Sunday, December 23, 2012

Mt. of the Holy Cross Recon

Mt. of the Holy Cross Recon by billwright510 at Garmin Connect - Details
Strava link

Homie and I talked about this one earlier. He wanted to go in and help his friends break a track, since he'd used their track before. Homie is very ethical when it comes to using tracks. Me? Not so much. I know my limitations. I'm not doing one of those monster winter 14ers without good weather and a nice track. This mountain is 16 miles longer in winter, since you have to ski 8 miles into the summer trailhead. The good news is that the road groomed for use by snowmobilers, but that doesn't make it any shorter. Once at the summer trailhead you climb for 1.5 miles to a pass and then you descend 1000 feet to just below 11,000 feet. After all that, you have a 3000+ foot climb to the summit, about what a short summer 14er would be from the car. Homie's did this peak with Dan Mottinger in 16 hours.

Homie ended  up bailing on the mountain to spend more time with his family. With two little girls Christmas time is pretty special. I had mentally geared up to give this at least a look so I went alone on Sunday morning, hoping to see the others, who had camped near the pass the night before. Yes, I carried enough food/water to climb it, but I wasn't mentally very committed.

I got up at 4 a.m. and drove to Minturn and then to the trailhead. I was skiing at 5:30 a.m. and made good time to the summer trailhead, taking 2.5 hours. I then had one hell of a time separating my full-length skins - they were suck together so tightly. I hadn't used them in a year or so and almost had to turn back here because of it. I had skinned up the road with just my kicker skins, but the single track trail to the pass required more traction. Eventually, I succeeded and continued up to the pass, finding the tents just below it.

The others had left skis at their camp, but I had no other floatation with me so I continued on skis, following their track. At the start of the traverse at the pass the route cut across a rocky slope. The weather was socked in and it started to snow lightly. I hadn't seen the sun yet and it didn't look like it was going to make an appearance. The wind picked up and it was cold. The route ahead looked very difficult for skis and I decided to turn around. Wimpy? Yes. I probably don't have what it takes to do a 14er this long in winter, solo. With Homie, we wouldn't have hesitated at the pass and I'd have followed him. Alone I have the option of being more of a wimp and I almost always choose that option.

I had a fun, challenging ski back down to the summer trailhead, barely staying upright. Once back on the road, I pulled off my skins, but had to face about a mile of gradual uphill. Since I wasn't as whipped as I planned to be I thought I could skate ski this section, which I did, sort of. I had to stop a number of times to rest. Skate skiing with a sizable pack on backcountry skis is quite a challenge when I can barely do it on skate skis.

I was sure glad to crest the top and then enjoyed a fast, easy ski for the next seven miles, back to the car. I'm still learning the long-distance winter game and taking it conservatively.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Back to the Gym

Did my first day in the gym Wednesday morning. I climbed with Tom and did 10 routes (6 TR and 4 leads): 5.5, 5.6, 5.6, 5.8, 5.7, 5.7, 5.8, 5.8, 5.7, 5.9 Led a 5.9 to finish it off, but it was hard. I can't really pull hardly at all with my reconstructed right shoulder, but I can hang off of it okay.

Today I was in there again and did another ten routes, this time I led every one: 5.6, 5.8, 5.7, 5.7, 5.9, 5.9, 5.9, 5.9, 10a, 10a. I fell once on my first go at the 10a, hung and then finished. I tried it again and got it clean. So I have my first 5.10 under my belt and have reached my current limit, apparently. A long way to go, but I'm on my way.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

RMNP Link-up w/Alex Honnold

Alex Honnold atop Pagoda with Longs Peak in the background

I climbed the Nose-in-a-day with Hans, one week before he set the record with Alex and I was subsequently copied on Hans' report as he knew I'd want all the nitty gritty details. Alex was also copied and we chatted back and forth via email. It turned out that he was coming to Boulder for a month to train bouldering of all things with Justen Sjong. Alex wanted to get stronger to increase his range of roped, and presumably, unroped, climbing. I convinced him to do a day of climbing with me, mainly so that I could say that I climbed with both Nose record holders.

Originally, I had planned a super ambitious link-up of the Diamond with Chiefshead to Mt. Alice - trying to recreate Kelly Cordes and Jonny Copp's Triple Lindy (since superseded by Scott Bennett and Blake Herrington's Triple Lindy with a Half Twist). Thankfully we toned things down to my level and decided on a more moderate climbing/scrambling day. I don't think even Alex Honnold could get me through that Lindy link-up. This change in plans would play more to my strengths (not climbing) than his (climbing), but I once again learned that my strengths don't measure up that well to a professional athlete's non-strengths. Alex just doesn't get tired. Well, that's not true. But he certainly can't get tired if I'm keeping up.

I picked up Alex early and we headed to the Glacier Gorge parking lot. We hiked into the Spearhead basin and headed for the North Buttress of Pagoda. I'd never done a technical route on Pagoda before and this was barely one. Still it was fun scrambling and I did place some gear. We simul-climbed until stowing the rope and then scrambling the last bit to the summit.

We descended the ridge towards Chiefshead, which is the crux of the cool Glacier Gorge Traverse. We found the tricky slab that I had heard about and I found it easy downclimbing, but below that we dropped off to the north and did a very dicey, slightly overhanging, twenty-foot traverse back to the ridge. This even had Alex pausing a bit, though he never stopped chattering.

We descended the gully between Pagoda and Chiefshead and headed over to the far right side of the Northeast Face of Chiefshead. Here we just followed our nose up the lower face. It quickly got too steep for me to continue unroped and we roped up. I led again with Alex following and carrying most of the rope in his hand. This became comical at one point when I paused to figure out a move and Alex moved by me to the right and now he was above me, holding all the rope in his hand, and not seemingly aware of what we were doing. He was so lost in our conversation and so comfortable on such easier terrain that it never occurred to him that I might want to put in a piece and get a belay. We got it sorted out and eventually intersected the upper section of the Central Rib. We followed this to the summit of Chiefshead.

We then descended to Stoneman's Pass and dropped back into the basin, heading for Consolation Prize (5.7), to the left of Dog Star, on the East Face of McHenry's Peak. This eventually hit the the Southeast Ridge route and we followed that to the summit.

From McHenry's we descended the Arrowhead Arete over to the summit of Arrowhead (there are a lot of "heads" in RMNP). The weather hit us a bit on this summit and we donned our rain shells. We descended north to Solitude Lake and from there to Shelf Lake, which were really beautiful, but descending from there was a bit of a bushwhack. We eventually found some sort of climber's trail. Just before getting to the main trail we ran into a large elk with a tracking collar, just relaxing in a grassy clearing.

Alex was worried about performing at altitude, but all the climbing and scrambling didn't phase him in the least. I got quite tired from all the exertion at altitude, but for him it was practically like sitting on the couch. He didn't seemed worked at all. Our round trip was about 17 miles and 8000 vertical feet, but he's climbed about 11,000 vertical feet when he free climbed Watkins, El Cap, and Half Dome (with Tommy Caldwell) and then repeated them (not all free) solo, in about the same time as we were out. So, 8000 feet of mostly walking and easy climbing was obviously no big deal.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Petit Grepon Before Work

Stefan and I climbed the Petit Grepon this morning, before work! We met at the Bus Stop at 3:30 a.m. and headed to the Glacier Gorge parking lot. This is a lot of construction happening on the Bear Lake Road approaching this trailhead. We weren't held up on the drive in, but it did cost us 20+ minutes of waiting on the way out.

I was surprised to see my buddy Kirk in the parking lot. He was headed to Zowie, with his wife, I think. We started a bit after them at 4:47 a.m. with no headlamps and hiked, trotted when we could, up the climber's shortcut and then the trail to Sky Pond. We never passed Kirk, so I assume he didn't take the climber's shortcut. A funny aside here is that as we came out of the shortcut on the way down, three rangers with ropes in their packs were heading up it. So, I guess that shortcut is completely kosher. 

