Saturday, December 29, 2007

America's Mountain via the Southeast Ridge

Pikes Peak was a lot of things for me. It was my first fourteener, my first Colorado mountain, my first time above ten thousand feet. It was also my largest vertical gain, longest distance traveled for a mountain, and all of this by myself.

Pikes Peak was a lot of things for me. It was my first fourteener, my first Colorado mountain, my first time above ten thousand feet. It was also my largest vertical gain, longest distance traveled for a mountain, and all of this by myself.

It all started when I convinced my family to go to Colorado over Christmas. After we all decided to go to Colorado Springs I started looking for mountains close by. Pikes Peak was the closest and after deciding on climbing the Y Coulior all I could do was try and prepare. I did so by jumping on some local Adirondack mountains. Having no couliors in the east I climbed the next best thing, the Trap Dyke on Mt. Colden. Unfortunately, my group turned back because of some discomfort among my peers, but I felt very comfortable and competent, which made me feel good about my proposed route.

Fast forward a couple weeks. I'm driving through the snow and ice again. The usually deafening sound of punk music is turned low so I can listen to the sound of the engine as it struggles to accelerate. Cars, can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em. I'm also listening to the tires on the snow and ice. Tires have a different sound when they're sliding and I didn't want to ruin my trip before it got started. Six hours of white knuckle driving later I'm spending the night at my climbing partner's house. Then after a fun day on the plane I was almost there. Just a ten hour drive away. Scratch that, since I was visiting my girlfriend in Iowa we had to drive on I-80, adding a few more hours. While I waited to go though I had some fun. Went to Hawkeye Point. Tried to reach Panorama Point in a blizzard, and failed, but finally I was there.

My family and friends were not quite as excited about my plans. Despite trying to calm all feelings of fear there was little I could say to assuage such fears. They feared I would be too cold, I would fall, I would be mauled by a mountain lion (the warnings at the trail head didn't help), they feared that I would get lost, die, that I would not return.

Despite this I was still excited. I felt prepared and the night before I was to leave I got some helpful information about the weather. Unfortunately, the weather didn't make my proposed route look like a fun or viable option. Likely avalanche hazard and unpleasant post holing dissuaded me from the Y coulior and instead I decided to head up the Barr Trail.

As morning came I double checked my gear and jammed it in the car.
30 minutes later we were at the trail head. The family decided to follow me up a few switchbacks. After about two they were done and decided to head back to the car. Then I was alone.

Welcome to the longest day on the Barr Trail ladies and gentleman. The name of the game here is Switchbacks. During no point during the first mile did I do anything except go back and forth. As the sun began to rise, so did I above the Manitou and Colorado Springs. Despite the monotony of the switchbacks I felt noticeable progress. After passing a few hikers I felt considerably alone. Alone with my thoughts I started to sing to myself. For some reason Katherine Bates' "America the Beautiful" came into my head. After passing under the rock arch and getting to what Roache describes as the second section of the Barr Trail I was able to push the song out of my head simply because I was thinking about what a Hansel & Gretel forest would looked like.

For some reason it wasn't that scary. Checking how fast I was moving it was a quick two mph. Maybe I could get to the top in a day. Oh how foolish I was.

I took a quick break in the quaint forest to go to the bathroom and to rub my aching back. I sat wondering why I put myself through considerable physical pain just to get to the top of a pile of rocks? Since I had a schedule to keep I ignored that thought and the pain and moved on. A surprisingly short while later I found myself at Barr Camp. What a welcome respite. The caretaker was very caring as she invited me inside. After a quick bite to eat I bid the people at Barr Camp goodbye. Moving quickly I passed two women who told me they had broke trail for two miles past Barr Camp. They said if I was determined I could make it. Buoyed by the thought that I could top out in a day I continued to press on.

As I came to the end of the women's tracks I found that my second wind was a while ago and that I might be running out of steam. After an exhausting hour of breaking trail I was beginning to wonder where the hell the A-frame was so I could just stop for the day. As I stopped to rest there was all of a sudden a man behind me. Came out of nowhere! He asked if I would like him to take over and I graciously accepted. Then he was gone. Never did I think someone could move so quickly post holing through the snow. I continued to push on and after several times of questioning my will to push forward I came to the A-frame and one of the longest feeling days in a long time.
First things first I tried to start my stove. As I pumped the fuel pump it simply would not push air into the fuel bottle. A small bit of fuel spewed into the priming cup and after priming I turned the flame control and to my surprise the stove simply sputtered. I tried pumping but it would not pump and eventually the stove went out as my water went unboiled. I took the entire stove apart and could find no problems. For the second time in my life I cursed the stupid stove. Why is it that whenever I try to push myself something gets in my way to make it more difficult? After several more tries I gave up. Looking at the meager ration of water I put several handfuls of GORP in my mouth and swallowed the rest of my water.

