In mid-September I took a trip to the Red, nearly one year after visiting for the first time (Thanksgiving of 2008). Feeling stronger and more ambitious than ever, I immediately threw myself at any and all impressive looking climbs I encountered, including those near or at my limit. For those of you who haven’t heard stories of the Red or any stories about climbing for that matter, I can break down the style of climbing there for you in one word.. steep. The nature of the rock allows for lots of pockets and ledges that provide a positive grip making it easier to hold on to. How do you level the playing field then? Put these positive holds on steadily overhanging walls. Of course not all of the routes at the Red are steep, but once you break out of the 5.10 range here my experience is that a lot of them are quite steep at some point. Needless to say, a steep route is a pumpy route, and even though my trip was a short two days, my forearms were trashed by 4PM on day one.
The first day of climbing brought us to a section of the Red called ‘Grays Branch’, and more specifically the ‘Military Wall’. Here, a wide range of climbs remained dry through downpours due to the steep nature of the walls. One large block stands out from the rest; streaked orange, red, and black, it contains classic Red River Gorge routes including the one which gives this blog its name ‘Tissue Tiger’. Despite the thrashing I had already taken up to that point, I got on Tissue Tiger to try my luck. By the third bolt I was already spent, and it took a good three or four tries for me to figure out the crux before reaching the top. Basically this climb spanked me. I was exhausted.
Military wall being the classic wall that it is, I was not surprised to find myself back there again during our most recent Thanksgiving trip. Less than psyched to repeat the beat-down I experienced only one month prior, I didn’t have plans to revisit Tissue Tiger, but apparently Rob didn’t get the memo. Rob too had previously been on the climb, and with more encouraging results. With a little coaxing and some pre-hung draws, I found myself working the opening maze of pockets, with equal confusion as my first attempt. Even with the botched bottom sequence however, I was midway through the crux before being pitched from the climb. I hauled myself back to the last bolt and clipped in for a quick rest before sending the crux on my very next try; better than before, but linking those two sections together seemed unlikely. Rob’s attempts ended in a similar fashion, and after my second try, my muscles felt seriously fatigued. But hey, that’s how it goes sometimes. I wasn’t worried. I had four more days of climbing to last through, and burning out on this climb wasn’t at the top of my list.
Leaving the crag for Miguel’s Rob and I recalled the mistaken sequences, and what-ifs, all while stringing together the perfectly choreographed send in our minds eye. Rob was stopping at the Red on his way to St. Louis for Thanksgiving and then on to Arizona for a new life in Flagstaff. This deadline elevated the send of Tissue Tiger to “now or never” status. Back at Miguel’s, obsession became madness as Rob suggested we head back to Military Wall on Thanksgiving morning for one last go before he hit the road.
On Thanksgiving morning my dreams started to dissolve into that fuzzy light that makes its way through your tent before sunrise and my nose was cold as it stuck out of my sleeping bag into the 30 degree morning air. I knew it was early. In a campground full of climbers, I didn’t hear a sound. That was of course until I heard a squawking serenade that trailed off into the mist like a lonely partier doing his best rooster call after 6-to-many beers. I tried to ignore it, but it kept up, relentlessly! Kaaackadoooodle doodle croak!! This actually WAS a chicken.. What the crap was wrong with this thing? The last thing I needed was a wake-up call from a hammered rooster. F-it, I’M UP, I thought to myself. Well, if Rob and I are going to get a chance at this thing, we had better get on it – Rob needed to make dinner by 4PM and St. Louis was 6 hours away.
The approach to the crag was cold and crisp. The thought of slipping on a stiff pair of climbing shoes and attempting a climb that pushed the limits of my ability at 8am in the freezing cold was less than appealing. But as we approached the wall, I couldn’t help but feel like we were getting away with something. Laughing nervously at the task ahead, we turned the final corner in the trail and climbed the to the base of our project. Jesus.. did it get taller over night? The sun had yet to come up and it was 7:30AM.
Ah! The sun! We glanced at the horizon and were ecstatic to see a ray of sun peaking over the hills in the distance. In seconds, the wall turned from a grey, dreary looking lump of stone, to a dazzling golden orange. As the sun warmed us up, our outlook improved.
Rob warmed up by fixing the draws on the lower half of the climb and lowering off. I made my way up the lower half bolt-by-bolt, hanging at each while making sure I had the sequence dialed before proceeding through the crux to the top. Warmed up, Rob was the first to go. Tip-toeing from pocket to pocket he picked his way through the lower section and engaged the crux. Pulling from two slopey crimps to a right sidepull pocket, his right hand hit the hold and flew off, as he whipped back toward the ground. Not this time.
I was next, taking advantage of new beta through the lower pocket section, I reached the large layback hueco marking the beginning of the crux. Moving from the slopey crimps, I hit the pocket, solid. My left hand bumped up to another shallow pocket as I hiked my feet up. The final crux move went from a flat left hand crimp and right hand sidepull pocket. Dropping my right knee, I stabbed for a pinch in the shape of India. Mentally apologizing to my kindergarten teacher Loretta, I squeezed Sri Lanka with every ounce of strength my right arm could muster and pulled through the crux, gathered myself and topped it out to the anchors. SUCCESS!
While celebrating with Rob back on the ground his demeanor turned focused as he tied in. Back at the crux that had sent him back each time before, he cruised it; each move seemed effortless. Clipping the chains and lowering off, we had done it. Against the time clock, cold weather and long days of climbing with no rest, we took a chance and it paid off – with a perfect Thanksgiving morning.
Thanks for gettin’ me up Rob!