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.

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