Devil’s Tower and some quick Colorado climbs

Saturday at Devil’s Tower
New Wave (P1: Steven, P2: Dawn)
Everlasting P1 (Dawn)
Mystic and the Mulchers (Dawn)

Sunday at Devil’s Tower
Soler (P1: Dawn, P2: Steven)
El Cracko Diablo (P1: Dawn, P2: Steven)

Tuesday at Devil’s Tower
Durrance (Approach pitch: Steven, Leaning column/Durrance crack: Dawn, Cussing Crack/Flake Crack: Steven, Chockstone Crack: Steven, Bailey Direct: Dawn)

Wednesday at Devil’s Tower
Broken Tree (P1: Dawn, P2: Steven)
Assembly Line (Dawn)
McCarthy North Face P1 (Dawn)

Friday at El Dorado Canyon
Bastille Crack (P1/2: Dawn, P3/4: Mark, P5: Steven)

Saturday at Boulder Canyon
Owl (P1: Mark, P2 5.9+ variation: Steven)
Empor (P1/2: Dawn)

July 9, 2010   Posted in: Boulder Canyon, Devil's Tower, El Dorado Canyon  No Comments

A short diversion

Romy and I took a little side trip to Rumney on lovely Spring day. I’ll be heading out shortly for Devil’s Tower so a day of easy bolt clipping was a nice diversion.

Egg McMeadows, 10a
Holderness Arete, 10b
Med Dose Madness, 10b
Bonehead Roof, 10c
Hippos on Parade, 8+
Lies & Propaganda, 5.9
Milktoast, 10d
The Terrace, 5.8

May 19, 2010   Posted in: Rumney  No Comments


I took advantage of being with someone who is easy to please yesterday by doing a little coasting – no hard, scary lead for me.  Mike got his in to start the day and then I put up a couple of familiar 9s he wanted to do.  Having no agenda makes me relaxed and unattached from outcomes, but it doesn’t get me up hard routes. Then again, hard routes aren’t the challenge I’m working on just now.  Putting up something for a grateful friend is a more worthy endeavor than chasing glory.  I’m only fearful of not being prepared for Devil’s Tower in a couple of weeks.  At least I’ve been doing a lot of stemming and a wee bit of jamming.

Coronary, 5.10 (Mike)
Ant’s Line, 5.9 (Dawn)
Ent’s Line, 5.11- (TR)
Jean, 5.9 (Dawn)

May 11, 2010   Posted in: Gunks  No Comments

A quiet wait in the woods

I’d always heard the Gunks are deserted on a weekday, but I guess I’ve been so much a part of the crowd-that-wasn’t-there that I’ve never seen it for myself.  Mark, Mike and I had the Seasons area–normally a circus of dogs, babies and spectators–to ourselves all day.  It wasn’t a productive day, an efficient day, or a heroic day, but it was a beautiful day.  I sat on Mike’s bouldering pad in the shade and wrote while Mark and Mike supported each others’ best efforts for the day.  It’s sweet to see these two climb together.  I’m definitely not the nicest partner you could have.  Faster, though.

Simple Suff, 10a (Mark)
Spring P1, 5.9 (Dawn)
Manly, Yes, But I Like It Too, 5.10 (TR)
Climb and Punishment, 5.11 (failed siege)

May 6, 2010   Posted in: Gunks  No Comments

Fear doesn’t equal danger; Danger doesn’t equal fear

Far from onsighting new routes with a strange partner, today I’m trying to lead my nemesis Cris Cross Direct with my two oldest partners.  Steven and Todd and I have a lot of history and so do Cris Cross Direct and I.  Let me start by saying that I know of no route called Cris Cross.  Apparently you either go direct or go home.  I’d like to go home.

I’m not climbing the route well and I’m not conducting myself well either–crying, whining, freaking out over a perfectly safe situation.  I know all the falls on this route are safe because I’ve caught them (over and over, in some instances).  My emotion is coming not from the physical circumstances in front of me but from the mental circumstances behind me.  I’m replaying old memories and old patterns of behavior.  This route has made me feel bad, and Steven and Todd can be counted on to try to make me feel good.  I surrender to the comfort of being tended for past wounds instead of addressing the challenge in front of me–this move, this day.

Eventually I find a way through the opening sequence which I’ll record here, not because it’s the right sequence but because it’s what works for me and I’d like to remember it:  #1 as high as I can get it, right hand jams below it, left hand laybacks above it, step up on smears until left foot can get on lowest broken point of the arete.

From there I can see that I’m at the level of my gear and that brings a fresh wave of fear, but I stay with it to get the pin clipped and backed up and then stand up to where the real crux is.  In most recent toprope attempts at this route, I haven’t had trouble with the 5.10 move, but it does involve standing on a glassy smear from fingertip crimps with your gear at your feet, and so on lead I’m freaked again.  My mouth spews non-stop pleas for help and predictions of eminent death while my lower body remains calmly in place and my hands frantically touch every piece of rock within reach.  In other words, I’m clearly fine, just not willing to take that one second leap of faith onto my right foot to be done with the crux.