We were at the base of the Petit in 1h13 minutes (6 a.m.) I started leading 7 minutes later and linked the first five pitches, through the crux in one pitch and then Stefan led the last three pitches to the top. We summitted at 7:17 (1h10m for the climb), did two rappels off the spire and then soloed up to the notch at the base of the Sharkstooth. We packed our gear there and then ran back to the car in about 58 minutes, negotiating talus, scrambling, and snowfields before hitting the Andrews Glacier trail. We enjoyed perfect weather, though both of us had mildly cold hands by the time we hit the crux. We did the roundtrip in 3h54m. The FKT is 3h22m by Josh Schwartz who went solo, sans rope even, downclimbing steep, hard-looking 5.6 to get off the tower. Stefan could probably break 3 hours going solo... I, on the other hand, will not be soloing this route. :-)

The roundtrip is 8.2 miles and about 3000 vertical feet. It was a complete blast. What a great way to start the day.

Kiener's Route on Longs Peak - Solo

Paul and Tony's impressive efforts up Kiener's of late inspired me to give it a try as well. Scrambling the First Flatiron on Thursday morning I told Buzz I was going out Sunday to break Tony's record of 2h28m for the roundtrip on Kiener's. Buzz's head spun around like he was possessed, his eyes bugged out at me with shock and confusion. It was just the reaction I aimed to induce. No, I wasn't going for Tony's time. That would be like me going for Ashton Eaton's decathlon total (he set the world record yesterday at the trials. Look up his numbers for each event and you'll know why he's the "World's Greatest Athlete"). I'm no Tony or Ashton, but these guys inspire me to see what I can do. My goals for the day were to break 3 hours on the ascent and 4.5 hours for the roundtrip. As it turned out, those were modest goals. 

I went pretty light, going for time. Despite that I felt sluggish and slow for most of the way up. I used the usual shortcuts on the way up. I kept a steady pace, though. I used Kahtoola Microspikes and a couple of sharp rocks to get across Lambs Slide. On Broadway, which I reached in 1h40m, I passed of 3-man team of heavily clothed, geared, and packed guys roping up and belaying the small talus field at the start of Broadway. I did the traverse wrong and went too low, then was too stubborn to come back. Did some very exposed but solid climbing to go down a bit further and then back up. I had no troubles scrambling up Kieners and then plodded super slowly up the steep 3rd class terrain to the summit. I arrived there after 2h18m, considerably faster than my original goal of 3 hours. I was on top for probably less than 90 seconds. I asked if anyone knew the conditions of the Cables route and the guy signing the register said it was wet and that he was going to go down the Keyhole route because of it. This turned out to be Scott, a guy I'd been talking to via email. I knew he'd be up here soloing the Cables Route and trying to break 3 hours, as well. He also succeeded climbing Longs in 2h50m. Way to go, Scott! He told me there was no ice on the Cables descent and that the fixed line was gone. I decided to head down to the Cables, as I'm pretty comfortable downclimbing it when it is wet. 
I got down to the top of the cables in 2h28m and thought, "Tony was back at the trailhead by now." I took the downclimbing very carefully and 2m30s later, at 2h30m and change, I was scrambling down the slabs and talus. I knew I had a shot of breaking 3:30 and that was my new goal. It would require about a 1h10m descent. My best is 1h01m but I wasn't feeling very agile and didn't want to trip and fall. I know Tony has done the descent in 45 minutes, but I'm not even a runner at all compared to Tony. Compared to him, I'm a stumbler. I took things careful and trotted and hiked and ran once I got to the Jim's Grove trail. I tried to follow my ascent route and did for a bit and then got into some bushwhacking. I shouldn't have done that. Just above the Longs Peak trail is some serious deadfall that I negotiate well on the way up, but bushwhacked around a bit on the way down. Once on the trail I pressed a bit, watching the time. I took the shortcut passed the Goblin Forest and just before I took the lower shortcut, who do I see walking right at me up the trail? Two rangers. One was young looking and probably the speed record holder. I was moving fast and just pointed to the shortcut and looked at them for 2 seconds to see if they'd shake their heads "no." They didn't and I turned and blasted down it, right in front of them, not breaking stride. I pressed pretty hard on this last bit and finished in 3:28:29.
I left the house a little past 5 a.m. and started up the trail at 6:17 a.m. I was back home at 11 a.m. I used a prototype adventure back that Buzz loaned me from Ultimate Directions. I also used La Sportiva Explorers, the replacement for the Exum Ridge. So far, I think these shoes aren't as good. They considerably narrower and a bit lower volume, so my foot fell asleep a bit. I got a blister on top of one of my toes, too. But they climbed and ran pretty well. They also kicked some decent steps at the bottom of Lambs Slide before I got on the rock rib to the east. 
I carried two bottles with about 20 ounces of GU2O and Gatorade in each of them. I used 3 or 4 gels. I carried a super light wind shell but never used it, as the weather was nearly perfect. It was a bit windy below Chasm Cut-off but not too bad. I went in a short-sleeve shirt and Tony-style running shorts. I thought about going shirtless, hoping that by emulating Tony's wardrobe I would somehow be faster, but since my skin isn't Tarzan-bronzed like Tony's, I decided against it.
My splits vs. Tony:

Split                     Tony             Bill
Goblin                 12:30           16:09
Chasm Cut-off    37:50           49:31
Broadway           1:17:??       1:40:??
Summit                1:41:37       2:18:26
Top of Cables     1:48:??      2:28:??
Crossing Trail     2:05:40      2:56:??
Goblin                  2:22:25      3:20:00
Trailhead             2:28:31     3:28:29

Just barely under an hour slower than Tony! And I didn't know his seconds when running this, though I did know and was thinking about his 2:28… :-)

So, no, I'll never be close to Tony, but few will. I'm okay with that.


Monday, June 18, 2012

Humble Pie on the Nose

This is a confession of sorts on my NIAD ascent with Hans...

Sunday, June 10th, I climbed the Nose with Hans Florine. It took us 10h53m. Three days later Hans climbed it again, this time with Alex Honnold in 2h53. Why so much faster? I know what you are thinking and I thought the same thing: weather! Sure it was hotter when we climbed it, but subsequent events have me thinking it is something else. Four days later Hans and Alex set the speed record on the Nose, climbing it in just two pitches (no re-gearing) in 2h23m. I think now it might have something to do with Hans' partner...

This year I turned 40+10 and had five goals for the year, four of them exactly the same as the ones I had when I turned 40. Back then I completed all four goals. Two of them are running goals and this year I failed at the first (Bolder Boulder 10K under 40 minutes) and the second will be extremely difficult (Pikes Peak Marathon under 5 hours). I knew that accomplishing these goals would be unlikely, since I barely was able to achieve these goals when I was ten years younger, but I wanted to "Do Hard Things." 

The other three were climbing goals and since they are more technique oriented, I figured I'd have at least as good of a chance to get them. This turned out to be correct and I've already done all three. They were to do 100 pitches in a day in Eldo (completed on May 17th with Hans), redpoint a 5.12 (Empire of the Fenceless on May 27th) and climb the Nose of El Capitan in Yosemite in a day, which, as I mentioned, I did recently and want to report on now.

I've known Hans Florine for a long time and we co-wrote "Speed Climbing," yet I had never climbed the Nose with him. When I first did the Nose in a day (NIAD) I specifically did not want to do it with him, as that would have been cheating, the ascent guaranteed, practically, even if I led half the route since he could lead the other half faster than I could jug it. He has, after all, climbed the route over 75 times and has broken the speed record eight times, with six different partners.

