And so it was back to the Garden for one of our final days of the trip. Our plan was to hit New Era (5.7) in the morning, a route that "Jello" had free-soloed earlier this summer, and one of two other options that we had also planned for that afternoon or early evening. It turned out that we got ahead of ourselves.
Garden of the Gods
Grey Wall or Kindergarten Rock
New Era (5.7) - Three Pitches - Trad - Bolted Anchors - Greg and "Jello" led
Approach: From the South Main Lot (#10), walk up the path near the info signs until you get to the top of the hill. Move to the road where the path and road meet, and follow it downhill to the second path on the left (first one is marked and the second is not). Take the path up until you're at the large boulder across from the path. Look up and you should see a right-facing crack /flake / chimney and a wide open book up and to the right.
Making our way up to one of my favorite climbs in the Garden of the Gods, I was happy. It had been good climbing for the past couple of days and for me this climb would be relaxing because I do it all the time and, as Greg mentioned, I had done this particular climb without a rope. The sun shining brightly above us would make it a somewhat sweatier ascent, but it was going to be a great day of climbing.
Pitch One (5.7) - 80 feet - Greg led: Climb the face or short crack to the right of the flake / chimney into the dihedral. Climb up to the bolted anchor. I combined the first and second pitch, so the story starts below.
Pitch Two (5.7) - 75 feet - Greg led: Stay in the dihedral to the ledge with bolted anchors.
Climbing at Red Rocks in Vegas was totally different than at the Garden. Sure, when I first got to Red Rocks I was pounding every hold in sight to ensure the rock's stability. But when I got to the Garden, I quickly learned that doing anything to the rock, even to test it, was potentially detrimental to the ascent. So when "Jello" told me that he wanted me to not only link the first two pitches, but that just below the anchors at the top of the second pitch, where I'd be most tired without a proper warm up on an easier to climb beforehand, was a lieback on slick and sketchy feet without great gear, well, let's just say that I was more than a bit nervous. He had already been up this without a rope, so I couldn't back down, not on a 5.7 that should have been well within my range. But I've never liked climbs with slick feet, and I was just as nervous about the rock holding my gear as I was about not falling. Still, "Jello" has frequently lectured me on being a better climber than I let on, to myself in particular, and so I trusted his confidence in me and I headed up.
I wanted Greg to combine the first two pitches for several reasons. The first being that I wanted him to have the crux pitch. The other reason was speed. If he combined the pitches we'd probably have time to do another climb nearby before it got too hot. As Greg made his way up he asked about gear and looked at me several times, inquiring if he should really combine the pitches. Continuing to look at me for reassurance, I encouraged him further. I knew exactly what was in front of him and that he really wanted to know where the crux was. As climbers we have that dichotomy where we want to know where the crux is and what it's like, but we also don't want to know. We want to push through it gloriously because it makes us feel like it wasn't so bad, as if we're a better climber for having done so.
I have to say that I found this to be a rather fun route, even though the crux had me scared out of my wits for a few brief moments. The initial face was fun (and run out) and full of large, cavernous pockets leading the way up to the book. Some of the pockets were actually pods, and I felt the urge to grab a sitting rest in a couple of them, but that would have been foolish fun on what I needed to treat as a serious climb.
It wasn't long until I came to the book, and I found the climbing to be a little more challenging than before. But there was nothing up to that point that made me feel as if I was getting myself into trouble. As I worked up the book, and as my forearms began to tire from the over-stressing (out of a slight fear that I was going to run into the crux at any moment and not realize it), I yelled down that the route wasn't so bad after all. Don't worry, you aren't at the crux yet, "Jello" shouted back up at me. I pressed on and wondered where the first set of anchors were.
As he made his way past the first pitch belay, I let him know he was getting close. The crux is interesting. It's not extremely hard but it requires a lot of reliance on feet in a somewhat insecure position. It's a layback, so placing gear is difficult although there are places to do it. I just never think of them as existing since I tend to burn through the crux to the anchors.
When I finally got to the first pitch anchor, I clipped the bolt and took a few deep breaths before checking out the moves above. I could see where the feet blanked out as "Jello" had told me, but he made the sequence sound as if it was several moves long. All I could see was a brief section of about four or five feet; that was maybe one move on slick feet and that was it. If the rock could hold my weight on a lieback, then I'd be OK. But the other thing that was worrying me was that he had also mentioned that the gear was sparse, and that I should save my #1 and #2 Camalots to build a small anchor below the crux. It wasn't so much the possible runout that he was describing that scared me, but more to the fact that I could see possible gear placements most of the way up. What scared me was that I would think I was at the crux too soon and not have enough gear once I actually got there. I seriously thought for a few good moments that I should split the pitches in two just so I could have the extra gear that he would've brought up to the anchor, but I told myself that I was going to put aside my fears this time and go for it. "He'd never put me in a spot he didn't think I could handle," I told myself, and off I went.