Slipping into my sleeping bag and bivy sack I resigned myself to the fact that I would be in for an uncomfortable night. For the rest of the night I awoke to cotton mouth and muscle cramps. So I played the clock watching game. First, I woke up at nine. Then, I woke up at two. Then, at four and finally my watch went off at six and I sat up. Gathering my things I decided I'd let urine color be the go, no-go decider. With only two liters the day before I thought for sure that I'd be in the brown and be heading back down. Amazingly, it was bright yellow and so away I went. The lessons I learned was to always bring more than one pump and to bring other sources of purification (the streams nearby were not completely frozen).
Awaking slightly before the sun I decided to watch it rise before I set off for the summit. I decided to cross the gully to start ascending the southeast ridge. The caretaker had said that the best route to the summit would be on the south side of the gully to avoid the cornice at the top.

This put me on the southeast ridge for the remainder of the ascent. While mostly first class with bits of second class and some snow to plow through the difficulty was not technical. Each step became a struggle upward. While my muscles were perfectly willing to speed up, my lungs were not, but I persisted. Slowly, and with great difficulty I continued. Every time I looked up I could see I was closer. After three hours I finally came to the top of the ridge right near the cog tracks. A few more minutes and I was there. Again I was alone. Despite seeing the cog train ascend a little while ago I did not think to try the door to the summit house. After a short time I decided to head back down.

The knee-jarring descent was arduous and it was quickly wearing on me. Half way down as the angle of the gully lessened I decided to glissade down the wind harden slab. Despite the bruising of my ass it saved me at least an hour and was far more pleasant to my knees. Reaching tree line I began to descend towards the trail head and sweet, sweet water.

I decided to try my cell phone to let my family know to come get me. For some reason it worked and low and behold they were on their way to the summit. By this time I was already past the A-frame and I told them I would not go back to the top. instead they said I could meet them at Mountain View and catch the cog the rest of the way down. Unfortunately it was past one and I was still just past the A-frame, a good distance from Barr Camp. I practically ran down the trail, determined to save myself the six miles past Barr Camp I would have to walk. As I booked it down the trail I made it to Barr Camp in approximately an hour from the A-frame. Stopping briefly to get info on how to get to Mountain View from the caretaker and finally having someone to share my triumph with I hurriedly walked towards Mountain View. After burning up the trail there in less than half an hour I realized I was incredibly early. So I waited. Then I waited some more. Finally the time of arrival had passed. After ten minutes I wondered if it was ever going to come. Then there it was slowly rolling down the hill. As it pulled to a stop the people in the passing windows pointed at me. Stepping on to the train I hugged my mother and people around us clapped. It was the most unique welcome back from a mountain I've ever received. My father handed me a liter of water which I quickly chugged and then a bag of chips which I quickly devoured and finally let the success and exhaustion take over.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Red Rocks - Day Six - Getting One More Climb In

I can't say that Red Rocks is ugly anymore. I've had too many experiences the past few days that have struck me in such a positive way that I'm sad to be going home. This post is going to be a quick one that will have the three climbs we did that morning and a some photos that didn't make the other posts.

Ultraman Wall - First Pullout

Scent of the Ultraman (5.7) - 110 feet - Sport - Greg and "Tattoo" led

This was our warmup route at 630am on the day we were to fly out. Gotta love the fact that we didn't read the damn book. Because my rope wasn't dry from falling into the pool on Dark Shadows, we only brought "Tattoo"'s 60m rope. Well, guess what doesn't equal 110 feet when folded in half...that's right, a 60m rope. Good thing there was a walk-off spot about ten feet above the bottom of the route. Jesus, I was pissed at myself.

Climb the slab on the far left of the wall, but not as far as the right-facing corner / roof. This route will end just below a smaller roof to the right of the feature I just described. This was a nice, easy route, but I was so pissed that we had not seen height of this route. We came to this wall to do the ultra-classic Ultraman (5.8+), but had to walk away because there was no walk off from Ultraman like there was Scent of the Ultraman. It was a wasted 30 minutes, too, because I really wanted to give A Fraction of the Action (5.10b) on Tiger Wall a go before leaving, but this waste of time prevented that.
Panty Wall - First Pullout

Great name for a wall, eh?

