PART I: THE WALL
You might not know the name, but you know the shapes; for generations, we’ve watched on our TVs—in commercials, in nature shows, in Western movies too dumb to care that everyone knows this fabled landscape sure as shit isn’t Arizona or Colorado or whatever it’s pretending to be—as an airborne video camera chugs over the foothills, across alien expanses of moraine and scree, then crests the pass and a valley suddenly unfolds below, its trademark peaks throwing enormous black shadows across the white glacial leviathans that stalk the valley floor.
The cameras used to be mounted on helicopters and airplanes; now they’re drones, but the moment of reveal’s still the same. Still breathtaking.
Except you might have looked at Google’s fly-throughs, though, where you can flip through the past decade’s footage, and if you’ve done that, well, you know the other fucking thing, the one everyone ought to and no one wants to: the valley-makers are melting.
That’s why ABC’s here.
They settled on this mission just last month, while they were outside of Grenoble gearing up for a quick charity climb.
“The glaciers!” Enjolras exclaimed out of nowhere, as Courfeyrac drove their rented microvan through a succession of increasingly sharp curves with increasingly steep drop-offs.
Courf, white-knuckling another turn, yelped and braked hard.
“What the fuck are we going to do?” Enjolras demanded.
“Do you realize I thought we were about to crash?” Courf asked. “The only reason you get to yell when someone is driving around hairpin turns in the fucking Alps, Enj, is there’s a fucking yeti in the road. Or an avalanche.”
Enjolras brandished his book like a shield: evidence. “North America’s glaciers are shrinking a percentage point every year. At this rate, it’s a matter of decades, not centuries. Our lifetimes, even, Courf!”
Grumbling, Courfeyrac put the car back in gear and kept driving.
“In one sense,” Combeferre yawned from the back seat, where he had been napping up until the rapid deceleration, “everything we do is in support of environmental stewardship. Perhaps that’s all we can do when it comes to glaciers. Stronger regulations. Awareness.”
“Fuck awareness,” Enjolras said, glaring out at the distant snowy peaks.
“That’s our whole jam,” Courf said.
“So, fuck us, then.”
“I wish,” said Courf, who had spent way too many nights the last few months in portaledges or remote tents with his best friends, who have made an infuriatingly puritanical habit of refusing to even make out with him a little while he jerks it.
“Awareness matters,” Combeferre said, undeterred. “But so does action. What spurs people to take action?”
Shock, they know. Fear. Sometimes hope.
“When we get back, where, where in the U.S. will show that change most starkly? What will make people notice enough to care? Enough to act?”
That’s when Courf floated Myriel Park—a distant wonder of natural beauty that, despite its majestic isolation, is ingrained so deeply in the American psyche that even schoolchildren recognize its iconic peaks and ice formations.
“We’ve done a bunch of climbs at Myriel,” Enjolras objected.
“Right, but those were all fundraisers,” Courf said. “Speed climbs, new routes, stuff like that. This time, we do something no one’s ever done.”
“Dunno. ’Ferre’ll figure it out.”
It’s a marvel that he has found, in this world, two people who not only take his outrage seriously, but redirect it into action. Not everyone can say the same.
Chapter 1: Climbers Camp
Combeferre shows up to the valley first to start establishing the center for operations; Courfeyrac and Enjolras follow a week later, after finishing up the climb publicity and their appearances at a Swiss eco-awards gala, at which they delivered a rousing keynote address and gained another handful of deep-pocketed supporters.
They arrive so late at night, after a delayed flight, a missed connection, and—once reunited with ’Ferre, who caught a substantial nap in the airport parking lot waiting for them—a three-hour drive into the mountains, that they roll straight from the van into the tent and sleep till morning.
Enjolras is awoken by someone shaking his tent.
“Huh?” he groans, opening his eyes and tugging out the earplugs.
A cheery voice that feels vaguely familiar asks, “You gonna spend the whole day in bed, Enj?”
Through the mesh of the tent door, he sees the outline of a head with braids ringed by a staticky flare of small hairs that escaped their bonds in the night and now catch the early sun.
“Who is that?” he asks.
“Should I be insulted?” the woman asks. She unzips the tent flap to stick her head in, and Enjolras sits up in his sleeping bag and recognizes her: one of his first climbing partners, and a dear friend in college, by the last time he saw her a few years ago, she’d started making enough as a travel vlogger to finance her climbing.
“Cosette Fauchelevent,” he says, grinning at her.
