The Uprising

(This article originally appeared in Lexington DSA’s Newsletter “New Kentucky”)

I’ll never forget the evening of Thursday, May 28th. The Minneapolis Police Precinct 3 was burnt to the ground. Around the same time in Kentucky, the Louisville Police Department deployed tear gas on a small crowd of around 300 peaceful protestors. The following morning I began receiving messages all asking the same question. “You going to Louisville tonight?”

Me and my comrades arrive at Jefferson Square Park just before nightfall. In a very fitting fashion, we meet by the statue of Louis XVI. The previous night the right hand of the statue was broken off by a protestor. It now serves as a hydration station with stacks of water bottles around it.

The crowd is continually marching around the courthouse and we slip right in with the group. There are hundreds of people. It’s an unfathomably large crowd and it occurs to me that I’ve never been to a protest this large. Tensions are high. I’m scared, and I can tell everyone around me is as well.

Suddenly, multi-colored reflections of police lights appear on the walls of the buildings around me. The crowd grinds to a halt. While we were marching, a line of police in riot gear purposefully cut us off, forming a line to prevent our forward motion. They are reinforced from behind by the BearCats. BearCats are armored personnel carriers used by both the U.S. military and police. Like many things in the War on Terror, the tactics and equipment used by America abroad are inevitably turned around and used against its own citizens.

The crowd is palpably anxious, and nobody knows what is about to happen.

I reach into my backpack and retrieve my flask of bourbon. “Alright everyone, solidarity forever!” I shout. I take a swig and pass it to my friends around me. “Solidarity forever!” they all chant, pouring a bit in each of their mouths.

The crowd is growing more and more agitated by the presence of the police, and angry shouts directed at the cops begin. Water bottles are thrown at the police and in response the police begin beating their batons against their hands. The energy is electric and feels like something is about to explode.

Suddenly, we hear a couple bangs from above us. Smoke begins rising from the crowd behind us. It’s my first time at a protest of this magnitude, so I mistake the bangs for smoke grenades. Most of the crowd seems to as well, as for a brief moment, people hold their ground. Then, a chemical smell begins to fill my nose.

My eyes begin to burn. It’s tear gas. I hear screams, and a stampede begins. People run in every direction to escape it. I hold my N95 close to my face and turn to run as well. My comrade grabs my backpack and yanks it to stop me. They’re working as an impromptu street medic tonight. “Hold up! Hold up!” they yell. “We need to go to the medic tent and grab bottles for eye washes! I only have a couple!”

We turn and run for the medic tent we occupied previously. The tent across the street has tear gas pouring out from it. We run through a cloud of the stuff and my eyes, lungs, skin, and nose burn. It’s excruciating. As my comrade starts gathering water bottles in the cloud of gas I collapse on all fours and begin coughing and crying in pain. In my shame, my brain goes into fight or flight mode, and I choose flight. I hobble around the street corner to escape the cloud and leave my comrade to gather the water bottles.

While using tear gas is prohibited in theaters of war, most governments draw a blind eye when it comes to their own citizens. The police have just committed two different war crimes. Not only have they attacked us with chemical weapons, but they’ve also attacked our medical tents.

I escape the cloud of gas and collapse against the brick wall. As I wheeze I push my N95 as close to my face as I can and silently resolve to buy a gas mask before the next protest. My comrade runs around the corner and meets up with me. “What the fuck Alex!” they laugh. 
“I’m sorry!” I reply. I continue to produce hacking, painful coughs. “I couldn’t take it anymore!” I cough. “Fuck, that burns.”

They dump the pile of water bottles they’ve gathered onto the ground in front of us. “Alright, we got about six here. Three per person?”

“Sure.” I gather a few and put them in my backpack. “Remember how to do an eyewash?” I ask.

“Yep!” They reply.

“Cool! Let’s go find the group.” With that, we set back off…

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Timewave Zero

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I stop to catch my breath and look up. Above me the summit of El Toro looms. Today me and my partner Zach are going to reach it. Our route? Timewave Zero, formerly the tallest bolted line in North America. Towering at 23 pitches and 2,300 feet, it’s around the size of Half Dome. We have woken up at 5:30 am to begin climbing, and are currently on the hike up to begin. Or plan is to be done with the climb and down in time to scoop a couple cappuccinos at El Buho. In retrospect this plan is highly ambitious.

