I looked with unmitigated dread at both of the men in front of me.
Tom and Jon turned to me and realized I was still safe; I hadn’t tumbled down the mountain or broken something. “What?” they said in unison.
I uttered the simple words. “I just got my period.”
They stood there with a moment’s hesitation before Jon spoke, “Look little lady, you aren’t allowed to say ‘oh fuck’ anymore unless something bad happens! As far as your problem goes… guess you should have brought a tampon instead of a toothbrush.”
Tom, who couldn’t stop laughing, scratched his head, “So uhh… whatcha gonna do there, Shay?”
“Dude, I have no flippin’ idea. I have absolutely nothing on me. I wasn’t expecting this at all. It’s at least a week and a half early if not more! Ugh.” I pondered out loud, “Well, what is there that I can use… hmm….”
Jon informed us, “Well, I guess it’s time to start rationing toilet paper.” It was true, we didn’t have very much left.
“You don’t understand. I cannot use toilet paper, it simply will not hold up in a harness for 8 hours and we still have 2 days left. It would be a bloody mess,” I joked. “Literally.”
Jon, being half serious, reminded me while still laughing, “Well, we do have an entire bag of trash from energy bars.”
Trash. Seriously? Trash? I entertained the idea for a moment. Ok. It was genius. We didn’t need the trash and it was the only expendable, non-useful item that we had with us. I inventoried everything possible that I could use at my expense. Reality hit me again. It was official; I was really going to have to perform ALL bodily functions in front of my climbing partners, two men.
At this point, I had no choice but to wave goodbye to all modesty and chuck it over the edge of the spire, “Well boys, I guess you’re just going to have to help me build some tampons. Never thought you’d have to do that eh?”
Tom was all over my camera in an instant, “I’m definitely not gonna let something like this go undocumented. Let’s call it payback for all of in-your-face shots you have been taking of me for the last 2 days.”
It was inventive engineering time.
Yep. I MacGyvered a tampon. I suppose I have my mother to thank for all those years when I was younger and never missed an episode of MacGyver. Graphic detail aside, it was one of the most unpleasant, non-conforming items I’ve ever used for the purpose of my period. Tom and Jon both high-fived me and let me know their thoughts, “Dude, that’s totally badass. You’re so hardcore.”
I sheepishly thanked them for their help. Even to this day, I’m not sure they know the amount of gratitude I have for each of them. Jon even had a cup of wine ready for me. And then… the cramps set in. I curled up on a sleeping pad in an effort to minimize the pain. Tom rubbed my back and we all talked for a bit about the days to come. We had at least one more night on the wall before reaching the top. In my mind, I tried hard not to dread my situation. We readied ourselves for bed and I slept between the boys.
I woke up early again the next morning and spotted the almost full moon. Being in pain caused me to have a less than restful night, so I had been tracking the moon’s nocturnal journey. When I stood up, I felt light-headed and sick to my stomach. I thought to myself, “Oh great.” Usually my cycles are extremely painful and come with a lot of nausea. The last thing I wanted was to get sick on the wall. I started making breakfast for the crew along with some warm water for tea in an effort make myself feel better. We all ate and used the wag bag. As promised, I was last this time. I’m not sure what was worse: going last or using another MacGyvered tampon. I brought the full wag bag up and prepared it to be sealed in a water jug. Jon gave me a high five, “Just to let you know, that makes you a warrior.” We all exchanged smiles and prepared for the next 5 pitches. According to the Topo, our next bivy was called the Salathe Ledge and was described as plush. We couldn’t wait to see how nice it was.
It was my turn to clean aid and Tom’s turn to jug. To my surprise, clean aiding was much, much easier than jugging a fixed line. I met Jon at the next belay ledge. The crack looked super thin. Jon set up Tom’s fixed line and then began to lead. The gear was less than fascinating.
“Watch me here.” said Jon, his voice shaking a little. “Do you know what a RURP is?”
“No… what is it?”
“It’s a super small piece of metal hammered into the rock who even knows how long ago. It stands for Realized Ultimate Reality Piece. And to tell you the truth, I think I’ve realized ultimate reality. I’m pretty scared right now. I have 2 RURPs to aid on and then it looks like 2 hook moves before I have a bomber gear placement.”