“Damn, how are you still so gorgeous?” she says, tackling him in a hug, unmindful of Courfeyrac, who is still sprawled fully asleep in the space between Enjolras and the empty bag where Combeferre slept. “You’re supposed to be gross and old by now.”
“Maybe your tastes are maturing,” he says. He gives her a tremendous squeeze: muscle under worn-in flannel. “Along with our ages.”
“Yeah, I don’t think so? I’m still as shallow as ever—wait till you meet my new guy, you’ll see.” She wiggles with delight, hair crackling against the synthetic sleeping bags. “I’m so happy you’re here! We were planning to leave next week, but when ’Ferre said you were coming, I pushed it back a little.”
They clamber out of the tent, and of course, Enjolras cannot help but note, Cosette is the one who’s “still gorgeous”—more beautiful than in college, even, with a greater depth in her gleaming eyes, and the body of a person who uses her body all the time, and uses it good and hard.
“Marius!” she calls. One of the men gathered around a camp stove at the nearby picnic table looks over and beams. “Come meet Enjolras!”
Marius is young, astonishingly handsome, and clearly over the moon to be in Cosette’s presence. He introduces himself pleasantly, then just stands there, holding Cosette’s hand, while she and Enjolras catch up at length on the details of each other’s lives.
“Can I make you some coffee?” Enjolras offers at one point, because he would love a cup. Marius gallantly offers to bring them both some, it would be his pleasure.
“He seems nice,” Enjolras ventures when Marius trots off.
“He is.” Cosette sounds a little surprised by it. “I thought it was a fling, but I’m actually pretty into him. I mean, my fling criteria are pretty low—”
“I beg your pardon,” Courfeyrac interrupts, having emerged from the tent and joined them. He’s eyeballing Marius, who, turning toward them with two tin cups of coffee, looks exactly like a beautiful camping-catalog model whose two days’ artful stubble is just set dressing to add a little brawn to his ethereal dewiness.
“Nah, they’ve just gotta be hot,” Cosette laughs, because for her, finding hot guys is probably actually that easy. “This time, I got lucky.”
Courf sticks out his lower lip, nodding in agreement with her assessment.
“You jelly, Courf?” she asks, giving him a hug.
“Why would I be jealous?” he asks in an aggrieved tone, glowering at Enjolras. “With this wingman? I’m never not knocking down cocks.”
“Is that what we call it?” she says.
There are several beautifully-equipped campgrounds in the main valleys of Myriel Park, but if you’re a climber, you don’t stay in those; you stay in Climbers Camp—a ratty, old-school zone with crowded sites, pit toilets, and no showers, at the north end of the main valley right near the foot of the Tower.
It’s a community.
The first time you rough it at Climbers is a rite of passage, and after that, it’s tradition. Oldtimers meet up with friends and recount their travels; new visitors seek the inside intel that’ll help them scale the granite walls they’ve all come to climb.
Whether they’re staying for days or months, everyone at Climbers gets to know each other.
Over breakfast, Cosette’s friend Musichetta reports that when she ran by the ranger station this morning, a ranger hollered after her to ask if it was true that the ABC’s in camp.
“Oh man,” Cosette says, rolling her eyes. “Now we’re gonna have to beat off the climbing groupies with sticks. It’s been bad enough with R here, and at least he’s an antisocial bastard, but you guys—”
“Who?” demands Enjolras. Of course he knows, far too well, the nickname, but it’s always struck him as pompous to claim for oneself a whole letter of the alphabet—to expect, from so little, to be recognized—so he feigns ignorance.
Cosette rolls her eyes harder. “R. Grantaire. You may have heard about him. Gold-medal lead climber, international legend, Hand Jam’s American climber of the year a million years running, et cet.” She reaches across him for hot sauce and shakes it liberally over the eggs on her plate. “And now we’ve got you guys too, who actually talk to your fans? God.” She offers the sauce to him. “People love you.”
Just then, Courfeyrac comes stumbling down the narrow campground road, hooting in delight, thrown off balance by the five-gallon reservoir of water he’s lugging in one arm and the man he’s corralled in the other.
“Holy fuck, guys!” he bellows ahead to them. “Wait till you see who I found at the bathroom!”
Medium of height, with dark hair messily tied back in a bandana, and rolling out a shoulder as he slopes tolerantly forward, this guy’s not only unmistakably a climber, but unmistakably Grantaire.
