Thursday, July 5, 2012

Royal Flush, Frisco, CO

20 pitches, sport, 5.4 – 5.9.
Attempted 6/14/2012

Cristina and I arrived in Frisco Wednesday night, camping at the Peak One Campground on NFS land. We awoke early the next morning at 6 AM, headed into town and then to the parking lot. We arrived in the climbers' lot at 7:30.

We were attempting Royal Flush, a 20 pitch sport route that starts off on easy slab (5.4) before growing progressively difficult as you approach the headwall, were you encounter consistent 5.8 for 3 or 4 pitches to the summit. I decided on the early start for two reasons: my knowledge of the route was minimal and conditions were supposed to turn sour in the afternoon, with storms forecast. The developer of the route, Tim Toula, has specifically requested that no route topos be produced and limited the publication of full route descriptions, so all we had were meager explanations for each pitch taken from Mountain Project. This was supposed to be an alpine climb, and it sure lived up to that expectation.

We found the base of the climb without any difficulty. Cristina and I had agreed that the leader would proceed without a pack while the second would climb with our single pack, holding our water, some food, and a few extra layers. Not knowing how fast we would proceed and worried about conditions, we had thrown in more than we needed and the pack was surprisingly heavy. Having discussed it earlier, we had decided I'd link the first three pitches and that Cristina would lead the next one or link it up with the fifth pitch depending on the difficulty.

Without the weight of the pack, I made quick progress through the first three pitches. Each move was simple, 5.4 climbing at its best, flowing from one into the next. At times I felt like I could try and run up some of the lesser angled slabs, but not quite. About halfway through the second pitch, I noticed on the slab above me an unusual sight: a large mountain goat was on the slab, picking at the greenery growing from among the many cracks on the face. The rest of the pitches were uneventful, and my 60M rope just made it to the 3rd pitch's anchors. I quickly set up an anchor through the bolts and belayed up Cristina. Leading the tree pitches took 20 minutes; we were doing great.

Cristina seconding the 3rd pitch

The next pitch went just fine. Cristina was a little tired from having hauled the heavy pack up three pitches, so she was moving a little slower than I had. Still, she quickly made her way through the 4th pitch. Unfortunately, things with the 5th pitch were not as easy.

After the relative ease of the 4th pitch, she went straight into leading the 5th. However, the link up was not going to go: she reached a roof about 20' up from the 4th pitch's anchors and could not pull it. After briefly talking it out, I lowered her to the anchors and had her belay me up. Knowing that the pack would not make anything easier for her, I took it for the lead.

Self-portrait taken after the first few pitches

I quickly made my way up to the roof and immediately agreed: it was stiffer than expected for the route grade. I ultimately managed to pull the roof by traversing left about 6' to a more fractured area of the roof, were I was able to gain a few jugs to make the roof feasible with the pack. Even with a few jugs, I was nervous about the pendulum onto the ledge below the roof that would result if I slipped. But after pulling the roof, I managed to traverse back right to the bolt line and then the anchors, belaying Cristina up to me without difficulty.

Five pitches down, and though we weren't moving at the same quick pace we had started at, we were doing fine. But then things turned for the worse.

Mountain Project describes the sixth pitch as a 30M traverse right over 4th class rock. Cristina moved out, unroped, to check out the traverse but could not find it. Frustrated, I had her come back and rope up and did so myself. The fifth pitch ended right below a nice, large ledge, so I had her take a seat and belay me while I searched for the traverse. I moved right, slinging a tree about 15' down the ledge, and moved out onto very exposed 4th class rock that I though may have been right. These traverse quickly turned into low 5th class rock though, and it became clear that where ever I was, it was not where I was supposed to be. By this time, I had traversed 50' right from the tree, my only 'protection,' but with no more trees and no rock pro, I could only make sure I didn't fall. It was about this time that the sun cleared the ridge and thus shined straight down in line with the angle of the rock, making it impossible for me to look up or around for bolts. Unable to see much, I could only keep traversing, knowing that every foot further out away from my single point of protection was another foot I would pendulum if I feel. About 20' further right and about 10' up, nearly 100 feet away from the slung tree, I found a huge flake that I was able to sling and then fix my line to. Knowing that this was not the right spot, but with no idea where the bolt line was, I decided that I would traverse the fixed line to Cristina, bring her over to me, and that we would then be able to bail out right into a gulley.

