photo: Chris Craggs. montage: Mick Ryan
Lounging on a car, she leaned back and laughed. I allowed my eyes to travel the length of her. She was an incredible sight, and my senses jumped. Dark brown hair, long sensuous legs, and a body with all the right curves.
“Do you want to climb tomorrow?” I stammered and hoped against all hope. We were in the Camp 4 parking lot and the gorgeous (and seemingly unattached) Suzanne had strolled over to watch me sort my gear. My buds and I had spent the last month in Yosemite groveling up walls and living in the dirt. The recent arrival of Suzanne had awakened a certain part of my psyche that had lain dormant lately.
“OK” she purred.
Wow! My heart pounded. Now what? Where? Somewhere we can get away and be alone and who knows? Then it came to me, the East Buttress of Middle Cathedral! A long classic climb that was always fun.
“How about the east buttress of middle?” I suggested and said a silent prayer, “Please God, I've been good!”
“What's it rated?”
“Oh, its got one pitch of 5.10, but the rest is about 5.7 or so. The 5.10 is on a bolt ladder that you can easily aid, if you have problems”.
“That sounds good!”
“OK, lets leave real early so we don't have to climb under anyone”
“OK” she replied and then dropped a bomb, “Can I sleep in your tent?”
The world shook, and my heart pounded so hard that it hurt. I tried to maintain my composure and a straight face.
“The mosquitoes bothered me all night.” she continued, “And that way we can get a good start”.
“OK, got plenty of room.” I managed. I lowered my eyes to the parking lot and bit my lip.
After a quiet moment, we were joined by several buddies of mine who, oblivious to my rapture, began blathering about some climb we had been on yesterday and the fact that someone had puked in our campsite last night. I kept on racking my gear as my mind wirled.
“Lets see, need to clean up the tent.” I imagined the dirty, grimy, nylon tube that I had crawled into every night. The thing was littered with stinky clothes and a stinky sleeping bag. I would need to do some laundry, and maybe the bag or tent wouldn't smell so bad if I aired it out. I also needed to clean myself up. Lately we had only been taking showers about once every four or five days.
“You ready to go to the Cookie?” Jon asked.
Thinking about all the cleaning I needed to do to transform my tent into the ultimate singles pad, I replied “No, I think I'll take it easy today and hang out here or at the village.” Jon looked at me like I was crazy.
As I looked up at Suzanne, she hiked her foot up onto the fender and unknowingly gave me a quick glimpse under her running shorts. Shocked as I was, I quickly looked down and wondered how in the world was I going to get through the day? While everyone chatted, I finished sorting the gear and shouldered my pack.
“See you later”, I confidently told Suzanne before striding off to my tent.
Later on, I admired my tent. I had completely cleaned up my act, and though the tent still smelled like puke (it always smelled this way), I was sure that it would not repulse anyone. At least, not anyone who was used to the squalor of life in Camp 4.
As I did laundry and showered, I plotted how to seduce the lovely Suzanne. I used some of the few dollars that I had left to buy some nice wine. I packed the gear for the next day and put a nice lunch together. I even stole a red rose from one of the ranger yards and placed it in the lunch bag.
Back at camp in the afternoon, I bouldered a while and then hung out. The world was a wonderful place. But, where was Suzanne? As the shadows stretched into the evening, and my camp mates filtered back into camp, I excitedly waited for her. I tried to bide my time by reading and cooking. But later, after a few hours of darkness, I started to question the events of the morning. Where the hell was she? None of my buds knew, and although I hadn't mentioned my supposed coup, they were probably wondering about me with my freshly cleaned appearance and worrisome attitude.
Finally, I gave up and crawled into my buff abode. As I lay there, I began to seethe with anger and worry. Where was she? An hour or so later I found out. I heard her distinctive giggle as she walked into our campsite in the company of some tall dude. Through the mosquito netting of my tent, I watched breathlessly and waited for her to turn to my tent. The guy said something in French, and then they both paused in the moonlight and kissed. Then they dived into a tent that was staked out about six freaking feet from my tent.
My emotions pummeled me as I lay there and tried to sleep and ignore the noisy coupling sounds that followed.
After a restless night, I awoke as the birds began singing and croaking. I got up, dressed and then went over to the frenchie's tent. Suzanne's hiking boots were neatly placed next to some ugly Euro sandals at the tent door.
“Suzanne” I whispered. No response, so I thumped the tent and whispered her name again. A moment later I was bombarded with a coarse stream of non-sensible French that ended with “f--- off”.
Then, a raspy voice said, “Terry?”
“Be ready in a minute!”
“OK, Meet me at the car.”
I couldn't bear to see her right then, so I strode off to the car and fired up the stove for coffee and oatmeal. A few minutes later, Suzanne strode up wearing a pile jacket and tights and carrying a small daypack. She was obviously in high spirits, and I decided right then to forget about last night and have fun today. We finished breakfast, packed up, and drove down to the trailhead.
