Monday, November 26, 2007

Fun Times in the Not so Deep South

Arkansas, despite it's reputation, has many fantastic adventures for the outdoor person. There's the beautiful rivers, The precipitous cliffs, cavernous....uh...caverns. Nonetheless Arkansas is well deserving of its reputation as a backwards, racist, bible belt state, filled with simpletons. Nevertheless I went and had a good time.

The reason for heading to Arkansas was twofold. First there's the climbing. The sandstone is just dreamy. The second reason was to hang out with family for Thanksgiving. I'm not going to lie I was a little more excited about the climbing. This isn't to say I wasn't excited to see family but I really wanted a second chance to tear up the Arkansas sandstone.

So in case it wasn't too obvious, I'd been climbing in Arkansas before. Two other times to be exact. It was actually where I had my first outdoor climbing experience. Now that I've been climbing a while I wanted to really push myself and so I got my chance.

To start though I had to drive all the way from upstate New York to Boston to catch a flight. It's a five hour drive, something I did not enjoy, especially since my car does not have cruise control. Luckily, Greg was kind enough to let me stay the night before my flight and even gave me a ride to the airport the next morning, thus preventing me from throwing out my back trying to carry my stupidly heavy bag. Then after a flight from Boston to O'Hare and from O'Hare to Des Moines. The total time from Boston to Des Moines was about 4 hours. Then after meeting up with my girlfriend we had to drive another 3 hours to Kansas City and then after staying the night another five hours to Jasper, Arkansas, the location of Horshoe Canyon Ranch. I had to do all of it again, today being the Boston to upstate New York portion of the trip.

We made it though and after paying some fees we settled in for a well deserved rest. The funny thing was that I ran into some people from my Alma Mater's climbing club and so we all traded stories by the fire and decided to climb together the next day.

The next morning I woke up early. It's a problem I have when I am outdoors where I wake up at the crack of dawn. I don't know why and despite feeling well rested I wish I didn't do it because nobody else ever wakes up at near the time I do. So what to do at six in the morning? Go bouldering! After succesfully fiddling around on some V3's and V4's I went back and got the morning rolling. To start off we headed to the Roman wall which had a good mix of easy and moderate climbs. I immediately onsighted a 5.9, Sybarite which made me feel pretty excited about the rest of the week. The next climb I did was Centurion, a 5.10a. Unfortunately, I blew the onsight because I misread the sequence although I climbed it again later and suceeded easily. After a few more climbs we called it a day without much ado about anything.

The next day was my girlfriends day, she not being a climbing fool such as myself, so we decided to head into town and see what fun was to be had. On the road we saw a lot of billboards for for Mystic Caverns so we decided to check it out. All the "God Saves" signs didn't dissuade us from visiting although by the end of the tour I became convinced the guide had spent too much time in the cave and probably thought they were seeing Jesus, because apparently Sasquatch, and several other furry creatures were in there. It was still really neat. Since town didn't have anything fun to do we decided to head back. We stopped along the way at a bridge before Jasper to check out the Buffalo River. If you're ever in Arkansas I recommend it. I would love to canoe the Buffalo River.

Afterwards we decided to call it a day because there wasn't really time to climb and we were pretty tired. So we hung out with one of the ranch dogs, Chili, and cooked some Quinoa. Too much in fact. So then we rested for the next day.

I woke up early again and decided to walk around the west side of the canyon which is home to the Confederate Cracks and Crackhouse Alley as well as what appears to be some awesome bouldering. The forecast was for rain and I had gotten sprinkled on a bit while walking so I was a little uncertain of whether climbing was going to even happen. We quickly made our way across the canyon and after trying to redpoint a few climbs we decided to head back to the car to replace the guidebook I thought was lost (but later found underneath the food) and get some more water. Funny thing though, my parent's car was there which was totally unexpected because they said they weren't going to come out. So after a little phone tag in "no signal land" we met up at the North Forty walls. After doing a few easy climbs the temperature had plummeted at least twenty degrees and the steady sprinkle was slowly doing in our will to climb. So we decided to head to my grandmothers house to get ready for Thanksgiving.

Now my family isn't crazy persay, they're just a little odd. Before the normal Thanksgiving day stuffing me and my uncle went and shot shotguns behind some of his tenants. I'm sure they weren't scared at all.

Arkansas is a funny place. The bible thumping is so in your face as to make you wonder whether people actually talk to each other anywhere but church and the racism is almost quaint, ("those nice black folks", there's only four of them). Despite this I still enjoy going there. It's the damn Natural State and the natural beauty is as prevalent as the praise Jesus signs. I can't help myself, whenever the opportunity presents itself I will go to Arkansas for the fun things available there.

The Friday we were to leave it was twenty four degrees when we left the house. This time it was just me, my dad, and my uncle. We decided to start on something pretty easy till it started to warm up. So we did a nice little trad route on the Kindergarten Boulder. Then we climbed Narwhal a short 5.7 chimney. I don't climb a lot of chimneys so it was fun. Then for our final Arkansas climb of the week we climbed Cows in the Mist another short 5.7 face climb.

Suffice to say I'm quite enamored with the climbing in Arkansas. The solid sandstone, dinner plate jugs, and the beautiful color of the rock simply mesmerize me. Shotgun toting, bible thumping, confederate flag flying, backwoods hicks, won't stop me.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

OK, I lied...

I was supposed to have finished my Red Rocks trip report this weekend. However, "Jello" called on Friday and needed a place to stay on his way back from visiting the family over Thanksgiving. I picked him up Saturday afternoon, and on Sunday, instead of him driving back in the crazy end-of-the-weekend traffic, we went climbing at the gym.

