Spire Two. A few years ago, this climb had been my first multi-pitch attempt. I had followed our guide up the first pitch, and after some time at the first belay station found myself spiraling into a panic. I lowered off the climb (full story here). Now, three years later, I was back to not only climb the route, but to lead it. Seth and I had chosen it as our first trad leads.
The Cathedral Spires are a line of tall, pointy rocks perched high in the Black Hills in South Dakota. There are five main spires in the group, and many ways to climb them. Spire Two is a three-pitch climb with decent placements and bolted anchors. Seemed like a good choice for us.
I had been practicing gear placements at our local crag, placing gear on top rope, having them checked by another climber, asking questions. I had plenty of sport leading under my belt, and following of trad pitches. I had been pouring through “Freedom of the Hills,” making sure I wasn’t missing anything. Books can only get you so far, though, and at some point, it was time to just go for it.
A relatively short hike in got us to the base of Spire Two, both excited and nervous to do our first trad leads on this rock. It was a gorgeous, sunny morning, not another human in sight. We knew we would be slow at the belay stations, and weather was expected to move in later, so we set a turn-around time for ourselves and stuck to it.
Seth flaked the rope, I racked up, we exchanged high fives, and off I went, up the first pitch.
And…. I loved it.
I felt focused. Hyper aware of what I was doing, where I was. No other thoughts were swimming around in my brain. I was out in this beautiful place, climbing this spire, and that was all that was happening. There were no other people around, no commotion of any sort. Just me, the rock, a gentle breeze, and the sound of my gear clinking together as I climbed. It was amazing.
I knew that I didn’t want to fall. There are good gear placements on the route, but there really aren’t any clean falls. The climbing was not difficult, I just needed to be thoughtful. I didn’t feel overwhelmingly scared, I didn’t feel anxious. I just felt focused. Again, an amazing feeling.
I reached the top of the first pitch, anchored myself in, and set up the belay for Seth. This was the place where I had panicked three years earlier. Now I felt calm and collected. It’s really fun to see that mental progress! Seth climbed up to join me, more high fives were exchanged, and we continued on. Time for Seth’s first trad lead now, on the second pitch of the climb. He rocked it.
We decided to rappel back down from the top of the second pitch. It was nearing our turn around time, we had felt the wind shift, and we knew we were going to be slow. By the time we reached our car, it was raining.
Seth and I learned a LOT on this climb. We picked a route we knew we could do, and we allowed ourselves ample time to figure it out and triple-check everything. We didn’t make it to the top, but I still considered the day a success.
We both fell in love with trad climbing that day, and as we continue to learn more, a whole new world of climbing is opening up for us! Seth has gone on to do a lot more trad since, and I’m not far behind. As for Spire Two, I still haven’t finished the entire route, but it’ll get ticked off next season.