Thursday, December 22, 2011

Applejack Crack

Last April, before I left for North Carolina, I did a climb at Jackson Falls in southern IL called Applejack Crack.  It is a 5.11b "solution off-width."  I even wrote about my first attempt at redpointing this route in an entry titled "Fighting."  I attempted to redpoint it once after that first attempt falling at the first nasty bulge crux on the route.  I have not had a chance to get back on the route since I moved.  I logged this climb in the back of my mind as a project with the hope of returning to get the redpoint.

Fast forward a few months to the beginning of November.  A few of the guides went to Foster Falls in Tennessee to play on some steep sandstone and hopefully to do a bit of training.  It was on that trip that one of the guides made a comment to me about having to climb a 5.11 off-width to be a real 5.11 climber (paraphrased).  This made me think of that 5.11 off-width at Jackson Falls that I still wanted to redpoint.  It was at that time when I started to make plans to make another attempt at it.  I knew I was going to be heading back home at Christmas so that became the time to do it.  I just had to hope that the weather would cooperate to allow a decent attempt.  December in Illinois can be very finicky.  One day it might be 50 degrees and sunny and another it will be 25 and snowing.  I wouldn't mind the snow but I was hoping for a day that would yield dry and somewhat warm rock.

This past week, I finished making the plans for the attempt.  I was going to meet up with my friend Travis and we were going to head down to Jackson Falls on the 21st of December.  I started watching the forecast.  Though the forecast didn't have any rain in it for the 21st, it did have rain forecast for the two days prior.  This would not be good.  Jackson Falls sits in a depression in the hills of southern IL.  Water from a huge area all runs down to this little sandstone gorge.  There are routes that down there that are dry only during the driest years.  I had to just hope that Applejack Crack would be dry enough to climb.

After parking and hiking for a few minutes, things didn't look good.  We had talked that if we had to we could just hike around so the day wouldn't be wasted.  We dropped down to the base of the bluffs and hiked over two creeks flowing with larger than average amounts of water.  Every route we looked at on the way to Applejack had some water on it if not completely covered in water.  We then came to a wall called the Gallery.  It has many 5.10s that are great warm-ups and normally stay dry since the formation they are on is not connected to the main bluff line.  Even most of those routes were wet.  We then turn the corner and find a popular 5.10c, Group Therapy, completely dry.  There was hope.  We would at least be able to climb that.  I then continue another 100 feet down the trail to Applejack.  It is then that I start to get psyched.  It appeared to be mostly dry.  I was very surprised.  Normally cracks like this stay wet for days after a rain but it seemed dry enough to climb even with rain the day before.  After this we hiked back to Group Therapy to warm up.

I had done this route many times but this time if felt super easy.  I was excited.  After Travis made his way up the route we decided to top-rope a crack to the left that would join Group Therapy a bit over halfway up the wall.  Once done with that we walked around a bit so that I could get my body temperature back up in preparation for the battle that would soon engulf me.  At the base I began my preparations.  I flaked out the rope, I drank a bit of water and then started racking up.  I then studied the route trying to remember the moves.  I recalled the first little bouldery section that is not protectable and I remembered a few of the moves that spit me off on my previous attempt.  I figured that the rest would come to me once I was up there.  So I tied in, put my climbing shoes on then stepped to the plate.

The first part went down with out any problem.  I remembered all the moved on the short boulder problem, got to the jugs, then placed my first piece above me in the shallow hand crack.  From there I moved up to the flaring slot.  Once I was here, I considered retreating since a few of the holds were wet and I couldn't remember any of these moves.  Instead I kept moving getting up to the base of the nasty bulge section.  There I chilled out a bit in preparation for the few moves that lay ahead.  After placing the largest cam I own (#5 Camalot) I went into the first crux section.  There I got the my previous redpoint high point.  I have never pulled this move without falling on the first try.  This day though, I wiggled up in the crack, placed my foot on the foothold on the edge of the crack and reached up to the holds just to the right of the crack.  A feeling of relief came over me but just a little too soon.  I then had to get a piece of gear in the smaller crack in the back of the off-width so I could take the #5 out since I place it again later on.  I couldn't find the right piece.  Finally after fiddling with tricams for a a few minutes I slammed in a #.5 Camalot and moved on.  From here you get a great rest before tackling the next off-width section.

This section doesn't fair as much with allows you to arm-bar, chicken-wing, leg-bar, and just plain grunt your way up it.  I worked part way up this section trying to remember the moves.  I had forgotten that there really isn't any particular sequence.  You just wiggle, grunt, and flail your way up.  Luckily, at one point I was able to get myself stuck enough to rest and place a piece of protection.  After continuing and getting to another good spot for gear, I realized that the hold I was using was very damp.  This did not inspire much confidence for making the final off-width moves.  Luckily, the crack was dry enough to continue to struggle my way up to ledge just below the top.  From here there are only a few 5.7 moves to the top.  Upon reaching the top, I was surprised by a shiny new set of bolts.  I set an anchor, cloved myself in and let out a shout of relief and of joy.  It was over.