I flew out Saturday morning and Hans picked me up around noon. We drove to the Valley and scoped out the traffic on the Nose, scrambling up to the base of the first pitch. Back in El Cap Meadow we racked for the next morning and met up with Quinn and Jes, two climbing guides from Colorado that had been out in the Valley for two weeks training to break the female speed record on the Nose, which stood at 10h39m. They were very friendly and quite modest. They had been working the route and had already done NIAD twice, with their best time so far at a bit over 14 hours. We decided to start a bit after them and follow them up.

We headed up to Hans' house in West Yosemite, which conveniently was not rented. We cooked pasta and BBQed some Italian Sausage for dinner and were lights out by 9:30. My alarm went off at 3:20 and I was up to make the coffee, dress, eat something and we were driving before 4 a.m. We picked up the girls at Manure Pile and drove to El Cap Meadow. While the girls took off, we taped our hands, visited the "little big-wall climber's room" in the forest, drank a bit more, geared and followed them 30 minutes later. They must have taken their time getting ready, as Quinn was just starting up the first pitch when I arrived at the base.

Quinn led the first pitch in about 17 or 18 minutes and Jes was jugging up shortly afterwards. Hans let her finish jugging before he started up. He fixed the rope at the top of the first pitch and waited for me there, thinking he'd give the girls more room. I jugged up and we were both at the top of the first pitch in 18 minutes. Our plan was for Hans to lead to Sickle where I'd take over for a bit. The girls were moving well and at the top of the second pitch Hans short-fixed and continued on up the third pitch while I jugged below. There is a pendulum on the second pitch but there was a short bit of fixed line at pendulum point and I just lower myself out, hand-over-hand with that and then let go and swung over. I'd be getting a well-needed refresher course on the art of jugging pitches that go sideways.

Hans stopped at the top of the third pitch and we re-racked. The fourth pitch goes up a bit and then traverses straight sideways. Hans led this pitch in about 2 or 3 minutes. Following I had to put a bight through the pendulum anchor point and lower myself out. I did a bunch of jumping the ascenders around gear on this ascent. This is a pretty casual maneuver but it amounts to being thousands of feet off the ground and only attached to rope by a few tiny teeth biting into the rope from a single ascender. Sure I'm tied into the end of the rope but for speed purposes I never tied in short so if the ascender popped, it would be one long fall. But ascenders don't spontaneously come off the rope, so there is no rational reason to be worried and I didn't think about it. But my ascenders did slip a few times, which is terrifying for just the split second when it happens. We were using a brand new (I opened it the night before the climb) 9.4mm 70-meter rope and its sheath was very slick. That's a skinny rope to jug up a 3000-foot fall and when your ascenders slips it sure did get my attention.

I was jugging in my running shoes and switched to my climbing shoes on Sickle Ledge and took over the sharp end. I led up Sickle and then the steep section at the top (5.9+). I clipped an anchor over lip with a leaver biner and lowered way down before doing a tension traverse/run across the slab to a corner. I did this while Hans counterweighted me. I pulled him up the route while I was being lowered and then he stopped moving while I swung to the right. It took me a couple of tries as there wasn't much to grab in that corner and I didn't go with enough gusto. Once in the corner I had to climb 70 feet or so with no gear so that the rope would run up at a reasonable anchor from the last pendulum point. I went up to bolt and some tat, clipped in and took tension from Hans again, lowering out tentatively to 5.10- face climbing to a bolt and then up to a thin crack which I climbed mostly by liebacking it up to a stance and two-bolts at the base of the Stoveleg Cracks. This was the equivalent of four pitches when doing the Nose in the classic manner, though I don't know how often it is done that way anymore.

Hans followed quickly and I led the first Stovelegs pitch. This pitch is 130 feet long and is mostly hand-sized, though it starts thinner. We had exactly two hand-sized pieces, one #3 Camalot and one #4 Camalot. When Tom and I did the Nose we had at least three more pieces of gear that would fit this crack. I had to space out my #2 Camalots by forty feet or more. The climbing is just 5.9 but it isn't simple straight-in splitter, the crack goes in at an angle, so that you could even lieback the edge of it, but it makes it more awkward to jam your right hand. It is the perfect size but my head did not like running it out 40 feet. I didn't, really. I went maybe 25 feet and then put in the piece and then would shuffle if for as much as I felt comfortable. Pulling it out forty feet above my last piece and moving it was scary for me. I think I would have been better off if I had had a day or two of Yosemite crack climbing before launching up El Cap with a spartan rack. Needless to say, I wasn't very fast. Hans was always so positive, though, telling me I did great.

The next pitch is also long and does take a bigger variety of gear, but it has a hard, awkward, offwidthy section that is best climbed by liebacking, if you are confident of going the 10+ feet and getting back in the crack to place gear before falling off. I wasn't feeling confident and groveled laboriously up the squeeze. I was dripping with sweat above this section.

As Hans was jugging up to me he asks, "Do you want me to lead the next pitch?" The final lead to the top of Dolt Tower has a really long wide section and we had even less wide gear: one #3 Camalot and one #4. It was outside of my mental reach to lead that pitch with the rack we had, at least after struggling somewhat on the easier pitches leading to this one. I switched back to my running shoes, tail tucked firmly between my legs. Hans led us to the top of Dolt and on the wide 5.9/10 section he went 70 feet without leaving a piece behind! While that certainly does cut down on the size of the rack you have to carry, you better be one solid crack climber! I know Dean Potter and Jim Herson climb routes like this and take nothing bigger than a #1 Camlot, but that boggles my mind. On the Nose that basically means doing the Stovelegs while just clipping the belays. Yikes! But for those guys it's like me climbing the Third Flatiron. The exposure of being thousands of feet up a vertical wall means nothing to these guys.

On Dolt we could see the girls above climbing right through a party of three guys on the Boot Flake pitch. They'd pass three parties on the day and all of them were great in letting them just cruise by. It seems that parties on the Nose are very accommodating of NIAD teams. We didn't want to get caught up behind the guys either so Hans suggested we do the Jardine variation to bypass them. This is a chipped variation that avoids the bolt ladder leading to Boot Flake. It also avoids the King Swing pendulum, both of which are not likely to be free climbed by anything with less climbing skill than a gecko. Hence all free ascents of the Nose use this variation. It also avoids a 5.6 pitch and the 5.8 Texas Flake, prime leading targets for my bruised ego. In our rush to get by the guys before they did the King Swing, where the variation rejoins the regular Nose route, Hans stayed on lead through the next two 5.9 pitches, which he linked and then short-fixed. While I was jugging these two pitches he climbed the 5.11c (5.10+ mandatory climbing even if you grab the draws you clip to the protecting bolts) without a belay. To say Hans is comfortable on the Nose is quite an understatement. He is as relaxed and comfortable up there climbing 5.10 without a belay as I am lying on my couch watching TV. And that is not a metaphor. That is literally true. He is a professional athlete and I have about as much frame of reference to understanding what he does on El Cap as I do analyzing Rafael Nadal's strokes at the French Open (yes, tennis is big in our family).

Following the horizontal Jardine Traverse was another good opportunity for me to bond with my ascenders. This is not an ugly chip job and it looks pretty natural to me and quite thin. The next pitch, up to Eagle Ledge, where the King Swing ends, is 5.11c and ends with 30 feet of unprotected 5.9 offwidth or lieback. There was no need to discuss who would lead. Hans aided up the corner, climbing as fast as most people free climb. When he got to the run-out section he let me know so that I'd be able to feed rope to him continually. This was a good thing, as the ropes were dorked up. Belaying Hans is not much of a rest as he pulls out rope constantly and has frequently already begun the lead because he short-fixed, so I feel like I'm playing catch-up the entire pitch and trying to make sure the rope has no loops in it. 

