This article originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of our print edition.
What is it that sets climbers apart from the skiers, surfers, runners, and every other extreme athlete? What makes us special? The answer is, of course, quite nuanced and complex. But, I can say with heartfelt conviction that, when compared to other extreme endeavors, climbers crap their pants a lot. And that is special. I have a “two degrees of poop” separation theory, that every climber either has a poop story of their own or a story about a friend pooping their pants, or in some other manner getting covered in poo. It just comes with the limited defecation resources we endure in the vertical world.
If you’re like me (and I hope you’re not), you don’t have just one crappy story. You have enough to fill an entire issue of Climbing magazine. Sadly, the editor shut down my dreamy pitch of putting out the mag’s first ever “Poop Issue,” and has limited me to 900 words. So, most remorsefully, I can’t play the whole discography, just the, ahem, greatest shits.
5. A high ratio of the best poo-tales involve El Capitan, for obvious reasons. El Cap is really big, and if you’re not climbing it in a day, you are almost certainly going to have to drop a #2 up there, unless perhaps you have some crazy Jedi powers over your sphincter—I have heard tales of a guy who held it for seven days on the wall.
While an emergent turd on the ground is a bit of a bummer, on El Cap… oh, man. You literally have to be on your shit, and this means pooping in a bag and bringing it down in a “poop tube,” unless you break the law and toss your poop down in a bag. More than one climber has been hit directly by a “mud falcon,” but I’ve only had one explode at my feet and pepper shrapnel against my legs.
While it may diminish your exposure time, climbing El Cap in a day doesn’t necessarily keep you safe. For instance, the day that Chris McNamara and I climbed The Shield in a day together, there was no time for bathroom breaks. I set a blistering pace. I’d soloed the first 5.10 pitch and was placing a couple pieces of gear per pitch. In less than an hour, we were nearly a thousand feet up the wall, and I had reached easy ground and was running and climbing like a heroic/idiotic maniac. I reached a small overhang and jumped gymnastically to the lip—double-dynoing my hands right into a big fresh steamer! The poop squirted up between the spaces in my fingers and splattered Pollock-like onto my face. “FUCK! FUCK! FUCK!” I shrieked. Chris probably thought I was about to take a hundred foot whipper and rip us off the wall. I did my best to scrape the stink-pudding off my hands, but Chris was yelling, “Go, go, go!” and before I could get it all off, my desire to set a record overtook my disgust. By the time we summited 10 hours later, thousands of feet of granite had scoured most of the trauma off my hands, but the stench lingered in my fingernails until I made it down to the valley floor and jumped in the river.
4. Now that I think about it, many of my proudest climbs have a poop subplot. One of my big breaks into becoming a pro climber came when I starred in Sender Films’ “First Ascent.” In the climactic scene, I manage to thrash my way up a burly unclimbed roof crack. What most people don’t know is that while racking up, I gambled and lost, trusting a fart that I shouldn’t have.
“Dudely, you just shit your pants; that’s no joke,” my partner, the legendary Bulgarian Ivo Ninov, exclaimed. Undeterred, I scooped the shart out of my pants with a rock and then fired the route. Watch the film again; you can just see a faint silver dollar–sized stain on my pants in a couple of the scenes.
3. I still consider my trip to Baffin Island with Jason “Singer” Smith to be one of the proudest and most difficult expeditions of my life. We managed perhaps the first grade VII big wall ever done in a single push—and I almost managed not to shit my pants. Halfway up the 4,000-foot A4 route, we climbed through a fresh rock scar from massive rockfall that had narrowly missed us earlier in the day. I stemmed past giant, teetering blocks the size of refrigerators and at times swam up what could be best described as vertical rubble. In a full survival panic, I accidentally kicked off a softball-sized rock, and it nailed Singer, shattering his kneecap. The only way off now was up and over, and Singer could barely jumar. I got off route several times, and we started to wonder seriously if this would be our last climb. In all the terror, I had shut off nature’s call, but as I neared the summit and it began to look like we might survive, I relaxed and a five-alarm crap was suddenly on deck. I frantically scooted up a chimney, reached a ledge, and at the speed of light dropped my pants. So close. I’d gotten my pants down around my ankles, but in the heat of the moment, I still managed to deposit the whole load right into my pants. It was a pretty extreme crap.
2. Not all of my poop stories involve super-extreme climbs! One of my favorites happened on perhaps the most-climbed desert tower in the world. A certain mountain guide friend of mine had an emergent moment while taking a client up Ancient Art in Utah. A sudden and violent diarrhea overtook him, and at the end of the first pitch he realized that he had no choice but to do the unthinkable and defile the ledge. He took his harness off, draped it on the ledge, and as he relieved himself, the harness, rack, and rope all fell 20 feet down to a ledge below. As his client yelled up wondering what was taking so long, he who shall remain unnamed soloed down, retrieved his harness, and then used all the water in his reservoir to rinse the poo off before his client could follow the pitch. “What’s that smell?” the client asked. “I think the party above us shit here.” My friend replied, “Super disrespectful!” I’m sure the client wondered why they found no one above them at the top.
1. Now I’ll recount quite possibly the most famous pants-shitting story in the history of climbing (if not the modern world). For those of you who are living in a vacuum, Google “Boogie ’til You Poop,” and you’ll witness probably the most hilarious climbing film you will ever see. To summarize, my good friend Jason Kruk, having had one too many brewpub beers the night before, gets his knee stuck in Squamish’s 5.11b offwidth Boogie ’til You Puke, while I was filming and Andrew Burr was taking photographs. I went down to rescue Kruk while Burr turned his camera from stills to video mode to capture the magic. In order to support his free leg and help him get out, I was right below him with my face three feet from his ass when Jason began to panic, dry-heave, and then audibly shit his pants not once but twice. On occasion I actually get people who recognize me not for my climbing endeavors, but for being “that guy who got shit on in that video.”
Jason went on to do a “web redemption” on the Comedy Central show “Tosh.O.” Jason handled the whole unfortunate situation with humility and a good sense of humor: “Basically, if you climb enough offwidths,” he said, “you’re going to get your knee stuck and shit your pants. It’s an odds thing really. I’m just glad I had a professional photographer and videographer there to capture it so I can remember this moment for the rest of my life.” I think part of the reason the video was so popular is because we can all put ourselves in that position. In some ways there is nothing more human than shitting your pants. We all love. We all cry. We all shit. And no group, except perhaps infants, seems to shit themselves as often as climbers.
Cedar Wright is a contributing editor for Climbing. He’s a professional climber, filmmaker, and world-class goofball who resides in Boulder, Colorado.