As the dear reader may recall, one of the objectives of Dima's and my last trip to the Needles had been to climb White Punks on Dope. But we had failed, since the approach took too long, and it was far too hot a day to be starting up a serious climb with as little water as we had. So we had backed off, but turned on GPS tracking on the way down, so we could do the approach with less hassle in the future.
Well, on Friday we returned to Voodoo Dome, to give WPoD one more try. We began our trip with the customary stop at the brewery in Kernville, then proceeded up to the road-side bivy on Needlerock Creek, only to find four cars parked there! We ended up crashing at the turnout just before the creek, so that we could still walk to the trailhead, instead of the campground, from where we would have to drive.
We woke up around 6:30am Saturday to an absolutely perfect day. We took our time puttering about for breakfast and racking up, then started up the trail. We didn't turn on the GPS from the start. This time we knew not to miss the left turn that takes you to the climbs -- if you go straight you're now on the descent path, but going up. Nevertheless, at some point, despite all our efforts, we ran out of cairns to follow. That's exactly why we had the GPS track with us, and it was time to use it. As fate would have it, however, my phone with which I had fiddled extensively to ensure that I had the right apps and everything would work, could not acquire a GPS signal in the woods. We moved a little approximately in the right direction, and at every clearing I would give my phone a chance to acquire a signal, and every time it would NOT. T-mobile had pushed a GPS firmware update the night before, and I was convinced -- and furious! -- that it had simply broken my GPS, which I had gone to such pains to prep. Eventually we found ourselves in a rocky gully with cairns, but it was clear that it was headed for the notch between Voodoo Dome and the Dome to the west. From there we could see that we had to bushwhack N-NE to find the base of our climb, and so we did. Eventually we intersected the rocky gully that does lead to the base of WPoD, and scrambled up to the base. It was 10:10am, and by 10:30am we were on the rock.
Dima led all the pitches in this climb. The first pitch was a cool, rope-stretching crack in the middle of a face framed by dihedrals. We had shade for half of it, and it ended in an alcove below and between big broken sections. It was a gorgeous climb, and the belay was in a really cool spot. At the end of the first pitch we had a yelled conversation with a party of, I think, 3 who were planning to start up the climb behind us.
The second pitch has a vere bouldery start. Dima placed a cam and a nut above the anchor before testing the move and falling on the nut. On the next try he pulled the move just fine. When it came time for me to follow, I was dismayed to find that the nut he'd fallen on was pretty jammed, so I had to spend a whole bunch of time extracting it. The next belay was also in an alcove beneath a big chimney. There was a weird constriction in the rock that was going to make the next pitch really tricky, so we broke up the easy terrain into several "pitches" with hip belays. The top of the chimney was very very cool, and that soon brought us to the base of the fingers dihedral that is the hardest rated pitch (at 5.9) of the climb.
Dima led up the dihedral, huffing and puffing, protected the exit into an offwidth lieback with the #4 camalot, as planned, and started belaying me up. I pretty much hated life in that dihedral. My Achilles tendons were killing me, and the sides of the dihedral were in an acute angle, meaning I couldn't get much rest. It was slick and messy. The fingers crack, at least, was good. By the time I got to the #4 I was so ready for offwidth! I underclung the thing and made it out. This was a legitimately hard pitch, but far too long and awkward for me to pretend I enjoyed it.
The next pitch was the most fun for both of us, I think. It's a slab pitch, with one placement to protect right above the anchor, then 4 bolts in 165 feet of climbing. It's rated, I think correctly, at 5.8. Dima grumbled and climbed, and then I followed. The crux, I think, comes right after the first bolt. There is a completely improbable traversing move necessary, and both Dima and I thought it was the hardest. But it was so fun!
The slab pitch ends at a big ledge, from which we chose to head to the summit via a 5.9+ finger crack. It was a very nice climb, but Dima kept me on a lot of tension, so I wouldn't deck if I fell at the start, and I felt like I was essentially pulled up the climb. It was 5pm when we got to the top, so we didn't waste any time finding our way off the formation. We rapped down the North side, from the slings at the very top, and then tried to find a trail off. This time I knew we'd have to lose a lot of elevation to clear the buttresses ringing the rock, so we didn't hesitate to head down. Eventually, and almost magically, we dropped down the notch between Voodoo and Gremlin. From there we could see the road, and we had a general idea of what we were looking for. We were back at the car by 7pm, before headlamps were even necessary, and we really felt like we'd gotten away with something!
The GPS, by the way, finally got enough satellite signal at the ledge below the summit. And the climbers we heard start behind us... we never heard from them again. They must have bailed. And we never did find out what all those cars were doing at Needlerock creek...
I've made a lot of gear purchases this summer, and yesterday I took the time to return and replace some. Here's the rationale, and review-like observations:
Swapping the Patagonia NanoPuff pullover for TNF Zephyrus
I got a Patagonia NanoPuff pullover, whose purpose was to be the jacket at the bottom of my multi-pitch pack that gets called on if things get colder than at the start of the approach. It's extremely light and packable and perfect for the purpose. I ended up returning it and replacing it with a North Face Zephyrus pullover, which cost $30 less, best case. They both use the same Polartec One insulation, the former at 60 grams and the latter at 40. The former has the insulation, which is originally in sheets, sewed into it in a criss-cross pattern, whereas the latter has no such baffles. But the North Face one has what seems a tougher nylon shell, and tearing that is my primary concern.
Swapping the Patagonia R1 pullover for the Velocity powerstretch zip
I got a Patagonia R1 pullover primarily for racing. The rationale was that, while my wool-based technical gear is awesome, it's not the safest option for sailing. This is because wool retains more water when soaked than fleece. This means you both expend more energy warming that water until it evaporates, and you weigh more, which is a consideration if you go overboard. So I thought I'd try R1. I liked it a lot, except that the collar was too wide and drafty, and that was a no-no. I eventually took a bunch of friends' blog recommendations and went with the Velocity zip, again by Patagonia, which is much much stretchier.
Moving from the REI Acme to the Patagonia Alpine Guide pants
I love guide pants -- the soft-shell, stretchy, water-resistant pants that a million companies now make. Until now I've been well-served by my REI Acme pants, which are fabulous except for the fact that the Schoeller waterproofing on them has completely failed. After doing plenty of research and agonizing over this, I've decided to give the Patagonia Alpine Guide pants a try. I'm excited about the fit, and the glowing recommendations regarding the waterproofing.
Hint: how to patch a down jacket like a pro
And finally, a hint. When campfire embers made a couple small holes in my favorite Isis down jacket, I did what most climbers do: I patched it with climbing tape. Then I tried ductape and that was just as ugly, and once the edges started peeling, just as annoyingly sticky. Then it occurred to me that spinnaker repair tape is almost the same denier nylon fabric as the shell I was trying to patch. Et voila!