Monday, April 27, 2009

New Jack City

On Saturday I got together with the San Diego Climbers meetup buddies that I usually climb with indoors, and we headed out to New Jack City, a sport climbing field just North of Barstow. The current issue of Ice & Rock (which, by the way, I've really enjoyed) has an article about Owen's River Gorge in which it calls New Jack City a "chosspile". So I had my reservations, but I wanted to see the place for myself.

On Friday I'd sprained my right index and middle fingers by wrenching them upwards from a twisty two-finger pocket towards another hold, which I was trying to deadpoint. I think it's a pretty serious sprain, especially for my index finger, but I hope that if I take things easy, maybe focus on aerobics and yoga for the next week, I should be able to start crimping with those fingers again soon. In any case, I decided to go to NJC on Saturday anyway, after refreshing my knowledge of the so-called "buddy taping" technique which I'd used heavily as a volleyball player in the past.

I climbed a total of 6 climbs, of which I led 4. The hardest lead was a 5.9, which was a real challenge with two bad fingers. The two toprope routes were "step across", a soft 10a, and "route 66", which is harder than its rated 9 at the end, in my opinion. The grades on the routes I led were reasonably fair, I thought. As for the choss issue, I see what the author of the Owens article meant, but I don't think it's relevant. Yes, the edges of the rock break off quite a bit. It's some sort of metamorphic rock that used to be sandstone, and it breaks into little sharp-angled pieces. Nevertheless, none of the bolts seem to be suspect at all. They're all in large solid spots. So, OK, you're occasionally raining little bits of rock on your belayer. So what? Everyone knows to wear helmets around there. On the other hand, I'd sooner fall on any of these bolts rather than the ones in Santa Barbara sandstone. So, yeah, it's not Owen's, but it's not bad, either. You can get as much climbing as you'd get in the gym, and you get to be outside.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Borneo Big Wall

A bunch of big wall climbers got together, got sponsorship and headed out to establish climbs on the big walls of Borneo. Among them was Jimmy Chin, a phenomenal photographer and videographer -- if you've been following climbing mags and movies over the last few years, then you've definitely seen his work. The result was a series of fantastic videos documenting the project, which are posted here. I really enjoyed them, and then I had tons of fun going through the websites of the team members and reading more about their respective adventures.


I was looking over some routes in the Needles so I could send a friend some links and I came upon Igor Unchained. Holy crap! It's beautiful! So I fired off email to Ben:

- I want to be able to lead this by next spring.

In all likelihood I would be able to lead this now, but it would be in bad form and epic, and maybe a little dangerous. And the Needles have a very definite season during which they're both accessible and pleasant, so I can't say let's do it in 6 months. So, OK, let's be generous: next spring. And back came the reply:

- Saturday, May 1, 2010. It's on my calendar.
- Time to do some more laps at the gym.

Good partners rock the firmament! And it's been thrown down :-)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Around the Kern -- Saturday -- F.A.s?

On Saturday Ben and I fooled around half the day running up and down boulders on the side of the road by the Kern. It was fun, but it was getting hot and we weren't getting any climbing done. On our way to find a shady spot for lunch I spotted a couple of cracks in a small buttress below the road, a few miles before Johnsondale. Here's the map of the spot. There's a pullout on the left of the road, and the buttress is down the cliff towards the creek from there.

View Larger Map

We had some lunch, grabbed our gear and headed down. The approach was a sandy, chossy, bushy mess, and full of trash. Apparently people drive up to the pullout above and trundle all sorts of stuff down towards the creek. We saw rusty metal, tires, lots of broken glass. To be honest, I was a little concerned about the possibility of someone trundling a fridge or something right at us!

We got to the cracks, and my suspicion was confirmed: they were definitely climb-worthy. Here's a picture.

The rock was reasonably good, but it was absolutely covered in lichen. In addition, there were chockstones in the cracks, and a lot of loose rock lying around. There were absolutely no signs that a human had climbed these cracks, or indeed ever stood where we were. No chalk on the rock, no evidence of cleaning, no trails, no nothing.

