Peak(s):  Little Finger  -  13,220 feet
Index, The  -  13,420 feet
Date Posted:  11/13/2020
Date Climbed:   10/04/2020
Author:  blazintoes
Additional Members:   Boggy B
 Blazing Needles  

Although Boggy B wrote of our adventures Little Finger and The Index with my favorite sentence being...”the curious essence of Little Finger: it is simply a huge gravel sculpture, crafted by the eons, and bound together by a magic spell that is broken only by human touch,’ which was a clever way to express shit rock. My first trad lead was 5 years ago and 4 years I couldn’t walk and although I’ll probable die standing, I’m overwhelmed and honored to have been his team member on this successful mission. Also I want to thank his beautiful inside and out wife Kylie! What they have accomplished in Colorado with such strength, grace and humility is down right amazing. Thank you both for this adventure and top gold feather in my cap! Communication, expectations and team work were on point.

The Index and Little Finger were his last two peaks to finish the 727 Ranked/Soft/Named 13ers in Colorado and on October 17th the OG’s superstar team joined forces on North Massive to Celebrate Michael finishing the 786 official list. I think he orphaned that one on purpose. YippieKayay!

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OG's. Missing Willadee and John who patiently awaited in their chariot at the TH to whisk us away. Thank you!

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Melancholy overwhelms when we see the main rotor helicopter crash wreckage of 2009.

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The best conversation of the day was from 12 year old Maya who I asked, "do you like to climb mountains?" "Not really," she replied. "Well what do you like to do?" I query. Without hesitation she claims, "rock climb!" I quickly reply, "we are going to be friends."She is smart and rhetorically asks questions like, "what would happen if there was no wind?" "No pollination!" I like Maya!


Will this trip report be a case of TLDR? Perhaps. With a writing style solely for entertainment purposes, fun specifics and a few pictures with many run on sentences (like this one), grammar and lotsa punctuation errors all wrapped up with the little voice in my head. It needs more work besides, I only went to a four year college for 15 months and a two year college twice with no formal writing education. Just like climbers, the best are those who have the most fun!

Enjoy!

TR

Donkeys, we don’t need no stinking donkeys. One phone call later:

Michael: You are my partner, and I am your leader. What would you like to do?
Amy: I don't know... climb rocks... slog...
Michael: [quickly] Let's climb rocks.

Michael is an omniscient willow whisperer and I am a gauche misanthropic scrat.

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On the long journey up the infamous Chicago Basin via Purgatory Flats because one of the many bridges along the defunct narrow gauge railroad collapsed we pose questions such as, "If there was a docking station in the basin to climb these peaks and three guys showed up in hover crafts, would you count it?" "Yes, it’s the advancement of the sport." Or, "no you must slog uphill in a headwind both ways and descend bullet proof ice with 'Godzilla' on your back just like me. It builds character". Also, "how much would you pay to zip line from the top of the peak back to the trail head?" And finally, "do you think the railroad should pave the tracks for bikes instead?" The yammering yarns the hours away and by the afternoon we make camp, get water, harass wildlife and pout at all the beetle killed trees.

A couple weeks ago I sent David Roberts a Face Book message hoping he’d respond before I wrote this story because he is my favorite alpine adventurer writer and he may have climbed our peaks long ago: ‘Michael Davis and I climbed The Index and Little Finger aka Peak 17 in the Needles and we are wondering if you climbed them too? The only history I'm aware of is from a San Juan guide book that briefly mentions they were first climbed in 1940 by the McClintock’s who used a Tyrolean to get across the Animas River with donkeys, hemp ropes and nailed boots. Hard for me to imagine climbing these obscure peaks with those limitations considering how spoiled climbers are nowadays with infinite selections. My questions to you are, have you climbed them, do you have more history and a synonym for the word 'peak bagger'.'

How foolish of me to think he’d reply and if he did I imagine he would agree with my temptation bundling philosophy because he too has adopted the positive habits that we only get to climb if we slog uphill both ways to then appreciate the climbing more. He may also say something as beautiful and poetic as "The Needles offer some of the finest mountaineering in Colorado. Soaring faces of white quartzite and granite, remoteness and pristine wilderness that have enlivened the hearts of climbers since the days of pitons and hob-nailed boots. If you choose to go, bring a rope and a friend you trust."

