Exploits from a fantastic weekend in all kinds of various locations around Colorado.
(Dug this up from the archives, my first attempt at a blog post. Fitting that it was also my first attempt at a Wall, much less first attempt at doing a Wall Solo.)
I've been in the Valley for some time, and have been slowly losing my ambition for lots of hard climbing. It's difficult to stay motivated, and honestly much easier to go hangout by the river than it is to wake up early, slog all morning on an approach, then spend all day climbing.
After escaping the last rain storm, and recovering/recuperating in Reno/the Bay Area, a new plan was hatched. Upon my return to the Valley, I would have a goal to works towards: I was going to climb a big wall, and I was going to do it by myself.
Climbing big walls is a lot of work. Like, A LOT of work. You have to carry enormous packs up to the base of the wall, climb the wall itself (usually so difficult you have to resort to a type of climbing known as Aid climbing), haul your packs up the wall, then find a way off.
Normal climbing might involve carrying a 3-5 pound pack with some energy bars, a water bottle, rain jacket, and hiking shoes. Wall climbing often involves packs in the 75-100 pound range. The weight increases exponentially when you have to spend the night on the wall. You need more water, more gear, and all kinds of other junk, all of which at some point you have to drag up the wall.
A friend once described it like this: "Imagine spending all day digging ditches, anytime you get to rest, you're resting hanging in your harness hundreds of feet off the ground. You eat terrible canned food, ration your water supplies, and sleep in the most uncomfortable positions imaginable. Chances are, whatever item you need most, you probably forgot on the ground/dropped at some point. It's miserable."
At least ditch-diggers get paid, we do this for fun.
To add to this misery, I would be attempting to climb solo. Generally, you undertake an endeavor like this with a partner. Somewhere to share the work with, someone to complain to, someone to blame when shit hits the fan. Without one, you're on your own. You do all the work, take all the blame, but walk away with all the glory if it goes right.
Generally, people move to soloing big walls after a lot of experience doing them with partners. Having a partner is more forgiving, the two of you can work any complications out that arise more easily. Rope stuck? Your partner can get it while you do other things. Haul bag too heavy? The two of you can haul it together. Can't figure out a climbing sequence? Discuss it together.
Screw up when you're alone, well, you're screwed.
With all this in mind, I spent a few days practicing solo aid climbing. I've never aid climbed before, so this was quite the learning experience. In aid climbing, you place gear into a crack in the rock, attach ladders to it, and climb up these.
If free climbing is ballet, aid climbing is engineering. You're using the gear you have to solve the problem of moving up the rock. In my opinion, it's dragging the rock down to your ability. Essentially you are admitting you cannot climb this and must resort to means of artificial aid to get up, but hey, it allows you to get up things normally unobtainable to you.
So, with a couple short climbs under my belt, I decided to embark on a big climb: The South Face of the Washington Column. Realistically, the amount of experience I had was laughable, and could easily have practiced x10 more before attempting something like this, but hey, I'm in for an adventure, not a walk in the park. This climb would be technically easier, but logistically difficult for someone used to free climbing like me. It would require at least one night on the wall, and the added difficulties of bringing enough food, water, and other supplies to not die.
The first few pitches went well, no complications. My solo-climbing system worked as planned (I didn't fall on it, so I still can only hypothesize that it would save my life), and pretty soon I was cruising up the route.
Normally, in a team of two, each person climbs each pitch (typically 100-200ft) only once. The first person puts the gear in and moves the rope up, and the second takes the gear out and brings the rope. By myself, I would essentially repeat each pitch three times: 1. put gear and rope in while moving up 2. rappel down and remove gear 3. ascend back up the rope then pull the rope up.
But soon, I reached my accommodations for the night. A ledge so plush and luxurious, it's name is the Awanhee Ledge (the awanhee being the nicest hotel in the valley).
This would be where I spent the night, but before I could head to sleep, I still had some more climbing to do... To be continued...
March 18, 2016
Friday whizzed by as I ducked birthday celebrations at work and company offsites, trying to get on the road as fast as possible. Nika (@neekahbee) picked me up, having only met once before through a mutual friend, and we headed off for an early season adventure in Yosemite, plenty of time in the car to discuss how without climbing, it would be so odd to commit to multi-day adventures with a stranger. At some point I blurted out it was also my birthday. So we got tacos.
Saturday morning we cruised into the Valley ticking off some fun moderates. We arrived at the Five Open Books to find Munginella (5.6) free, I hadn’t climbed that one in a while so it seemed like a nice warmup.
Back at the base a significant crowd had gathered so we cruised over to Jamcrack (5.9). Nikki lead the first pitch, or should I say CRUISED it! She’s getting her trad-lead head on so it was the perfect test for her, and I never get tired of the upper pitch. Massive storms this winter (thanks to El Nino) led to some rock fall (or shifting?) at the base of Lazy Bum & Bummer. Now there’s a massive boulder tilted upwards the start of those routes, definitely don’t blow the opening moves! Two more thin classics I never get tired of running laps on, just make sure to bring your micro-cams and small offsets.
While we were there I also did a lap up Lemon (5.9), the undercling/lieback/handjam thing to the left - fun and burly but short. Thanks to who ever removed the dead tree that had fallen on it.
Finishing up we wandered back to Commitment (5.9), always a great quick multi pitch with some awesome climbing. The cracks on the initial pitches (link these) are a great warm up and turning the roof is always exciting to say the least. To reduce rope drag I try and place as few pieces as possible before the roof (get a solid sized Camalot in there and extend with a double length sling - BOOM!), but early season meant it was pretty wet getting to that point, and a fall would have been a pretty big factor 2 whip onto the anchor… Don’t want to blow that!
To finish the day we sauntered over to Bishop’s Terrace (5.8), which if that isn’t the best 5.8 in the world I don’t know what is. That one must be in the double digits of laps for me, and I love frightening new partners with the horror stories of folks getting their knees stuck on the off width bit (you don’t want SAR to have to come up their with cold water and a tub of margarine! They’ll never let you live that one down). The massive tree you used to rappel over has fallen and taken out everything near the base, which makes it difficult to move around, and opens the place up to a lot more light. It was balanced pretty precariously while we were there, be careful (more work by the storms this year).