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.

Red Rock Day 3: Back to Calico

For our third day we went back to Calico Basin and walked right instead of left.  This took us to the base of Cannibal Crag, an enormous freestanding boulder with a few beautiful lines on it.  It also had the most kid friendly belay area that we came across on the trip, with lots of safe areas for the non-climbers to explore.

We warmed up on You Are What You Eat (5.4 trad).  The route was secure and ate gear like candy, so after placing a few bomber "you'll fall but you won't die" pieces, Sam led it and filled in the gaps in the gear.  His first trad lead, made all the better by the crowd of college age sport climbers looking on.

We followed this up with Baseboy (sport 5.11 a/b), a vertical crimpy thing just to the left of You Are What You Eat.  Nice technical climbing on sharp little holds. I managed to get my 5.11 OS for the trip.

Around this time the helicopters started to show up...

They brought someone out of the hills on a stretcher and flew them to the road where a second air ambulance took them off.  Quite the scene, with 3 separate helicopters and a dozen police/fire/ems vehicles on sight.  I've looked all over for info on what happened, but haven't seen any details. Kind of assume it was a hiker as climber injuries tend to get talked about online.

Feeling a bit more mortal, we hopped on What's Eating You (5.10a) around the back side of the boulder.  Fun climbing, but nothing particularly special.

Finally, we had to get our hero photos on Caustic Cock (5.11b).  I came super, super close to getting it without a fall, but didn't have the arm juice left to make the crux move without knowing the beta.  Took a couple good whips before figuring out that there was a jug hiding a couple inches farther up the wall if I really committed to the move.  Sam flashed it on toprope.

We both looked kinda cool against the sky in photos.

Ida was happy to spend the whole day with a filthy bunny.

Red Rock Day 2: The Black Corridor

Day 2 put us in Type 2 Fun territory right off the bat.  As is often the case, the most dangerous part of the trip wasn't the climbing, but the approach tot he cliff.  Getting a wobbly 6 year old and a toddler over rocky terrain is rarely fun.  

We got a little turned around and wound up having to coax Leo across steep slabs that ended in short falls into pools of chilly water.  He was completely terrified until we gave up and switched from street shoes into our climbing shoes, at which point the slick slabs were a whole lot less slippery.  

We were rewarded with a spectacular corridor of rock unlike anything you'll find in the East:

We started with Burros Don't Gamble, which felt pretty solid at 5.10c with a couple long moves and without much experience on this type of rock.  Sam was the only one to get it without a take or a fall. 

Next up was Bonaire, a delightful 5.9 on thin holds with nice technical/balance-y moves.  

After that, we had a choice of three overhung routes in the 5.10c-5.11a range.  They all looked about the same, so I went with the 5.11a Foe, thinking I'd get it on the first go and get my 5.11 OS tick for the trip. Almost, but not quite.  Still, was an absolutely fantastic jungle gym of a climb.   I think Sam managed to get it without a fall on top rope.

Finally, we got on the 5.7 747 2x4, which only gets 2/5 stars in the guide but which all of us loved.  Fun, easy climbing that required a bit of thought to work out which sequence of moves made up the sweet spot of the climbing line.  Important lesson: always ignore stars in the guide book.

Red Rock Day 1: Calico Basin

Red Rock Canyon is one of the best climbing areas in the country, with everything from short sport climbs to epic 1,600 foot trad climbs.  And at less than 20 minutes drive from Las Vegas, you can't beat the access and winter climbing weather.  Except when it snows.  Somehow we managed to show up two weeks after a heavy snow (seriously, snow?!) and most of the area was still too wet to climb.  Desert sandstone has a nasty tendency to revert to sand when exposed to moisture.

The Calico basin isn't exposed to runoff from the mountains and there was plenty of dry climbing to be had.  We'd climbed a lot of sandstone before this trip, but in the east we typically climb rock known for being strong, hard and relatively impermeable to water.  This was an entirely different experience.

First up was Immoral, a 5.10d sport route that left me wondering why the Red River Gorge has such a reputation for soft grades.  A great climb up a short dihedral/crack to a fun traverse on a hand horizontal crack. Ana got her first 5.10d lead tick.  Sam cruised it on top rope.

The second climb on Valentine's Day (5.8+, trad) was absolute bliss and exactly what I was hoping to find in Red Rock.  A great hand crack up the inside of a dihedral with solid stances and gear placements EVERYWHERE.  I didn't take a photo, but this one from Mountain Project does it some justice:

Finally, we capped off the day with a wandering 150 foot 5.4 route, Abbey Road. It's rare to get on easy trad routes in the Red, so having 150 feet of nicely protected climbing on secure footing is awesome. Probably best done in two pitches, but which I ran out in a single push, rope drag be damned. That let me belay both boys up to the top and get the requisite summit photos:

Bouldering is dumb, but it'll take you places...

A couple weeks after getting back from Horseshoe Canyon Ranch, we headed to Chicago for Sam to compete in USAC bouldering divisional comp.  Bouldering wasn't really Sam's strong suit last year, but he managed to nab sixth spot, which was good for a trip to Nationals in Salt Lake City.

Tickets to SLC were about $2300 for the five of us.  Flying to Las Vegas was half as expensive, which would more than covered the cost of the car rental and a week of hoteling.  I rounded out my cam selection a bit...

And Leo got his first flight...

And the next day we were racking up gear in Calico Basin at Red Rock Canyon, with Ida tethered to a gear anchor so she wouldn't wander off the ledge and fall 25 feet into the dirt...


The rock was soaking wet on our last day at HCR.  Rotten conditions for sport climbing, let alone the first trad climb of the year.  Still, Treebeard (5.8) was on my shortlist of climbs and it seemed a pretty manageable 9th route of the year.

Not having put in much trad climbing outside the Red, it was nice to get on something put up after the era of 1970's "the yosemite scale maxes at 5.9.  Let's call it 5.8 so nobody calls us wimps" sandbagging.

Which is good, because what would normally be a super secure hand/fist crack was pretty slick.  I wound up walking a pair of #3's and a #4 cam up a majority of the climb before running to the anchors.  Not a lot of artistry to it, but I sent it clean and didn't get hurt.  I'd love to get on this when it's dry and experience it without being terrified of a foot jam sliding straight out of the crack.

We were all pretty cold and damp by the time the rest of the family got done top roping, and I wasn't keen on plugging any more gear in wet rock.  We packed it it and managed to push through the 12 hour drive and get home late that night, figuring we wouldn't get anymore outdoor climbing done until the end of March at the earliest.


Again, much hot cocoa was enjoyed this day:

All climbing is good climbing: a rainy day on the Kindergarten Boulder

Sam and I weren't going to let a rainy day keep us off the rock.  The 7th and 8th routes of the year were a 5.8 and 5.10a route on the Kindergarten Boulder at HCR.  The rain picked up during the second climb, so we decided to quit while we were ahead.

They weren't anything to write home about, but climbing over a 70lb 9 year old makes even the easiest routes feel a little spicy!