Photos - coming
Nowadays, whenever someone asks if I’m training for something, my answer is: Fitz Roy! Depending upon who’s asking, they might not recognize that name. Climbers know it. At least alpine climbers. Sport climbers might not have heard about it. Exclusive gym climbers almost certainly haven’t heard of it. But I only know one person who is exclusively a gym climber: Steph Ehret - Peter Bakwin’s wife. I’ve been asked about my training goal twice on trail runs, most recently on the Skyline. I caught up to a group of ultra-runners, which is remarkable in itself, as I don’t catch up to many people these days, no matter what I’m doing, but especially not running. Anyway, I asked him what the group was training for and he responded with a list of ultramarathons. When he queried me I gave my usual response. He’d heard of the mountain. Whenever that happens I expect the person to be confused how scooting along a local trail is going to help me get up the monster that is Fitz Roy. He didn’t though. Maybe he realized it was just one aspect of my training. All I’d been doing lately was trail running and gym climbing. That should do it, right? On the off chance it wasn’t sufficient, we planned this trip to Zion to see if desert trad/aid climbing was significantly different from gym climbing. Turns out, it is different.
Warm-upWe met my buddy Mark in Zion. He was training with us as well, though he wasn’t planning on Fitz Roy. We had plans for him to join us on another of our training adventures. I say “training”, but all of these, save the gym and the trails, are full-on adventures on their own. Mark secured us an early-drive-in permit for the next day and brought lunch to our campsite. Derek and I had set up our tent and organized our gear. Our plan was to take the shuttle bus into the Big Bend stop and do the first two pitches of the Touchstone Wall to warm-up our aid skills. Mark was new to jugging and had only done it three times before; first in a gym and then a couple of times at crags near his house in Provo. Derek and I hadn't stood in slings since we climbed Lurking Fear on El Cap two years ago.
It was after two p.m. by the time we arrived at the base of the wall so we weren’t surprised to find no one there. In fact, during this whole trip we only saw one party that wasn’t climbing Moonlight Buttress or Shune’s Buttress and this party (Spencer and Spencer’s partner) arrived at Touchstone just twenty minutes after we got there. They were there to fix the first couple of pitches before finishing the route the next day. It was overly warm for this time of year, though, with temperatures hitting 85 or hotter in the afternoon,
Derek led the first pitch, just like he’d done two years ago, but this time he was more confident and a lot faster. This isn’t due to a lot more aid practice, but just general confidence in his climbing ability and more trad leading experience. He set up the belay and expertly flaked both of the ropes he had trailed. Mark was jugging the lead line, which trended strongly to the right, giving him some practice with jumping the jugs around pieces and learning how to lower himself out using his lower jug and pulling on the rope beneath it. Derek made one lead mistake when he back cleaned some bolts on the hard traverse to the right. Mark had to lower out from the last sling and was then too far to the right to clean it. In this case we were saved by Spencer and his partner cleaning it for us. All the while Mark was jugging I was to his right jugging the free line and offering advice and instruction.
Once Mark was directly under the belay, I headed to to Derek’s hanging belay to take the next lead. The second pitch of the Touchstone Wall is the crux C2 pitch. I’d been up the route twice before and both times led this pitch, which turns a 3-foot roof via a thin flared crack. The first time I did this route, probably twenty years ago, there was a pin over the lip of the roof and I was able to do one semi-free move and clip it. Two years ago this pin wasn’t there any longer and I found it quite challenging to get a solid placement, taking one fall when a piece pulled. Despite that, I was confident I’d zip up the pitch.
I made quick work of the bolts leading up to the roof and then traversing sideways to the left beneath it. I backcleaned the traverse because the top bolt had a lower-out sling on it and this would allow Derek to skip the horizontal jugging and just lower out. Of course, then he’d be faced with a twenty-foot free-climbing jug up to the lip of the roof. This is quite strenuous jugging when you don’t have a wall on which to brace your feet.
I had lots of trouble getting a placement over the roof, trying three or four different pieces before using the third smallest RP. In the course of trying things I pulled off a #2 Camalot and then, unknown to me, failed to secure it back onto my rack. It was on there somehow but eventually dislodged and fell. I only knew this when Derek yelled down to the others “Rock!” Dang. That’s sloppy and scary for your partners. They rightfully wondered what was going on with me. Unfortunately it got worse.