Hans short-fixed at Eagle Ledge and continued up the 5.10 pitch above. I got him on belay before he got to the 5.12a traverse (5.10 if you grab the draws) but just barely. He stopped here and then did the short horizontal Gray Bands traverse and belayed me across it. Above us, just below the Great Roof, was a team of two guys from Colorado. They were letting the girls pass. Hans said that he normally likes to take a lunch break at Camp IV (one pitch above us), but now he wanted to get up there and check with those guys about the best place to pass them. He zipped up the 11b pitch and linked the 5.9 pitch to a belay just above and right of the Colorado guys. They were going to let us pass so I jugged up to Hans. He stopped there since the girls above were still on the Roof pitch and we had to wait on them a bit.

Hans wanted to practice following the Great Roof in preparation for his record-breaking attempt with Alex, yet he didn't want me to hold up the other team with a long lead. Hence we followed a hybrid solution, one used by the girls above us. They lead part-ways up the crack leading to the roof and short-fixed. We did the same except that Hans just belayed there and I took over and led the Great Roof. This lead wasn't such hard, as there was a bunch of fixed gear in the roof, though this is some tiny gear. 

I fixed the rope and Hans practiced how he was going to follow the roof with Alex. When they go for the speed record Hans will lead from the ground to Eagle Ledge, just after the King Swing. Then Alex takes over and leads to the top. Last Fall Hans got to Eagle Ledge in 1h18m - almost exactly half the time they took to do the total route. 

Hans asked if I wanted to lead the Pancake Flake pitch, but I declined. This pitch is rated 10a for the first 80 feet or so, but it is dead vertical liebacking and fingerlocks that requires confidence and quick movement from gear stance to gear stance. I didn't have the confidence to make this 5.10a. I wasn't fresh enough to climb strong. Even though I was just jugging, it was wearing me out. I wouldn't lead any more.

Hans zipped up the Flake and then up the 11b/c tricky section at the end of the pitch. Just a couple weeks ago they rescued a guy who had fallen on this section and broken his leg and his pelvis. They did a vertical evacuation, lowering a litter from the summit of El Cap, clear to the ground! The day before, as we geared up in the Meadow, they had us move our car as a helicopter was coming in to rescue another guy off the West Face of El Cap. This is serious business.

Hans short fixed at the top of the pitch and continued up the 11b awkward flare above, with no belay. By the time I got there, he only had some easy climbing to go to Camp V. A couple of times on this climb he ran out of rope while climbing while short-fixing and had to just hang from gear and wait for me to finish jugging the previous pitch so that I could put him back on belay and give him more rope. But most of the time I was fast enough to keep him moving. 

We had a leisurely 30-minute lunch at Camp 5. We watched the girls climbing two pitches above us and ate. I was glad for the break, as I felt busy and pushed nearly constantly. It wasn't like climbing with an equal partner where I'd have plenty of downtime belaying. Sated, we continued with Hans short-fixing the 5.12c Glowering Spot pitch (liberally aided, of course), the 5.11a hand crack (with no belay) and the 5.8 pitch up to Camp Six, in one continuous lead. 

From Camp VI the route gets even steeper, dead vertical and jugging became much more strenuous. The first pitch is the Changing Corners pitch, the 5.14 crux when free climbing the Nose. Hans led the next three pitches without re-gearing, just short fixing and moving on. I held him up at the top of the Changing Corners pitch, as he ran out of rope before I got to the belay. I had a bit of trouble getting off my jugs and onto the anchor for some reason. I was getting tired. It probably only took me two minutes but to Hans this must have felt like an eternity. It amazed me that he could go so far between gear placements.

When I joined Hans below the 10b crack leading to the final bolt ladder I found him talking to a girl just starting to jug the last pitch. She was part of a 3-woman team that had spent six nights doing their first wall climb. They were known as the JTree Girls in Tom Evans' El Cap daily reports. Six days is an awfully slow time on the Nose, but they caught "Pass the Pitons Pete" Zabrok was on a marathon 14-day trip up the Nose with another guy. Fourteen days! On the most popular route on El Cap. That isn't cool. Actually, they climbed Grape Race, which starts with the first three and a half pitches of the Nose (continuing straight up when the Nose goes hard right to Sickle Ledge) and merges back into it at Eagle Ledge, below the halfway mark of the Nose.

Hans followed the girl up the last pitch, helping her with the overhanging jugging. This cost us 30-40 minutes but we didn't care. I didn't care. Jugging the last pitch is strenuous, but I had things down pretty well by now. I topped out to find quite the crowd. The three JT girls, Pete and his partner, Hans, Quinn and Jes. The latter two had just set the new speed record for females climbing the Nose: 10 hours and 19 minutes, breaking the previous record by 20 minutes. The last I heard they might try to trim that time down a bit more on Wednesday. I'd think they'd be satisfied and want a break from that steep, huge wall, but I guess they got pretty dang comfortable with the route.

The JTree girls had to wait 2.5 hours while Pete climbed the last pitch. This is about the same amount of time it will take for Hans and Alex to climb the entire Nose route! So, quite literally, the fastest and the slowest Nose climbers topped out within an hour of each other. Pete mentioned that he has spent 499 days sleeping on the side of El Cap. Hans estimated that Pete has climbed El Cap 50 times, so he averaged 10 nights per ascent. Hans has climbed El Cap 145 times (though he'll do 3 more this coming week: Wednesday, Thursday as warm-ups for the record attempt on Sunday) and he has spent 20 nights sleeping on El Cap. So he averages 7 complete ascents per night spent on the wall.

Quinn and Jes waited for us on top and we all hiked down together. They had left a car at the Manure Pile Buttress where the trail empties out and we had picked them up early that morning and driven them to El Cap Meadow. So we all piled into their car and drove back to the Meadow. After some snacks, we bid them good-bye and Hans drove us back to Oakland. We arrive around midnight and hit the sack after a quick shower.

So, was it cheating to go with Hans? Absolutely and that will become very apparent, as I didn't hardly do anything on this ascent. I don't know exactly how to feel about it just yet. I do have a newfound realization of what was going through Opie's mind when we climbed Sheer Lunacy earlier this year in Zion, as I think I went through the same thing. 

So, could I have done the NIAD with an equal partner? Yes, I think so. I think I'm at least as good of a climber as I was when I did it before, but it would have been a a long, hard day, close to 24-hours, I'd guess, especially with the difficulty in passing other parties. We passed other teams by using the Jardine variation (which is one of the reasons I wanted to do it, so that I could know this way) and by being so fast. People are usually happy to let Hans pass them, partly because of his reputation and super nice demeanor, as he never assumes people will let him by and respects their right to say no, but also because they know it will cost them very little time to let Hans' party pass. With me and an equal partner, it would cost other teams more time.


Friday, May 11, 2012

Cold, Early Trip up Ruper

Tom and I were hiking toward Ruper at 6 a.m. this morning. It didn't feel that cold out and I was hot by the time I had scrambled up the Lower Ramp to the base of the route. That didn't last... My hands were numb after following the first two pitches (strung as one by Tom). I led the traverse and across the Upper Ramp to the base of the 4th pitch, which Tom led. I then led the last two pitches on one and endured some defrost pain at the top. Runout with numb hands does tend to focus the concentration. Pitching it out and the cold weather caused us to be a bit slow, taking 2h25m for the roundtrip back to the car. No big deal for me, but Tom missed his morning stand-up meeting. We should have been able to do that under 2 hours. I've simul-climbed the roundtrip with Buzz in under an hour.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Opened the Morning Eldo Season Today!

