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 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.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Spring break, day 1: Chaos and Serenity

 Spring break started with a local climbing comp in Madison Heights. The comp only counts in terms of participation (you need to attend two to qualify for regionals) and Sam completely half-assed the thing.  He climbed two routes and we left 1/4 of the way through so we could get out and climb some real rock.  Good boy.  I used my 25% "team kid parent" discount to grab an absolutely gigantic #6 camalot (more on that later!).  Then we went home, grabbed the rest of the family, and pointed the truck south.

Sunday morning was gorgeous, and we decided to head to the much more recently developed Miller Fork to climb somewhere a bit quieter than the more popular crags. We started the day at Chaos Wall where I had a couple routes I wanted to tick.  Big plans for the #6, especially.

We warmed up on Dyslexics Untie! (5.7) with Sam leading it.  It's nothing special, though I have fond memories of watching a pair of morons walking through cleaning and rappelling off the route last year.  Rapping is the scariest part of climbing, and these guys made it quite the show...

"What do I do now!?"


"Ok! Done!"


"What safety tether?!"

It was at this point we stepped in and started talking the guy through it before his buddy got him killed.

We followed up with Lithuanian Princess (5.10a), which is fantastic.  Huge, solid holds on steep overhung line.  A distinctly RRG type of climb.  Easy 5.10 gym climbing moves, but you definitely get a burn in the forearms from the overhang.  Fun to listen to strong climbers from other parts of the country climbing. Sweetbabyjesusthisissteep...

Meanwhile, Ida was having her own adventures.

Suitably warmed up, Sam and I took a couple cracks at Spider Monkey (5.11b).  This line was damp and dirty last year, but has cleaned up quite a bit.  You get about 25 feet of solid bouldering up and along almost horizontal cave roof before the crux-y transition out of the cave and onto the more vertical face.  Past this point the climb turns into a 5.8 walk to the anchors.  We clipped the first bolt (out on the face, so it's basically a useless gesture until you get about 2/3 of the way up the cave roof because you'll swing straight into the dirt) and borrowed a crash pad.  Sam hopped on and got very, very close to completing the cave but wasn't able to see the pocket he needed to hit.  We did a bit of "no sam, it's 2 inches higher!  reach for it!" but he eventually popped off.

My turn, and I cruised through the cave and made the first move up onto the roof.  I struggled through the crux and was feeling super relieved to be on solid ground.  I got up to the second bolt feeling great and...realized Sam still had all the quickdraws on his harness and I had to lower off.

We eventually got to the top, but were too pooped to do it without falls.  Worth coming back for, though!

I'd bought that big cam for our next target, Broken Dreams (5.8 trad), a perfect 20-25 foot offwidth nestled in the corner of a dihedral.  No face holds to speak of until you're at least 20 feet up and can get the shallow ledge/pocket on the right.  The landing down below is brutal, with a
couple narrow ledges to bounce on.   I've never done one like this, and offwidths have a bit of a reputation, but I figured I was pretty safe anyway.  My #5 was just big enough to fit the crack without being on the tip of the cam lobes and the #6 was as bombproof as cams can be.  I'd just walk the two cams up, over my head, easy peasy.

Oof.  The crack was just a little too narrow to get my leg into, but not narrow enough to get a foot placement.  Instead of going up the crack, I had to grab the edge, lay back, and put my feet on the left face.  This was ok, but it was strenuous.  Constant tension was needed to keep my feet glued down. Oh, and it meant my head was way off to the right and I couldn't see my cam placements.

Half way up, the crack widened just enough that the #5 became very iffy, but at least I could get my leg in the crack and see what I was doing.   I left the #5 in place and bumped the huge #6 way up over my head and hung from it on the rope.

I wanted to find a place for the #5 because it was useless down below me at this point and I'd need to move the #6 one more time to get to the top without exposing myself to a potential ground fall as I mantled onto the ledge.

Trying to find a place to get the #5 next to the #6, I put a long alpine draw between my harness and the #6 so I could hang directly on the cam.  They allowed us to put enough slack in the rope to remove the #5 and fiddle with it.  I'd just broken rule #1 and was hanging off a single piece of gear (albeit one that was essentially bombproof) in a situation where a fall would have broken my legs.  I found a barely acceptable placement for the #5, clipped the rope to it and inched upward.  Two pieces!  Yay!

I grabbed the #6 cam and unclipped the sling that had been holding me to it, leaving the rope in place...or so I thought.  About 2 feet over the #6, I reached down for the #5 and brought it up to find it a new home.  Nothing.  It was totally useless.  At this point Ana informs me the #6 has come out.

