Monday, October 19, 2015

Making a New Friend

Patrick heading up the crux pitch on the Bulge

In April I flew down to Las Vegas to climb the Rainbow Wall with Chris Weidner. I was really there to belay Chris on his free attempt and to have an adventure. I couldn't have climbed the route without extensive aid and that's how I climbed it originally years ago with the Toolman and Opediah. Following us up that route with John-Mark and Patrick. We hit it off on the hike back to the car, later that day, in the dark and met up once in Boulder for beers. Patrick and I decided to climb for a weekend in the fall that's what we just did. 

Patrick climbs a lot harder than I do, but he also enjoys in cruising moderate pitches (my speciality), so we were compatible. I picked him up at the bus station and we went straight to Eldo, where cold temperatures drove us into the sun and we warmed up on the Bulge. The Bulge is only 5.7, but it's confusing, indistinct, slippery, and runout. This didn't faze Patrick and we led the first pitch, placing one piece down low, in about two minutes. He basically speed soloed it, onsight. 

We swapped leads and were at the top soon after. On the way down, we threw my "intro to simul-climbing" link-up. Here Patrick led up the Boulder Direct (because Calypso was occupied) to the Reggae and then downclimbed the Bomb while I was climbing up. It was smoothly and we headed back to the car for food, water, and a bit more gear.

We then headed over to the Long John Wall where we found a couple of other parties. They had both started with the first pitch of Break On Through, as it seems most 5.8 leaders do not like the start of the Long John Wall. Indeed, that first pitch has a "no fall" section that is freaky, even for me and I've done it probably twenty times. The first pitch of Break On Through is better climbing, but because of the two 90-degree bends, it forces you to pitch it out. You can't simul-climb or combine pitches with this start. Of course, that isn't a drawback for most parties.
At the crux of the first pitch of the Yellow Spur
But the route was occupied and we were planning to use it as an approach to the Yellow Spur. What to do... We headed up Chianti with the initial hope that we could figure out a way down the backside. I also thought that we could climb that route, rap back down to the west and the climb Long John. Patrick led up the first pitch to the rotten band/ledge system, which is at the same height as the second pitch of the Long John Wall. I could see that the leader had just arrived there and figured, if we were fast, we could cut across and finish with the last three pitches of Long John. We did just that, with the permission of the other party, and  simul-climbed a bit to the top.

At the top of the Long John Wall I gazed over at the Yellow Spur, expecting to find a bunch of parties, like we did on Long John, but only saw a single party on the fourth pitch. "Sweet", I thought. If we could only get over there before anyone else arrived, we'd be golden. The one strange aspect was that the party on the fourth pitch was belaying at the bottom of the V-corner in a semi-hanging belay. This is strange, as there is a huge ledge ten feet lower and a bit left - the normal belay at the top of the third pitch. Or there is a nice ledge forty feet higher as the normal fourth pitch belay. This was unusual enough where I remarked to Patrick, "I wouldn't be surprised if we caught those guys."

We downclimbed off to the east, crossed the gully and hiked/scrambled to the base of the Yellow Spur. We geared up here and I led the first pitch. Patrick followed and led the second pitch and half of the third pitch, as he wasn't sure where it ended and didn't want to go too high. I finished off the third pitch and then traversed left where I was shocked to find the party still at their hanging belay! They might not have been the slowest party ever on the Yellow Spur, but they'd at least have been in the discussion.

With the belayer's permission, I climbed by and up to the belay on the normal 4th-pitch-belay ledge. The other team consisted of John and Dave. Dave was leading it for the first time and John, presumably, was the weaker climber, as he wasn't leading anything. John climbed by me and soon Patrick joined me. Patrick wanted the pin-ladder pitch, so after a few minutes I headed up the fifth pitch with the thin hope that they'd let us by. I turned the roof on the fifth pitch and continued up to a small ledge down from the pedestal belay occupied by Dave and John. They hadn't started the pin-ladder pitch, but weren't offering to let me by and I just stopped and set up a belay from an old pin and a #3 Camalot. 

I brought up Patrick and we spent a solid hour on this ledge. The weather was great and we took a siesta and chatted, but it eventually got ridiculous. Even John remarked about Dave, "He's kind of slow." Glaciers move faster. We weren't in any hurry, but we also weren't out to just sit on a ledge. We wanted to be climbing. Oh well. It happens. I surveyed the rock above me and figured that some Eldo hardman has put a route up this terrain, but I wasn't about to try it.

We waited until John was well up the pitch before Patrick led upwards. We did the Rearick Traverse instead of the direct finish just because it is so cool. I led the final arete and we caught up to John and Dave at the notch. Patrick and I descended back to the car once again for another drink and decided a quick simul-climb lap on the Bastille Crack would be the perfect end to the day. 

Of course, the route was queued. When we got there two parties were at the base, but neither had left the ground again. I inquired about their intentions and were told rather brusquely "Your third in line." I didn't bother asking if we could go first, even though we'd have held up these parties by less two minutes total. Instead, I walked east just a bit and started up Werk Supp on our doubled 60-meter rope. 