I millimeter my way to the finishing holds and pop in a new piece.  The drama is over for the day.  I’ve led Cris Cross Direct for the first time.  By some definitions, I’ve even led it cleanly, since each attempt (of about twelve) started from the ground, but I don’t think I’ll cris-cross it off the list just yet.  I’ve also embarrassed myself again, added to the legacy of agony and disappointment already accumulated on this route.  But today I recognize that burden is mine and doesn’t belong to the route at all.

Cris Cross Direct is a piece of rock–sometimes damp, sometimes slick, sometimes lacking in features, but never harming or judging.  The route holds no emotion.  All that resentment, shame and fear is in me.  I bring these emotions to it; it doesn’t bring them out in me.  This is a pattern of behavior I’m learning to break, though I can only claim progress, not perfection.  I look forward to being without unreasoned fear in the future.

It’s on the next route that someone almost dies.  Which goes to show that danger and fear are not that closely linked.  Out of a clear blue sky, Todd came within an instinct’s instant of falling directly to our feet in a replay of the Le Plie accident.  All three of us are familiar with the details of that accident.  If we hadn’t been doing something a little bit different, we would have known we were doing something dangerous.  But the seeming simplicity of what we were doing–top-roping a 5.8 we’d all led innumerable times–combined with the relief of being free at last from my hysterical lead and a desire to make setup slightly more convenient, kept us from analyzing the consequences of the deviation from normal procedure we were taking.  Don’t improvise!

I’ve accepted the fact that I might be involved in an accident some day, but I imagine a lead fall, maybe pulled gear or a swing into a corner.  There’s first aid, a carry-out.  Someone needs to go to the hospital.  I don’t imagine a friend’s body landing with a single sickening thud at my feet from eighty feet up.  That isn’t something I like to imagine because I imagine I’m immune from it.  There were over forty years of climbing experience standing there making the choices that were prevented from ending in death only by Todd’s body awareness at the last second, by the fact that hadn’t committed his weight to a useless rope before he had that moment to realize that something didn’t feel right.  I thank God for that moment and for his innate kinetic intelligence.  I won’t stop climbing over this, but I’ll remember to be careful of improvisations.  I’ll also remember that the danger isn’t always where the fear is.

Birdland P1, 5.8 (Dawn)
Transcontinental Nailway, 5.10b (Todd)
Cris Cross Direct, 10a (Dawn)
Broken Sling, 5.8 (Steven)
Inverted Layback, 5.9 (Todd)

May 4, 2010   Posted in: Gunks  No Comments

Sometimes the universe has other plans

Sometimes the universe has other plans and usually it’s best to go along with them.  I asked a friend to climb Friday.  It was supposed to be a beautiful day and I wasn’t working.  He said yes and then mentioned another friend who had asked the same thing.  So now there were three of us and we cast about for a fourth.  The third soon called with news that he’d found one, and I happily drove up Friday morning anticipating a great day.

The dominoes fell in the same order they’d been stacked.  I’ve experienced this before.  When you have a bunch of partners, each feels individually less responsible, and people who would never normally bail on me for anything less than hospitalization were now jumping ship like rats.  About twenty minutes outside of New Paltz, I was completely deserted.

Trying to salvage what I could from the drive, I figured I’d go to Rock & Snow and buy the new pair of rock shoes I needed for our Devil’s Tower trip and then get in a run at the Preserve.  I was glad I kept running shoes and writing materials in the car as I entertained myself waiting for Rock & Snow to open.  I also made a quick call to Todd to see if he was available.  He wasn’t, but he suggested trying to pick up a partner at the Uberfall.  I’d never done that, never picked anyone up outside of a gym (or a bar), and really couldn’t imagine myself doing it, but I thought I could at least mention my predicament at Rock & Snow.  Maybe they’d have an idea.

The guy trying on shoes next to me was a familiar face from the crags.  We didn’t know each other enough to do more than nod, but I remembered my vow to at least ask the universe for help and opened my mouth and told my sad story of being dumped by three different partners.

“I’m looking for someone to climb with,” he said.  OK then.

He needed to be back in New Paltz in seven hours.  It was a weekday and the cliffs would be empty.  We had never climbed together.  So the obvious choice was Millbrook.  I was practically running to keep up with him on the hike in.  He knew his way around so there was no fumbling getting the rope set up to rap in.  I asked what the plan was, since he clearly had one, and he rattled of three route names.

“If we’re smoking,” he said.  “We’d have to be really smoking to get in the third.”

I only recognized one name–Cruise Control.  It was the route next up for me to lead at Millbrook, since I’d done Westward Ha!  I told him I’d like to lead it and he looked uncertain and switched gears.

“Let’s do Time Eraser as a warm up,” he said, ” and then we’ll see.”

