Sunday, June 09, 2019

Sundial Dihedral with Mark

Mark on the small ledge at the base of the fifth pitch.

Mark has been learning how to jug this year. He was preparing to go up the Nose with Derek and I, but due to variety of factors, including my shoulder problems and weather issues in the Valley, we didn't make our planned trip to Yosemite. As a consolation, we picked a location equidistant from his house in Provo and mine in Superior, which was Colorado National Monument. The weather forecast called for a high of 85 degrees, which was a bit of a concern, but didn't stop us.

The most prominent tower in CNM is Independence Monument. It is 500 feet tall and has a unique, chiseled route up it called Otto's Route, after the first ascensionist. Even with the chiseled holds, the routes overhanging finish is 5.9+. I'd done that route a number of times and it's super fun, but we wanted something more suited to Mark's new skills. We chose the Sundial Dihedral on the southeast face. This is a six-pitch route with a mix of free and aid climbing. Done as free as can be, the only aid is the final-pitch bolt ladder. Done as free as Bill can be, the second pitch (11+/12-) was aid as well. The fourth pitch is rated 11a/b and would be the crux free climbing for me.

We met at the trailhead a bit before 7 a.m. which is a bit later than ideal, but allowed Mark to sleep at his house the night before, though it wasn't a very long night, since he was up at 2:30 a.m. that morning. That was too radical for me so I drove out the night before and had a nice bivy at the Dinosaur Hill trailhead.
My bivy below a shelter at the Dinosaur Hill trailhead.
We saw a number of hikers on the approach and would all day long, but we were the only party on any route on the tower that day. This was surprising to me, since Otto's Route is in the shade and is a very popular route. We geared up at the base and were climbing probably around 8:30 a.m.

The first pitch is a 5.8 chimney/corner. I found just getting off the ground to be a crank, but things go easier and went nicely up to what I thought was the crux - a powerful lieback move at the very top of the pitch. Following, Mark had more trouble down below where is lack of crack/chimney experience made things difficult, but he worked out a beautiful stemming solution to the final move.

I'd climbed this route once before, long ago, with my buddy English Bob. He had done most of the leading and all the hard pitches, including the second pitch. Bob had tried to free it, but resorted to aid. A commenter on thought this pitch was 11+/12-, which is definitely too much for me. At first I thought I could maybe french-free some of it, but it's so steep. I got in my aiders and plugged away. The gear is solid and pretty easy to place. I did place two RPs, but the rock is surprisingly hard.
Mark deciphering the final moves on the first pitch
In this 100-foot I placed most of my substantial rack, but it allowed me to move a bit quicker since I didn't backclean anything except one of the RPs. I even placed my old-style #4.5 Camalot (roughly equivalent to the modern #5) near the top of this pitch. I did free climb the last 15-20 feet, which would have been more difficult to aid.

I wasn't able to self-belay up the third pitch because my rack was so depleted, but Mark jugged quickly so I didn't have to wait long. I was leading with a trail line and hauled up the pack after each pitch. In the pack we had 2.5 liters of water, which proved a bit light. Though we were in the sun almost the entire time it didn't feel nearly as hot as I expected. I didn't feel my climbing performance was limited by it. We also carried extra gear in the pack. I stowed the aiders in there and we had some extra cams in there as well.
Aiding the second pitch.
Third pitch started with a chimney which led to an easier stairstep arete and finally some burly laybacking up a couple of flakes. Both Mark and I cruised up this pitch. The belays at the top of the first three pitches consisted of a single bolt. Atop the second pitch I had nothing that would fit the crack to backup the bolt, but I called down to Mark to pull the cam (0.5 Camalot) from the first belay and send it up with the pack.

The fourth pitch is the crux free climbing, for me at least. recommended bringing four #2 Camalots and we pulled the two extra pieces out of the pack. I avoided looking up at this pitch for too long, as it is intimidating. It overhangs for the first half. In the starting crack were two blocks stacked on top of each other. Both looked very precarious and the top one was completely loose. I put in a piece against the lower block, hoping a fall would just wedge the block tighter. To even get started I had to stretch for a tiny edge, match on it and do a pull-up on it in order to get high enough to swing into the wide crack.
Mark about ready to start liebacking the finish to pitch three.
Once in the wide crack I stretched for a handjam formed by a flake on the left wall. I put in a #1 Camalot here and could then barely reach a handjam in the main crack, just as it closed down enough. I in a #2 and a bit higher a #3. I had good jams for this but the crack was overhanging and I was getting pumped. I didn't have good feet as the crack below me was mostly too wide. The main crack opened again to form an overhanging pod/chimney and the crux moves were getting into this. I was able to place a #4 Camalot at the base of the pod, bu then struggled. My left foot was in the crack, but not high enough. My right foot was useless. I gastoned the lip of the crack with my right hand and tried to set a chicken wing with my left arm. I thrutched upwards by an inch or two and then tried to kick my right foot up on a small 2-inch dihedral, but I couldn't quite get it up there. I needed that to help push me into the pod. I sapped all my strength and slumped onto the cam.
I'm in the chimney/pod above the crux, but below the awesome handcrack above on the fourth pitch.
After resting, I tried again. This time I got my left foot higher. I dynamically bumped up my right hand on the arete and was then able to get my right foot in the small corner and grunted my way into the pod. I rested for quite a while in this pod before making difficult, overhanging moves out of it and stretching around the corner to reach a handjam. The rest of the pitch was perfect hands, but very steep and burly. I barely got this section clean, but there appeared footholds that allowed placing gear nicely. The crack ended at a big roof and the pitch required an ten-foot traverse leftwards to get around it. I put in a bomber #2 Camalot in the corner and then crimped positive edges with just smearing for feet until around the roof and up to the belay. I knew Mark was going to have to free this traverse because there was nothing to lower-out from.