Brief Encounter (5.8) - 65 feet - Sport - Greg and "Tattoo" led

This is the left-most bolted route on the wall. Great climb. Just follow the bolts and chicken heads to the top. It never feels exposed or committing. Feels more like a 5.7 to me.

Sacred Undergarment Squeeze Job (5.8) - 60 feet - Sport - Greg and "Tattoo" led

This is the the route directly to the right of Brief Encounter. Same kind of climb, in fact, except this felt more like a 5.8.

After these three climbs, we hurried down to Tiger Wall just in case I had time to get on A Fraction of the Action. We didn't have time, and so I simply scounted the route for the next time. The next time...the next time...The. Next. Time.

But who cares about that, here's some "left-out" pics from the rest of the trip.

<- Greg on Birdland
Way up on Crimson Chrysalis -> "Tattoo" at the bottom of Dark Shadows/\

<- "Tattoo" taking a break at the end of the day One last, long look before going home ->

Red Rocks - Day Five - Into the Darkness

I noted in another post that on my first day in Red Rocks I sought out several climbs just so I knew where they would be. Almost all of the climbs were in the Pine Creek Canyon area, and all of those in that area were long, multi-pitch climbs in the 5.7 to 5.8 range. I was looking for classics, in particular, and one of the climbs I wanted to get up was Dark Shadows (5.8). I had heard good things about it and really wanted to see what it looked like before going up.

As I also noted in the older post, I didn't find the route that first day, but I did hear the waterfall. I couldn't see the waterfall, but I heard it and I knew I was nearby. Later that night, before I picked up "Tattoo" at the airport, I hit the local climb shop and got some directions: find the waterfall and you shall find the climb. "Tattoo" and I also had a bit of help while on the path from some folks who knew the area well. They told us to stay high above the wash until we couldn't stay high anymore. I thought I had done this a few days before, but I wasn't true to the directions. The directions say to stay high until the path dumps into the wash. Well, on my previous attempt I simply found the first path that dumped into the wash, therefore leaving me about two hundred yards short of one of the most fantastic corner cracks I've ever seen.

When we finally go there, I admit, I was nervous. I had seen the pictures in the book and the climbing looked committing and exposed. The descriptions told of holds appearing out of nowhere, so I was confident that I was going be OK, but this thing when straight up out of nowhere, and the right half of the corner seemed to be as varnished as brown glass. I was still a little tired from Crimson Chrysalis two days before, and wasn't sure if I wanted to layback 120 feet of finger crack. But I didn't show up to walk away. No way. If I was damn near puking at the bottom of Crimson Chrysalis, I wasn't going to walk away because of butterflies in my stomach. Instead, I looked up at the two parties above us and saw them working the various sections of the crack and the steep face / crack / pod at the top. Damn that looks exposed, I thought to myself. Damn I'm scared.

I've written before about how I climb for emotional therapy; how the throbbing fear inside me drives me to the brink of hopelessness and makes me feel as if I'm my own hero every time I'm lowered to the ground. Look, you have to understand that this goes way back to my days of being pummelled into "yes sir" submission by my strict, Navy stepfather. I had love and support showered onto me by my family who felt that his behavior was unwarranted, but in the end there was nothing they could do to help me. If I wanted to, the knife that I had stolen from a friend's kitchen was hidden under the desk. Two swipes and I didn't have to deal with it anymore. Thankfully, one day, I told myself that it didn't matter what folks thought. It was my life and I was going to do whatever I had to do to survive. In short, I saved myself, and whenever I start to whine about my limitations (in climbing and life) I always turn to what I know best: that I've conquered this fear before and all I need to do is conquer it again. What's the worst that can happen? I can lose, but that isn't really failure because even then I have something to hold close to my heart as a lesson for the future. All I have to do is get over the fear of caring the way society wants me to care, and everything seems to work out in the end.

Dark Shadows (5.8) - 4 pitches (out of a possible 10) - 340 feet - trad with bolted anchors at each belay station - Greg led

Pitches One and Two (5.5 and 5.6) - 145 feet combined

First off, very few people do all 10 pitches. Most only do the first four. The descent is difficult above pitch four, so make sure you know what you're doing before setting off.