After doing just that, Cristina broke down the fixed line while I free soloed 4th and then 3rd class rock to find an escape. After about 10 minutes, I found the gulley whose existence I guessed and found that we would be able to follow it upwards to a large ledge, a huge area where we'd be able to sit, think, eat, and plan.

Cristina and I talked after gaining the ledge and decided that since it was now growing late (it was about 11:30; we expected storms starting around 2pm) and that since we didn't know where we were, that we would bail using the gulley to hike out. Though steep and loose with talus, I thought this feasible and reasonable. After munching on our lunch though, I got restless and explored our ledge. About 15 feet away from the large boulder on which we'd eaten, I was surprised to find a carrion. Following that and a second one, I eventually made my way to a rock rib further up the ledge only to find glistening bolts riding the top edge of the rib. I quickly made my way back to Cristina with news of my find.

After re-reading the route description, we established that those bolts belonged to the 10th pitch. Excited by our good luck, and with no clear evidence of a storm moving in, we decided to pick up from there. I led the pitch, 5.7, with the pack, but could make it no further the fourth bolt. After all the stress of the traverse and being lost, we just didn't have the strength left. We could have pushed through, but not if we wanted to be in any condition to react appropriately to deteriorating weather. Admitting defeat, I cleaned the bolts as I down climbed back to the ledge.

At this time, another group came up to the base of the climb. They had started much later than us, but this was their third attempt and had the first dozen pitches pretty well down. In talking with them, I was furious to learn were we'd gone wrong in finding the route: there is no traverse. After pitch five, you move up to the small ledge (where I had Cristina belay me from) and move straight up into what Mountain Project calls pitch seven. All the searching we had done for bolts, scanning all of the rock to the right of the ledge, was for nought. And with the sun below the ridge, we hadn't seen the metal glittering or anything. This group was also able to give us crucial beta on the descent, explaining that the 8th pitch tops out immediately below the large ledge where we had done lunch, accessed via a small trail that winds its way down the front.

Exactly where we were told to expect it, we found the rappel rings. 8 Rappels later, we hit ground and walked back to the car, exhausted. It was now past three, and dark clouds were all around the horizon; no storm had broken yet, though our spirits had.

Upset at our failure to climb Royal Flush, we buoyed ourselves with the thing that always helps me feel better: food. Over pretty delicious Mexican food, we discussed the successes and failures from the day. Our over-weighted pack was certainly a factor, as was our lack of knowledge on the route, in understanding the failure. This was compounded by the stress of getting lost and my subsequent sketchy traverse. We succeeded in maintaining a positive decision making process, taking the time to evaluate options and retreating as things progressively deteriorated. Ultimately though, I chalk this failure up as more of a lesson about alpine climbing: be prepared for things to go wrong, go light, and have your escape planed before you start. I know we could have done the climb with much less in the pack, but without knowing more about the route, I was unwilling to give up some of the supplies for fear that we could have been stuck overnight. Knowing what I know now, I'm certain we would have been fine with nothing more than our rain gear and water in the pack, accepting that on that route, bailing is possible at almost any point.

In the end, it was a long, tiring day. But what can I say, that's how I love them!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Cristina and I, adventure on!

Climbing, climbing, and climbing. Sums it up pretty well. Having just gotten off the plan, Cristina was ready and anxious. Not wanting to lose any time, we went to Golden Cliffs and led a few moderate sport climbs.

Monday was trad in Eldo. Windy Corner, 3 pitches (5.6 G). Had to take on my first piece, a pretty solid #3 cam, thank gosh. But we had fun on an easy day, just enjoying the rock. After the climbing, we headed up to Boulder to stay at the Fairgrounds.

