Sunday, September 23, 2007

Cannon - Whitney-Gilman Ridge And Beyond

Caution: severe male humor riddled throughout. If one is not offended, then one must read the humor with bad Scottish accents in order to appreciate the full flavor of the ensuing conversations

Some mistakes are accidental, and others are planned. The last time "Jello" and I hit Cannon our mistakes were accidental. This time, our mistake was planned, and we paid dearly for it in sore feet, tight quads, yellow scrapes that don't make any sense around our ankles, strained backs and a severe need to jump into a cold, cold Baker River when it was all said and done.

We awoke at 5am Saturday morning at a chilly campground on a farm less than a stone's throw from the Baker River. The grass was wet enough to make us believe that it had rained, even though we knew the dampness came from the heavy fog that surrounded our site. The road to Cannon wasn't much better, as dark clouds hovered high above the breaking fog. Knowing what happened last time, we should have been worried. But we weren't because we knew that if it did rain then it would be in the evening, long after we had finished climbing and, hopefully, had managed to get to the summit with pounds of shelter gear strapped to our backs just in case the heavens did open up on us.

It was 7am when we pulled into the parking lot, and 730am when "Jello" pulled himself up the stout crack (alternative start) at the bottom of pitch #1. He was to lead the first three pitches and I the last three. We were about to have a lot of fun. But before I begin, remember this: that stupid pack with the tent, stove, rain gear, food, etc, etc, etc, was heavy as all hell and seriously changed how the second climbed the route.

Random Scottish Conversation #1
"Jello" standing on a loose rock in the middle of the talus-field approach: You ever get the feeling that standing on a loose rock gives you the same feeling as having sex?
Me: I would have to say no on that. In fact, I would imagine that standing on a loose rock while climbing gives me a feeling closer to when she shows up at my door three monhts later.
"Jello" in a female Scottish accent: I'm pregnant.
Me: No, lassie, you're not!
"Jello": But the doctor said -
Me: You go back to that doctor with the wire clothes hanger and you tell him you're not!
"Jello" in an angry male voice: Lassie, if you don't jump down those stairs this instant I'm going to push you off!

Whitney-Gilman Ridge (5.7) - 6 pitches - Trad - "Jello" and Greg switched leads

Pitch #1 (5.6 variation) - Trad - Make your own anchors - 90 feet - "Jello" led

The approach to this route is easy in terms of route finding. Just head to the left end of the cliff on the talus field to the taunting, obvious ridge above. Once there, if one turns toward the ridge with the black dike on the right and the talus field cascading below to the left, the starting ledge is on the left of the ridge up a small scramble. Once there, one should be facing the cliff with one's back toward the road.

There are two starts: the first starts on the right near the edge of the ridge and traverses left to a large block before heading up while the other is the wide crack on the left just below the block. In my opinion, the crack is an excellent start that helps to avoid rope drag. Basically, follow the crack / corner for a bit, head right where it becomes easier, and then cut back left to a ledge. Once on the ledge, remember this conversation:

Random Scottish Conversation #2
"Jello": I've got to take me a crap, laddie.
Me: Aye. I was thinking your ass smelt a bit down there.
"Jello": Aye. I'm going over here to the LEFT OF THE LEDGE to let it out.
Me: Aye, mate... ... ...Holy crap there, mate. Are you OK?
"Jello": Aye, what's seems to be the problem?
Me: Your shit's wafting there, mate. You should have crapped downwind.
"Jello": Aye, well, it is what it is. Can't help it now can I?
Me: Aye, well, just so you know for the next time.
"Jello": Aye.

Pitch #2 (5.5) - Trad - Make your own anchors - 80 feet - "Jello" led

My recommendation here is to not combine the first two pitches, unless you know what you're doing gear-wise. In my opinion, making it one go is not worth the rope drag. In any case, there are two cracks. We did the right-hand crack, which is not necessarily visible from from the ledge if one does not look around the corner to the right (near the edge of the ridge). Anyway, climb either one and enjoy it. It's a nice pitch that follows the spire up to another ledge. It was easy climbing, despite the fact that the fog and mist had yet to recede and the blue sky to the east had yet to beat back the dark clouds hovering over the summit of the mountain. It should be noted here that while "Jello" was climbing, I was steadfastly watching the clouds coming from the south and west. They were black, and coming our way. If it rained, it meant we weren't hiking to the summit, a wish I was secretly hoping would come true. This was the case because, regardless of rain, we were going to finish the climb and hike off the top. I would have been more than happy to climb Whitney-Gilman, hike down and head back to Rumney for an afternoon of relaxing sport climbing. As it turned out, well, more on that later.

Random Scottish Conversation #3
Me: Aye, you safe up there at the top?
"Jello": Aye, you can take me off belay there mate.
Me: Aye, you're off belay. And I've got to tell you something too.
"Jello": Tell me, mate. What's on your mind?
Me: I think I know why it feels like I'm carrying 60 pounds around with me.
"Jello": Why's that, mate?
Me: I've got to do what you just did two pitches ago
(I'm jumping ahead here)
"Jello": Aye, well, there's a good spot right there that'll fit your ass nice and tight. It'll be just like sitting on a toilet.
Me: Aye, I see it. You turn your head now toward that anchor your supposed to be setting you hear?
"Jello": Aye
Me a few minutes later: Hey there, mate, make sure you don't step over there the next time you climb this OK?
"Jello": Aye. Where is it?
Me: Under that pile of rocks I put on top there. That should cover it up well don't you reckon?
"Jello": Aye, but what if someone picks up the rocks there? What's going to happen then?
Me: Well, that would be their problem then now wouldn't it?
"Jello": Aye, good point there, mate, good point.

