Monday, July 28, 2014

Red Wall on Chasm View Wall

Mark belaying high on the Red Wall

The Red Wall on Chasm View Wall was Mark and my last training climb before the Diamond and it proved challenging. Some people consider this route to be tougher than the Casual Route and that doesn't seem unreasonable. We'll find out soon enough as we head for the Diamond this coming week.

We met at 3:30 a.m. and were hiking by 4:30 a.m. We went up the shortcuts and I found it a little tougher to stay on the best route in the dim light of my headlamp. I carried a mini-haulbag with the gear and Mark carried both ropes. I felt only a bit guilty that he carried more weight. We pretty much had everything with us that we'll take on the Diamond. The only changes I'll make from today will be to wear my warmer pants, bring another bottle of liquid, and bring a wall-hauler to make hauling the bag a bit easier. The rack should remain the same.
Approaching the route via 4th class terrain
As we approached the base of the wall, we could see lots of parties up on the Diamond. A party on Pervertical Sanctuary was already at the top of the first pitch. They must have started super early. As painful as it is to start in the middle of the night, it increases your chance of success and lowers your stress, since we've been getting afternoon storms with great regularity. We have no desire to be in the middle of the Diamond during a storm, so we'll toughen up and leave super early.

Traversing the ledge at the top of the first pitch

We cut hard right near the base of the east face and headed toward Chasm View Wall. This is the wall beneath the connecting ridge between Longs Peak and Mount Lady Washington and it is exceedingly steep - as steep as the Casual Route. We started by scrambling up fourth class terrain until we felt the need to switch to roped climbing. Even though we did one section a bit beyond our comfort range, at least in our running shoes, we still stopped short of the base of the route. I found this out when my first pitch ended there.

Our second pitch, the route's first pitch, is rated 5.7 and it heads up a low-angle ramp that is four feet wide. The ramp gradually steepens, but it's tricky even at a low angle as it is polished smooth and there are very few handholds and only a thin,  intermittent crack for gear and fingers. At the top of the ramp was a short, steep jamcrack leading to a big ledge. I didn't stop here, though, and traversed the thin ledge fifty feet left to the base of the second pitch.

Mark carried the pack up this first pitch since it traversed so much, but afterwards we switched to strict hauling. The second pitch started off with some brilliant 5.8 jamming up a super clean crack. A short squeeze chimney elicited some grunting but I was soon into a broken, ledgy section. At the start of this section was one of the ancient, rusted, quarter-inch bolts that we saw on this route. I stopped here to haul the pack up, so as to avoid dragging it up the lower angled terrain above me. Just as the pack arrived at my stance, I shifted and dislodged a volleyball-sized rock. It tumbled straight for Mark and I screamed, "Rock!" Mark looked to see this projectile speeding straight for his head. Luckily he was right next to an overhang and ducked underneath it. Yikes!
Heading up the 5.8 crack on the second pitch

Mark did a great job following this pitch. The start was pure hand jamming for me and I thought it might give Mark some trouble. He's done lots of jamming pitches this summer, though, and he not only didn't have any trouble, but loved the climbing. I belayed from tiered ledges and so it was easy to organize the ropes. That wouldn't be the case for the next two belays.

The next pitch was the infamous Death Flake pitch. This is a huge flake, forty feet high, twenty feet wide, and about six inches thick. It is only attached to the wall at its base and freaks a lot of people out, with good reason. Some 5.9 climbing led up to the Death Flake itself and I climbed up a unique 1-foot wide inset. I liebacked off the left side of the inset and jammed my feet into the right side, which was wider. Just as I started this section I got a sharp pain in the palm of my left hand. It felt like I pulled tendon there. Ouch. I almost reversed down to a stance to make sure I was okay, but after a bit I was able to use that hand without pain again.

I set up a hanging belay just above the flake. All the belays on this route were gear belays. There was sometimes a single, rusted quarter-inch bolt, but not only was it placed in an inconvenient location, but it was placed where it was difficult to supplement it with other gear. Hence, they were nearly useless and a bit baffling. Using gear in each belay certainly cut down on the amount of gear I could place during the pitch and I was thankful that most of the pitches weren't very long.

While Mark was climbing the Death Flake pitch (and enjoying it quite a bit), I was above making a mess of the haul line. This was the first pure hanging belay and I tried to take a shortcut with the haul-line stacking, but I realized it would be nearly impossible for Mark to feed me the rope on the next pitch. Not swinging leads like we were doing added a bit of complexity to the rope management. Since I was belaying Mark in guide-mode with my device, I was able to straighten out the rope mess by the time Mark arrived at the belay.
Climbing onto the "Death Flake"
The next pitch was the listed crux pitch, though it would not be the crux for us. This is a bizarre pitch. Fun climbing led up to the left side of a roof. It might possible to keep climbing up the left side, but it must either be too difficult or maybe the protection runs out because the route then goes sideways, under this roof, to the right side. Underclinging along the entire roof, which caps a couple of dihedrals, appears to be an option, though that looks to be pretty hard, probably 5.10+ or harder. I suspect it has been done that way, maybe as often as not, because the other option is unintuitive.

To keep the climbing at 10a, the Rossiter route description says to span into the first dihedral under the roof and then climb down it! This is precarious as the dihedral has almost no holds. It isn't very steep, though, so that you can friction down with your feet and using tiny holds in the seam/crack. I did this with a piece above me and placed one piece in a crack on my right on the way down. I downclimbed twenty feet at least and then made a difficult span to another crack, climbed up that to a stance and then back up the other dihedral under the roof until I hit the roof. Here I set up a hanging belay from gear. Crazy!
Starting up the "crux" pitch

Mark followed nicely up to the roof and did this move into the first dihedral. Once he pulled the top piece he was above gear for about four or five feet of dicey downclimbing. He held it together nicely and got down to my last piece. I didn't place any gear after that piece in order to give Mark a nice toprope belay and to reduce what would have probably been crippling rope drag. Mark executed the span move and climbed to the stance. He let out a whoop of joy for having onsighted the 10a pitch. Our spirits soared, though only briefly.

The next pitch proved to be by far the most difficult. It started with burly tricky moves, turning the right corner of the roof. I placed a yellow Alien at the lip of the roof, directly above Mark, and then tried to lieback the thin crack that continues above the lip while pressing my feet against an adjacent crack two feet further right. This right crack was a tough width - off-fingers and I liebacked that as well. I had no footholds on the left, as they were still below the roof and the wall was blank. I tried putting both feet against the right crack and a move or two higher one foot popped off and I fell!

It wasn't a long fall, but it was unexpected, though I was working hard and pretty desperate. I fell a couple feet down onto the yellow Alien and onto Mark as well. He caught me expertly as we jumbled together, all hanging from gear 600 feet up a vertical wall. I quickly got straightened out and back on the rock. Mark asked if I wanted to back down to rest and suss things out, but I decided to continue. I was disappointed that I made that mistake on a pitch rated 5.9 and needed to get back on and fix things. This time I just put one foot in the right crack and bridged, initially with my left knee on the lip of the roof. This allowed me to place another piece before cranking a hard move that allowed me to stem my left foot at the lip of the roof. Whew! Easier climbing for about ten feet led to another crux section.
On the crux pitch
The crack closed down to just intermittent, flared finger/thin hand jams. A really hard section was just three or four feet where I had to make the tenuous jams hold so that I could smear my left foot and step up to a good foothold with my right. I said, "Watch me," and executed the move. But I wasn't at a good stance and kept going to what I thought was a better stance. Things didn't get much better and, now runout and pumped, I struggled to place a good piece. Once I did that, I repeated the mistake again, getting too high above gear, thinking better holds were above. I was at least fifteen feet above gear placing my next piece and a bit stressed as the pump clock ticked. I got in a piece moved up five more feet to a better hold and placed another piece.

I arrived at a bulge and knew the route went right again, below another roof. This move wasn't that hard and I found another ancient, terribly-located quarter-inch bolt. This was the end of the pitch, but it was a terrible location and I didn't want to set up another awkward, time-consuming hanging belay. Above was a flared chimney with a tight hand crack in the back. I jammed this with my right hand and chimneyed up the flare using feet/back technique. In less than twenty feet I was on the big ledge that cuts across the top of Chasm View Wall - the ledge we had traversed a month ago. I could see the 5.7 exit to my right and knew the climbing was all but done.

I hauled the bag and put Mark on belay, trying to keep the rope very tight as I knew he'd be climbing very tough moves off the belay with 140-feet of rope above him. If he fell early, rope stretch would put him back at the belay or even lower. This wasn't news to Mark, he cranked for all he was worth, getting through the section where I fell clean. He had cleanly climbed higher on the wall than I did.
Wasted at the top of the real crux pitch
He did fall off at the flaring crux above and dropped four feet due to rope stretch. He had to fight very hard to regain that lost elevation and the rest of the pitch proved to be a constant battle against gravity, with Mark eeking out a desperate victory. He pushed harder in the next one hundred feet than he's ever gone before. He came to the very edge of falling at least half a dozen times, but somehow adhered to the cliff. He got to the base of the chimney, nearly completely gone. It took quite a while before he could muster the effort for the final twenty feet. When he arrived at my ledge he bent over, gasping for air and struggling to recover some composure. He barked out, "I need a drink!" While he had been doing some eating while we climbed, he hadn't had anything to drink. I'd been doing just the opposite, drinking out of the convenient Camelback hose we had snaking out of our haul bag, but not able to easily get to my food.

I coiled the haul line while Mark recovered. The booms of thunder and the dark skies above us had spurred on Mark's climbing on the previous pitch and it now deprived us of some badly needed rest, as we rushed to escape Chasm View Wall before we were trapped by a storm. I led off the mostly easy and familiar 5.7 pitch to the top of the wall. I had Mark on belay immediately, as I dropped down into a slot to use my body as a belay anchor. It started to rain on me and this quickly turned to a driving, slightly painful hail storm, as Mark traversed the wall. I had placed as much gear to protect the traverse as I could, but there were extended sections of easy climbing where Mark couldn't fall. He didn't, climbing most of this pitch in the hail.
Traversing off the top of Chasm View Wall on the last pitch
By the time Mark joined me, the hail had stopped, but the skies were still threatening. We took just 15 minutes to pack up our gear, put on more clothes, eat and drink before setting off. We wanted to get below treeline before the lightning started. That was still 2000 feet below us.

I led the way, carefully, so that I wouldn't slip in the wet talus and twist an ankle or bash my shin. I suspect my pace was too slow for an anxious Mark, but I kept it slow as I didn't trust my footing or agility. When a huge lightning bolt struck just above us, I did increase my pace but only for a five or ten minutes and no other strikes occurred.

The rest of the hike out was routine and we relived the climb on the way down, passing the arduous miles nicely. Mark said he won't be climbing that route again. That last hard pitch scarred him pretty deeply, but it will heal. He climbed exceptionally well and enjoyed all the climbing, save one pitch. He very much knows what he's doing up there. He changes over quickly, he racks and cleans efficiently. He managed both ropes great and belayed expertly, catching a very difficult fall into him. Despite never before climbing on such a sheer wall with multiple hanging belays, he never got nervous, at least outwardly. And he never talked of retreat. Maybe next year we'll both be raring to go back and clean up our ascent. Maybe...

The hay is in the barn. All the training and all the training climbs are done. We will now wait for a favorable weather report and then head to the Diamond to finish off this nearly year-long quest.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Grand Giraffe

Starting up the crux pitch

The Casual Route on the Diamond has two sections of wide crack climbing. The first is a short, awkward slot on the second or third pitch, after the traverse. The second is on the penultimate crux pitch, where one wriggles up a squeeze chimney and then does some offwidth moves to escape via a Bombay exit. Wide crack climbing was the last technique for Mark to practice before the big day. One of the best choices for this in Eldorado Canyon is the Grand Giraffe. This is a 5 or 6 pitch route on the Redgarden Wall and the crux pitch is a 10a off width and leads to more squeeze/offwidth climbing. The wide climbing on this pitch is considerably tougher than anything he'd see on the Diamond, so if he could get up this, he would be fine high on Longs Peak.

I'd climbed this route earlier in the year with Stefan, knew just what to do at the crux, and was confident. Hence, I only brought one #3 Camalot - my standard Eldo rack. I can afford to go without any wide gear because I trust the pin protecting the crux. Also, because if I fell onto the pin, I figured it wouldn't be very forceful, as likely it would be sliding back down the offwidth and gently weighting the pin. But I wasn't going to fall. 

I needed to be into work by 9 a.m. so Mark and I met at 5 a.m. We were hiking in dim light by 5:15 a.m. I brought one kneepad for each of us. The last time I climbed it I bruised my left knee a bit and wanted to avoid reliving that. I was in short sleeves and it was already hot climbing up the Lower Ramp. Once we started climbing, though, the temperatures were perfect. We were never hot because of the early hour and that we were in the shade the entire time. I put the first two pitches together into one pitch, which still was only 125 feet long. The start is some thin 5.8+ crack/stemming climbing and that leads to tricky 5.9 climbing between two slanting cracks. Mark found this upper part pretty taxing, but he did a great job in climbing it without falls, onsight. 

The next pitch is a fun 5.6 pitch that goes up a big chimney (no real chimney technique required) and out onto a featured face. I set up a bomber belay from a couple of cams and brought Mark up to my stance. Above us was the business. I gave Mark all the instruction and beta I could think of, as this was a learning session, not an onsight attempt. I told him it was a "left-side-in" off width and to clear all the gear from his left side. I told him about arm bars, chicken wings, heel-toe, and, for this route, the absolutely essential knee-lock. I somewhat enjoy the misery of off widths, like I enjoy climbing on a bike. Unfortunately my cycling climbing and my offwidth climbing have another thing in common: I'm mediocre at both. I pretty much top out at 10a/b when it comes to wide cracks, so I'm quite familiar with the frustration that comes when you hit your skill/fitness limit on an offwidth. When you hit this limit upward progress seems to be impossible. 

I squirmed up into the slot and oozed up just a bit until I could clip the pin. I showed Mark just where to put his feet and then got my left arm chicken wing and my right hand Gastoning on edge of the crack. I then got a thigh/knee jam with my left leg and was then able to stem my right foot over to the key foothold out on the right face. That was hard move number one. The only other hard move is the next move. With right foot pushing me against the left wall and my hands in the same configuration, only slightly higher, I pulled out my left leg and lifted it as high as I could, past the constriction that requires you to pull out your knee. Once above this constriction, I shoved my knee, protected by my pad, back into the crack and it locked in solid. At that point the crux was over and I'd never have to remove my knee/thigh from the crack again. The rest of the pitch is straight forward wide crack groveling. 

Once above the crux, Mark said, "Well, that didn't look too bad." I paused and warned him, "I doubt it will go like that for you. Despite what it looked like, it is subtle climbing that is very rarely done right the first time. Really strong climbers with no offwidth technique can sometimes still climb them clean but using 5.12 face holds on a 5.9 offwidth. Heck, the 5.14-redpointing Huber brothers failed to onsight 5.11a offwidth up on El Cap. Offwidth climbing is an acquired taste and it's definitely an acquired skill, even at this grade.