With Tuesday, the adventure continued in Boulder Canyon. My first time there, it was a little overwhelming. We led a 5.9 that was pretty stiff in the Dream Dome crag before going and exploring Sport crag. I led a 5.8 that I loved, beautiful, blocky rock up a face to a small roof. The next thing you know though, a 5.9 was giving us all kinds of grief. I wound up finishing it, but just barely. We knew we'd have to come back the next day to get on the rest of the interesting lines in the crag.

Wednesday started with a return to Boulder Canyon. We went back to Sport crag, only to find most of the moderates taken up by a gym group. We went up a little further on the rock, and found a promising 5.8. Promising until we tried it though.

It hurt. It made you hate it. You get to the last bolt, and then have to pull a roof before getting to the anchors. I love roofs, I thought I'd love this. But I was wrong. Pulling the roof involved locking off my left hand in a hand jam as a side pull, and then throwing my right hand into a finger lock. My right hand's ring finger was torqued into this crack, the rest of the fingers pushing down on it trying to keep it in place, while I had to work my feet up higher and then dislodge the hand jam and throw for a jug. It took two attempts, but I managed to red point it after practicing the crux several times.
The route I saw and had to try!

Walking away from that climb, my attention was immediately grabbed by a line on the rock. It was severally overhung, with huge jugs working its way up aerates to a final roof. With nothing more than a glance, I knew I had to try it. The first bolt was just off the ground, easy to get up to and clip. From there, I had to make my way to to a great jug for the right hand. From here, I clipped the second bolt. This would protect my way into the big move: pulling hard on that right hand, you work the feet up and then lunge for a high left hand, a small rail on a slopper that turns it into a great jug. Working up the nerve, knowing the bolt was at my waste, I went for it! I felt my hand smack the rail, and my fingers jumped to try and seize onto the rail. As soon as I got one finger on, I worked the rest onto it and finally breathed. I quickly threw my right hand up to the large slopper, allowing me to get into a rest stance. After a moment, I clipped the next bolt and prepared for what I expected was the crux. However, I managed to work the feet up and stand up into the next jug without too much difficulty. After moving past this jug though, I was startled to find the real crux: a deceivingly poor side pull/pinch kept me from the final ledge and hand crack that would allow me to clip the anchors. Desperate, with my arms getting pumped, I moved quickly and managed to stuff my arm into the crack, torquing it in as hard as I could. My arms were so pumped and locked up that I had to really pull on them after jamming them just to ensure they were locked in, as I couldn't really feel it. Taking the draw off my harness, putting into my mouth, I then had to switch hands in the jam because of the pain and exaustion. My fresh hand managed to take the draw from my mouth and clip the anchor, but I had to switch hands again to then clip my rope. And then I had to repeat this action to clip the last bolt of the anchor.

With the climb done, I lowered off in absolute exhaustion. My arms were cut up to the mid-forearms, my fingers all cut up from the jamming. I had to sit and let the extremly painful pump relax, but it didn't matter: I had just on-sighted a 5.11a! Of course though, I had no energy left for another climb after that, especially not with Royal Flush looming for Thursday...

A recap of last week

Been a while, I know. But with views like this, it's obvious why I've been so distracted.

Last Thursday, I met up with three local climbers, Diego, Jeramey, and Lorenzo, and climbed sport around Golden Cliffs. Got on some 5.8's and 9s that went fine, but then got my butt kicked that afternoon by a different 8. Regardless, a fun day.

Friday, I went climbing with a former DC based climber who had just moved to Denver. Jon and I originally planned on climbing trad in Boulder Canyon, but we wound up deciding on Eldorado for ease in navigating. We had a great time, got on The Bomb, Recon, and West Crack. It was a great day, but we got caught in the bright, hot sun. Very tired and dehydrated, we decided to call it a day.

I spent Saturday and Sunday with family before picking up Cristina in Denver. And so the adventure begins anew!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Bad luck and good times

"Eh. Things had to go wrong at some point." I rolled over and tried to go back to sleep, but knew I wouldn't be able to. Too bummed, and too tired, it wouldn't happen.

It was 3:30 AM, and again, I was wide awake. And again, it was for a snow climb, Dead Dog Coulior on Gray's and Torrey's. In anticipation of a 5 AM start, I had driven out the night before to the trail head off of 70 and slept in the parking lot right off the road. I knew the weather was going to be marginal, and that the snow was going to be soft, making a hard slog. What I didn't know was that the thaw had been in place for too long, the snow was no good. I found out, but not until 3:30 AM.

