Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Preparing for Epinephrine: days one and two

When a turkey decided to fly into my windshield a few days before I headed west for three weeks, it never crossed my mind that Dreams of Wild Turkeys (5.10a) might not be the best route to start my Red Rocks trip. Our goal was Epinephrine (5.9 IV) - that towering classic in Black Velvet Canyon with the intimidating chimneys and the descent that has forced many into an unplanned bivy - so we chose the same canyon our first two days just so we could get a feel for the area and scope out the approach and descent. Wild Turkeys, a long, 10-pitch classic itself, seemed a good start two days before Epi. Frogland (5.8), an easier route that shared part Epi's descent, would make for a good sandwich rest day. What we didn't know, however, was how much Wild Turkeys would affect us for days to come.

I hadn't had much outdoor mileage in 2010, but I felt as if our plan was a good one. Wild Turkeys would give us a good day of fun climbing our first day on the rock together since last year. It would be long and pushing my limit with sustained pitches all the way to the top, but it would be climbing and not resting; Friday was meant to be a fun one. Then Frogland would give us a rest day on Saturday. I'm not convinced that "Jello" wanted a short day - he has goals of doing long, hard routes and wants to get in several consecutive long days to build endurance - but I knew I was going to need one. I've got ten years of life experience under my belt, and that means he's got ten years of freshness in his legs that hasn't been taken away from him. When I was his age I played hard all the time, never resting because there was no need to. Rest was something I did when I was sick. But now, I've learned that the goal is to get to the finish. Pacing is how I get there. I have to be smart like that, and besides, Frogland would offer us our best chance to scope out the descent from Epi, which we had both heard and read was part of the crux of the route.

We found the road into Black Velvet Canyon rough, but our rental car, despite being in the cheap, economy class, had enough clearance for us to drive to the parking lot without a problem. We did have a little problem getting to the base of Wild Turkeys (we turned up out of the wash too soon), but we were the second party there early in the morning and that was satisfying enough. However, we didn't want to wait for the party of three ahead of us, so we decided to take on the original direct route of Wild Turkeys that is now known as The Gobbler (5.10a). I racked up for the thin first pitch and was completely demoralized when I got to the top. All I could think about was, "man, if that was 5.7 then this is going to be a long day." Thankfully "Jello" settled my nerves when he got to the anchor.

- Nice job.
- Why? I was totally sketched on that. It should have been much easier for me. Man this is going to be a long day if I'm struggling on 5.7.
- What are you talking about? That first pitch was nine.
- Huh? I thought I read it was seven.
- That's Wild Turkey's first pitch. Dude, you're doing fine.

"Jello" took the next pitch, which was a weird offwidth / chimney / crack that turned into a corner that led to the anchors, which we soon learned was the first of the hanging belays we'd have to deal with all the way to the top. He aced it and I did OK. Unless there are nice face holds, that kind of climbing doesn't suit me well, so I felt a little pumped when I got to the anchor. It was the first time that weekend when, maybe serendipitously, I started to really wonder what the chimneys were going to be like on Epi. I was the second, and was going to be the second on the chimneys, too, but I managed to get through it clean and that meant something to me, even though I was pretty tired from thrashing about.

Other than the fact that the two of us really had to go to the bathroom most of the way up (and didn't get a chance to do so until the 4th class on the eight pitch), nothing really interesting happened on this route except for two things: 1) I managed to muck up the third pitch of The Gobbler by climbing on a harder route off to the right before coming back to the more direct line on the left and, thus, pumped out my calves for the remainder of the weekend and; 2) the hanging belays combined with the slab-type style of climbing all the way up gave our calves absolutely no rest the entire day. It was this second point that put the pressure on us for the rest of the weekend because we both felt our legs ache the entire time. We tried stretching to no avail; we were simply going to have to deal with it.

Day two was Frogland, which was only six pitches of 5.8 climbing. As I noted above, our primary reason for choosing this climb, beside it offering a nice rest day, was to get a good look at the final descent of Epinephrine. "Jello" wanted to go back and do the first three pitches of Wild Turkeys so that we could say we had done that route this weekend as well. But the approach was much harder on our legs than we expected, and when we topped out we were both happy to sit there and enjoy the sun for a while.

However, serendipity struck again with two unexpected moments. The first was a simple chance of me being struck with the crux on the second pitch. It required committing well above my last piece on slick rock by either laying back or jamming the crack, two techniques that I'm not particularly good at. I thought things out for a while (something "Jello" kept encouraging me not to do) and finally pulled through it. When I did, it was one of the most satisfying moments of the trip for me. I was glad to have pushed myself because that moment gave me the confidence to push myself when I was completely wiped out the next day. The second moment came when we realized that there was an actual chimney on the fifth pitch. This was my introduction to a full-length chimney. I'd done squeeze chimneys before (where my body in general served as good pro), but I had never been in one where the tension between my legs and back kept me from falling. "Jello" talked me through it and, despite the fact that I flailed and thrashed my way up, I got it up with a good education on what was to come the next day.

It was late when we got back to our packs. Our hopes of doing the first three pitches of Wild Turkeys dashed when we realized how tired we were from the previous day. Also, the descent off Frogland wasn't the easiest either. Time was running late on us and our first priority after that day's climb was to scope out the approach and start to Epinephrine. Unfortunately we didn't bring the guidebook with us, so even though we could clearly see the chimneys, we really didn't know where the first pitch was. Still, it was nice to have seen what we were up against. I felt good about the experience I had gained the past two days, but I knew I was nervous, too. Thirteen pitches was a lot of pitches, and if I was pumped after the three chimneys, well, who knew what was going happen on the upper face climbs?

We limped back to the car with our stomachs empty, our legs aching, and our bodies begging for rest. The alarm clock was set for 4am the next morning. The gear was racked and ready to go. Breakfast would be eaten on the go. We were going to do Epinephrine, and our eyelids fell shut.


John Wesely said...

Chimneys or bust.

Greg said...

how about a little bit of both?

615Flex said...


Greg said...

It's coming. I'm working on it. It's a personal post, so I'm trying to take a bit of care. I think by the end of next week it'll be up.