Monday, March 23, 2015

Spring Break, Day 2: Ancient Art

No Strava - stupid Garmin software...

After pizza, we drove out to the Fisher Towers. There is a campground there, but it only has five sites and all were taken. Actually, one site didn’t have a car there, but it had a tag reserving the site. I pulled up to another site where a couple was sitting at the picnic table. They had an SUV that was pulling a tiny habitat and hence, had not tent up. I put down my window and started chatting them up. Their names were Mica and Michelle and they had a vizsla named Ruby, who was very affectionate. I asked if we could park by their site and throw up our tents. They looked inside the car and saw two clean-cut teenagers and nodded their assent. We immediately hit it off with all three of them and joined them around their campfire.

The next morning, after I got up, made coffee, ate breakfast,  packed my tent, I tried to roust the boys. This was less than successful. I was gentle with them. They are strong, young boys, but their psyche is in an especially delicate balance at this time of day. I mentioned that there was no great rush at this point, but a party had already left, presumably for the same route. Arthur responded with, “So, there’s no need to rush, but rush anyway.” I sometimes do rush to get onto a climb before the crowds, but not this morning. This was as un-rushed as I can be when it comes to climbing. This young padawan still had a lot to learn.

Packs loaded and attitudes adjusted, we marched along the trail toward Ancient Art. It is only a mile to the base of the route and we soon arrived to watch the team in front of us climbing the chimney pitch. They had a couple of friends watching them from the base and they were desperately trying to stay out of the gale-force winds. These winds were so strong that it prevented this first party from standing on the very top and we wondered if it would do the same to us.
I had to put some pressure on Derek to get him to change into long pants, but he relented and was very glad for this higher up. We all wore light jackets as well. 

Arthur did all the belaying on this tower and followed last, reversing roles with Derek from the previous day. I elected to break up the first pitch into two very short ones, as the guidebook recommended this for free climbing and it makes sense to me since the crux climbing is on the second pitch and quite delicate.
I zipped up easy, 5.6 cracks to a spacious ledge and brought the boys up.

The next pitch is only about forty feet long, but has the toughest moves of the climb. You climb up a broad scoop where delicate and creative stemming are required since the handholds to surmount one budge are too small for me to use. Thankfully the climbing is closely bolted - it’s actually a bolt ladder - and many parties just pull through. You can climb this tower with just 5.8 free climbing and aid the rest. All free the tower goes at 5.10 and that’s the way we did it.

I worked out the feet and was quickly at the belay. Derek followed and experienced the same “there are no holds” consternation that I did. After he checked the slab above the bulge three or four times to make sure he wasn’t missing any holds, he worked out the very cool footwork and arrived at the belay. Arthur didn’t have the patience to figure out the footwork, but he did have 5.12+ crimping strength and just bore down on a microscopic crystal, one that I never even considered as a hold, and pulled up. It was impressive.

The next pitch is a really fun 100-foot chimney pitch that is climbed mostly via stemming on great holds. This pitch is just so fun and both the boys loved it. It ends on a huge ledge with three fat rappel/belay bolts and we hung out there, waiting for the party above to descend. You can’t really continue upwards from here until the rest of the route is cleared, as there isn’t any room for a second party.

The other party took awhile getting back down to us because they were worried about the wind blowing their rappel lines around the tower and getting stuck. So the leader slowly rapped down while carrying both ropes coiled on his harness. We’d do something much simpler and quicker - lower Arthur on one rope and feed him the other rope.

With the path to the summit cleared, I headed up the another short, well-protected 5.10 section to reach the plank - a find of rock that connects with the final tower. I thought this section was easier than the second pitch, but it did involve getting a hidden hold high on the left. Derek had some trouble finding and using this hold, but he didn’t come off. Nor did Arthur. Both boys onsighted the entire tower, which was cool. My first time climbing this tower I pulled on all these bolts.

Arthur had entertained thoughts of leading the last pitch but the wind was so ferocious that we agreed it wasn’t a good idea. I showed the boys my “cheat” to avoid the bellyflop move onto the diving board and climbed to the summit. The winds were still ripping, but I stood up quickly before I could have second thoughts. Derek snapped my photo and I reversed down to the rappel anchor, which is slings wrapped entirely around the tower and about eight feet down from the top. I clipped in and threaded my rope through the anchor. I didn’t want the boys to have to deal with this. Arthur then lowered me back down to the belay.

Derek went next and tried to walk the plank but the wind was still too great. We both squatted and reached across the dip in the plank. Derek and Arthur both had to flip their rope around the tower while climbing it, as it traverses around the backside. The crux move on this pitch is a very high step onto a pebble while turning an overhanging bulge. Derek and Arthur both made this step look a lot easier than I did.

The winds started to die a bit and Derek was comfortable standing on top. The four-hundred feet of exposure didn’t bother him in the slightest. The winds were even lighter for Arthur, but still there. Arthur walked the plank entirely. Clearly he wasn’t intimidated by the drop. He cruised up to the top for his photo and that was it. The descent went smoothly, despite having to rappel by a party of three and another party of two. At the base we found another party of three and another party of two queued up. No one was antsy, though, as the tower is short and the weather was good. So, fifteen people climbed Ancient Art that day and these were the only climbers we saw. This isn’t surprising as the rest of the Fisher Towers are hard, scary aid climbs or pretty extreme free climbs.

We hiked out and drove out to Green River. We were meeting Homie there to head into the Swell. Homie, obviously an avid peak bagger, declined to join us for Ancient Art. I think he thought the tower to be so improbable that it could fall over at any moment. Thankfully it didn’t while we were on it, but it won’t last forever.

1 comment:

Gayla Wright said...

Incredible feat and I do not know how you all mustard up the courage to stand so straight and tall at the summit with the wind blowing so. Gutsy guys, I guess. Am so happy to be a part of your ventures, after the fact, that is.
Bill, your write ups are always so engrossing that I feel like I am there. Great dad and uncle to spend Spring Break teaching the boys the art of climbing. Love you all, NaƱa