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Saturday, December 3, 2011


This year I traveled with Janek from Austin, Texas to Moab, Utah for our third year in a row of GGBY, the annual highline gathering in the desert. It was a long drive, lasting about 25 hours due to our less than speedy vehicle, Rambo. I took a route through the Texas panhandle, cutting diagonally through New Mexico, which took us through reservations and long expanses of ghostly empty land. 

When we finally arrived at the Cain’s house we were so relieved to have arrived, and spent one night in the Monkey Den before heading out to the Fruit bowl, the location for GGBY IV this year.

The Monkey Den was full as usual, with some rearrangements made to fit even more dirtbags. The Cain house was turning into some kind of dirtbag hostel, and it was awesome. The next morning we dumped some gear in the basement, threw our loads of food in the trunk and drove out to the desert. Brent and Canyon were going as well, and helped drive some of our stuff in closer so we could avoid multiple hikes to our car. The first difference we noticed this year was the multitude of cars parked, which meant only one thing: Loads of people.

When we walked up to the familiar fruit bowl, there were tents everywhere, easily three times as many as the year before. 

There was eight highlines rigged, starting with a tiny one at the base of the alcove called “Cherry,” 22 feet long (which I soloed) then “Chiquita,” at 47 feet, “Bad Apple,” 66 feet, “Fuzzy Peach,” 88 feet, “Prickly Pear/ From Switzerland with Love,” 102 feet, “Fruit Punch, “ 120 feet and “A Day in the Sun” at 135 feet. 

One line remained the rope jump anchor. I onsighted every line in an ankle leash until Fuzzy Peach, from there I walked in swami’s onsight the rest of the way. We had come just barely too late to try the 300+ foot lines, a disappointing fact due to Jerry Miszewski having to leave Moab before we arrived. After a couple trips to get our food and camping supplies in, we were able to relax and walk a few of the shorter lines. We had been to the fruit bowl many times before, so it was not as exciting as a new area, but still beautiful.

The rope swing was also a hit:

There were so many new faces at the gathering this year, and unlike the last few meetings, people stayed a bit separate, even making their own fires in the “quadrants” where their tents were. I disliked the lack of community, but the bigger the meeting gets the less personal it will feel. There were some issues with ethics too, and I felt that our impact as a group was really big on the desert this year, there were even some attendees who were crapping on the path, leaving their dump right out in the open and just throwing toilet paper on top. Gross. Collecting wood, we passed many bushes tangled with shitty toilet paper.

One exciting activity was fishing for hats, where Dylan entered the fishing hall of fame by catching various beanies in the ultimate attempt to get his signature hat.

The big fire pit we used last year was cold and filled with stones, and the day before Thanksgiving I spent a few hours digging it out so we could cook a turkey. I stayed up until 2 am that night baking 5 pumpkin pies, which would have made six total had someone’s dog not broken into the package and eaten most of one…I also cooked a turkey with Hayley, and brought it in for the Thanksgiving feast on November 24th. Dylan brought tons of vegetables, beer and another turkey, which he cooked in a giant cast iron pot like the year before, and with stuffing and sweet potatoes from Richard we really had a great meal. Collecting money from the dirtbags to give back to those who bought the materials was like pulling teeth, but I suppose that is how it will always be! A big thanks to those who did contribute :)

Bonnie trying to get the frisbee

For 5 days we hung out highlining. After numerous ankle leash walks, a free solo, and some longer swami-walks, the real fun began. The three Germans who had traveled to US this winter along with Andy Lewis rigged the first every space-line, basically a tri-slackline but at highline height. It was huge. They used anchors for the 420-foot line, and bolted one extra anchor. One leg of the line was about 90 feet long, and the others were easily 200 feet in length. The craziest part about the 90-foot leg was that it’s anchor hung in the middle of space, so you walked toward nothingness, basically toward one big ring and some knots, but with a full sky and full exposure above and below. Several people were able to send, but not without fighting. 

The line was loose and wobbly, sitting atop an A-frame, and when you neared the space anchor it moved up and down as the line itself moved side to side. 

When I went for my try I was tired and a bit hopeless, but after a bit of a chongo blunder I was able to stand up and walk to the end. 

photo Emily Hodge

The last five steps was the biggest fight of all, and I feared running to the ring because I would probably run right off the anchor. I walked it onsight the return direction, which was less intense since it felt like walking a weird, bobbling, loose highline to a regular anchor. It was such a cool experience, and I have the impression it can be a great way to train your mind to focus even in the most exposed situations.

People trickled in and out of the gathering, and we left some people behind when we finally returned to town. We stayed with Brent at the monkey den, and began epic raging. 

photo Emily Hodge

Let’s see if I can even remember all the lines we have done since GGBY!

The first fun project we did along with Andy, Scott, Braden, Jeremy, and our three was the Cobra highline. The cobra is a very obvious rock tower near Fisher Towers, which swirls up to a heavy, slanted boulder balancing on top. Scott, Janek and I showed up after it was rigged, and laughed at the skandy situation. 

The cobra itself was being used as an A-frame, with the actual anchor being a rock below. 

The other side was a choss pile, so the line was completely a no-fall setup. Andy took the FA, and we enjoyed the sun until the end of the day. I walked it onsight free solo twice, it was quite short and only exposed in one direction, so I felt good about it. 

Photo Scott Rogers

Janek also walked it solo, and we seshed the line a few times before de-rigging, hiking back to the cars, and heading into Moab for hot wings. The Fisher towers area holds various possibilities though, and we decided it was worth returning for.

