Worst Error, Yosemite, April 1980

I'd been studying the first ten feet of the last pitch, which was all I could see before it disappeared into a roof, while I brought David up to my chockstone belay. What I saw made me nervous, so I was eager to get started. Soon after he arrived I set off, getting instantly committed on a thrashing traverse with my body in the roof/chimney, feet dangling useless in space. A foothold at the lip provided huffing and puffing rest. I got my first look at the offsize crack streaking on forever above. This would be a long pitch.

The next section was straightforward jamming, with a couple of tube chocks giving widely-spaced protection. The straightforwardness ended at a bulge, where I fiddled and rehearsed before going for it on rounded face holds that brought me up to the final roof. I clipped the route's only bolt there, backing it up with nuts.

I tried the roof left side in, right side in, then left side again, hoping to find a combination that would make it seem easy. No such luck. I wanted to be done, but couldn't rest. Grabbing the bolt would spoil the ascent. If I wasn't going to cheat then I had better move on. I pushed through fighting for inches and gasping for breath. The tight crack above was obvious but not easy, with the summit still some distance above. I placed my last big hex and began to run it out slowly. Inches grew to yards as the protection disappeared below. Cheating was no longer an option, though I now wished it was. Several times I had to stop, wedged in the crack, and lean my head against the rock in fatigue. "The loneliness of the long-distance runner" went through my head, because I felt lonely and the runout seemed long. But I thought too that a runner could always give up. That wasn't a choice here. There were no choices here.

After much self-pity and chimney-climbing the crack opened up to let me mantle onto the Worst Error summit. Things felt peculiar. Sweat dried in the breeze and I began to chill, especially after removing my agonizingly tight EBs. The summit of the pinnacle is large and sloping; it seemed like some alien planet, light years from civilization or rest. The lower valley looked pretty in the evening light, and gained a supernatural glow from my exhausted, euphoric and cold state of mind. Sensations of deja vu, of unreality, of cosmic significance and the rest floated just out of reach like an acid dream.

David came up slowly, taking tension that could not have helped him much. He arrived at the top looking equally done-in. We gloated on the summit just a few minutes, then turned to what was uppermost in our minds: getting down. Before starting the exposed rappels, we checked our setups and the knots many times. It still felt spooky lowering ourselves off the yawning edge. When we finally reached the ground, we could joke about the rightness of the Worst Error name. David said the route stank, and I pretended to agree. Really, I thought it was brilliant.

We returned to the road via an uphill bushwhack through poison oak, arriving about dusk. David shared homegrown grapefruit, which seemed a suitable end to the day.

Larry Hamilton, 1980/2003