I set up a bomber belay on the ledge above and then lower myself down so that I could watch and instruct Mark. It went about like I expected it would go. He didn't onsight the pitch, but he worked hard and he used the right techniques and he made progress. I think he only fully weighted the rope once, which is dang good for a tricky crux like this. At least he got a taste for what he'll be getting into up on the East Face. Once by the crux, Mark moved nicely up the route and turned the little roof/bulge at the top with aplomb. 

We romped up the Upper Grand Giraffe in one 230-foot pitch (some simul-climbing). Mark arrived at the top with a wide grin. He called that last pitch the creme brûlée dessert after eating his offwidth vegetables. Once we got on the East Slabs on the descent, the sun hit us and though the thermometer only said 79 degrees it felt like 95 to me. It was only 8:15 a.m. and already it was too hot to climb in Eldo. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Bolting for Glory Redux

At the top of the crux of Bolting for Glory
Photos (currently no other photos here - camera missing)

Last week Mark and I went back to Blind Faith for the third time and today I went back to Bolting for Glory for the third time this season. It was just Mark's second trip, but he had a very rough first visit. Fresh from the gym and really strong, he was quite disappointed to fall off this 10a multiple times and even have to pull on two of the draws to get through it. There is absolutely nothing in common between Bolting for Glory and gym climbing. Mark was much better prepared today, having been climbing twice a week in Eldo for the past three months.

We did the short approach to the route, finding the bushes as lush as I've ever seen them. We've had a lot of rain this year. I geared and zipped up the first pitch of Touch and Go (8+). I had run out less than half a rope length, but I stopped anyway, as I knew Mark wanted to watch me climb Bolting for Glory. We brought our 7mm static haul line along to practice with it and to get all the kinks out of it.

Mark followed nicely and I start up Bolting for Glory. This route is a bit exciting before the first bolt, but I got in a small cam to protect the climbing up it. Then it is exciting again getting to the second bolt as a fall for just below it would get you down pretty close to the ledge. Once I clipped that second bolt, I was more relaxed, as I knew I was safe. I got up to and clipped the third bolt easier than my other attempts and felt I had no trouble with the route. But then I did have a spot of trouble getting my foot up on the big holds at the end of this crux section. My rack was obscuring a foothold on the left, which Mark used nicely, and I had to do a very high step, putting my foot where my hand was mantling. I didn't fall off, though. I then finished directly above the fourth bolt instead of going hard left and then up, which is easier.

Mark went nicely up to the first bolt. He paused a bit before committing to the insecure, balance moves up to the second bolt, but was soon there. The moves up to the third bolt are what I consider to be the crux. Mark solved the footwork problem and even grasped the crux-finishing hold, though he didn't like it much. He tried to stretch for a better hold instead of standing up on his feet and he slipped off. On his second try, he got it easily and finished the route without any trouble. He glad to see such massive improvement on this route, but mostly he was a bit disappointed to not get it completely clean, after being so close.

We did one rappel to the with our two long ropes and packed up for the hike out. Apparently I left my camera behind here, as I've still not found it in my car or Mark's. :-(

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Cathedral Spires Trifecta

On top of the Petit Grepon

Don't you just love it when a plan comes together? Mark and I experienced a nearly perfect day in the mountains today. Heck, maybe it was perfect.

Our goal was to climb the Petit Grepon via the 50CC South Face route. I'd done it at least four previous times, including a before-work ascent with Stefan in under four hours car-to-car, but Mark's only attempt had ended just above the crux pitch when weather forced a retreat. On that climb Mark had considerable trouble with the crux pitch, as well. He really wanted to go back and finish this off. 

With a stellar weather report we figured the route would be jammed and we went prepared to climb the alternate Southwest Corner, which at 5.9 was a grade harder than our intended route. I figured Mark, the absolute master of the early start, would want to be hiking at 4 a.m. which meant meeting about 2:30 a.m. Hence, I was elated when I got the text to meet at 4 a.m. instead. We'd just have to deal with the crowds. Construction closures on 36 forced us to drive the long way via highway 7, but Mark's M5 and LeMans driving got us to the trailhead in record time an in tact. The crowded parking didn't bode well, but everything would work out. We were hiking by 5:30 a.m.
The Petit Grepon (on the left) and the Saber, from Sky Pond.
Though I'm slower these days, I'm still used to passing other parties and today wasn't any different. We passed two guys headed for the Sharkstooth first. We'd see these two later in the day and, though I didn't recognize him at the time, I knew one of them. Page climbed at Movement and we've chatted often but he was now sporting a big beard. The next party we passed was heading for the Southwest Corner of the Saber. I route I knew. Tom and I did it when we linked up the Petit Grepon, Saber, and Sharkstooth one day. It's a an exciting route that seems harder than its 10a rating.

At Glass Lake, we passed a couple gearing up at their tent. They were headed for the Petit, but they were now behind us. On the far side of Sky Pond, right below the Petit, we passed two chicks strapping on their helmets and also headed for the Petit. Above us the Petit was completely devoid of climbers. Or so we thought. 

We geared quickly at the base, not wanting to hold up the parties behind us. We both climbed with packs, as we planned to go over the saddle behind the spire and descend via the Gash. In the back of our minds was a possible ascent of Sharkstooth if the weather and our energy held. Just before I started up we spied another team above us to the left, taking the more traditional start, which avoids a pitch of nice slab climbing. We weren't the first team on the wall...yet.

I strung together the first two pitches or so into a 400-foot lead with Mark simul-climbing below. This enabled us to go right past the other team as they were still belaying the second up their first pitch. I led another 120-foot pitch up to a big ledge. Here I drank and ate a bit while belaying Mark with my auto-blocking belay device. When Mark arrived I was ready to go and led another 130 feet to the base of the crux pitch. The climbing on these pitches is so good. The rock is so solid and so clean. Handholds and footholds magically appear just where you want them.
At the "Pizza Pan" belay, high on the Petit Grepon
The crux pitch has two starts and I've gotten into the habit of alternating which one I take. On the right is a runout 5.7/8 up less steep slabs. Straight up is 5.9-, I think, but protected by a small cam. I went straight up this time and felt solid. Above is very steep, but super cool crack climbing with an abundance of nice face holds. I felt very comfortable here and was soon on the big ledge atop the pitch. While belaying Mark I watched another party on the Southwest Corner of the Saber. This couple must have started very early, as we didn't see them until now. I could see the other Saber team below, climbing the moderate ground to the big ledge at the start of the hard climbing. Below them was yet another team. So, we had three Saber teams and four Petit teams and Mark and I were now above them all, able to climb comfortable at our pace.

Mark absolutely cruised the crux pitch. He climbed it so easily and so fast that at the top, he asked me, "Is this the same crux pitch that all South Face variations take?" He was half convinced that we'd taken some easier way up to the ledge, not expecting to be so comfortable on it. I guess the training is paying off.

Above was virgin ground for Mark and it is the steepest, most aesthetic of the entire route. The position here is outrageous. The higher you climb the thinner the spire becomes until you can grab both sides of the it at the same time. Mark's ear-to-ear grin would betray his true feelings if he wasn't already gushing about how great the climbing was and how much fun he was having. 
The Sharkstooth
We topped out after three hours of climbing and did the first rappel off the top. We only had one rope, so we had to scramble down the extremely exposed ridge twenty feet to the next anchor. It was then that I remembered my desire to climb the Pen Knife, which is sort of the twin summit of the Petit. It rises to the north from the saddle after the first rappel. I put in an anchor and started up the south ridge.