Tom and I met at 6:30 a.m. and did the Bulge (4 pitches, 5.9). We pitched it out with Tom taking the odd pitches. Numb fingers for the first two pitches, then really nice. That took about an hour and then we soloed Breezy (2 pitches, 5.5) and were back at the car at 7:55 a.m.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Zion Trip Summary

The impressive East Temple

For the last few years I've gone to Zion for the last week in April. I just love this place and am not bored in the slightest. I plan to be back next year as well. Here's a summary from the 2012 Trip:

Zion Day 1: The Organ
Zion Day 3: Johnson Mountain
Zion Day 4: Smashmouth
Zion Day 5: The Watchman
Zion Day 8: Sheer Lunacy
Zion Day 9: Angel's Landing Run

I did a total of 103 miles (49 running, 13 biking, 41 hiking) with 25,000 feet of climbing, roped up for 28 pitches on 11 different routes, made 6 summits (The Organ, Deer Trap Mountain, Johnson Mountain, the Watchman, Jenny Peak, Angel's Landing), and descended two canyons.

Zion Day 9: Angel's Landing


I love the trail up Angel's Landing. I think it is one of the greatest short trails I've ever done. In only 2.5 miles it goes along a babbling Virgin river, switchbacks up a sandstone wall, goes through a steep, cool canyon, up the famous Walter's Wiggles, and finishes with an extremely exposed via ferrata to an outstanding summit in the most awe-inspiring sandstone canyon in the world. I've done it many times and run it for time 3 or 4 times before. Each time my goal is to break 30 minutes. Last year I made it with just two seconds to spare.  I warmed up by running the 2.5 miles to the Confluence bus-stop again and then got off at the Lodge so that I could run another half mile over to the start. 

I went hard, but paced myself. Perhaps I paced myself too comfortably, as I didn't really suffer until the last five minutes when I feared I might not break the half-hour mark. I touched the top of the summit boulder in 29:37. I didn't linger at all, since I needed to get in 12 miles of running and drive 11 hours home today. I descending quickly, returning to the bridge just 51 minutes after leaving it. I got a quick drink and then ran back to the campground, finishing up with 13.5 miles and nearly 2000 vertical feet.

And that was it. That was my week. We bid goodbye to Opie and Loobster and I drove off for Grand Junction and then I took it solo back to my house in Superior. It was a very productive and enjoyable week, mostly because of my great companions. I'm still not done with Zion. There is lots more to do there. If I was a better climber there would be even more to do...

Zion Day 8: Sheer Lunacy

Photos Map

Opie and I had absolutely decadent support from the Loobster for this climb. We did practically everything besides climb it for us. He drove in with us at 6 a.m. this morning and waded the frigid river with us. He hiked up to the base of the route so that he could bring down our approach shoes. I also ditched my jacket, as the weather forecast was perfect and if we got cold the belayer would use the one jacket we had. I took 80 ounces of liquid (Opie took 64) and it was much more than what we needed, as the temperatures never even hit 80 degrees and we  were in the shade until the 4th pitch and in the shade again for the last two pitches. 

We brought a second, thin rope as insurance in case we had to bail, but never pulled it out of the pack. We brought the rack recommended in the guidebook, but used less of it. The rack I used consisted of three each of 0.4, 0.5, 0.75,  1 and 2 Camalots, two #3 Camalots, two green Aliens, one blue Alien, one #3.5, one #4, one set of nuts, one set of offset brass nuts, plus about 15 slings and draws. I could have made use of one or two more green Aliens for the long 4th pitch.

We waded the river in Tevas and Loobster and I used our trekking poles, which aren't strictly necessary, but added some security and speed to the crossing. We were in the water much longer this time, versus our crossing for the Organ, but the water must be warmer in the morning as we never experienced in short but intense pain of defrosting. We found the well-worn climber's trail leading to the base of the route and, after gearing up, scrambled up 3rd class terrain to the base of the first pitch. Opie took the lead, as planned, and led upwards, quickly, confidently and secured the rope. I guess I could have free-climbed the 5.8 pitch, but we were in wall-mode where the second jugs the line, carrying the pack on their back, freeing the leader to rest and relax.
Pitch 2: 5.10

I led the long second pitch, straight above the belay and rated 10c. The climbing was cruxy, not very sustained, and protected well. I ran out 150 feet of rope to a huge ledge behind a little pillar. Opie jugged up quickly and after a brief discussion we decided to switch tactics from swinging leads up the route to doing it block-sytle, in just two blocks...with Opie taking the first block. Hence, I led the short, third pitch which is 5.6, but looks quite a bit harder from the belay. It isn't though and I arrived at another good ledge below a long, right facing, shallow corner that started with a roof. Here I dug out the aiders and aided everything save just a few free moves. The pitch goes free at 5.12b, but the start wasn't possible for me and the rest was too sustained to try much free climbing. It took me a bit to get my aid mojo going, but I made steady, albeit slow, progress. It took me about an hour to aid the 130-foot pitch.

Pitch 3: 5.6

The next pitch is rated 11a and I left the aiders behind, assuming I'd at least be able to french-free the pitch. One of the cruxes was about forty feet up, where I had to lieback and edge with smears for my feet, ,protected by two cams of a green Alien. I think it would have been scarier to aid that section since then I would have had to weight that dicey cam. The rest of the pitch went well, with one pumpy section and maybe one dead-point  before I arrived at the belay, having onsighted the pitch. I'd love to think I was climbing strong enough to onsight 5.11 Zion trad, but I tend to think the pitch was probably mid-5.10.

After each of my leads Opie would shout up "nice job, dude," or something else encouraging. He was climbing well also, jugging efficiently and arriving at the belays quickly. We moved well together and were ahead of schedule. I told Loobster the earliest to expect us on top was 4 p.m. and the latest 8 p.m., if we made it at all. The Loobster's plan was to drive the car back to the campground, hang out a bit, and then take the shuttle bus back into the park and hike up the Angel's Landing trail  and then the West Rim trail to meet us on top. Conveniently our route tops out about fifty feet from this trail. The Loobster would be carrying our approach shoes, a couple of packs to carry down the gear, and some water for us. What a guy...

Pitch 4: 5.12b or aid for me
I combined the next 5.9 pitch, up some steep, cool flakes and the following "face crack" pitch into one, as it made the jugging much easier for Opie (eliminating a big traverse around the corner) and because, even put together, the pitch wasn't that long. I thought about tacking on a third pitch and I had plenty of rope for it, Opie jugged up and had to deal with the rope snagging on the free-climbing-friendly/jug-unfriendly flakes. This pitch ended on another great ledge and we chilled for a bit and then I led another short 5.9 pitch up to the top of the Toquerville Tower, where another great ledge presented itself.

Pitch 5: 5.11-
We were now below the 55-meter headwall and the tree hanging over the summit looked so close. What stood between us and the top was the crux (C2 or 13b, C2 fpr us). A very thin, intimidating crack split the wall above our ledge. This was the pitch for which we brought our two sets of micro-nuts. I started by stepping high in my aiders off the belay bolt and found the going remarkably straight forward. I did use the micro-nuts, but never the smallest two. I did have to place a couple in a row a couple of times, but they set in the crack very nicely and seemed completely solid. 

I made steady progress up to the Sharp Crack and then heard someone call my name. Looking over my shoulder I could see the Loobster high above me out on top of the Moonlight Buttress. He was Already there, waiting on us. The last pitch was short and went relatively easily on aid, finishing up with a couple of dicey placements in an overhanging crumbly crack. Before I knew it I had clipped the giant chain hanging down from the summit anchor, which I'd guess is there to save the tree, which you climb right through. I topped out around 3:45 p.m. Opie joined the Loobster and I 20 minutes later and we celebrated a successful climb with our copious extra water and food. We couldn't have asked for better weather. I climbed in a long-sleeve shirt and long pants for the entire route and was never hot nor cold. 
Pitch 7 (for us): 5.9
Despite how smoothly things had gone, Opie announced his retirement from wall climbing. He decided that wall climbing wasn't for him, as it just wasn't fun. That was a bit disappointing, as I really enjoy climbing with him, but understandable. I think the soft Zion sandstone contributed somewhat to that decision, but it would have probably been the same if we were in Yosemite. That's okay, though, as there is lots more to do in climbing and in life without climbing walls. You've got to do what makes you happy.

