Monday, May 05, 2014

Transitioning Out of the Gym

Mark at the crux of Blind Faith

My climbing partners and I have put our gym membership on hold until November. From now on we should be able to climb outside before work, keeping up a similar schedule, only meeting in Eldo or Boulder Canyon instead of Movement.

Saturday Mark and I met at 6 a.m. and headed to Eldo for Blind Faith (10a), a burly hand crack. Jim Erickson did the first ascent of this solo. That's some confidence in your ability. We used a rope and a big rack of gear!

I led up the lower section to the crux, which is only 10-15 feet long. This is a hand crack with good jams, but it is harder than that sounds. The angle is nearly dead vertical and at the start of this section the feet are undercut so it feels overhanging. You can't get your feet into the crack until you climb up a move or two. While there is a great hand jam at the start, then there is a wide section and I had to lock off to reach by this to another good hand jam. I placed a #3 Camalot in the wide section and then either didn't have the power or the confidence or both to lock it off. I wussed out and asked Mark to take.

I rested on the Camalot and tried to figure out an easier way to do the move. I didn't come up with anything, but the rest helped and I was then able to barely claw my way onto the ledge above. As the crack rolls over onto the ledge it narrows, making the jams more tenuous. There is a face hold out on the right that helps matters, but it is still difficult to finish this off. I was disappointed to have hung on a 10a, but I also fell off the 10a Bolting For Glory the last time I climbed it, so at least I was consistently bad at the grade regardless of whether it involved greasy, sloping face holds or burly hand jams.

Mark climbed nicely up to the crux section and was as dismayed as I was with the state of things there. He rested a few times on the rope as he worked out the difficulties. We'll definitely be back, as we should have this climb solid by the time we head to the Diamond.

The tricky second pitch (5.9) went better. The hard part of this pitch is even shorter than the first pitch. It is probably five feet long and is also quite steep. The holds here are marginal and you have to get the combination of holds and footwork just right to get the finishing jug. Both Mark and I used a little deadpoint to get this hold. The rest of the pitch is fun and moderate.

We hiked down, retrieved our shoes and continued down to the base of the Bastille Crack.  A party of two was gearing up for that classic route, but agreed to let us head up first to put a toprope on the Northcutt Direct Start (11a), "if we were fast." Clearly I'm having trouble with even easy 5.10 in Eldo, but 5.8 is my speciality and I have this pitch wired. I only use one piece of gear on it, at the base of the crack, which I get to by stepping over lower than most people. This protects the one 5.8 move and then it is jugs and 5.7 hand jams to the two-bolt anchor. I was back on the ground before these guys had their shoes on. They were really nice guys. One was telling his partner about how "two young kids" just set the speed record on the Naked Edge and that he had watched the video on the web. Young kids? I think Stefan is 40+, but, yeah, compared to me, he's a young kid. He certainly climbs like one and has the energy of one.

Mark followed the first pitch of the Bastille without any trouble and then I surprised myself by firing the direct start on my first try. I have this pitch wired, but frequently that isn't enough. I certainly didn't do it easily. I barely made it, doing a couple of deadpoints to the holds around the blunt arete. Mark then gave it a go and with a couple of rests, was able to make the top and clean my draws off the anchor.

I needed to be home by 10 a.m. to go riding with Erik Weihenmayer, so we called it a morning and headed for a bagel.

We were in Eldo again early Monday morning. After our thrashing on the 10a Blind Faith, I figured Mark would suggest an easier route, maybe a 5.8 or 5.9 crack climb. Alas, Mark has been transformed via his season in the gym. He wanted more 5.10 and suggested Tagger (10b/c). This has been one of my nemesis climbs in Eldo. I've fallen off it more times than I've redpointed it. But I am familiar with it.

I led up the first pitch (5.9) with slightly cold fingers. I placed more gear than usual, as it has been awhile and my confidence was still a bit shaken from Saturday. I felt solid, though, and soon had Mark on belay. He mainly wanted to do this route because the last time he had tried this first pitch, it did not go well. He said, "I couldn't do anything on it." This time, he was completely clean. He did confess to maybe thirty feet of concentrated effort, but he moved nicely up to and over the roof. This pitch is canonical Eldo - tricky moves on holds that all point the wrong way or are marginal, with technical, smearing footwork. Fun stuff.

At the belay, I gave Mark the beta on the second pitch, ad nauseam. Halfway through my description I realized I was saying this more for my benefit than for his. I was talking myself into the exact sequence I'd use and trying to convince myself I'd get it. Sufficiently confident, I started up, climbing the lower part up to the roof methodically. The climbing up to the roof it only 5.6 or so. At the roof, I placed a small cam below it and then clipped the pin and backed it up to a slightly wobbly yellow Alien. After taking a while to suss it out, I launched up it, grabbing the sloping hold that juts out in the middle of the roof. I executed the tricky footwork, matched on the jutting hold and got the left hand jam at the lip of the roof. I hung off that and placed my #2 Camalot. Once clipped I was completely safe. I kicked up my right foot onto the underside of the roof, grabbed the face hold over the lip and had no trouble pushing myself left and over the roof.

I set up a belay right there so that Mark wouldn't have too much rope stretch in case he came off, but also because the rope drag on the next thirty feet of 5.8 can be heinous. Mark scampered up to the roof easily and quickly. He took out the pieces in the roof, besides the Camalot, which he couldn't reach, and after a bit said, "No way." I commiserated with him. The sequence here looks improbable. The footholds on the face are difficult to imagine, let alone use. I tried to give him the detailed beta, but it wasn't enough. Mark used a judicious pull on a piece to get to the hand jam and the hold over the lip and he finished from there.

He wasn't that disappointed. It would have been great to free climb it, but he wanted to make sure he could get up it by whatever means were necessary. When we climb the Diamond, we'll try to free climb it, but it will be a success even if we weight gear or, heaven forbid, have to pull on a piece.

The final thirty feet to the walk-off ledge went easily and we were driving out of Eldo before 8:30 a.m. We'll be back in there on Wednesday and with consistent practice, we'll get these routes clean.

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