Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Diving Board w/Chris and Alex



Pop quiz: How many 5.14 climbers does it take to get an old, out-of-shape, 5.11a-at-his-best climber to the top of an overhanging 5.11 offwidth?

Answer: Two appears to be sufficient. With the proper 6:1 hauling system it might be possible with one 5.14 climber. I know it has been done before with just one 5.13 climber, but the climber involved was in better shape then.

On a completely unrelated note, I climbed the Diving Board this morning with Chris Weidner and Alex Honnold. Chris is well known in the Boulder area, not only for his cutting edge climbing (he just freed an old aid route called Centaur, which is just right of the Diving Board, at 5.13c), but also for his great writing, which often appears in the Boulder Camera. It turns out that this Alex guy is also some sort of famous climber, though from the way he was chatting on about biking and hiking the CA 14ers, I thought he might have been an ultra-runner. But when Alex mentioned that he might give the Longs Peak Triathlon a try, sans cord, and I said he should go for the speed record he asked, "Does that involve running? Because I won't do that. I mean, I'll do anything for speed, but I Won't Do That!"

Alex would hate the reference to Meatloaf. He's a huge Taylor Swift fan. He showed us the tattoo he got of her on his lower back - chick style. Speaking of showing his body, at one point Alex pulled up his sleeve, flexes his bicep, and says, "Check out my biker tan!" Uh, Alex, that's not a biker's tan. That's a normal tan. A biker tan is on your legs. But this is a guy who normally wears a shirt about as often as Matthew McConaughey, so any lack of tan on his upper body constituted a "biker's tan."

Speaking of biking, Alex and Cedar Wright (no relation obviously or I'd be a better climber) recently linked up all 15 California 14ers via human power (biking, hiking, and climbing) in just three weeks. It might be the first time it's been done. Andrew Hamilton did the 58 Colorado 14ers under human power in 19 days, but Cedar and Alex gave their linkup a twist that isn't likely to be repeated soon. They tried to climb the hardest route to each summit. For instance, Alex onsight soloed the 15-pitch, 10c Keeler's Needle to get to the summit of Whitney. They pair soloed the Mithril Dihedral (10a) on Russell. For the Palisades they started with a solo up Temple Crag. Dark Star (20 pitches, 10c) for Alex and Sun Ribbon Arete (17 pitches, 5.9) for Cedar. They then linked up Sill, Polemonium, North Palisade, Starlight, and Thunderbolt. The entire link-up, bike-to-bike, in 17 hours! For Langley, they onsighted a 10a route on the North Face. Like a couple of bats out of hell, they raged across the Sierra.

Alex Honnold
Okay, that was a stretch...

Oh, yeah, biking. Alex just recently rode the Death Ride. This is 125 miles of road biking and over 15,000 feet of climbing. Hans just did this also. Alex rode with his sister and he told me with some satisfaction, "And we were faster than Hans." Yeah, but Hans is more of a rock climber, Alex. Aren't you more of a cyclist?

So, what was I talking about again? Climbing, that's right. We climbed the Diving Board. Chris had never done it before, but since he'd been working the much harder Centaur right next to it, he wanted to tick it. So, why not just go climb it with Alex, right? Turns out Chris and I made plans to go climb it before Alex came along. Alex, knowing that the crux was offwidth, was hoping to grab a toprope on it, as he's been known to fall out of offwidths. Chris, an acclaimed wide master, agreed to be his guide and we were a threesome.

We met at 5 a.m. I got out of the car in my fancy new REI climbing pants and bright green tech shirt to say good morning to the lads and before I can open my mouth Alex says, "What the heck are you wearing? Waders?" Hmmm... Maybe my stretchy new pants aren't as cool as I thought they were. Later he'd say to me, "You look all ready for Europe with your fluorescent shirt and two-tone pants." I don't think that was positive comment on my fashion sense.

Chris put together the rack with my input: "I'd take doubles of everything" and Alex's: "If you take any #2's I'll be embarrassed to be roped to you." We did the short approach to the base of the Redgarden Wall. It was decided that I'd do the least damage leading and I took off up the Ramp Route. I ran out the entire rope to a ledge part-ways up the third pitch of the Redguard Route. Chris and Alex followed about ten feet apart on the end of the rope. I offered to keep leading and they quickly agreed, as they were having a very social morning, climbing along together. For a guy who is supposed to be shy, Alex is very rarely not talking. He has a lot to say and, with his lifestyle, most of it is very interesting.

For instance, the Naked Edge came up and I asked if he had climbed it. He had. In fact, he had soloed it. I wonder how many people have soloed the Edge. I can think of Jim Collins, Derek Hersey, Rolando Garibotti, and now Alex Honnold.

I led up the next 300 feet or so to start of the Diving Board. I went up to the right of the Dead Bird Flake, the way I always go, but Chris pointed out that the other side is strictly the correct way. I still haven't done that. Now that we had arrived at the hard climbing, I turned over the sharp end to Chris.
Alex belayed while I shot some photos.

