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.


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