Do you have any Grey Poupon?
In 1981 there was a famous commercial where a window rolls down in a limousine and some rich guy asks another rich guy if he has any Grey Poupon mustard. It’s become legendary as a friendly gesture for handing something off to a stranger in unusual circumstances.
We were up at Index waiting to lead a difficult 5.9 off width called Battered Sandwich. There was a party of three on it, and two of them had already climbed it with little trouble. But as I watched the third guy rack up I sensed some alarm bells going off. You can tell a lot from how a climber presents themselves on the ground. Little things like how they talk about the route, how new and shiny the gear is, and most importantly: do they have enough of the right gear.
Battered has 60 feet of four to eight inch crack climbing. If you don’t have at least three #4’s, four #3’s and a #5, you’d better have the skill to power through with long run outs. This guy had half of that gear and I was not getting a good feeling about his plans. I was in the queue, having asked my standard question on arrival at the crowded crag: “Who’s doing what?”
I usually walk up to the route and hangout until there is a break in the conversation. When they glance my way, they know why I’m there. It’s pretty obvious on a crowded weekend why a new climber would suddenly crash the party. But I try to be courteous and friendly. They said that they only had one guy remaining, and he was going to lead and clean the route. That sounded great, and would normally be a short, maybe half hour wait. I had gear to rack, shoes and kneepads to put on…no problem…except for the alarm bells.
40 minutes later he was frozen in place at the six inch flare. He was out of big gear as expected, but fortunately had the good sense to not climb further into danger. By that time I’d already told James that we should lead the open 5.7 next to him, for something to do. At least we’d be climbing, instead of watching another sh&tshow, and maybe we could do a good deed by handing the poor guy some of the big cams he so desperately needed. The Wild Turkey route we were planning to do was just 10 feet to the left. James took up an extra #3 and #4 to hand off to the guy in a “Grey Poupon” moment.
I was focused on belaying when it happened, but I heard a murmur of quiet laughter go through the dozen or so people milling around the base of the route. I looked up and saw the second cam being handed off between the two routes. It was a beautiful moment. With all the violence and chaos in the news these days…war in Ukraine, mass shootings, homeless people sleeping on sidewalks, raging wildfires…it was a very warm and fuzzy moment to see the mustard exchanging hands. This guy’s battered sandwich would at least have good condiments.
Later I led the route cleanly, though I almost fell out of it when I got my moves scrambled in the off hands section. The feet were bomb bay flaring, and the hands were between fists and hands. Meaning, I had no feet or no hands that were worth a damn. My pro was good, I was safe enough…but jeez, it was so insecure! And that wasn’t even the crux!
I forgot to mention that Jame had gone off to belay Ethan when my turn came up on Battered. I asked one of the friendly 5.8 leaders if they could give me a catch. The girl who belayed me was very experienced. I’d seen her float up seniors and Wild Turkey. I knew I was in good hands.
At the top she was very impressed with my lead. She asked if I had any advice to offer so she could up her lead game for climbs like Battered. It’s very flattering for an old white haired has been to have a twenty something woman ask for advice. It’s true that I have paid my dues on Index nines so I was able to offer up a few words of wisdom.
Later on the ground people were commenting that they had looked up, worried, hearing all my frantic grunting. I hate it when I do that. Some of us are just noisy leaders. James led it later, breaking a trigger wire in the same spot and having his own little epic. I had to sit on a tipped out #3 to get his broken #4 out of the crack. On a top rope I was able to find a very tight but good fist jam and power through. I need to remember that key jam next lead.
At the true crux, I found (on top rope of course) that if you do just 6 inches of upward heel toe wiggling with your left foot, you can lean out into space and get your right toe on the two by six inch ledge. With this foot hold you can step up into chicken wing territory and most of the difficulties are over.