Sunday, November 20, 2005

Naked Edge, Part VI: Working the Top

I raced my bike on Saturday and had planned on racing again on Sunday, but the weather was too nice and I called Stefan instead. He graciously agreed to accompany me on the Edge as a warm up to working his Clear Creek Canyon project Sonic Youth (5.13a). We agreed to meet in Eldo at 7 a.m. I pulled into the parking lot and found it covered in snow and icy. A stiff breeze blew through the canyon and the temperature was 28 degrees. Clearly, the Edge was out. Or was it? Stefan suggested hiking up to the top of the route and working the last pitch – the only unredpointed pitch. This pitch is the first piece of rock hit by the sun and it was a brilliant idea. I had to be driving to Sedona, Arizona by noon so I couldn’t wait around to climb later in the day.

Hiking up to the top of the Edge, I felt like some of my climbing heroes. Jim Herson, Tommy Caldwell, and nearly everyone who had freed the Salathe Wall on El Capitan had hiked up to the top of El Cap and rappelled in to work the headwall pitches. Here I was doing the same thing.

The temperature at the top of the route was a bit more bearable, but it wasn’t warm. Because of the difficulty in rappelling down this overhanging, traversing last pitch, we elected to belay from the top. I lowered in first, placing gear on the way down so that I wouldn’t swing out into space. Stefan lowered me to the base of the overhanging hand crack. I declined to go lower since I didn’t think I could stay on the route if I did. I was a bit intimidated by the immediate exposure and my hands got quite cold on the lower section. It was a brutal warm up and I hung halfway up the crack. I struggled mightily with the wide section at the top and felt it was 5.10+.

Stefan went down next and he slipped out of crack down low, where the climbing is most technical with marginal, tight jams. This fall was surprising, but mainly caused by numb hands. On his second trip down, it went easily. I asked him about the upper wide part and he said that he liebacked it and thought it was 5.8. I was worried about liebacking while on lead, but needed an easier solution to this problem. On my next trip down, I sent the entire crack without hanging. I used Stefan’s advice and liebacked the wide section, finding it embarrassingly easy. What was I thinking with my horrible, desperate solution?

After Stefan’s second trip down, I went down a third time. I really feel I’m getting this pitch down and feel there are adequate places to plug in gear. I’m confident I could lead this pitch now. The key will be getting to this pitch relatively fresh and not wasting too much energy on the opening, bouldery moves. The pitch goes like this for me. Just after the duck-around move to get to the base of the crack, there are a couple of marginal footholds. I can get a good rest here by underclinging the big flake. This keeps my arms low and allows me to relax and de-pump. I start the pitch by pinching the top of the block with my left hand and then reaching high into the wide slot and getting a reasonable jam. I get the feet up a bit and reach with the left hand for a marginal jam. Now I lean straight out and get my right foot on the triangle-chip foothold. Once on that I step up high, match my right hand by my left hand and then reach way high until I can get a good hand jam. At this point, I’d plug in the #1 Camalot. Now I use my feet on the left wall and jam the crack until my foot is on a good hold on the left. I’d plug in the first #2 Camalot here. More jamming gets me to another marginal stem where I can place the second #2 Camalot, though only about five feet higher than the first one. Now the endurance crux. Here I must put the left foot into the crack and smear the right foot on the wall. Shuffle up the jams and stay solid here. After five more feet I get another foothold and a reasonable rest and the heavy lifting is done. The rest is 5.9 or easier. I move up a bit, to the wide section, and place the #3 Camalot. Then swing into the lieback and do two moves before stepping onto a good hold with my left foot. Now I can pull out of the corner and onto the 5.6 lower-angled climbing.

As soon as I topped out the hard section on my third trip, I had Stefan lower me down to the base again. I wanted to simulate climbing the crack section with a bit of pump. I once again climbed the section clean and felt very solid. I’m anxious to get up here and lead this pitch, but I need to re-figure out how I do the opening moves. Chris Archer sent me detailed beta on four different ways to do this section, but I haven’t been back to try it yet. I have two months left before the Edge closes for six months, but December and January don’t usually provide many days for climbing 5.11. I need to be ready to go on any day with good weather. I can’t depend on the weekends.

