Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Moab Diary: Two Grade III's in a Day or Castleton is my Bitch

I woke before the sun was fully poking it's fiery head above the horizon. "Utah" was lazily sleeping the day away so I decided to get my breakfast down and start organizing my own gear before I woke him up. As I sat in the sand I watched the sun struggle over the horizon. The cold prism of Castleton Tower slowly brightened to a fiery read as the sky exploded in sunset hues of red, purple, and blue; complementing the red landscape miles below.

I woke before the sun was fully poking it's fiery head above the horizon. "Utah" was lazily sleeping the day away so I decided to get my breakfast down and start organizing my own gear before I woke him up. As I sat in the sand I watched the sun struggle over the horizon. The cold prism of Castleton Tower slowly brightened to a fiery read as the sky exploded in sunset hues of red, purple, and blue; complementing the red landscape miles below.
I finished my bagels and cream cheese, my vittles of choice for such adventures, and started getting my gear ready. A few people poked their heads out to see the sunrise and others began getting their gear together. Eventually I got tired of "Utah" sleeping and went over to wake him up with the soft end of my foot.

- Me: Wake up ya lazy bastard, there's tower's to be climbed.
- "Utah": God I hate you. I'm gonna cut your rope for sure today.
- Me: That's cool, then I can tell people I soloed the climb.
- "Utah": Yeah, whatever. Seriously, I almost got run over like three times laying here.
- Me: That would have sucked, I would have had to ask if I could tag along on their rope.
- "Utah": You're like a rusty piton in desert sandstone, people look at you and cringe because they know that even though they have to deal with you they know you're sketchy and probably will lead to their death.
- Me: Thanks, what are you making me for breakfast asshole?

"Utah" rolled out of his sack and started cooking his breakfast. I looked in the back of his small Toyota sedan. At least he wasn't living out of his car, it was too full of climbing gear. It's more proper to sleep in the dirt. It keeps you humble. While "Utah" made himself coffee I continued to try to get gear together. "Utah" was moving slow, too slow for a guide.

- Me: So you wanna do Kor-Ingalls and the North Chimney?
- "Utah": No, wanna do the North Face?
- Me: We could do Kor-Ingalls and the North Chimney easily today. They're both classic.
- "Utah": Yeah, a runout, sandbagged, 5.9 offwidth and another runout, easier, chimney. Sounds classic to me. We should do the North Face.
- Me: Pussy, I'll even lead the scary pitches on both.
- "Utah" (in high pitched twangy voice): But I wanna do a hard crack, whaaa!
- Me: Too bad, we're doing the easy classics first.
- "Utah" (still in high pitched twangy voice): North Face?

