (read: "berate") her. Take a look at the following image and see if you can guess which ultra-technical Index Lower Town Wall testpiece she just redpointed a week or two ago:

A flinty agriculturalist

Stern Farmer is the variation that leaves Japanese Gardens at a bolt about halfway up the initial widening jam/lieback crack. The difficulties begin in earnest whilst establishing oneself in a flared groove bereft of any feature save a snaking, shallow crack into which only the most chiseled fingertips might fit, and then only a centimeter at most. After squirming through the first eight feet using a bizarre combination of offwidthing and cuticle-castigating fingertip torquing, the crack opens tantalizingly for a few flared finger jams, only to slam cruelly shut through the rest of the crux, which follows the seam in a right-facing corner and culminates in a tenuous lunge to a large flat hold and the end of the main difficulties.

Given an ego-rending 5.12a in the Clint Cummins guide, the pitch often finds itself in the sights of unwary suitors who, fresh off an ascent of the neighboring Japanese Gardens, inspect the pitch while lowering to the ground and, barreling along on a wave of hubris, figure they'll 'give it a go'. Prodigious torment usually ensues, replete with numerous jarring ejections from the initial difficulties, copious grunting accompanied by the requisite florid language and feet paddling uselessly against the sparsely featured stone to the right of the corner. Blood smears are oft the spoil of the victorious groove, which wears them proudly to apprise other hapless crusaders of the likely consequences of their pursuit until the ubiquitous rains wash clean the battlefield.

A lead ascent of this Terry Lien and Tom Michael masterpiece (they were the first free ascentionists, to be precise) is actually somewhat a of rare occurrence without the use of etriers and a veritable phalanx of thin cams and widgets. Having free-climbed this pitch somewhat frequently, including a linkup through the easier but airy second pitch (formerly A2/3, now 5.12a; best done at 5.12d as one long pitch from the ground) I can attest to its rather elusive nature: with judicious employment of the proper techniques, the climb remains tenuous to the very end, with success dependent on a heightened attention to both foot placement and the frictional properties of climbing shoe rubber. For the record: the first pitch is at least 5.12b even by the rather austere grading standards present at Index.

Jeanna, of course, is a technical wizard on granite. After watching her float her way up the climb on toprope twice in a row one afternoon, I wondered aloud to her if she might, perhaps, consider ceasing her rather senseless belittlement of the pitch and rediscover a little challenge in leading it. The few minutes that she would spend racking up gear for the climb might actually have given some of the other climbers at the crag (including myself, at times) precious moments to assuage their bruised egos acquired by watching her trounce such difficult routes. Maybe, I thought, she would even have to earn victory via a couple of real falls onto gear! Although it was not to be that day, she would, after a few more imperious toprope laps, complete the climb summarily on what I believe was her second or third attempt at leading it. Unfortunately, I wasn't there to witness the moment because my focus these days is on my lack of funds and on the overabundance of good beer in Seattle and I only climb vicariously through 1980's and 90's era issues of Climbing and Rock & Ice.

For someone so aggravatingly self-effacing about her rather exceptional abilities as a climber, Jeanna sure is a bona fide badass and a leading candidate for 'the strongest and most capable climber I know who hasn't climbed a 5.13 at Index (yet)'. I think anyone who has climbed with her would have to concur.