Thursday, April 30, 2015

Climbing with Tony Krupicka

Tony and Bill at the top of the second pitch of the Bulge (photo by Chris George, from the Wind Tower)
My last post about solo TRing with a self-belay device sparked Tony Krupicka's interest, as he had recently been doing the same. Tony, also known as Anton, is one of the best mountain/ultra runners in the world. Tony has so much energy that whenever he can't run, due to injury, he seeks another outlet. In the past that has been scrambling, cycling, recently randonee skiing, and more technical rock climbing. He pinged me and we decided to get out on some Eldo moderates to see if we could have some fun and move efficiently. Not surprisingly, we did both, this morning.

We were into Eldo a bit after 6, meeting at the dirt lot at highway 93 and driving in together. In Eldo, we saw fellow Minions Chris George, Jason Antin, and Wade Morris gearing up to climb Tagger. I put together a light rack and we were off to the Wind Ridge, which Tony had never climbed before.

I put the first two pitches together and Tony followed easily and then led the cool and unusual roof pitch. We scrambled off to the north and soloed down the down climb to the trail, picked up our shoes and headed for the Bulge, which Tony had also not climbed before. Are you picking up on a theme here? I led the first pitch and Tony led the massively runout second pitch. All Tony's scrambling and daring exploits on Longs Peak have apparently made him immune to exposure and lack of protection, provided it is at a comfortable grade for me. This pitch was and he was quickly at the belay.

I led the third pitch with the signature "Bulge" section. I got the sequence just right and it seemed easy today. It has seemed awkward and dicey on some of my ascents, but today it was smooth. Tony followed it without hesitation. I was mildly surprised by this. Most people pause a bit there, as the moves are a bit hidden and unintuitive. But, as the movie In The High Country expounds, Tony is definitely one with the mountains. 

I led the direct finish up the 5.9- fourth pitch and we scrambled off via the usual descent. I had a bit more time, so we tacked on Boulder Direct to Tagger (5.8). I led this and immediately started downclimbing the Bomb while Tony climbed up. I downclimbed to the rappel anchors above the Bomb and clipped those. I also had a piece at our high point. This is a great introduction to simul-climbing as both people at climbing at the same time, yet both climbers are on toprope! This is such a fun loop (how often can you say that about a rock climb!?) and I've done it many times.

That was enough and we were back at the car a bit after 9 a.m. What a great way to start the day! I suspect we'll do it again... :-)

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Solo TR Climbing

Eight people and two dogs at the base of the west face of Der Zerkle on Dinosaur Mountain in the Flatirons

It's getting warm in Colorado, though we just had a week of stormy weather that pounded the mountains with snow, and my climbing gym membership will be frozen on May 5th. I'll take my climbing outside exclusively now until I return to the gym in November. This year I want to taking my project-working mentality of the gym outside. I've done that stuff before, but not much. I projected the Naked Edge, getting the redpoint on probably my tenth or eleventh time up the route. I did it with Country Club Crack (only two pitches) on Castle Rock, too. I worked some 5.12 sport routes when I turned forty and again when I turned forty-ten. I ready to try again.

Not wanting to bore my partners or embarrass myself in front of them, I decided that maybe I'd work some routes by myself, on toprope. I know top climbers do this stuff all the time. Pros will rap off the top of El Cap to work the Salathe headwall or some other hard route. My buddy Chris Weidner did this on the Diamond when he was establishing Hearts and Arrows with Bruce Miller.

I talked to Chris about solo toproping and he told me to get a Petzl Micro Traxion, so I did. This morning I headed up to Der Zerkle to try it out on some moderate routes with easy toprope access. I parked at NCAR and hiked the familiar trail up Dinosaur Mountain to the base Sunny Side Two (a great 4th class scramble - highly recommended for kids) on Der Zerkle. I located the bolts at the top of What If You're Not (5.7) and fixed my 100-foot gym rope to them. I rappelled down to the west with my pack and unpacked.

Harnessed and shoed up, I clipped on my brand new Traxion and also a Ropeman, as I'd read that you should always have two devices when doing this, in case something goes wrong with one. The Ropeman didn't work out that well as I had to manually move it up the rope, but the Traxion worked great. I had it clipped directly to my harness with a locking carabiner and the Ropeman above that on a sling.

