Tuesday, May 30, 2017

RRG Memorial Day Weekend

Three day weekends are the best.  A huge group of Planet Rock families were in the Red for the weekend, which made this more of a social weekend than usual.  And for whatever reason, I don't think I got a single photo of a kid climbing this weekend.


We spent Saturday by revisiting Chaos Wall and neighboring Serenity Point.  These are nice spots for groups like this, as there are routes across a huge range of difficulty. We kicked things off on Lithuanian Princess (5.10a), which just gets more fun every time you climb it.  Ana managed to take what I think was her first pretty long outdoor lead fall off of it.

We followed up with Spider Monkey (5.11b) again.  Sam redpointed it on the first go.  I didn't quite onsight last time we tried it (pulled the crux then realized I didn't have any quickdraws!), and I blew it pulling around the roof this time.  By the second attempt later in the day I was a bit too tired to pull it off.  This one is still frustratingly unsent.

Leo in the zone at MFRP

I fell on Die with a blessing (5.10d) last fall, but this year managed to send it without any trouble on top rope.  It may be 5.10d, but it's much more technical than your average RRG route, with lots of tiny footholds and long moves off of small underclings.

We all climbed Dyslexics Untie! (5.7), a fun little romp up the wall.

Around the corner at Serenity Point, Sam climbed a few harder routes with teammates while Ana and I were finishing up at Chaos.  Right at the end of the day we got on Dancing Queen (5.10b) and it completely kicked my butt.  I chickened out at the 2nd bolt and decided to stick clip my way to the top. Kind of a typical RRG slab, with thin crimps and small edges for feet.  The route was a bit slick with condensation and wasn't chalked up and felt silly hard for the grade.  I'd love to come back on a dry day and see if it's anywhere near as miserable as it was.

A thunderstorm struck was I was nearing the top, which was our cute to pack it in and hike out.  The drive to dinner was a bit of an ordeal with pouring rain and a downed tree in the road that needed to be cleared away.

Sunday, we went to Drive By again.  Sam took the first crack at Whip Stocking (5.11a).  We'd wanted to get this one back in March, but weather conspired against us.  It was worth the wait. An incredibly fun 80 feet of overhung climbing on great holds with a pair of sit down rests to break it up made it very doable.  Sam made the chains but didn't send it cleanly, getting a bit psyched out by the somewhat long runs between bolts, especially for someone his height.  For once I climbed better than him and got my 5.11 onsight (kid beta is not beta!) for the weekend.
Whip Stocking new camera selfie

Sam and I followed up with Breakfast Burrito (5.10d).  This is a RRG five star classic that deserves all its stars.  The fantastic climbing up to an alcove with a sit down rest would be worth doing on its own, but from here you make one of the best single moves in the RRG.  In order to make the next clip, you have to lean out over the abyss, grab a hold and swing back out onto the face of the climb, making a blind reach for a huge hold right of the next clip.  Sam spent 15 minutes staring at the move before he got up the courage to go for it.  When my turn came around, it was just as scary as I remembered.  Last year I grabbed the wrong hold and took the big 20+ foot fall.  This year I got the route without any trouble.

Sam resting after successfully making THE MOVE on Breakfast Burrito
Back by Whip Stocking, we all took turns on Deeper is Better (5.10b).  At the end of a miserable rainy day earlier this year, the route felt very hard on top rope.  This time leading it was all fun and games.  Once you're past the slightly technical crux at the 2nd bolt, the route is a classic overhung 5.10 jug ladder.  

Ida burrito

I led Make a Wish (5.10b) to clean someone's draws off.  A decent route with a few interesting moves, but nothing as memorable as the rest of the wall.

Finally, we went down to the deep end of the wall.  Sam and some other kids took turns working on Easy Rider (5.13a), the sort of route I'll probably never even bother getting on.  A hundred feet of overhung amphitheater climbing.  He fell a few times, but by his second or third run up the wall was getting to the point where he'd clear the (kid) crux.  It sure seemed like the route was doable for him.  We'll be back for him to work on this a bit more...he really wants a 5.13.

Waiting his turn on Easy Rider

Sunday night was fun until the end.  Ana had a tick.  Leo had one (found in the morning).  Ida spent 2 hours crying herself to sleep.