The guidebook mentions this spire, but the route listed is on the north side. I did find a piton on my south side route, though, and found lots of good gear on the 100-foot 5.6 pitch. I stood on the tiny summit, which was possibly a bit higher than the Petit's summit. Here I found a rappel anchor and when Mark joined me on top, we did two short rappels to the north and scrambled up to the saddle between the Saber and the Sharkstooth. This avoided the 5.5 pitch you normally have to climb to get up here. 

We took a short break to eat and drink. While doing so we watched Page and his partner climb the Northeast Ridge of the Sharkstooth. After just ten minutes of so, Mark, still overflowing with energy, shoulders the rope and starts scrambling up the Southeast Gully route on the Sharkstooth. I followed at a considerably slower pace, feeling very winded and tired. Climbing unroped I had no excuses to stop and place gear, thereby getting in a short breather. 
Nearing the top of the Pen Knife, with the Petit in the background
On top of the Pen Knife
Mark soloed right past the first rappel anchor, up to the first real climbing section and started flaking the rope. I eventually joined him, breathing hard, and took over the lead. We simul-climbed the remaining 450-feet (this route is rated 5.4) to the summit in 20 or 30 minutes, finishing off an unexpected Trifecta! The weather remained perfect, as it had the entire morning. It was just 12:30 p.m. We downclimbed to the first rappel anchor, arriving just as Page was rappelling down. We then rapped 100 feet to the end of our rope and downclimbed 3rd class terrain to the next rappel anchor, where I finally recognized Page, helped considerably by noticing his name printed on his helmet. Page allowed us to rappel his line from there. They had two ropes and this rappel was so long I wondered if they were both 70 meters. We downclimbed off from there while Page and his partner set up the final rappel.
The Peit Grepon from the summit of the Pen Knife
I arrived back at the saddle just in time to protect my stashed gear from a marauding marmot. We ate and drank a bit more before starting down into the Gash and hiking back to the car. We arrived after 9h36m after we left and the weather was still perfect. What a day it was to be in the mountains. We have one more training climb planned before tackling the Diamond. We're going to try the intimidating and difficult Red Wall on Chasm View Wall next Saturday. This route is much shorter than the Casual Route, but it is also more difficult. If we can get up this route, we should be ready for the Diamond.
Fearless marmot

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Blind Faith: Three Times the Charm?

Happy to be at the top of Blind Faith
Last weekend when Mark was descending after climbing the Bastille Crack with his daughter Mallory, he watched a climber totally walk the crux of Blind Faith and only jam the crack with his left side. He wanted another go and this year I, embarrassingly, still hadn't led both pitches clean on the same day. We met early and hiked around the corner of the Bastille, out of the wind, to the base.

I cruised up the first pitch, feeling strong on the upper jams. This pitch is getting pretty familiar, as it was my third time up it this year. Mark climbed easily up to the crux and pulled the #3 Camalot that protects the last section. But then he stalled out. He's just unable to lock off his jams and reach either another hold or another jam. It's unfortunate that we can't work this section more easily. I'd love to be able to climb the moves with him watching and then just step back and have him try it. But since the moves are a hundred above the ground with no ledge below it, this isn't very easy to do.

Mark eventually worked out a new finish to the pitch, where he goes further to the right. I'm not sure if he even wants to return to this route and work out the clean ascent. The route has served it's purpose, though. We've got some good jamming practice and the Casual Route's crux is easier than this pitch, so at least we have that going for us.

This time I didn't rush blindly through the tricky crux on the second pitch and worked out a very nice solution that kept me on my feet for all but one move that didn't feel too insecure. Alas, Mark didn't have much luck on it. Ironically, my success on the pitch was due to Mark's suggestion. He'd worked out an easier way to do it last time, but couldn't pull it off today. Maybe he was still tired from the first pitch.

Despite only doing two pitches, we called it a morning and headed to work.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Over the Hill

Mark high on the third pitch of Over the Hill

Mark suggested Over the Hill this morning and I immediately agreed. Mark had climbed the route once before, over a decade ago. We hiked up to the Rincon wall and found Nate Beckwith and his partner gearing up to climb the first pitch of the Center Route so that they could toprope the Evictor. I've known Nate only electronically, but from way back in the days of rec.climbing. He recognized me and introduced himself. Obviously he is still climbing very strong. 

We geared at the base and I led up the first pitch, which I always link to the second pitch, since they are short. I backed off the crux moves (10a) once and barely scraped through on my second try. I don't think I did it the easiest way, but I didn't trust my feet stemming on the polished right wall. Still my legs and core were getting worked over. The upper crux, rated harder (10b), went a bit easier for me, though still pretty desperate.

I belayed from two shiny bolts that weren't there the last time I climbed this route. It seems they were installed so that you could rap off after these first two pitches. We wouldn't be rapping, though, as the 5.9 third pitch is stellar climbing. Mark looked really good on both cruxes, but came off. After he came off on the first crux, he figured out the key: get the left leg on the best possible foothold and press on it hard while palming the right wall. It worked well for him and this is the proper way to do the crux, I believe, as he looked way better than I did with my crazy thrutching. On the upper crux, Mark forgot this technique and came off again. When he went back to this general strategy, he cruised it.

The third pitch is super neat trad climbing, but it is handy to have some stoppers to protect it, as the crack is quite thin. I forgot the stoppers, but was able to scrape by with the two biggest RPs and my two smallest Aliens. Mark followed nicely and we called it a morning.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Mooning the Naked Edge

Atop the second pitch of the Naked Edge. Can't you tell?
Strava (extremely uninteresting - only wore watch so that I could vainly post it)

When Stefan sent out the email looking for a partner to climb the Naked Edge by the light of the full moon I noticed all the hardmen among the addressees. I seemed to be the lone Gumby and therefore felt little danger in responding that I was game but that there would be no hard feelings if he found someone better/faster/sooner, as he wanted to do the climb either on Saturday or Sunday night and I would only be available on Sunday night. Even when Stefan confirmed that we'd be doing the climb, I wasn't too concerned. I had a busy weekend lined up with the Silver Rush 50 on Saturday and climbing Harvard and Columbia with Derek on Sunday before driving back home. The dread didn't start to build until the drive home from the mountains when I remembered committing to this crazy venture.

I've built my reputation, meager though it may be, on the backs of my much stronger partners. I've done Nose-in-a-Day with Hans Florine. Hans could do NIAD with refrigerator and I contributed about as much to our ascent as that appliance. I did a winter ascent of the Diamond with Phil Gruber, contributing even less. Stefan towed me back to Boulder at the end of our Longs Peak Triathlon. When I volunteered for this outing I was hoping by increase my status by riding on Stefan's coattails once again.

The Naked Edge is a very comfortable climb for Stefan. Heck, until recently he and Jason owned the speed record on the route. Not so for me. I've probably climbed the route 15 times now and done it all clean a grand total of twice. I worried about even getting up the route at all in the dark. I meant to bring ascenders and forgot them.

At home on Sunday evening, tired from getting up at 4:30 a.m. and doing 15 miles and 5700 vertical feet on two fourteeners, my wife asked me, "Can you back out?" No, I couldn't back out, though I wanted to badly. At that point I didn't want to climb the Naked Edge in the dark. I wanted to have climbed the Naked Edge in the dark. At that point I was more than a bit apprehensive.

I met Stefan outside the park, as it is closed at night, a little before 10 p.m. I waffled, saying I was having second thoughts. Stefan's psyche could not be repressed though. I told him about my weekend, hoping he'd take pity. No dice. I mentioned the lightning flashes I saw off to the south on the drive in. He said they were well away from the area. I offered the Bastille Crack as an alternative and I he pretended not to hear me. So off we went into the dark.

