Posted by: twistsoffeet | April 21, 2010

C.J., The Scotsman and Myself

Back in the late 70’s, my best friend and climbing partner was C.J.R. III.

C.J. and I met when we worked in the warehouse of a large Denver department store. He had grown up in Wisconsin and learned to climb at Devil’s Lake.  His father is M.I.A. in Vietnam; he had been an a pilot in the Air Force, I believe, and whenever I go to Vietnam, Laos, or Cambodia I can’t help but think of his father as well as all the other men on both sides who never came home.

I also always think of C.J.

Together, we would always be climbing or planning a climb.  We could be found putting up aid routes across the roof, fifty feet in the air at the warehouse…  always on some sort of official business, of course.

Our preference was for hard, nasty aid routes any other time, but we were really in our element when the weather was in its most horrid and sordid state.

Together, we did insane winter ascents on the Diamond east face of Long’s Peak.  On one trip, a storm moved in causing the whole face to be encased in a several inch thick sheet of ice.  Said ice would break off in sheets fifty to one hundred feet wide, and maybe two or three hundred feet long.  Needless to say, we did not summit, and barely escaped with our lives.

At one time, we tried a winter ascent of “Christopher Robin” on the Diamond in a storm that dropped nearly two feet of snow while we were back-packing in to Chasm View.  We pitched camp to wait out the storm because we were insane, not suicidal.

When the storm finally broke, our tent was buried in the snow.  After digging out from our tent, we were greeted with a view of the Chasm View wall, the Diagonal wall, and the Diamond wall.  All were covered with the thickest, scariest sheet of ice I have ever seen.  We sat and watched huge sections of ice peel off, scraping anything in its path right off the walls.  Like I previously mentioned, we were not suicidal, and this is one of the few times we ever backed off of a climb.

C.J. was one of the best friends anyone could hope to be blessed with in their lifetime.

I trusted him with my life, my wife, and my money.  When we climbed, we were as one, and totally in sync.

We climbed back in the days when pitons were still widely used, and aid climbing was a somewhat mysterious, frightening, and awe-inspiring art.  Aid climbing was also beginning to be disdained by some new climbers who called it cheating.  These climbers who called it cheating, in my opinion, may be very good climbers but they didn’t have the balls to aid up a one hundred foot hairline crack hanging from tiny razor blade sized pitons called RURPs (realized ultimate reality piton) on an overhanging wall– only to reach a shallow but wider crack.

These cracks expanded with every pin you hammered in, so that as you went up, you had to hang from the piece you were nailing in, because the one below it would fall out.

Now I can say, having red pointed 5.13 on a sport route, that modern sport climbing takes extreme mental and physical strength and control.  In the old days, while doing an A5 climb, you also had to have physical endurance– and more importantly a control over your fear.

Whoever said, “No fear!’ was was a fool.

Fear keeps us alive.

Fear inspires.

Fear is is among the most basic of emotions, for lack of a better word, in all life forms.

From mammals to reptiles and insects, we all have fears.

The trick is to control them and not let them control you.


Enter the Scotsman. Now C.J. had met a wonderful woman, Janet, and they were to be married.  His sister, an exotic dancer named Cinnamon, came out to Denver for the wedding.  She also brought along one of her professors.  This learned gentleman was a Scotsman and a climber.

He had apparently done some impressive climbs in Scotland, including the second ascent of Goat’s Head Crag, which, at the time was an ascent of some stature.  Please keep in mind that the Scots are flat-out over the edge on the cliff of insanity…  I mean, I am Amish by comparison when it comes to climbing.  Those guys do ascents that give me nightmares just to think of them.

However, rarely do they ever get more than two hundred feet off of the ground.

The Scotsman wanted to do a climb– and who were we to refuse this request?!  C.J. was getting married the following weekend, so we should have had a bachelor party, not gone out to do a climb where we could get hurt– or worse.

Did I mention it was winter?  We had just had a very large snow storm and were expecting another that night.  But hey, it was sunny during the day.

We decided to do a moderate route in Eldorado Canyon called “Redguard.”  I had done the climb several times.  It was an easy 5.7, but was about seven hundred feet high.
The first two pitches went well, if you can call climbing in a waterfall of melting snow that funneled down the dihedral, or gully, of Redguard “going well.”  After that, we were over two hundred feet up and entering a area of exposure to which our Scottish friend had never been exposed.  He became increasingly more fearful the higher we went. By the time we reached the bi-level hole about six hundred feet up, our cohort was catatonic with fear.

To put it simply, there was no force at our disposal that could get him to move. He would not climb higher and when we decided to rappel off… well, he just turned white and refused.

C.J. and I– or at least I– thought of just tying him up, gagging and blind folding him, and then lowering him off the wall.  But… that probably would have required hitting him in the head and knocking him out.

I thought about just leaving him, but that wasn’t really an option, and I never could, or would, do something like that.  But hey, I was frustrated, cold, and wet.  And it was starting to snow again.

Huge silver dollar snow flakes, and a lot of them.

That is when Janet and Cinnamon came to the rescue.

They came up to the canyon when we didn’t return as scheduled.  They found our car, but could not find us. We saw them driving back and forth on the road, although we did not know it was them.  They finally called Boulder Mountain Rescue.

The rescue team brought up a huge spotlight and started searching Red Garden Wall, and after a couple of hours of searching in what had become a blizzard, they finally found us.  By this time, another team had circled around and had reached the summit, where they lowered a fixed rope several hundred feet long over the edge and met up with us.  After some coercing, and maybe a few threats, our Scottish friend finally agreed to allow them to lower him to the ground.

C.J. and I then finally rappelled down.

Obviously, I hold no animosity toward the Scotsman. And in retrospect, it was a humbling and valuable lesson learned.

One lesson I learned is that I own my fear it does not own me.

It does not paralyze me.

Unfortunately, I have had to be rescued one more time since this occasion, and I respect and praise those who train continuously and give of themselves tirelessly to protect those of us who make errors in judgment, or just through circumstances out of our control need the help of another to see the night through.
To the men and women of Boulder Mountain Rescue, Rocky Mountain Rescue, and Alpine Rescue, as well as hundreds of other similar groups throughout the country and world: Thank You for all that you do.

You are all very special people who truly deserve to be honored and respected far more than you already are.


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