At the start of the first pitch, as I tied in, Suzanne hugged me and told me to be careful. Little tingly feelings crept back into me, but the hurt of last night tempered my reaction. I hugged her back and took off. The route went smoothly, and we both climbed well. At the 5.10 crux pitch, Suzanne grabbed a draw at one point to keep from coming off, but she otherwise climbed the pitch effortlessly. I was having one of those days where everything seemed easy, and I did not place much pro as I climbed.
As we progressed up the cliff, Suzanne began to make a lot of body contact with me. At the belays, when she joined me, she would almost lean on me and, her hands seemed to be everywhere at times. It was obvious to me that she was completely at ease and enjoying herself, and she seemed really into me. Maybe I had a chance after all.
At the start of the next to last pitch, I took off and mistakenly followed a crack to the left. I passed an old pin with a biner and then another pin with an old piece of tat on it and realized I was off route. But, as I paused and looked over at the crack to the right where I knew I should be, Suzanne said something that made my body chemistry do the thinking for me.
“Terry, is there a big ledge above you? I sure would like to get out of these clothes!”
Now given the fact that Suzanne was only wearing a T-shirt and tights, you can guess what ran through my head. Without thinking anymore, I turned to the task ahead and continued face climbing up the steep wall.
Thirty feet of increasingly difficult climbing up a vague seam brought me to a very steep and smooth wall about 20 feet below a large ledge. My last piece of pro was the old pin, about 25 feet below. I was scared, but my desire was overpowering, and I continued to crimp my way up.
Suddenly, I felt very screwed! I did not like the feel of the move. Realizing that I could die only made it worse. I looked down and saw Suzanne looking up at me. She said something but I couldn't hear it. I desperately tried to downclimb my last move, but almost fell when my right foot popped off a thin edge. For a moment, I just quivered in the wind, and then a resolve to at least die trying took over. While immersed in that roaring that you experience when you are so close to losing it, I found an edge for my right foot and stood up on it. I then found another edge for my left and so on, until I pulled over onto the ledge. It was the hardest thing I had ever done.
I lay there for awhile, feeling sick with the conflicting chemicals in my head and in my stomach. Finally I mustered the strength to pull up the rope and yell, “Belay On.”
Suzanne came up quickly and then slowed down as she climbed past the fixed pin. She then climbed very slowly and began taking a lot of falls. Finally, about 15 feet below me, she ground to a complete halt.
“There's no way.” she said.
I pulled on her rope and amazingly found that I could pull her up. I then hand-over-hand hauled her up over the hard part, and she pulled over onto the ledge and sat down next to me.
After a while of looking out over the valley, she turned to me and said, “Wow, that was kinda hard wasn't it? I can't believe that was only 5.10!”
I looked at her beautiful face that was marred only with a few smudges of chalk, those sensuous lips, and breathed in the smell of her. I was totally gone.
I looked into her specked green eyes and said “That was way hard, I got off-route.” I paused and then went for it, “What was that you said about getting out of your clothes?”
She then replied off-handily, “Oh, I want to get out of my tights, I'm burning up in them.” And then, as she noticed my stunned expression, she added, “I've got shorts on underneath!”
Then she hit me with the coup de grace, “I love climbing with you Terry. Everyone else just wants to hit on me.”
I was stunned. Like the slug I was, I pulled in my horns, and would have slimed myself inside the crack behind the ledge, if it had only been big enough. It was obvious to me, at that moment, that Suzanne just wanted what most of us want when we go climbing, a good friend as a partner. She didn't want to be hit on while climbing, and she certainly didn't want to have sex with me on some dirty ledge on the side of a mountain. My sex-driven mind had almost killed me.
Suzanne then used the safety of the ledge to take off her harness and shoes and stripped off her tights and T-shirt to reveal lycra shorts and a bikini top. After putting on her harness and shoes, she led the last pitch. She was all smiles as I followed and joined her at the top anchors. It was the longest and hardest climb she had ever done, and I know she was stoked.
As we packed up for the downclimb, I pulled out the rose, and although it was kind of beat up, I gave it to her. She smiled and stuck it in her sock. After a minute our eyes met, and I quietly said, “Suzanne, thanks for doing this climb with me.”
“Oh, you're welcome, thanks for being my friend.” she replied. She pulled me to her and gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek.
Note: This is a true story. In 1980 a small army of Oklahomans had descended upon Yosemite Valley. At the time, there were very few women that climbed or even associated with climbers. Although Suzanne was from Oklahoma, she and her kind were a complete enigma to us.
Terry Andrew been climbing since 1976. He is hopelessly addicted to trad free climbing and rarely misses a weekend on the granite in the Wichita Mountains or on the sandstone in Southeast Oklahoma.
NEXT WEEK: Mark Davies and Chris Jones, two UKC.com registered climbers recently climbed the classic HVS, Moonraker on the imposing Berry Head. In next weeks UKC article they recount the story of their ascent with lots of useful beta, a route description, a topo, a drop of anticipation and a pinch of fear.
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