Just as I started up a party of four climbers arrived. They were nice enough, talking about warming up on these routes before heading off to some hardman routes. I chatted a bit but mainly kept to myself, a bit self conscious about learning my new system and wishing I had more privacy, but that's what you get if you go to the most popular sport climbing area in the Flatirons.

I did a lap on What If You're Not and it went well, with the pain of moving up the Ropeman. The rock was cold and subsequently my fingers too, but the climbing was reasonable and I made the top without any trouble. I switched to my Gri-Gri and rappelled back down. I did a second lap, this time without the Ropeman. I know this isn't recommended because if I fell and somehow the Traxion got wedged open, releasing the cam, I'd fall to the ground. This appears very difficult to do and I felt safe enough here, as I also didn't plan to fall. In the future, I guess I'll need something else. My inclination is to get a second Traxion, but best practice says to use a different device so that you can't make the same screwup with both of them. The second lap was much easier and I didn't have to touch the Traxion. I rappelled back to the ground.

The others were now done with the route on my right, Wing Ding Ding-aling Down She Goes (really? That's the name of this route? 10a), so I headed up that from my same anchors. I risked a swing at the top, but I wasn't too concerned. The route didn't seem a lot different from the first one, but I guess it was harder. Before I left the ground for this ascent a rude couple from Portland with two dogs arrived. Near the top of the route I looked down to see the dogs walking on my pack and sniffing around my food. I called down, "Can you keep the dogs away from my pack and food?" The guy just responded, "Okay." No "sorry" or any apology. He eventually tied the dogs to a tree, but much later. They they proceeded to bark up a storm. Chris was just telling me how he doesn't like dogs at the crags and I concur completely.

I rapped down again, packed up all my gear into my pack to protect it from the dogs and then did a final lap on What If You're Not so that I could retrieve my rope and move it uphill to the anchors for Bar None (5.9). I repeated my procedure on this route and on Der Fuhrer (5.8) ,which also led to this anchor. As I was doing this another pair of guys arrived. I suffer in this scene. I got my climbing done and packed up. I had planned a short outing anyway, just to see if this stuff worked. I consider this first trial a big success, but need a better backup plan. I also need to find a more obscure place to climb, though I think just about anything earlier on a weekday morning will provide solitude.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Red Rocks Trip - Day 3: Juniper Peak

Chris Weidner on my Myster Z

After 15 hours climbing the Rainbow Wall, I was pretty tired the next day and moving slow. We agreed to get up at 7 a.m. but then we dawdled quite a bit before heading out. Originally I was going to take the 10 p.m. flight home, which didn't land in Denver until 1 a.m. That was when I thought we'd be going big today, but that was out of the question for me so I changed to the 4:30 p.m. flight. With that out of the way, we made plans. I might have been content to just go watch Heather on her project - Where is My Mind. Alas, that would have been unsatisfying. Chris told me that he had soloed a nice linkup in Juniper Canyon. He took the 1100-foot 5.7 Myster Z on the Jackrabbit Buttress and that led quite nicely to Birthday Cake (5.6) on the far left of the Brownstone Wall, leading to the very summit of Juniper Peak. That sounded just my speed and Chris agreed to repeat it.
Looking out from my "cave" belay

I didn't want to solo the route onsight, so we took a rope and a light rack. I didn't take climbing shoes, though, trusting my La Sportiva Mix shoes with a fresh resole of ultra sticky rubber. We hiked in with ultra-light, minimalist packs and just climbed with them on. First pitch of Myster Z is a very steep chimney, but with a plethora of big holds. I strung the first two pitches together and by then had exhausted my Spartan rack. Chris followed and then led up a long 3rd class section and I took over again.

I led up a really nice crack in a right facing dihedral and that led to a groove-chimney thing where I stemmed a long ways to another nice crack. I belayed in a sort-of cave, in the shade, and brought Chris up. From there I traversed a bit right and up an easy crack that was supposedly 5.7, but felt like 5.4. We continued simul-climbing up very easy ground to the top of the buttress. Here we checked the time. We'd been going for about two hours, from the car, and had to be back at the car in 1h50m. I asked Chris if he thought we had time to add on Birthday Cake and his response was, "Let's go for it." Heck, he didn't have a plane to catch!
Heading towards Birthday Cake on the Brownstone Wall

We coiled the rope and motored up scrambling terrain and some 4th class to get to the base of Birthday Cake. Time was tight and we'd have to climb the route in about 15 minutes. Chris mentioned that it was easier than anything we'd already climbed and that we could just solo it. I agreed and I felt quite comfortable on the route. It wasn't very exposed or sustained.