Now at 5.10, Time Eraser is no warm up.  What it was, I could see, was an audition.  But that was fine with me.  Climbing at Millbrook has a reputation and this guy was motivated to move. I didn’t want to be a big stumbling block in the road of our day.  But when I hit the top of Time Eraser, he said, “If you can follow that route in that style, that fast, you’ll have no problem with Cruise Control,” and he dumped the remains of the rack in front of me without further ado.

Now I was nervous.  When someone, no  matter how experienced and intimidating, says they have everything you need, don’t believe them!  Look for yourself.  He carried nothing bigger than a number one and doubles in nothing bigger than a .4.  Even his nuts stopped at about a .5 Camalot size.  Well, I had asked for this lead and all I could do now was set to it.  He wanted me to run the pitches together (he had a 70 meter rope) and years of climbing with Todd had prepared me for that.  I made no promises but duly ran it out anywhere I didn’t feel death impending.  When I placed gear, I tried to place a very small nut, since that was what I had a rack full of.

I got to the intermediate belay without any rope drag and more than half the slings left.  I had sacrificed my single .75 but I still had my number one for the hand crack to come, so I went ahead into the second pitch.  It was no harder than the first and shorter and then it was all over.  I had onsighted Cruise Control in one long pitch, not something I had expected to do–or even have the opportunity to do–that day.

We managed to sneak in that third route, White Corner Direct, by running five minutes late on the schedule.  On the hike out I was literally running to keep up.  With a lot of hustle and little regard for the paint job on his car, we made it back to Rock & Snow exactly on time and shook hands through the car window as he didn’t even pull over to let me out.

“Perfect day,” he said.


Time Eraser, 10- (Rich)
Cruise Control, 9- (Dawn)
White Corner Direct, 10+ (Rich)

May 3, 2010   Posted in: Gunks, Millbrook  No Comments

Three Races in Three Days

The Boston Marathon is, for many people, the ultimate race.  For me, it was the finale in a three day weekend of races.

On Saturday I manned an aid station at the inaugural running of the Traprock 50K.  My friends Steve and Kevin created this race to share the love they have for running Connecticut’s blue trails.  I can remember when they first started talking about it, the three of us running together somewhere along the reservoir while Kevin drew up grandiose plans to bring an ultra trail race to Connecticut.  Steve more soberly suggested Fat Bastard style–meaning free and unsupported–at least for the first year or two until it took off.

Looks like Kevin’s big dreams won the day, because out of a chaos of uncertainty arose a race with its own logo printed on some pretty sweet swag and over 50 participants.  The Traprock 50K looked like a race that had been established as long ago as the Boston Marathon.  They can’t compete with the excessive level of organization that characterizes Boston but it ran pretty smoothly.

Scott & Kevin running the Traprock 50K

I’ve never worked an aid station before, but I’ve run past a few of them.  Now and then I’ll remember to say thank you to the volunteers.  Saturday I got to be on the other side and it was both heart-warming and baffling to hear runners express their gratitude.  What were they thanking me for?  As a runner, I’d have paid good money to be suffering this bad in exchange for nothing more than jelly beans and Gatorade.  As a volunteer I didn’t have to pay a dime or run a step and I still got jelly beans and Gatorade and had the stomach to choke them down too.  Being thanked by the runners felt like being thanked by the firemen putting out your house.  They were doing all the work and we were really, really glad they were there.  Every runner who thanked me reminded me of just what kind of heroes these tired, muddy fighters were.

Next year I’ll be running the course myself, I hope, but if for some reason I’m not, I’ll still be having a great day working it.  Kudos to Kevin and Steve for pulling this off.

Sunday I met Jake and Noah (plus Mom, Dad, and Grandma) at the Yale campus for their first race–a half mile fun run.  Although I know they both have endless amounts of energy if I’m chasing them around in circles with a sock on my hand, I was concerned that they’d go out too fast (as Steve is always warning against) and not be able to make it the whole way.  So a few days beforehand we did some practice runs up and down their backyard.  The boys were dying to have a full-speed race against each other and me, but I explained that our goal was to run “medium.”  Noah was willing to run companionably next to me, though he kept suggesting we could do better.  Jake was having none of it and sprinted madly back and forth declaring himself the winner on each lap.

Jake and Noah with their numbers and their Aunt.

Sunday morning, the adults emphasized that we were all running together as a team to try to make it to the end together, and then, holding hands, the three of us were off and running “medium.”  None of us had any trouble with the distance (next time maybe I’ll let them open it up a little–I think Jake could have won) and their faces crossing the finish line were ecstatic.  They proudly collected their medals and were ready for a second race.  Yep, no shortage of energy there.

At the starting line.

I was wishing I could run in the grownup race so they could cheer their Aunt Dawn, but that was hardly sensible under the circumstances, so we cheered everyone who came in.  Not only were the boys hooked but their father spent so much time saying he could run faster than anyone there that I think next year we’ll all be racing.

