Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Alex Honnold on Belly Full of Bad Berries

I am experiencing a giant climber crush on Alex Honnold. Watch the video of him climbing Belly Full of Bad Berries at IC. Holy crap! This guy makes off-width climbing look elegant!

Fantastic thread about the route, including links to videos of others climbing it, over at Supertopo.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Voodoo Dome and Dome Rock

This past weekend Ben and I were joined by Davide, a friend who was amongst the first people I started climbing with at the UCSB gym about a year ago. Davide has since moved to Antibes, France, and he's been doing a lot of limestone climbing there, so Ben and I wanted to show him some of the wonders of California granite on his visit back. Initially Davide had proposed Yosemite, but I redirected us to a less crowded place. Ben and I had been planning to get on Summer Sojourn and White Punks on Dope, so we invited Davide to join us for that. This was going to be Ben's and my first time on a longer moderate multipitch together (the previous longest having been Cat in the Hat, at 5 pitches of maximum 5.5, if I recall correctly, which we'd rocked), and we'd decided we wanted to swing leads. Thus I was slightly apprehensive about doing it with a group of three, but I knew that Davide was a stronger climber than I am, even if he didn't know how to lead on gear and had never climbed on granite or cracks in general before.

So we drove out to near the base of the Needles on Thursday night and camped in the dark, woke up the next morning and moved our campsite closer to the base of Voodoo, and figured out where the trail up to the base began. We approached with our gear only, no backpacks, knowing that we may or may not descend to the base of the climb. The approach was barely a trail, marked by occasional cairns which truly saved our asses. It took us a little under two hours, and mercifully, we were under treecover most of the time. We'd decided that Ben would lead the odd-numbered pitches, and I'd take the even ones, because 1 and 3 were supposedly the crux pitches, at 5.8. So Ben started up, trailing the second rope so Davide and I could follow more or less at the same time, with me cleaning. Our scheme went well, and we made it to the base of the second pitch with no issues.

The beginning of the second pitch is described as a "striking dihedral". That it was, and more. It was 40 or 50 feet of sheer off-width. I had said I was going to lead it, so, despite the fact that I was obviously intimidated as hell, off I went. I plugged in a #4 camalot and walked it up between knee jams. I stuck in a rigid friend a little further up and led up above it. I groveled, cursed, tried to jam my feet and slipped, but somehow held on. Nearly at the top of the dihedral, the crack gets even wider, but all of a sudden another face appears on the left, maybe 4 or 5 feet away. I traversed left onto that face for a rest. For a few minutes I -- and I suspect Ben, too -- thought I'd really screwed the pooch with that rest, and wouldn't be able to make it back into the crack, which was really the only way to continue. In the end, reversing my moves exactly got me there, and I grunted past the even wider section. From then on the climbing got easy, on two parallel, well-featured sections. The pitch was pretty long, so I had time to relax into the last section and get my flow back, before setting up my anchor and belaying the guys up, grunting, one by one this time.

Ben led the next pitch, which was a fun, but unremarkable crack. The 5.8 crux was really getting on it from under the little roof at its base. Davide and I followed up simultaneously. The fourth pitch, my lead again, was a lot more interesting. The crack we'd been following ran out 10 feet above the belay. I plugged in a #1, and led off to the left, where the beta directed me to look for a placement in a bowl-like section of slab. When I got there, already run-out, I couldn't see a placement. So I started hunting around for one on nearby sections of the slab. I finally found a placement for the golden, I think, TCU. Then I continued up and left, following a seam in the rock. The further away I got from my TCU, the more sketched I became. The climbing was not hard, but there was definitely an "are we there yet?" loop playing in my head. Once I was once again severely run-out above my gear, I started thinking really really hard about where I was putting my hands and feet. Aside from my own rope, I was also trailing Davide's, and I had clipped it into the pro to protect his traverse. The ropes had a ton of friction and were pulling me down at every step. Every move had to be calculated. I was moving so slowly and tentatively, and with so much tension because of the ropes, that I started getting pumped. So then I started worrying about shaking myself off the rock. I found a stance and stopped. There were no placements in sight. I took a minute off and continued, and found a pocket in the rock that I thought might work for a tricam placement in passive mode. So I plugged that in. It was still far from my anchors, which I could now see above me, and the slab was becoming more vertical just below them. I had visions of lunging for the anchor, going for it with one finger and breaking it off as I weighted it. So I didn't. I went up very very carefully, moving left and right off the center seam, as necessary to get the best holds. When I got to the anchor I discovered one bomber metolius bolt flanked by two sketchy rusty hangers on rivets. I built my uncomfortable hanging belay and got Davide and Ben up, one by one, because they were moving so fast on the slab. Three pieces in 150 feet!? The first within 3 feet of the anchor?! Holy shit! That is the very definition of severely run out. I am so impressed that I did not shake off the rock on that one!

