|By kent w |
Dec 17, 2008
This is a true story I wrote just after the first (and only) accent of Satins Hemorrhoid (late 80's?). A bit long but lots of fun.
This is a story of learning to crawl. It is said that you must learn to crawl before you can learn to walk and you must learn to walk before you can run. Climbing in the Black Canyon is a full gallop.
The day started like any climbing day in the Black Canyon, early. The gear had been carefully sorted the night before, Astro Dog VI 5.11 would be ours. It already had two or three accents, and it was just waiting for us. Coffee was made before the sun came up, and the mighty descent into the Black Canyon began with the first sun. In our minds we had the entire route wired; the Zen accent looked something like this:
We would quickly find the rappels into the chasm, stroll down the gully, scamper across the third class traverse above the river, and be at the base of the route. After quickly ascending the first half of the route we would decide if we would bivy or trot on up the rest of the route for cold beers in the cooler. This little endeavor would only require maneuvering over approximately 4000 vertical feet of ground we had never seen before. No sweat!
Some people (demigods of the rock) seem to climb by their own rules, and when the time comes they make up the rules to fit the situation. Myself on the other hand lacking much of the intestinal fortitude of the rock gods as well as strength and skill, use rules as my crutch to carry me through tough situations on and off of the rock. Climbing big walls has a few basic rules such as bring two ropes, be prepared for a bivy, watch the weather, and choose your partner carefully. Climbing big walls in the Black Canyon adds a few more important rules that go something like this:
1) The lower angle something is the loser it is,
2) No matter how well you know the approach and route you'll get lost,
3) You can never have enough water,
4) There are no short cuts to the top,
5) Pegmatite always sucks,
6) When you think it can't get any worse, it will,
7) Always keep ice cold beers in a cooler at the top.
It seems like after climbing in the Black for a while, the list of rules had gotten so long that perhaps a I had started to let a few of them slip. Not all of them mind you, just a few of the seemingly less important rules. I still carried two ropes, bivy gear, watched the weather and choose my partners carefully.
My partner was tried and tested and there's no one I trust more. We had two ropes, bivy gear, a great weather forecast, and it seemed like an easy outing ahead of us.
I can't speak for my partner, Greg, but I found it quite interesting that the rap stations described by Jim didn't exist any more. I can clearly remember thinking that it probably had something to do with the increase in ultraviolet radiation due to the hole in the ozone layer; I was sure that the nylon webbing had just evaporated. But what the heck, it just looked like 4 or 5 full length raps down some slabs. I bravely told Greg that I would make the first rap off of a knotted sling (actually Greg's dog leash) stuffed in a crack if he would follow with the 50 lbs of gear.
Bumbling our way through the first three rappels was as easy as it had been in our Zen accent, it just took an hour or two longer. Some things are as they seem in the Black; some things aren't. There really were a couple of slab sections on the rappels into the gully; however, at the top of the fourth rappel it became clear why the Black Canyon is a chasm and not just a river in the bottom of some gently sloping hills.
Funny how Rule #1 had completely escaped me until I was pulling the rope to set up the fourth rappel and how quickly it came back as I saw the fifty pound block land on our good rope.
I should digress at this point and explain a little something about my partner. Greg, love him as I do, has to the best of my knowledge never owned a good rope. Have you ever wondered who buys all of the old ropes at the gear swaps. I have never seen him do it, but for some reason it always looks suspicious when you see the motor oil and road salt on his frayed leading ropes. Needless to say we were not climbing on any of his ropes that day. And myself while not exactly a starving climber, have yet to pick up my first sponsor. My current leading rope was somewhere around two years old (at least a decade younger than Greg's rope) and limp as a noodle, so as any ingenious climber would do in planning an expedition, I talked another friend into loaning me his brand new rope for the weekend, just in case we needed it.
Within moments of the impact it became perfectly clear that we were rappelling and climbing on one old rope for the remainder, and that I would be buying my friend a new rope next week. After a short discussion we came to the conclusion that it really would not matter as long as we followed the rest of the Black Canyon's rules.
Based on this discussion, we proceeded down the steepest, loosest most overgrown gully I had ever been in. Not wanting to bring undue attention to how ugly this was, we just kept telling each other that we were really lucky that we did not have to go back up this way. By the time we reached the river, we had consumed more than twice the amount of water that we had rationed for the decent, but what the heck, we'd be climbing in the shade, no problem.
At the river we came to the short 3rd class traverse I had been warned about, in fact I had inspected it through binoculars from the North Rim only the year before. From the rim it don't look like much, mostly just a short sloping wall about 100 feet above a chaotic rapid. Having already floated across the traverse in our Zen accents we quickly agreed that it would be no problem with full packs and approach shoes.
Distinct thoughts about Rule # 2 started occurring to me while I was perched on a vertical wall clinging for dear life on sloping 5.9 holds about 200 feet above a Class 5 rapid with 30 lbs of gear on my back, and the ropes on Greg's back. Putting on your harness and shoes in such a situation really gives you some insight into how user friendly your gear is. But it was not putting on our harnesses, but rather drilling an escape bolt that cost us another hour. Maybe we were running a few of hours behind, but it was still hot enough to be summer, maybe the days were as long also.
Funny how distinctly unfamiliar the terrain looked after the traverse, it only took another hour to move the hundred yards to the base of the climb. After quickly sorting gear and wolfing down a candy bar, the dark shadow of doubt started creeping in to our minds. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out that starting a Grade VI climb at 3:30 pm with a single rope was even stupider than every other undertaking we had attempted that day. Well brain surgeons we aren't, but we did deduce that there was another way to the top and it did not require as much commitment.
We could empty our pack of all the excess weight (read water), reverse the death traverse and make a short jog back up the gully, no problem. We would be sleeping on horizontal ground that night.
As it is probably painfully clear to the reader by this time, the heat had really started to affect us, at least that's what we blame it on now. Somehow in our distorted view of the world, it made perfect sense to pour out our three gallons of water. Funny how I didn't even realize that we had broken Rule #3 as the water drained from our water bottles.
You never realize how easy going down gullies is until you try hiking back out of one. A millennium of scrub oak had accumulated in the gully from hell (aka SOFB), and it was all laying down slope. On the approach is was just a simple matter of sliding between branches and letting gravity take care of the rest; on the retreat it was hand to hand combat. I suspect that three hours of hand to hand combat in 90 degree temperatures would wear out a youth in top notch physical shape, but what it did to two over the hill old climbers was truly ugly. About this time, the effect of breaking Rule #3 was becoming quite clear.
I faintly remember reaching the apex of the gully, before realizing that it didn't go all the way to the top. Rumor has it that you can catch another gully from the apex which will take you back down to the river and then ascend a third gully all of the way back to the top. I still believe that if we hadn't broken Rule #3, that we probably would not have broken Rule #4. But standing at the apex of the gully in fading light, and less than a thimble of water between the two of us, Rule #4 just disappeared. Somehow the five full length rappels that we had done just a few hours before disappeared into the dust of our minds. It was clear In my mind that it was only 300 feet to the top.
In theory our short cut appeared to be just that, a nice gully that obviously topped out just above that easy looking chimney section. As first accents in the Black Canyon go we were starting this one a little late, but so began the first accent of Satan's Hemorrhoid.
Let me digress again at this point, in the Black Canyon there are three kind of rock, nice black hard granites and gneiss, patina covered schists and pegmatite, and ugly chossy pink pegmatite groves. The granite and gneisses form beautiful buttresses with cracks and soaring dihedrals, schists and good patina covered pegmatite forms amazing faces, and then you have the chossy pegmatite grooves. Contrary to rumor, there is no such thing as really bad pegmatite, instead you have a grove where the bad pegmatite use to be. These groves are lined with rocks the size of refrigerators that will come off with a sneeze.
I distinctly remember thinking how curious it was that we had such a nice little gully in front of us. I started the race for the top, quickly leading up the gully while Greg belayed, the second was going to follow with all of our gear on their back. Four hundred and fifty feet later we were setting up a belay at the start of the chimney as darkness fell. A quick assessment of the chimney told us it was going to be harder than 5.8 but being so close to the top we certainly we not going to stop for such a small obstacle. As it was Gregs turn to lead I got a small stance and impatiently belayed.
Some people might call it a sixth sense but when the rocks started whizzing down the gully in the darkness, I got the feeling the true character of the gully was about to reveal itself. As the rope ran out it was clear from the excitement in Greg's voice that he had not found any protection yet. This is how I came to be simul-climbing in the dark, with no protection between the leader and me, with 40 lbs of gear up a 5.9 pegmatite chimney gully grove affair.
For some reason it was stuck in my mind that this was not the worst pegmatite in the canyon. I'm not sure why I had just questioned Rule #5, but as happens occasionally in the Black Canyon, I was corrected instantaneously. You could just hear it in Greg's voice, rock, Rock!, BIG FUCKING ROCK!!! I froze, one hand and one foot on each wall of the chimney, feeling like the king pin in a bowling alley. My body providing the perfect target for the suitcase sized bowling ball screaming down the chimney towards me. It's surprising how long it takes for a rock to bounce down a 160 feet of chimney. Long enough to review your life, loves, family and friends, and still have just enough time to paste yourself against the inside of the chimney. After an eternity a small voice yelled down, "Are you alive?" To this day I don't know how the rock missed me.
It was another twenty feet of simul-climbing before Greg found a suitable (1 piece) belay behind a loose rock and let me know that falling was not an option to be considered. I followed the rest of the pitch in the darkness, knowing all the time that the rope above me was shredded and just the movement of the rope was going to dislodge another bowling ball.
Shaken but alive, I reached the belay which happened to be at the only flat piece of ground in the entire gully system. I've never been so glad to see a bivy site in my life, even if it was just the size of a car seat. This is where we were meant to spend the night, I knew it, Greg knew it, it was predestined. Thankful to be alive I just had to say to Greg, "well at least it can't get any worse". I should have thought about Rule #6 before I made any such rash statement. With the flick of his headlamp and the groan of agony, I knew it just had gotten worse.
Now I've heard of the ticks, and the poison ivy, and even an occasional scorpion in the Black Canyon, but Black Widow Spiders, come on. Not only were there two webs with a big black widows in each but they were within inches of our heads. This was beginning to seem like some really perverse nightmare, after all what male climber hasn't dreamed of having a forced bivy with two ladies. Being the gentlemen that we were, and to scared to even consider leaving this little bivy site, we decided to share the bivy with the ladies.
Do you believe in doing penitence for your sins? Not that I'm really a religious kind of guy, but if there is a god, he or she must believe in penitence because I don't have any other way to explain the bivy site. Having to sleep with your head in a black widows webs was just the start to this bivy. Although I did mention that the bivy was the only flat area in this god forsaken place, I did not mention that it was nothing more than rat shit and pebbles that had fallen on top of an thorny old bush in the gully. Every time you moved and most of the time when you we not moving you had a half dozen sharp thorns sticking in your butt.
A pack rat was also used to make us further atone for our sins of that day. Within minutes of our arrival, the pesky little rodent that had built the rat shit throne decided that he did not want us to spend the night and commenced digging the bottom out from under us. Listening to your bivy slowly fail, piece by piece, careening down the gully below us while we were anchored by one piece behind a loose flake ensured that we would always remember this night.
Needless to say, we were out of the bivy from hell at first light, and completed the first accent of Satan's Hemorrhoid before breakfast.
When I started this story, I said it was about learning to crawl, maybe even about learning to walk. Well I felt like we had been learning to crawl for two days, and I had lived to tell about it. I think we took our first step when we decided to bivy rather than climb further in the dark. We had survived two days of breaking the rules. Now many of the more astute readers are undoubtedly wondering how we broke all of the Black Canyon rules and lived to tell about it. Well of course we didn't break all of the rules, thanks to our unswerving devotion to Rule #7, we were swilling cold Sheaf Stouts by 9 am. Yeah there are some rules that you just never break.
|By phil broscovak |
From Boo-older, Co.
Dec 18, 2008
Really great read Kent W. Thanks for posting up such a slice of life and near death in the ditch.
|By Brad White |
Dec 18, 2008
Hi Phil. Happy holidays to you and the family. I'll post up a story from the Black that does not involve drinking water of dubious quality. (Once I was pleasantly surprised that I did not get desperately ill the time I had to drink water directly out of the Gunnison River.) However, this one does involve water, and contrary to some Black Canyon experiences, not lack thereof.
My buddy Mark and I went down into the Canyon to climb Journey Home. This was perhaps 15, 16, 17 years or so ago. If I remember correctly, and I probably don't, our source of beta was a Rock and Ice mini-guide written by Ken Trout. (or was it Leonard Coyne?) The description said that the scramble to the base of the route is 3rd class, so we started scrambling from the bottom of the Cruise Gully. Being a former Teton dink, and not unfamiliar with the Black at this point in my climbing experiences, the exposure and looseness of the rock on the 3rd class scramble was not completely lost on me. However, 3rd class means unroped scrambling, so scramble we did.
When we got to the base of the route, having scrambled past some pretty manky looking bail slings around blocks, we noticed that the weather was deteriorating. This was probably my fourth or fifth route in the Black, and up to this moment, at the base of Journey Home, it had never occurred to me that the weather could alter one's plans in this (at the time) most feared of climbing venues. I suppose one benefit of having been dragged up some long Black routes by the late, great Derek Hersey was the luxury of ignoring threatening weather. Whenever the rain started to fall, the only effect on Derek, as far as I could tell was that it made him homesick for his native crags back in northern England. "I think we should keep climbing, ya punter."
Well, as strong a partner as Mark was, we decided to bail as he finished leading the first pitch in a rainstorm. With the rock being wet and such, we both agreed without really discussing it, that there would be no reversing the so-called 3rd class approach to the route. Mark was now next to me, at the base of the first pitch. I scrambled up and right, perhaps 12 feet to a sling that looked less dicey than some of the other tat we had passed on our approach. This was probably not the smartest thing I have ever done, scrambling unbelayed in a very exposed location over wet rock. Nonetheless I made it to the single sling wrapped around a block. While not very confidence inspiring, it did look better than the nearest alternative sling further to my right.
I threaded the rope that had been clipped to my harness through the single sling, setting it up for a rappel. In hindsight, the logic of my following thoughts totally makes no sense, but as I looked at the ratty single sling, and our rope rigged for rappel going through it, the thought occurred to me that a little bounce test would give me more confidence for the ensuing rappel. Not wanting to carry out the bounce test in my exposed position, I decided to down climb back to Mark's location, thinking that a little bouncing from that spot would be safer, should the sling or block fail.
A couple of unbelayed moves in that direction, down over wet, loose jugs convinced me that some kind of backup would be wise. I climbed back up to the sling that I did not really trust, and put myself on rappel with a bunch of slack. This was meant to be my self belay to get back down to Mark. I never thought I would be using it as such.
I started downclimbing again, and after a couple of moves, the jug that I had tested by pounding on with my hand to check for hollowness, (a skill honed in my Teton days), and the same jug that seemed less hollow than all the others around me, pulled out. I went flying backwards, completely out of control. Somehow, I grabbed the rappel rope under my figure 8, which still amazes me to this day. The only thought that raced through my mind in that moment was a name. I had read about Ed Webster's girlfriend who had fallen into the SOB Gully shortly after unroping at the end of the difficulties of a new route they were doing. Somehow, as the failed jug hit my neck and cut me just above my jugular vein, and as the name "Lauren" raced through my brain, I managed to grab the rope. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of all of this, is that my 3-5 foot static fall onto the dicey sling around the dicey block did not cause the anchor to fail.
With blood coming out of my neck, and also the top of my head, I climbed down to Mark's location. The jug had hit me in two places, making little slices in my neck and on my head. (This was before the time I started wearing a helmet for sport climbing in Boulder Canyon.) Mark has always been an unflappable friend and climbing partner, but even his eyes recognized a near disaster. Had I not thought to back up my down-scramble over wet rock, with a rappel rope through a dicey anchor, which seemed overly cautious prior to my fall, I would have ended up a statistic, and on the wrong end of another Black Canyon horror story. At least we would now have confidence in the dicey rappel anchor that saved my life.
|By Olaf Mitchell |
From Paia, Maui, Hi,
Dec 18, 2008
Those were a great storys! Every one that entertains ambitions of climbing big walls in the Black should review the rules,at least once before leaving the rim.If I had read eather of these accounts prior to climbing in the black I probably would have opted not to go.
|By YDPL8S |
From Santa Monica, Ca.
Dec 18, 2008
Great stories!!! and the telling bit about Derek Hersey...classic
Whenever the rain started to fall, the only effect on Derek, as far as I could tell was that it made him homesick for his native crags back in northern England. "I think we should keep climbing, ya punter."
Why are some people able to be oblivious to the dangers around them? They must be wired differently than the rest of us. Unfortunately Derek paid the eventual price, but so many of the groundbreaking greats have this quality. I am reminded of a scene from Apocalypse Now! where the Colonel is standing in the middle of a firefight, cowboy hat on his head, admonishing the young recruits to go out there and surf that beach he has just "secured" for them.
Love the stories....
|By phil broscovak |
From Boo-older, Co.
Dec 18, 2008
Hi Brad, nice to hear from you. It has been a while. Happiest of holiday wishes from my family to yours. Being a dad is a remarkable voyage isn't it.
Hey all this is a fabulous thread with great stories.
Keep em coming.
Merry Christmas and many happy new years to all.
|By Mike Pharris |
From Longmont, CO
Dec 19, 2008
Olaf and everyone else, this is one of the best threads i've seen in a long time. I can't wait to have some time to sit and read the stories. I've not been to the Black yet, but i'm certain that i will someday when I can climb hard enough to enjoy it.
|By J. Thompson |
From denver, co
Dec 20, 2008
The sun is coming up but it's warmth isn't helping much. The night before I thought I had been quite crafty in procuring the inside postion on the portaledge. My greediness for the "choice" spot had come back to bite me. For this exact spot became the end of a small water fall caused by the rain and snow that had fallen all night.
The day before we had decided that the 50/50 percentage in the precip. category of the weather report was good odds.
We even left the Rainfly, thinking that even if it did rain it would be lite enough that our bivy sacks would suffice. We hadn't counted on the snow.
Having shivered all night, with a leaking bivy sack, and a very wet sleeping bag...the morning brought a single option for me. Bail.
My partner made an effort to convince me that fantasy island would be a good place to ride out the remainder of the storm and then push on. Especially since we knew reversing the giant pendulum was impossible and below us the terrain was unknown. He was disappointed until he felt my sleeping bag...."this thing is soaked through!". Yep.
Down we went.
My partner first with a rack and a prayer. Near the end of our 60M lines he finds a suitable anchor and calls off. I follow with the pig and after beefing the anchor up a bit we rappel back into the line of ascent.
Once back on the canyon floor the sky opens up again and from that moment through the rest of the day it never let's up.
We now face the task of humping wet wall gear up the Cruise gully.
At the bottom of the rappels we make the descsion to leave the haul bag. As I begin leading the upper rappel the rain comes down harder. Everytime i grab a hold water streams down my arm. Sitting at the top waiting for my partner to jug the line I start to shiver again. My partner yells for me to just keep moving, but there is no way I'm seperating from him. We are both to tired, wet and cold. Those are the choice's that later lead to statements like "the last time I saw him". No way...if our lot gets worse, it gets worse together.
We manage the rest of the gully, get in the truck and drive to Delta and a motel room. After the rewarming of a hot shower we eat the gods own mexican food, and sleep in beds that never felt so good.
The next day we dive back down the cruise gully to retrieve our gear.
The weather has changed. As the weekend climbers begin to arrive the sun is out and the temps are perfect.
The only hint of our mini epic is the mud on the ground and alittle extra urgency in the river.
|By Olaf Mitchell |
From Paia, Maui, Hi,
Dec 20, 2008
That was a great story! I could feel that pathetic cold drenched excuse for a sleeping(NOT)bag! Shiverrrr! Your description of water running through your coat sleeves generates a vivid sensation as well.There's nothing like creature comforts after an epic!
|By J. Thompson |
From denver, co
Dec 20, 2008
This story was written by Jeff Bevan....I'm sure he won't mind me posting it.
It's also his perspective on the story I wrote above....not to mention much better writing!
Bad Trip On The Hallucinogen Wall
I’m lulled in my insecurity by the staccato of the rain and snow hammering my bivy sack. Warm and mostly dry inside, I try not to move to keep myself dry. I’ve controlled the trickle of water that had found its way into my bivy sack and down my neck. Josh moves trying to reposition against the constant stream coming off above us and hitting his sack. He is less successful in staying dry than I am. The portaledge goes through frequent quivers as he shakes. I quiz him and he says it’s just his muscles unable to relax from a hard day of climbing. I suspect other things. I reflect on our position 6 pitches up on the Hallucinogen Wall in Colorado’s Black Canyon.
We’d been planning for 7 or 8 months for this climb and things were going pretty much as planned except for the weather. Thoughts of retreat were disconcerting because of the giant pendulum of the last pitch. In the failing light of the day we could see that the wall dropped away steeply below us and appeared blank. Somewhere down there must be the line of retreat, should we need it. The wind picks up and buffets the ledge; momentarily the staccato stops and all I hear is the roar of the river below and the wind rolling through the canyon. My thoughts slip back to the days before as I doze and slip in and out of an awareness of my surroundings.
Humping the pig and gear to the base of the wall was rough but not as bad as we had expected. The rappels were time consuming but uneventful as we rode our pig and gear pack into the gully below, careful to avoid knocking rocks on each other. At some point in the near future fixed ropes would provide a faster convenience to the lower canyon, but today we break out our ropes. Below the raps we start watching for poison ivy. Notorious for being hardy and rivaling trees in size, it was luckily just beginning to pop out at this early time in the spring. Shimmering twists of green leaf tightly wrapped on the ends of their stems indicate an insidious presence about to burst forth any day. Easy to step around, we became accustomed to the mostly bare twigs from the last season of growth. Moving past the base of “Scenic Cruise,” a popular and classic long trad climb, we can hear and see a party about 5 pitches up moving slowly. Feeling good and like a bit of a redneck (read that a$$hole) I yell up “Climb faster!” and yodel cheerfully. This would prove prophetic to them. We would learn later that one commented to the other “I think he means it.” Already around 3 PM they still had another 10 pitches to cruise. They would become intimately familiar with a small exposed ledge high on the route that night, just another of the Black Canyon’s ways of saying hello.
As you drop further and further into the Black the river noise takes over all consciousness as the walls rise up around and above you, as if to add an exclamation point to the scale of their relief. Then suddenly you’re in the bottom and the stark realization that up is out, hits you. Turning the toe of North Chasm View Wall is a humbling experience, as sound, size and distance all conspire to remind you of what you are about to do. The overhangs at the top of the wall appear rugged and imposing. Foreshortened in their position, you realize how big everything is as you look downstream toward the Hooker Buttress, the top of the Painted Wall in the distance and across the river to South Chasm View Wall. Astro Dog now only a stone’s throw away draws your eye up again, following the seemingly endless cracks and dihedrals up until they lose their detail in the wall above. Often described and alluded to, the Black Canyon is a compelling, enticing, mysterious and numbing place, bringing your senses to near overload if you don’t adjust to your surroundings.
We dropped our loads under the climb and studied the first couple of pitches: easy climbing, hard hauling. The pervasive sound of water brings us back to the moment, and we scramble down to the waters edge to fill jugs and treat water. Here in the bottom of the canyon the ivy is further along in its seasonal cycle and forces us to be more cautious as we move around. Logs, lumber, and other debris perched high among the house-sized boulders choking the bottom of the gorge remind us of the forces at work here shaping this landscape. We share verbal jabs as we go about our work and are feeling good. One of the biggest physical challenges of the whole climb is behind us. Moving back up to our staging area we gear up to fix a pitch before heading back up to the rim for a last good hot meal before taking on wall fare.
Josh is moving again; the ledge wiggles, bringing me back from my musings. Am I dreaming, sleeping, or just dwelling on events of the past days. Josh has his head out of his sack and comments on how the filtered moonlight in the canyon is eerily lighting the snow which has been falling and collecting on the upper reaches of the walls across the canyon from us. I’m too groggy to bother sitting up and only stick my hand out to check the pig at my head and make sure the lid is still rolled down and sealed. I’m greeted by icy wet snow on top of the pig. Though not much snow, it drives home how vulnerable our position is. We had opted to leave the fly for the ledge on the rim to save weight and trust in our bivy sacks. I reach under my bag to see if moisture is creeping in between my bivy sack and sleeping bag and am relieved to find it cold and damp but not really wet. Gortex is a wonderful thing. Josh is tossing and turning trying to find a position that will deflect the stream of water pouring down from above him. We are alone with our thoughts as the night wears on. Sometime during the night and just out past my head some feet, the falsetto buzzing of a rock ripping past startles me and leaves me wondering. A second rock some time later provides more fodder for restlessness. Sometime during those timeless hours, I drift again.
After returning to the rim for a last warm meal we put off returning to the top of our lonely fixed pitch the next day, as forecast severe winds kicked up to near gale force. Standing on the rim was barely possible as gusts threatened to send you out over the abyss. Instead we did a quick climb up a smaller buttress and then headed to Crawford for lunch as the winds picked up. Over lunch we discussed our options: go into the canyon the next day and charge up to Fantasy Island for our first bivy on the wall or drop into the canyon and pick up our gear and suffer the “Walk of Shame.” The weather forecast, which foretold the high winds, indicated a 40-50% chance of deteriorating conditions all the way to snow for the next night. Ever the optimist, I looked for the silver lining. Might not be as bad as the forecast; the high winds might indicate the weather is moving through faster than anticipated. Josh was more skeptical. We agree to put off until morning any final decision.
Waking in the early morning in the campground, the weather has settled. The wind is gone and the sky is clear. Josh is enthusiastic and ready to go; I’m less energetic sensing something else. Josh encourages me, and soon we have camp broken down and are ready to go. We agree on one last check of the weather at the ranger station before dropping down the gully.
Brent, the North Rim ranger, fires up his computer to check the latest weather online. At this lonely outpost of the national park it is amazing that he has a computer with Internet access. No grid electricity, no phones, but Internet access! Brent has become a close friend over several seasons of climbing in the Black, and he is enthusiastic about our climb. We go over the weather reports, which run the gamut from 40% - 50% chance of precipitation but diminishing over the next 24 –36 hours. We ignore the ominous prediction and head for the top of the gully. Right now the weather is glorious.
We quickly slide down the gully and our ropes and high step around the poison ivy to the base of the wall and our fixed rope. Josh heads up first and starts hauling, and soon I join him at the first belay. Leading off on the second pitch, I stretch the rope nearly the full 60 meters and set up a belay on a slab under an overhang. The hauling is hideous and works me, but shear force wins out as Josh helps by pushing, freeing, and pulling the pig as he jugs. The pig is soon at the belay. One pitch leads to the next and before long the day has mostly slipped by and we are under the pendulum pitch leading to Fantasy Island. The clear sunny skies of the morning have given way to puffy white cumulus, then to scudding gray stratocumulus, and now gray threatening overcast.
I am startled by Josh lurching about! I must have drifted off to sleep. What is going on? It is still very dark, but the rain seems to have stopped. He is getting up… what is he thinking? … everything has to be soaked. I check my sack and find it, to my relief, largely dry. Josh has to pee and has had to for hours, but the rain has kept him storm bound. Now that it has let up he is wasting no time to kneel on the edge of the portaledge and let it fly. I’m amazed I don’t have to and actually very content to just lay there. After what seems to be a prolonged period of heaving and lurching Josh settles down again. I’m hopeful the weather has turned and drift in my thoughts again to the sounds of the river.
Josh is leading the pendulum pitch and moves quickly up into the A3 hooks and mankiness. He is right at home, and although it is slower going than the free climbing below he moves steadily to the pendulum point 80’ or so up and to the left. Ready for the big swing, he has me lower him 20 feet and takes a tentative swing across the face to the left. He stops under the p-point and asks for more rope. I drop him another 10 and he gives it another look-see. Still no go and asks for more rope. We are amused by the fact that he is only a few above me albeit 30 or 40 feet to the left of me when he finally feels he has enough rope for the swing. Off he goes swinging back and forth to gain his momentum and finally gain the system he is working toward. He has disappeared around a bulge and is climbing free. I yard in rope as he moves up wondering just what is over there. Soon he is taking rope again and shortly yells the rope is fixed, just as the first drops of light rain come. I’ve grown cold belaying him and jump to the tasks at hand, readying the pig to haul, cleaning the belay, and following the pitch. The rain came a little harder for a bit and then let up entirely somewhere along the time I cleaned this pitch and prepared for the lower out off the pendulum point. As I reached the belay Josh was busy replacing one of the 3 older bolts with an ASCA provided bolt. We would use it to hang our ledge on.
Happy to have made our planned destination for the day, Fantasy Island, we quickly go about setting up our bivy in the gathering gloom. Fantasy Island is a wonderful 3’X 7’ ledge atop a pillar/flake nearly midway up North Chasm Wall. Above stretch the few features on this mostly blank section of the main wall capped by the overhangs at the top of the wall. All but one of the hard aid pitches lay in front of us, and we are excited by the prospects of moving up into those reaches in the morning. As we settle down to eat dinner, a light rain begins to settle in, and we hurry through eating so we can get into our bivy sacks for the night. Sliding into our sleeping bags and bivy sacks, we accept the increased fervor of the rain, as it comes almost on cue, more as an inconvenience rather than as telltale of the rest of the night.
The din of the storm outside my bivy sack slowly gives way to a gathering dawn, and grayness seeps over our environment. The rain has let up and only the persistent drip of the wall from above breaks the returning song of the river below. I’ve played over the options all night, as has Josh, and we are slow to rise to the occasion. Given the improving conditions, I’m leaning toward hanging out, seeing if things improve to the point of doing some climbing, and moving up. If need be, fix 3 pitches and return to the security of Fantasy Island before moving up to Happy Trails, our next proposed bivy site. Josh on the other hand has spent a much more uncomfortable night under the waterfall than I have and is much wetter. For him there is only one decision to make. While I am much more concerned about our line for retreat, he feels comfortable there will be anchors. I go along with his instincts, and soon we are breaking down everything to bail. Once the decision is made, momentum returns, and I am soon sliding down the first rap to find anchors. At about 55 meters, an anchor shows up. Three fixed pins, one wobbling behind a detached flake, a hangerless bolt (wired stopper for hanger), a good bolt, and yards of faded sling material make up my safe haven on this open face. I quickly tie-in and holler for Josh to ride the pig. When he arrives we decide to set a new bolt, add a hanger to the existing hangerless bolt and remove/cleanup the webbing and loose pin. As we continue down the wall the weather closes in again, and just as our feet hit terra firma the rain comes hard again, as if putting an exclamation point on our choice to bail.
There is no sense of mystery, enticement, or any compelling nature about the Black when you’re standing in the bottom of that canyon with pig and gear, in the pouring rain, looking back up the gully. It is however quite numbing when you realize the full impact of the amount of work it will entail to get everything 2000 feet back up the gully and on the rim again. We split the load in two and head for the raps again, this time up. Our careful stepping around the poison ivy gradually erodes to carelessly tramping through it as we scramble, crawl and huff our way up the gully. Frequently removing our loads to help each other shove them up over particularly tough spots, we gradually gain elevation. Eventually we are at the bottom of the raps, cold, wet, and very tired. We make the decision to leave the pig there and only take the climbing gear out the rest of the way. Hopefully the next day will dawn dry and warmer. The lower rappel route is easily negotiated 3rd class by Josh and he drops a line to me to use as a hand line as I climb with the full rack. The upper rap route is pouring water when we get there, and Josh wisely chooses to protect it as he leads it. Although only 5.5, under these conditions it is anything but safe. He safely climbs the pitch and fixes the rope for me to come up. Above the raps we just put our heads down and climb out into the gloom of the rim.
Our evening accommodations are a no-brainer as we head for Montrose, a restaurant, a hotel, a hot shower, and a good bed. As expected, the next day is much improved and things have dried out considerably by the time we get back to the canyon and are ready to drop down and get the pig. We are amused at the number of climbers who have shown up on this Friday for a weekend of climbing. Little do they know of the vastly different character the canyon has had over the past few days. As we climb out above the raps, we pass other climbers dropping into the Black for an afternoon of fun and chat nonchalantly about our efforts and their projects. Back at the ranger station and Josh’s truck, we crack open a hard earned beer and chuckle in retrospect of the past five days of work, knowing we had made absolutely the right decision
|By Olaf Mitchell |
From Paia, Maui, Hi,
Jan 2, 2009
In the intrest of keeping this thread alive I am posting this thought
I had about one of my all time favorite rock climbs.
If you venture on the Cruise you will compare every climb in your portfolio to it.
It will allow you to utilize all those hard learned lessons stored in your rockcraft quiver and allow you to create others.
If you are willing to accept the level of commitment that it takes to do a climb of this caliber you will be rewarded with an amazing level of confidence that will allow you passage further along in the game.
Remember: It's Always Desperate In The Black!
I am not saying that after "The Black" everything is easy, but many ventures may seem pale in its shadow.
As a veteran of a number of routes in this magnificent gorge, I have my fondest memories of this particular sequence of pitches.
It's a clean line.
I have enjoyed this route with: Maurice,Bill, Annette, Noel, Tom, Rusty, Ken, and Buc.
|By Olaf Mitchell |
From Paia, Maui, Hi,
Jan 4, 2009
Jesse, That was a great trip report!Bravo!
|By phil broscovak |
From Boo-older, Co.
Jan 5, 2009
Hey Olaf this ones fer ewe. EnJoy!
17; LOST IN SPACE.
When Jim and I returned from our storm cancelled first attempt to finally complete our early repeat of the Forrest/Walker route on the Painted Wall so few hands had pawed over that rock that it still acted like a virgin on prom night eve. We travelled perilously light. One small pack with just enough stuff to survive if all went well. If it didn't, well then...??? We travelled so Spartanly because our aim was to free everything we could and only aid when no other free climbing alternative was possible. To that end we managed to whittle the aid moves of this major wall down to well less than fifty. Free climbing moves up to 10+ & 11- and pulling aid moves, impossible given the nature of the rock to rate the difficulty of.
Two thirds of the way up the wall in the relentless and debilitating blaze of the noon day sun we pulled out our secret weapons. Two cotton shirts soaked in the frigid Gunnison River earlier were pulled out of their stashed stuff sack. I remember they were still dripping wet so we wrung them out. The greedy stone accepted our gift one rapidly evaporating drip after another. We pulled them on, flinching and chirping with every new square inch of hot skin touched by cold cloth. Once the shock of transition had passed it was tremendously luxurious. Like a portable air conditioner. Life returned we continued on.
It fell to me to lead the terrifying pitch through the Dragons jaws. Standing atop successive fins of pegmatite like wobbly boogie boards on end. Wishing with all my might that there would be some real pro before reaching the good rock in the roof still forty feet above. Finding nothing but the strong urge to survive. Actually hearing friends, observing with spotting scopes on the Southern Rim, hoot and holler up a storm when I stretched one of my monster splits stemming to the good rock of the roof over my shoulder and placed pro. I was a dancer in those days and had tremendous flexibility so I guess from afar it looked cool. But up close I was sweating urea and just relieved to step on anything that didn't move.
We continued to progress apprehensively further up through Death Valley which was rapidly becoming a one way avenue.
The 21st pitch of the route, where Stratosfear escapes stage right, was my onus as well. While not hard at all by todays technical standards this second to last pitch took all I could muster and everything I knew. Stratosfear came into being because this pitch was not free-able. It is also not entirely aid-able either. It is a devious and dangerous mixed experience that menaces you at every opportunity particularly when in transition between free and aid moves. As everything up to bus sized bits moved when touched no gear evoked confidence, no hold provided assurance. Security was a fallacy of the mind created to engender a momentary sense of calm and normalcy to an otherwise lunatic endeavor. Sure that piece is good. Yeah I can high step up on it. What ever it takes, right!
I was destined to lead this nightmare. It had been graphically described to me repeatedly by Tom and John who had done the coveted second ascent. I was supposed to do the 3rd ascent of this test piece route with my regular partner Scotty. And this was always to be my pitch. But Scotty perished tragically in a Canadian avalanche before we could rope up. Now here with Jim, the strongest most compatible partner I have had, I prayed to Scotty's spirit that I had what it would take. One of the chilling delights I was told to expect in the midst of those enormous roofs was a block of particular kinetic potential. The consequences of which were so "grave" that I was implored with the mantra of, what ever you do "DON'T TOUCH IT"!
There I was mixing it up. Sparing with the choss of entropy. Peering into the seemingly endless black maw of the crack in the back of the roof, I suddenly became small and insignificant and felt thoroughly vulnerable. I looked and looked searching for the "death block". I was too timid and fearful to look too deep into that overhanging abyss for fear I would have to travel that way. I didn't see the warned of and dreaded "death block" boulder any where. I led myself to believe, as would be reasonable to assume, that it had just fallen off, like so much other mass now scattered about the base of this steep and imposing fortress of a wall. I didn't recognize the warned of and dreaded "death block" boulder...till it was almost too late. I thought the big bad boulder was supposed to be "in" the roof not on the face beneath it. I led myself tenuously across the edge of infinite gravitational force towards an inviting looking piece of bright white webbing fixed around a monster flake.
Three things happened, almost simultaneously, as I reached the sling and started to use it to balance up on. The first was Jim yelling "TEN FEET" from out of sight below. Hmmm, looks like I still need twenty. The second was the sling disintegrated in my hand teetering me backwards. I saw bits of my life flitter away chasing after the liberated tatters of someone else's security. Portions of the terminally distressed sling from behind the behemoth flake were still bright red. The rest nothing more than a crunchy grey powder. Thirdly, my sphincter cinched up, as Jim was fond of saying, tight enough to cut washers off of. From the time I instinctively lunged for the corners at the base of the flake to steady myself I remember the disconcerting sound of rock grinding and not much else. At least until saying "OFF belay" at the anchor. I honestly cannot clearly recall that last stretch of deviously blank stone perched so high above the roaring Gunnison river. I was spent, wasted and out of it! The delirium of survival, no matter how fleeting and temporary, allows you to cool the mind enough to carry on. I must have made it as I doubt I am simply imagining myself now writing this on this mortal plane. I just don't know exactly how I made it. Neither did Jim. When he arrived at our anchor perch he looked dazed and baffled.
Lauhingly called a "semi-hanging" belay because there are some 5.9 footholds there somewhere. Most of the belayer's time was spent in a futile attempt to increase adhesion by uncomfortably crushing one hip or the other into the smooth slab. A smoothness in space that seemed more akin to a slide towards oblivion over more than 2000 feet of atmosphere than a secure stance. The belay was an odd assortment of somewhat questionable gear comprising a shallow knife blade, a grumbly bugaboo, a buried rurp and a bashie or two. All cobbled and spider webbed together to give a passable sense of "yeah that'll work".
Jim got the next and final pitch. While technically harder it at least had substantially better rock and occasionally real pro. In fact this final challenge sprouts the routes only bolt. A peculiarly placed beefer complete with date stamped washer from when the MadMan convinced Newberry to descend and retrieve Forrest's abandoned haul sac. A story to it's self, it left behind an incongruous but gladly, if not awkwardly, clipped memento. Where as before I had been seemingly entombed in the cool shadows of enormous corners and horrendous roofs. Now I was splayed in the full swelter of the arcing Sun's last efforts at desiccating my very soul. Jim was somewhere above methodically facing the unknowns of the future. I was belaying robotic-ally. Dying by the sweat drop.
I couldn't remember how long ago we had run out of water. Judging from the thickly swollen nature of my tongue, that I tried so hard to not notice, it had been a very long time. From the edge of the universe came the long anticipated call of "OFF belay". Now the Jumars that I had so vehemently cursed earlier for being sticky and annoying, owing to the layers of hastily applied duct tape I had foolishly wrapped on the grips, became my best and only friends. Melted by the scorching Sun and reflected heat the tape had become a nearly inescapable goo without which I seriously doubt I would have had the guns to hold on. Spinning helplessly in the relentless blistering heat above the angry froth of erosion occurring a world away and a life time ago I heard disembodied words drift to me from above and behind. It was surreal and other worldly. I was sure I was hallucinating. Either that or I didn't really make it to the previous belay station and this was my own personal Purgatory.
As the unwinding of the rope brought me around to gaze languidly and unfocused outward across to the canyon's other rim I heard the ghosts of my simple naked humanity call to me once again. Expecting angel wings and the divine, the sounds eventually directed me to the incongruous sight of grime and exhaustion. Jim was calling to me from eighty feet behind and a hundred feet above. There he was standing on the lip of the giant prow that juts out over the empty space below. Greedily slurping down the last sniff of one of the gallons of water we had earlier stashed. I am not sure but I think he downed it in one desperate draw. What I do know for sure, because my visual acuity had snapped back to focus at the first sight of water, is that he didn't spill a drop.
|By Olaf Mitchell |
From Paia, Maui, Hi,
Jan 5, 2009
phil broscovak wrote: "I saw bits of my life flitter away chasing after the liberated tatters of someone else's security."
Phil, that was a tremendous piece. I am honored beyond measure that you dedicated it toward me. Thanks that was really cool!
|By phil broscovak |
From Boo-older, Co.
Jan 6, 2009
My Pleasure. Believe me I am having lots of fun. Penning up the walls of The Black is far less frightening than climbing up them was.
"It's DESPERATE in The BLACK" - Jimmy Newberry
But my laptop is so warm and cozy!
|By phil broscovak |
From Boo-older, Co.
Jan 6, 2009
I just went back and edited up a cleaner 2nd draft of Lost in Space. Tell me what you think.
|By Patrick Peddy |
Jan 9, 2009
phil broscovak wrote:
My Pleasure. Believe me I am having lots of fun. Penning up the walls of The Black is far less frightening than climbing up them was. "It's DESPERATE in The BLACK" - Jimmy Newberry But my laptop is so warm and cozy!
Sick stories Phil. I didn't miss the pun about Mike Pennings being unafraid while climbing in the Ditch. Seiously, if I were Fred Knapp, We'd be talking about a book.
|By phil broscovak |
From Boo-older, Co.
Jan 21, 2009
Does anyone care to hear more or are you all now bored?
|By Olaf Mitchell |
From Paia, Maui, Hi,
Jan 21, 2009
Keep sharing Phil! Nobody's board with this thread.
Your posts bring out the quintessence of this dynamic arena.
|By Buff Johnson |
Jan 21, 2009
phil broscovak wrote:
Does anyone care to hear more or are you all now bored?
keep um coming Phil
|By Jeff Bevan |
Jan 21, 2009
Phil here is something I wrote after a particularly satisfying climb in the early spring a couple of years ago. It is less about the route and more about the experiences we share. See if you can figure the route out.
They met in the gym. The older man something past middle aged perhaps, working the moderates. The younger climber less than half his age, pushing the grades on all the problems he could find. At first they didn’t speak much. The older climber watched the youthful climber pour himself into his workouts. The younger climber only recognizing in the older man someone who shared a similar passion.
The older climber reveled in the feel of the juggy overhanging routes with their large holds and flowing moves. His muscles responded to the exertion of each route and over the course of the winter he became stronger. He always liked the winter workouts, preparing him for the spring and summer trad season. Except for the occasional winter respite at a nearby crag the winters provided only plastic for him to climb. In the back of his mind he knew that after the gym was closed to visitors in the late spring his strength always seemed to decline slightly until the next October when the gym re-opened.
The lad on the other hand was full of that youthful vitality that burned for lofty summits and unspoken difficulties. The spark in his eyes only added depth to the Adonis sculpted body he gloried in. He spoke of workout routines, increasingly difficult regiments followed by a slightly less energetic regime. His body responded well to the demands of tendon pulling crimps and dynamic throws to finger wrenching grabs. His routine proved his dedication to pushing himself and following his scripted training program.
They shared insights on their goals. The older climber, with the wealth of many seasons behind him, guiding his exploits, seemed enthusiastic and charismatic. The lad filled primarily with youthful exuberance, wanted to try anything that seemed within his grasp. He didn’t have the benefit of past seasons to fill his inner longing with the tempered assurance of new endeavors to come.
At one of the evening workouts the lad told of his single day traverse of a local fourteener, including skiing the flanks of the mountain on the side opposite that which he climbed. The older climber offered congratulations and acknowledgement of a job well done but inwardly worried about the youth’s insights into avalanche terrain. Knowing only too well what can happen in the most benign looking of pockets of snow.
Through the course of the winter they encouraged each other more and more recognizing in the other something they each wanted. The lad would try an impossible seeming lead and the older climber would belay him and offer words of encouragement when the lad seemed desperate and about to come off. Gradually they became comfortable with each other in spite of the years separating their experiences. The older climber pursued his long-term program of maintaining his strength. He knew with each passing year it became a little more difficult to maintain his strength or even progress toward another more difficult goal. His body told him in no uncertain terms when he abused it and it took longer each year to recover from the efforts.
The older climber was feeling the energetic boost that the end of a long winter provides and was looking forward to visiting an old haunt. The canyon was deep and foreboding to many but to him it was alive and beautiful and spoke both with the roar of the river but also in muted messages from the ancient rock. The various birds that called it home seemed to tell him this place held a tranquility that was underscored by its drama. It humbled him, called him, inspired him and scared him from time to time. He was ready to visit the place again and usher in another season of trad climbing. He had spoke of his place to the lad, describing its tall walls and rampart buttresses. He recounted various climbs to the lad and secretly knew he was planting a seed which when watered would sprout with enthusiasm.
He knew the time had come to test the lad and see. He wanted to jump right in and push the envelope himself and see if the lad could “hang”. Interesting thoughts, coming from one on the other side of the journey through life, but he was compelled. He spoke of his idea to his seasoned partners and his wife who watched him through the years and knew perhaps better than he his tendency to go a little to far in what he expected of others. He had made the mistake before, taking in someone new who wasn’t ready and scaring him. It had become a trying episode ending with the new climber leaving the sport. His sages offered advice, thought he had a larger pair than they, his wife extolled him to be careful. In the end he chose a climb of reputable stoutness and yet still reasonable to suggest to the lad. It would challenge the older climber and certainly present a challenge to the lad.
When presented to the youthful climber he responded with the conviction and commitment of one more experienced than he was. Admittedly he had never seen the canyon before, although he knew well its reputation. He was eager to take on the challenge and felt confident in his ability. True he had never been on anything approaching this big of a climb but he had trained rigorously and was mentally ready.
The trip to the canyon was slightly tense as the older climber felt in his youthful companion a growing energy. Something was coming alive in his young friend. The young man commented upon how he felt he was at a crossroads of sorts in his journey into manhood. He was feeling a new sense of purpose coming with his drive to climb as well as a longing to commit to something grander. The older climber could see the unmistakable fire building in the lad. When they reached the rim top campground the older climber took his youthful protégé to the rim to reveal the awesome abyss. Staggered by what he saw the young climber couldn’t relate to the scale of the natural wonder he was looking at. Questions of size were silly in the context of what he saw. He couldn’t wrap his mind around the grandeur or get a handle on his place in such immense surroundings. In the older climber there was a welling of emotion and joy as if seeing an old friend. The lad spent the night trying to put in order that which he had seen and knew he was committing to. The older climber took a late night stroll and listened to the distant sound of water pouring up from below, the sound of life in the canyon.
The trip into the canyon is one of metamorphosis. Slowly at first they dropped into the gorge looking down into the vast chasm, the sound of the river creeping up the gully to welcome them. They scrambled quickly down, the youthful lad leading agilely down the difficult gully. He had been told they had to move fast and he was going to show he could travel lightly and quickly over the difficult terrain. He arrived first at the first rappel point and set the rope as the older climber arrived. The older climber was just beginning to break a sweat as he reached the rappel. Wrapped in the confines of the steep walled gully the aura was changing. Canyon Wrens punctuated the morning air with their lighthearted song. They slid down the two successive raps and quickly moved on down the gully. The older climber used the opportunity to point out the various climbs as a way of controlling the pace. The unbridled energy of the youth was becoming more evident with every yard they descended. Soon, rather than just looking down on things they were looking both down at the terrain below and up to the ever-looming wall above them laced with lines to be climbed. They reached the foot of the wall and the foreshortened nose of the wall hung over their heads. And as if to remind them of the only constant in this world the roar of the river washed over them. The lad was still unable to grasp the scale because looking up only confounded him more when he shifted his gaze further down the gorge to where the full height of the walls showed themselves. He was humbled.
They quickly and breathlessly made their way to the start of their climb. The older climber breathing heavy but still moving well brought them to the point where they roped up. He had done the route before, swapping leads with his partner but getting the easier half of the bargain. This time he planned to take the harder leads and give the youth the leads he had done before. He knew the challenge ahead and was excited to test himself on the difficult ground. The older climber took the first easy lead up blocky terrain barely letting him warm to the task before arriving at the belay. The lad took off up the next pitch and met full on the first of the difficulties. A narrowing crack which squeezed down to finger size just as it met an overlap and required strenuous and committed lay backing to reach somewhat easier ground above and then the belay. The youngster moved quickly placing gear confidently and slowed only marginally at the crux to fiddle with gear before pulling the moves. The older climber started up with the call of “belay on” and thought cautiously to himself about his first time leading this pitch. He had been confident and lead strongly on this challenging early pitch. He often felt he didn’t climb as well on second and wondered if this would plague him today. As if on cue, his inner musings brought insecurity and tense movement. He chastised himself under his breathe for his failing and renewed his effort arriving at the belay panting and glad to be past the section but knowing only to well the next pitch was harder and more sustained.
Although it had more straightforward jamming it was a long and strenuous crack in a right facing corner, pinching to finger size in the middle before widening again to rattley fists. He started up the pitch and was pleased to feel the jams as he flexed his hand in the crack and he didn’t feel the need to overprotect. His left foot in the crack and his right working small edges he moved quickly as the jams came naturally. Where the crack narrowed his finger locks came with ease and his feet edged and smeared the few holds that were present on the face. He knew he would be better off if he climbed through this section to where the crack widened again before placing gear so he ran it out. His energy was coming from the canyon as he moved easily up the crack. The crux, a long stretch to a flake far right, was after jamming the crack for perhaps 90 feet at a slight bulge in the corner system and the jams became off fist. He momentarily grabbed his last cam as a surge of desperation grabbed him when he couldn’t reach the flake. Pissed at himself he reset his left jam and reached far right leaning out far as he could. His fingers just lapped the edge of the flake and he smeared his right foot on the face. In the back of his mind he heard a gasp from his young partner when his right foot skated as he committed to the move and released his left hand jam but his concentration on the flake and a bit of quick work with his left foot saved the move. He fought to establish himself in a layback and gained control. Past the difficulties he moved steadily but carefully to the belay below and to his right. His young partner joined him on the belay moving steadily through the pitch. He commented on the fine lead and was ready to take off again.
The nondescript next pitches let each of the climbers find their rhythm and ended with the older climber leading onto a ledge system ¾ of the way up the wall. Here in the early spring sun they took a well-earned break, both were feeling the need to replenish. Removing their shoes and languishing in the sun they ate power bars and washed down goo shots with water. The crux pitch of the climb lay just above them and the older climber had it on his mind. He nonchalantly offered the lead to his younger friend, going back on his earlier determination to lead the pitches he didn’t lead in his previous ascent. The younger climber wasn’t fooled by that ploy and simply suggested that if his older climbing partner didn’t feel strong enough to get it today he would probably be very pleased with himself if he did manage to send and so he should try it regardless. The pitch which involved a variety of techniques went from stemming up a groove to under clinging a flake to gain a steep double crack system which you could stem and jam until you were forced to make thin face moves to the right into another corner system. The moves across the face into the next corner system were the crux of the pitch and the climb and came after a strenuous jamming session. Climbing on second the previous time the older climber had struggled with the jam crack and had to hang before he reached the face moves. Much to his chagrin he even had to leave a cam behind because he couldn’t get it out which served him up no end in derision from his then partner. Determined to have a better showing and after being called on his weak moment by this young upstart he forced himself to rise to the occasion.
The stemming up the groove although not any harder than 5.8 was unprotected so he moved deliberately up until he could place gear in the crack of the under cling about 20 feet out. Now the older climber knew he was coming to grips with the heart of the climb and the pitch so he took a moment to gather within him and set out on the hard moves ahead. In the middle of under clinging to the left to gain the double cracks he wanted to place a cam, but couldn’t he get anything in that he wanted to burn yet, knowing he still had about 40 feet of difficult crack to protect ahead. After a moment of futile fumbling with a placement he made the final moves across to the crack without the placement. The relief of gaining the crack was short lived as the wall steepened noticeably. Now, however, he was jamming again and more comfortable with the terrain. Stemming between the groove crack to his right and the crack on his left he moved up the section placing cams judiciously on the difficult ground. Somewhere about 2/3 of the way up the cracks he had an inkling he was going to send this pitch. The older climber panted heavily as he labored to jam the crack to a stance where he would be forced to make the crux face moves right. From this stance he knew that easier ground was just 10 feet right of where he was. Buoyed by his success in jamming the cracks he surveyed the face to his right noting the sloping placements for his feet. No edges just slight changes in the angle of the face, which would allow him to friction across the steep face. He stepped out with his right foot and carefully let his left hand ease his body right as he slid that left hand out a rounded corner. His right hand searched for the best available texture to palm. Matching feet and stepping right again was the move. Gingerly he matched then moved his right foot onto another sloper then let his body move fluidly to the right onto that foot and allowing him to just reach the corner. Now through the hardest moves he pulled himself into a layback, up around a small roof and onto the belay stance. Barely able to contain himself he whooped even through his panting. He had just lead his hardest lead in the canyon yet and he was thrilled. How wise his young charge was and he smiled as he realized how true his earlier words were.
The young climber moved slowly but continuously through the pitch. He was out of sight for much of the pitch and the older climber could only judge his progress as he belayed rope in. When the lad arrived at the stance his face was strained and he too was short of breathe. Between large wheezing inhales he exclaimed on what an incredible lead it had been and how glad he was to have not had to lead that pitch. The older climbers pride expanded with the recognition and his sense of joy in the act of climbing was at a high.
The younger climber was faced with another slightly easier but still challenging pitch that lead to easier terrain. Something of a flaring corner it required more technique than shear strength. He started up and quickly ran out of gas and had to take as he tried unsuccessfully to force the pitch using face holds. He gathered himself for another assault only to be forced to take again just a few feet higher. And so it went until he reached the top of that section and easier terrain. He commented flat out on how difficult the pitch had been for him and how he was running low on energy. The older climber offered that a little different technique would likely produce a much different result in energy expended. And so they continued each acknowledging in the other a sharing of energy and strength, which at the end of the day created that bond which partners are made of. The qualities of companionship, trust and expectation, which come together on rock to create a synergy of effort flowed through them that day and left each of them a little richer.
The last pitch the older climber insisted the younger climber lead knowing the sense of accomplishment, relief and joy that he would have as his own for the short time before the older climber arrived at that last stance. As the young climber disappeared toward the canyon rim the older climber saw the reeling ravens, heard the sound of water coming up from far below and smiled for he too had his solitude.
|By J. Thompson |
From denver, co
Jan 21, 2009
Knowing only too well what can happen in the most benign looking of pockets of snow.
The older climber used the opportunity to point out the various climbs as a way of controlling the pace.
You probably have one of the greatest example's of a
"benign" pocket of snow turning bad.
...don't think I don't know what's going on everytime we go into the canyon and you point those same climb's out....you old fart.
...since I got it back I'm no longer pissed about that cam!
Next week...the desert?
|By Shane Neal |
From Colorado Springs, CO.
Jan 21, 2009
Great topic and stories!
I have one- and since I am a SLOOOOW typer, I'll just give the cliff notes....
My partner and I, in our "greener" climbing days, went to do Lauren's arete as a moderate Black intro. It was our first hike in, climb out adventure. One we definitely underestimated...... The SOB descent was quite exhausting.
After finally finding the start, after a well needed rest, we got going. Being less than vertical, route finding was a challenge. Not to mention the rock quality not great either. We were well past midday, only 3-4 pitches up and knew we wouldnt beat the dark and thus chose to bail, assuming hiking out would be faster. Ooops!
The hike up SOB was figgin insane! We ran out of h20 early, and the steepness was nuts. We then passed a deer carcass-- it had slipped scrambling, getting its hoove caught in a crack better than a stuck nut, and died hanging there. A crazy sight and not too encouraging....lol. However, we pressed on.
We reached the rim just after dark, sore, parched and scratched to hell. Our sleeping bags were a heavenly sight! lol
So, we very well learned, the Black is not the south Platte, and to be much, Much more prepared in the next attempt.
I havent been back yet....!!! But I can hear the canyon calling my name.....
p.s. skinny dipping in the Gunnison causes sever shrinkage!!!!! Beware :)