Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Bruno Sends Milkbone!

I hiked up to Dinosaur Rock today with my good friend Bruno. He needed a belayer for his project, Milkbone (5.13a), which he had already been on 19 times. I'd been up there one other time, on a Saturday morning, and it was a zoo, but I was in awe of how strong and skilled Bruno was. I got a chance to go up Milkbone on a toprope and I pulled on every draw and still hung on the rope ten times. I will never come with 4 letter grades of this route. Arthur C. Clarke is famous for the expression "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Well, here's my soon to be famous climbing expression (probably said many times by many others): Any sufficiently hard climb is indistinguishable from impossible." Milkbone is impossible for me. Was it for Bruno?

Clearly not. He'd been making steady progress on it, though I think his best burn still included two hangs on the rope. He tried twice when I was up here before and obviously didn't make it. Today it was cold, which makes climbing extremely difficult for me, with my poor circulation. Heck, my fingers have gotten really cold in the gym before. But the friction is great in these 40-degree temperatures and Bruno's a fuzzy little foreign from up north. His French Canadian accent is so thick sometimes that I can't decipher what he's saying. I just nod and feed out more slack...

Bruno warmed up on Patience Face (12a) and he's been on it so many times he makes it look like a 5.9 cruiser. I'd seen him do this before, but I was still fooled. I knew the cruxes were above and he confirmed this by walking through the opening 5 clips. When I tried to follow this with completely wooden fingers, I was acutely aware of the 5.11 difficulty right out of the gate. Bruno cruised Patience and then traversed over to the anchor atop Milkbone. Here he hauled up a second rope and rapped down Milkbone, placing the draws. Then, while he took a rest, I tried and failed to get up Patience Face. A couple of bolts up it was obvious that my fingers were useless in the cold. It was painful and struggled onward only to get high enough on this traversing route so that Bruno could clean the rest of the draws when he descended from Milkbone.

Bruno lowered me to the ground and I tried to pretend that I didn't climb at all while suffering through the pain of my fingers thawing. Bruno shoed up and started. He cruised through the first two bolts of relatively easy climbing and took a shake at the no-hands rest. This would be the last one until the top. He fired the roof and struggled mightily to get the fourth clip, the toughest on the route. Now he faced the crux moves. He moved up nicely, with exceptional footwork, but just before the "jug", where he could clip the fifth bolt, he pitched off. I gave him a soft catch and lowered him to the ground.

Bruno wasn't discouraged at all. He said, "On this route, you need one go to really set yourself up to pull that hard." He superglued his split fingertip, drank, ate, and rested. Fifteen minutes later, he was ready for attempt number twenty-one.

He moved smoother this time,  especially on the fourth clip, which he made much easier. He changed his sequence at the top of the crux section, eliminating a move, and hit the clipping jug. He'd only been clean this high once before. I yelled up encouragement and Bruno took a long time to shake out and recovery. I've been to this hold and it takes all my strength just to hold it. This is not a rest hold for me. It is one of the only holds on the route I can actually use, but no rest for me. Not so for Bruno.

Above lay the second crux and one he'd never climbed through from the ground. He didn't rush, but moved decisively and really bore down at the crux, executing a difficult bump to a better hold. When he clipped the draw above he let out a whoop of joy. I echoed that, but reminded him it wasn't over. The climbing above was at least 11+ and it was still possible to fall off. He remained patient and careful, clipping the last few bolts and then the chains. He'd done it. He screamed his satisfaction. On the ground I almost wept for him. Despite being a relatively minor partner on his project (this was my only belay session), I knew the work he had put into this. It is so satisfying to see someone succeed after a long, hard battle, and more so when it is your friend. And it was made very special for me too, as I got to be a small part of his success.

Bruno still had to clean up the mess I left on Patience Face and then climb back up to the Milkbone anchor and then descend to ground. I wondered how he'd celebrate his success. Would he want a high five or a fist bump? Neither was going to be sufficient for me. I'm a hugger and I was going to hug him. I needn't have worried. As soon as he touched down, we embraced.

There is so much I can learn from Bruno about training, perseverance, footwork, body position, and mental toughness, but there is something more valuable to learn from him. Once someone finishes a big project, they can react in a couple of different ways. They might want to just bask in the glory for awhile, taking a well-earned break. Or, they might immediately start looking at the next project, not satisfied with any limits on what they can do. Either one is a legitimate reaction. Which one did Bruno take? Neither. His first reaction to his great success was, "Now, I can go help Cody on his Seal Rock project!" His next was, "What's your project, Bill? What can I do for you?" After 21 tries on his project, almost before he had untied from the rope, he was thinking, "What can I do for my partners?" And this desire wasn't a quid pro quo, a tit-for-tat. He wasn't repaying a debt. He needn't repay anyone. He just wanted to give.

That's a pretty decent lesson to learn...

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Rock of Ages

Video coming soon

The Grand Canyon is one big hole in the ground. The sheer size of this ditch deceives the senses. Even the venerable Loobster was initially blasé upon viewing it. Not so with me, mostly because of the dramatic contrast with the environment on the rim. The South Rim is above 7000 feet and the north rim a thousand feet higher. Up there pine and juniper forests dominate and it can be extremely cold, even in spring. All that changes immediately, abruptly, as you drop down into the canyon. Temperatures soar, quickly, and the desert environment is immediately entered. Any adventure here, if it goes to the bottom, is huge and the availability of water dominates all movement. Without water you'll quickly grind to a halt, as your body loses its moisture and your muscles cramp. Then, without assistance, you'll die. If you're on the heavily traveled Bright Angel or Kaibab trails and you get into trouble, you'll likely get that assistance. 

Five million people visit the Grand Canyon each year. I'd guess that 0.1% of them hike to the bottom, though that is still 5000 people. The number that venture off the main trails is probably 10% of that.

Viewed from the rim, the canyon doesn't look real. It looks like a painting and that deception lulls people into a false sense of security and they seem to forget the daunting figures involved with a trip to the river and back. The day we arrived, there were three helicopter rescues and two mule rescues out of the heat in the canyon. It was hot there, at nearly 90 degrees, but nothing compared to the 110+ that can be reached in August. The shortest route to the river is the South Kaibab Trail, which is only 7 miles long, but drops 4800 feet. Nowhere on this route is there water, hence, the hike back out can quickly turn into a death march, literally, for an unlucky few that underestimate the difficulties and their fluid requirements. Making these mistakes are so common that park officials there are very jaded and treat nearly every hiker as an imbecile. This is mostly warranted due to the time they spend rescuing people. 

A myriad of adventures is possible here, from running the absolutely huge rapids of the Colorado river to ultra-running the increasing popular Rim-to-Rim-Rim (42 miles, 12, 000 vertical feet by the shortest route) to canyoneering descents and isolated backcountry hiking, but for a climber like myself, I'm drawn to the peaks. Peaks, you say? Yes. The Grand Canyon is so incredibly huge that is has mountains inside it! These are generally called temples and there are over 100 named summits. There are no trails to top of these peaks and many have no designated trails remotely close to them. I've now climbed more than a few of them:

Zoroaster (twice) w/Opie and then Buzz, Stefan, Homie
Brahma w/ Buzz, Stefan, Homie
Cheops Plateau w/Loobster
O'Neil Butte w/Loobster, Derek
Battleship w/Loobster
Battle Bitch w/Loobster
Sinking Ship w/Loobster
Mt. Hayden w/Loobster, Homie
Vishnu w/Loobster, Homie
? on north rim w/Loobster, Homie
Buddha  w/Loobster

While some of these aren't too daunting, the remote ones are amongst the toughest peaks I've climbed. They are inspiring to gaze upon and as a climber. I'm drawn to them by a force that I can't seem to resist, try as I might. Why try? Because so much of the work involved to stand on top of these temples is extremely unpleasant. It is hot, dirty, loose, scary, miserable hiking, most of it without a compelling technical challenge. This is why I haven't climbed more of them. It's often said that an essential quality of an alpinist, and these peaks are a type of desert alpinism, is a short memory. With these peaks my memory isn't all that short. It takes at least a year after an attempt for me to contemplate another go. 

My partner for most of these has been the redoubtable (previously venerable) Loobster. Indefatigable Homie, the most voracious peak bagger I know, has also joined me for a few temples and has in fact, been the engine driving many of these ascents. That was the case for Isis as well. Isis had been on my list for many years, but the sheer amount of miserable work it was going to require kept it comfortably near the bottom of my to-do list. At least it was until Homie sent me a trip report and rekindled my desire. One of the advantages of getting older is that my memory is fading. Old people are supposed to be wise, but I seem to be forgetting enough of my past experiences to make me an exception to that rule. For if my memory was better I wouldn't have been excited about this trip, I would've been dreading it. 

What really turned me on to the trip was that my 16-year-old son proclaimed early this year: "I want to start doing adventures." An adventurous father can hear no words sweeter than that. Provided, of course, that he meant to add, "with you, Pops." We'd done some backcountry skiing this winter to improve his skills there in preparation for snow-covered peaks and he'd been training in the climbing gym, climbing up to 5.11d. These skills would prove completely worthless on this adventure. The main qualities for a Grand Canyon temple are strong hiking skills, endurance, love of adventure, and toleration of misery. I hoped he had those qualities and I had some data to indicate that he might, but this would be a quantum leap for him and I wondered if it was too big of a jump.

The Loobster immediately went "all in." The Loobster is 70 years old. My immediate thought would be, "well, how hard can this temple really be?" when it should be, "Just how much of a bad-ass is this Loobster?" I have not the words to adequately answer that question. While the Loobster may look 60, there is nothing else about him that would indicate he is older than 40, especially his sense of humor. As climbing partners go, he's tough to top. What are the greatest qualities of a climbing partner? Overwhelmingly it is compatibility of personality and spirit. With the Loobster, we are a team. Once we leave the trailhead absolutely nothing we carry, no matter whose pack it resides in, is mine or his. It is all ours. The Loobster has my back. I think he'd die to save me. Ten or twenty years ago I looked up to him as inspiration for all that I still had left before me, adventure-wise. He was my role model for continuing this way of life for decades to come. Now, with this adventure, he's gone beyond that. I'm now in flat out awe of him. I cannot imagine doing this trip at 70 and I think there are very few people in the world that could do this at that age, certainly a ridiculously small percentage. There's so much talk of the 1-percenters, but Loobster is truly a 0.001-percenter. He matched Derek and I step for step on this trip. He made all the right decisions for the team on our descent. In fact, he really made this trip possible because, being retired, he got to the Grand Canyon two days early and secured our backcountry camping permits. 

Unfortunately, after having inspired this trip, Homie couldn't join us. Derek and I were locked into a 4-day weekend where he was off school and Homie couldn't make that happen. This was a big loss to the team, as I know no one stronger than Homie and he has an incredible sense for finding the route. He guided Loobster and I to the summit of Vishnu and back, through a complicated maze of ledges and cliffs. Alas, we'd have to make do without him. 

Isis Temple is 7014 feet high. The South Rim, where we start, is at 7260. What makes this adventure so huge is the fact that Isis is on the north side of the river and the river is at 2400 feet. Actually, that's not true. While the vertical gain is daunting at over 12,000 feet for the roundtrip, what makes this adventure huge is the extent of movement without a trail. The difference in effort between movement on trail to off trail is about a factor of three. To get the summit of Isis we'd have to cover 14 miles on a very good trail (Kaibab), 8 miles on a primitive trail (Utah Flats), 7 miles of trail-less creek bed, and 9 miles of climbing up to 5.7 in difficulty, scrambling, bushwhacking and rappelling. We'd spend 50% of our time on those last 9 miles...

Derek and I left town on Thursday evening. We crashed for six hours at a rest stop and got to the Grand Canyon at 10:30 a.m. local time. Miraculously, the Loobster had landed a camping permit for Bright Angel Campground, at the bottom of the canyon for that night. This allowed us to take it nice and easy on the descent, knowing that was all we could do on Friday. We had permits for the Upper Phantom Creek area for the next two nights.

A couple of miles below the rim, while we paused to snap some photos, a guy wandered over to us and asked about our ropes: "Are you guys going to climb Zoroaster?" That's the most common temple and I'd already climbed it twice. I said, "No, we've done that one. We're headed for Isis." He responded, "Cool. What route? The north side route?" I said yes and he then told me that his brother had put up the first ascent of that route and left a ski pole planted below the crux pitch. I asked him his name and it was Parnell Tomasi. Indeed, he and his brother have climbed over 100 of the Grand Canyon Temples and wrote the guidebook. He gave us a little beta about the climb, which was good, because I had neglected to bring any information whatsoever about this route. I knew the general path to follow and hoped I'd just be able to figure it out. This lack of definitive knowledge would slow us down a bit later.

Less than 24 hours after leaving our house, we set up camp in the bottom of the Grand Canyon. We threw down the pads and took a rest before cooking dinner. As we lay sprawled on our backs with our food spread out all across our site's table, a volunteer ranger came by. This pony-tailed, condescending guy filled us in on the right way to camp. We learned that plastic is evil. He took one look at our ziplock baggies on the table and said, "This is exactly the problem right here. Animals have been autopsied and found to have pounds of plastic in their stomachs." He told us that we are going to be animal central tonight because now all the critters have spotted our food. How they watch us 24-hours-a-day in two shifts (presumably diurnal and nocturnal animals). In my younger days I would have asked, "What will they be doing in our site with all our food locked up in those metals boxes you provide? Won't they just move on?" Even in my old age I found it very hard resisting a response to this pontificating numbskull, but I wanted to set a good example for my son. He then told us that this was a "light friendly" camp or something like that and proceeded to tell us how to use our headlamps. Next was the fish spawning in the creek which were "not yet on a list, but are approaching that" and we should not bother them. 

I started to cook up our noodles when I realized I forgot to bring any utensils at all. Talk about a tense situation. Here we were headed to a daunting desert peak without as much as a spoon! We didn't panic, though. We just dealt with the situation as best we could, which was to use the Loobster's spare spoon. Thank god for the Loobster! But who carries two spoons on such a trip? I can see two pairs of gloves on a winter ascent, in case you drop one, but two spoons? It's like the Loobster, amongst all his other talents, is clairvoyant, predicting the shortcomings of his partners and preparing for it. Nevertheless, crisis averted.

We slept until 5 a.m. and packed and ate leisurely, thinking we'd just be moving camp to Upper Phantom Creek, setting up for a summit bid the next day, though not ruling out a summit bid that day, hence the somewhat early start. We were hiking up the very steep, loose Utah Flats trail at 6:20 a.m. If we didn't climb Isis until Sunday, we'd have to get down and move camp as close to the river as was legal so that we'd have a chance of hiking out and driving home all in one day. Derek had to be at school by Tuesday morning and I didn't want to have to drive through the night. To this intention we scoped out some dry camping options on the ascent. There is a nice sheltered spot just down from the saddle above which would have worked out nicely. We trudged past this spot and up into the boulder-choked Piano Alley, so named because so many of these rocks resemble grand pianos. At the top of the alley we ran into a guy and two ladies returning from a massive adventure hike that had seen them visiting the Cheops-Isis and Isis-Shiva saddles, but not climbing any peaks. Just doing this is substantial and the ladies called it the toughest, scariest day of their hiking lives and they assured us that they had done a lot. Hearing this the Loobster responded, "It sure looks that way!" I would have expected him to follow it up with, "You looked like you've been ridden hard and put up wet. Like you've been wandering the desert without sunscreen your whole life." He meant it to be a sign of his respect for what they have done and that they looked fit and tough enough to do hard things. After slapping him, they got the gist of it.

We bent to the hot task of weaving through the densest patch of cacti I've ever seen, contouring around the base of Cheops and heading towards Isis. Once below Isis, we turned and headed downhill, directly away from the summit. This is one of the most frustrating aspects of climbing this particular temple: a significant amount of the time is spent going in the opposite direction. This is because this peak has considerable defenses in the form of vertical to overhanging cliff bands, many without any climbable features. The Grand Canyon cuts through many different layers of stone, starting with the black, blazing hot, 2-billion-year-old Vishnu schist at the bottom of the canyon. The tiers alternate between vertical layers and sloping layers with the vertical layers obviously being the biggest obstacles. Isis was defended by three difficult bands. The lowest elevation-wise and tallest vertical-wise is the daunting Red Wall. This is very hard, very sharp limestone. This band is so impregnable that unless there is some natural weakness, like a drainage, it is for all intensive purposes impassable. The key to Isis and hence the circuitous nature of the route, was the break in the Red Wall at the back of Phantom Canyon. Here a couple of moderate rock climbing pitches lead to an exposed traverse to a drainage. The technical crux on this route is getting through one of the Supai Group bands. This brown sandstone is very steep, reasonably solid, and occasionally has crack systems splitting them. On Isis there are five to seven steps of Supai. The final barrier is the white Coconino sandstone cap rock, which is crumbly and unstable.   

We descended, steeply, 700 feet down to Phantom Creek where there is a nice campsite. Here we found a couple who were familiar with the area and gave us some information about the other campsites further up stream. There is the Alcove Camp and Hippy Camp. We figured on camping at Hippy Camp, but they told us that would likely be a mile above the last available water. We didn't like the prospect of a dry camp, but what choice did we have? We could camp lower, by the water, and go for the summit from there. This is what the Loobster proposed. If we went for the summit the next day, we'd have a another short day, but it would allow us to start very early in the morning and greatly increase our chances of success. It would also set up the nightmare Monday of hiking for 8 hours and then immediately driving for 11 more hours. 

Mulling that over, we headed upstream. The going here isn't overly brutal, but it is slow. We had to constantly cross and re-cross the stream, mostly bouldering hopping, with some following of use trails. It's 3.5 miles of this before you head up towards the Red Wall. We were entertained by a seemingly impossible density of lizards, considering we didn't have any bug issues at all. What do these things eat? It seemed like lizards were constantly in my view. Not so with the frogs, but in a certain one-mile stretch we found tons of these sun-basking amphibians. They would cling to impossible rock faces above pools of water, baking themselves. I found that I could touch them with my finger if I moved slowly enough towards them. If we cast a shadow over them, though, they'd leap off in cartwheeling dives and splash down to the bottom of the stream.

Around one boulder I heard an awful sound. A sound I've heard before. A sound that immediately brings me to full attention. I immediately stopped and reversed direction back into Derek as the angry rattling sound alerted me to the danger a foot away. A three-and-a-half-foot Western Diamondback rattlesnake. It was maybe three inches in diameter and the biggest rattlesnake I've ever seen. It was angry and coiled, ready to strike. As dangerous as these snakes are, especially in such a remote location, they are very accommodating to give you a warning and a chance to save yourself. If I had been struck, it would have definitively ended the trip. Once bitten if you get antivenom within two hours, 99% of people recover. I had zero chance of that happening. The most important factor in surviving a bite is the length of time between the bite and treatment. For me that would have been a long time. On the plus side, 20% of bites are "dry", meaning that the snake doesn't inject any venom. But that was all moot, as the snake rattled and I backed off. 

The Loobster and I make a good team for a lot of reasons and one of them is our contrast in ambitions. I tend to be overly aggressive and the Loobster is a bit more cautious. We're both a bit restless and would have a hard time lying around camp the entire afternoon. but committing to the summit from so low down, so late in the day, it was now 10:45 a.m., was aggressive. I was surprised the Loobster wasn't pushing us to be more cautious. We decided to roll the dice on "fast and light", though we did decide on a turn-around time of 5 p.m., thinking we could come down a lot quicker.

We spent 45 minutes repacking our packs, hanging up all our food, and pumping 80 ounces of water per person. At 11:30 a.m. with just the bare essentials of our 200-foot rope, a rack, helmets and harnesses, some food and our water, we headed for the summit. Derek and I were in shorts and short-sleeve shirts. The Loobster in long pants. We all carried our rain shells, but that was it for shelter. We had to get back down to this gear.

We continued another mile or so up the creek, finding water for most of the way. Water that was more appealing than what we had pumped, but what was done, was done. We found the extremely steep, loose trail that led from the stream up to the base of the Red Wall. Parnell had called the two steep pitches above us 5.4, but he had soloed them unroped. Another had called it 4th class, so we started up unroped. I'd probably agree with Parnell about the rating, though the two sections weren't very long, they were very steep, nearly vertical. Thankfully the limestone was solid and provided good handholds. This is the first time I'd ever not roped up Derek on something so steep and I was nervous. I cautioned him to be in "alpine mode" and to check every handhold before committing to it. Derek was completely calm and did just what I did. It looked like he'd been doing this stuff for twenty years instead of this being his first adventure of this nature, instead of this being his first vertical solo.

We climbed steeply for maybe thirty feet and traversed a bit right to easier terrain. This led to a small shoulder where a fixed line lay over the second steep section. Both Derek and I climbed the wall without using the rope, not out of purity, but because I felt the rock provided better handholds. This steep section ended at a small ledge that we traversed right for a couple of hundred feet, passing one section that was only six inches wide, though thankfully with good handholds.

The traverse led us to the lip of the pour-off and hence the top of the Red Wall, though above us to the left the wall still loomed. We hiked back up the gully, scrambled up another 30-40 foot wall and zigged and zagged up a wooded and brushy slope. We contoured around the side to the left, now fully above the Red Wall and on a sloping level. We had to traverse this band to the Shiva-Isis saddle. We were actually on Shiva at this point, but finally headed directly for Isis' summit.

The traverse to the summit is trail-less, of course, as everything has been once off the Utah Flats, but this is more frustrating, as you go up and down to avoid impassable boulders and thickets. We dropped into and out of a gully of sharp ravines in the slope and made the saddle after twenty minutes of traversing. This was way easier than the grueling traverse the Loobster, Homie and I had made to get to the Freya Castle-Vishnu saddle.

We made our way up the ridge from the saddle over relatively easy ground, heading towards the north ridge. We made our way through a couple of the shorter Supai bands unroped. Derek found one option up a 15-foot tall band, but the Loobster and I thought it looked a bit hard and traversed a bit to the right. I was working up the weakness I found when Derek appeared above me. He had gone up his way and said it was casual.

We proceeded up to the biggest band, which was probably 200 or more feet high on it northernmost end. We knew we weren't going up that and started traversing right, looking for a weakness. I feared having to go way around the edge to the west and tried to see a weakness when there wasn't one. I probed one option that looked possible, but found it was going to be dicey for ten feet to get to a crack and there was a dangerous fall potential. Loobster traversed more to the right and thought he found a good spot. As he stepped back to get a better look, Derek arrived and said, "Here's the ski pole." Loobster had not seen it since his neck was craned back to scan the wall above.

I quickly joined them and we donned harnesses and helmets. I led up the fifty-foot wall with little difficulties, finding and clipping the pin that the Tomasi's had placed on the first ascent. It protected the last slab move, though a yellow Alien looked like it would have worked as well. I hauled up my pack and Derek's pack and the Loobster followed with his pack on. While I coiled the ropes, the others hiked up to the next Supai cliff and started scanning for weaknesses.

The going was a bit tedious as we had to climb 5 to 7 of these Supai bands. Most of these cliff faces are completely unclimbable, but each have a climbable weakness, of course, and all of them save the big one we just did have somewhat easy passage. The trick is finding them. Do you walk to the left or the right? We didn't know and frequently did both. All this takes time.

One 50-foot band had us stumped for a bit but we walked to the left and near the prow found we could scramble up some ledges and traverse further to the left, as the ground fell away below us. Derek led this scramble and near the top we had to enter a short but vertical squeeze section. I then took the lead, wanting to scope it out beofre him.  He backed down to my stance and I took over the lead. We were unroped at this point and I wanted to make sure it was climbable and if not, at least I'd be in the front carrying the rope and rack. I struggled up the slot, getting my pack wedged a bit. It wasn't too hard, but a bit burly and we were now 60 or 70 feet above the sloping terrain below. Once on top, I dropped my pack, pulled out the rope and dropped two ends for my companions. They clipped in and soon joined me on top. Once again, I coiled and they forged ahead.

The last Supai band was a tricky one. Derek once again probed the lower weaknesses first. We had spotted a fin of rock that led partway up the wall, where upward progress ended, but a ledge, with an overhang just two feet above it, led left to a chimney/slot that looked like it might provide access through the band. I scampered up behind Derek and then took the lead. I crawled left on the ledge and entered the slot. Some chimney moves saw me to the top of that and I called for the others to follow. There was still a five foot face to tackle, now with some exposure, but everyone was solid and we were finally atop the Supai bands.

The summit looked so close. We just had to hike up the steepening slope above us to the Coconino sandstone summit cap, traverse around to the east and look for the 4th class weakness, and soon we'd be on top. Derek led the way as it started to rain and loud thunder seem to shake the entire canyon. It was 4:30 p.m. We'd been through so much that I couldn't imagine turning around. I told as much to the Loobster, saying the turn-around time was null and void now. He knew it. He agreed. Silently I knew we'd probably not be making it back to the sleeping bags tonight. It had taken too long and the descent wouldn't be very quick, but as long as we weren't making it down, we might as well go get the summit.

The rain continued to fall, but not too heavily. I figured the sandstone was still climbable and if we could only get to the climbing before it got too wet...

Derek led us up the loose slope, which became incredibly steep as we neared the cliff. We hit the walls on the far north end, just below the highest of the twin summits. Unfortunately, the fourth class weakness rises from the low point between the peaks and this was to the south. Way to the south. We traversed up and down along the base of the wall and it wore us down. The sun fell further down the horizon, the rain continued, and around each corner was more unclimbable rock.

Eventually I overtook Derek and pushed the search for a solution a bit harder. Derek's enthusiasm waned, as all of ours were. I rounded a corner and found the entire slope had slid away. What remained was daunting: 50 degree dirt. I didn't want to cross it and tried to force a 4th class route up 5.9 terrain. That didn't work. We descended a bit and Loobster led the way across the deteriorating slope. This was like traversing a technical friction slab except that it was entirely dirt. I tried to move up at one point and kept sliding back down to the same spot. The dirt was hard enough where you couldn't really make a step and the surface just slid away. We just had to move very delicately. When Loobster and I got across the 100-foot section I looked back and saw Derek perched on a boulder, just watching us. He was spent mentally and just needed a break. He needed us to say, "Hey, I found the way up and it looks super easy!" We couldn't say that just yet and I chided him to close ranks.

Just past the dirt slab we found a break that looked climbable. I led up damp sandstone and felt two sections were tricky, especially with the wet rock. I dropped my pack and pulled out the rope. By the time I had dropped a loop the Loobster was past the tricky section. I dropped it further to Derek, but he was solid, cranked the move and I packed the rope. The Loobster looked left and said it wouldn't go. I looked right and it was a dead end, so I traversed left a bit lower and found easy slabs around the corner, but the summit still looked a long way off.

I led up sandstone slabs and blocks, rushing to tag to the summit so that we could start the descent. The rain had stopped and the clouds had cleared. The low sun covered us in soft light as we stepped onto the top. It was 5:21. I still hoped we could make the Shiva-Isis saddle before darkness and told the others that we should start down in 9 minutes. Derek took one photo of Loobster and I. The Loobster was too busy eating and drinking, trying to catch up on our deficit, to take a photo. We were happy to have made it, but didn't celebrate much, too concerned about the descent.

The Loobster thought we should descend off the west side. At first I thought this was crazy. We knew the route on the east side, as horrible as it was. The west was unknown. We didn't even know if we could get to the ground that way. I rejected it, but as I approached the saddle between the two summits, the sunlit slabs below me to the west beckoned and I changed my mind. I scampered down to the edge of the cliff. It didn't look that far to the ground. I knew we could make it in 200 feet, but we needed it to be less than 100 feet to retrieve the rope. I found a bush and wrapped a sling around it for an anchor. Then spotted a better bush that was directly up a spur of dirt that was higher up. After setting up there, we moved again, spotting a large tree a bit further north. We scrambled over to it, over probably low-5th class terrain. I lowered Derek to the ground in what would soon be our standard operating procedure. I'd lower him down as he held the other end of the rope. If he hit the ground before he had to let go of the other end, then the Loobster and I could rappel and retrieve the rope. If he had to let go, he'd still make it down, provided it was less than 200 feet, but at least one of us (me) would have to find an alternate way to the ground.

In the end we never had to split up, never had to find an alternate descent. Each time Derek touched down with both ends. On this first one we wrapped the rope around the tree and were able to pull it down without leaving any gear. On subsequent rappels in the Supai bands we left slings and biners three times. Traversing the slopes below the Coconino summit on the west side was much easier and soon we were back at the top of the highest Supai band. With more time we might have been able to find all the weaknesses we had climbed up, but we were now racing the quickly fading daylight. We searched only to find an anchor (usually a sturdy bush) from which we could rappel to the slopes below and also be able to retrieve the rope.

For each Supai cliff we'd descend to the edge, search for an anchor, lower Derek down, have him do a test pull, and then rappel down to join him. Lather, rinse repeat four times until it was completely dark and we were atop the biggest cliff. Our headlamps couldn't see the ground and if we lowered Derek off a cliff that was more than 200 feet high, we'd have been completely stuck because Derek didn't know how to use prusiks and would have no way to re-ascend the rope. We were tired from 13 hours on the move and couldn't find a safe way down. We had to stop for the night.

The night was long, cold, and uncomfortable. Derek and I emptied our packs and used them as mini-sleeping bags for our lower legs, since we were in shorts. We put on our rain shells and lay down on the only semi-flat terrain, tucked right up against the cliff we had just rappelled. The Loobster tucked himself under the overhang where the rock was only a few inches above his face. Despite his long pants, he was quite cold and let us know it. Derek didn't make a peep. He just dealt with the situation like this was just another unplanned bivy like the countless he has already survived, except that he'd never done anything like this. His ability to handle the situation so easily marks him as a true adventurer. He doesn't worry about what he can't control. He just takes each situation and does the best with what he has.

Derek and I have developed a short tradition of listening to an audio book when we make these road trips for climbs. We got deep into a book on the 11-hour drive down and now we played it through the night. The app on my phone has a sleep timer and I set the book to play for 30 minutes at a time. I'd occasionally nod off and lose my place in the book or sometimes I'd awaken and notice that the book wasn't playing. If it wasn't for these events I'd have thought I didn't sleep at all. Even the Loobster, who was coming into the middle of the book, would prod me to start it up again whenever it would stop. It was a way to occupy your mind and to make time in the long night. We finished the book before morning.

By 5 a.m. it was starting to get light. We were moving by 5:30. None of us had eaten much the night before and we still weren't very interested. I downed the last of my water before we broke camp. Derek had maybe 20 ounces left and the Loobster a bit more. It wasn't a big concern just yet as it was still shaded and cold out.

We walked way north and found the cliff way too high and reversed direction. We were searching for the cliff above the ski pole. I spotted a solid tree near the edge and made for it. Upon arriving I found slings and a biner. We rapped to the ground and were finally back down through the Supai bands. We easily made our way down to the saddle and re-crossed the slopes of Shiva to the brush-choked gully leading down to the Red Wall break. I navigated by feel and got us back to the airy traverse. We did two rappels down the Red Wall and thankfully stripped off our harnesses and helmets at the base. We were down all the technical terrain. It was over except for the marching. And we had a lot of marching to go.

An hour later we were back at our packs and out of water. We weren't too dehydrated yet and decided to head downstream to better water. We ended up hiking 2.5 miles clear down to the first camp in Upper Phantom and stopped there, extremely parched. We all drank directly from the stream, not wanting to take the time to pump. Derek and I were committed to going clear to the rim tonight. Derek was dreaming of a Bright Angel Lodge burger, like the one he had after hiking out from his river trip last summer. I knew getting out would make the drive home on Monday casual, so I was in. The Loobster didn't need to get out today and he was tired. He elected to stay another night in the canyon and we bid him goodbye at 11:12 a.m.

It was very hot now, heading towards 90 degrees. Derek and I had downed 40 ounces of liquid before starting the trek up to and across the Utah Flats. On the hike we downed the 50 ounces we each carried. We had to rehydrate ourselves for the 5000-foot climb out from there.

As soon as we arrived back at the Bright Angel Campground, we took off our shoes and soaked our feet in Phantom Creek for twenty minutes. We then drank another 20 ounces and filled up with 80 ounces each for the hike out. We chatted with a very personable ranger named Della who was very excited about our adventure. She told us tales of unprepared hikers, whom she called Goobs, and the work she and the other rangers do to keep people from dying down here. While we hydrated we heard a couple talking to her her about how they had just hiked down for the day and now felt they couldn't get back out. They had no camping gear, no reservations at the Phantom Lodge or the campground. They wanted a mule ride out, but were told they were roundtrip only. They were going to need a rescue of some sort and probably needed to stay the night. It's amazing how many people make this mistake. At least with a mountain people get tired quicker and turn around sooner and when they do it is downhill. At the Grand Canyon it's relatively easy to go down it and then they are in serious trouble.

Derek and I started up at 2:25 p.m. into the black, searing heat of the Vishnu Schist. We felt like were were hiking through an actual oven. We decided to take turns leading for a mile at a time. It was just a way to pass the time. Our goal was forty minutes per mile and each time we banked some extra time we knew we could spend it taking a rest break. We conserved our water, knowing we could only drink 10 ounces per mile. I could have easily drank a liter per mile, had I been able to carry it. We rested in the shade almost every chance we got.

Halfway up we turned around two Germans descending without water. I didn't hem or haw about it. I told him point blank, "You need to turn around. Now." They did. A bit later we ran into a Russian girl named Olga. She had nothing with her besides a long-sleeve shirt wrapped around her waist. I gave her the same message and we moved on. A bit later Derek glanced down and then told me, "She's still going down." I thought, there's a rescue. But she turned around almost immediately after this and soon caught us. She'd stay with us most of the way out and I shared my water with her. Without it, I doubt she would have made it out. She had two companions that had run down to the river (we had seen them pass by) and was worried about them. I figured they'd be okay, but they'd be coming up in the dark. They had no lights, but at least it would be cooler then, and Olga mentioned they did indeed have water, which they could fill at the bottom.

A mile and a half from the top, with Derek in the lead, he looked back at me and said, "I'm feeling strong." I knew that meant he wouldn't be needing me to take a turn at the front and that he'd be hiking for the top at his pace. I stayed with Olga a bit longer to hydrate her as much as I could and when she really started to fade, only a mile from the top, I gave her one last pull off my Camelback and wished her good luck. She was in good shape, though moving slow, and I was sure she'd be fine getting out.

I pushed the pace just a bit and found I was closing on Derek, who was stopping intermittently to snap a photo or two. I decided it would be cool to finish together and worked even harder. I caught him just as he started up the last switchbacks to the trailhead. He eased his pace a bit and we hiked out together, ending our biggest adventure together.

I was more than impressed with Derek's stamina on day three. I knew he was fit and a strong, fast hiker for an afternoon and maybe a full day, but I did not expect him to match me on day three, far less drop me. He's a man now, arriving there a bit too early for my taste. I had envisioned many years of me being the strong one, the leader, teaching and mentoring him on many adventures. Now I see a different future. One where Derek will be shouldering the bulk of the work and then the bulk of the leading. One where he's taking me on adventures, showing me new things, taking me places I couldn't go without him to help me. I just hope he remains interested in me as a partner. I just hope I can maintain at least half the skills and endurance of the Loobster. I thought I was guiding an old guy and a young kid on a grand adventure, but the old guy made all the right decisions and the young guy was the strongest. I wasn't as relevant as I expected, but that isn't a bad thing. We were a team, each contributing something to the success and safety of each other. I am encouraged and inspired so much by both Loobster and Derek. Loobster is setting the bar for my future years. One I will be hard-pressed to come even close. Derek is years ahead of where I was at his age. Ten years ahead. Oh the places he'll go...

Derek did indeed enjoy that burger he had been dreaming about. I was too tired to even eat a third of mine. I was wasted and too tired to drive. Derek was tired, but alert. He drove us out of the park and found a turnout for us to sleep. I thought I'd have a rough night of achy legs and cramps, but I slept easily, beside my son, under the clear Milky Way above. The next day the drive home went easily and Derek drove half of it. I told him before that it takes at least a year for me before I'll consider trying another temple, but with companions like these, I'm already game for another. As always, the most important part of an adventure isn't the peak, they will always be there. It's the companions. My time with both Loobster and Derek is limited. I need to make hay now.  Angel's Gate, here we come.

Derek and I both wore LaSportiva Explorer approach shoes. These are the shoes that I scramble the Flatirons in. Derek wore the standard version (my pair actually, as we have the same size feet) and I wore the mid-height, Gore-Tex version. This was the same boot that I used to climb the Eiger. I liked the higher height as it gave me more ankle protection on the loose terrain. We did all the climbing in these boots and brought no other footwear. 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Bastille Routes w/Derek

Today was my birthday and I wanted to climb with Derek in Eldo, so that's what I did. We wanted to climb Blind Faith, but apparently the other climbers either didn't know it was my birthday or didn't care.

We hiked up to Blind Faith and found a couple of chicks on it. One was halfway up the first pitch. We didn't want to wait (this turned out to be the right decision) and headed further up the hill to Out to Lunge (5.9). I led this as one very long pitch, up to the walk off ledge. Derek followed and he paused quite awhile at one point. When he got to the ledge I found out why. He couldn't get out a yellow Alien and had to leave it. I then rappelled down the route with my nut tool and was able to dig it out. Derek should have been carrying the nut tool. My bad.

We hiked back down to Blind Faith and found two guys sitting at the base, waiting to get on the route. The second chick was now halfway up the first pitch, hanging at the crux. Oh well, it wasn't meant to be. Instead we did Breakfast in Bed (5.8). We both had some trouble figuring out the first overhang. I'd climbed it before and I didn't remember what to do there until I finally spied the hidden crack over the bulge. Until you see this, it appears to be much harder than 5.8.

That was it, for I had a full birthday schedule to keep!

Friday, April 25, 2014

King Conquer

This morning I went up onto Flagstaff Mountain to...boulder! Sort of. Actually, to toprope a hard boulder problem that was too tall to jump off safely. This problem is rated V3, so about 13 grades below the top grade of V16. Still, I couldn't touch it. That translates, supposedly to 11d, which I normally can't touch, but maybe can get with lots of work. This one will take a lot of work. Right now it just doesn't seem likely I'll be able to pull on one of the key holds.

I went up there with Rick Accomazzo, of the famed Stonemasters. Back in the day when he climbed this with Pat Ament (the first ascensionist), he soloed it. He didn't do that today, but he cruised it nicely on TR. He then did it with a sit start.

All I really did all morning was three relatively easy, though overhanging, hand jams. That led up to the move that I couldn't do. Still, I roughed up my hands quite a bit. It was humbling and reminded me why I don't boulder on Flagstaff - everything is too hard for me. Well, most things. And the rock is so rough. And I'm a little girl...

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Chasm Lake Before Work

Mark and I did our first early morning, high-altitude run today. It was pretty much packed snow right from the Longs Peak parking lot clear to Chasm Lake. The only exceptions were a bunch of patches above tree line to Chasm Cut-off. The steep traverse on the slopes of Mount Lady Washington were pretty firm when we crossed them at 7 a.m. We wore Kahtoola Microspikes for everything except the section previously mentioned.

The ascent took us 81 minutes and we came down in less than an hour, all at a casual pace. We hiked most of the way up there and ran nearly all of the descent.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Breaking Bad: Chasing the Naked Edge Speed Record

Frequently climbers who haven’t tried speed climbing disdain it. I can imagine why. Speed on a route has traditionally been a measure of competence. There is no way around that and if someone climbs a route faster than you...are they more competent? Maybe. Maybe not, but slower climbers sometimes are threatened. Not always, of course. The really secure climbers might be jazzed about the speed of others, even while not interested in personally playing that game. Others feign no interest in such precisely timed events, feeling they are above reducing a climb to a single number, though that is exactly what difficult ratings do.

While the reactions to record breaking ascents are mixed, I’ve found one aspect of speed climbing to be universally consistent. Once you’ve tried it, you come away with one overwhelming feeling: That was so much fun! The only people turning up their noses at speed climbing are the ones who haven’t tried it.

The most famous speed record in all of climbing is, beyond any doubt, the Nose on El Capitan. It has been the most blatantly competitive speed record since Hans Florine and Peter Croft went at each other in the early 90’s, though it started well before that. Colorado has had no real equivalent, as no other place does. The Diamond is an obvious choice and recently the winter speed record has seen quite a bit of attention, but it isn’t the same. With the latest Nose speed ascents there has been a sizeable crowd in El Cap Meadow cheering on the climbers.

But things seem to be heating up in Colorado on one of the state’s most storied routes: The Naked Edge. This route is classically five pitches long (with a two-pitch approach), but hardmen frequently link the first and second pitches and the fourth and fifth pitches. The pitch ratings are 11a, 10b, 8, 11a, and 11b. The speed progression on this route, as far as I know, has been:

  1. 1h, 1988, Mark Gay and Keith Pike (reference: Matt Buckner)
  2. 1h38m, early 1990s, Michael Gilbert and Rob Slater.
  3. 1h22m, Sept. 6, 2006, Bob Rotert and Dave Vaughn. Parking-lot-to-parking-lot. Done traditional style (presumably as three pitches, with an unroped approach).
  4. 1h13m, Dec. 2010, Scott Bennet and Blake Herrington. Bridge-to-bridge in 1h13m (the bridge is 50yds from the parking lot, but they thought it was a more consistent starting point). Same style as Bob and Dave: all free, soloed up the ramp to the base, and then pitched it out in 3 pitches.
  5. 49m44s, May 2012, Jason Wells and Stefan Griebel. Bridge-to-bridge (from the center). Simul-climbed as one pitch after soloing up to the start.
  6. 44m??s, Jan 2013, Scott Bennett and Brad Gobright. Bridge-go-bridge, Simul-climbed as one pitch after soloing up to the start.

