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.

1 comment:

SteelMonkey said...

Nice work BOYZ!!! You're READY!!!