Mark approaching the traverse at the top of the fourth pitch.
Mark jugged the overhanging pitch with some difficulty removing the gear because of the tension on the rope. When he got to the roof he was glad I was nearby to talk him through it. I instructed him to clip into the Camalot and another piece to be safe. He'd then have to get off his jugs and I'll pull in the slack and put him on belay so that he could free climb over to the belay. But he balked at this plan. The Camalot in the roof was his and twenty years old. He decided to leave it and lower out on it. He wanted to learn how to lower out anyway. He did this expertly and was soon at the belay. I offered to climb back across the traverse to get the cam, but Mark wanted to leave it for future parties.

Mark after lowering out from the Camalot he left behind (go get your booty!)
The fifth pitch started with a very committing lieback of a thin crack. At the start I could barely get my tips in the crack and had to smear against a smooth wall. I barely made the reach up to a better hold. I climbed up a bit further and blindly placed another cam just before my feet slipped. I didn't come off, but it gave me scare. Higher up the climbing is cryptic as the crack closes down to just a quarter of an inch wide -- not useable. I gastoned holds out to my left and used opposing pressure with my right hand and barely made a reach to a higher hold. I could then reach right and place a cam. Some tricky stemming put another a block. Some easy liebacking led to a final burly lieback, protected by my trusty #4.5 Camalot.

This pitch ended on a huge pedestal on the eastern end of the tower. Three drilled pitons served as the anchor. Mark elected to jug the pitch and soon joined m on the big ledge. The last pitch loomed above us.  Protected by 13 bolts, the route followed the east buttress as it steepened from lower angle to slightly overhanging. I could barely reach the first bolt. Once I clipped it, I just grabbed the draw, pulled over as the start of the pitch is separate from the pedestal by a gap, and climbed up to step atop the pin. From there I could barely reach the next bolt and above it the angle eased and I had to free climb up low angle, but sandy slabs for 20-30 feet. Two more bolts and more easy free climbing let to the final bolt ladder which necessitated top-stepping to reach each successive bolt, though angle allowed this without too much difficulty.
Looking down the fourth pitch from near the top of it.
Once on top of the tower I looked in vain for the final anchors. There were none. I had brought with me just a few small pieces to possible protect the free climbing sections. I couldn't pull up the pack as Mark had decided to carry it on this pitch and I clipped the haulline into one of the bolts to prevent it from being blown around the tower. It was exceptionally windy. I managed to find a placement for my one cam: a #0.5 in a shallow, flared crack. I put in a couple of large stoppers that just barely fit. It probably would have held. At least a 90% chance. Probably 95%. Would I bet Mark's life on that? I pulled up the entire haulline and walked 100 feet across the tower to the far end, where Otto's Route topped out and secured the hauline to that anchor. I then ran it all the way across the top of the tower back to my anchor and clipped it into that. Next time I'll bring more gear on the final pitch.

Mark topping out on the fifth pitch.
Mark encountered new problems jugging the last pitch. The free climbing sections had to be freed by him as well, otherwise he'd have swung way to the right, risking a nasty pendulum. He had to climb and move up his jugs at the same time. Also, the start was so low-angle that it made it awkward to jug. And the top had free-hanging sections which were quite physical. Once both of us were on top, we didn't waste much time heading down. We were out of water and too parched to enjoy the food we brought. Plus the wind was brutal.

Looking up the final pitch.
We belayed each other over the edge to the Otto's Route rappel anchors and then I rapped first on our fixed lead line, while pulling our haulline down with me. The idea was to avoid the wind whipping the ropes around to the opposite side of the tower. I didn't take all the lead rope with me, though and Mark eventually had to let the free end go. By then I was a hundred feet down and the rope came down fine. It's three rappels to the ground and after I got up the first rappel and yelled up "Off rappel" I was surprised to hear Mark yell, "Rope!" and drop the end of the haulline. Oops! At first I thought we'd just have to climb back up Otto's route to fix this problem, but, doh, Mark could just haul up the haulline with the lead rope. He'd have to risk the blowing rope on this rappel, but it went fine. We did two more raps and were soon on the ground.
Mark jugging the last pitch.
Originally we thought we might also climb Otto's Route, but Mark's ankle was hurting him and we decided not to push. We packed up the gear and walked around to the other side of the tower, to where we started, and had a late lunch. We reclined there and chatted for a long time, enjoying the views of the desert. On the hike out, just like on the hike in, we spotted a desert bighorn. These are raw sights and it was a great end to our adventure.

On the summit!