Pitch #3 (5.6) - Trad - Make your own anchors - 130 feet - "Jello" led

I'm not sure this is really 130 feet long, but it is awkward with a heavy pack on one's back. The V-corner to the left of the belay station lacks good foot holds, so one needs to ensure solid balance and commit to the moves. Once up through the corner, head back right to the parallel cracks at a ledge. The blocks are loose here, so be careful.

Pitch #4 (5.6) - Trad - Make your own anchors - 110 feet - Greg led

This is supposedly the classic pitch on the entire ridge. It starts with two parallel cracks, the wider one to the left and the narrower one to the right. The book says one needs a large cam (#4 camalot) to protect this, but I used a #.5 and #1 in the small crack and was just fine. It's pretty easy to layback the small crack and stem out to the face for the first move. After that, I jammed my right foot in the crack and kept my stem out left. Two moves later and I was just below the "pipe" that is on the edge of the ridge.

The pipe itself is supposed to be super-exposed, but it really isn't. I agree, the start of the moves are right on the edge and when one looks down, one looks all the way down to the bottom of the ridge. However, the moves themselves are not over empty space. If one were to fall, one would fall back onto the ridge. This is unlike High Exposure in the Gunks, where one is climbing above open air. The move is pretty easy too, with good, solid holds all the way up.

After the pipe, follow the ridge to the next small belay stance on the other side of the ridge. This belay stance is below and on the right side of a small slab.

The clouds gave way to blue sky at this point, and I was able to see the top of the route from where I was, too. What did I hope to see? Easy slabs that led to the summit. What did I see instead? A thick and unforgiving spruce forest. Gulp.

Pitch #5 (5.5) - Trad - Make your own anchors - 110 feet - Greg led

Follow the slab up to the base of the face and traverse left to the right-facing corner. Go up that and head back toward the ridge where there is a razor flake just waiting to get jumped. The belay stance at the top is pretty cool too, as one will belay right on the edge looking down into the gully between the ridge and dike. There are three pitons here, but I placed back-up pro just in case. But, speaking of getting jumped:

Random Scottish Conversation #4
"Jello": Greg is freak.
Me: Aye, kind of has a ring to it doesn't it?
"Jello": Aye, but so does your sister.
Me: Aye, but I don't know how that matters since she's been dead for twenty years.
"Jello": It's called necrophilia there, mate.
Me: Aye, necrophilia. Brings backs memories of when we were but lads.
"Jello": Aye, the good old days.
Me: You remember that one woman who left a note for us in her coffin to not touch her after she died?
"Jello": Aye, I do. I do.
Me: We showed her in the end.
"Jello": That we did, mate. That we did.

Pitch #6 (5.7) - Trad - Make your own anchors - 110 feet - Greg led

This was a tricky pitch for me. The chalk says to go straight up the blocky slab in front of the belay stance, but I found the rock there to be unreliable and the jug in the slanted face to be awkward without a dynamic high-step. I ended up laying back against the right edge of the ridge and going up that side rather than the middle. It took me to the right of the piton, but that was OK.

The route basically became a sport route from here on out. Sure, I placed back-up gear, but there are pitons in all the sketchy spots. In any case, climb up to the top ledge (grassy, trees, large loose blocks) and wait for your partner to come up. It is a nice finish to the day.

Hike to the Summit

Simply put, don't do it from the top of this route. Unlike Lakeview, this route does not have an easy-access path across the bald slabs to the top. In the slabs place is, instead, a serious swath of thick spruce living atop of soft, dead spruce. What does this mean? It means that if you bushwhack like we did, you're going to end up fighting stiff branches, soft ground where there are more hidden holes to fall into than you could imagine, dead birch trees that are no good for holding onto and the genuine fear that you're going to fall into some crevasse and never be found again - dead or alive. We did this for an hour before we emerged onto slabs above the tree line. Thank God, too, because it wasn't like we were tired or anything. We stopped twice along the way to take our shirts off and brush the needles off our backs. We were so hot and sticky that we had to pick most of the needles off because they wouldn't simply brush off. It's a miracle I wasn't bleeding, too, though I did find many deep scratches the next day. To be honest, I'm kind of worried about two of them on my left ankle. They're yellow.

Anyway, we followed a series of cairns to the Kinsman Ridge Trail and that led us to the top. To be sure, the only reason I went to the top of the watch tower was because there was this really hot Asian chick in a short skirt on that windy day just a few feet ahead of me (I wonder why she was always just a few feet ahead). It was a stroke of bad luck that kept me from realizing a life-long dream (OK, not life-long. It was more of a "holy shit I can't believe my luck today" kind of dream - After what I had been through, I was desperately looking for a reward, so leave me alone). It turned out she had a firm, fist-like control over the flow of her skirt. Crushed, I headed down hill with "Jello". Two miles later, we were at the the wrong fucking parking lot. Forty-five minutes after that, we returned to his car...11.5 hours after we had left it that mornin

Moral of the story: don't think that just because "Jello" has a goal that it will lead to you living a loving, lucky or dreamy-pornographic life. It won't. But it will leave you with unidentifiable scratches, scars (physical and psychological) and a passion to never, never do that again.

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