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I Got Bit By the Mouse’s Tooth: A Lesson in Sketch

I Got Bit By the Mouse’s Tooth: A Lesson in Sketch

by JESSE JAMES ….

Having gotten spanked last week on Slesse’s Northeast Buttress (I was trying to bring an absolute beginner up the hill, only her third time rock climbing), I felt like my ferocious love affair with alpine climbing was suddenly turning sour. Slesse was a real breakup with the mountains, so I needed a rebound climb and turned to Habrich to boost my confidence. I made sweet sweet love to Life on Earth, and this time I actually did succeed in bringing the noobie to the summitt. WOO HOO!

Back on my game, I wanted more. So I heard about this sexy new route called the ‘Mouse’s Tooth’ from a couple friends of mine. Apparently it’s the new ‘hot item’ in Squamish climbing circles. It’s a real trend, the thing everybody wants, kind of like Cabbage Patch Dolls or Tickle Me Elmo.

First, let’s talk about the name of this route. It’s stupid. When naming a new route, you should spend at least three or four weeks dreaming up something catchy. Like ‘Freeway’, or ‘The Great Game’ or ‘Cruel Shoes.’ Listen up, you new-route developers out there. Put some work into naming your route – I mean it! I don’t want to climb
some shit called ‘Bullethead East’. No matter how good the route is, it better have a flashy, sexy name, or nobody is going to scramble up your crack. Brainstorm, ask for suggestions, treat it like serious homework, even scan comic books for superhero names if you must. A classic route needs a classic name – period. Nobody wants to climb
something that sounds like it popped into your head while sitting on the toilet.

Enough talk, it’s time to rack up for this route with the idiotic name. In my vocabulary, the word ‘splitter’ is short for ‘button it up’, so I asked my buddy to bring all the gear he owns. I whipped out my double rack, he whipped out his double rack, and we just beamed with satisfaction and safety as our quadruple rack war machine glowed in the sun. I wanted gear in every inch of those cracks, double protection, triple protection, as much shiny gear as the splitter could swallow. I wanted to stuff everything I own in the Mouse’s Tooth. I like my cracks positively choking on gear.

‘Do you want that sixth Number 2 Camalot?’, asked my buddy. ‘OH HELL YEAH’, I grinned.

With all the gear, we could hardly even bring water or food. A half liter for the day was all I could carry in terms of weight, with all those damn camalots jangling on my hip. I don’t drink at all on a climb – hardly even a sip of water. The downside is dizziness, lack of judgment, decrease in climbing skill, inability to belay safely, and potential for passing out.

According to the approach beta, two hours of hiking gets you to the base of the cliff. Having just done the approach-from-Hell to Habrich, Slesse, and the Beckey-Chouinard, I thought two hours of hiking sounded like a walk in the park. Except this park was a minefield of alder thickets with boulders and tree stumps hiding in the tall grass, just itching at the chance to snap your ankle. With the occasional cairn for moral support, we plodded on through this gut-wrenching bushwack, wandering through an endless maze of talus and brush, happily galloping across an ice-cold glacial river just to escape the nightmare alder shwack. And then it was another hour up steep, loose talus to the base of the climb.

We looked up, as if to Heaven, hoping to glimpse the endless splitters promised by the topo. Way, way up there on the cliff we saw what appeared to be Shangri-la, but between us and the Promised Land lay several pitches of mossy cracks and vertical bush. We racked up, confused.

The first pitch, according to the topo, was 5.8R. It looked mossy and junky. I suggested my friend might like to lead this one, since he doesn’t know how to place gear and according to the topo there was no gear to place anyway. I motivated my buddy with a chorus of ‘Crush it, dude!’, ‘Kill it, dude!’, ‘Murder it, dude!’ because that’s the kind of encouragement climbers need. If he had struggled, I might have fired him up with ‘Gun it, dude!’, but that could be insulting on a 5.8, so I held my tongue. Halfway up seconding this mossy piece of crap, I decide there is no way this is 5.8 after all. Hell, it’s not even a runout, so we must be off-route already. Apparently we were on the new 5.10a start.

The next pitch was also 5.10a with some bolts, but felt more like 5.9. It was really just one pull-up. I expect 5.10a sport to require two or three pull-ups, minimum. So this was soft for the grade.

The next pitch looked god-awful; a series of nasty, dirty loose ledges and bushes. A vertical shwack with choss and moss. I suck at climbing nastiness, but my friend specializes in it, so up he went. At the end of the pitch there was a nice little 5.9 crack and a big ledge with the first of many seriously sketchy anchors, this one
consisting of a loose nut plus an even looser nut for backup. This two-nut mankfest threatened to pop out in a fit of rage if you looked at it the wrong way, so I avoided eye contact entirely.

‘Oh man,’ I thought. ‘How the hell are we gonna get off this thing?’

After belaying my friends up (yes, we were a three-person team again, but at least there was no noobie mucking up the business), it was my turn to lead. This pitch was rated 5.10d, and actually looked clean. I can lead up to 5.12, but only on clean splitters, with absolutely no moss or choss. This pitch looked clean, fun and easy – I was stoked! After strapping on the quadruple rack, I began my first lead of the day, a little nervously, plugging gear in about every few inches just to get the weight off my hips. I’ll let the second deal with that mess! I’m a big fan of the DP (double protection), but today I was going for QP (quadruple protection) and really stitched it up. Looking down from the top of the pitch, I could barely even see the crack, there was so much colorful gear poking out of it. The anchor at this ‘station’ was even worse – another couple wiggly nuts. I backed it up with some good mid-sized aliens and my friends rocketed up the pitch. So far so good.