Pitch 8: 5.13b or aid 
I'm not much of a real aid climber. I've pounded one piton in my life (on the Titan) and have only placed a handful of bolts, all anchor replacements. I've done a few hook moves in my life, but never more than one in a row. To me, a copperhead is one of the four poisonous snakes in North America (though I have clipped more than a few of them, the pieces,  not the reptiles). That said, I'm pretty good with placing gear, as I have more than thirty years of trad climbing experience. For this route I never had to work at any placement. I pretty much set them and I was done. The angle was such where I could climb very high in my aiders when necessary and make a big reach to an easier placement. Using these techniques the route seemed C1 to me. All the climbing seemed pretty solid, save and secure except for that one section on the 5.11a 5th pitch. I really enjoyed this route and would do it again, because of the relatively little aid climbing.

On top!

Zion Day 7: Jenny Peak (and her Nipples)

Photos Map

Yes, this was supposed to be the wall climb. We had racked and packed the day before and determined to launch. The alarm went off at 5:30 a.m. but while eating breakfast we were disturbed by the pitter patter of raindrops on the RV roof. Sure enough, it was raining. We decided to drive into the canyon anyway (with our special pass, obtained the day before) to check out the conditions up at the Big Bend Shuttle Bus Stop. We stopped at the Grotto to use the bathroom and there had a nice encounter with a ring-tailed cat. .These guys are so cute. They have huge, inquisitive eyes (as they are mostly nocturnal), expressive ears, and a cautious curiosity. Alas, none of us had a camera easily accessible. 

At the parking the ground was wet and so were all the plants and the rock. We decided it wouldn't be responsible to climb the rock in those conditions, as you can damage the rock, which is much softer when wet. We went to go scope the river crossing anyway and found a couple down there  preparing to cross. They were off to free Moonlight Buttress. Seeing them cross and head for their climb made me second guess our decision somewhat, but Opie was adamant about putting off the climb. Being a deeply spiritual person I communed with nature and actually bonded with the big red cliff above us. Together we decided caressing her precipitous slopes would be put off for another day. Besides it was colder today and wet and we could easily delay another day. 

Not content to just sit around, I proposed a hike up to Observation Point, where we'd have a great view of our wall objective: Sheer Lunacy, two routes to the left of Moonlight Buttress. The Loobster, who wasn't planning on doing the wall, hadn't eaten anything that morning, thinking he'd be back at the RV in just an hour, did the 3-hour, 2100-foot, 8.5-mile hike anyway. We all just went up with nothing, as it was impromptu. We hiked from the Big Bend Shuttle Stop, as we only had a permit to park there, to the next stop down canyon - the Weeping Rock stop. Here we picked up the trail and had a very pleasant hike up this steep trail. It was still mostly in the shade, since it was just 7:30 a.m. and it switchbacked up the east side of the canyon. We passed a couple of ladies early on and had the trail entirely to ourselves. The views were indeed spectacular and after 15 minutes we headed down.

Back at the RV, after an early lunch (breakfast for the Loobster), we packed for another hike. I had decided we'd do Jenny's Peak on the east side of the tunnel, which was a 4th class scramble. Opie drove us through the tunnel and had an enjoyable scramble 1400 feet up to the summit. We also bagged two smaller summits just south of there, known as the Nipples. We moved at a casual pace, enjoying the day and saving ourselves for tomorrow. We noticed another nice peak to the east, maybe Lost Peak, and decided to turn our hike into a loop. We descended steep slabs and sandy areas down to the saddle between the peaks. Here we discovered three things. First, a sign saying not to go further south, as the area was closed for a wilderness study. Second that the route out of the notch towards Lost Peak was much steeper and most serious than it appeared when we made this decision. And, three, that tracks led north, toward the road, down the canyon. Loobster pushed for the canyon descent and I assented with just a touch of reluctance, fearing a nasty bushwhack. I knew from the topo map in my guidebook that the canyon looked pretty gentle, but there could have been wading or 30-foot falls lying down there. But I was wrong. The entire canyon went smoothly and easily and was quite nice. I turned the wrong way when we got to the wash that parallels highway 9 and led us the long way to the road, with some the bushwhacking I had been trying to avoid, but soon we were hoofing it a half-mile down the road back to the car.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Zion Day 6: Confluence Area Cragging

Crimson King

Photos Map

Opie arrived a bit after 7 p.m. yesterday and the weather report looked grim: an 80% chance of rain. So we didn't expect much out of the day. We had originally planned our wall climb for this day, but moved it to Friday because of the forecast. It wasn't raining in the morning so I was running up canyon by 7 a.m. to get in 9 miles. When I got back, after second breakfast, we piled into  Opie's car and  drove up to the trailhead at the last turn-out before the tunnel. This was quite a bit easier than the biking approach we did two days earlier. The Confluence area has some of the most moderate climbing in all of Zion, including a 5.7 sport route. I offered leads to my partners, but they were content to let me put up the rope.

We started by climbing a one-pitch 5.7 crack (had about 3-5 total moves of 5.7) called Ghetto Booty to a big ledge with a bolted anchor. From here we climbed in succession Barely Legal (5.7, sport climb), I'm No Sports Climber (5.9, mostly bolted, two pieces of gear), the Battered Wright (5.10+, sport climb), and The Tribute (5.10, sport climb). Of these the best route is the Battered Wright. It looks spectacular and everyone agreed was a blast to climb. I thought it was quite a bit easier than 10+, maybe 10a/b. Opie thought there was a touch of 10c.. The Loobster felt it had to be 5.9 because he didn't fall off it! 

The first three routes all allowed us to lower back to our ledge with our single 60-meter rope, though the Battered Wright did req uire us to start from a ledge twenty feet higher. The Tribute was a different deal. Since it was rated 5.10, we figured it would be easier than the Battered Wright. This is not the case. The Tribute has an intermediate belay just forty feet up, but this isn't used to make the descent easier, since you can't easily rappel back to it. I suspect it is just so you don't need so many draws to climb it. I started up this route with 16 draws, intent on combining the pitches and fell 5 or 6 draws short, having to skip some bolts. I found the first section very hard with a huge reach left to a bucket, but then I had to heel-hook my right foot, not a move I do often, outside of the gym anyway. I made the move, hung on to clip the next draw and then burned out before I could continue. I hung from the rope. I think this section was 5.11.

After a brief rest, I moved on and made the first belay. Since neither Opie nor Loobster wanted to follow this pitch, I figured I just put the two pitches together and lower off. This would have been a good plan if the route wasn't 150 feet long... The climbing on the upper section was fun, steep, super well protected and not very hard (5.9?), but it had so many bolts, that I ran out of draws and had to start skipping the bolts. Also, I ran out so much rope and the route ascended at an angle that it was going to be impossible for me to lower off and clean the route. Someone would have to follow it.

Opie stepped up and tried in. He cruised past the crux section with a couple of quick pulls on the draws and rambled on up to the top of the pillar where I sat waiting for him. We rapped once down to the anchors at the top of the Battered Wright and then from there back to the Loobster. I then led around the corner to the anchors at the top of Crimson King and we rappelled to the ground. 

I then worked Crimson King a couple more times, eventually almost getting it completely clean, but missed a foot switch and knocked myself into a barndoor fall. This is a really fun crack to work. I'll probably be back next year with a goal of redpointing it. 