Yeah, that Grantaire. Climbing legend; America’s hope. Even if you’ve never so much as clambered up a tree, you know him.
“I still have pics of you taped up on the walls in my childhood bedroom,” Courf is proclaiming as they draw within earshot. “You’re a fucking giant of the sport, man.”
Grantaire tilts his head. “I would’ve placed you at about my age,” he says, surveying Courf’s dense, lean lines of muscle.
“All the fucking better.”
“I wasn’t in any mags till I was like 18.”
“Your point?” Courf asks dismissively, in no way troubled that he’s giving Grantaire a clear view into the messy thumping meat of his eager heart. He sets his water-jug down lightly beside the van. “I am fanboying so hard right now, guys. This guy sent the Pipes when he was in fucking high school. In an on-sight. No training, no gear. Straight-up balls and guts.”
He grins giddily at Grantaire, who, clearly accustomed to such fawning, looks back with a faint twist of the mouth that could be a smile, but also a distant aspect in his eyes, like he’s heard enough. He’s not quite looking at Enjolras or the others at the table.
“But guys. You gotta meet him.” The morning, bright and cloudless, beams gleefully down on Courf’s delight. “R, this is Combeferre, our ops guy—he’s the brains of this whole ABC thing.” Combeferre shakes hands with Grantaire. “And Enjolras, R—”
“I’m familiar,” Grantaire says, eyes still skipping around so that they barely touch the areas that Enjolras occupies, sliding hastily over his face and landing on his arms, which he has inadvertently crossed in perusal of the meeting. For just a moment, he smiles for real.”Wow. Who’da thought the moment I actually meet Enjolras would be before I’ve even brushed my teeth?”
“Anyway, hi,” Grantaire says. He’s almost muttering, except in his voice, it sounds dangerous and exciting, like when a false step sets scree tumbling out from under you. “Thank you for completely reinventing climbing as a sport and a culture, it’s an honor, I’m R.”
“I know,” cuts in Enjolras, because who in the entire fucking world doesn’t?—because for years and years, he’s heard all about Grantaire—the insouciant darling of the climbing world, hard-living and hard-climbing, preternaturally gifted, afraid of nothing, ropeless, somehow still alive—and he lifts up from the bench to shake.
Their ragged skin catches on each other, clinging like a fleece vest that’s gone through the dryer. Apparently neither of them have tended to their hands yet this morning.
Grantaire laughs—an abrupt hiccup of noise. “Shit, guess my aliases are public knowledge?”
“Of course I know who you are,” Enjolras objects. There is no need for Grantaire to be coy; his nickname’s emblazoned on every gear poster he’s ever posed for, and all the fitness-magazine articles have cutesy titles like “Tors R Us” and “R You Ready to Train Like the Free Solo King?” Far worse than self-aggrandizement is false modesty. “From, you know, everything. People always ask us about you. They just assume, I guess—”
Ferre touches Enjolras lightly on the arm. “I’m guessing it’s not much of a stretch to say that all present know quite a lot about each other’s work in the climbing world.” His face is telling Enjolras to let it go.
“You should tell them some insane shit,” Grantaire breaks in. “Like, yeah, last I heard from him, R was in training to be an international assassin. See what we can get them to believe.”
“Everyone expects all us climbers to know each other.” Enjolras is very annoyed about this. The only good thing about the galas and conferences is that he gets to expound, at length and at volume, on the climbing that he loves and the planetary destruction that he hates. The small talk fucking sucks.
“‘You must know my nephew,” Courf says, parroting the refined voice of pretty much every one of their major donors. “You all run in the same circles...’”
“Sure, you could say that you guys and me run in the same circles because we’re both good at rocks,” Grantaire says, tilting his head in acknowledgment at the imposing monolith of the Barricade, upon which they and he both happen to hold speed records, “but that's kind of like saying that a latch and a hammer run in the same circles because they're both ways to open a window.” He grins. It’s cocky and broad, teeth white against his sun-browned face.
“This guy!” Courf says, gesturing jubilantly with his thumb in his delight at Grantaire’s presence. “You free soloed the Barricade last year, right?”
“Yeah,” Grantaire shrugs like it’s no big deal. “Just Tuileries, though.”
He doesn’t need to explain that proviso; all present also know that the Tuileries route, which follows a couple of sizable cracks at the northeast edge of the wall, is a far easier way up than the more southerly approaches. The Wagon Wheel, which ABC mapped and first-ascended a couple years back, and even the Corinth, upon which they reclaimed the free speed record last January, are both intellectually and physically demanding climbs. Tuileries is, relatively speaking, a stroll through easy terrain.