Monday, we revisited Left Flank.  We warmed up on Face Up to That Crack, a particularly thoughtful 5.8 slab with a long runout that gets protected with a #1 and #2 cam (as close as we got to trad for the weekend).  No hard moves, but the slightly damp rock without many chalk ticks and slabby falls made for slow, careful climbing.

Sam took off to go work on Wild, Yet Tasty (5.12a) with friends, leaving the rest of us to do our thing.  Ana and I got on Hen-ry! (5.11b).  I didn't have a good time.  Slabby, technical climbing with decent feet but super small crimps.   I chickened out and stick clipped my way to the penultimate bolt rather than taking lead falls on the slab.  Glad I did, because I popped off 3 times at the crux, then took a big swinging fall leading to the chains and tweaked my ankle.

Ana made it look 10x better.  She didn't quite get it clean, but no doubt she'd get it on the next go.

The clock struck noon and we packed it up and headed for home.

On the hike back to the real world

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

RRG Weekend: Sam's 10th

Sam is 10.  Wow.

We woke up on Saturday and decided to head to Tower Rock for something a little different.

We started on Arachnid (5.8 trad).  The route is a beautiful crack up the inside of a dihedral, out under a roof with a rail for hands, and continuing up the dihedral in an offwidth.  I was a little uncomfortable with just doubles of #1's in the first crack and wound up messing around with gear trying to feel like I had enough in.   No clean send on this one first time around.

Eventually, with a #1 near the top of the first section, and a #2 at the top top, I was comfortable moving right out under the roof (bomber #4 half way), a brown tricam in a horizontal crack below and slightly right of the offwidth section at the end of the roof and then a #6 at the bottom of the offwidth.

I started up the offwidth and got a #3 in after about 6 feet, but the rope had slipped into the crack and dislodged the #6 (the crack flared inward a lot and the rope pushed it into the void). In the future I'd try to keep the rope from getting in there by laying back on the offwidth, or place a second piece in the lower horizontal placements.  Just before the top I threw a #5 cam in a huge constriction in a totally awesome "passive" placement.

I lowered off.  Sam sent it easily.  Ana got up without any difficulty.   I took another run up it on toprope to clean the anchors and enjoy the movement without any of the gear clutter (and to free a #2 that walked into a crack high up).  Lovely climbing.

Gear/beta notes for next time: 3x #1s up to 3 feet below the roof, #2 at the upper left on a double runner, #4 on a single runner half way out the roof, brown tricam on a single runner in the horizontal, #6 in the offwidth, lay back to keep the rope out of the crack, #3 and #2, then whatever is left to use as a chock in the "nest" as Sam called it.  Might get another cam in the horizontal and do something tricky to try to pull the rope right and avoid letting it get in the crack.  There are good feet the whole way. Use them.

After that, we wandered over to the "you have to do it once" climb, Caver's Route ("5.3" trad).  Ida had to sit this one out, so Ana waited below.

The route ascends a series of chimneys and passages through a huge pinnacle of rock.  Five pitches (depending on how you count), one lonely bolt and very sparse protection.

P1 starts at the base of a crack that's too narrow to enter and too wide to use for much.  You go up a 20 foot face with no protection to a belay ledge.  I led and belayed Sam and Leo up in turn.  Leo freaked out half way up and needed some cajoling to get to the top.  A guy from a group that had just finished the route said "Uh, if he's scared there, uh, it gets a lot worse".

I gave him the option of lowering off (his first "last chance") but he was so thrilled to have made it to the ledge that he was game for anything.  Wild swings of emotion are fundamental to the Leo experience.

For P2, Sam belayed me.  The crack that started down below widens to roughly shoulder width and you get inside.  I built an anchor to keep Sam from getting pulled to far upward if I took a fall.  The only protection is a single bolt 30+ feet up above, so it's a stressful 30 feet.  Back to the wall, feet on the other (or one foot below you), and shove your way up.  A fall before clipping the bolt was really unlikely but would have been a dramatic end to the day.  Then another few feet to a ledge on the side of the crack.  I got to the top, built another anchor, and belayed up the boys.

Leo went second. He had another (completely rational) freak out, crying that he wanted to go home.  He froze up and  I thought we were done.  Sam, bless him, started singing a repetitive song about the steps you take to climb a chimney.  Leo calmed down made it to the top.

After he got to belay, I pressed him to quit (now it was really, really the last change) but getting to the ledge was another major victory, so he was SUPER EXCITED to keep going. Sam climbed up and we had a look at P3.

P3 is a scramble up a series of boulders wedged deeper inside the shoulder width crack system we'd been using.  The crack eventually gets a roof on top and becomes a narrow cave.  From there you're staring at a boulder wedged in the crack.  You crawl up over it and then...down toward a hole that allegedly leads out into another chimney on the other side of the pinnacle.  It's described in one guide as a "birth canal".

This part wasn't as tight as I thought it would be, but it was intense.  You're crawling on chockstones caught in the crack, so there are holes in the floor all over.  Eventually you pass through a hole maybe 2 feet across and emerge into a cave-ish area you can stand up in.  I took a photo looking back at ropes trailing into the dark (hopefully with alive boys on the end).  Having a flash photo does no justice to how dark it was.

Leo had a huge freak out again, crying as he crawled through the dark, worried about spiders and falling through the floor.  Sam patiently talked him through on his end until he could see me.  When he emerged and was so relieved that he was bubbling over with energy.  Sam popped out in a jiffy.

And then Sam and I did an "oh wow, this sucks" assessment of the next part.  A lot of climbs have a "no turning back now" point that can feel overwhelming.  This was that, but with more claustrophobia.  I wanted to cry.

P4 is the money pitch.  You're on the other side of the pinnacle, inside what I think is a different crack in the rock.  It's open to the outside on the far end, but that's 20-30 lateral feet away and you can't get to it because it narrows so much.  It's DARK.  The climbing route is maybe 50-70 feet of squeeze chimney that goes up at bit of a traversing angle past some boulders caught in the crack.  There's light up there.  Aim for that.

The trick is to find the route that's wide enough. It's so narrow that I had to leave most of my gear with Sam and just took some tricams and a couple large nuts.  In most spots you can't turn your head.  In spots I couldn't take a deep breath.  I got one nut in, but it's essentially unprotected.  The rope is useless on lead.  That's fine, sort of. In a fall l I'd have wedged in place or just lost speed through the friction of my flesh grinding off. It's dark.

Grope around for something to push or pull on and aim for the light.  Go up a foot, get your chest stuck, go down six inches and over six inches, go up a foot, get stuck, etc.  Emerge through the floor of a 20 foot wide arched room, open at each end of the arch, with a crack up the middle of the roof that leads to the summit.

I got to the top and set up an anchor to belay up the boys, Leo first.

He spent the next 10 minutes crying without really moving. At one point I shouted down "Sam, how far has he made it?!"  Sam grunted out "HE'S STILL STANDING ON MY SHOULDERS".

After 30 minutes of cajoling, he got up and was SUPER pumped again. He also had to pee real bad.  Sam came up after some minor rope management shenanigans and we contemplated the last pitch.

P5 is technically the hardest but there's daylight so it doesn't seem so bad.  To get up to the chimney crack that leads to the summit you have to get on a ledge about 5-10 feet off the floor, traverse along the ledge about 15 feet to where the crack narrows, then you put feet on one wall, back on the other, and scooch up until you get to the top.  Maybe 25 vertical feet off the floor.  There's some protection along the traverse, but realistically it's useless. A fall would be another bad game of pachinko.

I made it up.  Leo followed.  He had a terrible time.  He couldn't get up to the ledge.  Sam had to swap ends of the rope with him, make sure he was tied in safe, re-route the rope so Leo could go straight up toward me rather than do the ledge traverse, then I had to pull him up until he could get into the crack. The photo looking down at him is when he'd gotten half way.  Eventually he emerged triumphant and giddy.

Sam, again, had no trouble.

We got the summit photos, and wandered around looking for the bolted anchor.  I was able to lower them both to the ground, then rappelled twice (the second time off a less awesome wrap of metal cable around a tree).

Five pitches over 4 hours, half of it in the dark.  Leo went through his full range of highs and lows (and that's saying something) and emerged victorious and super happy.

Here we were on his birthday trip, and it turned into something all about getting Leo up this insane route.  Weirdly appropriate.

If you'd asked me when Sam was born where we'd be at the decade mark?  Not here.

It's only because Sam is who he is that we're able to go out and do stuff that really should be impossible with kids.  They used to call him "the professor" in daycare, he was so serious. When things get hard he turns into bedrock.

Sam was the best partner and brother I can imagine, easily handling the life-and-death technical bits and guiding his brother through scary hardship with his typical compassion.

It's a rare thing to feel like your 10 year old kid has your back, but that's just who he is.  It's such a privilege having him in our lives.

Also, Ana.  Wow. Sitting around for 4 hours listening to Leo's howls of misery coming from somewhere high and dark up above. I would have been a complete wreck.

We finished the day at the Rockhouse and crashed in the tent at Linda's.  There was quite a bit of frog appreciation going on down at the pond, but I was way too tired to partake.

On Sunday we went to Phantasia so Sam could take a crack at Twinkie (5.12a).  It starts on a nearly vertical slab and then gets insanely overhung for the next 50 feet.  It's beautiful, and super intimidating from the ground.

Sam got about 3 bolts into the roof section and decided he was scared to go for the next bolt (amazing it took that long).   I went up (with no warmup...probably a mistake).  After falling off the start twice (beta note: next time traverse/campus the hand ledge from right to left, high step and use the side pulls), I got the 4th roof bolt.  After a couple whips going for the next one, and feeling pretty tired to begin with, we called it.  I left a bail biner (a first) and went through the agony of cleaning this thing.

Two days later, I'm still sore from some combination of Caver's route, attempting Twinkie on cold muscles or (just as likely) the effort of getting my gear off when we bailed.

Finally, Sam and I went and did one last route.  We'd hoped to get on Overlord (our first clean send of a 5.10b, back in Fall of 2015) but it was taken.  We got on Lord of the Flies (5.9), while the rest of the gang hung out at the other end of the wall.  We'd climbed it before.  It's a dull route, but the company was nice.  It's fun being able to just go off with Sam and climb as a pair.

By the time we finished it was 12:45.  Ana was sick, everyone was tired and it was hot.  We packed it in and were home, with the car most unpacked and eating pizza by 8.

And that brings us up to 20 days and 62 routes for the first four months of year.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Spring Break, Day 6: Left Flank

Due back in Michigan that evening, we decided to spend a chilly Friday morning at Left Flank wall.  Nobody was feeling like climbing particularly hard, which is good, because To Defy the Laws of Tradition (5.10a) felt damn pretty difficult to me.

Sam got up without a fall.  Whether it was the polished/wet/cold rock or just being freaked out by the low crux moves with Sam belaying me, I had to hang once or twice on the way up to figure things out.  At no point did I feel particularly great.  Seemed like a lot of work and no joy.  But people love this thing, and I'll probably come back to this at some point and climb it and wonder why I had trouble the first time.

Fast Food Christians (5.10a), on the other hand, was more fun.  Interesting start followed by super easy climbing on an edgy slab.  A very slightly harder version of the easy slabs at Roadside.

With cold weather, places to be and a grumpy Leo we packed it in and headed home after a week of solid climbing.  Up to our 18th day and 58th route of 2017!

Spring Break, Day 5: ROCK WARS!

The weather hit on Thursday.  Temps dropped and the day was drizzly and gross.  Ida spent a solid 15 minutes just staring out at the grey drear.

Most of the Michigan crew decided to take the day off.  We headed out to do some rainy day trad.  It turned out the the best day of the trip.

We initially planned to head to Tower Rock and get Arachnid, Africa and Caver's Route (the Red's oldest climb).  Mike suggested we try Rock Wars.  Normally 5.10a is beyond my trad comfort zone, but I was promised a route that's closer to sport climbing than most trad routes.

After a treacherously muddy hike up to the cliff (past a big band of limestone, of all things) we got to the base of the route.  Wow.

The climbing line is really well defined, right up a 80 foot flake.  On either side the sandstone is a beautiful uniform color and there's just enough of an inside corner to make the wall completely fill your visual field.  The thing just begs to be climbed.  It's also pretty intimidating looking.

Without any gear beta, I just racked up with everything, which is a comically huge load...

... and got to work.

The route was deceptively easy through the bottom half.  Expecting it to get harder at any moment, I put in way, way more protection than I needed.  Doing it over, I'd place half as many pieces in the bottom half.

After pulling around the lip just ahead, things got VERY blank for about 10 feet.  The feet ran out and it was nothing but a fingertip wide crack until the ledge.  There were some face holds, but they were a bit slick to make much use of with the day's wet weather.


Above the ledge things felt every bit of 5.10 until getting to the anchors.  Bad feet and a bit of an awkward angle.   I wound up resting on the gear a couple of times while I figured out where the hell to put my feet.  Clipping the anchors felt REALLY good.

Sam toproped it, no problem.

Ana led it on my gear and placed some of her own for practice.  She put in a terrible 0.1 X4 placement that popped when she rested on it, but by that point we had so much metal in the crack it was no big deal.  Still kind of a sickening feeling having gear pull.

After that, Sam led the thing and placed even more gear.  By the time we were finished we had placed ALL my cams and most of my nuts.  30 placements.  Best photo of the day here:

Just your average 9 year old kid leading a 5.10 trad route

With the rest of the routes on the wall all some degree of wet, we decided to quit while we were ahead and made the slippery trek back down to the car.  We'll definitely be back to this area, though, as there are at least another half dozen 'easy' routes worth serious attention here.

Spring Break, Day 4: Muir

Wednesday was one of those flawless spring days that you dream about and that reminds you to show up even if the weather report is iffy.  Instead of the predicted tornados and hail, we got blue skies and lots of friction.

We flew through Muir Valley on Wednesday and climbed at four different walls.  Sam took a crack at Bathtub Mary (5.11a), but was too short to make the crux moves at the bottom on the first try, then flubbed a bunch of stuff near the anchors and took some solid falls.

But at least he hung the draws and scouted out where the best jugs were.  I flashed it without much trouble, which was a nice ego boost.  This climb had a bit of everything: nice technical crux down low, pocketed moderate stuff in the middle, a big rest and then an overhung jug haul to the top.  Having a huge sit down rest in the big hueco to let my heartrate settle made the upper part a whole lot easier.

Mom made a good showing and cruised through what felt like the crux at the start, but steeply overhung stuff isn't typically her jam and she didn't make the anchors.  One fall on toprope and you swing so far out that it's almost impossible to get back on.

Next up was Air Ride Equipped (5.11a), the easiest route at Solarium and an absolute gem.  The hardest part of this thing was just getting established.  The starting moves are pretty solid, but after that the grade felt a bit soft (not complaining).  Once Sam figured out how to get on, he had no trouble making it his first onsight.  I flashed it without much trouble. It's SERIOUSLY overhung, but a pair of great sit-down rests and some of Sam's beta made it a cake walk.

We've been playing around with the Edelrid Ohm, a device that sits on the first bolt and acts as a "resistor" (hahah) in the rope system.  It's got a little V slot that bites the rope when the climber falls, adding loads of extra friction.  In our brief experience with it, Sam (70lbs) was able to belay me (180lbs) very well.  I haven't taken a big lead fall on it yet, but with shorter falls he'll get lifted six inches off his feet instead of being pulled all the way to the first draw.  It adds enough friction that he has to actively shove rope into the grigri to lower me. Still, leading with a 9 year old on the other end still feels a little intense even if he's a very experienced little partner at this point...

Feeling a little tired, we didn't get on Banshee (5.11c) in spite of it coming very highly recommended. Instead we headed over to Front Porch wall where Leo got on a 25 foot 5.4 sport route (grandma's rocker, IIRC) and led that thing like a champ without even bothering with a helmet because he's that kind of hardman.

Still expecting rain, we decided to finish up the day at Bruise Brothers, probably the single busiest wall in the Red most weekends.  On a week day, it's a great way to quickly bang out a bunch of fun 5.10 routes.  We got on Rat Stew (5.10a), Critters on the Cliff (5.10d) and Workin' for the Weekend (5.10c).

Workin' for the Weekend was the only 5.10 at the wall we hadn't done before and was definitely worth the trip.  I've watched people take a LOT of awkward falls on the crux of this route so I was pleased that the thing flowed really nicely and didn't put up too much of a fight.  Nice to feel like you're starting to get the hang of things.

