In the morning Jeff got in line to secure a campsite for the next few days. He had a two hour wait, making the best of it with a new book and a Crazy Creek chair. I packed up our camp, and called Kris to say hello. For her, it was Friday morning, getting ready for work. She always had a lot of news to tell me, and our morning and evening calls became a happy routine. I would call at the beginning of an adventure, and the end.

Jeff and I hadn’t got much sleep, mostly because of this woman in a nearby tent who started giggling at 3 am, continuing until 7 or so. I don’t know who we should be more upset with, her or her “tormentor.” By the time we reached the base of the route, it was about 10:30, and pretty hot in the sun. Unlike the Royal Arches, there was a small crowd here. Jeff organized our place in line, and while we waited, a nervous cry of “FALLING!” (along with some expletives) rent the air. Around the other side of a wall, a tree shook violently as it caught a startled body, saving it from greater injury, perhaps. He came down with only a nasty scrape on one shin. His friends took him away, and he spent the rest of the day drunk.

Rated at 5.8, the Nutcracker is consistently challenging, and very popular. I was simply hoping to follow every pitch decently. We did a variation 5.9 start with a very thin section. I arrived at each belay pretty worn out, wondering how I would ever lead that hard (I’m still wondering that). After two pitches, we reached a broad ledge, with views across the valley. We took off our shoes, and talked with the pair ahead of us, Scott and Tom. Tom was a river rafting guide from Virginia, and Scott a student from Australia. Scott’s enthusiasm and Tom’s air of incredible reliability impressed us. We enjoyed climbing with them as the pitches followed one after another, each providing a different challenge.

These excellent people fed us when we came down hot and thirsty from the Nutcracker. In the back is Scott, Jeff and Tom. Thank you so much!

Jeff had read somewhere about the first ascent of this climb, by the legendary climber Royal Robbins. He said it was called the Nutcracker because Nuts had just arrived on the market as an alternative to pitons. Robbins took a handful and casually did the climb to “see how they work.” Most people we talked to offered the advice to use a camming device at a delicate overhang high on the climb. As Jeff proclaimed to anyone in earshot, he intended to use only nuts, just as Robbins had. As the follower, I can attest he did it, and more importantly, very securely too. As we repeated later, a nut lodged in a constriction at that overhang was bombproof, where a cam may have walked out a bit.

We finished the climb in late afternoon heat, and it deserves it’s reputation as a very good climb. The four of us walked down a steep trail, reaching the now-deserted base, and I continued on to the car.

By happy accident, a group of picnickers, had seen us on the climb, and offered me something to drink. This couldn’t be turned down, and the Gatorade bottle they gave me was quickly drained. Jeff, Tom and Scott careened down the trail, nonplussed to see me quaffing more Gator-aide, an overstuffed fajita in my other hand.

They were wonderful people, and made us feel like returning heroes, tired and dirty as we were. We ate the fajitas and answered questions about the climbing. I still feel good when I think about the kindness of these strangers.