I’m very close to finishing this project, but I’m already planning the next step. Once I climb it all clean, then I want to climb it linking the first two and last two pitches. Actually, I’m not sure why you’d link the last two pitches, unless a 60-meter rope can go clear to the unroping spot. I guess it can reach that far, but it seems like the rope drag might not be worth it. Then I want to see how fast and efficient I can climb it.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Naked Edge, Part V: Progress

Tuesday I got an email from Dave Mackey wondering if I wanted to climb on Thursday morning. Silly question... I get to climb with a lot of tremendous partners, many of whom are local legends or even more. I pester them to climb with me, but when a legend, and make no mistake about it, Dave Mackey is a Boulder legend, asks me there is only one answer: Yes.

The high the day before was only 50 degrees and while the forecast was for a great day today, I expected cold morning temperatures and the ubiquitous wind. Neither was present when I pulled up next to Dave's car. I went in short sleeves, but wore my GoLite superlight shell on the approach pitches. I made up a huge rack - way too big, but I was planning to aid up the last pitch and wanted to be prepared. I threw some medium stoppers on the rack for the first pitch of the Edge, per Bill Briggs' suggestion, but I didn't end up using them.

We simul-climbed up the Ramp Route to the Cave Pitch with me leading. There I re-racked and stripped off the shell. I felt confident and strong. I knew this pitch so well. Today was going to be the day I got it, I thought. Dave sent a constant stream of encouragement up the rope to me. I've gotten to know the bottom section so well and love the flow of moves, back and forth from the arete on the left to the finger crack on the right. Fun climbing. I made it up to the sloping shelf, rested a bit and launched upwards on the familiar moves. This time the gear went in quickly and easily. The fixed blue Alien, then my green Alien and finally the black Alien just before I make the big reach left to the arete at the top. Got the left foot up, then the big stem to get the right foot on the triangle chip. I was in the nice stem and could have placed more gear here, but took Stefan's advice from last time and just finished it off. You get way above the black Alien this way, but the moves get progressively easier and I was still feeling strong. I grabbed the finishing jug and let out a whoop of joy! Sweet! What a great pitch. It didn't come easy for me, but I feel I really know this pitch now. None of the moves are that hard, but they are continuous and now I can move efficiently enough to avoid the massive pump. This was a huge accomplishment for me.

Dave followed the pitch so easily that it looked like it was 5.8. I could have let that bring down my accomplishment, but I knew the pitch was 11a and I knew how much effort it had taken me. Dave shook out only for a second before leading the second pitch. From my last experience, I know that the second pitch can feel 5.11 if you are pumped. Dave has power to burn, though, and he cruised the pitch easily and quickly. I had no troubles following, having had a good rest before doing it and not wasting myself on the first pitch like before.

Dave also led the third pitch, as I was planning on leading the fourth pitch and the fifth pitch. The latter only because Dave had previously said he didn't want to lead the fourth or fifth pitches. He had even offered a different route (Suparete/Superslab) as an alternative! The nerve of the guy! I have to stay focused. As far as I'm concerned Eldo has only one route.

Dave cruised the third pitch and I followed, already getting nervous to lead the tricky 4th pitch. I re-racked and peed before starting up the 4th. I had only tried to lead this once before, with Rolo, and had taken a fall and pulled a couple of pieces. Many Edge climbers call this the crux pitch and it depends on what your strengths are. Most still think it is the last, burly, tricky pitch, but this pitch, though short, is very heads up, tricky climbing.

I climbed the lower section into the dihedral and placed the bomber cam down low in the slot. This is really the ONLY bomber piece on this entire route, though the pin above apparently is good because many people have fallen on it, myself and Dave included. I barely pulled on the tricky, thin move up to a good hold and then move up via the undercling to the pin. I clipped it, moved up a bit and got into a reasonable stem rest. I placed two small Aliens in the weird slot above and left. Above here is the crux, moving up on tiny holds and trickier feet until you can get yourself into the Bombay chimney above you.

I have a cool sequence of foot movements here that worked for me last time (after the fall) and I used these without wasting too much time burning out at this "rest." Soon I pressed against the back wall and was precariously in the chimney. I moved up it cautiously with lots of effort so that my feet wouldn't slip off. Huffing and puffing, I finally got my foot on an edge and was able to clip another fixed pin and rest a bit. After my breathing recovered and I had backed up the pin with red Alien, I pulled out of the alcove and made the final 10c moves up and right to the belay. Sweet! Both the first and fourth pitches had now been redpointed. Every pitch is clean now except for the hardest one of all: the final pitch.

