Archive for October, 2011

Big day on Royal Arches

Yesterday Nigel and I braved the morning cold and after a quick breakfast of oatmeal and banana with a quick shot of espresso, we ventured out to catch a shuttle to the Village and start the approach to the Arches. It was cold, but with a decent rack, two ropes and a pack with water and snacks, getting warm was not hard.

Royal Arches is a 16 pitch route, graded at 5.7. We were optimistic, and even had a back up plan to do a route on North Dome if we crushed. Too optimistic by far. It turned into a big day, with 12 hours spent on the wall.

The 5th class pitches were stout as expected of an old school route in Yosemite, but what really stressed me were the completely sandbagged 4th class “scrambles”. I will never forget how I ran out of options and strength in a long 4th class gully and had to pull on the rope to get through. Talk about getting schooled Yosemite style!

Nigel led the bulk of the pitches, including the super strenuous 1st pitch chimney, all the 4th class (they scared me) and a great pitch with an exposed corner and a steep and brutal 5.7 hand crack. The man is good to have along for sure. I did get some nice leads in, a nice 2 pitch linkup with nice moves all along, a cool 5.6 lieback flake with 5.7 “awkward stemming” finish. Good job I got my paws on the tree… And a nice stroll across an unprotected slab (5.4 traverse pitch).

It was hot in the sun up there, and we only brought one Nalgene each of water, and a couple of snacks, so we were pretty thirsty and hungry by the end. Type 2 fun for me…

A bit of simu-climbing from the traverse pitch to the rapel anchors finished off the climbing part of the ordeal. Now only 1500 feet of rapelling remained. Darkness creeps in rather quickly in Yosemite, so we were quickly rapped in a thick blanket of pitch black. Fortunately, the biggest part of the wall rapells were done by the time we needed headlamps.

On the way up, the extra rope was the cause of some bitching (dead weight and all that) but on the rapells it sure came in handy. We met another party with a single rope at our 4th or 5th rapell and invited them to get on our 2 rope lines. So we were a party of 4 rapping down in the dark. It was fun and interesting. A little help from a guy waiting for some friends coming down above us also helped direct us to the most efficient anchors to reach the ground quickly.

In the end we got feet back on the ground almost exactly 12 hours after pushing off. A great adventure I am enjoying a lot more today than I did while it was going down. But I guess that is the way of it when you go through a struggle.

Rest day today with breakfast buffet, internet, shower, and watching Tommy Caldwell on the Dawn Wall from El Cap meadow. And maybe a second stab at Frenzy tomorrow…

Some pics to show you a little bit of how cool this route is.

 

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Bail on Frenzy…

Yesterday we went up to Middle Cathedral to do a five pitch 5.9 called Central Pillar of Frenzy. The approach is chill, just a few minutes from the parking area, but it was cold there. This time of year the sun just does not reach this part of the valley until around sunset. Another party was all ready on the route and we had to wait for them to get their tag line out of the way.

Nigel got on the lead and I made my first mistake of the day. I put my climbing shoes on, expecting Nigel to make short work of the pitch, and not wanting to waste time on putting on my shoes before going second. My toes were shortly freezing, and the tricky nature of the pitch took Nigel a long time to unlock. But he did get up it clean. Which is a lot more than can be said about my performance. I took a fall early, and that set the tone for the whole affair. Every move was difficult, I couldn’t get the jams to stick, the rock was polished, my new shoes couldn’t smear for shit. You name it, I had excuses.

So I pulled on gear for about 3-4 meters, and the rope to turn around in the finishing chimney. And even so, I was completely spent, plus depressed when I got to the belay. I told Nigel I would belay him and jug the rest if he wanted, but I was not taking any leads on this steep, hard route. But I guess I didn’t sound too enthusiastic about it, so he said we should bail then. All though he did regret the decision about as soon as he touched the ground.

Moral of the story? I can only climb face and splitter cracks at the 5.9-5.10 level. Everything else kicks my ass. So it is back to cragging, and this time I am going to go to work on my weaknesses. Chimneys, corners, off width, etc. But 5.6 seems like a better place to start than 5.9.

No pictures of this debacle. Don’t want to be reminded about the dismal failure. That and the fact that my new camera didn’t come with a data transfer cable, and the port in the camera is not a standard mini USB…

A couple of pics from Yosemite Valley

The best of the few shots I have taken so far. I am determined to get more in the next few days.

