Monday, June 14, 2010

Do not climb 5.6 in JTree

This weekend's lesson is in bold in the title.

I'm just kidding, but really, this was an educational weekend. Michelle and I headed to JTree on Friday night. I got there around 6, and got us site 9 in Hidden Valley. Michelle arrived around 11:30. I'd already slept a couple hours by the time she got there, so then I couldn't sleep afterwards. The howling winds didn't help, but at least it was warm and we got to sleep outside and didn't have to deal with tents.

In any event, the next morning found me drowsy. I've been out of physical therapy for about two weeks now, and the shoulder was feeling good after the first week, but starting to hurt again after the second. I had decided that I wasn't going to lead on this trip, and that I wasn't even going to climb anything harder than a 9. This left the chore of being rope-gun entirely on Michelle, who had never climbed in JTree before, and was, rightly, intimidated by its reputation for sandbagged grades.

Thus, we were looking for 5.6 cracks for Michelle to lead, in the JTree West area, since that's all that's covered in my newer guide book. Complicating our stringent requirements was the fact that it was windy and a little chilly in the morning, but things turned really hot in the sun. So we wanted sun in the morning, but not in the afternoon...

We decided to start with Mike's Books. All went well for the first pitch, which revealed to me that my cardio reserves were completely shot and the least bit of exertion made me pant. Michelle led the left variation to the start, and I started straight up the crack. When we eyeballed the second pitch, however, we thought it was a pretty clear offwidth, and without a #4, it would be dreadfully run out. We hadn't brought up the #4, so we bailed. The Mountain Project page corroborates our assessment, so I'm glad we did.

Next we were looking for something a little more challenging and maybe shady. We eyeballed Overhang Bypass, also at Intersection Rock. The first pitch looked like no problem, but the traverse, which is to bypass the overhang, looked like a bear from below, and there were no bailing options if we got spooked. I was especially freaked by the idea of having to do essentially a hand traverse (the feet looked nonexistant) on a recuperating shoulder. We passed on it, though I think Michelle was more stoked about it than I was. In retrospect I'm sure Michelle would've styled it, but I'm not sure my shoulder would have loved me.

I then located another supposed 5.6 that didn't have "chimney" in the description in Steve Canyon, Deflowered. The name should have been more of a hint. Alas, hindsight is 20-20. Michelle, always the good sport, up and led it. It was slow, grunting going for her, and I was belaying in the sun and getting very very hungry. Then she topped out with a whoop! While Michelle was finishing the anchor, I grabbed two bites out of a Gnu bar, thinking this would give me some energy for the climb. The first section of the climb was fine, strenuous, but fine. I had to take a break at the end of it to make sure I didn't barf. Note to self: do not eat 30 seconds before climbing in the heat. The middle section was most definitely a damn chimney. Michelle had placed a big cam at the very depths of the thing, so I had to go in and get it. But then I wanted to be outside the chimney and on this horizontal seam that she had placed a smaller cam in. I had heel-toed my way up and now I was pinched between two pro placements I had to remove: one required me to go deeper, one further out. Crap! I took out the outside one, which I could reach, and then got deep into the chimney to remove the other one. And then I was totally stuck. I mean mechanically stuck, no way out but to reverse my moves, but I was on toprope. I weighted the rope and just sort of swung out a little bit and resumed. What a bummer, a fall. Anyway, the grunt-fest continued all the way to the top, and I topped out thinking, this is the hardest 5.6 ever. Mountain Project folk apparently agree with me, and the rating has been upgraded to 5.7 at least.

After that we rapped to the base and took a nap, then hiked back to the campsite and took another nap in the midday heat. Later in the afternoon we headed out to the Peyote Cracks. Michelle led Right Peyote Crack, a 5.8, with a little more apprehension and shaking than before, but again in good style. I followed, again a little better than before, but not totally happy. Getting off that formation spooked the hell out of me, not being a boulderer and hating top-outs and jumps. I got down a different way from Michelle, and suffered a bunch of scratches for my efforts.

On Sunday we were fried and it was even hotter. First we checked out Touch & Go, which is Michelle's goal. Then we looked at Double Dip and Stichter Quits, which I legitimately should be able to lead, but was too spooked to try. We then headed into Real Hidden Valley to maybe climb on the Thin Wall, but that was still in the sun. Finally we drove out to Split Rock, to play on Future Games wall. But Michelle was, understandably, not feeling into leading. I totally commiserated, as that was exactly how I'd felt on Sunday during the #jtreetweetup, just done! So we thought we'd drop a toprope onto Invisibility Lessons, but we weren't sure the rope would reach (and this area is not covered by my guidebook, so no way to check), and the anchor looked like a total pain to extend over the edge. Finally we gave up and called it a day, and filed all the routes we'd seen as future projects.