We signed the summit register and then pushed the pace on the descent all the way back to the car. Chris even threw in some trotting on the smoother sections of the trail. I appreciated him pushing things a bit to lower my stress of missing my flight. As it turned out we made it in plenty of time.

What a great trip I had! I hope to start visiting Red Rocks annually now, replacing my Zion trip. There are so many long routes I want to do there, like Traffic Sands and Lone Star (11a, 21 pitches, one of the longest climbs in all Red Rocks) in Black Velvet Canyon and Blue Diamond Ridge (1500', 5.9), Lady Wilson's Cleavage (1100', 5.9), Sentimental Journey (2000', 5.9), Inti Watana (1500', 10c),  Woman of Mountain Dreams (2110', 11a), and Umimpeachable Groping (700', 10b), Paiute Pillar (1500', 5.9) in Juniper Canyon and countless other climbs.

Thanks for the great hospitality, Chris, and the excellent guiding on the Rainbow Wall!
Soloing high on Birthday Cake (5.6)

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Red Rocks Trip - Day 2: Rainbow Wall

The Rainbow Wall start exactly up the sun/shadow line at the base of the wall and then continuing, roughly, straight up from there.

I awoke at 5 a.m. dressed and found Chris already drinking coffee at the table. We readied our packs the night before, but took our time to drink and eat before heading for the gate on the Loop Road, which doesn't open until 6 a.m. We were the first in the lot at the Pine Creek Canyon Trailhead and hiked west until bearing south towards Juniper Canyon and then up into it. There are steep slabs leaving the floor of this canyon to head up towards the wall and usually a fixed line is there to aid in the approach. It was gone, though. I had no trouble with my newly resoled sticky-rubber approach shoes (thanks Rock and Resole!), but Chris was wearing a pair of LaSportiva running shoes with the misleading Frixion soles. These are not dot rubber. He had to switch to his climbing shoes in order to be solid and safe. Further up on the slabs, we watched a Desert Bighorn bound down the cliffs with ease.

We got to the base of the way in an hour and fifty minutes and started to gear up. The night before, based on my poor performance on Saturday, I had insisted on bringing the ascenders and I clipped them to my harness. I'd wear our Camelback pack with two liters of Gatorade, some food, hats, headlamps, and our wind shells. We both wore long sleeves and long pants and Chris wore a vest and carried a small jacket in stuff sack clipped to his harness. A few minutes before we left the ground two climbers from Michigan showed up. John-Mark, with the lumberjack beard and Snidely Whiplash mustache, and Patrick, the bespectacled, young, powerful pharmacist, exuded positive energy. They were not, in the slightest, intimidated by this wall, which made me the odd man out. 
Chris heading up the steep, burly 11d second pitch

It didn't take long to figure out these guys were very good and here to send this wall, free. I didn't want them to discover they were following a Gumby up the wall and decided to just come clean and tell them off the bat. "I'm here to mainly belay my buddy Chris and I'll be jugging anything that's too hard for me." The Michiganies didn't seemed bothered in the least. They didn't seemed worried that we'd hold them up or interfere with their climbing in any way. I was, though. 

After Chris styled the first 11d pitch, which follows a variation left of the original two pitches, bypassing the 12a second pitch, I yelled up to Chris that I was thinking of taking my approach shoes with me. He thought that was fine, but gave no indication of understanding why I'd do this. My reasoning was that I didn't want to hold up this other party and possibly blow their chances of freeing the wall. I didn't want to hang all over these pitches and take forever to follow them and if I was just going to be jugging these pitches, I might as well be more comfortable in my approach shoes than having my toes crammed in my Muiras. 

