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.

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