After the fun run, I packed up and headed up to Boston.  I’d put a lot of training into the race, far more than for any race previous.  In fact, you could say this was the first race I’d ever trained for, since it was the first time I’d used any kind of program or plan or started more than about six weeks before the race.  This time around, I’d started almost 6 months before.  I’d done every workout, run every mile, taken every rest day, timed every lap.  At the halfway point in my training, I ran a half marathon at my marathon goal pace.  A week before the race I ran a 5K fast enough that the race pace predictors online finally agreed that I could hit my marathon goal time.  This was no pipe dream, no imaginary number pulled out of my ego like every other race I’d run.   Whatever happened race day, I told myself, I’d done the work and earned the time.

My only worry was making it to the starting line.  Navigating the streets of Boston and fighting my way through the meandering crowds, the logistics felt insurmountable, but once I made it to the pre-race starting line (picking up my packet), the Boston Marathon machinery kicked in and I became part of a conveyor belt of runners being gently guided through the process.  The number of volunteers, and their unfailing good cheer, is incredible.  So is the overall efficiency and organization, although it does make you feel like a number at times.

I enjoyed talking to some other runners at the pasta party and found my way easily back to my hotel.  I’d ended up at a hotel that was about 15 minutes from downtown on the green line, which was very convenient as all the race activities were also on the green line.  My room was huge and luxurious and I surprised myself by sleeping well.  I continued finding other friendly runners to talk to as we were all shepherded onto shuttles and to the pre-race waiting area.  I relaxed then, doing some writing in a journal I’d brought while I waited for my assigned time to make my way to the starting line.

This part I messed up.  By now I’d gotten so used to having my hand held that I didn’t watch the time and missed my assigned departure wave.  So I didn’t start with my group.  It wasn’t a problem because Boston goes entirely by chip time.  The time I crossed the starting line was my start time.  But it did mean I started  with runners who were slower than I was and that meant a little extra dodging for the first eight miles or so.  When I’m running a road race, I’m entirely in my own head.  The spectators at Boston are numerous and thunderous but they might as well not have been there for all I interacted with them.  The number of people running was mind-boggling but once I started running, I never spoke to one of them.  They were moving obstacles from which there was no escape.  At no point in the race could I have stretched out my arms on both sides without hitting someone.

I was feeling good though.  I enjoy running from the back because it feels like I’m going fast, even if I’m only passing people because I started with the wrong wave.    I knew the first thirteen miles were supposed to be downhill, so I was mildly annoyed every time I’d come to an uphill.  You hear a lot of warnings before running Boston about this downhill start, how it’ll fry your quads, but I was having a hard time finding downhill sections.  I was hitting goal pace without straining, but I wasn’t holding myself back either.  When I reached the halfway point at pretty much half my goal time, I was concerned.

I felt like I could continue going as I was, but no more than that.  And I needed to do more than that.  The hill section was still coming.  Steve had insisted that Heartbreak Hill was no big deal, that I wouldn’t even notice it.  I know better than to listen to Steve on the subject of hills (if it doesn’t require a guard rail, he doesn’t think it’s a hill) but I was growing concerned.  Considering that the downhill section had felt uphill to me, what was the uphill section going to feel like?

In the end, I don’t think it was Heartbreak Hill that got me.  It was the hill after that, after everyone had screamed “downhill all the way,” after I’d realized I needed to do something like 7:30s to meet my goal time, after I’d poured it all into Heartbreak Hill and somehow still been 5 miles away from being done.  I had a big slump.  Knowing there was no way to make goal time I decided there was no point in suffering and coasted for a while.  Then, as the last mile lay in front of me, I realized that I could still set a personal record which was a goal worth striving for, so I picked it back up and came in one minute ahead of my Hartford time, though 8 minutes short of my goal.

This unsmoothed version of the Boston Marathon elevation chart shows how much uphill there really is. Just because a mile finishes lower than it started doesn't mean you haven't run a hill in the meantime.

As soon as you cross the finish line, the machinery takes over again.  If only this conveyor belt could have carried me through the race!  I was given my space blanket, my medal, my meal, and my bag and spit out onto the street only a few steps from a green line stop.  I hobbled and shuddered my way onto the T and headed for my hotel.  It was only when I was back at my car that I found the energy to turn on my cell phone and check messages.  There were texts and voice mails from my friends congratulating me on my race.  I was glad to be going home to Connecticut where everybody knows my name.

Boston is an amazing experience.  My hat is off to the people who pull this off and I’m so glad I did it once.  But I know what I need to do again and it’s not Boston.  For all my big talk about the training mattering more than the race, I’d have had a better day running Hartford or some other “small” marathon and hitting my goal time.  And far more important than my finishing time at Boston or anywhere was the time I spent this weekend with family and friends, helping out where I could, enjoying the outdoors, being a part of people trying new experiences and meeting their own challenges.

That’s not to say I won’t ever race again.  For now I’m glad to be done training.  Tuesday I went out for a short recovery run without a watch.  I’d like to spend a little more time running without a watch.  Then I need to work on hills.