We decided it would be too risky to try to climb these on lead, since the lichen made it unlikely cams would hold, and in any case the quality of the rock was a complete unknown. So we went to the top of the little buttress to set a toprope on the right-hand crack first. We chose the most enormous of several boulders up top and wrapped it with a 30-foot long webbing I always carry. While up there we trundled those rocks that posed a danger while on toprope. We also decided the belayer would have to be well off to the side of the climber, just in case, for both cracks.

Ben was kind enough to give me the first and easier ascent of the crack on the right. I trundled the first chockstone I came upon because it was obviously loose, and left the second one where it was, completely avoiding it. The climb was fun, with a couple off-width sections, one of which could be avoided by doing a mantle. The lichen, on the other hand, was insane! Smearing was, of course, impossible. Jamming was questionable. My eyes were full of ground-up lichen. Man! Suffering! I enjoyed my dirty, groveling first ascent, and Ben jumped on it. He huffed and puffed and went into the off-width rather than mantel. If indeed I have naming rights, I'd like to call the climb "at last, I made you gasp".

We then decided to shift the rope slightly left and try the face between the cracks before proceeding even further left to the harder crack. I didn't think it would be possible at all, because all the lichen made friction nonexistent, but Ben managed to squeeze a few impressive moves out of it. He then made for a right hand jug, and the jug proceeded to come completely off. Ben avoided getting hit, and the rock embedded itself in the dirt at the base of the climb. Realizing there was another small loose piece, Ben lowered off and we called that route off-limits.

When we went up to shift the anchors for the harder crack, we realized this anchor was going to be considerably trickier than the one for "at last...". For one thing, we needed to trundle a lot of rocks. But also, the only reliable boulder we could wrap was enormous, so we needed to use one of our climbing ropes. Then there was a sharp edge that the anchor rope would have to go over, and, of course, we didn't want to sacrifice a good long rope for one damn crack FA. I suggested redirecting the strong point a little to the side of the sharp section with some well-placed cams, but Ben took it further and devised an anchor at the very top of the crack with three cams. We rigged a way to lower him so he could build that, and then went below to climb.

This second crack was just as dirty as the previous, but also a lot harder. The start was from a little cave with two chockstones, one razor-sharp, up to the crack proper. Here's Ben doing it.

Then I did it, huffing and puffing and cursing, but, miraculously, not falling. Ben decided to call it "seven fingered sloth", in honor of the tape gloves he borrowed from me, which had come unstuck in an interesting seven finger pattern.

After that we messed about for a while looking for other things to climb, I lowered Ben to retrieve the anchor for "sloth", and we headed back up to the car. It's impossible to be sure, but I think we may have been the first people to climb there.

Playing around the Kern -- Friday

Ben on the Kernville slabs
Originally uploaded by slampoud
Last weekend's plan had been to head up to Voodoo Dome and Demon Dome, two domes just below the Needles, to climb some multi-pitch classics. We decided to approach via Kernville, but it turned out that the road to these Domes, as well as the road to Dome Rock, were closed. Rockfall for the former, big snowdrifts for the latter. So we ended up playing around the Kern river, on the Kernville slabs, a bit North, and then a bit down the canyon, for our three day weekend.

Everything started with an exhausted arrival on Thursday night at Remington Hot Spring. We camped up near the parking lot and didn't have the energy to head down and check out the hot spring that night. The next morning, of course, found us dashing downhill for a dip in what has to be one of the most scenic hot springs in all of CA. We then grabbed some breakfast at Kernville and spent half the day figuring out that we couldn't get anywhere from there -- all roads up into the mountains were closed. So on Friday midday we hit the Kernville slabs. We first got on a supposedly 5.3 crack just right of the lieback crack, which was phenomenally fun. That's when I started suspecting that some kind of revelation was impending. This rock was really interesting: bright white granite, with clean but not sharp edges, and not one crystal coming off when you touched it. From the top of the crack pitch, we lowered onto the slab on the right and climbed up the slab following a small seam. The friction was amazing!