In any case, it ain't happening this weekend, but I may get "Jello" to become an occasional contributor to this blog. He is building a website that will host similar content (only his versions of our adventures, among others), but he may also write a bit on this as well...if I can get him to actually do it (I've offered to write some things on his site, just to be fair and balanced). So stay tuned for a possible Arkansas Horseshoe Canyon report...

In other news, I've now jumped on lead my first 5.12s. I haven't done them clean, and I'm a ways away from that, but it's a start.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Red Rocks - Day Four - The Life and Times of a Poor Man in a Rich Man's World

Simply put, we sat our asses in the hot tub for three straight hours. We didn't leave the hot tub until the water was cold. In fact, we had to do laps in the pool just to make the hot tub lukewarm again. It was a day off, and we both needed it.

Red Rocks - Day Three - One Man's Rope Drag is Another Man's Glee

After getting our hands dirty on an easy climb and easy approach, we decided that it was time for a little mini-big wall action without haul sacks, bivies, and assault-style attitudes. We wanted something bigger than we had ever done before, something classic, something famed around the world and, most of all, something with an easy-ish approach so that we wouldn't have to work so hard. Our options were numerous, but in the end only one choice presented itself with the kind of authority that we demanded: Crimson Chrysalis, the lord of Cloud Tower in Juniper Canyon.
Europe-The Final Countdown

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Crimson Chrysalis (5.8+) - 9 pitches - Mixed (trad and sport) - Bolted anchors at each station - 960 feet - Greg led

The Approach - One Hour - Pine Creek Canyon Parking Lot

We had two choices: follow the long trail west into Pine Creek Canyon before taking a left straight south toward the col that leads up to the start of the climbs on Cloud Tower, or cut directly southwest through the wash, thus saving ourselves what would probably be an extra 30 minutes of hiking. Both guide books had the shortcut listed (in fact, the Handren book, which is newer, has nice, full color pages, and seems to be the talk of the town since it came out, only has the shortcut as the way to go), but the supposed weaker guide (Brock and McMillen) also had what appeared to be a longer route that led all the way into Pine Creek Canyon before cutting across toward Cloud Tower. We looked at the two books and the landscape in front of us. It was obvious which path we wanted to take; the shortcut, but in the back of my head I kept hearing "Philly"'s voice (I remembered his nickname...yeah!) saying, "It's the desert. Just because you can see it in front of you, that doesn't mean you can walk straight there." Yeah, whatever. It was early, there were a couple of cars in the lot already, we knew this was a long, classic climb that required a late pass, which we had already requested, and we wanted to get up this thing as our major project for the weekend (well, to be fair, it was at least my project. I'm not so sure "Tattoo" realized the commitment that would be needed to get up this thing). So we cut out along the Pine Creek path before we cut left across the wash in search of the path on the other side.

And we searched...

And we looked around some more...

A little more...

Just a wee bit more...OH, a cairn! Cairns had become one of my best friends this summer (not to mention that it is a Scots word). All summer long "Jello" and I found ourselves refreshed at the sight of odd-placed cairns. To see one with the hot sun (yes, it was warm at 630am) beating down on our heads wasn't as refreshing as the water we were gulping down, but it was a relief to understand we were on the right path, or at least a path. All we had to do was follow this small path until it met with another, larger one. Or was it that small path over there?

Or that one?

What about that one?

Found another one over here.

Yep, me too. Hmmm...

We wandered around for about twenty minutes following what we thought were cairns leading us in the proper direction until we finally stumbled on the larger path. We followed that path until we came to a point where we had to make a decision: either go right and follow the path that seemed to go away from the col, or continue left and follow the path that clearly went up the col. Since Crimson Chrysalis started at the top of the col, we figured left was the way to go. Certainly, as we headed up the hill, this seemed to be the correct choice because we were going uphill, and that was a good thing. However, I was getting tired and hot. The water wasn't providing much relief and, at one point, I remarked "I feel like I'm climbing Everest where one takes a step every minute." The heat was starting to get to me a little, but I forged ahead.

At one point, about two-thirds of the way up, we looked to our right and saw a team of two climbers on a separate path that also went up the col. I wondered aloud if they were on a different path to the same place, and "Tattoo" wondered if they had found the actual path that we, given our earlier history of losing our way, had somehow missed. We both shrugged it off and actually considered it to be good fortune to be heading in a similar direction as another party, even if on completely different paths.

We kept hiking up the winding path and saw these two gentlemen a few more times until they disappeared behind what we knew was the large boulder at the top of the col. They went right, in the direction of the climb, and our path took us left. Still, we were confident because we could now see the wall was only about 100 yards in front of us. The gentlemen to our right seemed to be fading right, almost away from the wall. We felt as if we had made the correct choice at the bottom. Feeling hotter than before, I was glad to see that we were approaching shade, too. But then the path took a curious twist and brought me back to what I had experienced all summer long, and completely despised: a bushwhacking opportunity.

Bloody fucking hell!!!!!!!

OK, so I've bushwhacked with "Jello" on Cannon, twice, and endured its wonderfully stiff, dead, spruce branches. I've bushwhacked in Keene Valley on the way to Beer Walls in the Adirondacks. I've bushwhacked at the top of Poke-O-Moonshine, also in the Adirondacks. I've bushwhacked already in the desert with "Tattoo" and I was really, really, REALLY looking forward to a nice, easy path leading to the climb; just for once; it's all I really wanted. But no, I just couldn't have it my way. My head felt as if it was swelling, my legs were barely holding me upright, and my shoulders were pleading for me to take the 50lbs of gear off so that they could reminisce about what it used to be like to be free and healthy. And to top that off, I had to bushwhack through trees with prickly ends and cacti. Spruce has nothing on cacti, especially when the bushwhacking requires crawling because that's the only way a human body could squeeze through the brush.