Still, it is well over 2500 vertical feet from deck to summit, so a free solo—where one missed hold means, with no exaggeration, certain death—is the stupid act of a self-centered madman.
“Be my friend,” Courf says now. “Please.” His hand flutters to his chest in yearning. “I’ll do anything.”
Grantaire does a little shuffle of his shoulders that looks vaguely like assent. “Do you guys have coffee?” he asks.
They talk about running the lower pitches of Tuileries that day, just to get their hands back on some Myriel stone, but after a heated discussion over coffee, they end up driving to the south end of the valley where they can knock out an easy ascent. Combeferre’s plans to take the van to the shop for tire maintenance get roundly shouted down (“You want to abandon our first climb back for ‘tire maintenance?’” Courf asks in a tone so scathing that a lesser person than Combeferre would be ashamed to look him in the eye), so in the end, the three of them and Cosette gear up and pile out of the van together in the still-dewy meadow below the backlit beauty of the imposing monolith called the Elephant.
They’ve chosen to start where the soaring face tapers down into the wall that forms one side of the valley, ending in a smaller face that’s known—dismissively or affectionately, depending on who’s doing the talking—as the “Elephant’s Tail.” It’s a classic first multi-pitch route for newer climbers; the ABC crew has to dodge slower traffic on their way up the face. “Holy shit,” Enjolras hears one climber exclaim, apparently having recognized Enjolras even though Enj and Cosette, climbing together today, have opted for a more easterly crack to give these folks a wide berth.
Higher up that crack, Cosette finds a #7 nut someone neglected to clear.
“This yours?” she hollers up to another duo who are climbing a pitch or two higher.
They don’t hear her. She clips the nut onto her rack and keeps moving.
On the next pitch, Courfeyrac finds an abandoned cam jammed too deep in a crack. Combeferre, whose patience for fiddling around equally matches his impatience with sloppy route clean-up, works it loose and clips it onto Courf’s harness.
“This shit’s ultralight,” Courf says, examining the cam when they break for a drink of water at the top, swinging their legs off the edge. “If you’re not sponsored, that’s gonna set you back.” Sure, the ABC’s well-equipped now, but they all remember their dirtbag roots.
“Great spot to pick up gear from rich hobbyists,” says Cosette. “Scored a couple free cams when I ran this wall with Marius. Well, tried to.” She opens a bag of snacks and offers them around, grabbing a handful of Enjolras’s almonds in uninvited exchange. “Not much of a head for heights, that guy. I thought a night on a ledge would show him the light, but nope.”
“Want another for the collection?” Courf asks her.
“You don’t want it?” She looks at him and clocks their neat racks of matching protection. “Oh, right. ‘If you’re not sponsored.’ Sure, hand it over.”
For such a quick climb, the Tail offers a really spectacular vista down the valley. Lots of day-hikers spend hours climbing miles of switchbacks up the back for a chance at this view—the length of Myriel’s central chasm, green at its center, with blue sky glancing up from the river, sheer gray walls rising up at the sides. At the end, a shocking, otherworldly brightness that presides, stark and forlorn over its ever-growing hillsides of moraine, the Bienvenu—the grandest of all the Myriel ice—gazes steadily down the long reach of the valley. Enjolras gazes back.
Swapping out climbing shoes for the sneakers they hauled up, they hike down the back-side of the cliff. If their timing’s right, they should be able to catch the park shuttle back into the valley—and if not, Cosette assures them, it will be Marius’s pleasure to come give them a ride.
They do catch the shuttle, but when they get back to the ABC van in the gravel parking lot near the base of the tail, the shiftless rear right tire’s gone flat, so what with digging out the spare and swapping it in, they don’t make it back to camp till most people are finishing dinner. Fortunately, Marius is waiting for them with beers and burrito fixings.
In the next site over, Musichetta is starting a campfire.
“Grab drinks and come over!” she calls. “Everyone’s raring to meet the ABC!”
Enjolras doesn’t usually drink much, but when the climbers aren’t too braggy, he enjoys the camaraderie of a campfire. While Courfeyrac rolls him a burrito, Enjolras unstraps the folding chairs from the roof of the van and adds them to the circle that’s forming around the fire.