Then we got off the rock and took a break, because it was hotter than hell, and after a little hesitation decided to get on the lieback crack to round out the day. This route is rated 5.5, but I think that's the very definition of a sandbag. If you're at all insecure on pure friction, or not used to the type of rock, or simply have never done the route before and have any doubts about quite how far you're supposed to stick with the dihedral, this thing is scaaaary. Ben led it, having climbed it a couple times in the past. I followed, and I was hungry so I was probably going a little too fast. Yep, lieback is the way. Initially you don't believe it and you try all sorts of stuff, friction, jamming, but lieback is the way. There are a couple sections where the crack runs out and then you are out on the most perfect, unfeatured granite in the world on friction alone. You put your feet down and sort out what angle will give you the most stick. Then you put the pads of your palms down and pray. The objective is to make upward progress, but it doesn't have to be exclusive, so long as you don't come off the rock. Let me tell you, I did not think this was possible. I thought, surely this violates several laws of physics. It's possible. It's fun. Make sure to not come off the rock when you get past those moves and your body wants to whiplash from being so tightly controlled for those few moments. It's absolutely exhilarating. Geckos must be the happiest little creatures on earth!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Too much work!

I'm sitting at work, writing, totally stressed about the fact that I may not have enough time to go climb tonight.

But I'm being sustained by the fact that climbing partner and I are headed to the Kernville Slabs, Voodoo and Demon Domes this weekend. It's spring in the Sierra!

An afterthought: wouldn't it be better if they were called Voodoo Child and Demon Lover Dome?

Monday, April 13, 2009

An alpine Saturday

On Saturday we decided to head up to Potrero John and see what we could climb there. A bunch of new routes have been put up on the Fortress, and Ben had climbed a couple of those with someone else in the past. We got on an arete called Permanent Income Hypothesis, which is long and cool, but with a lot of loose rock. The start was already in the shade by the time we started and it was windy and cold. Ben did a great job leading, but when it was time for me to start up I was frozen. I couldn't feel my fingers and my shoes were slipping as if they had ice on the bottom. The first move off the ledge is the hardest of the route, and it took me a while to get the confidence to pull it on hands and feet I could barely feel. The rest of the route is easier climbing, but you're often on top of blocks of sandstone which to me look like they will come off eventually, probably soon. So during the upper section I was having visions of taking falls with a giant block of sandstone in my hands. When I got up top I found Ben shivering, so we prepped our two rope rap and headed down asap. The rope wasn't coming down after the rap, so I put a Klemheist on it and climbed up the chimney/off-width on the right up past the intermediate rap rings until I got to a point where I could pull the ropes. I still haven't figured out precisely why it was stuck. By the end of all this I was nicely warmed up, but not having the greatest climbing day.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Lead cert

A friend's regular climbing partner was out today, so the friend needed a belay at the gym. Except he usually climbs in the lead cave, and I've never bothered to get lead certified at a gym, in SB or SD. My attitude towards the gym is that it constitutes training in a very general sense: it's supposed to develop or keep in shape the muscles I need to be able to climb outside, as I do every other weekend, but I don't treat the routes there as serious climbing challenges in themselves. I don't know whether it's because they're set by humans, or because the place is mobbed with people who are either new or simply not that good, but I just can't take the gym seriously as anything more than gymnastics. This is all by way of explaining how I found myself taking the lead certification test tonight. The test was far easier at this gym than it was at the UCSB gym, where in addition to belaying, arresting a fall and leading successfully, they wanted you to give a dynamic catch, demonstrate back-clipping and z-clipping, and would fail you if your hands went anywhere near the rope while taking a lead fall. So, of course, I passed, and got to climb in the lead cave. I took it very easy, since my elbow and left ring finger, my two current injuries, were both making themselves felt after Monday's hard climbing. I made it 4 clips up the white "cakewalk" overhanging route, on which I could have gone much further, a couple clips up another juggy overhanging route, and did a 5.8 and a 5.9 vertical route. All in all, it was a fine experience, and it's given me a couple more projects to work on... Oh, and I saw a guy z-clipping and yelled out to him to let him know, but since I never raise my voice, the whole thing made me feel really bad, even though it was obviously for his own good.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Bachar interview on climber radio

I heard about this fantastic interview with John Bachar on Climbing Radio from ClimbingNarc. I love the whole thing, but I especially loved his description of free soloing on-sight towards the end of the interview. He talks about how he went through two sections on this 500 ft 5.11 climb and thought, surely, each of them must be the crux, only to get to a lieback section further up and realize that's it. So he describes how he made it through that section feeling not solid, but not like he was going to fall either, then got up to the top of the climb and stood there feeling hollow, like he hadn't so much achieved something, but more like the mountain had let him get away with something. He likened it to surviving a car accident, where you walk around in a daze for the next few days. I think he hit a couple nails on the head there...

