The Birth of Wheat Thin

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The Birth of Wheat Thin

 

After a fairly big season, summer wearing on, Bridwell and I went up to the Meadows to climb with Robbins and Jeff Dozier for the day.  RR had just arrived for a quick trip with Jeff and his idea for an outing with the four of us, was Rawl Drive on Lembert Dome, now rated 5.10aR/X. Appropriately the only real pitch followed a line of widely spaced bolts up the handsome west face of Lembert, after negotiating a rib lower down after the first belay.  With RR leading off over the horizon in fabulous blue skies, and Jeff then also disappearing, Bridwell and I, being the youngsters of the group and certainly the self-styled bad boys, were left alone briefly to hone our skills of abject ridicule.  You see, by this point, August 1971, we both knew RR and Jeff were just grand old men and had had to give up their reins to us squirts who certainly would know how to finally kick the horse in the flanks.

 

So toward this end, Bridwell performs, entirely for my benefit at our smidgeon of a belay spot, and realize too here, very close at hand since he was tied to Jeff’s trailing line and anchored at our belay, a hilarious mocking of RR’s showboating style of face climbing.  Lots of stepthroughs with uncanny hops, operated at a frequency far beyond what RR had performed but indicative of the wasteful and exhibitionistic quality they had had, say maybe ten stepthrough hops within 25 seconds, reminiscent of Irish clog dancing.  He went on to add for me, several very “alert” memorable and classic RR facial profiles requiring he also flare the hell out of his nostrils and do RR eyes, as if to signify that in the beautiful alpine scene below us he as RR had sensed the Larger Picture from our aerie.  All of this without gaining any altitude. As he actually began to follow the pitch, he continued this comedic routine with other Stony Point maneuvers, with lots of complicated back stepping, and a pronounced butt-outward posture to technically diminish the effect of the rock’s angle and add the last possible bits of fun to our skit.  We had seen it all, and now we were having fun.  It was one of the funniest things I have ever witnessed Bridwell do.  It was somewhat born of affection for Royal but it also was to call a spade a shovel, I have to think.  Anyway our shenanigans ended, RR never knew and thus would never be hurt by it and there went a couple of hours in the Meadows.

 

But Jim and I weren’t done.  We salvaged what was left of our productive day and roared back down to the Cookie area 50 miles away leaving the old farts with their memories, rappelled the soon-to-be Wheat Thin, and checked out this phenomenal formation.  We were roped on and over the edge within an hour and half of leaving the Meadows.

 

Wheat Thin, on the Nabisco Wall, was not thought of as something a climber from Good Society would have bothered with.  The silly thing is about 1” thick mostly, a flake so thin that in its expanse has many actual weathered through-and-through holes in its face as it stands about 100 ft high above the actual Cookie top.  And when I had been over in this area climbing, I of course had seen it, as everyone else had, and it did not even occur to me that it was a possible climb.  What it looked like was mere ugliness and non-being, Nonclimbing, really, which can fill many areas partially, especially 35 years ago.

 

But Bridwell, in his March to the Sea, had noticed it and had decided we were going to make this thing happen somehow, so that other climbers could not have it.  Kind of like how Richard Pryor says, “Women, they’re weird, they buy shoes so that other women can’t have them”.  And so over we go, bolts and hangers at the ready, and place a few really ugly, hideously uncrafted 1/4”  compression units in the vertical cliff wall just to the left of this piece of granite paper shuddering on the wall, while taking out a few razor-edged flakes staked in the crack here and there.  Bridwell did most of this as I hung out above him.

 

I am looking at him, he is wonderfully garbed in his all-white full-sleeved shirt and pants, but he is not happy.  He is hammering away at the drill, but way fast, and doesn’t seem to be enjoying anything anymore.  We had been having such fun too. The drill in those days was not carbide and would narrow out and bind quickly.  The bolts are bottoming out too soon. I don’t know.  With him it could be anything.  But eventually he clues me in.  And then I see some blood, it’s near his crotch, let’s me know his hemorrhoids are killing him.  And he is in white, not a great fashion choice considering.

 

So in the spirit of our raucous day that had begun in the Meadows, I take a motherly tone with him hanging 50 feet below me, trying to soothe him, advising my daughter about how this kind of thing happens to young ladies around this age, that it would become a regular thing, and that he should not be afraid it is just the weeping of the disappointed uterus.  It was Bird’s first Period. And he enjoys this new riff, jugs up, and I finished the last messed up bolt and we are out of there. So in a matter of an afternoon, Wheat Thin became the first rap-bolted climb in the Valley, only because it was such a fragile wildly expanding structure, and ironically authored by extreme trad climbers.

 

We instantly went back the next day I recall, and started to climb our monstrosity.  Since it was Jim’s idea, as we stand on top of the Cookie, he leads off way to the right on a flake ledge to access the incipient crack that runs up to the actual defined left facing  1”-4” thick flake lieback.  He has hammered the shit out of a Long Dong trying to get it into the meager bottoming crack; there is nothing between him and I twenty five feet to his left besides this and he tries to develop the moves above this A3-quality of placement to reach our fancy flake.

 

He hates it; the situation is unexpected because yesterday we had just looked at the flake higher up and not how to get into it.  After about 30 minutes he actually backs off, gives me the lead. I am sure he was not at par either with his hemorrhoids.  My advantage of course was that I did not drive the one and only point of protection between us, so I did not understand how it probably would not have held a real fall. I beat it a little, didn’t love it but went ahead anyway, stepping up from the big ledge I was on.  So bold and ignorant, I established these fairly hard 5.10c barn-door moves to the flake, thinking that they were gross, inconvenient, and just in the way of our special-assed flake rather than the actual beef of the whole route.  Climbing onwards to the top of Butterballs for the belay, I encountered nothing as difficult as this technical start I had done and had actually kind of gotten bored tippy-toeing around this dangerous thin feature.  Jim swarmed up the route, and we were off.

 

It turned out during subsequent ascents years later that a couple serious falls took place at the beginning, and that although it was to become a unique airy three-star route, the thing was nobody’s little plaything.  It was just put up by clowns.