I had never heard Jon say he was scared before. I encouraged him, “I’m with you all the way Jon. You got this. Strong.” And he did have it. He didn’t fall and he made it through to the next gear placement – a bomber cam. However, he did drop his hooks and the crux pitch was still ahead. As I followed Jon’s aid gear, I inspected the sketchy gear availability and the RURPs, which looked ancient, rusted, and generally untrustworthy.
In the middle of following Jon, I started to cramp extremely bad. It became hard to move with ease and it was oppressively hot outside which didn’t make matters better. You see, I have borderline anemia which is why I get so sick when I have my menstrual cycle. By the time I made it to the next belay ledge, I felt like my body was crashing. In tears, I began to setup my belay. Jon hugged me, “The next belay according to the Topo is a shade cave. So look forward to that!” He was off.
The belay ledge I was on was incredibly uncomfortable. The way I had to lean back on my harness magnified my already excruciating lower back cramps. Relentless tears surged down my cheeks. I tried really hard to suck it up before Tom got to the ledge and hide the fact that I was in pain. But, I couldn’t stop the tears. I hid my face.
Tom knew, “Is there anything I can do?”
I looked at Tom, shaking my head, with tears welling over the brim of my eyes, “No, I don’t think there’s anything you can do. Hah, extra helpings of character? Right?”
He gently rubbed my shoulder. Wordlessly I could feel the sympathy and solace exuding from his touch. It was time to start climbing again and I mustered a smile, “Onto the shade cave.”
When I reached the belay, it was an incredibly small cave. I prepared my belay position by huddling into the little cave, trying my best to retain an orderly rope maintenance.
“Wish me luck. This is the crux pitch and then we have one more short pitch to the notch. Let’s cross our fingers for a rope to be hanging from the cliffs. After that, we have one more pitch to the ledge. I still cannot believe I dropped my hooks. Dammit.”
Yep, that’s right. We found a rope dangling from the cliff. We had no idea how long the rope had been there. A piece of dirty white, flagged tape was wrapped around the end. At one point in time it looked like it had been written on but it was entirely too faded to tell. It was then decided that Tom would lead aid the pitch to the Salathe Ledge.
While Jon and I waited, he cleared a spot for me to curl up. It took Tom a while to complete the pitch. Jon was going to clean and it was my job to tag the rope from the cliffs up with me. When I finally got up to the Salathe Ledge, Jon was already climbing to the top. The uneven and rocky ledge was less than plush, it was actually frightening to even consider sleeping on it. We would have had to sleep head to foot of each other with our harnesses on. I followed Jon’s lead to clean because I wanted to avoid doing the huge lower out but I ended up needing to do a few anyway.
Reaching the top of the Spire was exhilarating. There was even a young man taking pictures of us, watching our ascent.
It was unspoken, but we were all comforted by the fact that we had someone on the other side, watching us. Working quickly so we would make it to the other side before dark settled over the Valley, Jon set up the Tyrolean traverse and we all reviewed how things in an ideal world were going to play out. We didn’t talk about the what ifs that were possible. This was it. It was time to trust the unknown rope and Jon was going first.
I thought about earlier that day when Jon told me he was the most scared he had ever been. This time, I could see the transparent terror in his eyes. He didn’t need words nor did he use them.
One of the ropes started to uncoil off the top of the Spire into the abyss below. I saw it just in time and stopped it. It was time to put the camera away and give absolute attention to what was unfolding before me. Jon reached the other side safely and began to prepare to bring Big Bertha and Little Bertha across. Then, I was next. I was so thankful for being able to go next so I wouldn’t be stuck on the Spire alone. For safety measures and comfort of mind, Jon put me on belay from his side while Tom put me on belay from the top of the the Spire.
I peered over the edge. The depths below were beyond harrowing. I took some deep breaths and looked at Tom. He must have seen the distress coursing through my veins as my ability to hold my nerves together came unglued. “I’m scared too Shay. But you got this. You’re safe and on belay from both ends.”