OK, so maybe I'm complaining just a bit much because we got through that section fairly easily and soon found ourselves talking to the gentlemen who were hiking to our right. One climber from that team was already on the wall, and another was ahead of them. We were third in line, and that was fine by me. I told "Tattoo" that was I feeling nauseous (I have been known to get heat stroke before) and that he should beware of vomited projectiles as we went up (seriously, I considered not climbing). He suggested I vomit away from him, and that just about settled whether or not we were going, even before the choice was verbally presented. I stole some ibuprofen from a couple of guys who had just come up behind us, rested my forehead against the cold rock and waited for the stroke to go away. Water just wasn't cutting it, so I stopped drinking it so profusely. Instead, I just waited. Finally, about three pitches up I realized that I hadn't felt sick in a while. It was comforting to know that the old adage of me getting stronger as I go along was playing out at just the right moment.

Pitch One (5.7) - 140 feet

This was a pretty easy pitch that spent less time in the crack than one would think. Basically, Crimson Chrysalis sells itself as a crack climb when viewed from below but turns into a face climb throughout much of the way up. I have to laugh a bit here because someone had drawn arrows in the rock with chalk to guide people on the way up. I'm not sure if that ruins the on-sight or not, but it was funny to see.

In any case, whenever the route gets difficult in the crack, look for bolts out right and follow them through the face. When getting up to the belay, stay right and then traverse across at the top. It may look longer, and it is, but it is easier this way.

Pitch Two (5.8) - 90 feet

Pitch Three (5.8+) - 100 feet

Each of the two parties above us combined pitches two and three into one, long pitch. I wasn't sure if I could muster 5.8 and 5.8+ back-to-back for such a long stretch, especially feeling the way that I was. But when I got to the top of the second pitch and saw that the belay was really awkward, I kept going. The belay at the top of the second pitch is a hanging belay at an odd angle. At the very least, the top of the third pitch has small ledge to rest on. Both are hanging belays, but the third pitch belay seemed to be a nicer one to use.

There are two cruxes in this stretch: one is a route-finding crux and the other is a true climbing crux. The route-finding crux will come first where the crack seems to get much harder all of a sudden and the face looks blank and committing. Trust the face. It's a bit of tricky traverse that requires one to really go for the face holds out left, but everything is there and, in fact, I found this small section to be some of the best climbing on the entire route. The second crux is right below the anchors. Just layback the small flake and trust the feet. It's a bit pumpy, but it's better than one would think.

Speaking of pumpy, as I mentioned in the previous post, I wanted to avoid having to belay two ropes in a Reverso on nine pitches of climbing this day. For one, I was leading the whole route and wanted to ensure that I didn't sap my energy as we approached the top. However, the other reason was because I wasn't feeling well and didn't think I had the strength to make it all day. If I was going to hike all that way in and be sick, then I wanted to get my money's worth. Besides, I was carrying the majority of the gear; let "Tattoo" haul something up for once! So I made, as one of the guys in line behind us said, an executive decision that he was going to trail the spare rope and I was going climb on one rope.

Well, it's not that simple because these were all hanging belays and that meant that we couldn't coil the trailing rope very well at each station, at least not without finding a way to tangle it with the "live" rope or dropping it when "Tattoo" started to climb. That meant that once "Tattoo" got above the first belay anchors that he was carrying the weight of the rope in its entirety as it hung below him. On top of that, he was cleaning my gear. I still think that we had an equal amount of weight to pull, as I never cleaned my rack on the way up (never even came close, in fact), but he still had portions of the rack and the entire rope to haul. As we got to the third belay, "Tattoo" informed me that the rope was starting to wear him down and that we should find a way to make this easier. Unfortunately, there were only a couple of non-hanging belays the rest of the way up, so he was stuck dragging the whole weight of the rope for nearly 800 feet.

Pitch Four (5.8) - 140 feet

For the next pitch, go through the chimney and over the steep section. It's easier than it looks from below. And in keeping with my entertainment pledge, and because "Tattoo" could only hear every third word coming out of my mouth due to the wind, I present to you something completely different; a scene from Spamalot:

Me: Hey "Tattoo"!
"Tattoo": Yeah?
Me: There's three cams up here. Two of them are not mine. One of them is mine. The one that is mine is placed right above one of the ones that isn't mine.
"Tattoo": OK, so the three cams are yours.
Me: No. Two cams are not mine and one is.
"Tattoo": Right. So, one cam is not yours and the others are.
Me: No. Two cams are not mine. One is mine.
"Tattoo": So two of them are yours.
Me: No, one is mine.
"Tattoo": None are yours.
"Tattoo": Right, and two are yours.
"Tattoo": I was just kidding. I know, all three are yours.
Me (to myself) - well, if you can get all three of those out then God bless you. I'll give you the old ones as your first booty gift.
Me (to "Tattoo"): Only one cam is mine! That's the one connected to the rope and is next to an old cam.
"Tattoo": So you only connected the rope to your cam then?
Me: Correct...NO! I clipped another old cam, but that one is alone!
"Tattoo": OK, so your cam is the one that is alone.
"Tattoo" (with a shitty grin on his face): So leave all the cam where they are then?
Me: Fuck you, I'm climbing.
"Tattoo" (laughing): Climb on.

Pitch Five (5.8) - 100 feet

Thankfully there is a very nice ledge to belay from here. In fact, despite the fact that it is still a hanging belay, the ledge is large enough for one's foot to be completely on the ledge if facing the wall (i.e. - not sideways). This allowed us to pull the rope up and give "Tattoo" a bit of a break. He really needed it because, as I realized that I hadn't had a sip of water in about three pitches, it dawned on us that there was no water left in the reservoir in the backpack that he was carrying (oh yeah, he also had the backpack, but all that had really was the water, a camera, a small first aid kit and the guidebook). That meant that we were both getting on with the fatigue factor, as one would guess, and we didn't have water. It was now going to be a waterless shot to the top, but at least we were more than halfway there at this point and, as luck would have it, we found another couple of small ledges along the way to pull the rope up onto, thus saving "Tattoo" a bit of energy that he wished he had lower on the climb.

