The Whale

The Whale

Ancient legend has it that young Navajo bucks used to have contests to see if anyone was studly enough to shoot an arrow over the top of the huge sandstone formation near Rock Point, Arizona called "The Whale". The name "The Whale" refers to two formations; the tallest and the bulkiest being the head of the whale, and the short distance away the tall sharp pointed spire forms the whale's tail.

We were too intimidated to climb the whale a snout or front face, so we decided on a route up the sloping backside of the head. The excitement of the first ascent of such a major formation coupled with the fact that it was my 28th birthday had me super-psyched for the adventure.

Dirt tracks led directly to the base of our proposed route, with a Joshua Tree belay-off-the-bumper approach. Standard free/aid first pitch up the ?Cutler? layer lumps led to a hanging belay at the end of the first pitch; belay from one pin and a bolt.

Brian gets pitch two and I caution him to carefully avoid a refrigerator-sized block precariously balanced directly above me, as he cranks up a cool 5.10 hand crack in a corner. Hanging belays leave one feeling so vulnerable to failing rock; can't really move out of the way to dodge anything coming down.

Upon following, I really don't need to be so careful of loose rock, for there is no one below to worry about. When about even with the massive loose block, I palm the top of it with my right hand for balance as I jam with the left. As soon as I touch the block, it rocks off its dirt pedestal like a huge fallen statue. Before I could even think, the stone has rolled over my foot on it's way to earth, and my whole leg instantly goes numb and into temporary shock.

The big-ass boulder exploded into a million pieces, sending dust and rock in all directions flying like an explosion. The burnt smell of brimstone fills the air, and I scream for tension as a wave of shock-induced nausea hits me like a freight train.

I refuse to look down at my foot, for I'm afraid there will be no foot left to even look at. I'm convinced there's only a stub left and the mental image of this sends my mind catapulting into freak-out. Not only is my foot probably 200 feet below in the talus, but I also heard the trundled boulders landing on my car, which is parked at the base; this is a nightmare!

Calming my nausea and gritting my teeth, I convince myself to pretend to be momentarily brave and glance down at my foot. Hey, what do ya know; it's still there! I limp up the pitch on full high-E-string tension and we decide to finish the climb with Brian leading the rest of the pitches.

The buttress we were climbing has narrowed to a 6 foot wide fin consisting of steps both vertical, then horizontal, with not much for protection. Brian surmounts the first step from a shoulder stand, then walks horizontally to the next vertical step. He gets up more steps via free or aid and is soon wedged in a giant gully near the top. Following the fin pitch, I bat-man up each vertical section, keeping the rope centered on the ridge. If the rope were to pop off the ridge to either side, I'd pendulum from here to Forest Lawn.

The summit was deluxe; the view and vibes worth a million dollars. The light now quickly fading, we start our complicated descent after only a brief moment on top. Rappelling down was exciting right off the bat, considering our first rap anchor was a single piton. Brian did the second rappel, which left him at the end of the rope, hanging in space, no ledges in sight. After much wiggling and thrashing, he was able to touch his feet to the wall, and get a huge pendulum going, which took him around a corner to, thankfully, a belay ledge. By now it's well after sunset, and we take out two rock drills and simultaneously drill anchors for our last rappel. Looking down, we can see a few silhouettes of lean human figures milling about; black forms moving in the night like coyotes. Finally touching down to the beautiful earth, we rejoice in our lives and our survival, and exchange words with a few Navajos who had been watching us for many many hours. Seems they came over to investigate after they heard the huge rock fall.

By now, I can't walk at all, and Brian carries me to my car, or what's left of my car. In the dark and in the evening cold, I see a football-size rock has gone through my side window, and landed on the front seat of the car, directly on top of my walkman cassette. The passenger door is peeled over like a sardine can, the front windshield shattered, and another unidentified projectile seems to have smashed the front fender into the wheel.

After I muscle the smashed fender off the wheel, we drive to the Rock Point Trading Post to get much needed and deserved drinks. Stumbling and limping in, we pay the cashier for the drinks just as a fight breaks out between two drunken Indians who have just stepped into the trading post. We don't give a shit about any fight, and as we zombie back to our cars, we look back to see one of the Indians spitting teeth into a trashcan outside. It looked like he was spitting popcorn out of his rubber mouth. I sure know how to have a good time on my birthday.