Opie and Loobster weren't interested in giving the crack a try, so once I was spent, we packed up and headed for beers.

Zion Day 5: The Watchman

Photos Map

The Watchman is an awesome summit that hangs right over our campground and the Zion National Park Visitor Center. I've wanted to climb it for years, but it had never bubbled up to the top of the list, mainly because of the nasty looking approach. But now that we knew the good approach up to and over the Johnson Ridge, which is the same approach to the Watchman, that barrier was removed.

I took yesterday off from running in order to be well rested for today's killer  workout of 5 x 1200 meters. I was out the door early warmed up running up canyon 2.5 miles to the Confluence Shuttle Bus Stop and then road that to end of the canyon. I did the intervals coming down the canyon and then jumped on the bus for one stop and then ran the rest of the way back to the campground, getting in about 9.5 miles.

After a second breakfast (like all good hobbits, I eat two), the Loobster and I took the town shuttle bus the other direction and re-traced our tracks over the Johnson Ridge and down into the wash. This time, though, we went directly across the ridge and started up the Watchman. 

We had previously scoped our the route from the top of the ridge. What we saw was dauntingly complex.
There was one big gash amongst many weaknesses, but this gash ended in a nearly vertical drop of over a hundred feet to the wash. There wasn't an obvious way up there, but we did see a possibility off to the left. We hiked up and left a bit, around a beehive like buttress and then did a cool, airy traverse on a tiny ledge back to the right, where we found a fixed line leading up a wall. Climbing this wall without the benefit of the line, it felt like easily 5th class, maybe a touch of 5.2.

Above the wall, we entered the big gash/gully that we scoped from the ridge and followed it easily upwards, occasionally directed by cairns. The route is always "the easiest possible way at the time." It just all goes so nicely. We climbed up a steepish slab and down a bit on the other side and then up into a narrower gully that led to the second and final technical section, which was about ten feet of steep 5.5 stemming.

Above the second technical section. You don't have to climb through this tree, but traverse in above it, from the left.
We then followed Courtney's description of taking a corkscrew route around to the left until you couldn't go any further and then headed up to the summit. On the way down we short cut this a bit and when you think you can head upwards on steep slabs, you can, as we came down that way.

Eating lunch on the summit.
We made the summit in three hours and ate and drank on top for 15 minutes before the threat of rain chased us away. We had a few sprinkles on us and I thought we might be in for a soaking, but it never happened. Still it spurned me on for an efficient descent and we made it from the summit back to the shuttle bus stop in just 90 minutes.

Johnson Mountain from the Watchman. Our route from two days before follows the ramp from the far left up and right

Zion Day 3: Johnson Mountain

Photos Map

Courtney Purcell has a funny way about his descriptions in the guidebook. They lack a certain je ne sais information. For instance, he's favorite phrase is "route find upwards." I think for Johnson mountain he says something like this: "Figure out the best way to approach the notch, taking care not to violate private property and head to the notch. Once through the notch drop into the wash and head down it for a quarter mile and climb out of it at class 3-5 and route find upwards." He loves that line: "route find upwards." Another favorite is "follow the easiest line." Good thing we had this guidebook to help us. On the really complicated mountains, of which this is one, he instructs "route find upwards, really well."

All that said, this is a very complex mountain on the east side. It would be difficult to give detailed directions and I can't do much better than Courtney, but I can do better. This climb has a remarkably small suffer factor compared to other Zion summits, like Bridge Mountain or West Temple, as there is little bushwhacking (if you use the best start) and little dangerous rock (also if you find the best route). This is recommended for those adventurers with good route finding skills and a nose for the summit. Others might be frustrated.

I went out for a 6-mile run before our ascent and I found the trail indicated in the guidebook to approach the mountain, but I also found a much better trail that began from a fancy neighborhood as well... See the map for how to get to this good trail. We did have to walk past a private property sign when we crossed the bridge over the Virgin River into the neighborhood, but we were walking on a paved road. We did this twice and were not bothered at all.

We followed the trail I found up to the base of the Johnson Ridge - the ridge leading north from the summit of Johnson Mountain over to the notch between it and the Watchman. On the way up to this wall I almost walked into a rattlesnake, but those snakes are so accommodating. They also let you know when you are in danger of an unpleasant encounter. A few feet from the snake the angry rattling sound alerted me to alter my course, after taking a photo.

In the center of this photo is a rattlesnake
We scrambled up 3rd and 4th class terrain to the notch in the Johnson Ridge and then dropped down 300 vertical feet of 4th class scrambling into the wash below. This hidden wash separates the Watchman from Johnson Mountain. The ridge itself is too precipitous and technical to traverse to the main summit. We headed down the wash (south) clear to the very end, where it drops over a very large, vertical cliff. At this point, after ignoring Courtney's description, we headed up steep rock on the right. We soloed up this terrain (we had to, since we didn't bring the rope), but it was probably 5.4 climbing, though only about 50 feet high.
Steep, scary slabs

The crux bush section

We then followed weaknesses up and right, trying to get on the ledge that cuts from right to left across the entire face. Getting to this ledge proved to be the crux, as we had to climb steep slabs via from big reaches to holds and then up very bad rock to a bush, where we climbed right through it to grab a pre-rigged rappel sling. Above here the going dropped to 3rd/4th class and a couple hundred feet higher we hit the ledge and traversed it, mostly easily, up and right until we couldn't go right any longer. Then we went back to the left and were soon on easy hiking terrain and trying to figure out which of the three summits was highest.
The summit
On top!
Thankfully the easiest of the three was the highest and we found a cairn and summit register on top. The recorded only six ascents since it was placed on April 23, 2006, with the last one being on January 6th of this year. Cool.

The descent had us worried and we tried to find a way around the bush/crumbly rock section, but eventually reversed it. It is dangerous, but we went as slow, solid, and as careful as we could. Once down that the rest of the route was easily reversed, including the steep section back into the wash.

The rest of the descent went nicely and we got back to the RV 4:30 p.m. Our days were getting shorter and shorter. And we were loving it! 

After-advenuture weight: 156.0. I'm shrinking! More like, I'm shriveling up... Thankfully the 90-degree days we had been having would end today. 

Zion Day 4: Smashmouth

Photos Map

The main objective for today was to climb Smashmouth. The Loobster and I had rapped down this route on our descent from Take Back the Rainbow last year and I thought the rock and the climbing looked great. It was rated in the Super Topo guidebook as 5.11+ but it looked easier and I figured most of it has to be easier, as normally that rating would be enough to keep me away. Having just finished my winter rock gym stint, I was at my strongest and wanted to test myself on this crack. 

We biked from the campground up to the tunnel wearing packs  heavily laden with climbing gadgets. I dumped my pack at the trailhead and went back down a half-mile to give Loobster a hand with his. We hiked around to the Confluence area and decided to do a pitch or two as a warm-up. We didn't want to delay too long, though, as we wanted to do the route while it was in the shade. The wall it was on faced west, so we did have some time and it worked out well, as I only entered the sun on the last pitch.

I led a 4-bolt mixed route (a couple of cam placements, as well) called Salty Dog Arete. It was rated 5.9, but felt soft for the grade. Whether I was just climbing strong or the routes were over-rated, I didn't know, but I hoped it applied to Smashmouth as well. The Loobster followed it easily and in rappelling off we had ourselves a nice toprope over Crimson King - a striking crack line rated 11b/c. The start of this route is so thin that you'd half be a very small person to get your fingers into it. I fell off a number of times, as I tried to work out a way to climb the start, up to where I could get my fingers into it. I found a very powerful lieback sequence where I was on the very edge of barndooring off. In fact, I did a number of times. Above this move, I climbed it cleanly, though very near my limit. The climbing was superb and very fun, at least with my fingers taped nicely for protection.