Stefan and Jason went back for the record on April 9th. I’ve put up a really rough, incomplete video of that record-breaking ascent here:

That day they went 40m36s and didn’t want to publicize it until they had a chance to break forty minutes. This evening, April 22nd, they returned to give it a solid effort. They did one lap up the Edge in a casual 60 minutes to get it fresh in their minds. After a thirty minute rest, they gunned it.

Both climbers ran from the bridge to the base of the wall and soloed up three hundred feet of climbing, up to 5.8 in difficulty, in six and a half minutes. Then Stefan tied into the rope and fired up the first pitch in just a touch over four minutes. At the top of pitch one, two, and four Stefan places a mini-traxion or Ropeman device to protect him against Jason falling.

Stefan fired the second pitch in under three minutes and by then Jason was done with the first pitch. Fourteen minutes later Stefan was atop the Edge and pulling in rope. They did the entire slab descent in around 5 minutes and hit the bridge in 35m01s.

Both climbers stress that, while it is cool to currently have the speed record, the overriding reason they do this is because it is incredibly fun. I’m not remotely in their league, and they probably aren’t in Florine and Honnold’s league, but the constant among all of us is that cruising up a great route without having to stop and belay is an absolute blast.

Congrats to Stefan and Jason.

Here is Jason's report on the record:

Ohhhhhh yeah so much fun!
415pm we roll into the parking lot all psyched up. It just doesnt get old, in fact it just gets more fun!
First warm up lap I made a wrong turn on the solo climbing approach as I was chatting away with Stefan, and heard a "ahem...ah Jason, where are you going?" One would think I would have it dialed at this point, but apparently I need some neon arrows. Later while I was simuling on the chimney pitch with Stefan on the overhanging handcrack I got the rope stuck and proceeded to short rope Stefan so bad I thought he was going to pull me out of the chimney and I was going to get him so pumped he'd fall out of the crack. Dang it! Simuling that part was way tougher than I remembered. It sprinkled a little on route and with the humidity, that slippery eldorado sandstone was feeling like glass. 1:03 later and we were back at the bridge and my confidence was quite low that the next run would be "it". But one thing I've learned is I never really know so we agreed to give 100% and see what happens.
The passing rain brought cooler temps and a nice breeze, so by the time we were ready at 6pm for round 2 conditions were splitter.
With the cobwebs now cleared out, perfect temps and the 100% pact made, we slammed the pedal to the metal on round 2. I was fully maxed on the approach, breathing as fast as I could and trying to shut out the pain. Nothing else mattered but moving up and all there was to focus on was the few square feet in front of me. No thinking, just doing. Then the adrenalin kicked in. This time I didnt make a wrong turn. Hit the base in like 6min with Stefan saving and pacing slightly behind so I would have time to set up the rope. Stefan tied in and after having fun taking a minute to figure out how a micro traxion works, sudenly took off like a shot. Three pieces of gear and about as many minutes later he slammed a micro traxion on the anchor and I was climbing. The rope was flying up ahead of me. I could barely keep up and resorted to whipping gear out and letting it hang off the rope, hoping I'd have a couple seconds to take it off later. Half way through guidebook pitch 2 I just knew we were at record pace. The rope just kept sprinting ahead. Stefan was really moving. We topped out and as Stefan coiled the rope I began the descent. My climbing shoes were slowing me down so I switched to approach shoes. Stefan started to pull ahead in the last 200 feet so I took what felt like the first risk of the day and let it fly for the last few boulder hops. We hit the middle of the bridge a split second apart and Stefan stopped his watch. 35:01.
One of the most fun times climbing! 100% focus with no distractions. So hard to get to that place in life for me. Good times!!!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Dinosaur Mountain Sport Climbing

I went up to Dinosaur Mountain today with Tom and Bruno. Tom and I were recruited to belay Bruno on his project Milkbone (5.13a). Bruno was close to sending it. He'd done all the moves and just needed to link it. He has it down to just two hangs.

We met at NCAR and hiked up the Mallory Cave Trail to the north face of Dinosaur Rock. To warm up, Bruno cruised up a Patience Face (5.12a), making it look super easy. While Bruno led this I went for my own warm-up on Sunnyside II, a 5.0 scramble on nearby Der Zerkle. Detect a difference in our warm up routes? This is very indicative of our respective abilities.

I then followed Patience Face on toprope and got totally crushed. I made it up a few clips before coming off my first time. I got back on and climbed up to the first crux, which I couldn't do and pulled through on the draws. I did the same at the second crux. And again at the finishing section. It felt 5.12 to me while pulling on the draws! There are many hidden or hard to find holds on the route. Bruno called up copious beta to me but my lack of power, endurance and technique were the limiting factors.

Not so with Tom, though. He flashed it! I was super impressed having just been completely stumped. Tom climbed it really well, very smooth. Oh, and the reason I went first was to clean the draws. Tom, like me, is one of those very rare climbers that still likes to redpoint routes, not pink point them.

While Bruno took a go at redpointing Milkbone (yes, a redpoint go, though he'll be satisfied when he gets the pinkpoint), I went off on another scramble. This time up the East Face of Dinosaur Rock (5.5). I was testing out my new scrambling shoes: La Sportiva Mix. The seemed to work pretty well, but I don't think the rubber on them is as sticky as the dot rubber that was on the old Exum Ridge shoes.

When I got back to the base I found a chaotic outdoor gym. People, kids, and ropes were everywhere. I was hoping to get another burn on Patience Face, to pull down Tom's draws, but the rope had been pulled and another team was loitering at the base. Not climbing, but getting ready to climb - a process that would take them another 15 minutes. Dang. I was just going to head out, as I don't enjoy this scene. I have exactly zero interest in going to an outdoor climbing gym. This atmosphere was more crowded than Movement. I train in gym in winter, but when it comes to climbing outside, I want at least a little wilderness or at least a little space from other climbers. Tom could see that I was frustrated and he convinced me to take a burn on Milkbone. I was reluctant, thinking I wouldn't get more than a couple feet up it. There is no chance I'd ever work that route, as it is 3 letter grades above my hardest redpoint and well beyond my abilities. But, given that I was there and at least wanted to get more of a workout in, I reluctantly headed up. I made it up to the start of the crux, three bolts up, and then, after finding the holds useless, starting pulling on draws with gusto. I still had to hang very few seconds, but I pulled myself to the top of the route, nearly without grabbing the rock! I think Tom, belaying me, got in more of a workout than I did. He did a masterful job of keeping the rope tight, despite starting with 200 feet of rope out.

