Crowds, Covid, and the Casual Route

Alpenglow on the Diamond face, Longs Peak

“Dr. Tony Fauci would be so pissed if he could see us,” the climber to my left says. He imitates the USA’s top Coronavirus expert, a well known figure in recent days: “‘You’re all the way out there, on the side of a mountain, and you fuckers still can’t stay six feet apart!?’”

All three of us at the anchor laugh.

We’re in tight proximity, for sure. Me, my climbing partner, and a stranger are in what’s called a “hanging belay”: literally hanging off the side of the Diamond, a huge alpine wall in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. There is no ground below us — just thousands of feet of air.

A few pieces of climbing gear stuck into cracks in the rock and some short nylon tethers are all that keep us from dropping to the glacier below. We aren’t all attached to the same gear — but our anchors are built around each other, at the only possible stance. The wall is too smooth and vertical to spread out much.

We are climbing the same route, chasing each other up. There are two climbing parties in front of us, and one behind. It *is* a bit ironic: we are more remote than most people will ever get in their lives, and yet… our new acquaintance is right. Dr. Fauci would not approve.

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