I gingerly stepped up on the RP, expecting it to pop at any moment. I didn’t want to Fifi into it for fear of putting any outward force on it. I strenuously balanced in my aiders, which hung free of the wall just below the roof, while struggling to get the next placement. Eventually I got another marginal placement, an offset cam in a sandy flare. From there I could get in a solid piece and when I pulled up my aiders, it hit the RP placement, which I stupidly hadn’t clipped to the rope after getting off it, and it fell out and plummeted toward the ground. Derek yelled “Rock” again and I felt like a complete Gumby. And a frazzled one at that. Between the dicey placements, my dropped gear, and my glacial pace, I elected to use the intermediate belay that was just thirty feet above the roof. This was just supposed to be a gentle warm-up and I was turning it into an ordeal.
I clipped into the belay, pulled up the lead line and fixed it for Derek. This was a pure hanging belay with no hint of a foothold. I stood in my aiders and fixed my end of the lead rope to the belay. Instead of having three of us in such cramped quarters, I’d rappel a single line to the ground once Derek arrived. Then Mark would jug up and they’d both rappel down on the doubled line.
Derek quickly remembered the technique for lowering out and then fought with the overhanging jug a bit because they were adjusted for the vertical terrain of the first pitch and not a free-hanging ascent. Mark had an even more strenuous jug because he ascended the free line that hung clear of the wall all the way to the belay. By the time he got down he was glad that our goal climbs were generally a bit less than vertical.
Back on the ground I found both of the pieces I dropped, but my confidence was shaken and I worried a bit of what my partners thought. I assured them I’d do better the next day.
We then walked the banks of the Virgin River, trying to find a safe place in which to wade across, as we’d hoped to climb Moonlight Buttress the next day. We later learned that the river was flowing at 940 cps (cubic feet per second) and rising each day. To put that in perspective, the Narrows hike doesn’t open until the flow drops below 150 cps. We didn’t find anything that looked safe, as least while carrying a heavy climbing pack. I feared if you fell in the river, you might have to ditch the pack to survive and lose a thousand dollars worth of gear and ending the trip. We’d later talked to two climbers who also didn’t think it was safe and their solution was to go to the top of the route and rappel in. That didn’t appeal to us. It was possible to cross the river at the Angels Landing trail and then bushwhack all the way around the Organ, and Angels Landing and then along the bank to Moonlight, but that didn’t seem appealing to us either. We decided to try a different route on the other side of the canyon, one that didn’t involve a river crossing. We settled on Space Shot. I’d done this route about fifteen years ago with Mark Hudon. I led every pitch on the route that day, as Mark was content to just belay and shoot photos. My confidence was high, despite my troubles on this day and some ominous comments on mountainproject.com.
After a birthday dinner (my birthday) in town (thanks, Mark!), we hit the bags with our alarms set for 5 a.m.
Space Shot“Pitch 5 is now harder than the crux on the Shield (on El Cap).”
“Bring hooks and be prepared to bust a move on the last pitch.”
Why didn’t I pay more heed to these comments on MP.com? Why didn’t I bring the essential offset nuts? I’m supposed to be experienced. I might not be that strong of a climber, but I’ve been climbing a long time. Too long to be making dumb mistakes like this. I’m headed to Fitz Roy at the end of this year because I wanted to give it a shot before my skills deteriorated too much to put this climb out of reach. I wonder now if I’ve waited too long…
We drove into the canyon, to the turnout for Space Shot and then started organizing our gear. We didn’t do it last night because it was late and we were tired. It wasn’t an issue because it was still dark. After a bathroom stop, we headed up in the light. After five minutes we were at the base of the route. I led the first pitch, 5.5, and Derek followed dragging the second rope. While Derek led the second pitch, a fun 5.7 chimney/corner pitch, Mark jugged the first pitch. I then followed and led the third pitch up to the start of the hard climbing.