At the base of the route Stefan asked if I wanted a belay on any of the approach pitches. Yes, please. Though the climbing up to the 5.8 cave pitch is only 5.6 or so I'd never soloed it and wasn't about to start in the dark. We simul-climbed up to the base of the Edge. I was still nervous, but the climbing up to there went smooth enough.

Stefan has this route down. He went up the first pitch deliberately and precisely. Even in the dark he only placed four pieces of gear. I didn't like this. These piece of gear are my handholds. When the rope continued to pull through my belay device, long after he should have been at the first belay, I knew he was stringing the first two pitches. I didn't like that either. It meant I'd drop a long ways due to rope stretch if I came off the 5.11 section above. Stefan had finally convinced me to head up by saying, "If things aren't going well, we'll just rap off." The top of the second pitch is the decision point because you can't rap off from the top of the third pitch with only one rope. As I started up I silently vowed to turn us around.

Then something strange happened. I climbed pretty well. Yes, I grabbed the gear, but there wasn't much to grab and I climbed to the first belay without waiting the rope. Climbing in the dark eliminates any exposure anxiety as you can't see more than twenty feet. I continued the slab on the second pitch and did the balancy move around the arete to the 10b crux. There was no gear to grab here and it was difficult to find the required tiny footholds, but I made the belay without falling. My attitude had changed now. I was finally committed. Above loomed the hardiest and scariest climbing for me, but it somehow seemed closer than the base.

The third pitch is rated 5.8 and it is mostly pretty easy, but once again the move around the arete is tricky and we both thought it was tougher in the dark. There are tricky moves that switch from one side of the Edge to the other on pitches two, three, and five. Each one gets my attention.

On the fourth pitch, which Stefan calls the crux, he had his only moment of anxiety. It isn't the insecure chimney moves that give him pause but the very dicey dihedral below. Here, due to the dark, he inadvertently stepped on the cord of the fixed cam. It was squishy and his foot rolled on top of it at the worst possible time. He pulled off the move, but immediately said, "That was scary!" Thank goodness he got to experience some of what I was going through.

For me this pitch is easiest of the three 5.11 pitches. It's still desperate for me, though. Even in the dark, I was able to get into the chimney without taking the pendulum fall I feared. The last 10c moves to the belay were much harder than usual as my headlamp angle was not revealing the footholds well. This is why so many trail runners use a handheld light instead of a headlamp. Climbers don't have that option, however. I slapped and deadpointed my way to the belay and we only had the crux pitch to go - by far the hardest pitch on the route for me.

As Stefan started the last pitch he tells me, "Here's how to do the crux at only a 5.9 level." Then he proceeded to use a 5.11 sloper/crimper hold. After doing the move he concedes, "Well, maybe it's 5.10..." He made it look like 5.9. He made it look a lot easier than I did and I grabbed two draws to get through this. Stefan motored to the top, placing a #1, #2, and #3 Camalots on the overhanging hand crack. He even put slings on the first two pieces to help me get through it. It wasn't enough. I got nearly up to the #2 Camalot before falling off and dropping down about ten feet. The good part was that I got to practice that section again. On my second time up, I replaced the #1 Camalot and stepped in a draw. It didn't get me up to the #2 and I actually had to do a bit of crack climbing there. Horrors!

At the top I was elated to have made it. Even though this was pretty trivial climbing for Stefan, he was pleased to have accomplished his goal of climbing it via moonlight. We took care in descending the East Slabs and then slowly made our way down the trail back to the bridge and our cars. We did the roundtrip in almost exactly three hours. This was faster than when I did the route with Hans earlier this year. Things go faster when only one person is actually freeing the route. Even in the dark, apparently.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Harvard and Columbia w/Derek

Derek getting run off the ridge between Harvard and Columbia

I've now climbed Mt. Harvard, Colorado's third highest peak, three times and Mt. Columbia four times. The first time I did both peaks, I ran Harvard and then made the low traverse to Columbia while Sheri ran Harvard only. That was probably a decade ago and I made the summit of Harvard in 1h58m. I won't be besting that time in this life. I climbed Columbia again with Sheri, taking a very pleasant route from the east side. Last year I climbed both with Danny and Sheri while Derek was off rafting in the Grand Canyon. Actually, I only climbed Harvard with these two and did most of the high traverse, along the ridge crest, solo, in an effort to meet up with them after an aborted attempt to help a friend ascend Harvard. I was back with Derek, with a short rope and harnesses to complete the entire high traverse.

The alarm went off at 4:30 a.m. but I was moving slow. Derek was moving slower but when I offered up 30 more minutes of sleep he didn't borrow deeper into his bag. Instead he sat up and started getting dressed. We were hiking by 5:15 a.m. We took small packs and just two 20-ounce bottles each. We'd refill one of these directly from the stream 90 minutes later, as we passed our last water source.
High on the Mt. Harvard trail
We pushed the pace a bit on the ascent, though the altitude took its toll on both of us once we got to about 13,000 feet. On Harvard you still have a long way to go even about 14,000 feet, as this peak is the third highest in the state at 14,423 and the fourth highest in the lower 48 states. We topped out after 3h2m and took about ten minutes to rest, eat, and drink before starting the traverse.

We found a nice path for the first 45 minutes of the traverse, but then the path headed down off the ridge into a giant talus field and we stuck to the very edge of the now knife-edged ridge. Derek is a solid, confident scrambler and we continued unroped until a hundred feet before the crux downclimb. We roped up here for what I previously thought was a somewhat scary slab traverse. Today it felt trivial and Derek would have been very comfortable without the rope.
Derek on the airy traverse before the crux

There is a sling at the top of the crux, 5.7 downclimb and I belayed Derek as he climbed down to the notch. The 5.7 climbing here is probably five feet long. I could have downclimbed it and spotted Derek and we could have left the rope behind. With the anchor and the rope right there, I rappelled this section. Derek led the last 4th/low 5th class section and we stowed the gear.

We still had a lot of physical work to traverse third class rock and steep, talus-covered slopes to the grassy ridge on the far side of the final gendarmes. Just as I topped out this last steep section, I saw a big mountain goat walking along the ridge directly toward us. 

Being a mountain guy I have an innate ability to telepathically communicate with the alpine beasts. I've debated Kant with marmots and discussed what actually the Fox says with pikas (spoiler: Fox says "Pikas are yummy!") So, when the burly mountain goat approached Derek and I, cornered as we were at the end of the precipitous ridge, I calmly stared it down, discerning its intentions. Derek, still learning the ways of the high country, said, "I hope you have a rock picked out." At the time I thought he meant for me to pick up a rock in which to hurl at the beast in case it charged. Later I'd find out he meant to use the rock he had picked out as a shield to ward off the formidable horns. This might indeed have blocked the horns, but Derek would still have been pushed over the edge. No, I didn't search for a rock. I was busy talking to the goat. I made him aware that any aggression would be dealt with severely. If he charged I would wrestle him to the ground and tickle his belly until he cried "Uncle!" Goats hate that!
Downclimbing the crux
Then, so that the goat could maintain his pride and position if any females were looking on from afar, I stepped down, slightly off the ridge, giving him passage. The goat passed within four or five feet of me towards Derek, who followed my lead. And the goat and I went our separate ways.