I led up Werk Supp's firs pitch with the intention to cut over to the top of the second pitch of the Bastille Crack and finish up there. When I tried this, I found a third party on it. I recognized this older couple from the gym. They climb hard 5.11 in the gym, but weren't too speedy on 5.7 trad. I backed up a bit and did the 5.8 variation to the left, joining the Bastille Crack on the fourth pitch, which I then followed to the top.

Patrick simul-climbed below me and we did the roundtrip in around 35 minutes, getting back to the base before the second queued party had left the ground. It was only four o'clock, but we'd had enough and headed for the showers.
Soloing the Direct East Face of the First Flatiron with Stefan
The next morning we headed out early for lap on the First Flatiron. Patrick had never climbed the First Flatiron and wanted to experience the full Minion-Style outing. Stefan at first said he wouldn't make it, but then couldn't resist the pull of the First and ran up to catch us at the base of the route. We had a great time climbing it and I had a chance to catch up with Stefan.

We downclimbed off the trotted back to the car and immediately headed for Eldo and the Naked Edge. I was a bit nervous even though I knew Patrick would lead all the hard pitches. I hadn't done much hard climbing since I left the gym in April. I'd done the Edge while out of shape before, though, and knew one way or the other (mostly the other), I'd get up it.

Since it was already 9 a.m. we found Eldo crowded. At the base of the Ramp Route we found two parties. One was in the process of climbing the first pitch of the Reguard Route and the other was waiting on them, enroute to the Edge. I found this curious with the Ramp Route right there, but didn't mention it, as it gave us a nice opening to get up there first. We shod up, I grabbed four cams off Patrick's harness, and I led upwards, telling Patrick to follow when I ran out of rope. 

I went up the Ramp and around the corner and found a women at the base of the 5.6 crack, belaying. Thankfully her leader was nearly out of rope and I expected to follow her up shortly. Instead, though, the woman couldn't communicate with her partner, Wendy, and was reluctant to pull her belay and start climbing. I offered to climb by and act as an intermediary repeater to bridge the communication gap. She said, "If you're comfortable doing that, yes, that would be great." I led upwards until I could yell up to Wendy and confirmed her partner was on belay. I yelled down that she could climb and continued upwards.

When I climbed by Wendy and told her what I was doing, she thanked me not once, but twice. That's a nice pass, when the other party is thanking you. I stopped in the shade below the 5.8 roof pitch because Patrick was moving slower passing the two women and I forgot to pull the large cam off of Patrick to protect the roof. When Patrick arrived at my belay I finished off this pitch to the base of the Naked Edge.

Patrick cruised up the first pitch with remarkable ease, seemingly finding comfortable stances to place gear. I knew better. They sure aren't comfortable for me. I followed reasonable well, falling off once due to pump. Patrick zipped up the second pitch and I followed cleanly. I led the third pitch and then Patrick led the 11a chimney pitch so fast and with absolutely no hesitation that you'd have thought he had it as wired as speed-record-holder Stefan. I know this pitch well and that knowledge helped me ascend it without falling...barely!

Patrick dispatched the crux fifth pitch efficiently, though with a bit of effort at the boulder-problem start. I asked him to belay at the top of the overhanging hand crack instead of finishing it to the top in order to give me a tighter belay. Gratefully he agreed to this. Following this pitch was my usual combination of pulling on gear, hanging on the rope, and whining. While the other pitches are very hard for me, this pitch seems to be 5.12 for me. I just suck at it. I started off intimidated and mentally beaten and proceed to get physically crushed as well. I should start working this pitch again. There is obviously so much for me to learn here.

I finished off the 5.6 to the top and we headed down the familiar slabs. Patrick said he had enough rock climbing and wanted to bag a peak, so back to the Flatirons we went. We parked at the Gregory Canyon Trailhead and then went and scrambled the Second Flatiron via Free For All to the cool Tunnel section and finishing on the very exposed and committing Freezeway to the summit. We downclimbed off and then hiked up Green Mountain via the direct path behind the First Flatiron. 

After a short rest on top to drink the water we carried and enjoy the view, we trotted down the Ranger and Gregory Canyon trails back to the car. Patrick packed up his gear and I dropped him back at the bus station 20 minutes before it was due to leave. It had been a great 36 hours with Patrick. We vowed to do it again in the Spring. It looks like I've gained another friend and climbing partner, so that was the huge win for the weekend.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Longs Peak Project: Month Ten

Winter has returned to Longs Peak and with it, the screaming barfies to my hands.

Chuck Charlie and I viewed a sun-drenched, dry, impressive West Face of Longs Peak two weeks ago when we did the Glacier Gorge Traverse. I knew the face held some moderate (5.7 and easier) rock routes and I'd never done a route there before. That was to be our October ascent.