While Mark jugged the third pitch, Derek headed up the fourth pitch. This pitch starts with a very reach-y bolt ladder. In fact, off the first bolt Derek had to stand in his hero loop and grab some holds above to reach the second bolt, and he’s six feet tall. We saw a duct-taped stick at the base of this wall, clearly made as a cheater stick. If you are less than six feet, you’d either need one of these or have to pull up out of your aiders completely, lock off on one hand, and clip the second bolt.
Once by this move, he moved steadily up the bolts with other high steps moves until they ran out where an incipient, flared, sandy, horrible crack started. The rest of the pitch, seventy feet of it, was dicey, scary aid climbing. We could hear Derek above semi-talking to us. He wasn’t really, as we couldn’t hear him, but he was just talking aloud about how nervous he was or how bad the placements were. I knew he was scared and it was still a new experience for me: having Derek above me and in some distress. I can’t help him at this point. He’s so far away and out of sight that I can’t even give suggestions or advice. He’s totally on his own and all I can do it belay and keep him safe if he falls. I knew he hadn’t pulled out half the rope yet and hence could be lowered down, provided he had a piece good enough to lower off of. I heard such stress in the timbre of his voice that I expected this, yet the rope kept moving out, slowly, very slowly, but he wasn’t coming down. At one point he yelled “Watch me!” A couple of times the rope was jerked upwards hard, a couple of times in a row. If it was three times, that would mean he’s off belay. Each time that happened I prayed for a third tug, but it didn’t come. He passed the halfway mark on our 70-meter rope. The guidebook said it was a 40-meter pitch. The rope kept inching out and eventually, blessedly, finally the call came down: “Off belay!”
I got on my jugs and moved upwards at a quick pace, at first. Then the steepness of the wall got to me, especially my already hurting right elbow. Mark was complaining a bit about that and certainly jugging a vertical line puts a lot of stress on your elbows. I cleaned the bolt ladder and then the angled eased a bit and I started cleaning gear from the crack. The climbing looked hard and scary. The placements were technical and marginal. One was our smallest offset cam and the two bigger lobes were barely in contact with the rock. Yikes! I wouldn’t have wanted to get on that cam. Few of the placements looked bomber. I wonder how many could have held a fall. Further up was a sizable gap where Derek had to free climb above marginal gear. I’d have been very frightened and I wondered if I’d have been able to complete the pitch. I forced those thoughts out of my mind because the next pitch was even harder and it was my lead.
When I got up to Derek, at another pure hanging belay, he said, “I hated that. It was horrible.” I understood exactly those emotions. I’d been there before. Something like that you don’t want to repeat, but you’re glad to have pushed through and got the rope up for the team.
We re-racked and I was soon leading the next pitch, which goes pretty smoothly, though very steep, up to an intermediate belay. After clipping the belay I made a huge reach to my right and clipped a bolt and then up and a bit further right was a drilled angle. This got to a thin seam that only occasionally opened up enough for any gear options. I placed a bomber stopper at the start of this crack and got on it. Above the wall was slightly less than vertical, which allowed very tenuous top-stepping in the aiders. What I saw above me looked grim: flared pockets, flared openings, and nothing looking remotely solid.
I stepped high and tried my small Ball-nut into one-inch long, one-eighth of an inch wide crack. When I pulled on it, the ball pulled nearly past the nut, but it held. It looked like a time bomb, but I jerked on it and it held so I clipped in my aider and I eased onto it. It took my weight for a few seconds before ripping off and I fell onto my daisy, still clipped to the stopper below. This is an unpleasant fall because daisies do not stretch. At all. This also put such force onto the nut as to make it irretrievable without a hammer, which we did’t have and wouldn’t have used anyway.
I righted myself and went back up to my topstep and struggled to find a placement. This was strenuous and stressful work, as the balance was tenuous and held myself to the wall via a Gaston with my left hand while searching my rack, mostly to no avail. I eventually got a larger offset cam to stick on our of the flared holds. The outer cams weren’t touching the rock, though. It looked terrible, but tugs didn’t dislodge it, so I clipped in an aider and once again eased onto the placement. This time I climbed up the ladder a step or two before it blew and once again I fell onto my daisy.