 

Yosemite Valley update

Yosemite Valley

 

Wedneday, October 19th. We arrived in the Valley just before dark. Majestic views of the Valley, with Half Dome and El Capitan dominating our senses. After navigating the windy and confusing ring road we saw a sign that said Camp 4 was full. Undeterred we pulled in and went to look around. As luck would have it we promptly bumped into Sabine, who we met briefly in Squamish. She told us that someone had just left from her site, so we could pitch our tent there and register in the morning.

 

Thursday, October 20th. Nigels birthday. Pretty sweet for him to wake up in Yosemite Valley, with the sun coloring the granite cliffs around us a bright golden hue. We waited in line, got a site, moved our tent across the path and had breakfast, before we went on a little tour. We rode around the Valley floor, gawking at the huge granite cliffs surrounding us, before we headed up to Glacier Point. The road is long and windy, and the drive took a good hour. But the view was amazing. We could see far into the Valley, the two waterfalls behind Half Dome, and of course, Half Dome itself. We had been thinking pretty seriously about doing Snake Dike, a 5.6 route up the side of Half Dome. Now we could see the aproach, the length of the climb itself, and the serious descent. 6 mile aproach hike, hours of climbing, then a 9 mile descent hike. That would be one long and hard day. We will see if we can motivate ourselves to do it. But it certainly would be amazing to get to the top of the formation.

 

Friday, October 21st. Cragging @ Swan Slab.

 

Nigel put up Swan Slab Gully (5.6) and I led it on his gear, before we did the same thing with Penelopes Problem (5.7). Then I TR’d Oak Tree Flake (5.6) beforeputting up the TR for 2 routes on the other side of the arete. We did laps on Grants Crack (5.9), a beautiful finger crack, and we both sent Unnamed Thin Crack (still on TR) which is a very thin finger crack (duh!) with some cool face moves.

 

Saturday, October 22nd. Swan Slab and Church Bowl area.

 

Rough start! Nigel led an unnamed 5.9, and when I tried to TR it, I could not even get off the ground. Even with a cheat stone, or booster rock as I prefered to call it. A single two finger lock and a high step onto polished slab kicked my ass. I could not hold the lock long enough to get established and find another hold. So we moved on to Church Bowl. A fairly long hike along the paths, but we got there eventually.

 

Nigel had done a cool route there before, but forgot we needed two ropes for the rapell, so we had to settle for a route with a walk off. Nigel saddled up and got on Black is Brown (5.8). Chill first section, then a fairly steep jam part with a long reach right for a juggy sidepull to get up on a ledge, where he had to do a delicate and balancy looong sidestep off a slopey sidepull and a pin scar. But he got over, and continued up some technical flaky area with dicey pro under the thin flakes. He later said that the thin moves, the heat and the sketchy pro made it a spiritual journey for him. Not as bad for me as second, but I could easily see that it would have been hard on the old head going up on lead. Beat up by the tricksy 5.8 and the scorching sun we called it a day.

 

Sunday, October 23rd.

 

Nigel felt a little off the game, so I went out with a couple we met in Squamish and again in Smith Rock before running into them here in the Valley. Rich and Maureen kindly allowed me to tag along to Church Bowl where Rich and Maureen led Church Bowl Lieback (5.8). I followed Rich. It was a pretty bland route, with a couple of thin face moves between fairly easy lieback sections. While I was chilling watching Maureen on the route, James and Colleen drop by. We met them in Squamish as well. The curcuit of climbers going south for the winter is a pretty amazing thing. Anyways, James was having a rest day, and asked if I wanted to go do Moby Dick with Colleen. Not knowing anything about it except that it was 5.10a, I agreed and we headed up to El Cap base.

 

Moby Dick scared me. Just looking at this super long (40+ meters) route, with a hard fingery lieback crux right off the ground and 20 + meters of off width climbing to the anchors terrified me. Luckily, Colleen racked up and sent it in style after some work on the first couple of moves. I gently tried to suggest that if we wanted to get down before dark, Colleen should just rap off. James would have none of it, and I steeled myself for the humiliation of not making it off the ground for the second time in two days. But somehow I managed to pull through it. I could reach a really good finger lock that allowed me to get to a stance where I could move my hands up and lie back the rest of the crux. I felt strong and good for the rest of the climb until I came face to face with the big O Dub section. I had never climbed any serious off width before, and it scared me. But I got on it, and was super happy to get good fist jams. As I was working myself up I thought «this isn’t going to be so bad after all». Then the fists ran out, and I had to improvise. Grunting my way up and inch at a time, trying to find fist jams deep in the crack, and pulling on the side off the crack, killing my feet with near horizontal jams, and then I got my first hand stack. Wonderful thing, the hand stack. Got me up a fair bit before the angle of the crack subtly changed, and I was once again in unknown territory. 3-4 hangs on the top part where nothing seemed to consistently work, mostly because of the pain in my feet. Then I reached another lieback section when the edge of the crack got nice and sharp, before I beachwhaled over the finishing roof. Looking down I could not believe I had made it up that thing. Welcome to off width climbing! And despite my right hand and ankle being pretty bloody, I felt great! The most fun I have had on rock since Exasperator shut me down back in Squamish. And what a view of the headwall of El Cap looming up above us, impossibly steep and tall, and Middle Cathedral across the Valley.