The rest of the climb wasn't much to write home about. Ben's next pitch was more slab, but this time there were bolts to clip! Kiddy slab. Then I did a 70 foot lead to the worst-placed anchor I've ever seen. Then Ben finished it off with another short and trivial crack-to-slab lead, and we walked off the easy slab to the top, where the view was amazing. We'd started out at 11am and finished at 6pm sharp, for an average of 1 hour per pitch. Not bad, under the circumstances.

The descent... now that was another matter altogether. I'd been warned by the San Diego experts not to attempt to walk off Voodoo Dome, but rather to rap down a route. But the Mountainproject beta suggested walking off, so that's what we tried. We misidentified the gully we were supposed to go down (and misidentified it again later, so that we really have no idea where the proper gully is, even though I looked for it from the summit of Voodoo) and had to rap a couple times. Then it got dark, and we only had two headlamps for three people. We had to rap a whole bunch later, and finally we made it to what seemed like steep, but not rocky ground. From there we found the original trail in the dark, which was a miracle, and made it out in a whopping four hours. All told, it was a 13 hour day, with 7 hours spent climbing in the sun, and four hours descending, so I was burned, my calves were shot and we were all generally a little dehydrated and exhausted.

The next couple days were spent on Dome Rock, where it was too hot and sunny to get on any of the exposed multipitch routes. We messed about on the first pitches of a couple things on Saturday, and the amphitheater on Sunday. On Sunday afternoon we dropped Davide off at Corcoran, where he caught the train for Berkeley to attend his conference.

We learned a bunch of lessons:
* Ben should have learned to always bring a headlamp, but knowing him, he probably hasn't
* on adventure climbs, when you think you're bringing enough water, bring more -- we got this right
* we probably should have followed the beta given us by people we know rather than the website -- I was arguing for this, Ben against it, I think, given our experience, I win
* 5.7 is the scariest grade; it has no honor or sense of propriety and will trick you into all sorts of stuff -- we all agreed on that
* R in the Sierras is really R; it could mean anything from four placements in 200 feet to no placements. In my 5.6 case it meant two (excepting the one right above the anchor), the second of which was questionable
* swinging leads works really well for us. I find it psychologically helpful to decide in advance who's doing odd and who's doing even
* I can't belay two people up a 5.6 slab at the same time in guide mode. They usually move too fast

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The week off

After a weekend of climbing at Echo Cliffs, then racing Sat & Sun, all while having some sort of flu, I foolishly went to the gym to work out on Monday. Not only that, I climbed with Julio in the lead cave, where I was creeping along the ceiling like a bat. So it's no surprise that I ended up with a booboo. It felt like a muscle spasm or cramp, on one side of my upper back. It didn't come on fast, like a cramp would, but rather as I cooled down I felt it congeal there. Then overnight I developed a twinge in my knee, like I'd over-extended it.

So I decided two sprained fingers, a wrist that won't go through its full range of motion, a spastic back and a twingey knee probably meant I should take the week off. In a way I think all these minor injuries are related: it started with the fingers, and I probably started favoring my other arm, exacerbating that wrist, then my handwork was weak, so I had to crank with my back more, and finally I have NO idea what happened to my knee. I've taken the week off and I've been doing very slow very deliberate yoga, which has helped tremendously, and icing things whenever it crosses my mind. Everything feels so much better now, and hopefully the antibiotics I was prescribed yesterday will clear up the bacterial sinus infection that followed the flu.

This is all in preparation for next week, when I get to climb with two -- two! at the same time! -- of my favorite people in the world: my regular partner, and Davide, a friend who sticks to the rock like a little froggy. DVD moved to France a couple months after he, Wil (my old housemate) and I got together in Feb. 2008 and decided to get serious about climbing. He's never climbed granite or cracks, so Ben and I are taking him to the Needles to do some multi-pitch crack climbing on excellent granite! I'm hoping the fingers will be well enough that I won't have to buddy-tape them, so that it's easier to place and clean gear. Ideally, I'd like to swing leads with Ben, and it'll be a lot easier if I have my full complement of five fingers on the right, instead of four. I'm so stoked!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Echo Cliffs on Friday

On Friday I was in the throes of the beginning of a chest cold. Despite that, Ben and I headed out to Echo Cliffs, which is in the Santa Monica mountains near the border of the Ventura and Los Angeles counties, at the crack of noon. The weather was hot and oppressive at first, but turned breezy and nice, and eventually even sprinkled a little late in the day. The approach to the crag is about 45 minutes long, and can, but should NOT be shortened by going down a scree gully that happens to be an endangered wildflower habitat. I was having a really hard time breathing during the approach, and was feeling very weird when we got to the crag, but we still got 3 5.8-5.9 climbs in before totally losing motivation and resorting to just lounging around. We went to the Grotto area, which is down by the creek, and really enjoyed both the location and the quality of the rock. We're looking forward to returning to try our luck on some of the 5.10 sport climbs in that area.