Thursday, July 03, 2014

Success and Failure on the Bastille

Mark nearing the top of the first pitch of the Northwest Corner of the Bastille

Mark and I met again at 5:30 a.m. This time, though, as I had the day off and he didn't need to be at work early, we extended the morning until 11 a.m. Our main goal was to return to Blind Faith - the burly hand crack which caused both of to hang on the rope. For round two I brought my Hand Jammies to protect my delicate skin. Last time the pain in the back of my hand was rather unpleasant. I zipped up to the crux section a bit more efficiently this time, but did a couple of off width moves in the slot below that Mark nearly bypassed via some creative liebacking and face holds. Below the crux I placed a yellow Alien and readied the #3 Camalot that would protect the crux, finishing moves. I climbed up on steep jams to a good foothold and placed the cam. Then, without the hesitation of last time, I confidently made the three or four jams up the steep crack and over the lip at the top. Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy. I placed a #1 Camalot just over the ledge to protect Mark from a sideways fall and then traversed further right and set up a belay. 

I tossed down my Hand Jammies for Mark to use and Mark started up the pitch. At the first hand jamming section, low on the route, Mark realized that he had the mitts on backwards. He put them on so that the sticky rubber wasn't on the back of his hands, but on the palms! He switched them and was at the crux in no time at all. Here things went similar to last time and there was some weighting of the rope. The jams here aren't all that technical, but the crack is so steep that the climbing is difficult and burly. The crack is also in a tiny corner that makes it awkward to get the jams at the top with your left hand. In short, I think Mark needs to more practice jamming on 5.8 and 5.9 cracks before we return Blind Faith.

Mark at the top of the second pitch of the Bastille Crack
And return we must do because, embarrassingly, I fell off the next pitch! The second pitch is rated 5.9+ and is typical Eldo climbing, meaning there is a very distinctive, tricky crux with the holds angled in an awkward orientation. I know this move well and it has baffled me before, but I've always worked it out. This time I think I went at it a bit too cocky, a bit to hasty. My success on the first pitch caused me to climb overconfidently up into an irreversible position. I deadpointed for what I thought was the key hold out to the right, but I was wrong. I had to go way up to the jug. It wasn't really a fall, more of a take, as I had a piece right at my face. Ugh. It's been a long time since I've fallen on 5.9 and here I did it on a route I've done many times before. Oh well. Sometimes I guess I climb a bit stupid. I'm sure if the gear was at my feet instead of at my face I'd have taken a bit more care to get that move right. Showing his team solidarity, Mark made sure to fall off it as well. Both of us got this clean last time. Third time's the charm?

Somewhat deflated, we descended the trail back to the base, hoping to get on the West Buttress, as Mark wanted to clean up that ascent as well. He was inches from getting that clean last time. Unfortunately that route was taken by another team. I decided that the first pitch of the Northwest Corner (5.11a, but the first pitch is 5.9) looked appealing. I knew there were rappel anchors at the top of pitch and I started up the somewhat runout slab. I'd done this route before, but it was probably more than a decade ago. This is a fun pitch with one distinct crux (where are we climbing again?). There are a number of old fixed pins on this route, though it's not quite a clip-up. Above the crux is a wide crack, but it's peppered with lots of big face holds and is easy. 
Mark leading the third pitch of the Bastille Crack

After rapping off, I noticed that the other side of the pillar that we had climbed was the first pitch of X-M - a notorious offwidth that I'd never seen someone climb. There is a 10a/b variation just left of the off width that everyone uses to access the rest of the route. I'd tried to lead the pitch once before and couldn't do it. Now I had a chance to toprope it, though I would take a bit of a swing if I fell off. It didn't look like an issue and I started up. The climbing up to the crux off width is probably 5.8. The crux itself is about six feet of climbing. That's it. But it is off width and that means it is quite difficult for most people, me included. The pitch is rated 10a, but I think this section is quite a bit tougher than Grand Giraffe (rated 10a in some guidebooks, 5.9 in others). I worked hard on it and got up about three feet (halfway!) before I sagged onto the rope. I fell and hung a couple more times. I discovered a heel hook inside the crack which proved to be very valuable and I eventually climbed the crux, though I don't think I did it from the bottom of the crux. It was a very physical thrash involving thigh jams and desperate arm bars while trying to use some key footholds outside of the crack for the right foot. Once inside the crack it was a relatively straight forward squeeze to the anchors. 

Back on the ground, Mark then decided he wanted to climb the Bastille Crack with his daughter tomorrow. So, where do I come in? He wanted to practice the lead with me to make sure he was solid on it. I knew he would be fine, but with familiarity comes confidence. Mark led the first, crux pitch with just three pieces of gear. He was completely solid, but I told him to put in another piece and he ignored that advice and continued to the 2-bolt anchor. In retrospect, despite it being easy climbing, he felt that was a mistake, since by the time he arrived at the belay he was looking at a near ground-fall. I led the next pitch up to an Aussie couple gearing up to lead the third pitch.

Mark followed and we spent a long time chatting with Bethany while her husband Andrew strung the third and fourth pitches together, though he mistakenly went up the 5.8 variation to the fourth pitch. These two were really nice, but very slow. Bethany told us about passing two parties on the Petit Grepon two days earlier and it had me wondering about the speed of the passed parties. Alas, it was a beautiful morning and Mark and I weren't in any hurry. I haven't sat on a ledge and waited on another party this long in probably a decade. I just don't get in that situation very often and when I do, I ask to pass or take an alternate route. It was nice to just sit there and chat, but I have my limit. After an eternity, Mark led the short, steep third pitch and then I strung the fourth pitch to the 5.8 alternate finish out to the right. I was on top long before the Aussies as they were still changing over at the top of the fourth pitch when I went by. Mark was on top and we had re-racked, coiled the rope and left well before Andrew made an appearance on top. 

By this time I had already missed Second Breakfast and rushed home for Elevensies.

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