As I prepared to follow the first pitch, intending to climb until it was too hard and then switch over to jugging, Patrick says to me, "Do not let our presence influence what you try to free climb in any way. We are here to have a great time climbing and we'll climb until 7 p.m. and then we'll turn around and it's going to be great whether we make the top or not." This was just what I needed to hear to relax me. What a great thing to say. These guys were out for three days of climbing, from busy lives in Michigan, but they weren't so set on sending this route that it would change them into guys who would pressure another. I've run into so many great people climbing, of late. My buddy Opie seems to run into the opposite type of climber when cragging out in Joshua Tree. I'm lucky, I guess.

I got up the first half of the pitch fine, as it didn't seem harder than 10-. The first real difficulties were at two closely-spaced bolts where the holds were remarkably small. You don't get holds like that in the gym. I didn't finger them long before yarding past this section, pulling on both draws. Further up, the pitch is broken down into short, powerful, sometimes cryptic, boulder problems, punctuated with decent rests. Surprisingly, I climbed the rest of the pitch clean. Granted I had a nice tight toprope by Chris, but it was encouraging.

The belay was only a tiny stance, room for one and a half people to stand. We quickly re-racked and Chris flipped the rope over to me and then he was off, cruising up the dead vertical lieback above me. When it was my turn to climb this section I'd discover that there were quite a few hidden holds up here. Alas, the crux wasn't far above. Overall this pitch seemed way more difficult than the first one, probably because it was much steeper, though given the same 11d rating. Before the crux section, Chris had to move right, out onto the face, away from the crack/seam. There were big holds out there, but they were hard to reach. Here Chris did what was to become his signature move, as far as I was concerned, as he did it at the end of the first pitch, on the third pitch, and also on the tenth pitch. Once he was able to stretch and get both hands on the holds out right, or at least close enough, he cut his feet loose and swung, Tarzan like, unto the holds. It was a bit unnerving watching this each time. I mean, I do that stuff in the gym, but we were way up a big wall. And that's the point, I guess. Chris is able to climb so hard on this wall, because he is relaxed and at home here. I'm not there yet.

Chris started up the third pitch (11a)
The crux move on this pitch is moving back to the left. Chris went up and down at least three times. That hold sucks. So does that one. That holds too far away. Eventually he committed and seemed very solid doing it. Following that section I solved it my usual way: grabbing the quickdraw. It wasn't nearly as far of a reach that way. This pitch beat me down pretty good and I hung multiple times and pulled on a few pieces of gear, but I still made the belay with my ascenders still clipped on my harness.

The third pitch is rated 11a and it was the first one I followed cleanly. Chris cruised it easily and  the holds were better than I expected. Ah, but following is different. Still, I could do the moves. I was greatly helped by the short pitch length. Besides the first pitch and the 5.7/8 pitches, no pitch was longer than 80 feet. Almost every one ended at a pretty good belay stance as well.

The fourth pitch is 11b and it goes by the "death pillar" that seems to be just sitting in the corner. You have to get on and climb up this disconcerting, booming block. Higher up you have to pass a roof by underclinging out the right side of it. It looked a lot like the 11c fourth pitch of Monkeyfinger in Zion, but it turned out to be way easier - there were actually some footholds turning this roof. Chris did a masterful job of protecting this pitch, as he did with all the pitches. He's a pro, really. Nothing fazes him and every problem is climbable, every pitch protectable. I climbed this pitch cleanly as well and I was beginning to think I might not need the ascenders after all. Before I even came down to climb with Chris, he told me not to bring ascenders. He said that we'd both be trying to free the Rainbow Wall. Freeing this wall for me, on this day, turned out to be way over my head, but the fact that Chris felt it wasn't ridiculous and that he wanted me to try, despite the probability that it would hamper his efforts, says a lot about him as a partner and a friend. Friends always see the best in you, even when you don't.
Chris leading past the "death pillar" and up to that big roof above on pitch number four (11b)
The belay above the roof was the worst on the route, nearly a pure hanging belay, but even then it wasn't too bad. Heck, I was climbing the Rainbow Wall! In fact, I'd climbed this wall more than a decade ago. I did it as an aid climb with my buddies Opie Taylor and Tim "the Toolman" Taylor, AKA "The Taylor Boys" (also known to some as Greg Opland and Tim Schneider). We hiked in, fixed a pitch or two and slept at the base. Then we climbed all the next day and bivied again on Over The Rainbow Ledge. On our third day, we took the Swainbow Wall exit, avoiding the crux upper dihedral. The latest guidebook by Jerry Handren (a stellar guidebook with excellent, inspiring photos, by the way) doesn't even describe this exit! Nor does it even indicate it can be done as an aid climb. I guess this route is only for the 5.12 climbers now... Or the ones guided by 5.12 climbers in my case.
Leading the 5.8 traverse on the ninth pitch
Chris linked pitches five (10c, 50 feet) and six (10a, 70 feet) to avoid a sub-par belay. These were both fun pitches and I felt pretty solid on the 10c pitch, which was steep, but with reasonable holds. The 10a pitch has a dicey little slab section where it felt great to be on a toprope. This put us into a ramp system that led up and right to the Over The Rainbow Ledge. Despite having done this route fifteen years ago, Chris had never been to that ledge. That's because he took the direct variation that avoided it called Rainbow Country. Instead of climbing two 5.7 pitches and a 5.8 traverse pitch, Chris climbed pitches of 11b, 11b, 12d, and 12a, though he admitted that he didn't free either 5.12 pitch back then. I would have definitely needed my ascenders had we gone that way.

