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"!
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.
Me: No. THERE ARE THREE CAMS...
"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.
Me: NOOOOOOOO!!! THREE CAMS!! ONE IS MINE! TWO ARE NOT MINE! MINE IS THE ONE WITH THE ROPE AND NEAR ANOTHER CAM THAT IS WITHOUT THE ROPE. THE CAM THAT IS ALONE BUT CLIPPED IS NOT MY CAM.
"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.
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?
Woman #2: So what have you guys been doing today?
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?
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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