April 21, 2010   Posted in: Running  4 Comments

Ankles Away

Sunday I was in pre-trip mode, meaning I didn’t want to get hurt. Although in this case the trip was actually a race.  I told Todd the goal for the day was not to get hurt and he pointed out that that should be the goal for every day, so I revised it a little to say that my goal was to not sprain an ankle.  I’ve never been seriously hurt climbing, but I’ve done a few things that would have prevented me from running a marathon a week later.  So with the goal of not spraining an ankle in mind, I led two routes where you don’t get in gear until the crux is over.  Genius.

First though I led Lower Eaves.  There are no sprained ankles threatening on Lower Eaves, and no heel hooks either, not in my shoes.  I think the reason I have such lousy heel hooking technique is that I’ve always favored shoes with roomy heels.  I eventually figured out a non-heel hooking way through the crux and the rest of the route is a pleasant jaunt.  Later I led Drunkard’s Delight and the first pitch of Birdie Party, the two potential ankle breakers, but I’m happy to report that no ankles were broken and all systems are go for next Monday.  Once the race is done, it’s time to put my Tradgirl hat squarely back on and get ready for Devil’s Tower.

Eyesore, 5.6 (Dawn)
Nosedive, 5.10 (Todd)
Lower Eaves, 5.9+ (Dawn)
Jean, 5.9 (Todd)
Drunkard’s Delight, .5.8- (P1/2: Dawn)
Mother’s Day Party, 5.10 (Todd)
Birdie Party P1, 5.8 (Dawn)

April 13, 2010   Posted in: Gunks  No Comments

Back to Tradland

Spring has sprung completely out of control.  Sunday felt like summer.  Between the weather and being out of work, I kept thinking it was June.  I’d just had a week of climbing in Mexico in similar weather, so all indicators said I should be climbing like it was June.  Once I knocked off Trapped Like a Rat, which felt easy, I was ready to go. We were standing right next to P38 and it was as dry as it was ever going to get.  I knew the bottom was a risky spot but it’s all safe from there and your gear is easily rescued via a scramble, so it seemed like a no-lose situation.  All we could lose was time (and we did).

My beta for the route is simple: do each move once.  These are not moves that bear repeating.  But without Todd there and not having been on it in a year or two, I had to rediscover the starting sequence.  The start is a place where it’s best not to fall, though with an attentive belayer, which Steven certainly is, it would probably come out fine.  There has been an accident there though, and that always looms large in my conscience so I made sure I had a foolproof sequence before I committed to any move I couldn’t reverse.

I got to the next semi-stance eventually, but not quickly.  I milked the rest stance before the crux and loaded it up with little gear and launched out into the crux sequence.  I got the crux gear in, bungled my hands moving away from it, but did get to the pointy thing from which it’s just one hard step-up-on-nothing-from-bad-hands move, which I couldn’t do.  I took the fall, thinking of how at Potrero Chico last week I’d mentioned that on my last trip to Potrero I hadn’t taken a  single lead fall on bolts and had then returned to the Gunks and immediately fallen on gear. So here I am again, hanging on a single under-cammed cam and wondering why I can’t push myself to fall on bolts this same way.

I thought once I fell that I’d be able to do the rest of the moves and finish the route, but I still couldn’t.  I tried several more times and took a longer fall and a couple more of the first fall, but honestly I let go each time, so I didn’t try as hard as I could have.  I can’t remember if that was true on Try Again at the end of last year.  It’s nice to arrange your feet and think of where you’re going, but I need to put that last ounce of effort into trying to do the move.  Maybe I’d surprise myself.

On TR I had no trouble.  I still botched the crux sequence but there were guns to spare.  That’s what’s in me when I’m top-roping that I don’t use when I’m leading.  Later I led Pink Laurel and it felt easy.  I don’t want another season of 8s and 9s feeling casual and 10s being out of my reach.  Especially if I’m not even getting to the top of them. It’s time- and confidence-draining.

Todd says I just need more time on 10s and suggests that climbing with someone who will go up and rescue my gear will help me get it, but I think I need the strength born of desperation, which is the opposite of having a partner who can rescue my gear.  I also need to be OK with falling to the point that I’m only thinking of the moves, like I do on TR, so I can use all my resources to climb.  Todd is committing to trying a 10 every day he’s out.  I’m not sure I’m going that far, but I do need something along those lines.

And Ropelo.  That’s a 12 at the gym I’ve been working on.  I hereby officially commit to Ropelo.

Try Again, 5.7 (Dawn)
Belly Roll, 5.4 (Steven)
P38, 5.10 (TR)
Pink Laurel, 5.9 (Dawn)
Classic, 5.7 (Dawn)

April 8, 2010   Posted in: Gunks  No Comments

I’m not strong but I’m lucky

On Wednesday: We Arrive

I don’t know why we started at SuperMini.  I don’t think I’ve ever climbed here before, but other people in the group have so we should have been forewarned.  I step up on the first moves of my first route in the waning hours of our first day in Mexico and watch my left foot skate out from under me on a hold so big I should be able to use it in my belay booties.  Polished?  Slick anyway.  I thought I loved the feet here at Potrero Chico.  “Find the foot that makes this easy,” was my mantra on my last trip.  The foot that would make this easy is the one that would stay underneath me.

