Tuesday, May 14, 2013

South Face of the Maiden Before Work

I climbed the regular route (North Face) of the Maiden this past Saturday and it rekindled an interest in this most imposing Flatiron spire. I discovered a trio of new, hard (too hard for me) routes that scale seemingly impossible rock. But even the easiest routes are super cool routes. Routes like the North and South Faces (5.7 and 5.9, respectively) weave their way up steep precipices that, at first glance, do seem possible, especially without a rash of bolts. Yet both of these routes go with almost no drilled protection by finding and following the few natural weaknesses.

Tom had never climbed the exciting South Face and so I suggested a Dawn Patrol outing. We met at the South Mesa Trail at 5:30 a.m. to start the long hike in to the Maiden. Tom started up the intimidating 5.7 first pitch at 6:26 a.m. The weather was perfect, though we heard a tremendous wind above us. That would come into play a bit later.

I followed and then led the short 5.7 traverse pitch over to the base of the crux pitch. I placed one piece of gear on this very short pitch and it was about the only place you could place gear. Tom was soon starting up the crux headwall. Here there are two options, though I've only ever done the straight up, exciting option. You can go sideways via three strange looking, cemented-in, ring bolts to a crack/ramp that cuts back up and left, or you can go straight up past a hidden fixed pin to the "jug hold" above you. Tom went this way and flew up it like every hold was big and solid. It had me thinking about how this pitch is sometimes rated 5.8. I figured that must be more accurate...until I followed it.

This section is short, but it is thin, airy, and exciting. By the time you get in gear above the crux you are at least thirty feet above the pin. Granted, the hard climbing ends about 15 feet above the pin but the holds are small and either insecure or so thin that you fear they will break and opt for the insecure holds instead. It takes some balance to make the big reach to the "jug hold" and, despite having done this route at least three times before, I was disappointed to feel how fingery it was. Sure, the hold is great, but it is no door handle - it takes some finger strength. You aren't done when you get this hold either. You have to pull your feet over the bulge. This involves another reach and pulling on another small, but positive hold before you can get off your arms.

We simul-climbed the next two easy (5.5) pitches to the summit, where that wind we had been hearing was there to greet us. I got to experience the somewhat terrifying experience of dangling fifteen feet from the ends of my rope (we'll knot them next time) while looking at the ground 120-feet below me and hoping the wind will ease and I'll swing back and be able to land on the rib of rock where the next rappel anchor lies. Obviously, I did swing back, but not after some trepidation. I anchored the ends of the rope to the rappel station so that Tom didn't have to repeat my anxiety.

Another rappel put us on the ground. We pulled and coiled the rope and descended a hundred feet or so back at our packs, arriving 70 minutes after we left them. We packed up and returned to the parking lot by 8:15 a.m. and easily made our 9 a.m. meeting with plenty of time to shower. What a great way to start the day.

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