Spring Break Day 3: Bonzo, Snake, Calypso I

Tuesday's forecast was beautiful, and most of the Ann Arbor gang decided to head to Fortress Wall, one of the largest trad climbing walls in the Red.  After Ida had finished her morning wander, we hit the road.

With so many hands on hand to help handle Ida, we were able to sneak in a rare multi-pitch climb.  Hobbs, Sam and I got on Bedtime for Bonzo (5.6), which had been on my to-do list for the last year.  I took one end of the rope, Hobbs the other end, and Sam tied himself in 10 feet in front of the follower and the two seconds climbed together (really only a good idea on a route this easy).

I led the first pitch.  Hobbs got the harder 2nd pitch.  After getting to the ledge at the top, you walk around a corner and into a hallway where you belay the leader for P2.  Someone disconcertingly, a rotten 12 inch thick tree had fallen over the top of the corridor, with one end supported only by a couple of branches about as big as my forearm.  You had to climb past it, trying not to jostle the thing.  If the branches broke, the thing would come crashing down into the belay area.  Fun.

The second pitch was fantastic.  You come up a dihedral that makes up one end of the corridor, which feels very safe and enclosed.  Then you traverse left with hands in a big horizontal shelf.  A few seconds later you come out of this safe feeling start and are WAY high up on a cliff face with nothing around you.  Amazing exposure.  An easy horizontal crack system leads you right to the top and an awesome view.

We rapped off the back side of Bonzo and found ourselves at the base of an easy pitch of trad climbing that wasn't in the guide.  Probably 5.3 or so.  Sam led it and set up a top rope for Leo.

After cleaning our gear, we headed back to the base of some climbs we'd done before.  Hobbs and I took turns leading Snake (5.8), a personal favorite that features a short section of really fun/awkward offwidth about a third of the way up.  It was much, much easier this time around, especially with that big #5 cam to shove in the top half of the wide part.

Leo on the start of Snake last summer

We ended the day on  Calypso I (5.7), a route I hadn't tried before but which was really fantastic.  I'd never even looked at the climb in the past, turned off by the description of the start as being a scary unprotected 20 feet up to a ledge.  Turns out it was an easy series of big blocks I'd have been comfortable climbing before I was a climber.  Super relaxed climb up a flake with great hands the whole way.  Probably easier than Calypso II and III (5.6 and 5.5).  I fell pretty hard on a .75 C4 last year on the former when I slipped.

A stray dog had shown up at the campground and made trouble all week.  Ida spent the entire evening shouting (I think) WHERE "ARE YOU DOG? ARE YOU DOG?"

That evening he was hanging out in a tent with this 12 year old who got a freekin' 5.14c (Lucifer) later that week.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Spring Break, Day 2: Oompa, Loompa and Glass Elevator

After a long first day of the trip, especially the couple of laps I ran on that damn offwidth, I was feeling pretty beat up on Monday morning. Drizzly, dreary weather meant we wouldn't be climbing very hard.  It was a perfect day for a rest day.

We've visited the Chocolate Factory in PMRP four times.  Every time I've been in need of a rest.  And every time I get on Oompa (5.10a) and Loompa (5.10c).  And every time they completely kick my butt.

These are the pair the kids warm up on before they wander off to go hurl themselves at hard stuff farther down the cliff.  Both routes are fairly overhung, without many holds to hang below and rest up. It's side pulls, body tension and positioning, and smart footwork all the way up.  I don't think I've ever gotten one of them without resting on the rope or hanging for a moment to scope out a sequence of moves.

On the plus side, Ana got up Oompa for the first time, so at least one of us was making forward progress.

I had more fun on The Glass Elevator (5.10d) to the left of Oompa.  It's a similar style of climbing on even smaller holds, but for whatever reason it didn't make me want to give up and cry.  I got up this on top rope without much fuss, in spite of the fact that it's the hardest of the three routes there.

By this point the team kids had finished up with the silly hard stuff, so we wandered over to the Motherlode.  It's an insanely overhung cliff face full of 5.12+ routes, but had so much condensation on the rock that it was virtually unclimbable.  After watching kids slide off greasy holds for an hour, we packed it in and went back to camp.