Michael is a Rolodex of knowledge. After North Massive, The Index and Little Finger in the Rocky Mountain San Juan’s are his final two, the last curtain call to complete all 786 Colorado peaks over 13,000' that are currently ranked, soft-ranked, or named. Considering the hobby parallels and circle of friends somehow our relationship has been merely virtual. Both experienced and scrappy enough to know how to get up and down these peaks safe and efficiently, trust is a virtue.

The overwhelming anxiety and melancholy I feel while out on an alpine adventure as broad yet specific as this is liberation from structure. Climbing is art. When I yearn for peace and quiet my canvass is like a Picasso and when movement I choose is somehow graceful and an escape from my structured life my painting is a Salvador Dali. Alas, when I meet a test piece my canvass is impossible art like Escher. These peaks require masterful art or it may be a Last Supper and betray. Saving the technical peaks for last optimistically is best but it may also leave other climbers crestfallen.

Day 2 we mosey up Twin Thumbs pass along Needle Ridge as Sunlight Spire jokes our way, "hey don’t hate me because I’m beautiful!" she says. The north side of Twin Thumbs has lingering hard snow from an early September storm and the only spiky things we have are walking sticks and nut tools. We hurry hard curling our way along the tee line of the Eolus-Peak 12 saddle to finally settle in upper Ruby basin. Will this God of wind thwart our mission after all this Donkey work? The stunning, sweeping landscape, the towered angles and beautiful quiet setting do not make up for the at-times reductive presentation of two brawny mountain goats battling for higher ground. Silly yet simple to fight for alpha dominance. These invasive species that are destroying the tundra now in full fur glory seem aptly fit. Bits of white fur scatter about the willows but now ready for winter are much like cotton candy and I wonder if it gets wet, does it disappear? How I’d like to strap my backpack aka 'Godzilla' to its thick muscled haunches and whip it up and down these slopes. This would definitely suffice as advancement of my sport. All this noise in my head felt akin to a spoiled brat walking through a mountain town novelty store. I am the donkey and saunter down. The glorious madness that is Ruby basin is much like a Jenga puzzle. How fortunate are we to have each other in case one of us pushes or pulls on the wrong block.

There are no rules, no boundaries and unlimited possibilities to escape the confines of reality and venture into a boundless world I daydream as we settle into camp. All this romanticizing and seeking how things are supposed to be we may miss how things actually are and therefore scouting is an order, march! The main vein to the Eolus-Peak 17 saddle looks aggressive and formidable from camp. As we hike further down the valley the angle eases somewhat but regardless it will punt you if you trip. We decide to tackle the hardest climbing first so The Index became our focus. It is a bit of a puzzler and is an iconic jumble surrounded by other granite icons as it rises from the mineral turbulence of the Animas. Will we work as well under pressure? I'm not special. I just don't mind suffering, a lot.

Michael points to all the ins and outs. Following his work is like being in a Led Zepplin cover band and having a concert for Led Zepplin. "Hey Amy let me ask you something, now don’t be too hasty with your answer. Put some thought to it. What is it that’s not exactly a beautiful hand-crack and it ain’t exactly scrambling and when it sucks you in or spits you out as it squeezes the last shred of breath out of your lungs?" Yep off width climbing at 13,000 feet I think. Who will win rock, paper, scissors tomorrow? We head back to camp to sort gear.

By day 3 these Jenga towers have become ubiquitous, and I had long ceased to be impressed by the sight of one, yet. Micheal is a bit of a southwestern raconteur best known for his ice climbing skills and at 0530 this debonair willow whisperer nails the approach by headlamp. Now where were we, oh yes Needle Mountains. He wants it so bad he can taste it. I hear his thoughts literally and try to imagine eating dirt and don’t like it. Unfortunately there’s one thing that stands in our way and that is loose rock. There must be a way of scaring them out. That’s when we prance into mangy gullies at dawn and thrash at everything that moves to within an inch of it’s life. Except the proud towers of course. We spare them? Oh no, we climb the shit out of them as the sun rises and the Eolus Gods howl!