It’s a pretty good crowd: the ABC, and Cosette and Marius and Musichetta and her bouldering partner Bossuet, and a handful of dirtbag climbers who live in the valley at Myriel as close to year-round as they can get away with.
“What’re you doing here, anyway?” asks one of these, a burly guy named Bahorel who, leaning elegantly on one crutch, chugged two beers before sitting down and is now working, more slowly, on a third. “I mean, no offense, cool to have the ABC around, but don’t you already hold basically every big-wall record in the park?”
“They’re not here for your boulders,” Musichetta says, smacking him on the shoulder. “Don’t get scared.”
“It’s the glaciers,” Courf says. “Enjolras got this thing in his head, that it should be our next big campaign.”
“You’re ice climbers now?”
“Not on the glaciers,” Enjolras says. “Near the glaciers. Highlight them. Let people see what, you know, all of us see.”
Combeferre picks up a chunk of loose granite and uses it to flip the lid off a beer. “It’s a good idea. They’re tangible and photogenic evidence of climate change.”
“Photogenic,” Musichetta repeats.
Enjolras feels compelled to defend this. “When we can show it, that’s when people sit up and pay attention. Usually, it’s just, Cool, the ABC’s climbing something, but it’s the really visual stuff that makes people care. When we did those climbs outside of Yosemite after the wildfires, with the broken burnt forests below us, and the sky still full of smoke, those photos caused real outrage. The foundation got more donations the day after the pics ran than they usually get all year. We can’t show most of the devastation; we can’t show the rising oceans and the dying rainforest species and the slow ticking down of human life expectancies, but here at Myriel, the land of fucking glaciers, we can show some of it in a way that might make people care.”
Firelight glints off the eyes of someone who’s standing at the outskirts of the circle, apparently watching him intently.
“Not trying to be rude,” says Bossuet, “but who’s even going to see it, though?”
“You should see the PR arm on the ABC,” says Cosette.
“This arm?” Courf pokes ’Ferre’s firm left bicep. “Brains of the op, like I said.”
“Climbing stories capture the public imagination, if you package them right,” ’Ferre says. “Remember when Tommy and Kevin tackled the Dawn Wall? Or Alex on the Nose? All over the news, you couldn’t miss it. Not just the climbing sites. People love the drama, the chance to be armchair adventurers.”
“Neither of those got half the traction of ABC’s last run at Corinth,” says the rough voice of the person who’s still standing outside the ring of chairs. Grantaire, just a curve of nose and curl of hair lit by errant firelight. “That shit was unlike any publicity I’ve ever seen.” Grantaire doesn’t need to sneer the word “publicity.” The implication’s clear: it was a good climb, sure, but nothing to the tenacity or the sheer balls-out bravery of those other feats. “Made damn near every six o’clock news show in the country. My mom asked me if we were friends.”
“R!” says Musichetta, more friendly than star-struck. “Pull up a seat!”
He hangs back. “‘Bout to smoke, so...”
“Pull up a seat,” she says again.
Grantaire, stepping forward so that his whole face suddenly shows, glances around the circle. “Cool?” Seeing no objection, he drags a folding chair forward between Bossuet and Cosette.
“So, now you’re gonna climb something that makes people give a shit about melting glaciers.” He shakes his head, dark hair throwing back golden bits of light, as he spreads a rolling paper carefully onto his lap and twists open a little jar. “That’s got to be impressive as fuck. And new.” Other campfires glow in some of the nearby tight-packed Climbers sites, ringed by their own boisterous crews. “There’s nothing new here at Myriel.”
Enjolras is about to object when ’Ferre shocks him by saying, “I’m afraid that I’m inclined to agree.”
“But it has to be here!” says Enjolras. He’s not an ice climber, but the first times he tried were here, on Bienvenu and its nearest neighbor Champmathieu.Seeing them transfixes him. Surely, others must also feel the pull.
“Every route here has been climbed, and climbed again and again. Most of them by us. We need a climb that’s exciting and jawdropping and...” Combeferre shrugs. “Additive.” This pine-strewn cleft is the most-climbed valley in the world. “There are other glaciers. Maybe we head back to Alaska.”
“It has to be here,” Enjolras says again, more vehement. “While we were up there today, on the top of the Tail, I realized, Courf was right about Myriel; there’s nowhere else—nowhere in the world—that holds even vaguely comparable power in the popular imagination. So what we’re going to do, we’re going to scour the valley. We’re going to find something new, something majestic, something no one’s ever dared to—”
Grantaire breaks in. “Like shit you are.”