Start on the slab right above the pool, which will be to the left. Follow the bolts up the face, climbing the pockets to the anchor at the bottom of the right-facing corner and finger crack. Stop here for the top of this pitch, but it isn't worth it to stop here. For one, the belay station isn't great and the next one is a huge four-person ledge. Two, it's only another 75 feet of climbing.

To continue, climb the thin crack to the top, then traverse left and back down on to the ledge at the bottom of the third pitch. I have to say that I don't think this second pitch is really 5.6. There's a stiff section about mid-way up the finger crack that requires quite a bit of body tension. I felt as if it was a series of two or three 5.9 moves before it felt solid again. And this section made me even more nervous than I was at the bottom. If this thin crack was a 5.6, then what the heck was the 5.8 money-pitch above me?

Pitch Three (5.8) - 120 feet

Just as "Tattoo" came up to the ledge, the first party was on its way down. I asked them how the rest of the route was and they unanimously said that it was spectacular, especially the third pitch. But one of them warned me about an awkward move on the fourth pitch. He didn't say much about it beyond that, and I didn't ask. I wanted to tell "Tattoo" that I was worried, but I kept telling myself to shut the hell up and climb. Just get over it and go. Trust yourself for once. You're a freaking Pisces for crying out loud, you have great instincts. Have courage and go.

For the third pitch, it's pretty simple: follow the crack and take the route of least resistance where it gets hard. Un-be-lieve-able. I couldn't get over how the holds that weren't there suddenly appeared, and the moves were so stable and dynamic at the same time. This pitch takes commitment, but the rewards are there. Just trust the route...and go. (Oh yeah, bring tri-cams for the run-out section).

Pitch Four (5.8) - 75 feet

As "Tattoo" was on his way up, the second party was rapping through. They, too, had smiles on their faces and I figured that the last pitch was just as nice as the third, but I was still a bit worried about the awkward section coming up. I asked again how this pitch was, and again I was told, this time with great hesitancy that it was a good pitch, though not as nice as the third. This time I learned that the awkward move was protectable, but that placing the gear was going to be tough. The guy recommended running through it if I could. I thanked him and then gulped. I was aware that there was an awkward move, but I hadn't considered how well protected it was. Thus far, the pro had been so-so. This route doesn't take nuts very well, though I did use a couple. Even the cams were somewhat useless in the pockets. Look, the third pitch wasn't all protectable crack. In some areas the two corners melted together so there was no gap. In other areas, the melted rock spilled out of the corner as wax would spill off a candle: it formed odd shapes at the bottom. The odd shapes I'm speaking of were pockets; that's right the crack. It was bizarre.

Anyway, as "Tattoo" came up, I shifted back and forth as my spine tensed up, my face cringed and my chest tightened. A particular swear word ran through my mind over and over again followed by the words "calm down" over and over again. I studied the climb in front of me to see where the crux would be. The route ran right, out over the face instead of staying left and in the crack. I imagined looking down as I was on it - a direct shot to the ground of over 250 feet would be staring back up at me. Any fall meant not only falling into a self-rescueless empty space but possibly swinging hard back into the corner below. Where the hell is that crux?

Finally, "Tattoo" had me on belay and I thought one more time, do I tell him that I'm scared? Is it a safety issue? Should he be prepared if I fall? The answer was "no". I was going to put the pressure all on me to not fall. "Tattoo" is a good climber, but he doesn't have the outdoor experience that I have. I had already given him his first rappel in the dark, an event that he wasn't overly fond of. I had already pushed him farther than he really wanted to go on Crimson Chrysalis. This had to be on me. I had to do this because: a) I said I would and; b) I needed to, both for the team and myself. I guess I should say that I prefer pushing off risk unless I absolutely have to take it on. I'm not particularly fond of taking on risk on purpose (I know, as climber, that sounds weird). I'm not the guy who walks into a bar ready to pick a fight. I'm the guy who walks into a bar and tries to find the easiest way out without getting hurt once a fight breaks out. This time, I picked a fight, and I wasn't sure how it was going to turn out, but I knew I was going to scrap until my body failed me.

I started out on the face and set the best pro I could. I was aiming for the pea pod-like, diagonal crack on the right face. Above that was a bulge, and I figured that was going to be the crux. I entered the pea pod and shoved my entire body into it. This was as safe a spot as any, and I felt that I should have been able to place gear below the bulge. This was starting to feel OK, as a 5.8 should feel. So what if the bulge was a bit pumpy. If I could protect it then I was as good as gold.