There are three towers with a down climb off tower one and a rappel off tower two. The approach gully via the silhouetted ‘W’ has one puzzle at the top; a chock-stone left of center with sloper holds and belayer slayers all around. I find a lost stopper on the tundra nearby and buzz in excitement because it means human life has been here, but when?

We choose to tip toe up and right on the crumbly ash flow tuff unharmed and untethered.

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Relics!

These basement rocks aren’t as solid as the granite above. We study potential spots for our final rappel if we succeed then scramble up in approach shoes and our light climbing packs without issue. On the west flank now we scramble with delight to the base of the Rubik cube algorithm. "Time to go now or forever hold your pee", I profess as we gear up and P1 is mine. How hard can I push or pull on these rocks before something breaks. What if something breaks? I slept in my princess elbow and knee pads for my desired 27 points of contact and that bolsters my confidence. A little mountain climber exposure therapy does a body good.

My first piece is a tricam to protect me to the first ledge. After I place a C4 #1 and an off set ½ master cam I asked Michael to pluck the tricam to minimize rope drag. A 0.75 would have been perfect but we chose not to bring one. The climbing is easy and I wiggle up the fist crack varying between size #3 and #4 bumping the #3 wishing I had a #4, which is another piece we chose to leave at home. Regardless this section is short and higher still I can see a place to dump the #5 then weasel up and under the cave guarded by teetering boulders. The sun greets me on the second upper ledge so I build a belay with stable rocks and hear them cheer.

Micheal makes quick work up then we scout the down climb off P1. A fall here would end badly deadly even and although is an easy 5.2 down climb I backed it up with the off set cam. I build a belay at the base with stoppers. P2 is 5.6 60 foot right facing corner and Michael lickety splits up. He placed the 0.3 first then off set and a confidence inspiring #1. Higher up he got in a #2 and the #3. On my way up the rope jammed into a slot above the #2 so as I’m barking at the knot I had to free up to this point but the climbing was secure.

On top of tower 2 now is our first serious 30 foot over hanging rappel and we inspect the left over tat on boulders from 2011. We knew this was Steve Gladbach and Peter Blanks gear from a previous trip report we studied and there is no other gear or webbing on this tower other than their green and white cord. The birds have picked at it and it is hardened and bleached from season to season. Michael plucks an old rusty piton and we use what we can then place some of our own webbing, their rap rings then back up the rappel with our #2. Michael goes first and I watch the gear. Nothing moves so I rap too.

We study the final test piece and now I am impressed. “How did a pretty thing like you end up in a place like this I wonder?” A 30 foot 5.9 off width crack and Michael loses the rock, paper, scissors roshambo. P3 is in the shade and it’s October 3, 2020. He caterwauls a little but his elegant dynamic ice climbing skills come to full fruition. Lost in the intensity of the moment as he hits the crux then knee jams and battles up the smooth perfectly cleaved crack using both our our #5’s. Finally greeted by the sun, he struggles a bit with the belay on top and redirects by jamming his hips into the summit boulder pile then shouts, “on belay”. Oh geez, here I go. The rock is so cold it burns a little and feel like I’m trying to fit myself into an Escher painting by displaying how ungraceful off width climbing is and my knee even with it’s princess padding is too small. It slips here or there so a bit of heel toe and arm baring was necessary causing a few ankle gobies aka ‘trail tattoos’. The climbing and the rock are quite good and its sense of fun draws you in a seductive attack on what is real. On the way up I pluck a Gear4Rocks plastic stopper knowing that Steve Gladbach was probably the last person to have touched it and I feel honored. Meanwhile I hear the rocks demanding, “Would you hold it down a minute? We are trying to get some work done here. We can’t hear ourselves think with all that ‘help’ going on.” Well that’s just not nice I think and continue to struggle and whine. They continue, “Now that’s the kind of climbing that holds you people back. Maybe if you had a little respect for your rock towers you could make your way up in this world.” I beg and plead, “Yes up that’s what I want, up, uuuuupppp!” At last I’m up and laugh at how stupid I feel with all that struggle in such a short 25 feet knowing I chose the path of most resistance. But, we did it! I send messages on my DeLorme mini to the home team and the crowd goes wild.