Combeferre chuckles at the interjection—or at Enjolras’s indignant, “Seriously?” Unlike his group, most climbers don’t talk in paragraphs, nor do they tend to have much patience with people who do. And Grantaire, though known for running his mouth, is not noted for his patience.
“Sorry, Enj,” Combeferre says. “I know we’ve talked through my possibilities, but there’s nothing here I’m really passionate about.” Grantaire isn’t even watching; he’s licking the rolling paper to seal it. “Looking for something new, you know, hasn’t been as straightforward as I was hoping. The big walls in the valley all have so much climbing history. Of course, there is something to be said for climbing a classic route; if we frame it right, one of the big walls—maybe the Elephant again? If we came at it from the southwest flank, which, while traditionally disregarded as—”
Enjolras is shaking his head but trying to give ’Ferre the respect of at least hearing him out when Grantaire cuts in. “Obviously, you gotta do Quarante Sous,” he says.
"Fuck off,” Enjolras exclaims in disbelief. It’s a joke. A looming, leaning beast of a wall just outside of Myriel, the Quarante Sous, which in major sections tilts past vertical, has only ever been climbed in dreams.
’Ferre continues. “People deride the southwest flank because it’s so rich in features, but with a little imagination—”
“Nah, that shit’s no good.” Grantaire’s raising an eyebrow, his casual rejection vicious. He laughs. “Seriously, a run up the Elephant’s belly? Nah. But Quarante?”
The others’ expressions of incredulity likely mirror his own.
’Ferre laughs. “The southwest of the Elephant might actually offer some impressive new angles on the valley. Spectacular ones, really. With the right messaging, we could turn some heads—”
“Nah, man, I’ve done Elephant. You’ve done Elephant. Fuck, every dirtbag worth their van’s done Elephant.” Grantaire lights and pulls hard on a fat spliff. “You wanna make people sit up and take note, you can’t do any of the old valley walls. No one’s gonna give a shit if it’s a new angle; how many thousands of us have climbed the fucking valley walls? They’ve been done. But Quaraaaante...” Like the smoke in his fingers, he lets the name hang.
Apparently, he’s serious.
In one voice, the objections stream out: Quarante Sous is unclimbable. It’s inaccessible, on private land in a neighboring valley. It’s a political graveyard. And anyway, some of them still insist there’s potential here in the park.
“I really think you should reconsider Madeleine,” says Cosette. “There’s a new route in there, I’m pretty sure. Straight up the left side? Where we usually double back? You might be able to argue it’s a new face, technically.”
“Technically?” asks Musichetta, making a face.
“Um, excuse me?” says Courf, pursing his lips and lifting a prissy finger in the air, “I wish to paperwork myself into the history books. To whom do I speak about wall-face designations?”
It doesn’t sound like the glorious spectacle they need.
“Suck it,” Cosette says, elbowing him. “I mean, you want to break the law, sure, Quarante would be fucking amazing.”
Others around the fire interject further objections. Grantaire waves them off with the glowing joint. “Nah. Shit’s been done. Quarante is—it’s still an enigma. It’s brand new. And fuck, you want undeniable physical evidence of climate change. Shit, that approach wasn’t fucking there when we started climbing, man.”
“I thought about that,” Combeferre says. “But it’s privately held.” He holds up a hand at Enjolras’s kneejerk indignation about the basic concept of colonization. “Yes, Enjolras, land-ownership is theft. On this, as you know, we agree. My point is, I doubt we could get access. No one’s really got much intel, either—which, granted, makes it mythical. An enigma, like you say. But I’d prefer to choose a target about which we actually know something.”
R hands the smoke to Bahorel and says, “Beer me?” He pulls one out of the six-pack that comes his way, and nests the others in the dirt. To Enjolras, he says, “Half that wall was under ice. Now it’s not. Someone needs to climb it. Why not you?”
“Word is that the area’s under frequent surveillance by the holding company’s private security. This strikes me as an unnecessary risk when we’re already here at Myriel, surrounded by some of the best public-lands climbing in the world.”
“What the fuck?” Grantaire asks, sounding disgusted. “Isn’t your whole schtick that you do edgy shit to make people pay attention? Where’s the edge in another fucking run up the Elephant?”