Once by the goat it was very pleasant tundra walking to the final 600-foot climb to the summit of Mt. Columbia. This last bump worked us over considerably and we were forced to take short breaks every fifty vertical feet. Eventually summit fever overtook us and we topped out. We barely paused on top before starting down.
Taking a break on the final climb to the summit of Mt. Columbia
We alternated some trotting and running with careful hiking on the loose trail down the west slopes. We dropped two thousand feet in an hour and rejoined the main Harvard Trail for the last three miles back to the car. We trotted some of the trail but were both a bit tired for that. Derek forced a break when his legs ached. On the last mile Derek was rejuvenated and ran most of it. I lumbered along in his wake, trying not to fall too far behind. Minutes after we arrived back at the car, the first raindrops fell and I was glad Derek didn't take me up on extra 30 minutes of sleep.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Silver Rush 50 Mountain Bike Race

The crazy hike-a-bike start to the Silver Rush

I'm entered in the Leadville 100 again this year. Leadville is a highly sought-after entry and a huge race - 1600+ cyclists and it is a mass start. Last year I learned that the first climb up St. Kevin's is so jammed that no passing is possible. Last year, that was fine and ensured Chris and I didn't go out too fast, but it seemed that we did most of this climb at 2 mph. This frustrated a bunch of riders, including myself, but I knew why it was happening. There must be a very steep section somewhere on this climb that slowed riders to 2 mph. Since everyone is wheel-to-wheel on this climb, all the riders behind those riders, no matter how far back they are, can't go any faster than 2 mph, as there is no way to go. While Leadville is a mass start, there are starting corrals, seeded by speed. There are about eight corrals and my time from last year (11:59:52) got me into the third to last corral. The penultimate corral is VIP riders and the last corral is for first timers or riders who have not finished Leadville under 12 hours. 

Lifetime Fitness now owns the Leadville races and they have a series of 5 or 6 mountain bike races distributed around the US where if you finish fast enough you can upgrade your starting corral. The Silver Rush 50, held in Leadville, is one of these races and for this reason, I entered it. Last year for training I did the Firecracker 50 in Breckenridge. Both races are high altitude 50-milers, but the Silver Rush can improve my start position, so I went with that one. Finishing under the 8 hour cutoff for this race would put me in the same corral I was already in. If I finished in 7h30m, I'd move up one corral, and another if I finished under 6h30m, and again at 5h30m. The latter seemed the best possible finish for me, though if I finished under 6h30m I'd deem the race a big success.

At Leadville this year my goal will be to finish under ten hours. So, you might wonder, wouldn't you need to finish the Silver Rush 50 at least under five hours? If they were over similar terrain, that would be true. But these races have very little in common besides starting in Leadville. The description for the Silver Rush 50 is as follows: 

"Need a nice, easy challenge? Then forget this one. ‘Cause it’s nasty! Cut the Leadville Trail 100 in half, remove all the easy parts and throw in technical descents, burning lungs and wild animals. Now you have a better understanding of what you’re about to get into."

This is quite accurate (except for the wild animals), as this race is brutal. Much more technical than the Firecracker 50, which is way, way more technical than the Leadville 100. This is probably a great test of mountain biking skills, but for riders like myself, with mediocre technical skills, it involved lots of hike-a-bike and white-knuckle descents. Three or four of the riders that were around me on the second half said out loud, "Never again!" A lot of the hike-a-bike sections would be ridable if you weren't in a race and could ride a bit and rest a bit, as they are anaerobic efforts. The worst sections are hike-a-bikes for everyone, including the ultra-badass who won this race in 3h43m.

The start of the race sets the appropriate tone. Cyclists are spread across the base of a 45% grade Dutch Henri hill that is probably 60 or 70 feet in height. There is no trail on this hill. It is rocks, shrubs, grass, and dirt. When the gun goes off you push or carry your bike up this hill, mount it, and immediately enter a downhill single track section. This is a mass start with 700 riders. It is unique and it makes for complete chaos for the first mile. 

The main reason I'm doing Leadville again this year is because Derek was so excited about helping out last year, where he and Sheri only supported us in two locations since they also climbed La Plata that morning, that he wanted to give full support for the entire race. He loved the rushing from one aid station to the next and cheering us on and helping us out. This is a great instinct - to want to help someone else achieve their goals - and I think it rarely comes to someone who is only 15 years old. I don't think I fully got this until I was 40 years old…

So, I offered Derek a quid pro quo for this weekend. If he came up with me and supported me in the Silver Rush 50, I'd climb Harvard and Columbia, two 14ers that his brother had climbed but he had not, on Sunday. He immediately agreed. I didn't really need support for the Sliver Rush 50, nor would I need it at the Leadville 100. Here I mainly wanted his company, but it is very inspiring to see your loved ones sacrificing their time, their weekend to come out and drive around to crowded aid stations to only see you for a few seconds, all because they want to help. They want to give.To be worthy of that gift is inspiring and emotional for me.

Derek and I left town around 3:30 p.m. on Friday and drove to Leadville to check-in. After picking up my number and T-shirt we went to The Grill, a Mexican place that Derek knew about from his work up here as a timer for the Leadville Marathon. He said it was delicious and indeed it was. Sated, we drove out to join Jason Antin and his friend Ben to camp on the road leading to the Mt. Elbert Trailhead (this road is also part of the Leadville 100 Tail Run). We found them just before dark and chatted briefly before setting up our tent and crawling into our sleeping bags. We watched a movie on my laptop before falling asleep. Actually, Derek watched a movie and I watched half a movie.

The Silver Rush starts at the civilized time of 9 a.m. so we had time to head into town and get some breakfast and coffee. Afterwards we drove to the race site and parked. I got my bike ready and changed into my kit while Derek readied his aid station supplies. We talked about what I'd need at each aid station and when I'd get there. The Silver Rush is an out-and-back course, like the Leadville 100. Derek would meet me at the 14-mile aid station on the way out and then again there on my return trip, at 36 miles. He'd also see me at the 25-mile turn-around. Having never done the course and not really knowing anything about it, I figured I'd shoot for six hours for the total time and should be at the first aid station around 90 minutes, then the turn-around by 3 hours, and back at the first aid station by 4h30m. 

I queued on the far left of the crazy, hill start, in the third or fourth row. In the center bikes were maybe ten deep. When the gun went off I took my time going up Dutch Henri hill. I didn't know at the time that there was a single-track bottleneck immediately after cresting the hill and I might do things differently if I ever did this race again. At the top, I mounted and queued for the descent. Soon we were on a double track and everyone was going pretty hard. I settled into a sustainable pace and mostly held my position.

The first section of the race is a long climb that gets progressively steeper and rockier for ten miles. There was a crux section maybe five miles into it and I dismounted along with almost everyone around me to push it. A rider near me rode the entire thing...while I walked next to him for most of it. It was the right thing for me to push this, as any attempt at riding it would have put me in a huge anaerobic debt. The last half mile up to the dirt road was all pushing as well and some of it quite technical. I feared I'd have to walk my bike down this part on the way back.

We hit a dirt road at 10.5 miles into the race and motored downhill at considerably speed to the first aid station. I arrived at 1h25m and Derek was right there in his bright blue shirt. He spotted me as well and expertly handed me a new bottle as I passed by at 15 mph. I tossed my empty at his feet moments before grabbing the full one. He asked if I needed anything else and I said no and sped by over a short steep rise and once again onto single-track.

The single-track descent was over in a few minutes and we crossed a paved road and headed up a dirt road climb. I passed some riders here. This climb was pretty short, maybe 10 or 15 minutes and then I descended, on the road still, before taking a sharp right turn and starting a long single-track climb. I was soon in my granny gear, where I'd spend a lot of time in this race. This was a long climb, but all rideable. It was nearly a four mile climb up to nearly 12,000 feet.

