I recently broke my finger during a bad fall while climbing in Index, Washington.
My feet slipped while leading a finger crack. Against better judgment I reached for the gear, my finger went through the carabiner and the force of the fall broke my middle finger.
I know it doesn't sound like a huge deal, it's just a finger. But as a rock climbing guide, my fingers are my livelihood. I had also promised one of my high school friends, Kalyn, that I would take her alpine climbing. Work was out of the question, but I had an idea of how to make the climb still happen. I called my friend Sara.
Earlier in the year, Sara told me one of her goals was to lead every pitch of the Beckey Route, an ultra-classic, 4 pitch, 5.6 route in the Washington Pass. It’s not known for being a challenging climb, which made it perfect for us. I was going into it with a broken finger and it was Kalyn's fourth day ever climbing. Sara agreed to the adventure. Ladies trip!
When the alarm went off at 6 a.m., Kalyn and Sara barely stirred.
It was a restless night of sleep at Cutthroat Peak Trailhead, basecamp for climbing in Washington Pass. All of us decided to carpool in my van. Which meant that all three of us shared my full-size bed.
I got up first and went for the aero press. I knew that if I wanted to get these ladies up and ready to climb, coffee was a necessary first step. I gave them my Stanley thermos and continued to brew coffee for myself. They finally got moving. We filled our bags with the necessities; climbing gear, cookies, and champagne. We set two goals for ourselves - have fun and be safe.
We finally hit the trail around 9:30 a.m. The first hour of walking follows a well-marked trail before it splits off to the left, forcing us to scramble up steep and incredibly loose rock. We had to move carefully as one poor movement could have sent rocks crashing onto each other.
Kalyn had never been in this kind of terrain. Every other step she sent rocks crashing down the gully. We had her go last so she wouldn't kill us with each misstep.
After about two hours we finally made it to the base of our climb. From there the first three pitches were smooth sailing. Sara led every pitch. Kalyn went second to remove the gear. And I came up last - moving slowly as I figured out how to climb without using the broken finger on my right hand.
Then we arrived to the base of the infamous 5.6 slab move. I walked up to the giant boulder and decided to try free-soloing (climbing without a rope). It was difficult without using my right hand, but easy enough.
I didn't know if Kalyn should try it. She had less than a handful of climbing days under her belt. If you fall when you are free-soloing there can be serious consequences. But she insisted. Sara spotted her from behind to protect her head in case she fell while I coached her through the movement from above. She pulled herself onto the lip of the boulder. She was a little terrified, but stoked. Sara came up last, as she climbed I asked her to look up and smile so I could take a photo. She responded quickly, "I hate slab climbing, just tell me where the next hold is."
Together we scrambled the last hundred feet to the summit, took a few poorly timed photos, drank champagne, ate cookies, and laughed.
It was a perfect day of climbing. All of us approached it from entirely different places, with different hopes. And we all stood on the summit together to experience the joy that the mountains can bring. From three years of experience to three days, the mountains move us in the same way."