Thursday, December 22, 2011

Swattin' bugs and prayin' for jugs...Cirque of the Towers, July 2011

Cirque of the Towers, Wind River Range, WY
          Feather Buttress (IV 5.10+ R)
          Black Elk (IV 5.11)
Wolf's Head:
          East Ridge (III 5.6)
          Canus (III 5.11), first two pitches
Warrior 1:
          The Candy Shop (IV 5.10+ PG13) (FA??)
Mt Mitchell
          North Face of Mt Mitchell

Noah Gostout, engineer, offwidth specialist, protection against females

Erik Reiger, philosopher, mountain lore expert, purveyor of fine cheeses

Myself, secretary of improbable ideas, descent specialist

Transportation: the Brave Little Toaster
BFZ provided by Daniel Rothberg
Evening entertainment sponsored by Bananagrams and Fireball cinnamon whisky

 (adapted from Noah's ramblings)
Sorting gear in the Big Sandy parking lot, we were greeted heartily by the vampires of the backountry, and began the first of many of what became known as sanity walks.  Drew threw down the gear he was stuffing into his pack and stalked briskly across the parking lot, flailing his arms wildly about his head.  To an observer it would appear that he was just struck with a bolt of insanity, but in fact he was fleeing the faint grey cloud that had engulfed his backpack.  That evening, camped on a grassy field nestled in the Cirque of the Towers, we soon discovered that our campsite was in fact a pasture, where we were the food and the mozzies were the voracious cattle.  Our only shelter from the onslaught was the Bug Free Zone (BFZ, aka tent), brief “sanity walks,” and the granite walls above.  

"your turn"
would you trust this man?

We started the trip with an ascent of Feather Buttress on Warbonnet, on which we enjoyed much stemming and runout chimney climbing.  The next morning we were weary from the long descent that had taken us bumbling off into the night, but as the sun climbed we could no longer stand the heat inside the BFZ, so Drew and I opted to free-solo the East Ridge of Wolf’s Head.  For a rest day it was an exciting and an easy endeavor that was packed with thrills and great sights, and most importantly kept us relatively safe from mountain vampires.  From the summit of Wolf's head we gained another perspective of a line we’d been scouting from our camp up Warrior 1.  According to the guidebook, the only access to the stunning dihedral on top of the tower involved a 5.11 R traverse on poor rock.  We were pretty sure a line on the right side of the peak would also get us to the dihedral, and from our new vantage point it looked promising.

The magnificent Feather Crest of Warbonnet

 Topping out above Mordor, just in time to catch the sun's last rays

summit stoke!

improbable burrowing on the East Ridge of Wolf's Head, 5.6 (cough)

the exposure up there is unreal
The next morning we trudged up the snowfield with a full rack to find out if it would go.  As we approached the first pitch crack we slowly realized that it was much wider then we had initially thought.   I racked up standing on a snow ledge that I had kicked, and moved the bigger cams to the front. I started the broken corner on fun 5.9 moves with stunning rock quality, gained a small ledge and met the first of many trundles. The ledge had an enormous loose block on it that was teetering on the edge; with a mighty push I send the large block smashing into snow field below making a huge crater. With the ledge now clear I jamming and stacking up the offwidth.  The climbing was strenuous but fantastic! Occasionally a broken flake protruded from the crack affording twin hand jams and great rests.
following the wide 1st pitch

Drew lead the next two pitches, the first shorter one on broken and fairly loose rock (epic trundles), and the next up an overhanging hand-crack, and over a fun roof into unknown terrain.  From here the way upward was unclear, but I took the lead again and worked up a crumbly weakness towards some sharp rock fins that protruded up like booby-trap spikes. I slung one and moved up delicately, eventually standing on the sharp points.  Above me was a large overhanging roof with a moss-filled crack running with water. Unable to jam in the moss and with the face covered in lichen, I stood befuddled.  After two unsuccessful attempts, backing down to the points, I questioned whether I was going to be able to climb it at all. Remembering the crux pitch of Astro Dog in The Black Canyon of the Gunnison I prepared my palms with a healthy layer of chalk and began stemming up the corner. With a few small crystal feet I worked up into the roof. Just as I was getting run out and pretty unsteady, I noticed a crimp rail. Abandoning my right palm plant and grabbing the rail, I swung over and matched the hold just as my feet cut. From the rail I could just reach a cam placement; pushing with my index finger on the tip of the stem I nudged the cam into the crack, finally protecting the next difficult move, which led to a good belay stance.  Drew led the final pitch towards the dihedral with an exposed and unprotected traverse. Stemming wide with his feet he balanced his way around a wide block, changing crack systems and working up ledges that led to our goal, the huge dihedral! 

leading into unknown territory

figuring out the traverse to gain the big corner

success!  Noah stemming up the big, beautiful corner, back in charted territory

The dihedral was as good as we hoped.  The movement was amazing, perfect finger locks with interesting stemming. The small roof section was wet but still fun to climb; I weaseled a good placement, worked my feet high and reached through to a good hand jam. Drew then stemmed and chimneyed up the next exposed 60 meters to the base of a cave.  Removing my pack, I began squirming upward, eventually poking my head out to see sunlight glistening on a splitter handcrack up a varnished face to the summit.