Something that really impressed me about Bachar (but, be warned, Ben and I interpreted this differently) was that he didn't rise to what I thought was obvious baiting by the hosts of the show when they asked him what he thought of Dean Potter's free-soloing with a BASE rig. Bachar's response was well-considered and completely lacking of any "oh these youngsters these days, we were so much cooler" attitude. He basically said that he didn't think having a BASE suit on did anything to diminish the seriousness of Dean Potter's free soloing. Dean still had to be solid climbing, and, in addition, needed to have the presence of mind to push off the rock and deploy the rig correctly if he was to derive any benefit from it. I guess you'll always find me rooting for old-timers with a healthy respect for the younger generation and the fact that times inevitably a-change.

Steph Davis free soloing the Diamond

Little snippets and shorter versions of this video have made into every climbing website, as well as the movie "the Sharp End". I like this one because it's high quality, complete, focused, and therefore seems authoritative. There's a lot of footage of the actual climbing, as well as the really recognizable snippets from the movie and the quotable bits. Personally I like the claim that "the fear is the danger", and I think it's true not just in the free soloing context but also in the leading context. All considerations of danger and contingency belong to the preparation phase of the climb. When they creep into the climb actual, they become a danger in themselves.

Steph Davis - Castleton And Diamond Free Solo from Andrew on Vimeo.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Red Rocks: day 5 (panty time)

Ben on Panty Mime (10d)
Originally uploaded by slampoud
On Tuesday morning we were up for seeing some of the more scenic parts of the park, doing some sport climbing, and maybe trying our luck on some harder grades. So we headed to the Panty Wall, with only one pack full of gear: a single rope and quickdraws. Regular sport climbers!

The Panty Wall is off the first pull-out in the scenic loop, nestled among the gorgeous crimson boulders there. The hike getting there was gorgeous, although we found out that the big pine tree that the guide book uses as a landmark for the place blew down on Christmas 2008 and is now lying in dying pieces at the base of the rock. RIP pine tree... I first led the Panty Prow, a 5.6 arete up and left of the Panty Wall, and then we toproped Victoria's Secret (down and right of the anchor) (10b) and Ben did Panty Mime (down and left from the anchor), a 10d for which there are bolts, but which I think would be an absolutely terrifying lead. In fact VS worked me pretty hard. I must have taken 4 or 5 falls, and I didn't make the last 10 feet or so of the climb.

We then moved down to the Panty Wall proper, where a party of Canadians, and a group of three women were also hanging out. There must be an unwritten rule that chicks lead at the Panty Wall, because in all three parties there the leaders were women. I led Boxer Rebellion, Sacred Undergarment Squeeze Job, and Brief Encounter, one 7 and two 8s, with great style and aplomb. In my mind those climbs were far easier than their rating would suggest, and the whole experience got me thinking about the strangeness of the rating system: in what sense is the difficulty of Pauligk's Pillar in the same class as Boxer Rebellion? In any case, we were assured by an old-timer we ran into on the hike out that the grades at Panty Wall are fair for the area.

Red Rocks: day 4 (party time)