When Alex arrived at my belay, he thought I had only one piece as an anchor. I moved my body to show him the other piece (which actually wasn't that good, but he didn't need to know that) and he seemed pretty happy about that. This is funny, since I had to talk Alex into even clipping into the belay. Since he was belaying Chris with the Gri-Gri and would in fact, just climb the route that way (without ever being tied directly to the rope), he figured he was secure enough.

As Chris labored above, on the dicey traverse and pumpy, overhanging crack, I quizzed Alex on his triple solo link-up in Zion. During this link-up he soloed Moonlight Buttress (11 pitches, 5.12d), Monkeyfinger (9 pitches, 12b), and Shune's Buttress (7 pitches, 11c). I'd done all three routes, albeit in slightly different style, so I was keen to hear more about it. When Alex soloed Moonlight Buttress in 2008, he blew every climber's mind. Now he solos it again, at the start of a three-wall day. He made is sound casual and said, "It's not that hard. I think it is 12b/c." He got to climb past a porta-ledge during this ascent. He got to their bivy spot, that they took at least a day of climbing to get to, in 45 minutes.

Starting the crux pitch
I tell others that Alex has the most dangerous job in the world. I'm absolutely serious about that. He is a professional climber because of his outrageous solos. He'd be the first one to tell you that many others can climb harder than he can. Alex tops out at a relatively lowly 5.14c. Okay, that isn't lowly by any standards, but, hey, chicks climb harder. Alex's livelihood is based upon solo climbs that are certain death for every other human on earth. So, what job do you think is more dangerous than that?

Chris, on the other hand, is more like me: we prefer a rope. I guess that is about where our similarities end when it comes to climbing. He works 5.14 routes. I work 5.10. On a good day, maybe I work a 5.11. But he's a super nice guy and is incredibly humble. He shows tremendous respect to all the funky Eldo classics and claims that 5.11 in Eldo always feels hard for him. I hope we get a chance to do more climbing together.

Chris set up a belay in the alcove at the top of the first pitch and Alex followed quickly and easily. Who'd have thunk it? I followed in my practiced style of bumbling feet, uncoordinated deadpoints and whimpering. I was nervous before starting up. Not only because the climbing is hard, steep, and very exposed, but because I didn't want to appear like too much of a Gumby. If you agree to climb the Diving Board, you should at least be able to come close to climbing it. I was worried I'd have to aid it.

The prospect of aiding the pitch was removed by Alex's generous cleaning of gear. He did this to make things easier on me. Little did he know that he was making it harder. All those pieces he pulled were potential handholds! With Chris giving me a nice tight belay (I'd like to think he wasn't pulling me up it, but I'm not sure about that), I was able to claw my way to the belay.

Once again I chatted with Alex while Chris did the dirty work above. Chris pointed out to me that he is no speed climber. I'd have to concur here, at least compared to Alex. Compared to me, on 5.11, he's greased lightning! Nevertheless, Chris has power to burn and he carefully worked out the deceptive and burly crux for the onsight. With the security of the toprope, Alex did well also. Now it was my turn. What's the opposite of "well"? That's what I did.

I got up to the crux, though even getting there was tiring and difficult. If you are really strong, I think you can do the Diving Board without an offwidth move, but to do that, you have to lock-off some bad holds very low. I was forced to do an offwidth move and I fell off five or six times before I got through it. Initially I'd drop five or six feet down, due to rope stretch. At one point, I climbed up and got stuck. I had a bit of slack in the rope and yelled up, "Take!" And then "Up rope!" But the rope didn't move and I fell off. To be fair, the time between me calling for tension and falling off was just a few seconds. Also, I didn't want to be yelling too hysterically for fear that Alex and Chris would think that I'd been turned into a little girl, and not the kind of little girl that sends V10, either.

By the third time I fell off, I think Chris was getting a bit annoyed or bored, as he took to taking in the rope with a bit more rigor. Each time I hung from the rope I had to weigh taking the time I need to recover some strength with the fear that my partners might think I'm unconscious. If I rested too little, I'd eventually not be able to move at all. I finally worked out a sequence of a huge reach between hand jams, some dicey foot smears, a slap to a Gaston, a pinch of the chockstone, a desperate armbar, and a hidden side-pull to finally get above that section. Thankfully my belayer hadn't nodded off and the rope kept coming tight with each incremental movement.

There is another semi-hard section above the crux, but it probably only felt hard because of the toll the crux took on my arms. I inched up to the belay to find Alex and Chris in good spirits, despite Alex's hunger. We scrambled down the slabs to the trail and hiked back to the car. Alex wanted me to go pair solo the Bastille Crack with him, but I demurred, saying I had to go to work, but the truth is that I  don't want to solo that route. I think I could do it, mentally, but the risk-reward ratio isn't there for me. And it would be too stressful to be fun, I think. If I climbed it every day for a month, then it could be fun, but not now and probably not ever.

Heading down the East Slab descent
I wonder how many 5.14 climbers it would take to get me up the North Face of the Eiger. Or Cerro Torre. I think a baker's dozen should do it. I only need to meet eleven more rock jocks, coordinate their schedules, and pretty soon you'll be reading about me on the Internets. Oh snap! Wait... I guess you are already reading this on the Internet... Well, you know what I mean, like here.

1 comment:

Sophia Wright said...

8 ft diving board are pretty good i have tried them any one can go fr this