I crested the hill and went down a short, steep, rocky downhill and then turned up again. One of the riders around me said, "Ah, the last climb on the way out." I was glad to hear that. This climb would bring us to the high point of the race. There was some hike-a-bike at the very top of this climb, but here it was only a few minutes.

The descent of the other side pushed my meager skills to their absolute limits. I was acutely aware that I'd be holding up riders behind me, but it wasn't that many. I'd always take the easiest line if it was available, but tried to stay right as much as possible. When the first rider passed me on the descent I said to him, "Sorry, guy, I'm doing the best I can." He responded nicely, "No worries. You're on V-brakes and that's bad ass." I didn't really think about it before as I've never ridden with disc brakes, but on the two long technical descents of this race my hands and triceps were so tired and pumped that I nearly had to stop to rest them. After this brutal day of resting the only sore muscles the next day were my triceps. While pushing up this crazy section on the way back I saw a guy standing off to the side on his way down. He said, "I'm from Chicago and that", he pointed at the trail below him, "is NOT ridable." I glad to know that at least I wasn't the worst technical rider in the race...

This was a very trying descent for me, but I didn't crash and I didn't get off my bike. As I entered the aid area at the turn-around I spotted Derek on the side of the dirt road I was now riding. He held up my fresh bottle, ready to deliver it. I motioned a circle with my finger, indicating that I'd turn-around first and get the bottle on the way out. I went flying by him, turned left and started climbing up a moderate hill. As that hill crested the riders in front of me were dismounted to push up a 50-yard hill that was so steep and so rocky that no one, not even the winner, rode it. I have no idea why they would put such a hill into this race, except that it was in character with the start and with the crazy, technical, steep climbs that make up this race. I did likewise and pushed to the top. On the way out of the aid station I picked up a fresh bottle from Derek, a gel packet, and a bar. I had wanted to pick up my rain shell as the skies were threatening just a touch, but Derek wisely had left the jacket in the car. He said, "You don't need your jacket, you sissy! What's a little rain going to do to you? Melt you? Are you the Wicked Witch of the West? Is that what you're telling me? Smack dab in the middle of an epic 50-mile mountain bike race and you take that time to tell your son you're really from Oz? I didn't think so. Now get going and get your ass over that pass before the skies open up!" And with that I was off.

I rode the rideable parts and walked the unrideable parts, along with everyone else around me. I passed a few riders pushing up the hill, working hard, but not going anaerobic. I was hurting pretty good and already counting down the miles to the finish. At the top of that climb, I knew that I had a lot more descending than climbing to the finish, but both were pretty taxing on me.

I had to push up the hill to the parts of the next climb and then had a pretty easy, relatively, descent for the next four miles. Then the road climb. A road descent onto single-track and a climb back up to the last aid station where Derek was waiting for me, ready to go with everything I needed. He ran with me as I pedaled through the aid station. He gave me a fresh flask of gel and a full bottle. I left there four hours into the race with about 14 miles to go - roughly four uphill and ten downhill. Derek said, "You're doing great! On track for sub-5." Originally, I figured if I could do this section the other way in 1h30m, it would take an hour to reverse it. That was before I knew how technical it was. I still thought I had a chance of sub-5, until I spent the next thirty minutes climbing. I was tired and fading but still catching and passing some riders. They'd all pass me on the highly technical descent, but I didn't care. I was doing all I could, all the time.

It was half relief to get to the final descent and half dread because I knew how technical it was and I really didn't want to crash. I didn't have to walk any of it by slowing down to a safe speed on the worst sections. I tried to move fast in the other sections, taking some risks for me and going at much faster speeds then I'd want to crash at. Despite this, at least twenty riders passed me on the descent. I found myself lusting after a 29" bike with disc brakes...

The topper on this descent was, on one of the only sections I was truly alone and also going very fast, I missed a sharp 90-degree turn. The turn was marked, but by light pink flags about five inches high. They were difficult to see at that speed while trying to keep the rubber side down. I realized I'd missed something when I came to a y-junction and continued down to the right. Seeing no flags or streamers I thought I was off course. I doubled back and climbed back up to the Y. I almost went down the other way (also wrong) but didn't recognize it. I went back down the way I'd just come up. At this point I didn't even know there was another junction up higher. When I started down for the second time I met another rider coming up, saying, "I'm off course." We climbed back to the Y junction and other riders came screaming down to us. Now we had a group of eight and we all climbed back up the trail to the poorly marked turn.

Some of the other riders were really pissed with the poor course markings. I was certainly frustrated as well. When I started the final ten-mile descent I knew breaking five hours was impossible, but I thought breaking 5h30m (the best possible corral time cutoff) was in the bag. With this off-course detour I had lost six minutes. I still thought I'd make it, but it was going to be pretty close. I descended as best I could getting more and more wasted. I watched my odometer and the clock and still felt confident I'd make it. I was gone, but still pushing to make the time cut.

I knew the finish would involve the steep single-track back to the top of the crazy start hill and I rode most of this, dismounting when I caught the rider in front of me. We remounted at the top and I could have gone by him, but I was so beat mentally and physically, that I just didn't care. I knew I wasn't close to a good placement, even for my age group, and I just wanted to be done. This is pretty rare for me. I usually will pass as many people as possible, heck it's a race. This is just an indication of how broken down I'd become. But there was some more climbing to go and eventually I rolled by this guy, slowly. If he had felt any different than I did, he could easily pass me back and I'd have been fine with that, but he seemed to be in the same head space as myself.

We rode right across the top of the start hill and I saw Derek here, anxiously waiting for me, as he had expected me to possibly break five hours and now the clock was nearly as five and a half hours. He told me, "It's just one minute to the finish," and then he took off down the hill to shoot photos of me finishing. The trail wound back into the woods and then came down a very steep hill, though with a good trail on it. At the bottom of the hill I could hear the other rider on my wheel, as I took the last hill conservatively. Now I certainly didn't want to get passed and maybe he had no intention of passing me, but once at the bottom, I kicked fairly hard for the line. I finished with clean wheels on the guy, but we got the same time.

I immediately dismounted, for the last time finally, and walked my bike to an open spot in the grassy finish area. I then collapsed on the ground, completely and utterly (do I really need to say both "completely" and "utterly"? Paul Sherwin does it, so it must be right) spent. I was shattered despite having descended, mostly, for nearly the final hour! That's an indication of the effort I put out and also my limited descending skills.
Wasted at the finish
Derek told me that he heard Dave Mackey had finish a bit before me. Turns out he was about nine minutes faster than me. With the six minutes I lost...getting lost, I was tempted to be quite proud to be so close to Dave, who is one of the best ultra-runners in the country and far out of my league when it comes to endurance sports. I resisted, though, worried that I'd find out later that Dave rode the second half of the race on a flat tire...or a unicycle. Dave, like Jason, is entered in the Leadman competition this year, which means they have to do a series of increasing difficult Leadville events, including this one, that culminate with by far the hardest event: the Leadville 100 Trail Run. Jason finished the race in 5h36m. He was twenty minutes behind me at the final aid station, so he made up ten minutes over the last 14 miles, though six of those minutes were due to me getting lost.

Many races have "magic times" that all racers dream of breaking. In the Leadville 100 there are two times: 9 hours and 12 hours, each earning a special buckle. Forty minutes was the magic time for me at the Bolder Boulder 10K. At the Silver Rush that magical time is 5h26m. My finishing time? 5h25m59s. Yeah……! The last person to make gets a huge belt buckle - about the size of VW bug. It was almost good that the rider behind me got the same time since we didn't have room in the Land Cruiser to fit the buckle. It's tradition for this last rider to be mobbed by the podium girls at the finish, but here they made a mistake and mobbed me instead. Derek wisely took no photos of this encounter, in which I was completely at their mercy.

