|Angels Gate are the white summits to the right of the tallest mesa in the background, which is Wotan's Throne|
I’m on a year-long quest to toughen myself up for long adventure days. Each month I planned to do an adventure that took at least 18 hours. Eventually, such an adventure will be the Third Flatiron, but I’m still reasonably fit and not ready for a walker, so my sights are set higher. Plus, I need to be a worthy partner for my 21-year-old son Derek. Luckily I’m friends with a lot of really tough people willing to bring me along.
In December I did the Top Ten Flatirons climbs in a single, winter day with the Modern Major General (Danny Gilbert). That was 16 hours, but I’m counting it, since the level of suffering was extreme. In January I climbed Mt. Harvard with Danny and Homie. It was less than 12 hours, but the winds were positively Patagonian, so I’m counting that too. Yes, I’m aware my standards are slipping. Perhaps in response to this I did the Running Up For Air in Salt Lake City - 9 laps up and down Mt. IcantRemember in February. Yes, it was a fully supported hike-athon with hot food every 2 or 3 hours, but I stayed in the game for more than 23 hours. Nothing like a continuous 23-hour adventure, but good enough to count.
Which brings us to March and the Grand Canyon. This is a good place for ultra runners to train vert when the mountains are too snowy. When Homie got into Hard Rock, I knew he’d be the ideal partner for something long in the Big Ditch. Most people think of the Grand Canyon as just…well, a huge canyon, but it is so huge that it has over 200 summits located in it. Some of them higher than the canyon rims. These summits are called temples. I’ve been slowly climbing the summits in the Grand Canyon and it was time for another.
|Brahma (left) and Zoroaster (right)|
The amount of suffering required to stand atop some of the temples is so extreme that it takes years for me to be interested in trying one again. They look so appealing, but the amount of just brutal, horrible, off-trail hiking is staggering. What better way to toughen up? To Homie, I proposed climbing Angels Gate. This is a twin-submitted temple with one called the Doghouse and the other Snoopy. The latter looks exactly like Snoopy sleeping on top of his doghouse. A summit that cool deserves some effort and this one required it: 50 miles roundtrip with maybe 13,000 feet of vertical gain, rim-to-rim. Of course it was on the north side of the Colorado River.
|Pausing to admire Angels Gate while Hiking the Clear Creek Trail|
For this trip, Homie had an ace in the hole. He had met a New York ultra runner named Steve Hawkins on Bear Peak one day and ran with him for all of 15 minutes. He found out that Steve accepted a job at the Grand Canyon. He now lives a 5-minute walk from Bright Angel Lodge on the South Rim. This is a guy with which I was determined to form a lasting relationship.
|Steve and Homie crossing the Black Ridge at Khazad Dum|
|Our 2-pound Big Agnes tent at Clear Creek camp.|
|Heading up through the first cliff band out of the wash, before traversing into the Red Wall gully.|
|Steve starting up the 4th class climbing through the Red Wall break.|
|At the Wotan/Angels Gate saddle. The summit above us but the red Supai bars the way.|
|At the corner at the base of the third Supai band - the wrong place.|
|Derek climbing through the third Supai band.|
|Exploring a dead end passage at the base of the fourth Supai band.|
|This was the photo of the route from the saddle through the Supai bands. Pretty hard to see details...|
|Derek finds the way through the first Supai band|
We started with a 750-foot climb out of Clear Creek and up onto the Tonto tier. Once there the terrain rolled and we’d do 1500 feet of climbing before descending steeply, in the last vestiges of light, to Phantom Range. I just barely maintained a 3 mph pace on the 10 miles to here. It was full-on dark when I arrived but the moon gave me just enough light where I didn’t have to stop to pull out my headlamp. I was the last to arrive and when I got there Steve had already told the others of his plan to blast for the rim in the hopes of getting a reasonable night sleep before work the next day. We bid goodbye and good luck. Steve took off, then Homie, Derek and I ate, drank, and filled our water containers for the stretch to Indian Gardens, five miles away.