I lead the two 10s that are our warm-up and re-introduction to Potrero Chico with a growing foreboding.  If these are the feet, I’m in trouble.  I’m not strong enough to climb without trusting my feet.  But at dinner that night, comparing notes, I find that everyone was feeling the same way about the feet, that the problem is hopefully contained to that one wall.  “I think I remember that from last year,” more than one person says, raising the question of why we’re repeating the mistakes of the past.  Note to self: do not start at SuperMini next year.

On Thursday: We Go Long

I remembered Yankee Clipper as being super long with two pitches of 5.12.  It turns out to be only 15 pitches, only one of which is 5.12.  When did 15 pitches become not-so-long?  And when did 5.12 become something worth looking at?

Dan and I set sail on Yankee Clipper and are lucky to have an overcast day to do it on.  By the time the sun breaks through, we’re most of the way up already.  We ran pitches one and two together and three and four together, then belayed for each pitch up to the garden.  The book counts the stroll through the garden as one of the pitches, so we’re at the end of pitch 9 before we know it.  You hate to call a 15 pitch route in the bag when you’re barely halfway up it, but it’s in the bag.  We run pitches 10 and 11 together and 12 and 13 and climb around a corner into the shade.  Here the wind is blowing and we catch up to another party rapping down from having a nice look at the 5.12 pitch.  Because the last belay is crowded and there’s nowhere to go from there but down (they having decided that looking at the pitch would be sufficient), we hang out and wait for them get back down to us.

They get unlucky pulling their rope as it gets wrapped around a couple of flakes.  Since I’m heading up anyway, I offer to free it for them.  I don’t know whether it’s the cold wind that whips this belay ledge, the sudden influx of spectators, the prospect of leading 5.12, or just a long hard day without enough water, but suddenly I’m shaky.  I try not to let on how shaky I am as I free their rope and finish the last 10b pitch but I feel tentative and weak.  Belaying Dan, I look up at the 5.12 pitch with nothing like enthusiasm.  It’s made of orange kitty litter.  I’m pretty sure I’ve seen these exact holds in the corner of the ceiling of my room where the concrete didn’t set very well.  In my room that night I try to figure out how to stem up the doorway to get to the undercling.  Here, beneath a few bolts leading up to a bail biner then stretching to infinity, I cast my eyes in the other direction.  We’re heading down.

FYI, the summit register is at the end of the 13th pitch and the 14th pitch hardly seems worth doing if you’re not going to do 15.  The belay is cramped and uncomfortable for even one person, so I lower Dan back to where he just came from and rap down myself, never having seriously considered that last pitch.  Yes, leading my first 5.12 onsight at the end of a 15 pitch route would be way cool (way unlikely, but way cool), but it’s not going to happen today.  At least our rope pulls clean.

I’ve still got a run to do.  I’m training for Boston and can’t afford to completely skip a week so I’ve got three runs planned while I’m in Mexico.  Tonight I need to do 5 miles.  It sounds like an idiotic idea as I lace up my running shoes, and I wonder how I could ever have thought this would work.  But three or four steps into my run, I’m feeling great.  Climbing, as graceful as it is, as much flexibility as it requires, is a cramped and limiting sport.  All day I’ve been moving slowly, roped in and tied down.  Now suddenly I’m free, flying down dirt roads at random in the growing twilight.  My legs aren’t tired–they’ve just been along for the ride–and my feet think that sneakers feel pretty comfy after a day of hanging belays.  I’m a climber who runs.

On Friday: We Epic

The Spires are only two pitches high, so this is an odd setting for an epic, surrounded by significantly higher formations.  The first pitch of Aguja Celo Rey is only 5.9 but it’s also R.  Christine says she hung on the first bolt last year but we’re quickly able to determine that she started on a nearby 11 and avoid that pitfall.  I keep saying I don’t mind runouts, but I have no idea where that voice is coming from.  I mind runouts very much.  Indeed, I’m one of the most fearful leaders I know.  But we’ve decided to climb this route and I can’t see making Matt lead the pitch.  Besides, it’s bolts.  I mean, come on.  It’s bolts.

Or it would be bolts if there were any of them.  After a long walk to the first bolt (unless you take that 5.11 start), there’s another long bit–this one involving actual climbing–before the next bolt.  Then there’s an ugly arm-eating crack and two bolts in quick succession, which you know can’t be good.  I can’t decide whether to take the off-width crack or the overhanging face.  The crack is slippery in that soapy way limestone sometimes gets but the face is steep and exposed.  So yeah, I wedge whatever part fits into the crack and use some feet and hands to my right and worm my way gracelessly but securely up there.  Then another long bolt-free jaunt.  Just as I’m thinking that I’ve really had enough climbing without gear, another crack appears.  This one’s a nice hand-sized crack with something like friction inside.  A hand jam’s as good as a belay so I step up with confidence and cruise to the real belay.  Luckily for Matt, this one has bolts.