I was 17th in my age group of 82 riders, also the most coveted finishing position, contrary to popular belief that first is best. I finished 158th overall and got "chicked" five times over. Full results are here. Speaking of chicks, mountain biking doesn't appear to any different from road racing when it comes to gross numbers. In the Silver Rush 540 males finished and 54 women finished. You don't go to a bike race looking for a girlfriend...

It is interesting to compare the differences of a full-on effort vs. a more casual effort, even when the full-on effort is less than half the distance:

Race Distance Time Vertical Effort Wastedness
Silver Rush 47 miles 5h26m 7800 ft. 9 felt destroyed
Leadville 104 mies 11h59m 12,400 ft. 6 felt fine

After regaining the energy to stand, I ate the lunch the race provided. It was BBQ pork sandwiches and delicious, though it was hard to eat with my fatigue. Derek helped me out a bit. Then we said goodbyes and headed for the Leadville Hostel where I knew I could get a shower. After showering we hung out in the big, comfy living room watching a movie on the big screen TV. I was mainly resting and recovering. We had a big day planned for tomorrow. Later we'd eat pizza and drive out to the trailhead for Harvard. We'd have to sleep in the back of the Land Cruiser because of the constant rain, but we didn't mind. It had been a pretty good day...

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Anthill Direct w/Octavian

At the top of our third (guidebook fourth) pitch

I met Octavian this morning at 5:30 a.m. We were headed to Eldorado Canyon to do a long, moderate trad route. I chose Anthill Direct, as it has some very fine climbing and can be done as four long pitches. Octavian is a strong, young guy in his 20's. He's a boulderer, mainly, sending V5 and up while I fail on V2. But he's still inexperienced in trad climbing, so I took the sharp end today.

I elected to do the real first pitch of Anthill Direct. That sounds strange to write because "why wouldn't you do that pitch?" No reason really, except that I have usually done the more classic Touch and Go pitches. It had been awhile since I'd done this pitch, but it went well and I ran out 160 feet of rope.

Octavian followed and I led the second pitch and and then strung the third and fourth pitches together into a massive 180-foot wandering, runout 5.7 pitch, which I consider to be one of the best in Eldo. Following this, Octavian slipped off and fell! It was surprising, but my belay was solid and I caught him.

I did the 5.9 direct finish and I don't think I've ever finished this route with the original pitch. I need to do that sometime. At the top I racked the gear and Octavian coiled and carried the rope, sort of. For some reason he didn't coil it into a backpack coil, maybe because he didn't know about carrying the rope like that. I didn't want to patronize him and let him be, but I think it hampered him on the descent of the East Slabs, as he moved quite cautiously and it took us a long time to descend.

Once we hit the trail, I stopped to wait for Octavian to switch out of his climbing shoes into his hiking shoes. As I sat on a rock at the start of the trail, Octavian looked down to my right and said, rather calmly, "Rattlesnake." Sure enough, I was hitting within three or four feet of a sizeable rattler. I'd never seen one in Eldo before. Thankfully it was still early and the snake was in the shade. It never rattled, but slowly slithered off under a bush.

It turned out to be an exciting morning for both Octavian and I!

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Crestone Trip - The Needle

The Crestone Needle

The next morning I got up at 5:30. I made some coffee and started packing for Crestone Needle. Sheri had been telling us all that she probably wouldn't be going to the summit. She had seen the steep snowfields on the route from Humboldt the previous day and she didn't want anything to do with them. She said she'd start up and stop when she didn't like the conditions. We left camp at 6:40 a.m. and soon found our way across the outlet of Upper South Colony Lake and onto the standard route for the Crestone Needle. We followed this trail up the slope, then across talus, and eventually the feared snowfields, all the time heading for Broken Hand Pass, to the south of the Needle. We brought two pairs of trekking poles with us and that allowed each of us to have a pole for the steep snow. I went last to provide some measure of security for Sheri. Danny led the way, followed closely by Derek. Things went well and we stashed the poles just below the pass. By the time we returned to these poles the dang marmots would have stripped the poles of our hand grips! 
Climbing up the crux section where we're switching gullies.
The climbing above the saddle starts off easy, on a climber's trail, but it gets progressively steeper the higher you go. The first real tricky section was a near vertical wall that we had to climb down! It was only twenty feet tall, but caused us to take some care. We then traversed into a rock gully and followed that for three or four hundred vertical feet before switching one gully to the left. This was in fact the crux climbing.

The climbing in the Crestones is great in general and particularly outstanding on the Needle. While we encountered nine other climbers above us in the gully, there was little danger from rock fall since the mountain is very monolithic. We were not climbing talus, but solid conglomerate rock. Follow such a large group in the Elk Range would be tantamount to suicide.  

Descending the steep upper couloir
We passed one ascending party of five in the final couloir and another party of four descending. Hence, we had the summit to ourselves for a few minutes. The weather was great, though a tad breezy. The climbing had been a bit out of Danny's comfort range and I'm sure he had a bit of trepidation for the upcoming descent, but we still took time to relax and eat lunch. The other party topped out and shared some home-baked cookies with us. We snapped photos for each other and then we started down.

The descent of the steep upper section took nearly as long as the ascent, but Danny was noticeably more comfortable on the terrain. Sheri has been doing this stuff for a long time and isn't bothered by such terrain. The roles were reversed though when we had to descend the steep snow. The boys and I were quite comfortable to stand over our feet and use one pole to stabilize ourselves. Sheri was intimidated and quite apprehensive, causing her to lean into the slope too much. She went down in painstaking fashion, using her hands in each footstep, while Derek guided her feet to the next step. It is certainly correct to be very respectful of steep snow for an unchecked slide into the talus below would be extremely dangerous and not doubt result in serious injury. She didn't panic, though, she did what she needed to do to feel safe. Once below that one section we hiked along easily, returning to camp 6.5 hours after we left. We ate, drank, and took a little nap before deciding to pack up and hike out.
Downclimbing the steep snow section
Kevin was gone by the time we returned to camp. He was going to hike up to Colony Lakes, only a couple hundred feet higher, but decided to just head out. His legs were hurting him a big and his sleeping spot wasn't as level as he had hoped. Still, it was good first trip for him. Unexpectedly Erica and Nick were also gone. Erica wanted to go swim in the lake. I can only conclude that either Nick was able to stop her and then rushed her to a mental hospital or that Nick failed to intervene and that they were on their way to the nearest hypothermia recovery center. Sean and Jenny had spent the day fishing, like they did the first day, and decided they were done as well. Though we'd only been in there one night, it seemed longer since we'd done two peaks.

Taking a nap back in camp
On the hike out, a ways down the road, Derek suddenly snapped his head to the right. He leapt to the side of the road, dipped under a branch and stuck out his arm ramrod straight indicating something in the woods like he was a hunting dog pointing at a hidden pheasant. He said, "Long-eared Crestone Rabbit!" This rare species of blue-gray rabbit, a giant twice the size of a normal hare, was the reason the road was now partially closed - to protect the habit of this majestic beast.
On the summit of Crestone Needle with Crestone Peak in the background
These were the 23rd and 24th Colorado 14ers for Danny (he's done two California 14ers) and the 22nd and 23rd 14ers for Derek. On the boys like to form numbers with their bodies to indicate the peak number. Sheri and I slowly getting through all the 14ers again with our boys.
Forming "24" on the summit of the Crestone Needle