The Horse and Pony Show
Dog and pony show was a colloquial term used in the United States [Mid-States, Horse and Pony Show] in the in the late-19th and early-20th centuries to refer to small traveling circuses that toured through small towns and rural areas. The name derives from the typical use of performing dogs and ponies as the main attractions of the events.
I’m dangling 500 feet above the deck in a sea of choss. A hammer, crowbar, chalk bag, brushes and ironmongery dangle off my harness. My face is covered in a dust mask and helmet is on tight. With one hand I’m tending to the belay device while the other is feeding the rope out of its coils. I’m kicking multiple couch-sized blocks off their precarious perches and marking bolt spots with dabs of chalk as I descend the rope. After 150ft of tenuous rapping, I reach a three-inch stance at the base of a large, overhanging chimney. I pound in a few pins in a nearby crack, clip in and lock off the rope. Mike follows down, powering in bolts with a hefty Bosch on his way. Waiting at the anchor for Mike, secured by these few pins in unidentifiable rock, I watch the surrounding storm clouds roll in like dark plumes and think about how I got here.
It’s raining all around us now but the overhang is keeping us dry. The wind has picked up, too. We don’t know if we have enough rope to get back to the ground and still fix. We lower one rope to get a visual of our proximity to the ground — immediately the wind catches it and whips the end around a distant corner – stuck. We pull and prod on the rope with no avail. I decide to jug up the steep chimney above and retrieve our highpoint line. I clean the line and set up an anchor midway through the pitch – essentially one bolt – to make it back. Mike heads down the stuck rope, Bosch in hand, stops at a ledge (and where the rope is too tight to go any further) and drills the anchor. At this point the rope is so tight from the tension of it being pulled around the corner, that Mike can barely get his Gri Gri off. I’m forced to down-jug to him instead of rappelling. A few shenanigans later, we’re at the ground: cold, wet and chained with dripping hardware.
The Mudwall project stretched on for six weeks. As slaves to the grind, and with Mike’s wife expecting a child, we teamed up only on Sundays. Mike snuck up to to wall a few times on his own to clean and bolt. After the first few days on the wall it became clean enough to climb, and we would re-lead to our highpoints on each mission.
We brought music, hot drinks and scarves to keep us occupied and warm during late fall belay duty. During redpoint burns holds snapped off, sections were damp, and the line was often hard to make out. Once a cam sheered (a bolt was added). The base of our route was strewn with blocks.
P1 was short and only had one move of 5.10. P2 was engaging: 145 feet of 5.11 and only eight bolts, the rest: bomber cams. P3 ascended a blunt arête for 80 feet with bolts and a few pieces for protection. P4 took several days’ effort and was the crux: crimps and sidepulls up a black, limestone painted face, entirely bolt protected. P5, with the overhanging chimney, ended up going right of the chimney and up a slopey arête, also bolt protected. (We didn’t dare touch any blocks in the chimney as they are directly above the hanging belay.) We opted to stop where the top of the chimney and arête merged. Above, the terrain became less steep, much looser, and generally unappealing.
Completing the Pony Show marked hopefully the first of many more FA’s for Team Danger, as local climbing friends call us. And I’m glad to have a dedicated climbing partner; someone I don’t have to convince to go out whether it’s cold, wet or early; and to push me. Mike sums it up best “It’s one thing to climb 5.12 on a single pitch, cragging in a relatively controlled environment. It’s different four pitches up and on new terrain. Same goes for 5.11 sport or trad. A little (more) different when it’s mixed like it is on our route. As far as FA’s I’ve done, it’s the top of the list, hands down. I’m ready to say, forget this bullshit single pitch route development, I want to put up long routes, that’s where it’s really at.”