We'd been planning all along to do one long multi-pitch climb at least. Since Tuesday was going to involve a lot of driving, and hence an early departure from Red Rocks, but by Monday the drugs should have kicked in, we chose Monday as our epic day. We'd mentioned this plan to the local we'd met a couple days before, Sean, and he'd suggested that instead of doing one of the mobbed routes, e.g. Cat in the Hat, we should try Birdland. So when we left the campground on Monday morning, bright and early, but not too early and definitely not too bright, we were headed for Birdland. When we spotted it from the trail, around 9am, there were already two parties on it. Two parties ahead of us qualified, in our mind, as mobbed, so we figured, how much worse could Cat in the Hat be? We continued round the corner of Mescalito to Cat in the Hat, and found one party ahead of us and one forlorn climber, whose partner had gone back to the car (a 45 minute hike away) to get her shoes. So we jumped on it. Depending on how you count, Can in the Hat could have anywhere from 4 to 6 pitches. We did one pitch, a scramble, two more pitches, a traverselet, and a final technical pitch. I call that 4, even thought we re-racked for the traverselet. I didn't especially like the 1st or 2nd pitches, but I loved the 3rd (typical broken varnished face climbing of the area, like Spidercrack), and thought the 4th was OK. We caught up with the party ahead of us at the base of the 4th pitch, and while we were waiting I got to go down a crevice just below us and retrieve three booty nuts (two BD 6s and a 2 micro-stopper ridiculous thingy). The view from the top was absolutely beautiful. We met a Canadian who gave us big wall tips and suggestions for routes to do in Yosemite. Turns out his grandpa was born hours away from where mine was born. Small world. He pegged me as Greek after taking one long look at me. "You look just like my cousin." I was flabbergasted. We rapped down and had to wait a bunch in places, because by that point there were maybe 8 parties on the rock, heading both up and down... All in all, though, the day was a tremendous success: we did the climb, we were fast, we negotiated the social aspects just fine. If anything, it wasn't much of an epic, but given that I was sick, I'm somewhat grateful for that.

Red Rocks: day 3 (off-route extravaganza)

Starting up C11H17NO3
Originally uploaded by slampoud
On the third day of Christmas I was feeling much better. The second day had found me at maybe 20% my normal energy levels, but by the third day I was up to maybe 40%, which was respectable. We decided to go check out some short multi-pitch routes at Pine Creek Canyon, so we saddled up our packs and headed out. While later in the day climbing would prove to be not so hard on me, hiking with packs was really rough, going to show that it was stamina and cardiovascular performance that the sinus infection was compromising.

We had decided to look at routes on Mescalito, and got pretty excited about Cookie Monster as we looked at it from below. But we overshot the approach, and ended up at the base of Cat in the Hat, then turned back and went up the little escarpment to the base of Cookie Monster. Because Cookie Monster was going to end at the top of the second pitch of Cat in the Hat, and require us to rappel down that side of the massif, with our packs left behind at the base of the climb, I wasn't too keen on it. We decided to try the climb a couple cracks to the right. I proceeded to misidentify the crack as Pauligk Pillar (which in fact is on the right hand side of the big jumble in the middle of the face), and memorize the beta for that. As it turns out, the climb we got on was C11H17NO3 (the chemical formula for mescalin). There was something disturbing going on the climb we'd chosen: we could see bailing gear all over the place. Just from the base, we could see a sling with a biner wrapped around a horn of some sort, presumably for rappelling, and a jumble of slings a little to the left. Should that have been a warning to us? I don't know. We pressed on. The start of the climb was a little spooky, slightly overhanging and a little awkward, but then it turned into a chimney of sorts with good holds everywhere. Ben made his way up, and at some point, out of sight, stopped and belayed me up. On the way up I found another nut, in a bomber placement for bailing, and Ben said there was yet another one a little further up. When I arrived to where Ben was he explained we weren't at a proper belay station, but the spot between us and the belay tree looked unprotectable, a polished face in a chimney too large to stem. It sketched Ben out, but I saw all the holds, I knew they were good, and I was confident I wasn't going to fall out of any of them, so I went on. In my mind the sketchiest thing about going ahead in this manner, to complete the pitch, was that I wasn't carrying a full rack. I only had a few stoppers, a couple slings and a cordelette. On the way up I slung a horn, in kind of Hail Mary fashion, since I wasn't too sure it would hold, and placed a nut, and there I was. I belayed Ben up and we assessed the situation. At this point the beta I'd memorized (for the wrong route, remember?) was making absolutely no sense. But from where we were we could see three or four sling jumbles off to climber's right, so we decided to go that way. In retrospect we think that was the second pitch of the "regular" route, on quite soft and sandy rock. We went up a pitch that way, and the quality of the rock did not seem to be improving. Thankfully we had tons of bailing options to choose from, so bail we did. Perplexed down at the base, we sorted out my misidentification mistake, rested and had some food, patted ourselves on the back for returning in one piece and with booty (a sling, a biner, a couple quick links, and we could have had two more nuts!), and considered our options.