The next pitch was rated 5.11a according to the guide, and it looked like the ‘money pitch‘. I mean, this thing was full value – splitter all the way to Heaven. The start was a little tricky, but most of the pitch was 5.8, bomber feet and hands the whole way, until just below the anchor. At the very top I yanked on a green alien to avoid
pulling on a death-block. If you hate your belayer, pull hard on this one – go for the send! Then I grabbed the anchor. Whoops. It came apart. One pin popped right out, and the other two wiggled and gave me the stink-eye. This wasn’t the kind of bolted anchor you get in Squamish, or even a nice slung horn like you find in the
Bugaboos. It was pure mank, junk, garbage, the kind of anchor that could kill a man. Best of all, it was a semi-hanging belay, just what you want when your anchor is rated to about 2 kilonewtons. My friends were itching to climb the splitter below, so I hurriedly backed up this piece of shit with a red C3, a tiny nut, and a green alien. Of course, I forgot the cordolette at the last anchor, so I couldn’t even equalize the mank. I hollared down at my buddy, ‘On belay. Climb on. DO NOT FALL!’ They asked if I was serious. ‘No matter what, DO NOT FALL!’, I repeated. They climbed very slowly and carefully after that – I think they both sent the pitch, too scared to take or fall. Thank God!

We were all three nervous and anxious at this villainous station. The anchor was the definition of SKETCH – unequalized, tiny marginal gear with wiggly pins, the whole junky contraption just itching to blow. We were chilling on this thing, racking up for the next pitch, when one of the anchor pieces made some funky sounds like it wanted to pop out (the red C3). I was in a real hurry to get moving again. I glanced at the topo – 5.10d ‘thin’. I wondered if ‘thin’ was a synonym for ‘runout’ and started to get REAL SCARED. With no way to rappel, and no one else to lead it, I found myself reluctantly committed to a very heart-pounding lead. Looking above me, I didn’t see any kind of crack, or any gear at all. It just looked like a slab, without any bolts. Even in Squamish you get a few bolts with your slab, but apparently bolts are not on the menu here. And the topo promised splitters! Bollocks!

So I fired up this gnarly runout slab, placing the smallest brass offset on my rack, a tiny 3kn wunderkind. This thing is definitely for psychological value only, but I thought it might slow me down if I whipped. Then came the crux move, with nothing a but that little brass piece of hope five meters below me. If that blows, I crash
a factor 2 on a lousy anchor, and maybe we all take the fast way down the mountain. Usually my belayers secretly hope I fall, especially if it’s safe. A little ‘schadenfreud’ is natural, and it’s always fun to see the whippers and the tears. But nobody wanted to see a whipper here …

I tiptoed my way up this nastiness, placing a few hopeless blue and black aliens here and there. What looked like a life-saving corner crack above the slab turned out to be a shallow flaring slabby corner with almost nothing in the way of protection.I have a strong philosophy; when you CAN’T FALL, DON’T FALL. It almost always works.

As you ascend higher on the Mouse’s Tooth, you will notice the anchors decrease in quality with every pitch, eventually becoming little more than wiggly hopeless nuts behind loose blocks, which is what I was staring at presently. At least I was able to back this one up with some decent mid-sized aliens. Although I told my friends
they could possibly fall on this anchor – and not die – none of them wanted to put my engineering skills to the test.

The crack above looked stellar – 5.9 or 5.10 splitter going God-knows-where into the sky. But it was getting dark, and we were all concerned about how the hell we were getting off this hill. Rappelling is serious business. This is where climbers live or die.

Before a climb, I eat voraciously. Two or three days of pounding down calories bumps my weight a few pounds, just over what my buddy weighs. My friend is all muscle and radness, but he doesn’t have an ounce of fat on his body, which helps him crank 5.12 sport but doesn’t increase his chances of survival on a terrifying rappel like this. You see, the heaviest guy must go first on rappel with bomber backups, while the lighter guy follows, removing those precious backups. This rule ONLY applies when you are climbing with a lighter partner. If your partner is heavier, just reverse the rule.

It’s kind of like outrunning a grizzly bear; you don’t need to be quicker than the bear, just quicker than your friend.

As the fattest member of the team, I rapped first, jubilantly bouncing down 60 meters of rope, not a care in the world, happier than a pig in shit with those three backup aliens snug in the crack. The second removes the backups, but all my weight was on the primary anchor. If it holds me, it must hold them – at least that’s the theory.

Somehow we all made it to the bottom of the hill, no worse for wear, and without leaving more than a biner and an old piece of webbing. The only thing nastier than the hike in was the hike out – in the total darkness, exhausted and spent, dodging those awful boulders hidden beneath the tripwire alder. The Devil’s own bushwack.

We collapsed at the car, glad to have survived, but felt more than a little nibbled-on by the Mouse’s Tooth. Maybe it’s an appropriate name after all …

Jesse James
Squamish Climber & Adventurer

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About Jesse James

Jesse James is a Canadian rock climber, venture capitalist, futurist, philosopher, technologist, physicist, vegan, social activist, nutrition researcher, adventurer, writer and (sometimes) poet.

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