by O. J. Anderson
|part 5 of 9|
The shooting starts at the beginning of the fourth and final pitch. Jack has no time to look and see what’s going on. He has confidence that his men will handle it. But he does notice a black flying something out the corner of his eye.
Sweat trickles down his nose. Dangles there, quivering for a moment, before dropping to his shirt. He’s in the middle of a nasty five-part move up to a hand bucket. The move began a few minutes ago at the mammary; it was summarily tweaked and scummed, which then brought him up to a tricky left-hand thumb-lock in a jam hole. With his right hand he tossed in a power cam, then threw his left leg up and over his left arm and hoisted himself up with a hard-core figure 4 move. Which is where he is now.
Part four: he reaches up with his right hand and jams his finger back into the half-inch crack. Twists his hand. Locks in. Pushes back with his right boot heel to get his body away from the rock a little and remove his left hand.
It’s been a while since he’s climbed this hard under duress. Calves are flamed out and shaking like sewing machines. Forearms are almost blown. He hears AK-47s firing on full auto down below.
Jack completes the series with a not-too-difficult slap and hump up to the bucket. Throws in some more protection. Only fifty or so feet to go to the traverse point. Looks like fairly easy going. He pre-rates the section at 5.11.
It’s actually a bit easier than that, for which he is thankful. He glides upward smoothly and steadily to the belay point. Sets the anchor. Calls up Smith.
Now he can have a look around. Looks like vultures circling the vans down below. Everything too tiny to see clearly though. Other than that, the view is magnificent. The Ayacucho Region quite stunning. Rolling mountains. Green pastures in the foothills. Picturesque. But he needs to study the traverse, which looks even uglier close up.
The problem with traversing is the footwork mostly: the quick-change, hop/shuffle/skip action usually required to put your left foot where the right is to continue forward motion. Like dancing on the head of a nail, but sometimes with less space.
This route appears to be seamless for the first hundred meters. Microscopic features on boilerplate after that. Couldn’t be any worse. This pitch is going to require every piece of gear he can manage to use, every trick he knows, every spare electrolyte his body has, a strong updraft if he can get it, total concentration, a pinch of luck, and Saint Bernard of Montjoux himself with a coterie of musclebound helper angels to keep him from falling. It’s that bad.
The gray slab of rock is cooling off as the sun descends and the wind picks up.
Smith reaches the anchor point, ties in, looks at the first pitch of the traverse, and makes a face like he just found a dead cat in his refrigerator — right next to the milk. After studying the route for a moment, he tells Jack, “I can climb up another pitch. Anchor off. Swing you across.”
It’s a seductive idea; one which Jack wholeheartedly entertains. However, it’s time consuming. “By the time we get that set up I could be in the shaft.” He takes a breath. “On the other hand, if I fall it’ll take me forever to get back up here. I don’t think it’ll hold any gear.”
“We could wait for Jones and Simms. Bolt our way across.”
“Mm. Might have to if I don’t make it.”
They’re both silent for a few seconds. Time ticks away.
Smith asks, “So what’re we gonna do, boss?”
Jack reaches behind and chalks up. “Not fall.” Tugs the anchor. “On belay,” he says, and steps out onto a Tic-Tac granule. Jabs his finger into a shallow pock mark and scums hard, harder than he’s ever scummed before.
The pitch is slightly less than vertical — maybe a bit more than slightly, it’s hard to judge up here. But there are a few low mumps and mammaries that Jack discovers along the way.
Toe-side scumming. Heel plant to mump system. Fingers pointed down. Leans his weight onto it and humps that mump. Left leg takes the place of the right, or... tries to. It isn’t that easy to find a sliver of rock with a combat boot when your nose is mashed against a 700 foot slab in the Ayacucho. His leg begins to flail. Can’t hold this position forever. Switches to Plan B: searching for a new hold with the right leg. There’s nothing.
He kicks and scrapes the rock. Hoping to find a bite. Anything. His hands are beginning to sweat from the exertion. Gonna slip soon. No gear in yet. It’ll be a nice fall.
A dull thud three feet away. A bullet just hit. Near miss. Someone’s shooting at him. Damn monkeys again.
He’s never been shot at while climbing before. Been shot at while sleeping, eating, jogging, cleaning his weapon, and refinishing some old furniture, but never while climbing. This is indeed a first.
Another crack of gunfire. Another thud in the rock. Similar position. The bullets have chunked out a couple grenade-sized divots.
And then it hits him — not another bullet, but the realization of what’s happening: the snipers are making holds for him. Nice. He pokes his right boot toe into the lower hold. Shifts his weight onto it. Then creeps his right hand up to the pocket. Shakes out his left hand. Time to put some gear in.
About all he can do for gear is pound a couple mashies into a paper-thin crack. All they’re really good for is keeping the rope running its course; won’t hold a fall. But that’s all he can get in. At least now he knows that his crew will manufacture some new holds if he gets caught in a tight spot again. This gives him a much needed boost of confidence, with which he proceeds to make some bold moves on risky, nickel-thin ledges. Marginal protection.
He attacks the remainder of the route. Literally. Whenever he gets in a jam, he taps the rock where he would like a hold. Then moves his hand away and waits for the shot. Keeps moving across. Fearlessly. Relentlessly.
Smith watches in awe. Shakes his head in disbelief as Jack Creed gobbles up the traverse like an industrial vacuum sucking up beach sand. He shouts, “Nice move, boss!” and whips out the belay like a sausage maker on speed.
At the end of the traverse, there is a short diagonal ascent up to the shaft opening. Jack makes short order of it. Pulls himself into the opening, his climbing rack clanking and scraping on the rock. He takes a brief and much needed break.
The shaft leading into the mountain is roughly eight feet tall. Dark. With a flat bottom. No gate or grill work that he can see from his position. He doesn’t have much of a look around though. He needs to get busy building an anchor to bring Smith in.
* * *
To be continued...
Copyright © 2007 by O. J. Anderson