Instead, I got to take the lead for the first time on the route. I led up two easy pitches to Over The Rainbow Ledge. We took a short break here, but moved on after less than fifteen minutes. I led the airy and mostly unprotected, but mostly easy, 5.8 traverse back to the left and up into the bottom of the upper dihedral.
Chris at the start of the "circus trick" boulder problem on the tenth pitch (11d+++)

The next pitch would prove to be the most baffling of the route. After a powerful start, Chris established himself on a tiny foothold where he could suss out the boulder problem above him. At first, second, and third glances it looked unclimbable to Chris. He tried numerous options and rejected them. He was probably there for twenty minutes, maybe thirty. He had a bolt nearby but a thousand feet up the wall, it was still intimidating. I figured he'd have to try something, fall, and then keep trying until he figured it out. Obviously I don't think like a pro. Chris worked out a dicey solution that suited him and then gave it everything he had. It went like this. First he got a one finger, one pad hold with his left hand in the seam in the corner. He stemmed his left foot ridiculously high out left onto a minuscule nubbin. Then he palmed and mantled a heavily chalked, severely sloping ramp-type feature on the right face. Then, with extreme body tension he lifted his right foot and smeared / jammed / torqued it into the seam in the corner. He then just had to believe, keep extreme tension and stretch his right hand for what looked like a good hold. He barely got his fingers over it and then, confidently and dynamically, matched his left hand while both feet cut loose and swung over - once again, his signature move. Yikes! But he had the move clean. The pitch clean. The route clean. No falls. So far...
Me at the top of the bouldery 10th pitch, wondering how the heck Chris is going to climb the next pitch
The rest of the corner was easier, but still felt like it had some 5.11 to me. I was able to get by this move by pulling on the draw on the bolt for so long that I could reach the good hold. The crux for me was to then unclip the draw, not drop it, and match on the hold. I think I climbed the rest of the pitch clean.

That put us at the base of the crux pitch - the 5.12a corner. The pitch is only sixty feet long and the corner itself is probably forty feet. Scanning that corner I was able to identify one, count them - one, foothold. It was the size of a pimple and so far out on the left face that when I got up that high, I just laughed. I was afraid of trying to kick my foot over there for fear I'd kick off the one foothold on the entire pitch!
Chris freeing the crux 11th pitch (12a)
As it turns out, Chris has much better vision for footholds. He sees them on nearly blank walls. Not only does he envision them, but he believes in their existence so strongly that he actually stands on these invisible, imaginary things. I guess this is the essence of mind over matter. He believes there is a foothold there because he needs to have a foothold there and hence there is a foothold there. Watching Chris lead this pitch was inspiring. The confident, powerful, graceful movement that got him up that corner and allowed him to protect it was beautiful to watch. Following this pitch I grabbed everything in sight and hung many times. I couldn't see myself doing a single move in this corner. The rating says it wasn't a lot harder than some of the other pitches, but it was above a wall in my ability that I not only couldn't do, but couldn't see how to do it.

