Wisconsin First Aid

(VJ#7) by Joe Block


It was shaped like a gently cresting wave: slabby the first 25 feet, relentlessly vertical, and then capped by a slightly overhanging headwall. It was beautiful, 90 feet tall and devoid of any substantial holds.

Covered in green lichen, the sandstone face was split on its right side by two flaring cracks. One petered out after 30 feet and the other, which began at ground level as a simple, horrifying, detached flake, shot straight to the top.

As a faithful trad and happy loner, I am often pulled to these desolate and rotten cliffs. In my Midwest aid adventures I carry no drill, but rely solely on pitons, chocks, and hooks. I also bring no partners. These aid battles are better fought alone -- just me, a soloist, and a sling full of steel.

My Wisconsin aid ascents are exercises in suffering. I confront rotten crags and hopeless seams that no one else would waste their time on. It's not cutting edge aid, or "new wave" aid, just Midwestern groveling up unconsolidated sand and mud. I climb them not because they are there, but because they will not be there much longer.



And there I stood once again at the base of such an obstacle. There in the dim winter light at Governor Dodge State Park, I chose a big oak to serve as my belay anchor. I put a screamer into the system to soften any hellish impact forces, sacrificing the additional falling distance in the hope that my pro wouldn't rip.

On the rock, a few solid blows on the flake sent sand and small stones tumbling down from behind it. Because of this, I decided to climb a knife blade sized crack 10 feet left of the flake for 30 feet, and then traverse to the right back into the groove. The flake wasn't touching the ground, and due to its size-10 feet wide, 20 feet high-and the fact I couldn't tell where it was attached to the face, it was a bit too sketchy. So much for the directissima.