Three hundred feet up the wall I weighted my toes on dime-sized sandstone edges. I was reminded of my ballet days on pointe, the pain was torturous. The black rubber on my climbing shoes burned my swollen toes in the harsh desert sun. My finger skin was already thin and sweating on the small crimps. I was here again, at the crux, and I needed to focus not on the discomfort, but on the movement: get the left foot up on the small pocket, crimp the tiny edges with all my might, and pounce my left hand to the finishing jug.
It was already mid-morning and we were only on pitch three out of fourteen on Rock Empire, a 1,600-foot sandstone big wall jutting out from the red desert of Wadi Rum. The crux pitch, a 13b vertical tech-masterpiece, was sequential, off-balance, and thin. We had worked on this pitch a couple of days earlier in the afternoon shade and had figured out the beta, hoping of putting it all together in one big push. But today felt different. The direct sun was oppressive and everything felt slick and insecure. This was my last chance to redpoint this pitch and ultimately, the whole route. We were running out of time and I wanted Hayden, to have a chance for success.
It was my second attempt of the pitch that day and time slowed as I stared fiercely at the final jug. I lunged for it and let out an animalistic scream. The next thing I knew my left hand had latched the last big hold - YES! I clipped the anchors and put Hayden on belay. I felt confident he’d do it, as he’d flashed this pitch the other day when we were checking it out. However, today was much hotter, and he slipped off the small crimp just before reaching the jug. He screamed in frustration, and we talked a bit as he hung on the rope just below me.
“It’s okay, it’s hot today. You’ll do it. You have to try again.”
This was a partnership. Minutes earlier he had waited patiently for me to send the crux and I was happy to return the favour. I lowered him back down, he rested only five minutes then tried again. When Hayden got to the anchor after a heroic fight, we were absolutely giddy. There was one more 5.12c pitch then mostly 5.11 and 5.10 to the top. We now knew we had a real chance at sending the hardest wall climb either of us had ever done.