Straddling our narrow perch, I was glad that we had ample light left to descend because the ridge (our passage, according to the guidebook) was serrated with sheer towers as tall as 20 meters.  Traversing that seemed near-impossible, so we looped a horn and began a series of raps towards a dark gully, in which ourselves and our ropes became mired in icy sludge.  We continued rapping in the gathering dark off of a series of sketchy anchors which included a single piton, a pile of rocks that shifted when loaded, and several snow bollards, but six hours later we were standing again at the base of Warrior 1, soaked, mud-splattered and happy.
Peering through the mesh window of the BFZ the next morning, we looked up at the gorgeous splitter that began our climb.  Despite being an obvious line, we found no evidence of climbing on the route, trundled many precarious blocks, and broke many holds off, so it is possible that it has never been climbed.  In praise of the fantastic surprises that kept popping up on the route and our mid-wall singing eruptions we named it The Candy Shop, and after drawing out a topo decided that it goes at 5.10+ PG13.  This 5-pitch variation on the NW face ascends one of the longest and most direct features in the Cirque of the Towers via fun, exposed climbing, and we hope other parties visit the Candy Shop and clean it up a bit.

The Candy Shop, IV 5.10d

 on the summit of Wolf's Head.  Warbonnet and Warrior 1 in the background
Rendesvous with fellow CC compatriots, with a much better BFZ

the vampires

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Two days in Zion

Two days in Zion, enjoyed the magnificent exposure on the headwall of Shune’s Buttress, then climbed the Central Pillar of Watchman in 8 pitches plus some scrambling and soloing.  Hadn’t gone free yet at the time the guidebook was written but we managed to free it at mostly 5.10 with a desperate 5.11 fingers section on the main pillar.  The climb was a classic Zion scrap-fest, alternating between physical chimneys, exposed cruising on questionable patina edges, and the occasional gorgeous splitter.  Descending to the Watchman col with a single 70 m rope involved some dubious shrubbery anchors, but we were back in the parking lot sipping beer at dusk.  These days are good but we thirst for more.  Bigger.  Something to take us through the sunset. 

There is a solitary tone to this trip, just me and Scott on the road.  Strangers until now, we share drinks and terse meals, then he sleeps in the bed of his truck with his chubby dog Sage and I roll out my pad on the desert floor.  My thoughts race outward into the vast expanse of stars overhead; what sacrifices have I made to pursue this vagabond life?  I’ve once again left the community I pay rent in to chase my own shadow up walls and towers of desert sandstone.  Who are my people?  Who are Scott’s? Why is the hum of rubber spinning beneath my car as satisfying as a comfortable day at home?  If we push it hard tomorrow, will I get injured?  Will I ever take the fall that stalks the shadowy edges of my dreams?

There is much to ponder.  Also, there isn’t.  The wind in the sagebrush, redolent of the day’s dying heat.  A good meal around the fire; the creamy bliss of a spoonful of avocado.  Rising early tomorrow and sipping coffee in the predawn chill, watching the walls of Zion tint rose with the rising sun.  The expanse beneath my feet, the void my fingers refuse to release to.  Sipping the last of our water, the river below.  A cold beer, the waltz of malt and bubbles on the tongue, finally sitting down on the tailgate.  These are the good things.

Mt Kinesavah at dawn

Scott confirming that his leaf springs are shot at our camp in Taylor Canyon.  We climbed Primrose Dihedrals on Moses tower (tallest in background) the next day.  It is perhaps the finest desert tower route I've been on.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Black Canyon Shenanigans

This June Noah and I met in the Black for some good old-fashioned sketchin.  We decided to start with the classic Astrodog, and our first night we drove to the Chasm View overlook to scope the rap anchors and subtract some bumble factor from the next morning’s efforts.  It was my first visit, and standing on the rim gazing down into what seemed like an infinite abyss of blackness, I felt the unsettling fear of the unknown grip my stomach.  I tossed and turned that night, troubled by stories and rumors the Black’s burly reputation. 
Looking across to the Chasm View Wall