I really didn't want to flail on some hard crack up the North Face. It wouldn't be in the sun for a while. Not only that but it was solid 5.11. I had heard scary things about the calcite that was all over Castleton tower and didn't want to check it out on a route that hard. After some more badgering "Utah" finally gave in. We would do Kor-Ingalls first and then go to the North Chimney. I continued to pack gear and eventually he began to help and soon we were ready to go. Despite a few earlier risers we were the first to leave the campsite and we were flying. The trail to Castleton is not very long. Probably less than a mile and it probably gains around a thousand or maybe fifteen hundred feet of elevation. When I looked it up most people thought the approach took about a little more than an hour. Despite the mid-trail poop (wag bags are weird) and several rests along the way we made it in less than half an hour.
Coming to the base I noticed that there was a random rope hanging down. We weren't the first ones there but it looked like the team was going to be out of our way by the time we got all ready to go. We both started flaking the ropes and after I finished my rope "Utah" had already pulled the gear out for me to grab. Me leading the crux third pitch meant I also had the first chimney pitch at 5.6. "Utah" told me to just do it in my approach shoes but after getting all racked up I decided against it. It's not the hardest climb I've done but it's somewhat serious and deserved the respect of me at least changing my shoes. The other team's rope was just starting to get pulled up as I started.
A few blocky moves led to a perfect hand crack that landed me on a ledge. I walked up to the chimney which was covered entirely in calcite. I touched it with my hand. The slick texture worried me. One of the things I love about sandstone is the friction. You're feet will stick to pretty much anything. I crawled into the chimney and quickly realized I would have to decide whether to go right side in or left side in. I decided right side in and after a few moves realized I chose wrong. Fortunately the terrain was easy enough to be able to back down a little and turn around. I struggled higher up as the chimney pinched down and I came to a standstill. I felt stuck while at the same time feeling like I was about to fall. I expanded my chest and held my breath while I tried to move my feet up. They dangled uselessly for a while until I grabbed one foot to place on a high spot where the sandstone showed through. Finding a nice little jam I squirmed upward toward the light. As soon as I was able, I grabbed the lip at the top of the chimney and pulled myself into the blinding light of the sunshine. "5.6 my ass", I exclaimed in "Utah's" direction. "Should have done the North Face dude", he countered. "Have fun cleaning that ya bastard."
Even though I was standing on a ledge there was another chimney above me to be contended with before I could reach the belay. I took a few breaths and continued, onward and upward, until the day I die - could be sooner than I think. The other chimney was a bit easier and as it birthed me onto another ledge I greeted the second climber of the party ahead of us. Their belay was off gear in a nice position that left room for me. Unfortunately, the best belay option was off some decently old bolts that put me in an akward position. Why the bolts were there I didn't know. Who wants to belay in an akward position where a fall my rip them off the ledge? This was opposed to standing comfortably where a fall would hardly effect one at all. I built the awkward belay anyway and called off-belay. I tried to organize the ropes and get things ready for "Utah" who would be leading the next pitch. I was having little success as he made his way up. Despite having two neat piles somehow they had gotten crossed and tangled. The second of the leading party was just getting ready to leave as "Utah" came to the belay. As he left we organized our own ropes a little better.
The leader had linked the next two pitches which was great for us to pitch it out individually but the second was trailing the rope. Besides this being poor ettiquette it's also potentially a rope catastrophe. The second can cut the rope potentially with a dropped rock or maybe the rope could get caught. In our case the rope was just in our way. We helpfully flaked out their rope as they ascended to avoid letting the tangled mess that could get caught in any of the many cracks and crevices. After the second had made it past a higher ledge "Utah" got tired of waiting and started climbing. Getting to the next ledge the other party's second was having a little trouble. "Utah" stacked the rope again on the ledge he was on. After watching the second of the other party flail for a while he eventually climbed out of sight and "Utah" moved on. Despite the rope in his face "Utah" moved confidently up the crack commenting quietly on occasion about the rock quality. Apparently it was not that great. After a while he made it up and called off-belay.
The rope came tight and I started running up the terrain towards the ledge. Once I got to the base of the crack it seemed too intimidating and overhung. I cleaned the first piece and started up. A little offwidth to start with a few decent pieces until I came to a nice rest stance. The next pieces of "protection" were cams place on opposite side of a broken flake. Surely "Utah" was smart enough to not trust this as gear. I moved on to see more of the same although there was a lack of good rock to place gear. An awkward step across from one crack to another and I came to the belay.

- "Utah": How'd you like those two cams.
- Me: I guess they were OK, you know if you don't like living.
- "Utah": That rock was pretty shitty, we should have climbed the North Face.
- Me: Guess we'll find out. This is supposed to be the classic, scary, runout pitch.
- "Utah": All yours tough guy. Don't die, I don't want any blood on my ropes.