The next day we tagged along on another one of Andy and Braden’s projects, which was Corona arch. Arch highlines are hard to come by in Moab seeing as most are on National Park land and are untouchable. The corona, however, was up for grabs. 

We hiked in the gear, and some of the group began the rigging process. The placing of anchors was not easy, Andy and Braden had to simul-rappel on the same rope, than pull each other closer in order to hang on the wall of the arch. 

Meanwhile Ryan and I scoped out the bowtie arch, which was a nice hole perfect for jumping into a rope swing. After a few hours of scrambling up and down, drilling, then rigging, the 85-foot long “Monarch Highline” was ready. 

It became another FA for Andy, and we took turns jugging up the overhang, scooting out on too-long pulleys, and walking the super un-level highline. It was a gorgeous spot, but since the boys refused to listen to me when I told them they were bolting off level by a lot, the line is a bit unpleasant at the ends. This is the usual scenario---boys don’t want a girl to tell them how to do anything. Sigh…

Anyways, after sending OS FM in a swami, the light was dimming and we decided to leave the line up and come back the next morning to rig the rope jumps. 

The Germans and Brian, who were crashing out at Ryan’s, came out to walk the line, but the day was badly planned and in the end they left without walking because the arch rope jump was being rigged with the highline gear. Two rope swings were up before dark, a short one in the bowtie arch, which forced you to jump straight into the exposure. It was scary jumping, but the quick rush was definitely worth it. The Corona arch jump was a little bit more experimental, and Richard took the first jump. We sat below watching, and when the rope caught him it jerked him violently. Jordan went next, and made sure to jump far out off the arch, so it was a smoother catch. The jump itself looked terrifying, as you stood above your anchor while jumping.

Photo Scott Rogers

Finally the sun was dipping behind the sandstone towers around us, and we had to de-rig. I had no time to jump Corona, so hopefully we will rig it again before we leave Moab.

We took one early afternoon to do a few routes at Potash, and it felt great to climb again. I hope we will get some more good weather before we leave so we can do some more!

After Potash we met up with the Euro’s and Brian at Left Hand Canyon to walk three short lines. The Euro crew had already rigged two of the lines, and Andy bolted a third and we soon had them all rigged. It was a free-soloco day; with five people all walking solo.

This area was pretty neat with its easy access, moderate exposure, easy rigging and half-day possibility. Andy bolted a new line there, “At’ll do” at about 60 feet long. The other lines were “Good Enough,” a 40-foot line, and “ Barely Legal,” a nice 50-foot line. 

Photo Scott Rogers

We left before dark and hit up Milts for enormous, delicious burgers. Easily in the top ten burgers I have ever had, and I recommend Milts for anyone passing through Moab.

The next Andy project we tagged along on ended up being an almost-disaster. We headed up to Ouch tower alongside Cain Creek Road; to do a nice medium sized line. We hiked up in a group, sending Jordan, Janek, Jeremy and I to one side to make an anchor, while Andy climbed the tower and Ethan gave him a belay. The tower is short, and has a few star bolts, but the middle of the route is pure choss. While Andy made his way up, we wrapped a huge bolder with static rope on the other side.  We watched as Andy climbed up in his Line Kings, but suddenly his hold broke and he went whipping down, smacking the rock below Ethan. He was ok, but had a bashed up knee and hurt his ankle. No one seemed excited about replacing Andy to climb, so Janek stepped up, the valiant Polish man! He fashioned a stick-clip out of two Leki trekking poles and went up. He took some time on the choss middle section, and the trekking poles ended up coming un-taped and falling 30 feet down below. The day was not going as planned, after several flawless highline escapades, we were starting to think we should have gone to Milts for half prices burgers instead. 

Finally, Janek was able to stick clip the next bolt, aid the choss section, and crack climb to the top of the tower where he found a single bolt with no hanger and a single rope attached. Obviously we would have to drill to rig our highline, and naturally the drill was on the other side. It was around this time that we realized everyone had forgotten the pulleys, and we were planning to rig some crazy cowboy tensioning system. To our luck, Scott was able to come out with pulleys in tow, saving us another inconvenience. Some time later we had the line rigged. It was long, we guestimate in the 135 foot rage, rigged with Gibbon flow line and a static backup rope. Janek was honored with the first ascent for making the sketchy climb, and after warming up next to our fire (it was in the low thirties that day) he went out on the line and stood up. I was filming, and then there was a pop! The line shifted to the side as the rope around the rock slid off the corner and Janek took an unsuspected whipper. Another mishap. At that point, we were on the verge of saying, “screw it,” and taking off to Milts for juicy burgers. The more invested of us fixed the anchor, so that it pulled in the right direction off the boulder. We added some tension, and Janek walked it onsight, full man. The line itself was beautiful, one direction facing exposure of the river and layers of red rocks.

Jeremy and Andy also walked the line, and then I took my turn, opting out of my usual swami belt and going safe in a harness. 

Photo Scott Rogers

It was a weird, wonky line, heavily rigged and moving diagonally due to the slung boulder, so with some fighting I managed to walk it onsight full-man. Jordan swami walked it, and Ethan had some great tries, and eventually we were de-rigging to head into town. It was a success in the end, but Janek still felt the name “Shoulda Got Burgers” was a fitting one.

Besides raging, we spend our nights at the Monkey den, which has plenty of stuff to do; climbing, slacklining, and wood carving!

Photo Scott Rogers

 Stay tuned for more monkey adventures!

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