I found decent gear for the first 10 feet or so. The climbing wasn't so difficult, and I knew that I was going strong due to "Jello"'s shouts of encouragement from below. He certainly knew where the crux was, too, as he kept encouraging me to stay calm just as I approached the blank section. I was happy with this because it meant two things: 1) that I was looking at the correct blank face from below and; 2) there really was more gear than he suggested. I plugged two quick cams, stuck my foot out, breathed a couple quick breaths, complained a bit, listened to "Jello" cheer me on, counted "one, two, three," and went. Boom...boom...boom - I planted my foot and bumped each hand over the other. Before I knew it, I was at the anchor and bringing my partner up.
Greg moved through the crux like it wasn't even there and as he called off belay I was glad to see him confident in his climbing. Greg is a climber of greater ability than I, but where I lack his ability I surpass him in confidence, so it's a decent match for pushing ourselves. Since we were on a relaxing climb, I decided I would try to climb it fast. I reached Greg's belay pretty quickly, and I started up the last pitch. It's a fun pitch - pretty relaxing - so I cruised up it and belayed off the large boulder at the top.
Pitch Three (5.6) - 75 feet - Greg led: Climb the steep crack to the face. Then follow the ridge as it fades left to the top. Either sling the pancake boulder to belay (preferred) or continue left and down to the bolted anchor (not preferred due to potential rope damage to the rock and rope drag). This pitch is a bit run out at the top, so be fairly competent climbing 5.6 without gear, particularly considering how brittle this rock is. "Jello" sailed right up and I had a fun time bringing up the rear. It was the end of a good climb, and I was ready for more.
Descent: But then there was the descent. Ah yes, the descent. Well, let's just say what is supposed to happen first: one can rap down from the top anchors on two 60m ropes. It is also possible to rap with one 60m rope at least twice (there's enough anchors for three raps if that is what you need), or one can walk off on a long, fourth-class scramble off to the left. But this isn't what happened.
One of my personal rules when climbing is that no one gets hurt because of me. If somone wants to do something crazy then I'm not going to stop them, but I don't like the idea that I helped in the process of someone coming to injury or worse.
We decided to trail a static rope that "Jello" had purchased at a recent AMGA course behind us so that we could rap down in one go.
I didn't remember it's length, just that I had bought the cheapest and lightest one.
All that was fine and dandy, so we tied the two together near the ends and sent them down. The blue rope (static) went down straight and easy, while the red rope (dynamic) got hung up on a couple of chicken heads on the way down. That was OK because I knew that I would be able to free it as I rapped down. This happens a lot when rapping, even if it is not desirable. It is particularly problematic on sandstone, though, so folks don't even tie knots on the ends out of the fear of not getting the rope back when at the bottom. It turned out that the rope was caught in a couple of different places, and on one of the occasions I merely picked the rope up off the chicken head and the entire chunk of rock (about as long as my forearm) fell off.
As Greg rappelled away I didn't think anything out of the ordinary. I watched him slide down the thin, fibrous life lines. He yelled "rock," and I watched a large chunk of the cliff fall away to the ground. Again, nothing out of the ordinary here.
Seriously, I didn't even tap the rock and it snapped off as if I shot it with laser beams from my eyes. Considering how nervous I was about the loose rock going up, and how easily that chunk of rock had fallen off, I was worried about the anchors. "Jello" had assured me that the rock was solid at the top. He had even told me that he would take a trad fall in this particular section of the Garden, so putting weight on the bolts was not something to worry about. Still, as I noted above, I kept my eyes both above and below me, worrying about the anchors, the rope running over sharp edges, and how quickly the ground was coming up below me. I was also continuing free the rope from being caught on the chicken heads as I made my way down. On the final attempt of freeing the rope, I looked and saw that the red rope had finally hit the ground after being cleared and that the blue rope was hanging solidly below me, which I expected because it wasn't hung up on anything. With both ropes clear of the chicken heads, I refocused my attention to ensuring the rope wasn't running over any sharp edges. My mind also wandered toward what would happen if the bolts did, indeed, pop. Why I had this stuck in my head, I don't know, but I just felt that - ZZZZIP!!! A blue flash flew past my eyes and I noticed myself dropping faster than before.
As Greg slid closer to the ground I heard/felt/saw the blue static rope ping and go loose.
"Friction, FRICTION!" I pulled the ropes down to arrest my fall and felt them running through my hands faster and faster. I expected to feel my hands burn, but it turned out that it was a minor miracle that I had decided to use my new rap gloves for the first time.
Instinctively I grabbed both ropes below the rappel anchor and muttered an expletive to myself.
Thankfully, I didn't have to worry about burning my hands because of the gloves, but that didn't stop the fact that the ground was approaching at a much faster pace than I wanted. As I zipped lower I pulled tighter on the ropes and it was then that I realized I was only pulling on the red rope.