As I clipped the belay, Dave called up offering to lead the last pitch. You might think, "No! Lead it, Bill! If you get it clean, then you'll have redpointed the Edge and be done with it!" I took him up on the offer, though. I did horrible on this pitch the last time I followed it and would get a better free climbing session in following it, then aiding up it on lead.

Dave climbed up the tricky lower section to the stem "rest" before the crux. Following this pitch is a bit intimidating since the gear is off to the side of you while you do the crux and a swing right is inevitable if you come off. Dave cleaned the gear and shook his head a bit. This 4th pitch is probably the crux for Dave, when he is in climbing shape. It is just so weird and insecure. When Dave is in top climbing shape, he has the power and endurance for the last pitch, but this pitch takes something different... Foot trickery mainly. It's probably trivial for the master of foot trickery: Bill Briggs.

Dave called out that he'd probably come off before struggling upwards. Struggling? Yes, you read that correctly. Claiming to see Dave struggle on anything is akin to claiming a Bigfoot citing. Most will say that such a thing doesn't exist and want photographic proof. Alas, I have none. Dave once told me about bonking in an adventure race (Dave just got a fat contract from Spyder to sponsor his world-class adventure racing team for all of next year), but I had trouble even imagining it. Dave makes everything he does appear so easy and effortless and if he has ever struggled, he is so far out in front of anyone that no one sees it. Nevertheless, Dave was struggling and then he came off, swinging way to the right.

It was now going to be difficult to even finish the pitch, but Dave was able to swing back to the left and get back on the pitch. He climbed the rest of the pitch with one more hang on the rope and a pull on a sling, but only to save his strength for the last pitch.

At the belay, he racked for one of the steepest pitches in Eldo and then headed up it. Dave hasn't been climbing that much this year and didn't bother trying for the redpoint. He used some judicious pulls on gear and some resting on the rope to lead up the difficulties and then up to the end of the route. He did all this just to give me a chance to free climb it. I owe him. And will enjoy paying it off.

On my turn, I couldn't figure out how to go right, like Rolo does. I moved up a bit and pulled the first piece of gear, but couldn't reach far enough right to get the edge I wanted. I pulled on the next piece, just for a bit, to get the edge. I did this because I was too chicken to fall with this much rope out, thinking I'd swing out into space and have difficulty getting back on the route. Oh well.

I did the next move and got my butt into the rest on the ramp. Moving up this slanting, sloping ramp is so awkward and tenuous and scary. I need to find a better way to do this section. I didn't fall off, but it took awhile to get this done. I then ducked around the arete and faced the overhanging crack. There was fixed stopper here that wasn't there before and it wiggled. I wanted to get it up, so I clipped into the higher fixed sling and tried to get it out. So this was another taint, but I had already pulled on a piece. I couldn't even get the dang stopper out. I needed a nut tool and didn't have it with me. This wasn't our piece, though, so no big deal.

I then climbed the crack clean up to the belay. The last time I was up here the jams felt so much worse. I was definitely more tired then, though. I had fallen on the first and fourth pitches then and was definitely more pumped. This time I felt much stronger. Though I was pretty desperate, I made it. Also, I didn't lieback the crack, but jammed it. This is good because liebacking is a scary technique on lead. I think I could lead this pitch now. Probably not clean my first time or even my second or third time, but this pitch will go. I just need to be very quick and efficient with the gear, placing it at chest height and not above my head. Clipping above your head is too burning while hanging from one marginal jam.

I topped out and we coiled and downclimbed down the East Slabs. I was very pleased with my progress. All pitches have been redpointed but the final one and it felt better today. I need to relearn the start of this pitch and then just conserve my energy on the lower six pitches so that I have something left for this final test. Hopefully, I'll be back to try again soon.


Thursday, November 03, 2005

Naked Edge, Part IV: More Failure with Stefan

Stefan and I were supposed to get on the Edge this morning, but he had a meeting that couldn't be avoided, so we met in Eldo at 2 p.m. Stefan was out soloing on the Wind Tower as a warmup, so we didn't leave the ground until 2:15 p.m. We simul-climbed the Ramp Route/Cave Pitch to the base of the Edge.

I felt confident despite the hellacious winds. I moved up the lower section, took a brief rest at the ramp and then started up the crux section. I placed my green Alien well above the fixed blue Alien and for some reason took a bit of extra time to place a red Alien slightly below the green, which I wasn't sure was bomber. I then placed the black Alien right in a finger slot. Not only did this make using that hold harder, but the placement wasn't any good, as I found out a bit later when I peeled off a bit above this piece. It pulled and I dropped onto the green Alien. I fell only about 15 feet. I was disappointed. I hadn't climbed it very smart or even very confident above the stem rest.

