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.