Scooby Doo Does(n't Do) 7a

Last weekend was a four day weekend, due to a Christian holiday known as Fronleichnam. Unlike such popular Christian holidays as Pfingsten, which our dictionary translates as Whitsun (in spite of the fact that nobody knows what it is), the word Fronleichnam does not show up in our dictionaries, nor can anybody tell us what it means, celebrates, or is. Given that the word "Leiche" means corpse and the holiday occurs not long after Easter, I can only assume it celebrates some barbaric Christian custom like making pate out of Our Savior's now-lifeless body. The only thing I'm really sure of is that Macy's does not have a White Sale in its honor.

To celebrate Fronleichnam in our own way, we went on a climbing trip to France, where we ate croissants, pain chocolate, and baguettes and avoided the pate altogether. Our original plan was to head to the limestone crags near Besancon, an area we frequently go caving in, but we were distracted by Gueberschwihr, a sandstone area near Colmar, which our guidebook recommended as worth a visit. The book lists roughly 600 crags in Europe and, although the instructions are highly dubious, the author's recommendations of good crags (assuming you filter out the implications that there is nothing under 5.13 worth climbing) are usually worth following.

After half an hour of wandering about the quainter parts of the Alsatian countryside -- the RN83 (or was it the RN87?) really is a very picturesque highway and really is worth traversing and retraversing and retraversing again -- we stumbled onto the village near the climbing area and managed to follow the directions to a bunch of cars scattered along the side of the road. One of them had an Oakley sticker and, there being no windsurfing possibilities in the immediate 10 mile vicinity, we decided that meant the car belonged to a climber and that we were in the right place.

After the usual "lost-in-the-woods" syndrome, we found the climbing area, which was a series of red sandstone crags about 15 meters high. Most were less than vertical and well-protected, something we aren't accustomed to in Germany. The first crag, which had the easiest-looking routes, was occupied, as was the third, where a guide was scampering across the top like a demented monkey, hanging ropes on all possible routes in order to teach the group of bored-looking teenagers milling about the base.

After one route on the second crag -- a horror-show roof followed by a near vertical wall of sloping handholds -- we sidled back to the first, hoping to impose ourselves on one of the routes there. Fortunately, one of the parties was departing, leaving us in the company of a solo climber in his mid-twenties. While Karin carefully edged up a steep slab and circumvented a series of overhangs, the soloist climbed the easy crack to our left over and over again.

After Karin had returned to the ground and while our soloing friend was at the bottom of his yo-yo ride, we decided to find out if it was a holiday in France, too, the French being nothing if not Catholic. Our French is limited but seemed up to this task, although the translations below are what we think we said and may have no relation to what we actually said.

"Pourquois y at-il beaucoup les grimpeurs ici? Il y a au'jourd'hui un jour de fete?" (Why are there so many climbers here today? Is there a holiday today?)

"Non..." Puzzlement.

"Il y a un jour de fete en Allemagne." (There is a holiday in Germany today.)

"Oui? Pourquois?" (Yes? Why?)

"Je ne sais pas. Un catolique jour de fete -- je ne sais pas que le s'appelle en Francais. En Allemagne s'appelle Fronleichnam." (I don't know. It's a Catholic holiday -- I don't know what it's called in French. In German, it's called Fronleichname.)

"Oui?!" Great astonishment. "Je suis priete!" (I'm a priest!)

Maybe the other monks in his monastery hadn't bothered to tell him. After all, he was the odd man out: At his abbey in the Alps, he was a rock climber and all the other monks climbed ice.

We finished the last of the easy climbs and were just about to try something seriously hard when a large group of Germans, some of whom I knew, appeared at the base of the crag. It was time to leave -- nothing is more depressing than glum, serious Germans being friendly.

The priest's guidebook had shown more crags further into the woods and we decided to take a look. After wading through the still-bored teenagers at the third crag, we wandered down an overgrown trail, the crags fading up the hillside to our right. We were about to give up when an old quarry loomed into view below us.

On the far wall was an awesome crack splitting a smooth, vertical face and I scurried forward for a better view. Sadly, it was an offwidth and out of my league. But in the center of the cliff was an absolutely amazing, gently overhanging hands/thin-hands crack. The entry looked hard -- a finger-tip layback up a slab -- and the crack looked even harder, but it was too beautiful not to try. (Those are somebody else's photos.)

I roped up, doodled about a bit, and started up. It was easy to the slab, where I worked my way up, got in a piece to supplement the bolts (this is France, remember?) and came down to rest. Another try or two and I realized it was way too humid to climb in jeans. What to do? My shorts were in the car and I didn't want to go back. Ah, yes. I'm wearing my Scooby Doo(TM) boxer shorts. Those look like swim trunks. The perfect solution!

Back to the ground, untie, take off my harness, strip down, harness back on, tie back in. At this point, it's important to understand the picture. I am standing at the bottom of a very impressive-looking crack -- we later find out it is named "Encore Une Fois Merci" and is rated French 7a, or 5.11c/d -- in a very impressive-looking quarry. I am wearing a very loud neon blue Hawaiian shirt and Scooby Doo boxer shorts. I don't speak a word of French, which makes me an outsider. All of this has drawn a crowd. I have only two choices: flash it or fail spectacularly.

Putting the crowd out of my mind, I go back and start to work the slab, which turns out to be very smooth. A finger-tip lieback is out of the question for somebody with my pudge factor, but I find I can do a very wild, almost full-body stem to a small dihedral on the right (the slab is on the left), allowing me to clip the next bolt and, by inching a bit higher, reach the manky hand jams at the top of the slab. I swing onto the jams and spend a long time trying to figure out how to get onto the broken ledges above, from which the real crack starts. Exhausted, I give up and hang on the bolt.

A couple more tries and I have found a bucket a long reach above the hand jam, but am too exhausted to use it. I hang once more on the bolt, but even my hang-dog antics have failed to disperse the crowd (this is France, remember?). It is time to do something spectacular. I lower back to the start of the slab, quickly stem up it, cut onto the handjam, and yard for the bucket with my left hand. I get it, loads of strength still available, work my left foot up onto a good hold, and smear my right foot on the vertical wall above the bolt. I swing my right hand up and grab a bomber flake parallel to the bucket. It looks like I've done it.

My right arm. Remember my right arm? My GI Joe arm? The one that does unpleasant things in unpleasant situations? The one that I've been waiting for years to do something unpleasant whilst above my last piece of pro? Well, my right shoulder doesn't agree with swinging my right arm around and -- pop! -- it's out. I am now hanging on a bucket with my left hand, strength fading, praying that my right shoulder will somehow, miraculously, put itself back in its socket in a way that it has never done before, especially in the last few years, when I haven't been able to relocate it without help from another person.

Ten seconds, twenty seconds, thirty. I look at my last bolt and tell Karin I'm going to jump. I even go so far as to hope that the fall will relocate my shoulder. One, two, three...away! I dangle beneath the bolt like a useless rag doll, my right arm extended upwards in an odd salute, and tell Karin to lower me to the ground. She helps me reset my shoulder and the crowd slowly disperses. The show is over.