 

Monday, October 24th. Glacier Point Apron.

 

To get me in the groove of leading in Yosemite, we headed up to Glacier Point Apron to do The Grack. According to the guide book it is the best 5.6 in the Valley. We had a lot of trouble finding the path to the base and probably spent almost an hour walking back and forth on the trail before deciding to just cut in and make it on our own. Sure enough, as soon as we did, we found the path. It led us up past the other climbs on the Apron, and some of them looked really cool. I even got a complement for my golden helmet (I spraypainted it back in Squamish). A little rest at the base of the climb and I racked up and got on it.

 

A pretty chil slabby start with good pro before I hit the only slightly sketchy section with a lieback crack flaring out and forcing some thin face moves before hitting the splitter crack that makes the climb so good. I put up an anchor and brought up Nigel before heading up on the best pitch of the climb. It is long, low angle, but with a great splitter crack with pin scars. I was challenged to build the last anchors because of few options in the crack, and few pieces to use, but finally got it and brought up Nigel. I probably spent more time on this climb trying to build anchors than actually climbing, which took a little bit of the joy out of it. But it is a really good route. Last pitch was pretty short, with some thin face moves as the crack petered out. But it was slabby and I felt really comfortable getting to the anchors. Three raps later we were back on solid ground and headed straight to the pizza deck…

 

Tuesday, October 25th. Rest Day.

 

Laundry, shower, internet, etc. And dreaming of tomorrow when we have planned a huge day doing Central Pillar of Frenzy. A 5 pitch 5.9 with everything from fingers to squeze chimney. Can’t wait!

 

A few pictures from our time here (forgot my camera for most of the climbing, and when I remembered to bring it, I forgot to take shots…).

 

This just in. We are considering The Nose!

 

Going to the Valley

Sadly I just couldn’t get stoked about climbing on the tuff at Smith Rock. So we rolled out of the park yesterday, heading for Yosemite Valley. I am writing this from a Motel 6 outside of Sacramento. And soon we will be back on the road and hopefully roll into the valley fairly early so we can walk around and explore a little.

And then there is the idea of doing Snake Dike, a 8 pitch 5.7 R route up Half Dome. It will be a big day for sure, with 6 mile approach, 8 pitches up Half Dome, then a 9 mile descent hike… Early start and hustle for sure. We will see how we feel, but it is an exciting thought.

Now it is shower time, because who knows when I’ll get the chance again…

Smith Rock is scary!

So we have been at Smith Rock for a week now. Four climbing days so far. And no harder leads than 5.9 for me, and 10a for Nigel.

Day 5 we did a five pitch 5.8 called Wherever I may roam. It was pretty cool, but there is just something about the rock that scares me. Like the hollow sound that comes when a quickdraw taps against the rock when moved by the rope. And holds that feel super fragile. But of course, hundreds of people have reefed on them before… Still I feel pretty nervous about it. So I let “balls of steel” Nigel lead the lot. Great view from the top of the formation just like the first day. Just wish it had gone all the way to the top of the tallest spire. But oh well. Uneventful rapell, but when I hit the ground Nigel shared with me that one of the station bolts on the last rapell had been wiggly. Oh well…

Day 6 we went to a peanut shaped rock called, you guessed it, The Peanut. Two 5.8’s and a 5.10a on the rock itself, and a 5.9 right to the left of it. I roped up and got ready to get on the leftmost 5.8. Studied it, felt for the holds and chickened out. I was just not comfortable with the moves to the first bolt, and a fall would have had ankle breaking potential. So I let Nigel take it (he is my very own stick clip) and I TR’d it. Did not feel good on TR either for some reason.

Nigel hopped on the 10a and sent it pretty easily, so I got on that on TR as well. Ironically, the 10a had the easiest first clip of any of the 4 lower grade routes we did there. I sent it in good TR style. If there is such a thing. After that Nigel led the 5.9 and I decided to man up and lead, but still asked him to leave the last bolt clipped. The lead was good, I felt better than TR’ing the 5.9 even though it was a little run out between 2 bolts. Feeling better about myself, I led the last 5.8 after Nigel in the same fashion. Felt pretty good too.