|This is an agave (I think). Best not to run into these.|
The hike out was long and dark and slow. Derek and I listened to our audio books a lot, when no one had the energy to chat. We spread out a bit, with Derek mostly in the lead, Homie next, and me bringing up the rear. Probably never more than a couple of minutes between each of us, I could keep track of the other two by the glow of their headlamps. We got to Indian Gardens at 10:15 p.m. Here we found a couple that were in rough shape. They asked for and received some Motrin from Homie. While we took a break to re-fill our water, eat and put on long pants, they continued on. We would pass them not that far up the trail and the woman was lying down to rest. I didn’t know if they had sleeping gear. I doubt it. If they did I would have strongly pushed them to sleep at Indian Gardens. I hope they got out okay.
I predicted a 1a.m. rim time, based on the 3200 feet of climbing still to do and pace I thought I could maintain. I seriously thought about sleeping here, at a nice shelter. I had no permit to do that, but wasn’t very concerned about it. I’d be up early and knew no one would even know I was there. But Homie and Derek were set on finishing this baby off. I was out there to have long, hard days, so I shouldn’t have been looking to shorten it. The three of us headed for the top.
|Traversing below the third Supai band, which was incorrect.|
|No way up these cliffs...|
|Crossing the Silver Bridge over the Colorado River and starting the 10-mile, 4500-foot climb to the South Rim|
|Coronado Butte, an "Easy" temple, from the New Hance trail.|
Lots of loose sandy blocks, camouflaged gray prickly pear and vibrant agave led to a traverse to the right around the steep cliffs above us. The guidebook said to go up the third gully. We looked up and saw a weakness and wondered if that counted as a gully. One deep, chimney system seemed to qualify, but we didn’t see any others until we got around to the north and found the first real gully. The third gully matched the route description and we headed up it.
|Scrambling the ridge up to the base of the temple.|
|We traverse around to the right until finding the third gully on the north side.|
|Looking back at tree below the correct ascent route.|
|On the summit of Coronado Butte.|
|Hiking back out on the New Hance trail.|
We geared at the base and Derek scampered up the first pitch easily. Homie and I followed with Homie tied into the middle of our 70-meter rope and me on the other end. This worked out great as no pitch was longer than half a rope length. The first pitch went up a crack with lots of footholds and handholds and then traversed left to what would be a hard squeeze chimney if not for the three handy chockstones.
|South Sixshooter Peak|
|Atop the second pitch.|
By this time Brian had caught up to us. He popped through on the same second pitch Derek did. He wore fancy man-pri tights and…nothing else. Not even shoes. He was climbing barefoot. His partner, Millie, wore a bit more clothes. At least she had a top and shoes on. Derek was belaying at the rappel chains with the final pitch above him. When I got there he asked, “Do you want to just continue?” I did because it would be slightly faster. I was feeling a tiny bit of pressure only because I don’t like holding other climbers up. Brian was super nice, though, and any pressure I felt was purely self-imposed. As it turned out we didn’t hold them up at all.
The last pitch of this tower is interesting and certainly had my attention. Easy climbing leads up to the much-talked about “hard for 5.6 mantle.” Indeed, this pitch seems to be 5.8 also, though not very sustained. The tricky climbing amounts to about three total moves. Doing the mantle is easy. The problem is standing up on the one foot you get up there. The wall is quite steep here and there is hardly anything to grasp. I used the arete on the right, but it was marginal. The bulk of the work is doing a one-legged press. Once I stood on the ledge, I could clip the bolt, which protects the final moves which are positive face holds with very marginal feet. I thought this move was at least 5.8. In the gym it would surely be 5.9, but Derek gave it a grade of 5.8. Anyway, the 5.6 rating is complete bullshit and a 5.6 leader would probably have a hard time leading this route.
|Homie starting up the crux pitch.|
|On top of the lower summit, which the Regular Route ascends.|
|Derek at the base of the summit pitch of the true summit with Homie about to rap off the Regular Route summit.|