I looked around the pea pod for signs of a fissure where I could plug a cam or two. Nothing. I looked outside the pod and saw some thin cracks to my left. I tried to reach out but found the feet terrible, so I backed off. I then saw another crack above me. It was in a perfect spot, and I couldn't believe I hadn't seen it before. This crack was right below the bulge, and with "Tattoo"'s height, I knew I could plug this and give him a chance to safely take it out. I reached up, but was about six inches too short. I tried to step up to get a better position, but as soon as I did I felt my body start to barn-door. Now, let's be clear, this isn't a barn-door where one goes from side to side. My feet were somewhat below me, so that meant it was a barn-door that went headfirst down into the abyss. I retreated and again looked inside the pea pod for a spot to place my pro. Nothing. I looked below me and realized that my last piece was a good six or seven feet below me. The pea pod itself was about four feet long, and the bulge was above that. All of a sudden I realized that I wasn't going to be going over this bulge will good pro below me; I was going to be running this out at least 10 feet. I know, a 10-foot run-out isn't that bad, but it is if the 20-foot whipper slams one into a jagged, chickenhead-infested wall. I wasn't looking forward to this at all.

But after taking stock, I reminded myself that I was on this climb and there was no going back. It was only 5.8. I know I said that at Poke-O, but this felt right. Poke-O never did. I made the decision to go over the bulge without an extra piece of gear. I know this is a philosophy that I'll have to fix someday (hopefully sooner than later), but I often run out difficult-to-place sections because I feel as if I'm more likely to fall while placing gear than just getting to the next best section. The flaw with this? Someday I'm going to get to a spot where there aren't any good spots to place gear, and I'll be too far up...

Well, the lack of pro wasn't the last surprise the pea pod had for me. It turns out that the crux isn't the bulge, but the pod itself. Body-jamming doesn't help one bit, because the pod ends and at some point one has to go over the bulge and, thus, leave the pod. There are some jams, but they go in the wrong direction. Ordinarily, when laying back on a diagonal or horizontal crack, one's back is facing the ground. It's just easier to hang on one's arms that way. But all the hand holds suggested the layback was in the other direction, with me facing down, straight down, all the way down. Did I mention the barn-door feeling? Imagine walking across a balance beam. Now imagine walking across a balance beam propped at a 45-degree angle. Would you rather climb it like a pole, from below with your hands and feet wrapped over the top? Or would you rather climb it like a slick ramp with your body bent over so that your hands were only a foot or so above your feet? This was the boldest trad move I've ever done. I had no clue what the holds were like above the bulge, no clue if I was going to be able to shift my body weight in the complete opposite direction at the top of the pod (as the holds suggested I was going to have to do), and I had no clue if my last piece was as good as I hope it was. This felt like three, stiff, bouldery, layback moves where my abs and thighs were as stiff as I've ever had them throughout the duration of the moves. I kept telling myself to breathe, to calm down, to just go, go, go. And I did. I saw the change-in-body-position hold and went for it. If I grabbed it then I was home free. I could see the bulge at that point, and could see that there were huge jugs waiting for me. The bulge wasn't the crux after all. The pod was, but if I missed it then I was going. And I wasn't sure what that meant. I wasn't sure I wanted to know. I took three, quick, deep breaths and grabbed. My body twisted out of position. My feet started to give way, and I felt the barn-door whip my hips downward. But somehow I held on, and within a split second I lunged for the jugs above and soon after found myself at the anchors. A huge yelp erupted from within my chest and, just as it was about to bellow out, I held it in and thought, act like you've been there and you'll be a better man for it later.

I did admit to "Tattoo" that I was afraid later on, but that was OK at that point. I didn't care. I had once again conquered my fears and was stronger for doing so. I'm still happy about it.


With two ropes, rap straight from the fourth-pitch anchors to the bottom of pitch three. With one rope, rap down to the anchors on the route on the right, and then rap again to the bottom of pitch three. Understand that you can probably rap straight down from the bottom of pitch three to the ground, but you'll be tossing and potentially landing right into a large pool of water. Your rope will get wet. "Tattoo" and I did the short rap around the corner to the top of pitch one so that we could rap down to the original starting slab to avoid getting the rope wet. Still, when pulling your rope once down to the bottom, it will get wet. No hands are faster than gravity. I hope your OK with that.

In keeping with the spirit of my Vegas entertainment theme, I think this video best represents my feelings of the day (it may take a couple of seconds to load):
Placebo: Sleeping with ghosts

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