This was just the start of this crux crack, which went for forty feet to the belay anchors. I decided that I’d had enough. It did look like there would eventually be better placements but until then I feared I’d rip everything I’d be able to put in. I called down to my partners that I was out and asked if anyone wanted to give it a try. By anyone, I meant Derek, as Mark really had no business on the sharp end here. In all of our climbing together I think I’ve only been turned around once with Derek, on Galactic Hitchhiker in Yosemite last year. Then it never occurred to me to ask Derek if he wanted to try it. That would have been silly. If it was too scary and hard for me then there is no way I’d let Derek try it. To my surprise, Derek responded, “I’ll come up and take a fall or two.” What?! After his mind-stretching lead on the first pitch, the lead he hated, he now wanted more? Already? After I couldn’t do it? With my vast experience over his meager experience? Okay. I fully expected him to take one look at this crack and say, “Ah, I see the problem. Yup, let’s go down.” This was a similar crack to the one he had climbed on the first pitch, only thinner and steeper.
I fixed the line and Derek jugged up to me and took over the lead. Mark remained at the hanging belay below. I’m at the hanging intermediate belay with my feet fast going asleep as my harness cuts off my circulation. Derek makes the big reach right and repeats my earlier moves over to the stopper to check out the crack. After getting a good look, he didn’t retreat, but instead headed up! He stood high in his aiders and probably placed the same large offset cam that I did. He got it to stick and then he got on it. It held, so he unclipped his lower aider from the stopper and just as he started to move up, it pulled and down he came, but he was caught by the rope, a softer, albeit a bit longer fall. Yikes. Yet Derek immediately laughed. A genuine laugh. He just fell ten feet on a blank wall, five hundred feet above the ground. When I fell I didn’t yell and I remained calm an outwardly unflustered, but I did not laugh. I feared trying again.
So, down we go, right? Nope. He’s soon on the stopper again and this time placing a smaller offset cam in a lower pod, something either I didn’t consider or rejected or maybe it would have been my third choice had I the mental toughness to risk a third fall. Derek got it to stick and eased onto it. He hung on it for a bit. Then he pulled the aider from the stopper and moved up a step. He put in a two-cam 0.3 and eased onto that. It held and he pulled up and clipped a fixed stopper that was hidden behind a tiny plant in the crack. Cool. He was now three placements above where I’d been.
I knew right then, this was a change in our climbing partnership. Maybe not a permanent one just yet, but soon he’d be the go-to guy to put up the rope. I knew that was coming on harder, easier to protect climbing and that we were probably already there when it came to sport climbing, since he climbed so much harder than me in the gym, but I didn’t think we were even close to him taking the reigns on aid climbing, especially scary aid climbing. I struggled with this then and still do now. On the one hand I was glad to have someone to share the stress of leading, as it opens up harder climbing to us as a team because leading everything is stressful and weighs on me. On the other hand, the only thing I had to contribute to the partnership was my experience, my expertise with gear, and my cool head leading scary pitches. I didn’t have his finger strength, his endurance, or his power. Maybe this was the first step to losing him as a partner. He’ll seek out other climbers who could take him to the next level. I knew this was the endgame all along, I just hoped it was still years away. It was supposed to start with him taking leads that I could do, not by taking leads I couldn’t do. But it wasn’t just that. I was once again in the position of just belaying him as he entered the danger zone. I couldn’t help him. I couldn’t bail him out. Watching a scary lead can be more scary than actually leading it, especially if it is your son.
He put in another dicey placement, another offset cam, I think. He got on it and it held and up he went. He called down that he wished he could turn the lead over to me at that point since it looked like only nuts were going to work above and he has very little experience placing them. He put in a marginal two-cam unit and considered it. He yanked on it and it held. He knew it looked bad. He thought he should find something better, but his previous two-cam placement held, so it got on it. It held and he moved to step up when it ripped out. Down he fell onto the offset below, ping! The next piece down pulled and he picked up speed and started to tumble backwards. This time he had time for a yell of fear to escape his mouth. The rope came tight on the next piece down, the fixed nut, and it held. I stopped Derek’s fall as he came about even with the belay, in fact a few feet below it. He’d fallen more than twenty feet.