Above the corner the climbing was "just" 5.11-, according to Chris, but it seemed over my head. I did some moves, pulled on gear for others. The end of the pitch involved some difficult and thin climbing out of the corner onto the left face to a belay stance. I was drained and I didn't even free climb it. What I did wasn't much different from climbing the rope via ascenders, but I didn't get them out and would not use them on the climb.
Chris leading the 12th and penultimate pitch (11b)
The next 11b pitch was really the last pitch that Chris had any chance of falling on and it proved to be quite hard. It started with a very tough, reachy traverse to the left, which he solved with the signature move once again. I also used my signature move: grab the draw and make a huge stretch to reach...another long sling, placed strategically for just this purpose. Chris was really getting to know me as a partner! This 11b pitch seemed quite a bit harder than the one lower down. I've blocked out exactly how much I cheated following it.

The last pitch was up flaring crack out of the cave/alcove belay and turning a bulge. It was rated 10b and the protection looked good, so I volunteered to lead it, hoping that the difficulties would be over once I turned the bulge. This indeed was the case and I then rambled up moderate terrain for a hundred feet or to a tree, nearly on the summit. Chris soon joined me and we unroped and scrambled the last few feet to the very summit of Rainbow Mountain. We soaked up the views and slapped high fives for Chris' great achievement of climbing the Rainbow Wall, all free, no falls. There was even a summit register on top and we signed in.
On the summit of Rainbow Mountain
We waited for John-Mark and Patrick to top out before descending. John-Mark had freed the entire route as well. He's a route setter back in Michigan and climbs mid 5.13, so he had the power to onsight such a challenging route. Chris and I simul-rapped the wall using our Gri-Gri's. This was the plan from the start and neither of us even had a regular rappel device. This was a bit unnerving for me, as I had never done that before, but Chris is a pro and very safe. We tied knots in both ends of the rope for each rappel. On the way down Chris told me how terrifying it was to simul-rappel with Alex Honnold. Years ago they had climbed that 2000-foot, 12d route down in Mexico together and Alex insisted on no knots in the rope ends. Chris stood his ground though and forced the knots, much to Alex's annoyance. He then told me about how Alex had free soloed this route. That blew my mind. I knew he had done harder solos, but having just climbed this route, it seemed so far beyond anything rational that I just couldn't grasp it. When Alex did it, he had only climbed the route once before, five years before the solo. Chris urged him to climb it at least once more to make sure it was all solid, but Alex didn't want to take the "adventure" out of the solo. Afterwards he'd admit to Chris that the boulder problem on the tenth pitch was perhaps the most afraid he'd ever been soloing.
Chris, Patrick, and John-Mark
We made it back to the base about twenty minutes before darkness. We had just enough time to pack up, eat and drink something, and start down the upper slabs before turning on the headlamps. After thirty minutes or so, John-Mark and Patrick caught up to us and we all hiked out together, chatting away and bonding over the climb. Chris did a masterful job leading us all back to the car by the meager light of his headlamp. We did the roundtrip from the car in just under fifteen hours. It wasn't super fast, but it was all free. At least for one of us.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Red Rocks Trip - Day 1: Cragging in Black Velvet

Chris Weidner at the top of the first pitch of the Misunderstanding

My buddy Chris had been hanging out down at his and his wife's townhouse in Las Vegas. They were there to work on their respective climbing projects. There weather wasn't very good and Chris wasn't able to get on his main goal, the Rainbow Wall, but when his wife Heather got her teeth into a new project (Where's Your Mind?), they extended the trip and the weather improved. There was just one problem. Chris now lacked a partner for the Rainbow. That's where I came in.

The plan was for me to fly down for three days of climbing. We'd do the Rainbow Wall first, to get the main goal out of the way, then have a day to recover, and then do a long, easier route, more in my free climbing range. Alas, my late booking and Southwest's flight problems conspired to get me to Vegas near midnight. By the time I got to bed it was about 1 a.m. For the Rainbow Wall we'd need to be up by 5 a.m. It felt too rushed, so we postponed a day.