Since Pauligk's Pillar was the only short multi-pitch route with a star around that area, I really wanted to find it. We struck off counter-clockwise around Mescalito, and sure enough we located the route and made it to the base. By then that side of Mescalito was in the shade, and it looked vaguely ominous. I looked up at the thing, and I really really wanted to climb it. Ben looked up, and he really really didn't want to lead it. So we stood there, studying the problem: the first few moves off the ground were truly scary. I could identify where each hand and foot should go, but there were no alternatives, and for the first move, if anything blew, it would all blow. I thought I could do it. Further up it looked steep, but featured and actually quite varied. This was not just one crack in a dihedral, there were a couple crack systems running through it, and the face on the right had lots of holds. So I decided to lead it. The guide called for doubles to three inches, so I took everything, including the #4. The start was a mind game: it was all about getting on the holds, realizing they would hold, realizing they would not hold forever, making a plan and executing the next move. If I snoozed or froze I'd fall right on top of Ben's head and we'd tumble down off the belay ledge. So I did it. Maybe three moves up I could see a placement for a hand sized cam, so I took it: my Jesus piece. Then I left that whole mind game behind me and got on with the climb. This was 170 ft long climb, so I knew I'd have to ration my pro. I didn't want to run it out too much, so I decided on a strategy for placements: place when the length of the fall starts getting unacceptable, or to protect cruxes. At first that meant only first criterion was getting used: the climb was athletic, all steep, but very juggy. I wasn't planning on blowing any of my cranks, and I was following another little rule I'd developed: no more than one foot on those strange face plate holds, because, while they were excellent holds, I did not trust them to take my whole weight and hold. I got to sling a couple little pillars of rock, attached both at the top and bottom, formed by water eating all the rock around them. Those were fun. Then there was a chimney to my left which I avoided by going on the face to the right. Rationing pro, thinking really hard about what to place and where, and trying, for the life of me, to find a place to put something passive, a nut or a tri-cam, but in the end relying almost completely on cams and my two slung runnels. Then things got a little more serious. Just before the belay station I ran into two crux moves. The first was in a section where the dihedral was now a proper dihedral, left side polished, right side with a couple features, crack in the middle. I could fit a jam, so I protected above it, and made the move. The next was just below the belay, where there was an off-width in the left, and the face on the right was kind of messy. I was standing on a ledge and my options were to go into the off-width or stay outside it and stem on various broken pieces. I reached up and stuck a #1 in a side crack above me, then, for the first time, made a move not knowing what my next move would be. I managed the whole thing without going into the off-width, the prospect of which had terrified me. The belay ledge was big enough for one foot. The anchor was a hex, a nut, and a sling wedged behind a rock that was, as far as I could see, not a chockstone. I don't like hanging belays under the best of circumstances (probably because I'm not so hot on my harness), but at the end of my third trad lead, while trying to keep how desperate that all could have been safely tucked away at the back of my mind, then I really don't like hanging belays. So I set it up. I clipped everything, and I made a spot to manage the rope, and I triple-checked everything. Then I started bringing Ben up. It was getting darker; I didn't have a watch, but I knew that since we had to get out of the parking lot by 7 we probably wouldn't have time for the second pitch. It looked like more of the same anyway. And as I sat there belaying Ben up, the whole climb started sinking in. Climbing it had been fine, step by step, all secure and thought out, placements were good, dandy. Reliving it my head, contingencies and all, was another matter all together. When Ben came into view it was like sunshine. I swear, I'm not a sap, but it had been a long lead, into a steep, relatively dark corner, and when the guy that usually sets up my anchors, and double-checks my knots came into view, I wanted to whoop with joy. He got up to the belay, ahem, not quite ledge... foothold? Took a look up at the second pitch and knew he didn't want to lead it. I said we didn't have time anyway. We set up the rap, and at this point I was very grateful for his fresh energy, since the contingency loop in the back of my mind was sapping mine. We got down, and the route looked scary on the rap down. We got the ropes out without getting them stuck. Holy fuck, I pulled that off! I know we're only talking 5.7, but that was a proud moment for me, a very proud lead.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Red Rocks: day 2 (better)

Ragged Edges
Originally uploaded by slampoud
On Saturday I woke up feeling slightly better, probably not because of the antibiotics proper, since I'd only taken one dose by then, but rather because I knew that issue had been handled and now it was up to me to climb, somehow.