Sitting on the edge, I closed my eyes and started to weight the traverse. I felt my heart in every thread of my existence. The ribs in my chest vibrated with everything but repose. One second I was on the verge of the Lost Arrow, the next I was hanging in space. I think it was the first time I had actually taken a breath in the last minute or so as I let out a relieving howl and screamed, “Yeah, fuck yeah! Whooo hoo!” As I continued to traverse, my body stopped shaking and started sweating. The Tyrolean was 140 feet….uphill. In some ways, it was harder than actually climbing.
Tom finished his Tyrolean in the dark and we pulled the rope so we could leave it exactly as we had found it – dangling in the notch. Hiking up the slab, we found a nice sandy area to spend the night.
By this time, I had developed a headache and tried to remember if I drank enough water that day or if my cycle was to blame. As we began to cook dinner (instant potatoes and cheese), I was hoping it would make me feel better. In celebration, we also ate a dehydrated apple cobbler that we had saved for our success. The taste was incredible. Exchanging our celebrations and toasts to each other, we prepared for sleep. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel better and my headache was raging. As I thanked Tom and Jon for everything, the words felt hollow and unsatisfactory for expressing the amount of appreciation that I held for these two men. I fell asleep to the comfort of Jon rubbing my temples.
When I woke up, the sun was barely beginning it’s ritual rising and the wind was raging. I scrambled out of my sleeping bag, scurried to the bushes, and hurled. I felt deplorable. My headache rippled through my body with each step. Knowing Tom and Jon would be asleep for a while longer, I trekked to a spot on the other side of the cliff where I could lay in the sun with some Gatorade and an apple. I took one bite of the apple and my stomach rejected the notion that eating would make me feel better. So there I laid, crying, watching a chipmunk ravage the uneaten apple. I was ready to be on the ground. The hike down to Camp 4 was still miles ahead of us and I felt weak and direly incompetent.
Eventually Tom made his way up to the ridge. He gave me a hug and allowed me to lay in his lap, “Jon just needs to go make sure that the rope made it all the way to the notch and then we can pack everything up and hike down.”
I prepped myself for packing and hiking. But when packing came, I was worthless. Jon and Tom divided the gear and only had me carry my camera and a few other non-heavy items. As we started our trek, I apologized over and over again for not being able to help carry anything. My necessary snail-like pace couldn’t keep up with Jon and Tom. They waited for me every now and then around the next corner asking for my status update. As I hiked, I also puked. I’m not sure what I did more of. The trees spun. My feet slipped. Concentration became a deliberate struggle.
Tom decided he was going to hike ahead to Camp 4 so he could hitch a ride back to the Valley store and retrieve my car. Jon slowed his pace to hike with me, catch me when I slipped, and to give an arm when I needed one. I felt unquestionably helpless and we had 4 miles to go. When we reached a place in the trail where we could see the Spire as a whole, Jon encouraged me to take out my camera. Due to my state, I was reluctant.
Yeah. We did that. And it was incredible. Making it back to the ground never felt so soothing. I thought to myself, “This is what the Latin phrase ‘terra firma’ really means. Yeah. Terra firma. It holds gravity.”
So we drank, ate, and relished in our experiences by the river’s side. We talked about specific moments from the wall and brainstormed the possible ways to find the man who was taking pictures of us. Tom and Jon dove into the little water hole and bellowed with shock from the cold. They advocated that I also join them. After much dispute back and forth, I agreed. I dove into the water. The water was so cold I immediately couldn’t feel my skin. But, I stayed in and washed my body with the friction of my hands. Simply refreshing. It wasn’t until that moment that I started to feel a lot better.
We reveled in our accomplishment with abundant energy for the rest of the day. Jon prompted me to tell a few of his friends how I had become MacGyver. We met up with Shayd for dinner and exchanged stories about our walls. Basia, one of my new-found friends who worked at Yosemite, stopped by before her run to give me cash and orders: “Go get us some chocolate, a bottle of good wine – not any of that cheap $6 shit, and kombucha to exchange our stories over.” In that instant of seeing her, hugging her, and hugging her more made me yearn for an evening of female friendship and as Basia had taught me, adding wine to kombucha is one of the best things ever.
And so it was, I completed my first big wall.
© /skin/ /ˈpōətrē/
P.S. Oh, and I never go anywhere without a tampon now.