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.

No comments: