Monday, July 19, 2010

Angel's Fright comeback

Go git 'em, Tiger!
Originally uploaded by slampoud
This weekend I met up with my San Diego climbing friends at Idyllwild. Francis and Rebecca are both phenomenal sport climbers, and I give them full credit for all the progress I made in my technique while I lived in San Diego. Neither of them climbs trad or multi-pitch though, and they have a real aversion to the idea of sticking their hands in a crack. A new rock gym has opened in SD, and Rebecca had hurt her shoulder training over-enthusiastically there, so she was not planning to climb in Idyllwild. But luckily she had convinced Francis to bring his harness, helmet and shoes, and so the stage was set.

Since the forecast called for temps in the 90s on Saturday, the decision had to be made on Friday night regarding whether we'd climb multi-pitch the next day, since we'd have to get up quite early to beat the heat. I proposed that we get on Angel's Fright (which I had climbed last year) and explained how I expected things to work out: 6am start, max 1 hr per pitch, I wanted to be back in camp by 3pm to beat the heat.

Francis agreed to do it. This was huge, for several reasons. First, Francis is far more experienced and knowledgeable than me, so he's usually in charge. This time, the route finding and leading would all be my responsibility. Second, Francis had never climbed trad or multi-pitch, he claims not to like crack, and he doesn't like waking up early. So it was my responsibility to make sure we weren't going to have an adventure that would permanently turn him off any of these things. Further, I've been injured for the last 6 months, and, while I've been diligently working on recovering my physical health and strength, I haven't led anything worth noting in over 6 months. So "Where's your head at?" was definitely the song playing in my head. Finally, since I usually trade leads with people, I only have one cordelette for building anchors. I have enough lockers and long slings to improvise a second good anchor, but I knew anchoring was going to be slightly stressful every other time. Despite all this, I was really excited.

I slept in my Fit, and pretty well, at that. I woke up around 5:30am, with the birds, and puttered around making breakfast and packing. Francis got up 6ish and puttered around, and we managed to leave the campground by 6:45 (before anyone else we knew) and be at the trailhead by 7am. The hike up was a pain, as usual, but we took it slow. My knee held up well, and I felt warm and calm when we got to the base of the rock. We found the base of the climb, and I proceeded to talk through my worries about whether I could lead the first pitch. Last time I had seconded it with a pack and it had been a bear. We talked over our strategy regarding whether Francis should wear or haul the pack when he came up. I was in favor of hauling, he thought he could wear it. It was his call, in the end. I racked up just as a couple guys who also wanted to do the climb showed up. At that point my resolve gelled, and I got on the climb. It was far easier, almost comfortable, without a pack. I huffed and puffed a whole bunch, but every move felt calculated, even the huffing felt controlled. I sailed through the chimney, and that set the tone for the rest of the climb.

I built an anchor and belayed Francis up. I don't think he enjoyed the first pitch, because he had that pack on. The second pitch is the most exposed and trickiest one. I did it textbook style, traversing to the right piton first, the left piton second, and thereby introducing an assload of drag to my rope. I belayed Francis up to the bottom of the chute/crack section. The next pitch was the only one I'd led when I had done the climb a year ago. It felt remarkably easy this time, as I stemmed all the way up instead of jamming my hip into the chute. The roof was, dare I say, fun! I belayed Francis up to Lunch ledge, and I think he was having fun. We hung out there and enjoyed the last of the shade, the view and the breeze for a while. The last pitch can be done in one of several ways. The decision point is above a bunch of bushes, maybe 30 feet or so up from the belay. I didn't have a plan, but I had seconded the 5.5 slab finish before, and led an alternate further left finish when we'd done Fingertrip. I got up to the bushes and was intrigued by the 5.6 lieback finish, off a beautiful flake on reasonably low angle terrain. I looked at it carefully, protected well below it, and then did the climb real slowly and deliberately. I love onsight climbing the most, and I was so pleased I got to do that, and on such a stellar pitch, to boot. I belayed Francis up, and that was that.

We topped out at noon, which was exactly as I'd wanted it. We'd been the first people on the climb, which, again, was ideal. We'd had shade for 3 out of 4 pitches, which had been fabulously comfortable. But most importantly, my knee and shoulder had held very well. During the whole climb I felt like I was well within my comfort zone, and that allowed me to enjoy it while it was happening. I love challenging myself, and I love onsighting slightly harder stuff, but there is something to be said for getting on something where you don't need to stay all that focused, or strictly within the painted lines demarcating the "Zone". There is also something to be said for being on the sharp end for a longer period of time, which I had never tried before. All in all, I think this was the most fun I've had on a trad climb, ever. There wasn't a single moment of anxiety or doubt. I guess that's what people mean when they call something "casual", but there's always a tone of derision accompanying that statement, and I strenuously object to that.

The descent was long and hot. I did it in my Vibram Five Fingers, which turned out to be superior to both my climbing shoes and my approach shoes for this task. Great discovery, that! I should mention that I did the climb in my new Scarpa Technos, which proved to be fantastic. The XSgrip rubber is definitely a match for granite, and the slightly more pointed toe (compared to Mythos) really matched my style. We were back in the car by 2:30, and my knees, especially my left one, that has a small tear in its meniscus, felt trashed.

We picked up ice on the way back to the campground, and I iced everything before heading out for beers at the Lumber Mill. A remarkably good band called Unwound rocked the joint, and we had a blast hanging out, in post-climb glow, during the hottest part of the day. Francis made fabulous paella for dinner. I slept well. I finished my book the next day. I started a new one, that Rebecca loaned to me, sitting next to a babbling brook. I got home on a nearly empty highway, whose opposite traffic direction was stopped for 80 miles!

My mind was a blank slate last night. Bliss!