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 Alice - trying to recreate Kelly Cordes and Jonny Copp's Triple Lindy (since superseded by Scott Bennett and Blake Herrington's Triple Lindy with a Half Twist).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.

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