Before I could even ask him if he was okay, Mark yelled up from below, “What’s the plan, guys?” I could tell he was getting stressed watching us take whippers up here. I was too. I sure wanted to go down and was thankful when Derek responded, “I’m done.” He didn’t seemed too rattled, but he didn’t want to go back up. It was still twenty more feet to the belay and the climbing didn’t appear to get appreciably easier.
Derek asked what to do next and I told him to climb back up to the pieces below the stopper and pull them. We’d leave the quickdraw on the fixed nut. He did so and I lowered him back down and he had to down-aid a move so that he could clean the draws off the bolt on the traverse. Once back at the belay, he clipped in, untied, pulled the rope from above and re-tied in. I lowered him back down to Mark, as the pitch moved right to left and I was worried he’d be dangling in space, if we just rappelled down. This way Mark could pull him into the belay with the line Derek was trailing.
Mark and Derek set up a single-rope rappel down the fourth pitch while I set up the rappel from the intermediate belay. As Mark was rappelling down to the top of the third pitch, I rappelled down to Derek at the top of the fourth pitch. Derek made sure I could get back to the belay by holding onto the ends of my rappel line and then he took off down the single line as well. I then tied the ropes together, cleaned the extra gear and rappelled down to join my companions. On the way down I noticed that there was a least some do-able climbing on the free variation (13a R) to the fourth pitch. This is the crux free climbing pitch of Space Shot. Since we were retreating, I was hoping to get a bit more done that day. I proposed that we try to toprope some of this pitch. I know that sounds crazy to toprope a 5.13 pitch when I’d have trouble toproping a 5.11 pitch, but some of the climbing looked do-able.
Derek went first. The pitch starts to the right of the aid pitch with some cool stemming/chimney moves between the main wall and the Rebozo Pinnacle — a six-foot in diameter tower that appears to be anchored via mud. We half joked that you stemmed with too much force, you’d push over the tower. Derek moved nicely up to the top of the tower where he had to gain the face at a bolt. The lower half of this pitch is protected by widely spaced bolts and the other half of this pitch joins the aid line and hence is marginally protected at best.
Mike and Mark Anderson were the first to free climb Space Shot in 200? It doesn’t seem to have seen many repeats though. Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell freed it as part of a four-wall free linkup and Chris Weidner, again with Honnold, freed it and Monkeyfinger in a day. Quinn Brett did the first (and only?) female free ascent in 2017, after putting in about ten days of effort.
Derek moved up the face a bit and then had to make a hard traverse to the left via a tiny finger rail and no feet except a tiny nothing way off to the left. After one fall, he got it on his second try. This wasn’t the crux of the pitch, but sure felt like 5.12 to me when I couldn’t touch this move on my attempt. Derek moved up on the holds that enticed me to try this baby, probably 5.10 climbing for fifteen feet before another 5.12 section. He got through that after a couple more falls and then, at the supposed 5.13 crux, he came down. My turn.
I got up the pillar okay and onto the face, but couldn’t do the 5.12 move. Thankfully I had Mark down there giving me an industrial-strength power belay and any movement I could make upwards was immediately captured and magnified and I inched upwards between swings back and forth across the wall as I’d come off and pendulum across to the fall line. Seeing Derek’s issues, I brought a sling with me and once I got to the 5.13 section I clipped into the bolt and yanked on it to get by. I felt the holds and tried to pull on them, but they were so tiny and with only vertical smears for the feet, it was way beyond me. Once by that section I was faced with the only part of the route that looked truly impossible: a ten foot traverse to the aid crack with no holds — for hands or feet. It wasn’t vertical here, but it was close to it. I was standing on a four-inch ledge at the start of this traverse with one tiny hold for my right hand and I could barely stand there. The next ten feet there was nothing at all. In Quinn’s description of this pitch her only mention of this section is “a technical step down.” I did not see any way to do this. I plan to call Quinn (I know her) and quiz her about this.
I swung across the traverse and continued clear up to the top of the pitch via the crack that Derek aided. I needed all Mark’s power belaying to make it. It seemed like some of this was 5.12. It isn’t that steep, but the crack is so bad, so shallow, so flared, so sandy. Quinn called it 5.11 R. Mike Anderson called it “easy”, but time consuming because of how difficult it was to place any solid gear.