What?  I looked down and the #6 is dangling from a sling.  Instead of unclipping the sling from the cam, I'd spaced out and unclipped the rope, leaving myself connected to the cam via a dyneema (strong as steel, but completely inelastic) sling. As I'd climbed past, I'd dragged the cam upward and out of the wall.

And this was the "good" outcome of my mistake.  The cam hadn't rotated and had instead been pulled in such a way that it slid out.  If it had rotated the cam would have stuck fast when the sling went taught and I'd have factor 2'd on a dyneema sling, potentially screwing up my internal organs or breaking the sling or the cam.

As it was, I was 15 or 20 feet up, hanging off a knee barely wide enough to stick in the crack, with zero protection. The only "right" thing I did the whole climb was keep my shit together, carefully reach down to get the #6, put it in the wall, and make myself safe.

(For future reference, a #2 and #1 fit side by side in the pocket up there and would probably hold a fall)

Huge screwup.  Huge, huge, huge.  Biggest one I've made, by far.  There are a lot of takeaways here, but mostly it comes down to not getting on climbs unless you've got more than enough gear to do them safely.  This one requires a pair of #6s to lead, as the comments on the online guide say.  Climbing, especially on gear, is no place for hubris.  I've got enough trad climbs under my belt that I've lost a little bit of the rational fear that helps keep you safe.  Lesson learned: stay scared.

Anyway, after that we climbed Slabalicious (5.10c) on toprope by walking to the anchors along the ledge at the top of Broken Dreams.  Really fantastic slab with marginal feet and a cool crux that has you doing weird stuff with one hand on the arete at the right and the other on tiny ridges. It was damp and nobody sent without a fall, but we'll be back for this one.

All climbing is good climbing

It looked like the weekend of March 18th was going to offer up some good climbing.  It rained a bit on the drive down on Friday, but cleared up overnight.  Unfortunately, we woke up on Saturday to some pretty rotten weather...

The rain let up around 10am, but by this point there was a lot of water on the ground.  The highpoint of the weekend was following Ida around the field at Linda's.

Any rock exposed to the weather was soaked.  The rock was cold from the weather the week before, so even the overhung climbs were damp with condensation.  We headed to Drive-By crag and got on some of the popular 5.10 routes, but even those were pretty treacherous.

I'd gotten on Fire and Brimstone (5.10d) last year and sent it on the first go, but the sloping side pulls that get you up the wall were covered in slick chalk slime and I had to sit on the rope a few times to find new beta to get me through.  Ana got it on top rope without much fuss.  Sam bailed off without even getting to the top.  A shame, because toward the top is one of the best rests in the Red: a huge chunk of rock juts out of the face and forms a perfect saddle to sit on.

A Wave New World (5.10c) is a bit stiff for the grade, with a pretty beta-intensive crux move that feels solidly 5.11a on a good day.  I almost got the redpoint, but couldn't latch the crimp on my first go.  None of us sent it cleanly, but given that it threw off some much stronger climbers, I didn't feel too bad about it.

We hung out for a bit waiting for things to dry off.  Wanting to get my 5.11 for the weekend (my goal going in was to flash 5.11 every trip this year...) we wandered Whip-Stocking.  There was a line, so Sam led Deeper is Better (5.10b) next to it and got it without much trouble after a fall on the 2nd bolt.  I top roped it and by the time I lowered off was not feeling up for anything much harder.  The overhang on even easy routes in the Red takes its toll...

We'd never explored the far right of the cliff and decided to get on Mud on the Rug (trad, 5.6).  On a dry day this would probably have been a lot of fun, but I felt shaky the whole way up and the gear placement toward the top had me putting cams in what felt like relatively chossy stuff.  Hundreds of pounds of outward force generated by a cam in a fall can rip big flakes free and send them earthward. Given that almost every close call we've had while climbing has involved rock or gear falling off the cliff, I decided not to risk it. Instead of going up and topping out, I traversed out to the anchors of the 5.10a sport route next door and lowered off 15 feet early.

A nice dinner at the Rock House that evening felt much deserved.

Sunday morning was a bit drier feeling, so we headed to the Zoo.  I'd forgotten that getting to the cliff involved crossing a wide stream.  Everyone took different paths.  Ana went back downstream to find some rocks to cross.  Sam found a tree trunk to shimmy over, but it looked a little hard for Leo.  I decided to ditch shoes and wade across with Leo across.

