Selnes, summer 1997

On a business trip to a region not famous for climbing, I heard about a 150-meter crag a few hours away. Friends introduced me to a stout local who had climbing experience and an old guidebook. The book described what appeared to be a classic 5.9 route up the crag's central corner. My new friend had not climbed it, but showed enthusiasm when I offered to lead. We set out with our nonclimbing friends on the scenic ferry and car ride approach.

The climb felt a bit raw, as if it hadn't seen heavy traffic. There was no fixed gear. Lichen and looseness added flavor to the lower slab pitches. A long vertical corner at half height formed the obvious crux and the reason for the route's classic status. Overcautious on strange rock, I started up the corner placing protection every few meters. My borrowed rack soon grew leaner, forcing runouts towards the top. When I reached the sloping belay stance I had no gear left except a #1 Friend and a clutch of small wires. There was no place for the wires. I shoved the Friend deep into a flared crack behind my stance. Sharing the crack was an old wooden wedge, a relic from ancient times. The Friend and wedge were the only anchors I could get.

My partner had been slow but successful on the 5.7 lower pitches. As he started to follow the crux, however, I realized why he had not tried this route previously. He made determined progress by pulling up on gear where he could, and in between placements doing very short moves followed by long tension rests. This was exhausting for him, and almost equally so for me because I was trying to keep his considerable weight off my anchors, while standing balanced on that sloping stance. One-third of the way up the pitch, he reached a roof and fell off. His swing yanked me from the stance and onto the anchors. The wooden wedge grated and popped out, leaving both of us hanging from one small Friend. While my partner struggled to get back on the rock, I fought to regain my stance. The rest of the pitch continued in this vein. My partner moved upwards by centimeters taking constant tension and frequent falls. By strenuous efforts I kept most of our weight off the anchor, which I could scarcely stop watching. An hour later, when he reached the belay, both of us were physically and mentally drained. Wanting only to get down alive, we traversed to good anchors and rapped off.

At a dockside cafe that afternoon, my friends were jolly about how wild this expedition had looked from the ground. I was just partly there, thinking about what I should have done and wishing we had finished the climb.

Larry Hamilton, 2003