The Devil wears white vinyl

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“The descent down North Dome Gully is the scene of frequent accidents … if unfamiliar, don’t attempt at night.” Despite this guidebook warning and the setting sun, down I went, dehydrated, hungry, and with a full haulbag and portaledge on my back. I’d just completed a three-day solo of the Prow on Washington Column, and my only thoughts were of the fig bars I’d squirreled away at Camp 4. The steep, gravel-strewn trail was constantly interrupted by long sections of scaly stair-step rock outcroppings. My legs were soon torched and, when a knee buckled under, I thought it prudent to rest and dig out a headlamp. Spinning the headlamp on brought no relief, as the batteries had died illuminating the pig’s guts. By now things were looking pretty bleak — I had no food and had drunk the last of my water at lunch, eight hours earlier. The idea of spending a night perched on a debris-strewn ledge in the middle of this 1500-foot slagheap of a gully was loathsome. It would have been like sleeping on a mound of cinder blocks: Cart-wheeling to the base while asleep was a distinct possibility. I would have to empty the pig, set up a belay, and clip in before settling down for a night of misery. The stars and a rising quarter-moon gave the landscape the look of a grainy black-and-white photo. Thinking I could just make out the trail, I heaved the 70-pound load onto my back, tiptoed around the outside of a Sumo-wrestler-sized loose block, and inadvertently stepped onto a ball-bearing slab. Both my legs skated out, and I began an agonizingly slow slide down the incline with one arm trapped under the cursed sack. After a few feet of clawing at loose crystals with my free hand I stopped, vaguely aware that my feet were no longer touching terra firma — they were hanging in midair off the end of a ledge. With the care of a bomb-squad technician, I walked my fingers down the rock, escaped from one shoulder strap, and grabbed the haulbag’s waist-belt buckle — the unsnapping of which sent the beast back in motion. That’s when a forgotten memory took over and I busted out the “one-handed, crazy-legs turnstile triumph” breakdance move I’d learned as a fifth grader watching videos of the fuzzy-top-hat-wearin’ pimpdaddy himself: Public Enemy’s Flavor Flav. This contorted choreography got me onto my feet just in time to step over the bag, turn, and snag one of its straps before it could slide off the 15-foot drop and pinball to the valley floor. Thank God for MTV.

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