We woke at dawn and made the dozen raps to the canyon floor without incident, and as we pulled our last ropes the beautiful simplicity of climbing in the Black was obvious: just get to the rim.  The night’s anxiety melted away as we cruised pitch after pitch of quality stone; the rock quality far surpassed my expectations and every pitch seemed about a grade easier than the topo suggested (the payoff from a season in the South Platte).  The cruxes were interesting, gear was solid, and the pitches above the two-boulder bivy were downright splitter goodness.  Even crossing the pegmatite band was decently protected, and I reached a belay beneath the crux with plenty of daylight left and a full head of steam.  We did not admit it to each other, but we had both been thinking, “are we going to crush Astrodog?” 
Noah leading the 2nd crux of Astrodog, V 5.11+

In the 2nd crux

The next pitch said no.  After some grundle-clinching attempts at stemming up the overhanging slot, Noah resorted to aiding.  We did not have the recommended 000 cams for this endeavor, so as he was pulling up on a tiny nut, there was a loud POP and suddenly all 190 pounds of Noah was sitting in my lap.  Oh boy, things were getting serious now.  Some grunting and creativity got him up to better gear on the next attempt and he finished the pitch free.

The next day we were in no shape to climb so we spent a delightful rest day scoping lines across the canyon, replenishing calories at Dragon Wall Chinese Buffet, and purchasing matching green hospital scrubs at a very eccentric thrift store.  Dawn the next day was inexplicably freezing, and as we crouched in our sleeping bags to eat breakfast, the thought of climbing seemed ludicrous.  The day soon warmed, however, as we rapped and scrambled the seldom-trod gulley to the base of Crystal Vision.  This route, a bit off the beaten path, was rumored to be loose, wide, and spicy, but clad in our stylish new threads we were confident that speed and boldness would get us back to the rim somehow.  In contrast to Astrodog’s aesthetic splitters, most of this climb was a jungly mantle-fest of chimneys and stem-boxes, with a fantastic splitter pitch thrown in.

After much fun climbing, we reached the route’s namesake pitch.  Noah courageously lead up a blank arĂȘte with no gear, then began traversing a slab protected by three sparse bolts.   The “Crystal Vision” name soon became apparent; the smooth slab glittered brilliantly in the sun, and the climber crossing it only finds purchase by smearing fingers, palms, and toes on miniscule slick crystals.  At one point Noah was perched precariously in a sea of crystals, his legs shaking and his nearest bolt 30 feet away, and I heard him yelling “Noah, calm the fuck down!”  He had taken a more direct traverse which unfortunately demanded a 45-ft runout to the nearest crack, however he got his shaking legs under control and avoided the sickening pendulum fall that awaited.  When I crossed the slab next I found myself in such an absurd position trying to stick to the rock, when I looked across another 20 ft to next bolt and saw no recognizable holds whatsoever I just wanted to give up.  In the next instant I recognized that since the rope ran horizontally, giving up was not an option, and I told myself that this was one of those times when the only way forward is to turn the brain off and let the body do what it needs to do.  All I can remember of the next 60 feet is the blinding glare of the stone, then I grabbed a positive hold and rejoined the conscious world, where Noah and I could laugh it off.  Once more we scrambled over the rim, trotted to our waiting car and Tecate with lime, and toasted another successful day in the Black.
Finishing the Crystal Vision pitch.  We don't know exactly how we crossed that slab.

Note sick tattoo for luck

Protecting the fields from space invaders

Monday, October 24, 2011

Shock Treatment: another scrappy South Platte adventure

A sloppy ascent of Shock Treatment, III 5.12 C1
Big Rock Candy Mtn, South Platte CO

This spring my partner-in-crime Noah Gostout and I were looking for a proper South Platte adventure, something beyond the scope of our usual excursions to Turkey Rocks or Thunder Ridge.   The sheer size of the Big Rock Candy Mountain captured our imagination, and we picked a sunny Sunday in May to pursue the unknown, starting, as usual, with a bumble.  It was already 9:00 and we were in the Donut Mill, caffeinating and poring over approach descriptions printed off mountain project; we took our best guess at the road directions and took off in Noah’s Jeep, which had no doors as he had removed them for the lovely spring weather.  Following confusing and conflicting directions, we eventually spotted the broad flanks of the Big Rocky Candy Mountain, and used the nimble Jeep to bypass a gate and cross the steep, rutted road to the top of a gorge across from our objective.  With the sun high and daylight burning, we ran down open fields of grass and scree, forded the river, and raced up to the wall, searching frantically for our line.