First I had to schlep our bags and the clip stick over.  Then I'd return for Leo.  In retrospect I should have done it in one heavy push.  The water was moving fast and so outrageously cold that by the time I made it to the opposite side to drop my bag I was in what felt like the most excruciating pain of my life.  I thought I was going to collapse in the middle of the river but managed to make it. After a breather, I went back for Leo and collapsed on the bank.  After a short bout of screaming and crying, I hauled him over.  Everyone thought I was exaggerating about my discomfort. I was not.

I'd played around on Edgehog (5.11a) in April last year. I did all the moves, so I figured it'd be a good candidate for a send this year.  Plus, it's one that's so utterly blank that unlocking all the moves on teeny tiny ridges feels like a superhuman feat.  Any fit non-climber can brute force up most 5.10+/5.11- routes with lots of falls and lots of resting, but this one is different.  It's a really technique intensive piece of rock.  All core tension, precise feet and tiny crimps.

With the moisture and lack of chalk ticks, I wasn't able to find the right line or the friction to get it on the first go and I took pretty jarring fall.  By the time I finished it, my aching middle finger A2 pulley was telling me not to take another run at it.  Next time!

Ana made the chains after a couple falls.

Sam sent it clean on top rope.  Kid is getting pretty damn good...

Cold and wet, it was time to pack it in and get home.

Monday, April 10, 2017

RRG opening weekend

March started off with lovely weather on the first weekend so it was time to get back home to the Red for a couple of days.  We loaded up the truck and hit the road after school.  We rolled into Linda's around 10:30 and had camp set up by 11:30.  Not bad for the first trip of the 'official' season.

With great weather and a jump on the peak season rush, we headed straight for the Gallery, which is THE crowd pleaser wall in PMRP.  This thing has something for everyone.

We warmed up on 27 Years of Climbing (5.8), with Sam taking the first lead.  This was his first real outdoor lead last year and is a really delightful piece of rock for the grade.

Suitably warmed up, we got right on the day's goal: Johnny B. Good. The route starts with a pretty easy ~5.8 slab that anyone could climb, and then dives in to about 25 feet of seriously overhung jugs that take you to the anchors.  Sam missed getting an onsight by a hair, mostly due to a fumbled clip, but I managed to flash it thanks to the pre-hung draws.  We pulled the rope and he got the redpoint on his second attempt, his first 5.11 redpoint on lead.

After that, we hopped on Murano (5.10b) and sent it without much fuss.  I can't remember if we've done it before, but it's a fantastic climb with a nice series of insecure slopers on the slab at the top that forces you to do some careful climbing.

We finished the day on Preacher's Daughter (5.11a/b) that I wanted to try in the past, but always got a little intimidated by it.  From the ground it looks pretty blank.  Once you start moving up,  the holds appear, but it doesn't get any less scary.  The bolts are spaced far enough apart that you'll be taking a big ride when you fall.  I was OK until a move high up on the face.  I went left instead of right and found myself hanging on a heel hook at head height, the previous bolt about 7 feet down and a ledge 5 feet below my butt.  I didn't want to slip and clip the ledge with my backside, so I wussed out and pushed off for a nice 20+ foot whip.  After a breather I took a different path and made it to the chains in one piece.  Fun stuff!

I told Sam he'd be better off skipping this one, and he opted to run up A Brief History of Climb (5.10b), which is another classic.  A single hardish move guards the 3rd bolt.  After that, it's a hilariously fun romp up huge holds to the finish.  Ana cleaned it, but I sat this one out.

Finally, we wandered around the corner to Volunteer Wall for the first time, looking for something a bit more Leo friendly.  We found it in First Time, a fun little 5.8 along an arete.  Leo got up with no great fuss.

For her part, Ida started the day strong...

...but ended it looking more than a little tired of the adventure.

On Sunday we headed over to Phantasia and got on Attack of the Sand Shark (trad, 5.9-).  For whatever reason, this style of climb (crack up the inside of a dihedral under a huge roof) is a really common sight in the Red.  Or maybe it's not that common, but people are just drawn to these features because they look cool and stay dry in the rain.  Either way, the big open book with a roof on the top makes the face feel enormous and intimidating when you're standing at the base.  Pictures can't do it any justice.

My first impression is always "that's terrifying.  I can't do that."  After a moment, my focus drifts to the climbing line and the 'weakness' in the face reveals itself, leaving me feeling apprehensively giddy.

I suck at pure crack climbing, so I gave this a whirl trying to make minimal use of the faces.  I was OK until it narrowed to finger width at the top, at which point I started throwing in lots of protection so I could hang out and futz around trying to find the best way through it.  Sam and Ana waltzed up it on top rope by doing the sane thing and stemming the faces the whole way.  Leo made it up the slab to the top of the first ledge without too much fuss.