As for the pitch itself, follow the crack up until you get to the anchor. It's as simple as that.

Pitch Six (5.8+ or 5.6 depending on one's height) - 100 feet

Follow the crack on the left and then fade right to the next belay. The crux is about 15 feet from the belay and requires a bit of a stretch if one can make it. If one can't, just go for it. The hold is big enough to trust, if you trust sandstone, that is.

This is a good time bring up the fact that I stopped pounding every hold to see if it was secure about halfway up to this point. I was still checking holds (flakes, chickenheads, etc) for firmness, but after a while I stopped checking the crimps and ledges. Still, it's about this point where the rock starts to turn red, and that made me a little more cautious than I had been.

It's also good to note that the bolts start to become difficult to see from below. This is probably due to both the color of the rock and the number chickenheads that cover the wall. In any case, find the path of least resistance and you'll do fine. However, you better be OK with running it out a bit if you miss the bolts, because there isn't much protection the rest of the way up.

Pitch Seven (5.7) - 130 feet

It's a sport climb now. Just clip and go.

We had our first party pass through at this point. The second party would pass through at the next belay station.

Pitch Eight (5.7) - 75 feet

Climb the steep terrain to the right until you get to a ramp. Follow the ramp up to just below the belay. The better holds are to the right of the right of the belay at this point.

It's getting dark. "Tattoo" has just told me that he wants to retreat to the bottom. All other parties are heading down. We are the highest party on the climb. I know that he's getting tired, and so I have decided to trail the rope myself to the top. But then he gets to the belay tells me he can't finish. He's worried about darkness setting in, and I can't blame him. Despite my experiences of being in the dark with "Jello" (both with and without headlamps), I, too, am concerned about rappelling all the way down this thing in the dark. I knew we had the headlamps in the bag, so lighting wasn't going to be a problem, but finding the rap anchors on the way down might be. My biggest concern? Getting the rope caught in the dark. I've rapped in the dark before, but never climbed (despite my desire to climb Thin Air (5.6) at Cathedral in the dark, it never happened). If the rope gets stuck, and we're all alone (btw - neither of our phones had reception in the canyon), then were were as good as screwed. But as he tells me, and as we watch the painful faces of the party below us descend (painful because they didn't make it to the top - get out of bed earlier SUCKAS!), I remember that this pitch is only 75 feet tall. I can see the first two bolts. They're old bolts, unlike the newer ones below, but I can see them. And I can see the anchors. They're right there. Right there. I can see them. They. Are. Right. There.

Me: Do you mind if I go?
"Tattoo": Um, well, if you think -
Me: OK, I'll be back in a jiffy.

Pitch Nine (5.8) - 75 feet

To be honest with you, this isn't a very difficult pitch. OK, so it heads straight up until it traverses way right and then left again. It is this sequence that prevents one from linking pitches eight and nine together (too much rope drag), but the climbing, I thought, wasn't worthy of a 5.8 grade (5.7 maybe). One thing to consider, however, is that all the bolts, even the anchor (which is a one-ring rap ring) are old bolts. So beware when coming off. Instead of rapping, I had "Tattoo" lower me, which was a bit of a challenge considering the traversing I had to do get to the top (and is winding because that's where the bolts / pro are). I down-climbed most of it just to be safe and to avoid swinging.

So there we were, at the bottom of pitch nine. It was now dark. We got out the headlamps and started our rappel. It wasn't a problem-free rap. The rope did get stuck several times, but we didn't have to do too much to free it. Naturally, our adrenaline was making these moments seem both oddly calm and worrisome at the same time. I'd say that it took us a bit more than an hour to rap nine pitches. Not bad if you ask me. The good thing about getting to the bottom (other than not having to spend the night in a cold canyon at a hanging belay for 12 or so hour)? We had water down there. Mmmm.

Walk Out

As we rapped down, we saw several of the parties heading down the col and tried to guage where their headlamps were going. Of course, once we started walking, knowing where they were helped about as much as throwing a stone into the grocery bag with eggs in it just to keep it from flying off in the wind. We found the main path down, but then lost it. Then we found it again. Then lost it again. Bushwhacked for a bit, still couldn't find the path, and then found it again. When we finally got down from the col, and had found the main path, we had a decision to make: take the northeast path (the one we had taken that morning) to the parking lot or take the more established path that goes way out of our way (the one we wished we had taken this morning) but was easier to follow. Why the choice when that morning's results should have given us the obvious answer? Because we had 60 minutes to get back to the car before we found a $150 ticket on it for being out too late. It was 7pm and our permit only allowed us to be out until 8pm. One good thing was that "Tattoo" had read the permit directions carefully and noticed that we didn't have to be out of the park by 8pm, but at the car by 8pm (see the previous post). Still, if we managed to get lost in the daylight, then we figured we didn't stand a chance at night, despite knowing that we had to head directly NNE to get there and that that direction would have gotten us there pretty easily. Feeling that we were better served $150 poorer as opposed to wandering for hours in the dark desert, we chose the easy route and immediately got lost. Son of a...

