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.