With that final quip we exchanged gear and I set off. The first few moves were not too bad, some akward offwidth thing and a little chimneying. I clipped a spinning quarter inch bolt and kept going. I poked my head out of the crack to look around. I could see the next bolt. There were opportunities for gear if I would have really wanted it but it was not really necessary so I climbed up a little further and struggled to clip the next spinning quarter-inch buttonhead. Below it I placed a decent #4 against a chockstone and rested. The calcite here was very featured, unlike the chimney of the first pitch. There were odd little ledges. This seemed like a really wide version of New Era, the climb I free soloed last summer. I looked for other options. I felt a little nervous about coming out of the crack. The stifling coldness inside was more comforting than the arid exposure outside of it. I knew what I needed to do though and moved upward. I pressed my toes onto the slick calcite on the left face and leaned into the flake created by the right face. One foot above the other as I walked up the slick calcite. Eventually I was able to grab a large hold in the calcite of the left face and came to a more upright position and crawled back into the crack. I poked my head out to look around. The nasty buttonhead was only a few feet below my feet and the #4 was a little below that. It was spicy but I'd had much scarier leads on stone that was not nearly as clean and strong.
I looked above me. The calcite holds were more plentiful but the protection was not. I looked in the back of the crack where there were many opportunities but the climbing did not appear to be as easy and the rope drag caused by it would have made the protection fairly useless. Pretty confidently I ran it out about forty feet until I got another piece of gear in. A few feet later and I met both members of the first party. Somehow the leader had bloodied his ankle, which I'd seen numerous stains on the rock as I climbed below their team. Shortly after building an alternate belay to one side of the other party and the second decided to lead the last pitch, I started to bring up "Utah".
As he made his way up to me I could hear him talking himself through the moves. The pitch has an intimidating look becuase there is a lot you can't see from below. As "Utah" came to the ledge he actually looked like he was having a good time. "That was a pretty good pitch."
A few minutes later and the previous party was all gone, still trailing the rope from the second. One shouldn't trail the rope from the second climber. It's just not cool. "Utah" made his way around the rope. There were a lot of choices on where to go and he kept to the more inobvious line that the guidebook described that climbed a face of calcite. Clipping into the bolted belay "Utah" called off belay and I got ready to climb.
The first moves were fairly easy. A little jamming and some face climbing brought me to a ledge inside a chimney. From there The calcite features and sandstone flakes brought me onward to the top of the tower. I came to "Utah's" belay and after finding a secure spot we both untied and made our way to the summit. The summit is charactarized by a fairly large, flat top. We found a the summit register in an ammo box. "Utah" was dissapointed about the lack of herbal relief and I was dissapointed in the lack of pen and paper space to write about our ascent. Eventually I found a spot to scrawl a small note with a dried up sharpie. We hung out in the warm breeze a bit longer and decided to rap down. At this point we could see there were five other parties on the route so "Utah" left first and carried the rope with him. The route has nice large ledges that makes it a great route for accomodating multiple parties rappelling and ascending.
At the bottom we lazily gathered up our gear to make our way around to the North Chimney. It had only taken us a few hours to make our way up Kor-Ingalls and we didn't think we would need much more time to complete the North Chimney. It wasn't even noon yet. As we ambled back down the approach to head to the other side we came into the shade. The pleasant, warm breeze that had comforted us before had turned cold. We scrambled up the difficult cracks to the shelf at the base. The North Face was impressive and "Utah" made sure to mention what a nice line it was as I walked by. I came around the corner to the route "we" had chosen. There was one person at the base belaying the leader. He confirmed that it was in fact the North Chimney. He also said there was a party of three ahead of them that had a blind girl in the party. I'm all about climbing with the disabled but it was definately going to slow down our plans.
We decided to go hang out in the sun and wait for the second party to leave the ground. After almost an hour of checking to see if they were gone yet we finally walked back to find that we had the first half of the beginning pitch to ourselves. "Utah" decided to take the first pitch which is decidedly classic. This meant I would be on the receiving end of the runout pitch above. I wasn't worried though. It couldn't be any worse then the crux of the Kor-Ingall's could it? After a few awkward moves at the beginning "Utah" cruised up what remained of the handcrack corner system. He had reached the belay and the other party had started the second pitch but "Utah" was just standing there. After fifteen minutes of standing in the freezing wind I asked what was taking him so long. He was waiting for the other party to clear the anchor. He was standing in a crack system so he could have built a gear belay and brough me up, which would have warmed me considerably, but then we'd be stuck at a crammed belay while the other party climbed from comfortable belay ledges. I suffered on until eventually "Utah" called off-belay. I climbed quickly hoping to escape the cold wind by shear speed. Although it didn't work I did feel warmer and as I came to the belay I felt comfortable.