Instead we got some needed sleep and decided on a more casual day of cragging in Black Velvet Canyon. I needed to get used to this outdoor climbing, after months in the climbing gym. We drove Chris' new Eurovan down the rough dirt road to the dirt lot at the trailhead. We hiked into Wholesome Fullback, a 3-pitch 10a. I took the sharp end and immediately had big trouble with the tips crack at the start. I got a couple of pieces in and committed to very thin moves on the left of the crack. I got myself into an irreversible situation and fell. I thought this might send doubts about his choice of partner through Chris' head, but he seemed unfazed. I tried climbing on the right side of the crack on my next try and just barely made it to a fingerlock where the crack started to widen.

The rest of the pitch is super fun hand jamming. It goes up to a small roof, traverses to the right and then up another great hand crack. I didn't have much trouble with the rest of the route and then linked part of the second pitch. This was a mistake. It didn't cause any problems, but I could take any photos of Chris on the cool climbing below, as the route rolled back a bit and I belayed at the start of a flaring chimney. For some reason I thought the route was three pitches long, when it was only two. No harm done, though. Chris followed and led the chimney to the top of the Wholesome Fullback Buttress and then down the other side just a tad to a bolted belay at the top of Our Father - the 10d route that climbs up the other side.

We climbed Our Father in a rather unusual manner, somewhat because of indecision. We rapped the top pitch, pulled the rope, led it, then rapped again. We repeated this procedure for the second and then the first pitches, climbing the route in reverse pitch order. Chris led the upper 10d pitch and made it look easy. I followed and made it look hard. I must have done it right, though, because this pitch is hard, at least at the crux. Most of the climbing on this pitch is stellar hand jamming and liebacking, but the crux seemed wickedly hard for the grade. That or I was really out of practice.

The crux move goes like this. You get to a slight flare in the crack where you can get a decent handjam at the base of it. Chris used this jam to place gear. Then you have to lieback the rounded top part of the flare, past your feet on the wall and make a big, powerful reach to a small, but positive edge on the face. You grasp this with your right hand, pull in, and reach by a section of the crack that is closed up to a fingerlock above it. These two moves proved very hard for me and I fell off both of them. Does it make sense to fall off 10a and 10d and then go climb 5.12 the next day? It didn't to me either.
The crux of Our Father. My hand is at the bottom of the flare. I need to get my right hand jammed there, pull that piece, lieback with the left hand near that piece and reach the crimp on the face to my right. Then read by that tight section to the next opening.
With our late start it was then already mid-afternoon, but I wanted a couple more pitches to round out the day. After my performance on 5.10, I wanted to see if I could stay on a 5.9. We moved down the wall to the left (east) to The Misunderstanding. Chris specifically said, as we packed up the rack that morning, that we could climb about everything, but this route, since the description says to bring triples from 3" to 4". In that range we had three total pieces: 2 #3 Camalots and a #4 Camalot, but hey we had three pieces. Isn't that triples? The first pitch didn't seem to require a lot of big gear and I deferred the wide second pitch to Chris.
On the second pitch of The Misunderstanding (5.9)
I scampered up very fun, interesting climbing on the first pitch, rated 5.9, but now seemed well in my comfort range. Chris followed and then led the second pitch in such a crafty manner that he only used one #3 Camalot. He was able to reach way over to a parallel crack and place a couple of small pieces and then he hiked up the #3 a few times. It was cool, fun climbing and not overly burly.

We did two raps to the ground packed up, mostly, and headed back to the car. I say mostly because I apparently left behind one of my Mythos climbing shoes. Bummer. Never done that before. I brought two pairs, though, and would use my Muira's for the rest of the trip. We picked up Mexican food on the way home and ate dinner with Heather and heard about her project, which is a brutal 13c/d route that only recently saw its first female ascent, by Brooke Raboutou.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Getting the 4-1-1 on the L-P-P

Strava - just descent

Today, on April 11th, Charlie and I completed month four of the Longs Peak Project. This time we went from the Glacier Gorge trailhead and hiked and skied into into Glacier Gorge, headed for the Trough.
Charlie skinning above Black Lake
We got a casual start, not even meeting in Boulder until 6 a.m. because Charlie had a date the previous night. We started hiking around 7:20 a.m. in the bright light of day. It felt so strange.