We did three more rappels back to the ground and then toproped Alpine Start, a sandbag 5.9 lieback. None of us were too excited about doing it because it was full-on in the 85-degree sunshine, but I wanted to get more things done, even if it was just a toprope. Derek zipped up it first, but said it was pumpy. I went next and concurred. It was quality climbing, though and pretty much a pure lieback the entire way. A few hand jams down low and two rests eased the difficulty a bit, but there was a sting in the tail when the crack closed down completely at the top, requiring a big reach from a fingerlock.
We hiked down to the car and collapsed onto the shaded pavement to drink and rest. Then we walked the Virgin River banks once again. Mark tested a couple of crossings, going in to past knee-deep and making it to an intermediate island, but it still didn’t look safe enough for Derek and I. We wouldn’t try Moonlight Buttress on this trip.
We got back to camp around 7 p.m. and hung out a bit before Mark took off for home. Derek and I heated up some canned pasta for dinner and turned in before 10 p.m.
More FlailingMy alarm went off at 5 a.m., as usual, but I didn’t get out of my bag for another 30 minutes. I wasn’t motivated after my ass kicking the day before and I was going to let Derek drive the team today. Apparently he wasn’t that motivated either because he didn’t get out of the tent until three hours later. Then we sat around reading. I’m not sure what was going through Derek’s head because he did so well the day before, but for the first time in our partnership, I was waiting for him to get us going. Maybe he sensed my reluctance...?
The longer we waited, the hotter it became. We’d move periodically to stay in the shade, each reading out books. We didn’t make a move until after 3 p.m. Zion had beat me down in only a few pitches.
Our plan was to just go do the first three pitches of Iron Messiah. Since they were pretty short, we figured we could rap them with a single 60-meter rope and that was all we brought. We selected this route because it was in the shade. Conditions were not pleasant in the direct sun.
Upon getting off the bus at the Grotto, we soon found that our approach trail was closed, due to rock fall. Zion has experienced a lot of rockfall this year and the Observation Point trail was closed indefinitely because of it. The park is using a geologist to evaluate the terrain above the trail to determine if it is stable to warrant the repair and re-opening of the trail. Also the tunnel to the eastern side of Zion was closed when we got there, though it opened before we left.
Climbers don’t use established trails to get to their routes, so I briefly thought about just going over the barrier and continuing upwards, but the barrier is very prominent, right on the other side of the bridge, so we didn’t try it. As we turned around to retreat we looked directly up at Shune’s Buttress, an 11+ route I climbed with Stefan years ago, with him doing the heavy lifting. The route was in the shade and we contemplated doing the first pitch, but at 11+ and us with no aiders, it had the potential to turn into quite a mess. I pulled up mountain project.com on my phone and found a 5.10 route called Booked Out that was near the base of Shune’s. It didn’t mention how long the pitch was, but said to use singles to #4 and it has a 2-bolt anchor. Cool.
We hiked up there, marveled at the sustained nature of the first pitch of Shune’s and then backtracked a bit to an “offset finger crack” with a clear wide section above. The guidebook mentioned that no offwidth moves are necessary as you can use compression moves instead. Whatever compression moves are… It had chalk on it and though I couldn’t see any anchors, I saw a small tree above on what looked like a small ledge. This must be it, I thought, and geared up. Despite the rack recommendations, I brought doubles. It would be my sole good decision of this entire trip.
I started up a ramp with a crack in it, but it soon ended at a vertical crack in a small inset on a little arete. I placed gear here and was able to lieback and crimp my way up the arete that formed the left side of this inset. Nice crack climbing above led to a chimney/flare section that was the crux of the route. It looked very intimidating as these things often do. This was a V-shaped slot that was initially maybe six feet deep. The crack in the back was really wide at the start, but five feet up I was able to place my #4 Camalot. The whole section was about twenty feet long. The walls were nearly featureless and I used my knees a lot in a desperate fight to stick to the sides. The entire weekend I climbed in long pants, but today I was in shorts. I didn’t even bring long pants in my pack. This is just dumb. I need the protection and my knees will be a glaring reminder of that fact for at least a week.
