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Damn, why won’t the rope move? Instinctively, I blame the belayer. Instinctively, but also because I know him as the kid who has a D in English because he’s bored with English and so doesn’t try to do well in English. He has already told me that he’s bored with belaying today.

I yell down, “Slack!”

“There is slack!” comes the answer.

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Uh-oh. I pull on the rope again, and flip the cord hard a couple of times, all to no avail.

The hell if I’m going to spoil the clean lead. I place a pair of cams and clip in without weighting them. I tie a clove in the rope through a carabiner  clipped to my belay loop, and then I carefully climb back down, past one piece, to the little roof. There, I find the source of the problem.

It’s a splitter problem, and one I’ve never encountered before. As I moved above the roof, the rope slipped into the crack and behind the cam I’d placed at the lip. With some tension coming from the GriGri, the rope had pushed the cam farther into the narrowing crack and gotten itself stuck behind the gradually closing, upper lobe of the cam.

At this point I must note, that the tension from the GriGri is not the older boy’s fault. The last thing I say to him before I leave the ground is, “No Euro-loops.”

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God help him; he listens to me. I am subsequently tugging on the rope all the time. Until this moment, it has seemed harmless, or even helpful, as resistance training.

Now, to free up the rope, I really should lower myself below the roof, not stand at the lip, where I am. But, that would mean hanging on the anchors.

Instead, I reach down below my feet and commence to jiggling. I’ll admit, I am still learning how to place  clean cams in sandstone. I have a tendency to over-cam them a little, and a little is all it takes to makes the device’s hold on the soft, grippy rock, tenacious.

The hold for my left hand is good, but I’m stretched out completely and off-balance, so my feet offer little more than moral support. The clock begins to tick. I can feel my fingers start to slide off their sandy perch. But I can also feel the cam shifting slightly, so I keep fighting the losing battle: re-adjust, slip a little faster, re-adjust, etc.

Just before I melt off the hold completely, the cam gives. I can turn it upside down and retract the lobes. I step up and settle into the jams above the roof for a rest.

Once I catch my breath, I trudge back up to the anchor and tie in to the end of the rope once more.

“Back on,” I yell, and as an afterthought, “This still counts!”

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There is no response from the belay. It’s OK; that’s why the GriGri and the parent/child relationship were invented. Both allow us to learn sympathy for ridiculous people.

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A second crux awaits just before the anchors. I don’t pass it quite as gracefully, now that I’m tired, but it goes. I can’t convince the kids to follow the route. They offer the excuse that they are too tired from climbing Andy Kauffman Crack.

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I don’t believe them for a second, but at least they indulge me (and vice versa). If that’s all they get from the experience, it’s enough.


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They did come back to climb Rusty Cage. The pair of climbs – Rusty Cage and Andy Kauffman Crack – are on the back side of North Mesa. Just walk up the Cathedral
Rocks trail off Back O’ Beyond road. Where the trail passes a little cliff band on the right, keep going on a right branch instead of continuing up and left with the hikers who are headed for a saddle between the two major sets of formations which constitute the Cathedral Rocks. Keep walking all the way around the corner at the far end of the North Mesa. When it looks like you are about to come to the end of the road, look uphill to the left. You will see a shady grotto formed by a pair of towers nestled close against the main formation. You will recognize Rusty Cage as the clean splitter on the right. Andy Kauffman Crack is hidden on the left.

Rusty Cage is .10 c and takes a red tricam, a # 2 Camalot, and then  as many or as few # 3 Camalots as you feel comfortable placing. Six of them keep you looking at no more than a 20-footer at any time.

Andy Kauffman is a corner and then a roof. It is well protected, but takes a # 5 Camalot or a bit of alpine run-out skill in the section just before the roof. Multiples of 1’s, 2’s and 3’s help if you are getting used to sandstone .10 a.

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