We wandered for about 20 minutes, both looking for the main path (which was clearly about two feet wider and more worn than the smaller paths that dotted the landscape around us) and heading NNE with the hopes that some miracle could force us to make a decision on which way to go. At one point I said "screw it" and started heading in the complete opposite direction (toward the canyons) from where we knew the parking lot was. "Tattoo" protested for a bit, but I knew the main path was now behind us. Walking back toward it had to yeild something. Alas, about 15 minutes later we found it and were home free. An hour later we took our final rest and looked back into the canyon. "Tattoo" noted how awsome the mountains looked in the darkness with the stars above. I sat back and wondered aloud how many people had seen what we were seeing at that moment (we found out two days later that one of the teams behind us was still lost in the wash, so we weren't alone). For all my trash talking about how ugly the desert was, I was incredibly impressed at this moment and could have stayed there all night watching the mountainous shadows rise up to the endless stars above. Which brings me to my next "Vegas" moment:

These guys are way to good for Vegas: The Church - Under the milky way

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After resting for about 15 minutes, we realized that we were 30 minutes too late to avoid the ticket. Resigned to splitting our added expense, we took our time getting back to the car. We didn't care at that point because we knew we were home free as far as getting back safe was concerned. That's all that mattered to us. But, as luck would have it, as "Tattoo" approached the car, he shouted back to me (as I was dragging my sorry ass up the damn, last, stupid hill) that there was no ticket to be found. Woo! Hoo!

Two other stories to tell quickly: one concerns our guests in the elevator ride back up to our room and the other revolves around dinner.

The elevator: Walking through the hotel with our gear, ropes and dirty clothes and faces was one of the most enjoyable aspects of this trip for me. I've already said how unimpressed I was with Vegas, so this just made me feel like a bad ass as I strolled by all the fat, slot-machine guests with a "fuck you I have more important things going on my life" look on my face. They all looked at us as if we were bad asses. Even security took a second look (btw - it astounds me that there are so many people who either live in or visit Vegas and have no clue that Red Rocks is right next door. Even as a scenic drive, Red Rocks should at least be a small getaway for folks, but most don't even realize it's there. Just odd). Anyway, we got on the elevator with four forty-something women in lacey evening dresses and large glasses of wine. Here is the basic conversation:

Woman #1: I need more wine.
Woman #2: I think there's more upstairs.
Woman #3: We're going back down right?
Woman #4: We're partying 'cause we're in Vegas. Of course we are.
Woman #1: Oh, there's guys on this elevator.
Woman #2: Like, wow! There are.
Woman #3: And they have ropes. Where have you guys been?
Me: Climbing.
Woman #2: So what have you guys been doing today?
Me: Climbing.
Woman #1: They have ropes. (note: not, you have ropes, but they have ropes, as if we are incapable of conversing)
Woman #3: Why do you need ropes.
Me: Clim -
Woman #2: Are you going to rob the place?
Me: No, we've been cli -
Woman #4: I know what they've been doing!!!! (picture her raising her hand and jumping up and down, knowing full well that her jiggling jugs are right in my face)
Me: Climbing. We've been climbing.
Woman #4: They've been rappelling all day.
Woman #1: Rappelling?
Woman #4: They're rappellers.
Me: It's climbi -
Woman #4: They've been rappelling, right? You're rappellers, right?
Elevator: DING!
Me: Excuse me, this is our stop.
Woman #4 (as we exit and the doors shut behind us): They've been rappelling.
Both of us: GROAN.

Dinner: After showering, we went downstairs to have dinner in the 24-hour cafe. This is the one where "Tattoo" had the worst Chinese food he'd ever had before. He claimed that if Burger King did Chinese then this is what it would taste like. In any case, I ordered the steak that was only orderable until 11pm. The waitress said they were out of that kind of steak, and so I ordered the other steak. I couldn't figure out why they were out of steak so early, especially when they served it until 11pm. This is a casino, right?, I thought to myself. They don't run out of food, right?

Anyway, after we got back to the room, I looked at the clock was astounded to see that it was after midmight. "Jesus," I said, "that's why they wouldn't serve it to me." So after a 13-hour day (car to car) our entire day had been a full 20 hours. One of the longest physical days I've ever pulled. I needed to sleep. Even more, "Tattoo" needed a day off.

But before I leave, here's one more "Vegas" tribute, this time to the girls in the elevator, whom I sure got plenty of the action described in the song below:
Divinyls - I touch myself

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Red Rocks Day Two - Feeling Flighty on Birdland

Just because this was my first trip to Vegas, I'm going to continue to put music and entertainment content in these posts. I'll try to make it all relevant and cheesy at the same time. Hopefully I can pull it off. Why not start with a little bit of cheese:
I'm sure these guys have played Vegas: Spandau Ballet - True

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Now on to Friday's climbing...

One advantage to living on the east coast and climbing on the west coast is knowing that the park closes at 5pm during the winter months. Why is this relevant? Because "Tattoo" was flying in from Seattle and a 4am wake-up call is a 4am wake up-call, but it's a 7am wake-up call for me. Guess who didn't get jet lag? Hehe. "Tattoo" and I were the second car in the Pine Creek parking lot, just as the desert sands began to take shape in the early-morning light. Our goal was Birdland's (5.7+) five pitches of exposed climbing on Brass Wall's obvious face. We were the second party on the wall and had two full ropes to drag up because of the long pitches. While climbing with two full-ropes is not ideal, it is what "Jello" and I had to deal with all summer long (we plan on buying doubles for next season). As a result, we learned good rope management, and that belaying with two single ropes off a Reverso was tiring; really, really tiring. But, knowing that "Tattoo" had less experience than both "Jello" and I, I wanted to show "Tattoo" how to manage the ropes so that he'd become familiar and more experienced as a result of the trip. In essence, I had two goals climbing with him these few days: one was to get him up to speed on the multi-pitch techniques that "Jello" and I had worked really hard to figure out throughout the course of the summer (so that we could get up longer routes more quickly), and the other was to leave him with some sort of knowledge or experience that he could build upon for the future. I think I met both goals, though not quite as effectively as I wanted.
Birdland (5.7+) - 5 pitches - Mixed (trad and sport) - Bolted anchors at each station - 480 feet - Greg led

Pitch One (5.6) - 110 feet

If it weren't for this and the fifth pitch, we could have done this with one 60m rope, but that was OK because, as I said above, we needed to be on the same page regarding rope management. In any case, this route has a bit of a hidden start. One should walk all the way up to the large, obvious, right-facing corner in the left side of Brass Wall Left and find a small, somewhat secluded belay area just to the right of the corner if looking straight up. This belay area is hidden a bit behind a couple of boulders, trees and over a dirty hump that one has to scramble up before one can see the belay area. If you get a little lost, don't start in the cave-like area below and to the right of the belay ledge, but do take notice that it is easy to hike around into that cave area when you come down. You're rope will very likely end up there when you pull it after rappelling.