So I was stoked to be leading again, and looking forward to the next climbing day. We will probably go to the Phoenix Buttress area for some more moderates.

And I got a new compact digital camera, so there should be some more pictures shortly (long hikes around Smith so we haven’t been lugging the camera gear around so far).

Until then, keep crushing!

Smith Rock

We arrived in Smith Rock State Park in Oregon on friday afternoon. And we were blown away by the scenery. It is like a different world, just a few hours drive from the lush forests of Portland. This highland of near desert, with striking red rocks, spires, basalt columns, and canyon gorge, juniper trees and plains of light brown grass is like nothing I have ever seen before.

But like most deserts, the nights just as cold as the days are hot. Unfortunately, we have not been as lucky with the weather here as we were in Squamish. We have now spent two days without climbing because of rain and heavy winds. But it is supposed to turn tomorrow so we are excited about that. Looking forward to some hard sports climbing on the Tuff.

We did get in two days of climbing, though, and it was pretty amazing. We ventured out to an area called The Marsupials to avoid the weekend crowds. Our original plan was to climb a bunch of routes on Koala Rock, a 250 feet tall “boulder”. But it was pretty crowded so we decided to do a 5.7 route called The Cave Route on Brogan Spire. Nigel led the first pitch which is steep but with lots of features and holds. But it did feel kinda pumpy because all the features means you have to experiment a little finding the right holds. But the feet could go virtually anywhere, which was really nice. The first pitch ends up in the cave the route is named for, and the second pitch exits the cave through a circular hole in the back wall. I led the summit pitch, and suffered insane rope drag caused by two 90 degree angles. And all the protection I had for the last bit up the spire was a manky nut in the middle. But it was easy climbing and I felt pretty comfortable. And what a place it was. It is without a doubt the single most amazing spot I have ever been. Fantastic views of the park, the Cascades on the horizon, and the river gorge, the canal, and the main walls of Smith Rock. And just a few feet across on the top. We lingered for quite a bit taking it all in. After that we did a route called Blind Possum, another 5.7 route that went to the top of Possum Spire. It was a little taller than Brogan Spire (and because Nigel “stole” the first pitch from me, I got the summit pitch again) but not quite as cool for some reason. Perhaps because we were much closer to the tallest spire behind it, and perhaps because the sun was setting, and we were getting pretty anxious to get down. The climbing was pretty fun though, and better than the second pitch of Cave Route.

We got down just as the suns rays vanished, and the moon took over. And good job it was nearly full, because we had not brought headlamps, and we had a good hour to trek back to the parking lot. It was fine by moonlight, and we saw some headlamps at the top of Red Wall as we approached the bridge across the river. Those guys had a somewhat worse time of it than us. But Nigel heard one of them shout “I found it!” so hopefully that was the coveted anchors.

Day two was pretty rough, as we were dehydrated from hiking through the scorching landscape and climbing for hours without water (note to self: Bring bullet bag the next time). But we decided to try some trad climbing in the Lower Gorge to avoid the same crowds as the day before. It worked well, and we found a secluded spot with moderate routes up the basalt columns. Nigel led 3 routes, and Larry (The same cool cat we met in Squamish) led one. I felt pretty off, so I just TR’d the first three routes that were put up. The last one, a steep 5.9 was really cool, with a steep start with great hand jams, and a nice rest ledge before a lower angle finger crack to the anchors. It took everything out of me, and a really odd thing happened at the top. Standing on a ledge, fiddling with the anchors preparing to be lowered down, prompted by Nigel, I found myself tied out of the rope, with no secondary. I kept my calm and carefully clipped into the anchors and completed the process, but was pretty shaken when I got back on the ground. I still do not understand exactly how it happened, but I will certainly make sure it never, ever happens again. Double up was the lesson of that day. But I stayed on the ground for the rest of the day…

The last 2 days have been shit. Rain and winds whipping through the landscape, and really quite cold even during the days. I bought a new fleece sweater to complement my thin down jacket so I could stand to be out of my sleeping bag these days. Keeping our fingers crossed that the forecast is correct and the weather clears up tomorrow. In the meantime we get some internet time at the library in the neighboring town. Maybe even a decent lunch too, who knows?

And finishing off with some rainy day pics taken from the hips in an effort to get out of the weather as soon as possible. Better ones to follow, I am sure.