Hiking towards Black Lake, above Mills Lake
Charlie wore his new La Sportiva Trango Cube GTX boots and carried a pair of AT skis with his ski boots attached to them. I wore my Alpina Alaska NNN ski boots right from the parking lot. These boots are incredibly comfortable for hiking and it allowed me to go very light - not carrying any boots and just carrying my Asnes skis with NNN bindings on them. Skis mounted with NNN bindings had always caused me problems when trying attach them to a pack. since they have no heel section, you can't attach them with the binding - they'd be way too low. I talked with Andrew Skurka and he had a great solution that seemed so obvious once he told me. His solution was to clamp the skis together with a Voile strap (rubber strap with a buckle) and then use the camber in the skis as the attachment point to the pack. This worked great, though the skis rode a bit high, which was occasionally an issues in the woods.

Both Charlie and I wore Kahtoola Microspikes on our boots. While we both carried crampons (I carried Kahtoola K-10s), we were pleasantly surprised to make the summit using just the spikes, though this was very marginal in a couple of areas. I had thought we'd skin most of way to the Trough, but we ended up just walking nearly all of it, as the snow was hard enough and the going was fast. We only starting skinning above Black Lake, when the snow was a bit softer.
We stashed our skis and some extra water at the base of the Trough. As it turned out, skiing the Trough would have been fine for Charlie, but probably a bit tough for me. But, as you'll see, our method of descent was probably even faster, maybe more fun, and a lot lighter.

We had a perfect track up the 2700-vertical-foot Trough. Well, actually, I had a perfect track. Charlie did most of the work here, though he did follow some pretty fresh steps down low and then very fresh (just an hour old, as it would turn out) tracks higher up. We paced things well and were able to chat most of the time, while moving continuously. From the base of the Trough we made the summit in about two hours, roughly our standard, as it seems, 4.5 hours from the trailhead.

At the top of the Trough, we left our ski poles and switched to our ice axes. Before we headed across the Narrows I reminded Charlie and I that my friend Peter Jeffries had died when he fell off here last November. This turned out to be false. Peter died of hypothermia 200 feet below the Ledges, which connect the Keyhole to the Trough. He must have fell off the Ledges and not been able to re-ascend back to the Keyhole, probably due to injury, but I didn't find the exact details. What a tragedy for a great, young kid. But thoughts of him and his accident made us safer.

We passed a couple of Fort Collins on their way down on the Homestretch and thanked them for the track. Along with those two, who topped out just thirty minutes before us, just two others had climbed Longs since the last time Charlie and I had done it on March 21st. We spent about twenty minutes on top taking photos, eating, and drinking, though not much of the latter since we both finished all we had brought to the summit. We carefully reversed the Homestretch, acutely aware that a fall here might not be self-arrest-able. Our tiny Microspikes barely made an impression on two vary hard sections, but we were careful and used our axes to not fall.

Back in the Trough, we stowed our axes and the fun began. We first just plunge-stepped down, as the
rocks were frequent in the upper section. Once below that and on slightly less steep terrain we sat down and glissaded, descending a thousand feet in just a few minutes. So fun!

Back at our skis, we took a short break to drink and eat some more. Charlie switched back into his ski boots. We also found and carried out a large tracking collar. I assume this was for an elk, but maybe it was a bighorn sheep. Nearby we found an elk skull and wondered how long an animal that size would take to be eaten or decayed enough where nothing remains except for the collar and the skull. These are big animals and many obviously must die every year, but I've never seen a rotting carcass.

I was a bit concerned about the ski out. The terrain is very technical, very tight and wooded, off-camber, and sometimes incredibly narrow, steep, and above a creek. With my light NNN gear it proved to be quite fun, but very challenging. In fact, I consider my skill level (pretty advanced for backcountry touring gear) to be the minimum skill level for a reasonably safe descent and one that is more efficient than just walking out. Charlie seemed much more solid in his plastic boots and AT setup. Incredibly, we were able to ski to within a quarter-mile of the parking lot. We had to walk one short section around Mills Lake. 

We descended from the summit to the car in just over 2.5 hours and did the roundtrip in 7h20m for our fastest roundtrip yet. Here's the status on the Longs Peak Project:

Month Date Route Success?
January 18 Loft/Clark's Arrow No
January 29 Loft/Clark's Arrow Yes
February 14 Northwest Couloir Yes
March 15 D7 on the Diamond No
March 21 North Face (Cables Route) Yes
April 11 The Trough Yes