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Sebastian approves this mission!

Alright break is over, we’re only half done anyhow. We can’t lie around taking sun baths, but it does feel good. It won’t do us much good anyway even if it’s an essential vitamin. My mind is aglow with whirling transient nodes of thought careening through cosmic vapors as I imagine sitting on a Savannah deck listening to crickets chirp while sipping on sweet tea. In reality the invention that is more old worn tat and pitons is a puzzle for two on tower 3. Wanna see some elaborate rope tricks? I use my only 2 brain cells left and build a bad ass rappel with water knots then skillfully toss the rope in the right direction. Wanna see a death triangle and do things the hard way the first time? We undo and redo it right the second time then I feel a sense of hurry up there’s $300 worth of gear here backing you up. I whiz down the sunny east side of tower 3 then inspect the 3 pitons below placed in astrological order on the south wall at the base of the off width crack. No rust and no wiggles we place fresh webbing on the top two pitons and use the third as a back up with an alpine draw.

The final rappel is 100 feet with an intermediary grassy ledge between and once there I scoop up the rope then toss it over and shout, “touchdown!” I go then Michael goes, we pull the rope and no snags or overhead buzzing rocks ruin our final rappel. We have water, snacks de-gear and secure the rope for our jaunt down the west ridge slopes. Once there we study the final rappelling possibilities. We find a pinch some junky rock then back it up with the stopper I found. Down I go the final 100 feet then stomp out a launch pad in the scree. Michael raps and we pull the rope then tuck and hide from the careening rocks that broke lose from the pull. The sun is blasting down as a bald eagle soars overhead with the ability to capture fleeting moments of time in the permanence. We empathize.

After dinner and warm tea among us a clear cool fall night as Saturn and Jupiter are chumming it up with the full moon and Venus to the east with ears like satellites and a mouth like a foghorn in the eastern sky as she tells everyone to hush. A lonely mouse hops into camp then leaps into the tent. Surely it feels welcome but I convince it otherwise after a gentle swat on the behind with my spork and hope he didn’t suffer from blunt fork trauma. We leave out some old worn tat as a decoy for the night. Time for bed now. The superlative sound quality and inner peace with a slow murmur of heart and steady warm breath puts me at ease. After we high five the moon the halo effect has worn off because we have a mean monster to contend with tomorrow. The unconscious dreamscape where irrational thoughts in my mind plays out. The sharp cold morning is near.

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Blazing Needles


Day 4 the equally large mouth that extends up to the contours of the saddle looks daunting. If you don't love what you do, you'll spend the rest of your life being miserable. It's really that simple. Love what you do and it will never feel like work. The trick is not minding that it hurts. I know today is going to hurt and now that I’ve accepted it, its time to get to work and I love it! We do not learn often enough from the lessons of history and that perhaps is the most important of all the lessons of history.

It’s been a while but Little Finger aka Peak 17 has already been climbed and although we have the climbing beta those before us failed to mention the Genghis Khan gully. The large mouth. I’ve been up it once before but it was pleasantly snow filled and I had an ice ax. Snow folly or foe always tells which way to go and it is frozen solid. The hard pan poking out here and there is also frozen and every rock, boulder and talus piece is lose. It’s best to stick close together. 1/3 of the way up Michael professes that he wouldn’t bring Kylie up this and would’ve turned around by now. I’m only half scared and agree I wouldn’t bring Marc up this either but we each have a little more invested in our sapiophiles than each other so why are we doing this? Calamity breeds character I suppose. Axes weren’t necessary and if they were, a fall on bullet proof ice isn’t arrest-able. The imagined path from camp below on this frigid morning that once was inspiring now leaves us dispirited as frozen hard pan and bullet proof ice are our only repugnant choices. 80 minutes later at the saddle now, our paradoxical trajectory aged me as I’m reminded that going up is the easy part of climbing.

