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.

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