"What the fuck?" I thought to myself. I looked up and saw the yellow tip of the blue rope shooting up above me, bouncing back into shape after the static had reclaimed its dominance over the stretch. My weight was now completely on the red rope and it was stretching such that I thought the blue rope was now running through the anchors above. My fear was no longer about the anchors popping, but about me plummeting 40 feet to the deck as I watched the blue rope rapidly fly upward beyond my reach. I tried reaching for it, as if by some miracle I could snag it and somehow reattach it to my rappel device for a safe attempt at bumping myself back up to what I hoped would be anchors nearby and above me. For some reason, however, I wasn't falling as fast as I expected. I mean, I was moving much more quickly, but I wasn't dropping like a sack of stones, which is what should have happened if I had rapped through my ends.
The rope wasn't moving but I held it anyway. What happened? Was Greg OK? I asked what was going on but I didn't hear anything. I noticed the knot was cinched tight against the rap rings keeping the ropes from pulling through.
Thankfully, the knot at the top was on the blue rope's side, and so when I rapped off the blue end the knot at the top snugged against the anchor and didn't slip through. That meant that I was able to put my weight entirely on the red rope without having it run down on me. I didn't take any chances, though, that I was correct in my assessment that the knot was holding steady. I've never been confident in rapping, just because the guy who introduced me to climbing died as a result of a rapping accident (well, that and I just don't feel as if there is any recourse if the anchors pop or if the rope severs over a sharp edge, etc), so I got down as quickly as I could. Unfortunately, the carabiner that I've been using to belay and rap with (the DMM Belay Master) gets really hot very easily when rappelling. So when I finally made it to the ground, I had to wait a few minutes for it to cool off. I wanted to shout up to "Jello" to let him know that he had to make two raps, but I couldn't see him and couldn't walk to where I would be able to see him without taking myself off rappel. I was also out of breath.
Eventually the rope went slack and I hooked into the rappel.
When the biner cooled down, I took myself off and walked uphill so that I could see him. When I looked up, he was about two feet down on his own rappel. I was worried that he was going to make the same mistake. I knew he wasn't going to fall, because the knot had stopped me, but I also knew that there was no way for us to get the rope back down if he did rap all the to the ground without hiking back up.
- "Jello", you have to make two raps!
- Let's just say the knot saved my ass.
- They're both supposed to be 60m!
- Well, the blue one isn't.
- What the fuck? Holy shit!
Slightly horrified at my mistake and dissapointed that I had not remembered the actual length of the rope, I made my way down to an intermediate rap station: an old Garden anchor with rusty hardware hanging halfway out of the rock - not recommended.
He rapped down to the next anchor and made the transition to a second rap within a few minutes. He was soon down and the ground and immediately apologized for not knowing that the static rope was only 46m long.
I apologized profusely and looked at the blue rope as I pulled it down. The small plastic tag held the unfavorable answer that the rope was in fact 46m and not 60m long. Despite Greg taking responsibility I still feel the situation could have been avoided had I simply double checked the length of the unfamiliar rope.
He really felt badly and couldn't believe that he had nearly broken his first rule of "no one gets hurt." However, I have to say that while knowing the rope wasn't 60m would have helped save a potentially dangerous situation, the blame absolutely falls onto me. Simply put, I wasn't paying attention as I was rapping down. Even without knowing the length of the static rope, I could have prevented this completely by paying attention. In any case, it was a lesson learned, and a funny one, too, because I've had the Warrant song Heaven Isn't Too Far Away stuck in my head all week long.
Despite it being fairly early in a nice day we decided to call it a day for now. I was a little shaken but Greg was surprisingly pretty calm. We went back to the house and decided that relaxation was in order.
Is it needless to say that we decided this was the end of our day? Yeah, we didn't climb for the rest of the day after that, and it's kind of weird as to why we didn't. What is odd is that I've had some scary falls before that should have completely taken me out of the game mentally, but I've always felt fine after those incidents. Sure, I've been sketched out, but after the damage is done, after the fall is over, my confidence typically goes up and not down. "Jello", on the other hand, is full of confidence on the way up and has been haunted more than me, despite the falls happening to me, after the fact each time (though I have to admit that I can't remember the other time when this bothered him - it may have been on Paralysis in the Adirondacks, but I didn't document it on the blog). I've never understood this about me. I think his reaction is totally reasonable, but mine? No way. But for some reason, at the moment of stress, just as the shit is hitting the fan, for as long as I've remembered and regardless of the activity or situation, time has always slowed down for me and I've always been able to focus and see things clearly as if I have a super-human ability to pick apart the landscape and see everything happening at once. It's a weird feeling that I honestly wished I had before I started to rap down.
Click here for all 2008 Garden of the Gods photos (newest are first)