Now it is time to ingratiate ourselves with the community choss. Quixotic, urgent and no time for irreverence we chose to stay high from the saddle and battle our way along the precarious self exfoliating mini towers and bumps. If you want this summit, you must respect the class 4 scree gully, class 3 junk rock scramble at the saddle immediately followed by a loose class 4 head-wall. It is vexing and stupefying but eventually you will see the infamous chimney of P2 after the head-wall. We finally got to the pith of the climb and I like to go first to shake it off and get my nerves in check. Also the chossinator in me has a knack for tip toeing on junk rock. I place my beloved off set first, then a tricam followed by the #1 and eventually the #2 and #3, the only two solid pieces save for the tricam. P1 X was easy climbing but loose and Micheal easily leapt upward.

Confidence comes from believing you are able but competence knows you're able. Believe in yourself and your possibilities, but know what you are already a master of. When Michael asked if I wanted the P2 5.8 R choss flume crux chimney, I did not object. The thought that I can’t do was summarily dismissed.

There is no plug and play in this chimney. It requires fondling around for good holds, counter pressures and some MacGyver skills for placing solid pieces. I’ve learned these tricks from the resourceful Mr. G. After inching my way 10 feet up I was able to place an alpine draw on the solid piton and quickly realized my meager rations would be saved by tricams that fit precisely well in little pockets. After a red tricam I placed a #1 wishing I had my old school alien because I’m sure the lobes are shorter and therefore would have been solid in this shallow pocket also the flexy stem allows a vertical placement without the possibility of snapping the stem if you fall. I don’t want to test this piece and all this thinking was wasting time so I tell myself to not fall and never give up. Your breath is your power and my breathing is more labored on this scary lead. I felt like the tent mouse squeaking a time or two because now I’m committed. After another tricam placement then the red C3 and also a 0.3 the chimney angle decreases and narrows where I’m able to use more chimney techniques as Michael shouts below, “hey, I think you went too high, you gotta come back down!” Oh no, like a trapped mouse I down climb unprotected but the climbing is secure. Unfortunately when I see the boulder he mentioned low and down to my right the chimney gets wider so now I’ll have to get creative with climbing. I’m able to reach over and place the #3 firmly in the crack left of the boulder and the off set cam below just in case the #3 blows then I jam my left fist in the crack with a teacup hold and leap like a swatted mouse into the off width crack on the right side of the boulder. A genuine succinct whistle of encouragement from Michael aggrandizes the psyche and makes this choss flume look like a dope. I feel the energy on the other end of the rope however I also feel the old timer rocks all around us who will deck me if I get too cheeky. And hear them say, “don’t get cocky kid.”

After impressively launching that dyno jam then two little heel toe moves followed by a chicken wing, P2’s Kabbalistic path unveiled its hidden truths and at last thank God almighty I am free up above. I make a solid belay with the rope above around the chossy boulders then redirect with a double sling. “On belay” I shout. I can’t see him move below but he’s up in no time. I think he used his teeth and gnawed up with intention.

He’s amped and ready to take a stab at P3 that is a small albeit short down climb followed by delicate face moves around the exfoliating Jenga blocks. He places the #1 first followed by the 0.3 and extends the draws to relive rope drag. He’s moving so fast I lose track of how much rope is left and it’s wrapped around the boulder so he has a shorter leash. Quickly I notice he’s out of rope and shout up, “hey you’re out of rope, build a belay!” He does and I scamper then he’s ready for the next chimney on P4 that requires some proper chimney skills. Back against the west wall, feet pasted on the east and a shuffle of hands and feet with opposing forces. He placed the #2 high and left in the chock-stone and that was it. This was the most enjoyable pitch of the climb even with the feel of micro schist pebbles crumbling under your toes. I suppose good things fall apart so better things can fall together.

Finally we are eye to eye with the last pitch and I feel like this is Michael's summit. He is braver and stronger than me with his enameled 32 points to my cushy 27 so up he goes the final pitch to bask in full glory. P5 is easy climbing with a tease of a perfect hand crack up front and center that is there merely for gear placements. I follow up the crack for a move or two just to sink my hands and feet into something that feels natural but the rope line is dragging me up up and away. The final curtain is here and Michael points to the true summit; a sharkfin. There is no summit register, it feels irrelevant to ponder why. Michael is quite accomplished in the Colorado alpine world and I imagine that many successes can breed immortality but humility is all that remains. We both get our chance to fly on top one at a time and a feeling of gratitude overwhelms.

