The Real, Walk On The Wild Side

Michael Dong and Robert Fonda
March 6, 2001
Joshua Tree California

aka.  "When will we learn to just sleep in late?"

It's been weeks, perhaps months since Rob Fonda and I last had a chance to climb together. Being close climbing buddies, every weekend that goes by without roping up, seems much longer than reality. Sounds gay...we aren't!

I've always enjoyed being on climbs with Rob, from easy 5.nothings to serious Aid climbs, we've spent a lot of time laughing, sulking, worrying, scared silly, and basically pestering each other at every available opportunity, because, HEY! We're buddies. This was a bit jeapordized on a cold, dark, dreary morning deep in the heart of Joshua Tree. Refrain from this voyeuristic trip report, should you suffer from bete noirs, weak stomach, or...heck, for that matter weak right back in a minute.....

'flush'.....OK, I'm back.

As the day started, I was staying at Rob and his lovely wife, Hilde's, house for a while. The saying going "fish and company starts to smell after 3 days", well, I could be compared to a bad can of smoked oysters by then, pungent and lively! Rob, already up early that morning, had commented on the nasty build-up of clouds heading over the western mountains. The days had been sporadic with rain and freezing cold, snow had previously fallen on Queen and Ryan, the white stuff still lingered in many parts of the park. So what? Looks like a nice enough day, "what we goona do today?" I asked as I fondled a warm mug of heavy java. Rob looked at me like I should be committed to an asylum, and walked slowly towards the phone, which I was certain had "Asylum" on speed dial, so I barked out the first thing that came to mind. OK, it was the second thing, but I yelled "Walk on the Wild Side" like a geriatric Bingo queen, stopping Rob dead in his tracks. The game was afoot!

Those of you who have climbed with the two of us before know that we plan meticulously, then forget half the shit at home. Don't laugh Rob, SHOES, 'nuff said. I was confident our usual fashion of packing would do fine. A couple of packs of gear, and jackets, and off we headed to WOTWS (Walk on the Wild Side). 

The first thing that struck me as odd, was how easy it was to talk Rob into doing this climb with the weather looking very bad, the last time we were in a mental synchronicity, we ended up spending a cold, miserable night on a lousy ledge in Yosemite. Guess we just haven't learned that when you push that lever, you get shocked. Anyhoo, an occasional snowflake hit the windshield of the little red 'ru as we headed into the park. The day before, we got snowed off another route, so I ignored it, and didn't turn on the wipers..such as not to draw attention. I'm pretty sure Rob noticed as he got quiet, well, quiet by Rob standards that is.
As the wind blew a bit in gusts, we flaked the rope at the base, and decided I'd lead the first pitch, Rob would take the second (with the runout). Dan Thiele and I had done the route in the cold several days prior, so I thought "hey, no big deal, we'll fly this and still meet Hilde and her friend in an hour or two". Within the first three bolts, my fingers were numb with cold, by the last bolt, they were hurting...but, the shoes stuck like glue on the teeniest edge in the chill. A fairly quick ascent to the belay station gave a most wonderful view of the weather coming in. Dark, Roiled, Heavy and Cold the clouds looked, as the winds picked up, and Rob started up the route like an invalid taking his first steps out of a wheelchair, as he'd been freezing down below while he belayed (or, at least I think he was belaying. I didn't slip or fall, so there's no way to tell for sure.) By the second bolt, the snow started coming down. By the third bolt, the rock was getting wet. By the fourth bolt, Rob radioed to me and crackeled "you there?", I replied "yeah, this is fun huh?". He then said a strange request "put the radio near your face!", I did, he radioed a very loud "SSSSSSMMMMMMAAAAACK!" That's for talking him into doing this silly climb in the horrible weather, now freezing, with the snow coming down hard enough to start sticking to our jackets. Damn-it, I was too cold to think about radioing back "what? more slack?"...another missed opportunity.

At the belay, Rob insisted I continue the lead as I was doing such a wonderful confident job, and also because he's married now and has a reason to live. I offered the lead to him one last time, as the snow built-up on our shoulders, and was now plastering our clothes in white as the winds turned sideways. The rope began to freeze, and Rob gave me an evil look that I can only compare to a hunger-crazed Ring-Tailed Cat, and said quietly "we are soooo fucked-up, oh and by the way,  SSSSSSMMMMMMAAAAAACK!, now get going I'm freezeing to death!" I absolutely LOVE this type of male bonding, mutual torture, it works!
I don't know how he knew, but as I slid my way up the route, smearing the snow aside from where I thought holds and footsteps would be, the radio would crackle at the most awkward times with a loud "SSSSSSSSMMMMMMAAAAACK! That's for you!". I tried to ignore it, and concentrate on not being the first alpine casualty in Joshua Tree history, but chuckled to myself all the way along the second pitch. We were both cold, wet, numb, and having the time of our lives!

Rob dispatched the second pitch with aplomb. Very impressive since the snow was all over the face by now, and some boulderers we saw below had taken shelter on the lee side of the rocks they had been playing on. The wind got fierce, and the snow was very heavy by now, accumulating quickly on anything that was still. That's when Rob appeared from over the slope, and I couldn't help but laugh as he slowly made the last few meters to the belay, snow sticking to him such that he looked like a bizarre gingerbread man with a bad attitude. Mumbling something about "this is nuts", he pulled over the edge, and sat on the wet and snowy ledge. "SSSSSSSSSSMMMMMMAAAAAACK!, you deserve that one!". I know :)

To add icing to our already snowy cake, Rob lead the last no-pro pitch, before we made our way off the route in 3 remarkably quick raps. Not bad for a couple of goof-balls, half-frozen, and laughing like school girls the entire way down. Hilde and her friend met us at the bottom of the route, as we recalled the terrifically horrible time we had, snow driving down still, enough to cover the cars. Naturally a snowball fight ensued, see it was snowing that much! We giggled like schoolgirls, and planned our next climb.

Michael W. Dong

Please read disclaimer: Climbing is an inherently dangerous activity. Participation is under your own responsibility of the consequences. Climbing with Rob Fonda, Dan Thiele, or Michael Dong voids any warrenty implied or actual. Futhermore, post-climbing psychiatric therapy involving the above "Three Stooges" is not covered by ANY HMO, Medi-Cal, or Medi-Care. Climb Safe.
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