We returned to the Ragged Edges wall, and made it to the route of the same name before anyone else showed up, so we set up and Ben was already making his way up the first pitch when other climbers started arriving. I warned everyone we were going to take our time on this one, since it was our first climb of the day, but even so, Ben was looking really tentative. He made it to the top of the first pitch, and I followed, but he wasn't feeling it for the second, and by then the ground was crawling with 5 or 6 other people, so we moved away. We moved left to an easy crack called "Diplomatic Immunity", and then to another yet further left called something like zigzag crack.

We took a good long break during lunch, and I have to admit, I think I caught a tiny nap, too, and then moved across to the other side of the canyon to do "Spidercrack". This climb is typical of this area, but I've never seen anything like it anywhere else. It's not really a crack proper, but rather a broken up face with lots of opportunities to place stoppers. While Ben was leading Spidercrack I got to shoot the shit with a real local down at the base, and to relay some beta. This was especially cool, because I do love meeting the locals, the people who actually put up the routes and climb them year after year and have all these stories to tell. After that we called it a night relatively early, since I was still feeling pretty crappy.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Red Rocks: day 1 (miserable)

Ben and I had been planning a trip to Indian Creek in Utah, a crack climbing Mecca, for months. But in the week leading up to the trip it became obvious that the forecast wasn't going to cooperate, so we had to come up with an alternative, fast. We considered Bishop, our default option, Yosemite Valley, and Red Rock Canyon in Nevada. Red Rocks had been highly recommended by our friend Max and I'd read about it in Climber Girl's blog. I'd also heard people at the gym rave, and we knew it was prime Red Rocks season, so we decided to divert to Red Rocks.

The original plan had been to meet at Victorville on Thursday night and make our way up to Vegas, but come Thursday morning I woke up with the cold I'd been nursing for the past few days continuing to take its course for the worse. So we postponed our start to Friday morning. As planned we met at Victorville, arriving within 5 minutes of each other despite the three hour drive, and continued to Vegas in my car (having been told that 4x4 would be helpful if we wanted to climb in certain places). We got to Vegas around noon, and made a quick stop at Desert Rock Sports to pick up Jerry Handren's guide book (which I had been told is exceptionally good, and I concur with that assessment). The guys at DRS recommended Rio, a fresh Mexican food place, for lunch, so we went, and, frankly, we were impressed! Fed and watered, we made our way to the BLM campground, which was chock full. We checked in with the host, thinking we were screwed and would have to go to the next closest campground 20 miles away, but the host told us to camp anywhere near the overflow area and try to minimize stepping on plants. We were so grateful!

After pitching the tent, I was all fired up about hitting a crag, so we headed out to the Ragged Edges wall, which had been recommended by Bob, the local RR expert at my gym. When we got there there were other people on Ragged Edges, so we picked a 5.5 crack to the left of Ragged Edges to familiarize ourselves with the rock quality. Ben led it, and scored a 0.5 camalot in the process, and I followed. I'd been feeling crappy all day, with huge amounts of snot, coughing and a sore throat, but climbing absolutely did me in. We got off that 5.5 and my head was throbbing. My sinuses were so bad that I was in agony whenever I tilted my head even slightly. Good luck climbing like that! We stood under Ragged Edges, looking up at the thing, wanting to climb it, yet I was moaning in pain. Finally, Ben made the decision that I, in my cloudy, pained state could not bring myself to make: we should deal with the sinus infection now, before it ruins our vacation. We'd spotted an urgent care place on Charleston St on the drive to the campground, but I was concerned it would either be closed before we got there (it was about 5pm when we left the crag) or they'd refuse to prescribe antibiotics, which I was in obvious need of, and tell me to wait it out. Taking our chances, we headed there as fast as we could, and once there everything turned out well: the place was open and they prescribed amoxicillin. We dropped off the prescription at Walmart and went for a beer at a local sports bar around the corner, where we had tons of fun rooting for State (don't even remember which State!) along with everyone else in the joint, in a basketball game. After that we picked up my drugs and called it a night.