I climbed back up, placed the black Alien where it should go, above the finger slot, and climbed up nearly to the finish before peeling off again. Damn. I rested only a bit before trying again and just barely finished the pitch without taking a third fall.

With little time for the entire route, Stefan and I had planned for me to link the first two pitches. This is a fairly standard approach, but I hadn't led the two strung together before and now I was horribly pumped from the first pitch. I should have abandoned this plan right there, but I didn't. I continued onwards and I knew I was in trouble from the get go. I barely clawed my way up the 5.7/8 slab and then had a very difficult time clipping the high pin above the second bolt. I never knew this was a problem before. It took me three tries to clip it. I had absolutely nothing left in my right arm.

Every move was desperate for me now, as I clawed my way around the arete to the other side, barely getting in the #1 Camalot and the #4 RP. I tried to rest and relax for the next 20 feet to the belay didn't allow for any more gear and it was the crux of the pitch. I kept it together here mentally because I had nothing physically left and made the belay. It had taken me nearly 40 minutes to lead both these pitches and I was cooked.

Stefan followed easily and when he arrived it was only just 3:35 p.m. We probably could have finished the route, but I was in no shape to lead the 4th pitch and we decided to go down and work the first pitch. We did this and I toproped the pitch twice, both times without falling or getting even close to falling. After the first trip up, I lowered down to the top section and learned Rolo's cool move out to the arete and I now think this is the best way to do this part, though it involves a difficult stem back to the right. The feet are technical but the hands aren't too powerful. I did this section twice before lowering down and giving Stefan a go. He did the top part both with the arete move and straight on. I think he preferred the straight on method.

I went up again, using the arete move at the top, and using the arete a ton down below. I feel I'm really learning this pitch now. All I need now is a good head and a bit more endurance and this pitch will fall. I will now expect to get it clean every time. We'll see.

We rapped off and Stefan did a quick lap up the overhanging 11c start of T2, making it look like a 5.9 gym route. This start is super powerful and though I have done it, I rarely get it without falling multiple times. I decided not to bother today.

The quest continues... I hope the good weather will as well.


Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Naked Edge, Part III: Progress with Buzz

Well, okay, maybe saying that Buzz blasted the Edge is a bit of an overstatment, but he partnered with me this morning and we did the first two pitches. We met outside of Eldo at 7 a.m. and then I took awhile to get things organized before we started the short hike to the base of the Redgarden Wall.

We approached the Edge via Touch and Go to Jules Verne with Buzz leading the first pitch and I the second. Buzz did a great job on his lead and had no problems on Jules Verne's second pitch which is hard 5.8. This pitch had a disappointing amount of birdshit over it, but the climbing is stellar and still worth doing. This pitch didn't used to have so much of this. In the upper crack I think there was a dead bird as well.

We arrived on the ledge below the Edge and I re-racked for the lead. I still don't have a redpoint of this pitch and this would be my fourth attempt at leading it. Things went quite well and I had both hands at the penultimate hold, but was so pumped. I justed needed to bump up my foot a bit and then reach for the bomber lock on top. I fell off with my hands less than a foot from the hold that marks the end of the difficulties. It was my best effort yet. I rested just bit and then sent the rest of the pitch.

Buzz followed, doing a great job for a guy who normally doesn't climb above 5.9. I kept a tight rope on him. He rested very briefly on rope maybe a couple of times, but did all the moves himself. I was impressed. This guy can climb 5.10 pretty much without any training, but he rarely does it because he likes moving quicker and more continuously. He wanted to do more mileage this morning, but he also wanted to support his friend in his quest to redpoint the Edge.

The morning was so beautiful, that I couldn't go down yet. I led the next pitch (10b) and really enjoyed the moves. This was only my second time leading this pitch, but I think I have it pretty wired now. Buzz did great until he got to the crux, which is definitely a bit baffling. I gave as much beta as I could, but he hung on the rope a couple of times. There is a bit of a trick to this pitch, but once you get the trick it isn't too bad.

We did five raps back to the ground and headed to work, much too late, but well satisfied. I don't know how long the nice weather will last, but I have three months before the Edge closes down until August of next year.