A fun climb, but probably not one we'll come back to unless we're in the neighborhood. You hear it over and over again in the Red: at most crags this would be classic five star stuff, but it's merely average here.

Ida, for her part, spent a lot of time on this rock. Her horse.

Arrow Canyon

On the drive from Zion to Las Vegas it started to rain.  A lot.  This didn't bode well, as our plan had been to get one more day of climbing at Red Rock under our harness belts before heading home, and it takes at least 48 hours after rain before the rock is dry enough for climbing.  The climbing community doesn't take kindly to people that damage routes due to impatience.

That left us with a couple of options: granite or limestone.  We opted for limestone and made our way about an hour and a half north of the city to Arrow Canyon located on BLM land.

The limestone slot canyon itself was more interesting than the climbing.  About 20-30 feet wide, with dead vertical 150-200 foot walls and more Native American petroglyphs than you could count.  This was worth it as much for the spooky hike as for the climbing.  What I'd give to spend a night camping here...

First up was the aptly named Devil Bush (5.9) which climbed nicely.  We should have read the description more carefully.  I got off without incident, but Ana brushed against the eponymous vegetation and wound up covered in some tenacious leaves that stung when touched and clung to everything fabric.

This was our first time on limestone, and while I know a lot of people revere this stuff (particularly in steep Spanish form), it'd take a lot of getting used to.  The rock was even more smooth and slick than I assumed it would be, forcing you to rely on positive holds, sharper edges and very precise foot placement to avoid sliding off.  None of the security you feel on grippy sandstone.

Our next route was French Roast (5.10a), which had much more security, at the cost of comfort.  I'm not sure what I thought was going on in photos of european sport climbers with blood soaked hands, but I get it now.  Where limestone isn't slick, it's covered in sharp prickles that offer LOTS of friction if you're willing to grit through the pain.  Charming!  Not really an issue at 5.9 or 5.10, but I can't imagine pulling on this stuff in the 5.12 range.

We finished the day with our 25th route of the year, an unlisted 5.10d/5.11a sort of thing across the canyon from a wall of petroglyphs.  Hard pulling to get through the opening followed by a bit of a delicate crux sequence traversing a slick section of blank rock about half way up.  Neat stuff.

As we were leaving, we got a nice reminder to wear helmets and stay out from under climbers when someone pulled a bowling ball sized piece off the top of French Roast.  The sound of the rock hitting the ground in that echoey canyon was pretty impressive.

And with that, we headed back to the Green Valley Ranch casino for one last night.  Ida enjoyed her regal throne, scepter and bunny, secure in the knowledge that she'd have at least a couple of months before getting dragged out on another damned climbing trip.


We did some stuff that wasn't climbing for a whole day!  A whole day!

With that out of our system, we buckled down for Nationals the following day.  Sam wound up finishing in the mid-30's out of 50 in the boys-under-10 category.  Totally respectable for a first showing.  I expect we'll be back...

And with the city stuff out of the way, we got back to outdoorsing.  The following day we woke up early and made the drive down to Zion.  We'd hoped to get some climbing in, but it was wet.  We had to be content with looking at rocks like normal tourists.  Weird.

St George / Prophecy Wall

On our trip up to Salt Lake City, we made a quick stop in St. George to check out the climbing at Prophecy Wall.  What we found was rock that made the stuff at Red Rock Canyon feel bullet hard. I'm not sure if it was wet (the ground was muddy at the parking area), but both routes we got on felt very fragile.  High risk/low reward climbing.  The view from the cliff made it worth the trouble, though!

The online guide felt a little incomplete.  I *think* we started on Whatever Happens...Happens (5.9 sport).  Sam took the first lead and sent it with no problem.  When my turn came, I immediately pulled a small hold off and spent the rest of the climb moving very...very...slowly.  Looking down at a long runout between bolts, I couldn't shake the feeling I was going to take a 20 or 30 foot whip down on blocky ledges if another hold broke.  Easy send, but not my cup of tea.

We got on an unnamed 5.10 after this and it was even sketchier.  I was scared the whole way up. Still, I really enjoyed enjoyed how it climbed.  The lower slab section had a couple of 2-3 inch wide ledges without good hands that required some weird balance-y mantling and felt like a very different type of movement.   Ana took a run on top rope after me and pulled a bible sized block off,  managing to hang on to it rather than dropping it on my head.

After that, we decided the rockfall potential wasn't worth the risk with the kids around and called it a day.