Anyway, climb the crack to the tree directly above. Stay to the right of the tree when when approaching the ledge. The crack is on the right side of the face, kind of over the cave area and is well-protected. One can also climb the left face and probably keep the grade the same. However, this is less protectable.

Pitch Two (5.7) - 100 feet

Not much to say here except climb straight up to the chimney and then move up right to the edge (and disregard the pics in relation to the description - they aren't the same). I guess that I can say that we had some rope management troubles here. This is entirely my fault as I didn't take care to actually remember what "Jello" and I had worked on the past few months. We had to reflake the ropes at the top of each station and that took time. It also meant we lost the beta from the group ahead of us because they were moving at a much better pace. On top of that, once we hit the top of the second pitch, I made a poor decision in letting the party behind us go ahead. It wasn't so much of a mistake that they did anything to slow us down, but the waiting for them was much longer than I anticipated. Because Birdland and Big Horn (5.8) share the first two pitches, I had hoped to do Birdland and then rap to the bottom of pitch three and finish the day on Big Horn. My decision to let the party below us pass through made that all but impossible. We could have phoned in to get a late pass, but we were tired at the end of the day and still needed to discuss our next-few-days options. So, because of this, we were only able to tackle Birdland.

Pitch Three (5.7+) - 85 feet

A quality pitch if not too short. Head right from the anchors to the first left-leaning ramp and climb that up to where a less-sketchy-than-it-looks varnished traverse begins. There's a bolt up there somewhere, so you'll be well protected as you move through it. After that, follow the crack above and to the right to the next anchor.

Pitch Four (5.6) - 90 feet

There is a bit of route-finding here, but it's all there. Basically, head straight up until the horizontal crack and then traverse right to the broken vertical crack that will lead right to the anchors. At this point, the party we had let pass us was about 1.5 pitches ahead of us, so allowing them to pass was a good idea, but I should have done it later when we could have been farther along.

The climbing here is on the face that one sees from the path below. The climbing looks a lot more exposed from below then it really is. This is mainly because the wall is at a fairly low enough angle to never give one the feeling of dropping into space. This is also because there are a few bulges along the way that break up the straight-down viewpoint that exposures ordinarily provide. But still, the view from up here is spectacular, and I admit that from above, the desert is not that as bad looking as I noted in my previous post. In fact, I've always enjoyed flying over the deserts on my way west. For some reason, however, the desert only looks nice to me from above. I guess it's a top-down thing. I don't know.

Pitch Five (5.7+) - 100 feet

This is the money pitch. Climb up to the far left of the slight roof and then follow the thin crack to the anchor. Up until this point, the entire route felt more like management-climbing as opposed to climbing. What do I mean by management-climbing? Well, when one is managing a climb one is not really climbing for the sake of climbing. Instead, one is busy reading the route, working through awkward systems, managing the rope, ensuring proper protection for the second, worrying about rope signals versus shouts, etc. In other words, one is more doing the things that make climbing possible and less climbing. The second half of this pitch is all climbing. Sure, you'll have to place gear (small gear all the way up), but this finger crack is just, well, really, really nice. There's enough face climbing to get through the bottom section with ease and the hand-jams at the top are swell enough to make anyone glad that they're there. The crux is moving onto the belay ledge itself. One must go from solid hand-jams to a bouldery sloper before gaining the jug at the top of the triangle ledge where one stands while belaying. It's doable, but if you're slightly run out, then this will give you a small bite of willies. Don't take this lightly, but don't be discouraged either. Just go, go, go and you'll be fine.


There is a sixth pitch, but we heard from the two parties above us and from reading the book that the last pitch is loose, poorly protected and doesn't offer decent climbing for the length (75 feet) / effort. Because it was my first day ever on this kind of sandstone (the sandstone in Scotland - yes, there is sandstone in Scotland - is very gritty and soft, but it never feels solid while climbing. The sandstone in Red Rocks feels solid, but can still snap at any given moment. This is sort of my "if you tell me the shot is going to hurt beforehand then I can handle it" approach to pain and suffering. I'm OK climbing loose stuff if I know it's absolutely going to break. That way, I'm more careful. But if it feels safe when it's not, then I'm more likely to be lulled into a false sense of security), I wanted to be safe and head down. Besides, no one else was doing it and I figured they had good reason.

Anyway, we rapped with two 60m ropes and may have skipped anchors, but I can't remember. A 70m would be fine going station-to-station. One could probably go from the bottom of pitch five straight to the bottom of pitch three, but I can't remember if we did that or if it was even possible due to the direction of the climbing.

Once down, we packed up and saw the time. It was 430pm and we knew we had to be back to the car by 5pm. Actually, we thought we had to be out of the park entirely by 5pm and were worried that there would be a park ranger at the gate issuing $150 fines to anyone not out of the park by the time it closed. Being the noobs that we are, we ran most of the 30-minute long trail, passing a few, far more poised, elder climbers on the way to get back to the car at 505pm. We then chucked our stuff in the car and flew the final three miles to the exit. There was no park ranger there, and we were relieved to not have our wallets lighter than anticipated.

