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The next spring, I found myself sitting in the Camp 4 parking lot, unable to find anyone willing to leave the cafeteria-deli-bar routine and go climb El Cap with me. I recounted over and over my worst memories of those six days. Either they fell to the Kyrgyz military or got lost; we still don't know which. Jason "Singer" Smith was one of Kevin's friends. Five foot six with light brown hair, he was renowned for his offbeat remarks. Su would accompany us and Abdul would meet us on top. But now, he was curled up in front of a bush on the top of the ridge and tears flooded down his face. The muddy, bug-filled water had done little to quench our thirst; our mouths might as well have been crammed with dirt.

We had been together for barely two months, but I was already in love.

At sundown each night all four of them would face toward Mecca and pray. Craning at the 2,500 feet of granite yet to come, I imagined us still up here, three weeks later, me leading half a pitch a day. "You're one of the most talented slab climbers I've ever climbed with. (The exact location had not been disclosed at press time.) Isn't it fun? "That's it up there," John whispered. "The locals thought the haul bags would be stuffed with American dollars." It's not that I don't think about what happened anymore, but it seems so long ago now that it takes great effort to remember every detail. Helmet on, lead line and haul line clipped to my harness, with a rack of every size and color cam, I started up. The Illuminati -- S.P.E.C.T.R.E. Making a financial contribution to Outside Online only takes a few minutes and will ensure we can continue supplying the trailblazing, informative journalism that readers like you depend on. This article was as close as I got to a meaningful therapy session.—Beth Rodden, July 8, 2015, Members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), July 25, 2000, in a video taken by IMU guerrillas as they made their way from Tajikistan over mountain passes into southern Kyrgyzstan. Now all we needed was a photographer. In recent years, Outside Online has reported on groundbreaking research linking time in nature to improved mental and physical health, and we’ve kept you informed about the unprecedented threats to America’s public lands. Jason, on the other hand, had soloed the Rostrum, even down climbed it. The whole-body-climbing style of offwidths was foreign to me. For the next ten minutes I squirmed and wiggled but advanced little more than a few inches. Cold and petrified, we tried not to stare, but they controlled our fate. Find more newsletters on our newsletter sign-up page. "This is great!" They fled to a Kyrgyz army outpost. "Fun?" Perhaps one day I'll try and heal fully.

I cried most of the time. "That gear was a hot topic all over southern Kyrgyzstan," says Pavel Kopacek, 28, a member of the 11-man Czech team that visited the wall in July. I pictured how I would react.

On the morning of the 12th, the climbers woke to the sound of bullets peppering the rock around their portaledge camp, 1,000 feet up. I put my arms around Tommy, trying to control his shaking.

Most local Yosemite climbers preferred to talk about climbing rather than actually climb. Summoning all of my energy, I sprung off the wall, spread-eagled. "Hey Beth," he said, grinning.

I wondered whether it would hurt, or whether I'd be numb to the pain. I convinced him to guide me up the Rostrum. As we looked up, the wall grew dramatically steeper, from a slab you could practically run up to a more-than-vertical headwall. Among other missions, they wanted to look at the gear the Americans had left behind. But I hid my uneasiness as I tried to impress the handsome, single man hiking along beside me. They gave us time to think. They would provide some of the most technical and difficult slab climbing either of us has ever encountered. It can't be that cold," I said. Tommy yelled. I shared a sponsor with Jason Smith, the same crazy guy who had taken me up the Rostrum; the sponsor had canceled an expedition and had money for us to go on the trip of our dreams. Would I scream?

"Whatcha doing?" Sinking a finger lock, I pulled the hold to my thighs. "It looks to me like you weigh no more than an air bag, so I think we're good to go." "Are you sure you don't want to work that out?"


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