I was awoken by my partner, Jane, calling to say that she had checked a recent trip report posted by some climbers. They recounted doing the hike in snow up to their waists, with consistent rockfall risk on the route itself. In other words, the route was out of season and unsafe.

Knowing this, Jane and I agreed to call off the climb, instead agreeing to climb some rock at Eldorado Canyon later in the morning. Disappointed, I wanted to sleep. Anxious to climb, I couldn't. After fifteen minutes, I admitted to myself that for the second day in a row, I was waking up at 3 AM and climbing. I got up, started the car, and drove back towards Boulder.

With the sun coming up as I drove through the mountains on my way to Golden Gate State Park, I enjoyed the tranquility and emptiness that typifies the mountains at that time of day. After breakfast and repacking at Golden Gate, I met up with Jane at Eldo.

We hiked in, getting to know each other on the short approach. She was a regular climber in the early 80s, climbing in the Gunks and around MA a lot before life got in the way. The snow climb was supposed to be her attempt to getting back into mountaineering after nearly 20 years, but rock was just fine as well.

I decided to do West Crack (5.3 G) on Whale's Tail first with her; as an easy single pitch, it would help me gauge her abilities and ensure we had a system of communication that would work for both of us. The climb went smoothly, and we rapped without event from the wire anchor at the top.

We then went to Windy Ridge (5.6 G [pitch 1: 5.6, pitch 2: 5.5]). I had led the second pitch with Chris, and though I was a little nervous about the 5.6 first pitch, I thought I could handle it. The first moves off the deck were ok, but then it got beefy: 5.6 is a pretty spot on rating, I'd say, until you account for the nasty landing and sub optimal gear orientation for the first 20 feet. Even after making it up past the sketchy start, I found the climbing to contain several 5.6ish cruxes that pushed my comfort. Worried, remembering my last attempt at a 5.6, I started to sing under my breath.

If you ever climb with me, and hear me singing under my breath, you know I'm nervous. Actually, I'm freaking out a little bit. Or maybe a lot, depending on how loudly and what song (if it's "Alouette," I'm at like stage V freak out and trying to hold myself together).

But this climb was not hard, it was not dangerous, it was that it just kept giving. Typically at Eldo, you make a few hard moves here or there, but most of the climbing is then a grade or two lower. This was certainly sustained 5.5 and 5.6, though protection opportunities were ample. Finally, I heaved myself up to the belay ledge. With a muffled "Thank gosh," I set up the anchor.

The next pitch was uneventful; I had led it with Chris and though it is 5.5, it only has two or three short cruxes at that level. It was a pleasant relief, and I ran it out, making nice moves and enjoying the climbing, 15 - 20 feet between pieces. I got to the top and realized just how little I placed, which was actually lucky: had enough to build a bomber anchor after slinging two big boulders. I set up the anchor so that I was just leaning out into open air; why sit on the ledge belaying when you can have the wind racing by you, the sounds and sights threatening to suck you away into a different world...

And with that, Jane and I did the descent and parted ways.

Partners for a day, but climbers for life.

Today is a rest day in Golden Gate State Park, hiking trails with some local friends. Tomorrow and Friday I hope to make it to Eldo or the Flatirons, but that's iffy. I'm staying at Golden Gate, site 19, through Friday morning. Friday night, it's back to Gordon's until picking up Cristina at the airport on Sunday morning.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Just having some fun, Mt. Evans' style

I'm getting better at this. As my alarm goes off at three, I spring into action: I put on the rest of my layers, deflate my sleeping pad and stuff my sleeping bag, and break down my tent. By 3:30 AM, I'm on the road to Chris's.

Mt Evans, our objective: 14,264 feet, one of the most climbed 14ers in CO. We thought about which coulior, or snow climb, we would do, but we had to wait till we there and judge conditions for ourselves.