One thing I wanted to reiterate regarding this climb, I found it incredible tiring to belay both ropes through the Reverso when "Tattoo" was climbing. Just to be clear, I could not have belayed him on only one rope and pulled the other as he came up because I wouldn't have had any place to drop the rope while I was belaying the live rope (most anchors near the top were hanging belays). I also couldn't have pulled the rope when he got to the top due to the many places the then looped rope could have caught on. The next best option was to have him trail the rope, and that is what we decided to do the next day. It was a decision that somewhat affected our climb as a team, and definitely affected his climbing as an individual as we neared the top of Crimson Chrysalis (5.8+). But more that in the next post.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Red Rocks - Thursday Touchdown in the Land of Has-beens

Having not flown a great distance in quite a while, it dawned on me about four hours into my flight from Boston to Las Vegas that airlines don't feed their customers anymore. I was a bit miffed that I was surviving on a single croissant from earlier that morning, two very small cookies and several glasses of water without ice. Ordinarily, I wouldn't mind not having the ice in my cup. Besides keeping your drink cool, all ice does otherwise is get in the way of the large gulps one wants to throw down. So not having ice to wet one's nose can be small victory in the world of fine dining. However, I really could have used something extra to eat, and the ice would have provided an honest snack to a single male flying to Vegas for the first time in his life.

But let's not get caught up in the details here. I wasn't flying to Vegas to party. In fact, if it weren't for Red Rocks Canyon then I'd probably never go to Vegas. This isn't like Amsterdam, where the known qualities of each city are partying, sex, and, well if not for gambling in Vegas then more sex in Amsterdam. Amsterdam also has architecture, canals, and Vermeer (not to mention the longest legs one will ever lay eyes on). Vegas, as you probably can guess from my intro, is one, big disappointment.

For starters, as I debarked from the plane, I followed my hunger-headache to where I thought there would be easy-to-find food. Naturally, because I rarely turn down food, I found a circular food court not far from the gate. Happy that my tummy was about get recharged before heading off into the desert to explore the weekend's approaches and climbs, I stopped on the perimeter of the circle and tried to scan the restaurant signs so that I could figure out what was available to eat and reconcile that with what I wanted to eat. But as I scanned the signs an odd thing happened to me; I couldn't read the signs. This was odd because I could see them very clearly, but there was something - something flashy, bright - that kept pulling at my attention. I tried for several minutes to study the restaurant signs: Appleb...China Delu...Something Pretzel...Wheel of Fortune...Candy Shoppe...Blah Blah Bar and...WHEEL OF FORTUNE?!?!?!?!?! My eyes slowly scrolled down at a proportional speed that which my nose followed by scrunching into a position of disgust - Jesus! There's freaking slot machines in the airport. And there's people playing them. What the f...?

I was annoyed at the in-your-faceness of the scene around me. I just couldn't believe that it would be this pathetic, but there it was right in front of me: chain smoking Korean War heroes and their wives pulling levers and pushing on-screen buttons underneath the cheesiest, country-fair-likeness flashing lights trying to get a fucking airport. It was almost unbelievable.

I didn't stick around long enough to begin to appreciate the beauty of slot machines, probably much to the dismay of the McCarran Airport capital venturists. So I picked up my rental car and made another discovery about Las Vegas that hadn't ocurred to me: Vegas is a town of has-beens. Seriously, no one doing Vegas, unless on a world tour, is relevant anymore. If they were relevant, they wouldn't be doing Vegas. Instead, they'd be doing New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo, London, Paris, Bangaluru (formerly Bangalore - seriously, check for yourself), Sydney, Boston (plug) and Sao Paulo. You see the difference? One is catering to millions of young fans at the edge of entertainment and the other is telling jokes or singing songs to forty-something bitter, single women and fat men who want nothing to do with each other but would probably screw each otherall night if the one asked when no one else was looking. Well, that and seniors spending the Social Security I'm never going to see back again (thanks, Boomers. Don't think we haven't thought of a cull). Speaking of forty-something: forty minutes after touchdown, I was standing in the parking lot of Pine Creek Canyon in Red Rocks Canyon National Conservation Area (which goes by the nifty acronym: RRCNCA), breathing in a deep sigh of removedness, and beginning my journey into a world that I desperately needed to venture into: a world known as Nostressland.

But first, let me give you my initial impressions of Red Rocks. While there are red rocks in Red Rocks Canyon, the name of the canyon forced me to pause and wonder, where the hell are all the red rocks? OK, I admit, the first couple of pullouts, the ones that pass by Calico Basin, have very red rocks. And I also admit that throughout the canyon there are some fantastic horizontal bands of red rock streaking across the various mountains. But, for the most part, and by "most part" I really mean 90% of the park, Red Rocks Canyon is a blend of 1970s pale brown, unfashionable shades of tan, and a mix of varnished...I don't know what to call it...unhydrated piss-colored sandstone. In other words, the place is freaking ugly.

OK, to be fair, I should mention that I grew up in picturesque Acadia National Park (see links on the main page) with its majestic, porcupine-like islands floating quietly in the sparkling sea below the wise, presiding Cadillac Mountain and all it's surrounding green forests, crystal clear lakes and soft-on-the-eyes bays and fjords (yes, Sommes Sound is not only not a sound, but it is also the only fjord on the east coast of the United States. We're beautiful. I didn't say we were smart). So, to compare such a blend of color and air with the dry and drab landscape of burnt juniper trees, crumbling sandstone mountains, and lots and lots of sand that doesn't have topless women walking through it on their way to the calm, beautiful, blue sea at the sand's edge isn't quite fair. They're two different things and I fully agree that one man's ocean playground is another man's desert solace; it just isn't my solace. Other than that, the climbing looked decent.