The thing snows on Longs Peak. Pretty much every month of the year. The only difference is in our long that snows sticks around. In October, in the shade, it isn't going anywhere until April or May or June. And get this, west faces don't get any sun until the afternoon! Who knew?
The Boulder Field
We met in Boulder at 5:30 a.m., which means 5:25 in Bill/Charlie speak apparently, as we always arrive early and always within 60 seconds of each other. It was my turn to drive and Chuck Charlie piled into my car. On the drive up there Charlie regaled me about his fancy new mountain bike and how he could have spent $5000 more dollars and saved two pounds. We both agreed this was pretty ridiculous and concluded that the rider should just lose pounds off his fat ass instead. But then I realized, in horror, that might mean cutting back on donuts. All of a sudden I could see the reason in spending the extra five G's.
Nearing the Keyhole
At the trailhead Chuck was ready to go in a flash, but I had to visit the Little LPPer's room. Still, we were hiking one minute before 6:30 and I was $2500 dollars lighter.

On the way up we passed a number of people coming down. They had got to the Keyhole and took one look at the snowy, icy, shaded ledges leading over to the Trough and turned around. This showed great judgement, as none of them carried Microspikes and didn't have the experience for such a dangerous ascent. Just last year a friend of mine died on this traverse. Later that day, on our descent, we'd learn of a lost hiker/climber named Spencer who has been missing since Friday. I cringe at what the probably means.
Nearing the top of the Trough
We passed a team of about ten climbers on the way up to the Boulder Field. They were all headed for the North Face / Cables Route. We'd see them again on our descent. They didn't have Microspikes either...

We spiked up at the Keyhole and moved cautiously across the frigid ledges to the Trough. The temperatures, snow, ice, and shade quickly dashed any thoughts of a West Face route. We hoped to salvage things by ascending the Southwest Ridge, a highly recommended, 3-pitch 5.4 route that starts at the top of the Trough and makes a beeline for the summit plateau.
Crux dihedral on pitch one.
We geared up at the base and I slipped some chemical heaters into my gloves before leading off on the first pitch. We didn't put on the climbing shoes we carried, as it was too cold and too snowy. Instead, we climbed in our running shoes and Microspikes - a sort of ultralight mixed climbing footwear. The crux corner had me completely desperate because my hands were so cold I could barely use them to grasp the holds or place gear. When I got to the ledge atop the corner and hit the sun, I immediately set up a belay and endured ten minutes of intense pain. My hands were just returning to normal when Charlie arrived. His hands were cold too, but has a distinct advantage over me: he's not a wimp. In just a minute or two he was good to lead the second pitch.
At the top of pitch one
Chuck Charlie scampered up ridge and soon 200 feet of rope was gone from my feet. I pulled our one-cam belay and headed upwards. The first corner was in the shade and while there was a decent hand crack in the corner the slabs were smooth and I tugged mightily on the #2 Camalot Charlie placed. I eased my conscience with my favorite rationalization: "This is alpine climbing. Anything goes." I find I'm doing more and more alpine climbing these days on sunnier and sunnier rock that is closer and closer to the road.
Jazz hands or ten months completed?
We coiled the rope and scrambled the last fifty feet to the summit. On top we met a guy who had come up the Loft and was going to descend the Keyhole Route. I would bet that he was the only other person that made the summit today. The summit register on Longs is a bit of mess and we didn't bother to sign it and, after a quick sip and a bite, headed down the North Face.
Above the clouds
We moved slow and cautiously, still in our Microspikes, as the snow face had a lot of snow on it. We saw the group of ten below at the base of the crux pitch and when we got close they yelled up for us to be careful. Amazingly, we were able to negotiate the loose ledges without knocking down a single pebble. I wish the Bozos that climb up the North Chimney to the Diamond would learn these techniques...

We looped our 60-meter, 7.8mm line over the eyebolt at the top and I rapped down the line, stopping when I got to the lead climber below who was in the process of rapping off a marginal sling he'd placed. He was retreating from thirty feet up the pitch. He had no traction, no spikes, no crampons and it was the right call. He'd led the pitch before and said he leads 5.8 on a good day, but this was "alpine conditions" so, you know what that means: Bill gets to pull on everything in sight! Wait, no, it means it's harder to climb than when it's dry. I downclimbed the last twenty feet, as a 60-meter rope doesn't get you all the way down. I know the descent well, though and stemmed and jammed my way to the ground. Charlie stopped at the intermediate eyebolt and did a second rappel, retrieving the lead climber's sling and biner for him. We then gave all ten of these guys the hard sales pitch for Kahtoola Microspikes. If we didn't sell ten pairs right there, I'd be surprised, as we then demoed them by downclimbing the icy 4th class section that they were setting up to rappel. We were down at the privy in the Boulder Field before half of them were down this 100-foot section.
Looking back up at the North Face after descending it.
The rest of the descent was smooth and we mostly stuck to the trail, except when rational thought precluded it. We took Jim's Grove and all the short cuts and were back at the car 8h21m after we had left. We feel we can now definitely answer the question of "How long does it take to climb Longs Peak?" I'd always wrestled with that question when asked by hikers. "Uh, it depends on what route you take, what month you do it, how fit you are, etc." It turns out that none of that is true! It takes eight hours and change to climb Longs Peak. Period. It doesn't matter what route or what month. At least for Charlie and I. Strange, huh?

Yeah, yeah, there are some exceptions.