We arrived soon after we left, pulling in no later than 5 AM. Out we spilled into the parking lot, putting on boots without much talking. It was early, and we had a climb ahead of us. Suited up, we started the approach.

Again, almost too quickly to believe, we arrived at the snow field. The snow was already unstable: warm temps and early sun had already thawed the top layer. We threw on our crampons and got our ice tools, but stopped a moment to watch the sunrise instead of starting the climb. Standing at 12000 feet, surrounded by mountains, watching the sun come up over the front range... where else could anyone want to be?

A shot looking up the coulior. We went up the center of the photo; Chris went left around those lower rocks while I went right. We reunited where the two lines obviously merge and enjoyed some mixed climbing from there to the ridge.

I picked out a line on the snow, a coulior that looked like it made its way to the top of the ridge with only limited rock and good shade from the morning sun. Chris liked it, and we began our climb up the unknown line. Even though it was only my second snow climb in a week, I was prepared for this one. I moved quick, with good side steps and front pointing only when needed. The two of us quickly spaced out, with Chris moving left up a slightly different line that than merged with me under the rock band. About a dozen mixed climbing moves were mixed in then, but we made short work of them.

And all of the sudden, 7:15 AM, we were at the top of the ridge and done with the climb. We packed up the tools and hiked to the true summit, enjoying the amazing view.
Chris looking out from the summit at the front range.
The view from halfway up, looking out at the front range towards Denver.
I'm back in Golden, CO now, spending the day enjoying the beautiful town. Tonight, as I will be doing for the rest of the week, I am staying at Gordon Gulch, an area of National Forest Service land about 5 miles north of Nederland, CO that has free dispersed camping. The road is about as rough as my car can handle, but it's better than $18 a night!

Tomorrow I will be coming out of the peaks to meet up with friends in Arvada, CO for a happy hour and dinner. And tomorrow, or Wednesday I may do an early snow climb on Grays and Torrey's (Dead Dog Coulior) or hit up South Arapaho again (via Skywalker). On Wednesday, I also will be meeting up with Rebecca for an afternoon of climbing around the Flatirons.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Climbing at Eldorado Canyon, Camping at Golden Gate Canyon

Brief update: I am back from my day of climbing with Chris; got about 3 1/2 hours of climbing at Eldorado Canyon outside Boulder. Got to lead two pitches of great rock, just so beautiful.

I am camping at back country site #18 at Golden Gate Canyon State Park. I will be in the park all day tomorrow, running and hiking. Friday morning I may make an attempt at Dead Dog Coulior on Torrey's Peak before heading back to the park to pack up my tent and stuff and then head back to Denver.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

"First of many"

3:15 AM: My alarm goes off. Warm in my bed, I silence it and ignore it for a second. But then it clicks: you're about to climb with Chris Warner; time to wake up!

I made it to Chris' house a few minutes past 4 AM, where we said our rather chipper hellos as I got introduced to Randy, a friend of Chris and another partner who would be joining us today. Introductions aside, we load the truck and go.

Our destination is Skywalker coulior on South Arapaho, a 13,300' peak in the Indian Range just outside of Golden, CO. In all of my planning, this had been my most-anticipated climb. And now, it was going to be the first climb I attempted since arriving.

We arrived at the 4th of July Trailhead in the Arapaho - Washington National Forest around 4:45 AM. The early start was necessary to minimize the risk of avalanche: as the sun warms the snow, it becomes increasingly unstable. Our approach was brisk, and soon enough we were at the foot of the coulior (a coulior is a gully in a mountainside, often used to describe ones with snow). We popped on our crampons, got our boots and crampons organized, and grabbed our ice tools!

The climbing was steep ice, consistent 30-40 degree slope, with sections that got steeper, especially as we neared the top out. The photo to the right is the view from about 1/2 way up, and the one below shows I and Randy working our way through the last few feet of the climb!

From there, we followed the ridge to the summit, arriving at 9 AM! Watch the video below to see what I saw.

Tomorrow, I'll be meeting back up with Chris for some roack climbing around Eldorado Canyon State Park. I'm taking the morning to move my stuff to my campsite: I'll be staying at Golden Gate Canyon State Park tomorrow and Thursday night.