I was the only one of the four of us who chose to climb the ugly off-width crack.  I may have been the only one to jam the lovely hand crack too.  Although Potrero Chico is hardly a crack-climbing paradise, there are moves here and there where a jam is your best bet and I’m happy to make use of them.  I’m also happy to let Matt lead the crux pitch.  There are more bolts, but I don’t think much of where they’re placed. For us shorties, they seem always to be just above the hard move.  Matt gets through with the help of my wildly incorrect beta (“Just sit on the ledge,” I tell him as he mantles onto a narrow sloper).  Then Irene takes her first real lead fall as I watch from above, wishing I had her camera.  She’s unharmed and undaunted and soon all four of us are on the ground.

Now Christine is ready to lead the highlight for the day, an 11d called Pangea.  Matt steps up to belay her and I, impatient as always, start eyeing the neighboring routes.  There’s a two pitch route called Through the Looking Glass in front of me.  The second pitch is 11a and says something about a roof but the first pitch is 10a and ends at a bolt anchor.  I figure Irene and I can be up and down before anyone notices we’re gone.  I wander up the start of the bolt line to the right, as advised in the guidebook, on nice jugs, and crawl through the feature they call the window.  Here I was expecting to find a belay.  I don’t know why I was expecting this because I’d just been through the window coming from the other side and there hadn’t been any anchor in there then.  So I start climbing bolts on the other side of the window as the guidebook has said I would.  It’s just that I thought I’d be down on the ground and ignoring these bolts by now.  Eventually I arrive at a belay but the way down isn’t looking good.  On one side, the ground slopes down too far.  On the other, a sharp wall of rock between the anchor and the face promises for an ugly rap.  Well, it’s not as if the book promised we could get down from  here.  So we’ll go up.

There are bolts over my head, but I have no idea what route they’re on.  I think my route goes to the left, to a feature that could be called a roof, though coming from Gunks-land I’d be more likely to call it a bulge.  I start up that way, hang twice over the roof (climbing at the Gunks doesn’t give you rockstar roof powers at other crags, a fact I’ve noticed before) and then meander around looking for another bolt.  I remember the book said something about easy climbing above but did it say easy soloing?  After 30 feet or so with nothing more than old ring pitons, I decide to climb a different route instead.  I get a bolt clipped, backclean the confidence-inspiring ring piton, and start face climbing.  One move away from an anchor–in sight but not in reach–I can’t go on.  My last bolt is below my feet and I can’t find a move I’m willing to make.  I traverse to another bolted line and finish on it.  I figure I’ve done three routes on this pitch alone.

Irene also has the chance to climb a few routes on her way to join me. Since there’s nothing clipped above the roof, she takes a swing out and away from “our” route and just climbs the one she ends up in front of .  I probably should have stayed on that ring piton line, because now we’re at the top and still don’t know how to get down.  Irene leads through to an anchor she remembers rapping off of before and we do three raps to get down from what was supposed to be a single pitch 10a.  Ah, adventure.  From now on, I’ll bring the book and headlamp for all single pitch climbs.

Now Irene and I get a chance to play on Pangea, which is really fun but sparsely bolted for 11d.  We choose to toprope it.  I only fall in a couple of places (just the crux and one or two extra spots) and feel pretty good about it.  Christine says I climb smarter than she does and I tell her it’s my only chance.  I’m sure not going to climb stronger than she does.  She pulls the rope to go for a redpoint attempt.  Problem is that she started the trip sick and has been getting sicker and although she put the rope up in the first place, now, only two bolts up, she looks dazed and tired.  She’s having trouble at one of the spots where I didn’t fall, and I know that’s not a good sign.  I tell her if she’ll come down I can rescue her draws by climbing up the side of the spire on what looks like 4th class rock.

Thus begins Dawn’s Exciting Adventure.  I can’t claim a first ascent because I did clip a ring piton I came across.  In fact, I left a biner on it as I wormed my way back down after going high, going low, going across, and generally going nowhere trying to get to the anchor for Pangea.  When I finally got close enough to see the anchor, I realized that it was in the middle of pretty inaccessible rock.  Everything at Potrero Chico looks closer than it is.  I was sorry not to have gotten the draws.  It was a waste of everyone’s time to watch me try and, although I never felt like I was taking an unacceptable risk at any given moment, there came a point where I realized the cumulative risk was unacceptably high.  I was climbing on very loose rock, so I wasn’t just putting myself at risk either.  I’m happy to report that Christine and Suzanna had no trouble getting her draws back the next day, which was probably the sensible call to begin with.  Don’t send a 4th classing trad climber to do a 5.12 sport climber’s job.