I’m mainly a single-pitch sport climber. I’ve dabbled in most forms of climbing, including some misadventures in the alpine, but for the most part I remain unfamiliar with the systems we will need to get up and down beyond not getting myself killed. Therefore, I’ll be relying upon Zach for his knowledge. We’ll be doing a technique on the way up called “simul-climbing.” It allows both climbers to climb at the same time, instead of one climber belaying and the other climbing. It’s a great time saver when moving over easy terrain, but a bit more dangerous if done wrong. I’ve never done it before and the prospect is intoxicatingly exciting and terrifying.

Huffing and puffing we finally arrive at the base of the wall and search for our route. I shuffle along the cliffline and look for something familiar. “Alright, let me look around.” I say. “I haven’t been up here in a couple years.” It’s an easy find. There’s literally a metal nameplate at the base. “Timewave Zero.” Accompanying the route’s nameplate is another one memorializing a climber who died on the line years prior. It’s a great sight to start our day.

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We throw our backpacks down in the dirt and begin gearing up.

“Ok Zach, run me through the system.” I say. “And I’ll ask you to remind me again once we get to the part where we actually simul.”

Zach removes a couple devices from his rack and shows me each one. “So I have two different devices. This is a Climbtech Rollnlock, and the this is a Petzl Micro Traxion. So what you do is clip the locker directly in a bolt or a chain or whatever. Lock it the biner, and then before you lock in the trax put the rope through.”

I reach out and take each one, and play with the mechanisms. “Ok, so it’s kinda like a gri gri. You put it in and then close it”

“Yeah. See inside this one?” He points at the diagram of the little climber on the device. “Load, hand.”

“Cool. Sounds simple enough.”

He pulls his rope out of his backpack and begins to flake it. We’ve elected to take his instead of mine. “Wait, so explain to me what’s so special about this rope?” I ask.

He holds up a strand of it. “There’s this layer of glue. If the sheath gets cut, it normally exposes a big old section of core. But the glue just keeps it covered.”

“But thats the coolest part of when a rope cuts though!” I exclaim. “When it just explodes! That’s what you want.”

“Gotta say I’ve never done it.”

“You seen that video of the dude falling on the gritstone and his rope cuts?”

“Nah.”

“Oh dude, he like falls like across this arete and his rope grinds down the arete, and then you see the sheath cut and the core snaps and he falls.”

“And dies.”

“Nah he only fell like 15 feet.” I say. “He only broke an ankle.”

“Oh that’s not bad.”

“Yeah that’s fine.”

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We rack up and sort our gear. I carefully organize what I’ll need into the different loops on my harness. Everything seems good and in order. The rest of my gear I’ll need will be in my daypack on my back.

“Ok, so basically I’m just gonna start climbing and kinda communicate with you.” I say. “You’re gonna be on a grigri behind me and managing the rope, but I’ll also make sure I’m not climbing slower or faster than you. And once I start running low on draws I’ll be like, ‘yo I’m getting low on draws,’ and I’ll find an anchor station and put you on belay, right?”

“Yep.”

“Is there virtue to running things out while we’re simuling to save gear?” I ask.

Zach laughs. “Yeeeaah. For sure.”

“Cool. I Just wanna be a spicy lad.”

He peers at me. “Just don’t put yourself in a position to take a whipper that’s gonna break your leg and make me have to rescue you.”

“Cool! Yeah I don’t wanna die today. So I’m gonna be very careful.”

“Yeah I am not planning on dying today.”

“I used to be cool with dying rock climbing. But now I only wanna die during the revolution.” I say.

Zach laughs. “Yeah. I’m not real stoked on either to be honest. I don’t really want to die of old age either.”

“Yeah. You kinda wanna die in your 70’s from an accident of some sort. That’s the true way. Like die in an alpine accident when you’re 75.”

“Yeah exactly.”

“Yeah my grandpa is getting pretty old. He’s 78. He’s still going to be president though.”

We laugh.

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Views of the other side of the canyon on the way up.

000960820006Ripping off my goddamn harness upon summiting.

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Beautiful exposure about half way up.

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The final scramble to the summit.

000960820009Zach arriving.

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In retrospect maybe climbing past the bevy ledge instead of taking a break was a bad call.

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Summit bois.

Around ten hours later we finally reach the summit. My feet hurt so bad I am almost crying with every tiny edge I stand on. Our dreams of cappuccinos dissipated far behind us on the wall. We elect to spend thirty minutes at the summit since we will be rappelling into the night regardless. From where we are we have a panoramic view of the Sierra Madres. It is absolutely mesmerizing.

A few hours into the climb I wanted nothing more than to give up and come down. In retrospect, it was probably one of the best days of my life.

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