Friday, November 28, 2014

Fremont Canyon Bridge: A Hand Traverse

Robert Finlay, fantasy hand traverse over a canyon
Fantasy view of hand traversing...

Hand Traversing a Bridge High Above a Canyon

Above is a fantasy view of hand traversing a canyon. Below is the actual bridge over the North Fork of the Platte River which I hand traversed in 1987, although that is not a true photo either.

Photo manipulated re-creation of Robert Finlay traversing lower girder of Fremont Canyon Bridge
Re-creation showing the traverse of the lower girder of Fremont Canyon Bridge

The above image is a manipulated image, photo-shopped if you will, showing what I might have looked like crossing the canyon some 27 years ago. But below is the story...

I had been climbing a lot these past few months and was now on a climber's road trip with Jay Smith and Paul van Betten. First stop was City of Rocks, Idaho and now Fremont Canyon, Wyoming. I had also for the past few months been acting a bit like 'the psycho'. Which begged the question, was I a psycho, or was I becoming a psycho, or was I just acting like a psycho?

A few months earlier I read a book which contained a character with both hugely inspiring and yet very dark character traits. He was going through his many reincarnated lives and with each life he was becoming a better human being. His past friends and lovers however, were not. The conflict between following what he knew to be the correct human path versus a path of loyalty to his previous allegiances was his dilemma. He was someone I identified with. He became sort of an alter ego. His name was Bobby Lasker.

Bobby had been climbing with me on all my solos of late. He was with me when I soloed 'Dream of Wild Turkeys'; sitting on a ledge half way through the climb, eating the orange I had brought up with me in my chalk bag, throwing the peelings off into the air, contemplating the continuation of the climb, Bobby started climbing without me, I soon took off right behind him saying, "Hey, wait for me".

So, now I've been climbing with Jay and Paul and exhibiting some traits that I guess were becoming worrisome. Paul had said, "Dude, we're waiting for your head to start spinning around like the girl in 'Exorcist'. So, anyway back to the bridge...

I was sitting with Jay and Paul on sunny rocks, which you can see on the right in the photo above, basking in the afternoon sun and afterglow of another great day of climbing when I thought to myself and decided, "I can hand traverse that girder". Without saying a word to anyone, I got up, went to my truck, changed into my Ninja climbing slippers, though I would not need climbing shoes for a hand traverse you wear what you are comfortable in, I put on my hand tape climbing gloves, because as an iron worker I know steel to have the occasional sharp burr and I walked back pass Jay and Paul, stepped onto the concrete abutment, which you can see below, and started climbing.

Details hand traversing Fremont Canyon Bridge
Details hand traversing Fremont Canyon Bridge

Traversing this bridge was an easy prospect really. It was just a hand traverse, no foot moves required, and I was strong. I just reached out past the first huge gusset plate, matched hands, and let go with my feet. Dangling now, I simply shuffled my hands left; left hand, right hand, left hand, right hand, again and again. When I reached the first little gusset, passing it was very easy and then I simply continued shuffling left. When I reached the second larger gusset, my moves now had to be a little more dynamic. I swung my body left and right repeatedly, building momentum until I could let go with my left hand and reach to top of the gusset. This is what climbers call a power glide. With my left hand latched onto the gusset; I locked my left arm, hung solely by my left hand, and matched my right hand to the same hold on the top of the gusset. I moved left on the gusset, passing the vertical trestle and now had to reverse power glide back down to the girder; I lowered my left hand down, latched my left hand, locked my left shoulder and elbow, transferred my body weight to the left and lowered my right hand down - and I was feeling strong at every phase of every move of this somewhat complex sequence.

Photo manipulated re-creation of Robert Finlay traversing lower girder of Fremont Canyon Bridge with details
Re-creation showing the traverse of the lower girder of Fremont Canyon Bridge with details

I was now almost halfway across. All I had to do was repeat; shuffle left, shuffle left, pass another small gusset, pass one more big gusset, another little gusset, shuffle left until over solid rock on the other side, shuffle right up to the last huge gusset, and gently drop to solid ground, all of which I did, feeling strong and feeling like it was easy.

And oh, what of Bobby Lasker? After dropping to the ground on the far side, I never saw or heard from him again. Although, after soloing Devil's Tower, I did sign the summit register with both my name and his, but that is another story.


Valentin Chapa hanging under Fremont Canyon Bridge
Val hanging under Fremont Canyon Bridge
And oh yeah, I returned to Fremont Canyon Bridge in 2009 with my Badlands Primal Quest Team consisting of my son Druce Finlay, and friends Valentin Chapa, and Amy van Voorst.

We practiced the rope techniques of rappelling and ascending that we would need in the race.

In these photos you can see Val and Druce practicing, suspended from the same girder I had traversed many years before.

No, I did not hand traverse that girder again, I didn't even consider it.

Druce Finlay practicing rope ascension under Fremont Canyon Bridge
Druce practicing rope ascension under Fremont Canyon Bridge

Fremont Canyon Bridge image showing the trestle traverse
Fremont Canyon Bridge image showing the trestle traverse
However, Druce and I did walk across the bridge on the top of the trestle - just can't help myself sometimes.

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