I lowered up and re-clipped the rope into the draws on the way down. Tom was up for a TR lap, but gave it up early as he was running into the rope of another climber on Ultrasaurous and a climber lowering off Patience Face nearly landed on my head while I was belaying. It was a very unpleasant scene and Tom didn't like it any better than I did.

Bruno had led Milkbone, placing the draws, with just two hangs. That was really his second warm-up. He now pulled the rope and prepared to send it. Tom belayed and I shot some video. Bruno is very strong and a really good technical climbers. He uses his feet and positions his body so well. It's very instructive and inspiring to watch him climb. He got up to the first crux, turned the roof onto the pillar, made the clip. Then his feet slipped off, but somehow he hung on and moved up to the next clip, the crux clip. Here, he ran out of juice and had to grab the draw to clip. Dang. He hung one more time just a clip or two above and then finished clean. I don't know, but I think chaos of the scene disrupted his efforts as well.

We packed up and moved over to the south face of Der Zerkle, which has three separate areas of bolted sport climbs. We got on one of the lower routes with a vicious sandbag reputation called April Fools (5.11c). Tom led up, but not without difficulty. He fell off between the second and third bolts. He fell again. He made the third clip and took. He climbed way above the fifth clip, didn't like and downclimbed to take again. Then he finished it. I followed using my now customary draw-grabbing approach and had a hard time imagining how I'd ever do it. The route is very overhung and the handholds are bad, but the footholds are much worse.

Or so we thought until we watched Bruno onsight it. He purposely didn't look up and watch either of us climb it and then he just read it so well and styled it! To me it was the best performance of the day. I asked him how hard he thought it was and he said, "I think 11c is about right." Hmmm... Tom gave it another try, with the draws in place - very unusual for him. He climbed smoothly and got the pinkpoint, looking pretty solid.

We then climbed another, shorter, overhanging route that starts at the bottom of Sunnyside Two. This route is called ? and is rated 11b. This is probably right. If I had trained in the gym more on the steeper gray wall, I'd have been better prepared for it. Alas, I don't usually climb on the steep walls in the gym, telling myself that "I never climb that angle outside." But here I was climbing that angle all day... Or rather, not climbing that angle all day.

Bruno cruised the route easily. I fell off a couple of times following, but for the first time all day, I made the ascent without pulling on the draws! Tom and Bruno were stunned. Tom then led it, easily as well, and I decided to try again, with a bit more beta. This time I climbed it clean, albeit just on toprope. I think I could lead this route in a couple more tries. I'll probably work on that.

That was it. We packed up and hiked back to the car.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Bolting For Glory and T2 Start w/Derek

Pulling over the A-shaped notch on the first pitch of Touch and Go
Derek and went to Eldo today. We originally planned to repeat what Mark and I did last weekend, but weather and crowds had us change plans slightly. We geared at the car and then walked to the first pitch of Touch and Go (5.8+) where we talked two young guys out of the climb and they moved on up the hill and we took off. As I was flaking the rope, it started to snow. Great. I thought I'd just be coiling it back up, but Derek really wanted to do this pitch. Two years ago it has stumped him, Arthur, and my brother. So I led up to the ramp and then Derek followed nicely, easily doing the lower crux and taking just a bit to figure out the A-shaped pinch above.

From the ledge I noticed Tanya and Bruno below. They had bailed off their route when it started to snow and now the weather was looking better and they decided to climb Touch and Go as well. So, as Bruno led the first pitch, I led Bolting for Glory (10a). This time I moved right off the belay, put in a blue Alien and made it up to the first bolt much quicker than last time. I knew the moves to the second bolt and soon I was there. At that point things started to go downhill for me. I could not get comfortable with either the handholds or footholds. I stepped up and down a couple of times before committing and falling off! I was right at the bolt so I "fell" about three feet. Derek caught me and I got it next try, but, dang, I'm regressing! I mantled out the last hard move after clipping the third bolt and then went hard left after clipping the fourth bolt, ala Mark from last week.

Derek followed the pitch quickly and cleanly! First time he's climbed something that I fell off of! He's just really good with his feet. He has the confidence of a toprope and he just trusts his feet and pulls on the terrible, rounded, tiny holds. He looked way better getting by the third bolt as well, not doing the desperate mantle that I do.

Climbing up Bolting for Glory
We gazed over at Anthill Direct, which had a party on the third pitch - the really long, runout pitch. A chick was leading with a pack on and she was going the wrong way. I had watched them at the belay and they took forever and a day to do the change-over. I knew then we wouldn't be following them up. They were way too slow. I asked if they wanted some route advice and the second nodded so I started telling the chick that she needed to go hard left. She yelled back, "I don't need any beta, thank you." Oops. My bad. Just trying to help. I thought they might be in trouble, but she had things under control. She was probably a solid leader, just unfamiliar with the terrain and not reading it right at first. I sure done that many times in the past. A bit later another chick wearing a pack comes up the first pitch and launches straight into the second pitch. Lo and behold, it is Michelle from the Minions.

Well, that route was too busy for us and I offered up toproping the first pitch of T2 (11b/c) and Derek was game. I led up a short, easy pitch to the bolted anchors that are above the anchors on T2. Derek followed and we did two raps to the ground. Off our last anchor we could toprope the first pitch of T2. This is an extremely burly, very overhung start where you get horizontal for a bit and even on toprope you can hit the slab if you fall. I have. I coached Derek to run down the hill a bit if I came off.

I pulled off the ground on the small but positive crimps and stuck my right foot straight up into a crack. I'm I then deadpointed to the rail above. Hitting it, I then swung my right foot up into a heel hook above my head. I was now horizontal to the ground. I deadpointed my left hand over to match, switched my heel hook to a toe hook and pulled for all I was worth and then deadpointed for the flake above me with my right hand. I got it! I pulled up on the still very overhanging ground and made a deadpoint to the crimp. I moved my feet way to the right and bumped the right hand higher. Then I could move up my left hand and reach right to the finishing jugs. Whew! The rest of the pitch is steep fun at mostly 5.7/8 with a touch of 5.9 thrown in.
Derek learning how to let go with both hands while on rappel, by wrapping the rope around his leg.
I rapped off and it was Derek's turn. He gave it four good tries, each time having to lower to the ground because it is so steep that you can't get back on it. Once he came within a foot of the slab below, but I caught him. He made the match to the rail each time, but couldn't make the reach to the flake. He wasn't as efficient with his feet, which are technical as they have to be twisted into a crack that up under the roof, but he could hang on a good long time. It's just a hard boulder problem. I think it is V4, but the ratings on this pitch range from 10d to 11b. All seem soft to me. It's way burly.

Since Derek couldn't finish the crux, where I had clipped a directional draw at the top,  I had to climb it again. I was a bit worried I couldn't pull it off a second time, but I was just able to make it happen. Nice. There have certainly been times where I couldn't do this problem. I am no where near ready to lead this thing, though, and probably never will be. I'd have to be MUCH stronger as it's a ground fall (possibly onto your back) from about twenty feet up before you can clip the pin, which would be very difficult to clip anyway.

That was it for us and we headed back to the car. Fun times.
Topping out on Bolting for Glory