Grudgingly, Enjolras engages. ’Ferre says it’s off-limits, and Enjolras makes it a life policy to believe ’Ferre in all things, but even though he’d like to floor this jerk for talking shit to Combeferre, he can’t ignore Grantaire’s point. And a new wall? An unclimbed route? A chance to break some laws and lay down the first path over fresh granite? There’s undeniable appeal. “How would we even...?”
“I’ve fucked with it some,” Grantaire says. “It’s actually pretty easy to dodge security if you pay any kind of attention. That valley’s huge. You just park further down the highway so it’s not blaringly obvious.”
“You’ve been on Quarante Sous, you’re saying,” Enjolras challenges. “You’ve climbed on it.”
“Some, yeah. Superior fucking wall.”
“We’d need to test the stability,” cautions Combeferre, who probably sees the glint in Enjolras’s eyes at the imagining—and who, let’s be real, doesn’t need to see anything, since he knows Enjolras better than pretty much anyone.
“What I’ve been on is real solid,” Grantaire says. “There’s a decent approach—western side for the first couple pitches, then dodge a little roof area, there’s a sweet vertical crack for the next pitch or so...” He keeps going for a moment in this vein. It’s textbook dirtbag delivery, exactly what you expect from a big-wall climber—the mind transports itself back onto the wall, because when you’re hanging by a knuckle from the rock and your entire existence depends on you figuring out exactly how many millimeters you’re going to have to swing laterally to reach the next grip, the distance and angle imprint themselves on your brain. You catalog them away.
Grantaire’s good at it—too good. Enjolras is there on the wall with him, feeling the rough scrape of each grip under their hands, holding it, claiming it, and he isn’t supposed to want this.
Catching himself, Grantaire shrugs out of the reverie. “Seems doable. I could show you, if you want. Some beta. What I’ve got so far.” He expertly tosses his empty beer can into the box on the far side of the firepit and produces another from the pack.
Enjolras cannot think this is a wise decision. And yet.
“Why not you?” he asks, not bothering to fight the criticality of his tone, because already he wants this, wants this so bad, and should there be any worthwhile impediment, he needs people to voice it right this minute or else never. “You’ve been trying it out. Why shouldn’t you be the one to climb the thing?”
“I don’t do long hauls,” Grantaire says.
Grantaire first got famous for puzzling out solutions to insane boulder problems. Every magazine feature on him highlights him on-sighting some new ridiculous challenge and walking away. He’s a perfect scout—lithe, daring, and determined—and it makes sense that he wouldn’t be cool with the drudgery of mapping thousands of feet of new route, even with a partner.
“I’m apprehensive that it might look like we’ve built a campaign on stolen valor,” Combeferre says—which means, shit, which means, if he’s getting more granular in his objections, that he’s considering it. “How much of the face have you mapped?”
“I’m fucking offering,” Grantaire says with half a grin. “Bullshit, ‘stolen.’ No one else is clamoring for my intel. It’s yours if you want it.”
On that note, Enjolras realizes he’s hardly ever seen Grantaire climbing with anyone else. Hell, he’s never actually seen Grantaire climb in person. But in videos ... damn.
“You always climb alone.” Figures, he thinks. This guy’s a showboat. He talks a ton. He’s not a braggart, Enjolras admits to himself; he’s not upping his own game. He just talks. Constantly. And if you’re on a lead team, he’s learned, you have to sometimes listen.
“Mostly,” Grantaire shrugs. “How else am I gonna maintain the mystery?”
“It’s an incredible thought,” ’Ferre muses.
It really is. They’ve all heard about Quarante Sous, honestly. Every climber has. But with Myriel right here, there’ve always been plenty of alluring reasons not to try.
“You’d really give this to us,” Courf says.
“Oh my god. You chivalrous bastards.”
’Ferre leans across Bossuet to talk to Grantaire then, and Enjolras can’t hear what they’re saying. He remembers the dinner half-eaten in his lap. Even cold, the burrito satisfies a hunger he has forgotten to notice; he’s not always good at remembering to feed himself, especially when his mind is on a big wall.
He chews and considers. He wants to feel this new wall under his hands. He wants to figure out something new—something he’s never seen before.
The fire burns clean and bright, orange sparks dissolving upward in magical little sprays. Around it, the conversation has gone in another direction.
“What’s the highest y’all’ve gone off-rope?” Bahorel is asking the increasingly drowsy assembled climbers. “Not you, R. We all know about you.”