On Saturday: We Seek Shade

Lucky are we all that there’s only one day with so much unrelieved sun on our trip, and lucky am I that crowds chase me off my initial objective, Jungle Mountaineering.  As Barry and I make our way up Dope Ninja enjoying the shade, we can watch our compadres suffering in the sun across the way.  Dope Ninja, in addition to being shady for a large part of the day, has luxurious belays.

Barry leads a crazy-long pitch of 5.10.  Yes, we’re really carrying 20 draws without any plans to run pitches together.  His pitch is that long.  Then I lead a shorter, cruxier 5.10 pitch and we cruise casually to the top.  As the sun seeks us out, we dodge around a corner and find relief again.  The only part of the day that’s full-on sun is the rap down the other side of the formation.  Barry wants to simul-rap to save time.  I’ve only done this twice: once with a guide the first time I ever rapped multi-pitch, and once with Jim the last time I was at Potrero. That had been a bad experience because I hadn’t used a backup (as I usually don’t) and fishing rope out of cactus with only one brake strand was a strain.  Barry talks me through it, I use a backup this time, and after a small snafu on the first rap we develop an efficient pattern.  I could get used to this.

On Sunday: We Celebrate

“Because it’s your birthday,” Chris says when I TR Pangea clean today.

“Because my birthday’s not until tomorrow,” I correct her.  “Tomorrow I’ll be too old to climb this hard.”

I feel good about my last day as a 43-year-old.  I led two pitches of 11a cleanly, got up my first outdoor 11d, flashed another 11b on TR, and outlasted the kids.  For some reason my fingers and toes aren’t killing me the way everyone else’s are.  I’ve brought two pairs of shoes and my painful shoes have gotten me up the hard stuff while my all-day trad shoes have saved my feet on the rest of the routes.  I’ve used my trad tricks to stay comfy at belays and sneak in an occasional arm-resting jam.  I feel like I’m just getting warmed up.  Give me another two days here and that 12 would happen.

When everyone else is too tired to climb, I go running.  I didn’t get in all three workouts while in Mexico, but this is two out of three.  I run up into the canyon, past the end of the climbing, as far as the dirt road goes, uphill all the way.  I’m supposed to be running 5 miles and at 2.48 miles the road ends.  Serendipitous.  I turn around and run back, all downhill now, so fast I get a stitch in my side.  I’m surrounded by green hills with the rock ridges looming up before me as I head back into the park. The temperature is perfect and the sun is behind the ridge-line.  Looking at the satellite picture on my GPS from home later, I’ll be even more impressed by how much untouched territory surrounded me.

In the dining tent that night the lights go out unexpectedly.  Before I can grumble about unreliable electricity, there’s a dish of cake and ice cream with a lone candle and a tent full of people are singing “Happy Birthday, Dear Dawn. ” It’s a special end to a wonderful trip.  I remember the first time I went to Potrero Chico. I was struck by how lucky I was: lucky to be American and have so much I take for granted; lucky to climb mutli-pitch trad frequently and know the tips and techniques you learn from doing it; lucky to have good friends and good partners.  Now I can add: lucky to still be doing this and even luckier to still be getting better.  I’m not a strong climber, not a fast runner, but I’m still working my way towards being a stronger climber and a faster runner, and at 44 that feels pretty lucky.

Wednesday SuperMini
Cerveza 10b
Empanada 10c

Thursday, Yankee Clipper:
5.8/5.8, Dan
10b/5.8, Dawn
5.9, Dan
10b, Dawn
5.9, Dan
5.9, Dawn
3rd class
10b/5.9, Dawn
5.9/5.8, Dan
10b, Dawn
admiration of 12a final pitch

Friday, Spires
Aguja Celo Rey, 5.10R (P1: Dawn; P2: Matt)
Through the Looking Glass, 11a (P1 & 2: Dawn)
Pangea, 11d (Chris)
Dawn’s Exciting Adventure, 4th class

Saturday, Dope Ninja
5.7, Dawn
5.10, Barry
10b, Dawn
5.6, Barry
5.9, Dawn
5.7, Barry

Sunday, cragging
Same Same but Different, 10b
No Excuses, 11a
Pangea, 11d (Suzanna)
Two Pumped Chump P1, 11a
Red Helmet, 11b (Suzanna)
31 Foot Smurf, 10a

Finishing by moonlight at the SuperMini crag

Teeny weeny people on Yankee Clipper and Space Boyz

Me leading Aguja Celo Rey

Me leading P1 of Aguja Celo Rey

On top of the smaller spire

Irene right after her lead fall, with Christine belaying below and me hanging out above.

P1 of Through the Looking Glass

Irene following Through the Looking Glass or one of the "bonus" routes we were on

Christine leading Pangea

Me leading 31 Foot Smurf

Happy Birthday to me

The 2010 gang

April 5, 2010   Posted in: Potrero Chico, Running  No Comments