I grunted upwards and the flare became tighter and tighter. The crack had closed down to allow my #3 Camalot, but I had it pinned between myself and the wall and couldn’t free it. I was able to slide down to the lone foothold and ready the #3, something I should have done on the first time up. I went back up, got in the #3 and then, thrashed mightily until I was too tired and had Derek take me on the rope. Ugh. After resting I worked it out and exited to easier crack climbing.
There was still no sign of any 2-bolt belay and I seemed pretty high off the ground. I yelled down to Derek asking how much rope I had left and he confirmed the awful truth: I was more than halfway out with no anchor in sight. I was also running out of gear. I placed my second, and last, #1 Camalot forty feet below the tree above. I gained a ledge twenty feet below the tree and thought I had no gear left that would fit the climbing above. It was a hand crack and my largest piece left was a 0.5 Camalot. I looked twenty feet down at my #1 Camalot and then up at the 20-foot hand crack above me. It looked like a 5.9 hand crack. Maybe easier, but I’d be risking an 80-foot fall before it was over. Ugh. I thought about unroping so that I could lower down my rope and pull up some extra gear, but that would put me 120 feet off the ground, unroped, on a tiny stance. Then Derek would use the other end in order for my end to get to the bottom and I’d probably have to flip it around and throw it down multiple times. Nope, that was way too dangerous. Before I launched into the last bit I discovered that one section of the crack pinched down quickly. I was able to place my 0.5 Camalot deep in the crack. This gave me the confidence I needed to finish off the pitch, which was probably more like 5.8.
I got to the small tree and found no fixed anchor. Derek measured the remaining rope: sixty feet. So, I was 140 feet up. Bummer. I yelled down to Derek that I’d have to fix the line and rappel down, cleaning the gear and we’d have to come back tomorrow to retrieve the rope. He didn’t want to come back the next day, as he wanted to get home sooner. Plus, we were later to learn that rain was forecasted. Derek packed up and headed for the shuttle bus. I cleaned the pitch, packed the gear and hiked down to the shuttle bus stop to await Derek’s return. Derek had to get back to the camp, get our second rope and return without enough time for us to hike back up to the route, jug the fixed line with the extra rope, rap back down, pack up, and get back to the shuttle stop by the last bus, at 8:25 p.m.
My phone was dead so I had nothing to occupy my time. I talked to everyone waiting for the bus. I anxiously sat up and scanned all the passengers on each incoming bus. Then, at 7:38 Derek got off the bus with a big grin on his face and the second rope on his back. We booked it up the hill. I dropped my pack down low and put on my harness while Derek raced up to the ropes and setup the jugs on them I arrived clipped into the daisies and jugged the line in five minutes. I then got my daisies a bit tangled my rappel line so I slowed down and made sure I was safe. Soon I was back on the ground and stripping off my gear while Derek pulled down the ropes. We each coiled one and then ran down the hill to catch the second-to-last shuttle. Easy peasy. Unfortunately the two teams still descending Shune’s Buttress would have to walk the seven miles out of the Canyon.
We got off the shuttle at the Visitor Center and did the half-mile walk back to our site. As we approached out campsite something wasn’t right. That looked like our car, but there was a big truck there as well and two people around our picnic table with tons of gear spread out. Our site must be further down, I thought. Then one of the guys at the site got up and started walking toward us. What was up? He said, “Hey, Bill, it’s Connor.”
I had forgot that I gave him our site information a couple of days ago. Connor and his buddy Johnny offered us beers and we swapped climbing stories for a couple of hours. It was a nice end to our trip. We left the next morning at 5:20 a.m. Only ten pitches in two and a half days. Each day I was humbled in a different manner. My confidence has been shaken, but the only way to get it back is to keep trying.
Postscript: So, what pitch did I climb? From my Supertopo guidebook it looks like I did a variation start to Shune's Buttress. The topo rates this pitch 11-. Thank goodness. I was afraid the rating was going to be 5.9. Besides the flare, the climbing was great fun, protected well, and seemed pretty reasonable. Maybe even 5.9. Or maybe, as unlikely as this seems to me, I was climbing well enough where it really was harder...