I silently question, “what’s the meaning of this?” I have no answer. We mustn't linger. We both worry about the horrors below. I look all around and down then gather, “have you ever seen such cruelty?”

There’s no avoiding the conclusion. Our mountain is turning into shit. We contemplate other descending options hoping that the unknown might be better but wisdom that manifests from experience, given the option value we repudiate that the unknown devil is best unknown. The esoteric method of instinct and the highest level of all decisions are intuitive. The gut doesn’t lie.

Micheal is quicker and better than me at assessing the anchor options so he starts the busy work and I have the sharper knife so at least I feel somewhat useful. My gut is sick and now instead of a Picasso I feel like a toddler with messy finger painting skills. Although a bit banged up, at least I still have fingers and by beloved blazin’ toes. Most alpine accidents occur on the descent and it’s easy to be obsessed with anything so tangible or immediate as getting off a mountain and in my opinion an alpinst, mountaineer, peak bagger, mountain climber, obsessive compulsive list seeker, or how about a German word for someone who just needs a slap in the face; Backpfeifengesicht. No matter your term, title or lingo we all display our true skills by how we get down the mountain, not up.

Three rappels later and one minor rope stuck snafu on R2 we are at our packs at the base of the chimney. We snack and water up then switch to approach shoes. Descending the head wall and junk rock went easier than expected yet I feel considerably older now. The final gully and brilliant discoveries that were supposed to percolate vanish. The hard pan and snow have softened a bit, still, we choose to hug the right side with more stable volcanic rock searching for anything that we can build an anchor with to rappel into the gully. Michael made a mini cairn on the way up Genghis Kahn about 100 feel below where we could have left a few stoppers to potentially rappel the steepest section but the descending is going well. We are right on each others heels in case anyone frees up loose rocks. We get to the cairn and contemplate our options. Both are feeling confident in our footing options and choose to leave the apple unpicked. He tossed down a rock or two heading my way on the final boulder jumble below and I joke back, “you missed me, try again”. At last at the final edge of the mouth we are treated to some epic scree skiing and some hooting and hollering follows. Funny how enjoyable this tiny sweet piece of freedom feels after an entire day of nihilism.

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Sunshine on my shoulder makes me happy



Back at camp now and both agree that descending Ruby basin is a soul suck so back over Twin Thumbs we go as I air the lungs for a final camp in Chicago Basin. We get there well after dark and sleep in ‘til 0700 on day 5. We escaped and descended with tick tock chronology. It could not have been more perfect but don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. It wasn’t perfect but it sure was good. As the limousine rides off into the sunset I contemplate buying a donkey after 5 days, 4 nights, 8 pitches, 8 rappels, class 4 scree, 14,347 vertical feet in 48 miles. Until next time I’ll be filing my nails for the next climb or as my husband Marc ruses, declawing.

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While being funployed and working on career #3 as a comic strip writer vs. an adventure novelist with a never ending stream of consciousness like James Joyce I leave you my first finger paint dabble.

As you burn the breeze flying like a Rocky Mountain canary love what you do and it’ll never feel like work. Thanks for reading!


Caption Here



My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):




Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10


 Comments or Questions
CaptCO

Great work Amy
11/14/2020 07:56
Impressive job by you both!


mtngoatwithstyle
Congratulations!
11/14/2020 09:09
WHAT A GREAT REPORT! Thank you for sharing your incredible and amazing journey and for feeling the same as I do when that sun starts going down and 2 seconds later... darkness already!


Jay521

What style!
11/14/2020 13:28
Love your climbing style AND your writing style. What a fun report to read!


Mtnman200

I'm glad...
11/14/2020 19:30
...to see you posting trip reports again. Keep it up!


Boggy B

Great report
11/16/2020 09:13
Also love the title and the comic. Not sure if you intended that serene "F U" from the setting sun but that's pretty much how it is.



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