I tried to pull around a corner on nothing, the crux moves of the third pitch of a route on Mary’s Bust in the Big Thompson Canyon near Loveland, Colorado. My climbing partner for the day coached me from about 10 feet away, at the bolts at the top of the pitch. I knew I was not going to get the moves even seconding the route, but Craig seemed to think I could. I grabbed the last two quickdraws and pulled myself around. I was about four letter grades above my leading limit, and that wasn’t the time for me to waste 10 minutes trying to work the route.
I was following Craig DeMartino up the route on Mary’s Bust, in a little bit over my head, because my friend Fitz Cahall and filmmaker Bryan Smith were filming and interviewing Craig for their Web TV series, The Season 2. Fitz asked if I’d like to help for a day, and I said yes, thinking I’d be carrying ropes to the top of a cliff, fetching stuff for he and Bryan, handing them lenses, et cetera. Then Fitz called the night before and told me the route was “11 something,” but “well-bolted.” I rehearsed jumaring in bed.
Craig is missing his right leg below the knee, and absolutely danced up the route on the sharp end of the rope while I belayed him. He seemed to have no qualms about being out climbing, despite the fact that climbing is what almost killed him 10 years ago. He decked from 100 feet up Sundance Buttress and ended up with a laundry list of injuries, any one of which normal people might use as an excuse to quit climbing, or even exercising, or living: amputated leg, fused vertebrae, broken neck, chronic pain. He has a handicap parking hangtag on his truck, which means he gets the good parking spot at the supermarket — but he can also climb way harder than you can.
Craig has a prosthetic for climbing, a small “foot” with a custom Evolv climbing shoe, and another prosthesis for hiking. You obviously can’t feel anything with a prosthetic foot, so Craig climbs by sight, eyeballing holds for his right foot. It seemed like hiking up steep rocky trails might have been more difficult than climbing 5.11a — he stumbled and fell once while walking around the base of the climb. No big deal, he led the route that day, then punched an 11c roof route around the corner while I belayed and apologized that there was no way I could follow him and clean the draws. Then, a couple months later, I saw this Facebook status:
The whole time I climbed with Craig, I had sharp stomach pains wracking me every 15 minutes or so. I later found out it was an ulcer. But what was I going to do, complain to Craig? I don’t know how much sympathy you can expect from a guy who has chronic pain and half as many working legs as you do, especially when he’s sailing up all the pitches on lead and you’re pulling on gear.
I feel like most of us can learn a lot from someone like Craig. But there aren’t too many people like him out there. Fitz and Bryan will do an incredible job of telling Craig’s story, and the life-list project he’s working on now, in the 22-episode series The Season 2 on the Arc’teryx Web site.