We switched gear and I looked ahead. I could see a bolt about fifteen feet above the belay and little else in terms of gear possibilities. It was a solid bolted belay but there's nothing cool about falling past your belayer. I took a deep breath and started my way up. I felt scrunched up and awkward. The chimney was about three feet wide with spots of calcite to make things interesting. Coming to the bolt I realized it wasn't anything to get excited about. Just a nice quarter inch buttonhead with a sheet metal hanger. Just another little desert death spike. I clipped it anyway and kept going. The moves were surprisingly hard and insecure. Despite being deep into the chimney I felt exposed. I wonder what would happen if I just let go. Would I crash through the chimney or would it be a clean and pleasant fall? I pushed the thought out of my mind as I made it to my first gear placement on one side of a gigantic jammed flake. After thinking about it briefly I decided I was going to have to hang my weight on it anyway to move upwards so I might as well place gear behind it. For a little while the moves were relatively easy with a few good footholds and some decent gear.
Then came another cruxy section right below the belay. I could hear the other climbers above me talking. I plugged another cam behind a flake, the third in a row (something would probably hold), and pressed my body on opposite sides of the wall and came over the lip of the protruding flake system and greeted my fellow climbers. Unluckily this belay had barely enough room for two people and after the front parties leader left I danced with the belayer a little bit to place some gear and bring up "Utah". Putting him on belay I slumped onto the anchor and hurriedly brought in rope while chatting with the belayer. Apparently the third pitch had a bit of loose rock they explained as I listened to pebbles whistle by my helmeted head.
Soon enough the belayer was breaking down the anchor and climbing away and I was able to find a suitable seat until "Utah" joined me at the belay. After both agreeing that the previous pitch was slightly unpleasant we exchanged gear and he headed up the chimney. Funny thing about the first few feet off the belay in a chimney. There is little to no chance the climber won't kick you in the head. I contemplated this as I dodged "Utah's" foot moving from one side of the chimney to the other. "Please don't fall. It'll be really unpleasant for us both." "Utah" looked down and smiled, "I'll try not to." A few minutes later and he stepped to a ledge on one side of the chimney. Apparently the wrong side because he shortly downclimbed to move over to the other side and was then out of sight. A little while later and I faintly heard him call off-belay. Breaking down the belay I shivered while the rope went up to the unseen anchor above. Eventually it came tight and I waited for a bit before climbing. The wind had picked up and was sending gusts up my pant legs while I climbed. The beginning was less chimney and more of a double crack system that was actually pretty fun. As I came to the split in the chimney I saw why there had been some confusion. It seems like one could jump from one ledge to the other but the opposite ledge is covered with gravel and most likely one would slip and fall back into the chimney. I took the safer option and after scrambling up some loose scree I realized I was standing at the last pitch of Kor-Ingalls.
The two climbs like brothers were opposites. One was warm and pleasant, the other cold and kind of brutal in some ways. They were directly across from each other. Like the genes of some geologic childbearer they were essentially the same crack system that split the prism like formation in half. The North Chimney shadowed by it's more popular brother the Kor-Ingalls. I climbed the easy face again to the top past "Utah". We pulled both ropes up this time and went over to set up the rappel down the North Face so "Utah" could get a little previewing in. The other party was there setting off on their rappel so we waited for them in the afternoon sun. We'd climbed a little less than six hundred feet in seven pitches on two different climbs that comingled on that formation. We could have gone for a third but we were plenty worn out and decided to call it a day. As we lowered the ropes over the edge the wind caught them and they flew off into the abyss.
I went first. The chains hang over the edge but the bolts are on top so it's an uneasy rappel. After negotiating the lip I cruised down. The next set of rappel anchors are a ways off to the side and after swinging back and forth a little while one of the other party members was able to bring me in so I could clip the anchor. I called off rappel and held onto the rope ends to facilitate pulling "Utah" in as well as preventing and rope snarls. A few minutes later and I pulled him over. The last member of the other party left and we helped them pull there rope before we pulled our own. A rope length from the ground and we started talking about beer and burgers. We weren't going to get them because we're dirtbags but it was nice to talk about them. I hit the ground and went to gather the stuff. When I came back "Utah" was coiling the ropes and after helping him finish up we decided to check out the objective for the next day, "Fine Jade" a nice 5.11 that went prominently up the front of the buttress that formed the Rectory formation. Satisfied we knew where to go we headed back down the trail.
Fifteen minutes later I came to the bottom of the talus cone. "Utah" was a ways behind me as he'd been a ways ahead of me on the way up. I headed up the hill to wait and after he came into view I made my way back to camp. Two successful tower ascents for the trip and three for the start of the season. Already I was feeling extremely excited about the rest of the climbing season. I was climbing like an animal and I had just started getting outside again. "Utah" rolled into camp while I started dinner and we discussed what to do the next day. We agreed that "Fine Jade" would be the line for us. I gave "Utah" the first pitch, which left me with the crux fingers pitch. I was nervous but excited. As the sunlight began to fade and the clouds lit up with fire I wondered whether the next day would bring success or failure. Excitement rolling in my mind I headed to bed shortly after dinner with one final thought, desire is no substitute for skill.

1 comment:

arsh said...

nice post dear