By the time we’d identified the climb and roped up it was pushing 1:00.  Whoops.  Time to get business done.  The first pitch set the tone: “short, wide, 5.8” had me desperately squeezing up a smooth, flared chimney with only a questionable chockstone slung for pro.  Noah led the crux pitch, an overhanging corner with small finger pods in a seam, and he took it into 5.12 territory before resorting to aiding on tiny nuts.  I couldn’t free the .12+ seam either, so it will have to await another try (or not).  Next I led up an angling thin, flared, crumbly, vegetated 5.10+ pitch, and the situation became more and more heads-up as I found myself making committing moves to small plants well above “hopeful” placements.  Many broken footholds and several whips later, I’d gained the belay at the start of the “pterodactyl traverse,” which Noah styled, including the seriously runout transition to an offwidth which he could only protect with a small cam in a flared gash.  Next, with our bodies tiring and our nerves running thin, I led up into another overhanging corner, slung a healthy bush, and found myself utterly shut down by a downward-opening 4-5” crack.  In this shady, steep corner, the bomber South Platte granite had been altered over time by seeping water to its current mineral-rich, slick and crumbly state.  I tried stacking, jamming my feet, throwing to face crimps (they broke), and eventually resorted to aiding the crack with a single #4 camalot, which became the most strenuous french-freeing I’ve ever done.  I then had to leave the cam behind and smear up a widening slot which finally relented into a squeeze chimney.  Relief was short, however, as one side of the chimney was a hollow flake.  I took care not to knock rocks on Noah as I wriggled up the chimney, stemmed up a thinning corner, and made a final roof pull with horrendous rope drag to the next belay.  The final pitch was definitive of the style of the South Platte hardmen who put this route up: they are strong slab climbers.  With the sun gone and daylight fading, Noah launched onto a bullet-hard slab of sustained 5.11+ crystal pinching, which first ascentionist Kevin McLaughlin courageously bolted on lead.  Noah does not know what he was holding onto most of the time, but somehow Noah reached the summit as darkness descended, and I clawed my way up the slab with no small amount of help from the big guy. 

Standing atop the Big Rock Candy Mountain, bruised, bleeding and nerves frayed from 6 hours of heads-up climbing, we finally relaxed into the gathering dusk as the wild expanse of burn scars and granite spires of the South Platte lay spread out beyond us, sinking deeper and deeper into soft purple hues.  After honoring our tradition of naked summit yelps, we gathered our wits once more for a search for the rap anchors, then began a grueling descent through gravel-strewn slabs and thorn-chocked bushes that I try not to remember.  Midnight found us crossing the river and burning our last fumes up the scree slopes to the Jeep, where we cursed the yahooism that had taken the doors off on a sunny morning that felt like an eternity ago.  Luckily there was a tarp that we wrapped around ourselves to avoid freezing as we sped back across the South Platte under cold, bright stars, and luckily Taco Star is open till 3am.  I did not make it to class the next day.

fording the creek

sketchin on the veggies pitch

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Carrots and Peanut Butter

This blog is a space to record and share the beautiful, silly, and absurd happenings in the lives of myself and my friends.  We always dream big, often make plans based on these dreams, seldom prepare enough when we put these plans into action, and pretty much never arrive at the outcomes we expect.  I'm learning to give up my attachments to these plans, because right in that "ehhhhh" moment when we can no longer deny that things are going screwball, just as we accept that situation is getting ridiculous, that is where we are finally free from the incessant grind of life's chores and schedules and we become urgently and unmistakenly alive.

Sorting through the ransacked storage unit of my memories, I find boxes of dull material punctuated by brilliant objects: these encounters with absurd reality: Straddling a granite spire in the Wind River Range watching the sun's last light spill over the mountains, then turning to the gaping icy chasm beneath us and wondering how we will get down. Standing on the road in Indian Creek as the tow truck turned around and drove off, with five miles and two swollen river crossings between me and my stranded car.  Post-holling through thigh-deep snow in tennis shoes and shorts in Kolob Canyon in march, searching for sport climbs, and watching plumes on snow and ice avalanche off the canyon walls and land in our path.  Hanging from my last good cam placement on a headwall in Zion, staring down 40 ft of pencil-thin crack with nothing but 6 small nuts, some tiny cams, a handfull of biners and slings, and an idea of how this is supposed to work.  Collapsing in exhaustion at high camp after summiting and descending from a mountain in Peru, then realizing that my partner and I had about 400 calories between us, and a ride to food lay 15 miles and 5,000 ft below us.  In all these experiences, what came before was more or less planned, what followed was scary, exhausting, or drudgery, but that one exquisite moment of realization that things are getting silly, and then embracing the silliness and plunging in, that moment makes the endless rambles, tanks of gas, weeks of going to sleep marinating in sweat and body odor, and countless meals of carrots and peanut butter worth it.