3/8/01 Western Massachusetts
On the morning of Friday March 2nd, Boston based climber Gene Yazgur was shot six times in the head, chest, and both legs. His roommate, Michael Lenz, was shot in the head and killed, and Gene's beloved dog Samson was also shot and killed. The alleged assalaint was Daniel Mason from whom Gene had recently won a $118,000 settlement because of a "road rage" traffic dispute. Mr. Lenz died of three gunshot wounds to the head as he slept. Unfortunately the noise did not wake up Gene. Mr. Mason allegedly started by shooting Gene in the head through his chin. However instead of killing Gene this only woke him up. Gene was then shot three more times in the chest, and as he tried to flee he was skillfully shot once in each leg, breaking both femurs. The killer then left him for dead, but Gene managed to call 911 on his cell phone despite his wounds.
He currently remains in a coma although his condition has been upgraded from critical to serious. Gene has many friends here in Western Mass. He went to school at UMASS and while he was there he befriended many local climbers. He climbs with an awesome "take no prisoners" style and retreat is never an option. His fearless and tireless approach has earned him the nickname Gene The Machine among his friends. His ability to get himself in the middle of fantastically difficult situations is unparalleled and nearly everyone he has climbed with has a Gene story that borders on unbelievable. In our small community his reputation so precedes him that the first time he came into my gym I instantly recognized him and introduced myself before he said a word. Although if he had spoken, his thick Russian accent would have given him away immediately. None of us who know him are surprised that he survived being shot six times, and while we are aware that he has a long way to go to make a full recovery, noone is betting against him. He is after all The Machine.
At Farley there is a boulder problem called Half and Half (V6). The boulder looks like a giant cube standing on one of its points. Half and Half starts under a 45 degree overhang on a small crimper with an awful left foothold, chucks to hidden jug, and then tops out via a hard and scary rockover on your heel. Since its FA last fall, Ken Majka has proposed a sit start. His claims that it would go were so ridiculous that no of us would even bother telling him he was on Crack before we shook our heads and walked away. The move Ken envisioned starts left hand on the foot hold of the original Half and Half and right hand pinching a horrendous obtuse arete. There are no feet, and you must throw three feet to the 1/4 inch starting holds of Half and Half. However because your body is in the wrong position to start the problem you must campus to the hidden jug at the lip. I've seen Slashface, I've seen the Buttermilker, I've seen The Fly. None look more improbable to me than these two moves.
Today Farley is blanketed by over three feet of snow as is much of the rest of New England. The sun from yesterday melted just enough snow to make the few pieces of rock not covered with snow, covered with ice instead. I like bouldering in winter. To me bouldering at Farley today was not a option. This morning Ken woke up early before work for a good breakfast, some coffee, and to read the latest on Gene in the Boston Globe. The story is right there on the front page of the City and Region section and the new details it gave about Gene's heroic survival sat with Ken all day at work. Originally Ken and Gene were going to drive down to the Red River Gorge next week for some spring break climbing and Ken has spent the week since Gene was attacked wishing there was something he could do. Getting off work at 4:00pm Ken headed straight to Farley. After the 20 minute drive, and a 20 minute hike past wet boulder after wet boulder he arrived at the base of Half and Half and what must be the only dry holds at Farley. The hard part was all dry leaving only the scary top out to clean off. Ken did his best to brush off the lip but it was still dripping wet when he started work on the sit start. To my knowledge noone else has even attempted the sit start to Half and Half because none of us believed that any amount of work by any person would get the thing done. After about 45 minutes of trying Ken hung from the jug on the lip about to mantle on the FA. He tells me that even though the finishing move (which involves rocking over on a shitty heal smear that starts out as a heel hook) was soaking wet, he was never scared or even nervous. The only though that mattered was:
"If Gene Yazgur can survive being shot six times and still call 911 there is no way I can possibly fall off this move."
Soon Ken was standing on the lip looking up at a 45 degree slab covered in three feet of snow. Instead of downclimbing to a hang and jumping to the pads he did what Gene would do in the same situation and dove in, frontpointing to the top in his Red Chilis. When he was done Ken Majka stood on top of what is surely the hardest boulder problem in Massachusetts: The Machine (grade unknown)
Gene Yazgur survived the shooting despite being shot 8 times (initial reports said six) and having to go through 17 surgeries. The shooter was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. As far as we can tell, The Machine has only seen 2 or 3 sends since the FA, including a 2nd by Dave Graham who confirmed rating at V12, and Andy Salo who says the problem consists of one really hard move.