I only had a couple of hours to spare before the park closed, so I wandered into Pine Creek Canyon (about 10 miles from the entrance gate) in search of the Dark Shadows Wall and Brass Wall. The goal was really to orientate myself so that I knew what to expect when "Tattoo" arrived later that night and we could plan with some pretextual knowledge. This hike was about 75% successful that turned into success a few days later.

I had heard that the approaches into the canyons and walls were long. A quick look of the book while on the plane confirmed that by telling me the approach to Brass Wall was about 30 minutes, with an additional five to ten minutes added on to get into the canyon where Dark Shadows was. The timing noting in the book wasn't off by much, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that a 30 minute approach into Pine Creek Canyon is not the same thing as a 30 minute approach to the base of Whitney-Gilman at Cannon. The prior is almost exclusively a flat, easy walk on soft sand while the latter is a beefy scramble straight up a loose talus field. If this is what all the approaches are like, then I can handle this, I thought to myself.

It's funny, too, because one of my buddies in Boston (I forget what his nickname is on the site - hey guy with a funny spelling to your typical name, what nickname did I give you?) had told me that one stands in the parking lot and clearly sees the walls in front one's eyes, but the path to happiness is not always as straight and obvious as it seems it should be. He was right because, while the main path is pretty easy to follow (in daytime - more on that in another post), the side trails leading from the main trail to the base of the cliffs leave a lot for the imagination to make up. In other words, just because one can see the cliffs, it doesn't mean one can get there easily.

On a bit of a side note, and you can laugh at me all you want on this, but I was surprised that the deserts in the US actually have sand; soft, wiggle-your-toes-in-it sand. I know this sounds crazy, but I always imagined sandy deserts being in Africa and on the sub-continent. I never realized that the deserts in the US were not hard-cracked, dry, scorched earth. It was a funny moment for me, and I knew I was going to catch a few smirks going my way when I mentioned this.

Anyway, I found a couple of climbs on Brass Wall Right that I thought "Tattoo" and I could handle on our first day. Both were in the 5.7 to 5.8 range, had easy approaches are were long enough for us to feel as if we had done some serious climbing by the day's end. What I didn't find, however, was Dark Shadows. I found the Dark Shadows Wall, but not the route of the same name. This was disappointing to me at first, but I scouted enough to know that there was a waterfall nearby and that I was, at the very least, in the right place. As it turned out (special thanks to the dude behind the counter at Desert Rock Sports), the route I was looking for starts directly above the waterfall. So all I had to do was find the waterfall and I'd find the route. Shivers went down and up my spine as he said this, but this was primarily because I had to piss worse than a Russian race horse. I left the store seventy-dollars lighter and went to the Suncoast Casino to see if I could check in.

The Suncoast isn't a bad casino, as far as I could tell. For one, the slot machines were the same as in the airport, so I figured there was at least a semblance of consistency between the two places. I also didn't mind the fact that they pump so much air into the place because, as a result, one doesn't really notice the cigarette smoke. However, I usually pride myself on being able to find the alternative entrances to the hotels, just so I can avoid the normal riffraff that may be staying there. No such luck here. These casinos thought of everything: one must walk through the gambling area on the way to the elevators that lead to the rooms. That kind of sucked, but, as it turned out, the casino was only about 15 minutes from the entrance of Red Rock Canyon, so the minuses had plusses to average them out. If one wanted to get closer to the canyon, then one could stay at the Red Rock Casino...and lay one's head down for $400 per night. I took the $100 per night on average and slept just fine (well, after I picked "Tattoo" up at the airport, but you catch my drift).

So what can one expect in the next couple of blogs? Friday's climb, Friday's actions that led to results later in the weekend, Saturday's climb, Saturday's adventure, Sunday's wet adventure, Monday's climb and Tuesday's climbs / flight home. I think there will be a different post for each day, with some being significantly longer than others, but we'll figure it out as we go along. In any case, enjoy the ride.

And Now For Something Relevant To Vegas: Pretenders

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Friday, November 02, 2007

Gearing Up

I haven't written in a while because I've been stuck indoors the past few weeks. This has nothing to do with weather and more to do with my lack of ability to manage my time and partners well. I'm not sure if this has become a burden or not: I haven't climbed outside in a while so I've lost my feel for real rock; or I'm getting stronger at the gym thanks to a new training method that I described in my previous post.

In any case, I do have two updates. One is that I'm off to Red Rocks (Vegas) in less than a week to climb with "Tattoo" for the first time since he turned asshole and moved to the Left Coast. I'm excited about the prospect of finally going on my first, real climbing trip in years. I know, I got out a lot this summer, but gassing it to the various spots in New England and New York just aren't the same thing. These places may be destinations for some people, but they're in my backyard and I've never considered my backyard to be a destination (unless, of course, I'm really drunk and need to get away from myself). So Red Rocks is my first trip away from home since I went to Switzerland while in school in Scotland back in 2000. I will have a daily diary posted once I get back. I hope "Tattoo" has a camera, because if he doesn't the pics are going to be from a disposable camera, and I'm not confident of the quality they'll bring. So, for crossed fingers and anxious mouse-clicking index fingers awaiting my imminent return, stand down; I'll be alive here again soon enough.

The other update regards my new training method: that of leading a route that is beyond my range each time I go to the gym so that I become comfortable with being afraid and above my limits. I have to say that it is working. "Geneva" has also been inspired by my bug, so he is also pushing himself. I had a set-back last night as I just had a terrible day (thank you sugar. yes, you wonderful substance that lives in the candy brought in to work by all the parents of little children who don't want said little children to have that much candy). I had about fifteen highs and lows yesterday, with the climbing part of my day being a serious energy low.

Still, I'm getting better and more efficient at things I'm afraid of climbing. I'm happy that this is working out. I hope to be leading 11s consistently by spring. I also hope this translates in harder routes outside next summer. Only time will tell.