Grantaire seems not to hear the jab, since he’s still deep in conversation with Combeferre. Enjolras doesn’t need to hear the words to know that Combeferre is vetting the offer—its seriousness, its plausibility, its costs. ’Ferre is the most thoughtful person Enjolras knows; if he believes Quarante Sous is right for the ABC, he will figure out how to get it for them.
Cosette’s turned sideways, socked feet in Marius’s lap. “Like, negative height. I really like protection.” She shakes her head. “What about you ABC boys?”
Dragging himself back from the wall, Enjolras tries to match the casual, friendly tone. “Not high,” he says. “Courf’s a worrier.”
“Ah, Courf’s a worrier, yeah?” Courfeyrac lifts his chin. “Who lost their shit when I unclipped for three fucking seconds on Tuileries?”
“It doesn’t take any seconds to die.”
“Worrier. And come on, I do deep-water solos with you all the time.”
“Do deep-water solos count?”
“Not really,” Bahorel says at the same time as Musichetta, from around the joint, says “Sure.”
“They absolutely do. So maybe forty feet?”
The climber questions continue, with Cosette asking about everyone’s favorite routes, and Bossuet curious about gear brands, and a soft-spoken boulderer named Jehan inquiring about the moment they each knew they’d give their life to this sport.
“Sure, there’s hardships, but have you ever fucking seen a climber?” Bahorel asks. “My first climb, there was some hotshot there teaching arms-only technique, and I was like, I don’t know if I want to fuck you or be you, but whatever lifestyle gets you looking like that, that’s what I want.”
“And now that’s how we all feel about you, so.” Musichetta grins at him. “Which reminds me, other than us known quantities, how many of you all have had portaledge sex?”
Cosette blushingly raises her hand. Seeing her do it and blushing twice as hard, so does Marius. Across the fire, so does Courf.
“Ooooh,” teases ’Chetta. “Which of your boys was it, Courf?”
“Wait—” Courfeyrac says, laughing. “Oh, sorry. You mean with someone else?” To raucous laughter, he makes a show of lowering his hand.
Pressed for details, Marius finally manages to say, “You gotta take it real slow,” and Cosette laughs.
“Lots of lube, too,” she adds, making Marius hide his face in embarrassment. “Dehydration is real, friends.”
“Risky,” Bahorel says. “Not that I do the big walls, but you won’t catch me fucking right before a climb. Waste all that energy you could be putting into the rock.”
Courf’s spit-take is ridiculous and sizzles in the flames. “You think I’m gonna go literal full-on weeks without letting it out? You think an unsatisfied, sex-consumed Courfeyrac is any kind of climbing partner? Jesus. Talk about fucking risky.”
“Nah, man, you gotta save up that juju,” Bahorel insists. “Isn’t that right, R?”
“What’s that?” Grantaire looks up from his conversation with Combeferre, blinking demurely above another beer.
“You’d never bone down in a portaledge.”
“Nah,” Grantaire says. “Which I know, it’s weird, ’cause I am like ten times more fuckable once I’m the only person around. But I don’t really do ledges.”
Enjolras may not have seen Grantaire hit the walls before, but he knows the hype, and he knows the type: the kind of climber who muscles up a huge route in a single day and BASE jumps down before dark, all push, no perseverance.
“Seriously, though, man,” Grantaire says, leaning in unsteady geniality in the direction of Enjolras, “Forty’s yours for the taking.”
Enjolras is ready to be impressed by Grantaire. That’s what he tells himself at least, in this moment, what he wills himself to be now as he wants this wall so bad that its granite taste mingles with the heat at the back of his throat. But what he’s advising isn’t a quick publicity stunt. It’s a commitment that’ll take years—scouting, drilling, practicing the difficult legs over and over in isolation before the real climb begins.
“An uninterrupted climb up that face will take—what do you think?” ’Ferre asks, giving Grantaire a far more serious look than he affords most of the paid advisers.
“Like I said, not a long-haul climber. But I’d say, couple weeks at least,” Grantaire says after some hemming and hawing. “Monster fucking wall.”
“Oh, fuck you,” Enjolras blurts out. He’s heard—and is rapidly growing witness to—plenty about Grantaire’s literal and metaphorical lack of sobriety, but this is just arrogance. And negligence. And reckless disregard for human life. Weeks? To climb an unrouted wall that rivals El fucking Capitan?
“You got it,” Grantaire says, curling a lip at him from the far side of the fire. He tosses a wink at Cosette. “Lots of lube.”