It was a great weekend, despite the fact that, technically, we only got in three climbs. Usually I'm up for sharing the leading load, so it was really miserable for me to not be able to. At the same time, though, the shoulder held. I iced it on Saturday night and by Sunday morning the twinges I'd been feeling were definitely gone. That was great. Also, the partnership with Michelle is very new, and her familiarity with the area non-existent. So arguably it was a good thing to end on an up note, having challenged but not broken either of us. I have a long way to go to get back to the strength and stamina of last fall, and I'm hoping that my lead head will follow once I see I can climb things in a style that is also consistent with leading. At the moment, I don't like the way I'm climbing, I don't like that I feel out of juice, and I hate my friggin' shoes! So, onward, lots of work to be done to get back.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Climbing in Greece in Summer 2009

Racking up in the Zode
Originally uploaded by slampoud
A belated post on what we climbed during last year's trip to Greece.

The trip basically had two parts. In the first part we went to Kalamitsi, a beach in Chalkidiki where my parents have a tiny cabin. I figured, since the rock there is granite, we should be able to climb, or at least boulder some. But what I discovered was that the quality of the rock wasn't nearly as good as I remembered, and the salt and sand surrounding it didn't make things too easy either.

While Ben and I spent a couple days in Kalamitsi, my parents visited their boat, which they moor in Porto Koufo. I really wanted to talk them into taking us to Kartalia, the promontory at the tip of Sithonia, where I had heard there was some steep limestone climbing. It's one of my favorite places in the world, and I wanted to show it to Ben, so that, even if we couldn't figure out how to approach the climbs, it wouldn't be a waste of time. But there was quite a bit of wind, and we never went.

Instead, we noticed that the west side of the entrance to Porto Koufo is itself a steep limestone wall. We took the zodiac out and did some deep water soloing there for a couple days. We found a couple bolted routes, but they were heading into a chimney that was absolutely covered in batshit. Finally we decided that we thought we could see a nice trad line up the wall. We loaded up the zode, I rowed our asses all the way out, we anchored the zode with a hex (really!) and Ben led off. When he got maybe 15 or 20 feet up he realized things were a lot more broken than they looked from below, so he bailed. I rowed our asses back in.

After that it was time to hit the mountains. We humped the ropes and rack, but thankfully no camping gear, to the Kakalos refuge, which is the main climbers' refuge on the Oropedio Mouson. We went up Anathema, which is a slightly steeper route than the alternative, and it was a bitch! Of course, in my current condition I couldn't even do an hour of that hike, let alone with a pack, so I marvel, in retrospect, at the fact that I made it.

The people at the refuge were amazing, and a good reason to go back, by themselves. I had printed some beta from, but these guys were real connoisseurs of the surrounding climbs, and had lots of additional beta to share, so that worked out really well.

The next day we climbed the Comici/Escher route, which was the first technical route ever to be climbed on Stefani. It was ridiculously easy, probably 5.3 at most, but worth doing, since we really had no feel for route finding or the quality of the rock on Olympus. We realized that the challenge in the easier routes is really not the moves, but rather rockfall. The moves on easy routes in this type of chossy limestone are, in fact, quite boring. There are tons of incut edges, and you're always facing the rock and moving up like a crab. It's nothing like climbing granite, where, aside from slab climbing, every single move is different, even at low difficulty grades.

Halfway up Stefani
Originally uploaded by slampoud
The next day we were looking for more of a challenge, so we asked around and the guys pointed us to Ahladi, another route on the front side of Stefani, to the left of C/E. We got to the base and decided to solo the first & last pitches, since using the rope just dislodged pebbles and pissed us off. I led the second and fourth pitches, and Ben led the third. Ben managed to place gear in such annoying places that I was cursing for the most part on the pitch that I followed, and I had to leave a hex behind. The most memorable part of the climb was definitely the fourth pitch, which involves a really neat traverse. Apparently people call it "the pilgrimage", because beginners often get scared and gripped, and find themselves groveling across the ledge instead of walking a little lower and keeping their hands high on the ledge. In any event, it was easy but more memorable than the rest of the choss. Ahladi was tons and tons of fun, but definitely not a challenge.

We had originally discussed also climbing Mati, a route on the other side of Stefani that day, but Ben was feeling very "accomplished", so we went back to the refuge and chilled while watching a couple of the guys open a new route on Stefani through binoculars. The next day we descended, this time via the Zonaria and the Zolotas refuge. My knees were killing me and the whole thing was abso-fucking-lutely miserable. And that was it for climbing in Greece.