We pulled the ropes and headed for Smashmouth before my psyche failed. I had hung all over a route rated 11b/c and now headed to a route rated 11b on and 11+ in the SuperTopo guidebook we carried. 

Smashmouth is four short pitches, with the first one being the longest at 100 feet. I climbed up a 5.6/7 corner to a ledge and then climbed a slanting tight-hands cracks rated 11a. It was hard for a move or two, but I had the power and soon it was over and I was on another ledge. I moved left and up a steep 5.9 crack to a belay on a nice stance from two bolts. 

The Loobster was purely here to support me and had no desire to try and free climb the crack. This was his choice, but I think he would have done quite well on this route. Nevertheless, he jugged up the rope and soon I was leading the next pitch, which started with a 5.10+, bolt-protected, face climbing section to a nicely featured crack. I felt the face climbing had one semi-hard move and the rest of the pitch felt more like 5.9 or maybe 10-. The pitch ended at another good stance.

The third pitch was a continuous of the crack, but it was much thinner now, mostly protected by 0.4 and 0.5 Camalots, with some 0.75 Camalots. I had four of each of these cams. The climbing was really fun, with technical, smears for the feet mostly and the crack alternated from sinker locks where I could place gear to marginal jams where I wanted to move off them quickly. 

I gained altitude steadily but was getting more and more pumped. I thought the belay was at a certain point where the angle rolled back a bit, but there were no bolts. I continued upwards with no belay in sight. The Loobster called up asking how close I was and, looking up,I saw no end in sight. Then I noticed the bolts just off to my right. I was there! I had such tunnel vision I failed to notice the bolts just two feet right of the crack.

The final pitch was supposedly the crux at 11b and I found it to be the crux. At least, it proved to be the only place I fell off. I made progress pretty nicely up until about ten feet from the final anchors. I was getting tired and had to lock off a hand jam for a huge reach past a thin section of the crack to a slopey pinch. I just didn't have it and fell off. After a brief rest, I pulled the jam even lower and reached a bit higher. This time the pinch felt reasonable and I finished cleanly to the belay. What a great climb!

I had the Loobster lower me from from the top anchors and I cleaned the pitch on the way down. This saved the Loobster from having to jug another pitch, since the descent is to rap the route. Three more short rappels and we were back at the packs. We hiked back to the bikes and the coasted down the hill back to the campground where beers, chips, and salsa awaited us.


After-advenuture weight: 158.6

First Flatiron with the Koskis

Photos Map

Today I took my sister's entire family up the First Flatiron. Sheri and Derek came along as well and proved quite valuable in helping out with the climbing. I decided on the First Flatiron as an objective since it is so iconic and it would be cool for them to say that they'd climbed it, as it is so visible from all over Boulder. The problem was our group was large: eight people. And we only had one climbing leader: me. So, I opted for the shortest route on the rock, which is the 5.4 Southwest Face, the usual downclimb off the First, if you are soloing it. This involves a pretty long hike, gaining about 1500 vertical feet, but everyone was a strong hiker and there were no complaints as we chatted up the trail.

At the base, everyone put on a harness. I have tons of harnesses and everyone got a reasonable fit except for Sami, but she was a trooper and didn't complain at all. It fit good enough to be safe, though not perfectly comfortable as her leg loops were too big and sagged down.

I only brought two 60-meter ropes, as more would be too much of a pain, but it did require a bit of simul-seconding (more than one second climbing at the same time on the same rope) for our first-time climbers. Also, this face was taller than I remembered and with the downclimb tree gone the route is longer and traverses more. I had to break up the route into three pitches to minimize the simul-seconding and this made for a very cramped first belay. I had climbers strewn all over the rock, some clipped into my anchor and others just clipped into other climbers, who were in turn clipped into the anchor.

First up was Gabi and she did remarkably well. I expected her to be the most afraid of the three girls, but she was probably the least afraid! She was very relaxed and climbed extremely well. Next up was Sami, who is generally the most fearless of the girls and she seemed pretty nonplussed by the climbing. The youngest, Missa, 12 years old, came next with Derek close behind to give any guidance. That took care of one rope and Derek dragged up the second rope behind him. On it were Kraig, carrying a pack with drinks and food that we never used due to a cold wind blowing, Brookie, and Sheri. Everyone had some trouble at a particularly awkward step around section where you had to cram yourself into a crack or swing out onto a face without much for footholds. Only Derek and I took the latter option while the others opted for the more secure but awkward crack. Kraig had it particularly tough with the pack, but he never complained and got through this section with hardly a pause. Sheri also did very well, but she is quite experienced with roped climbing.

While climbing the face we did have five people downclimb past us, including my friend Kirk. They were all cool and waited on us somewhat and climbed by carefully and watchful of our newbie climbers.

I dashed up the second pitch to an big eye-bolt anchor and a lot more space. This pitch was mostly easier, though steeper and airier, but it did have a hard section at the start that gave some of the girls some pause, but none more than Brookie. She was really second guessing her decision to do the climb and called for more tension on the rope. The problem was that she was tied to Kraig above, and he wasn't at my belay yet. He knew the score and hung on particularly hard, bracing for Brook to possibly weight the rope. I had them both on belay, but Kraig would have been pulled off the rock and sideways a bit if Brook had really fallen off. Thankfully she got it together and moved up, allowing Kraig to reach the safety of the eye-bolt and me to put Brook directly on belay.

Brook then made it the rest of the way without much trouble. Everyone shivered at the belay, as we were all in shorts and all wishing we had long pants...and down jackets! Sheri climbed so fast that Brook commented on the rate at which I pulled in rope but thankful that we'd be moving soon.

I led up to the summit, up the final steep headwall and they followed one by one. Here I could put some direct tension on each climber as they were close to me and directly below me. Everyone did great, though Missa took one look at the wall and said, "That's impossible to climb." And she did it. Derek and Kraig cruised it easily, like they had it wired, but neither climbed it before. Kraig had been climbing with me a couple of times before, but long ago, and Derek had even climbed the First Flatiron twice before, but by different routes. So Derek has now climbed the First Flatiron by three different routes. Sheri easily climbed the last section, looking very relaxed. She has climbed quite a bit but the last time was a couple of years ago.

After photos on top, it was time to lower everyone 100 feet down to the ground. Derek went first to demonstrate to everyone the proper technique. Sami went next and started absolutely perfectly, without any fanfare, but lower down she got to a tiny ledge and stood on it. Now she had to lean back all over again and it was tougher now because she wasn't as close to me. She sucked it up, though, and set a great example for the rest of her family.

Missa was next and she also did great at the start, but then had a moment lower down where she got frightened for just a bit. Descending is frequently the scariest part of climbing and it was for all the girls, but with good reason. Leaning back on a rope over a 100-foot drop is so unnatural that the body and mind rebel against it. I was so impressed how quickly they all went over the edge and how well they all did on the climb in general.

Kraig went next and it was routine and easy for him. I expected Brook to be the toughest, but she did amazingly well. She was completely composed and, while maybe not exactly relaxed, very much in control. Getting lowered like this is the ultimate act of trust in the person on the other end of the rope. I was glad they all trusted me enough to get them down safely. Sheri descended easily, as she has done this quite a few times before.

I packed up the second rope and the gear and then rappelled to the ground. We had a great time hiking out, chatting as we went. I think the first Koski Klimb went well and hope to do a few more of these throughout the summer, though possibly with more support climbers or break up into two separate groups.
What a great group. The weather was cold and windy the entire time, but there was no whining, no complaining. The climbing was steep, scary and new to them, but there was no freezing up, no requests to go down. Everyone was super positive and super pleasant! It was one of my favorite days in the Flatirons. Love it!