As I mentioned in the previous post about this route, it is one that you hate while doing it.  It isn't until you are back on the ground that you appreciate the struggle that you just went through to climb that feature.  It also makes you want to throw up.  While I was belaying Travis up the route, I felt sub-optimal in the nausea category.  Luckily, that subsided after a few minutes.  After his own struggle up the route, Travis arrived at the anchors.  There we celebrated the redpoint with a high five then made our way back to the ground.  The thing about off-widths is that they drain your entire body of its energy.  Travis was done for the day and I had nothing else I felt like climbing so we headed back to the car.  There we proceeded to have a dance party until I could no longer stand the electric/dance music.

To end this, here are some pictures of me on Applejack crack from this past spring.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

First Trip Up Whitesides

Around this time last fall, I began preparing for a trip to North Carolina the week of Thanksgiving.  I had never been here before but had heard of the great climbing there.  To prepare, I began looking on and bought a guide book.  Once the guide book arrived, I would read it constantly.  One place more than others caught my attention and that was Whitesides.  With adjectives such as "most-feared," "biggest and baddest," and "serious aura;" I was lured into studying some of the long and committing routes on its southeast face.  Upon going through ever route in the guidebook I noticed one thing, this stuff is hard. With the easiest route going free at 5.11a or 5.10c/A0, it would not be an easy task to make it up this wall.  Over the course of the month of November, I prepared for a possible encounter with this massive wall of rock.  Those plans never went through.  Due to a poor looking forecast and my trip partner not sure if he could go, I cancelled the trip and went to Arkansas for the week.

Once I moved to North Carolina, the thought of going to Whitesides scared me.  I had experienced some climbs here in NC that pushed me to physical and mental limits and they were supposed to be easier than the easiest route at Whitesides.  How was I ever going to do it?

This past August, I was shadowing a course with one of the adjunct guides here, Todd.  Todd wanted me to take him up the Original Route at Whitesides.  I agreed to do it but wanted to wait until fall so that the temps would be better.  Then after looking at requirements for AMGA courses/exams, I decided to post-pone it until after taking the rock instructor course so that it would be able to count towards those requirements.  After the course ended, I emailed Todd asking when he wanted to go do it.  Unfortunately, Todd's schedule was just too busy to make the trip happen.  Now I was forced to search out another partner that would let me "guide" them up the route.  Luckily, I found the perfect victim in one of the other guides, Michael.  A few weeks ago, we agreed that we would climb the OR (Original Route) on Monday, November 7th.  This weekend then came upon us.  We each had to work but in the evenings, we talked and planned our day.  Finally, it was Monday morning.  We woke up only slightly early.  At 7 we left to head towards Highlands.
It was a nice crisp morning with a forecasted high of 61 degrees.  Splitter conditions.

After arriving at the parking lot, we geared up and began our approach.  From the descriptions, I expects a bit of gnarly terrain that we would have to descend.  At Whitesides, you park on the northwest side of the mountain.  From there you hike up the summit trail for a few minutes.  Once you hit the ridge, you start down a climbers trail that leads to the base of the southeast face.  I expected it to be most like the gullies that you find up in the Linville Gorge.  This approach was quite nice.  Once at the base, you have about a 25 minute hike until you reach the base of the OR.  Along the way, we were awed by the size and steepness of the headwall on this face.  After about 45 minutes of hiking, we reached the start of our route.  Now it was time to muster up some courage and head up this intimidating mass of rock.

Looking up from the base.  The first pitch climbs the two white streaks to the right.

The first pitch was one of the pitches that worried me some.  Even though it is only rated 5.7, it also does not offer any protection.  I knew this.  I started up the route anyways.  I did manage to find one piece of pro about 100 feet up.  After about 140 feet, you hit a ledge.  There I slung a tree and moved left on the ledge, towards the second pitch, to set a belay.  After a few minutes, Michael joined me at the ledge.

Michael climbing the first pitch.

The second pitch proved to be a bit heady as well.  After going to the left side of the ledge, you hit a flake which does not offer much protection.  From there you move through a small roof on large holds and continue up on easy ground to the next ledge.  This is a huge ledge with many trees and vegetation.  From this ledge, you go left once again until the ledge joins with some cracks that head up.  After just a little while in the crack, you traverse right to hit a really fun flake that then joins a big corner.  Then once you are able to, you traverse back left on to a large ledge with a double bolt anchor.  These two pitches go at 5.8 and 5.7.  The hardest part is managing rope drag on the third pitch.

Once on this ledge, you are looking at this section of rock that originally was rated 5.9+.  Now it is given a rating of 5.10c.  The difficulty isn't the big issue though.  The problem is if you fall before clipping the bolt part way up the pitch.  Since you start off on a ledge, you are very likely to hit this ledge.  You get one piece of protection before the bolt.  It is a solid cam.  The only problem is that you are still close to that ledge when you place it.  So once you move above the piece, you are hoping that your belayer is paying close attention.  Once I started up the pitch, I was super nervous.  I probed into the moves a few times but felt uncomfortable.  Finally, I committed to the moves that put me up near the cam that I placed from the ledge.  After this, you have to bear down on a crimp, reach really high for a good hold and hope that your feet stay on long enough to move them onto something better.  Well my first time trying this move resulted in my feet coming off the their holds and me falling towards the ledge.  Michael caught me right as I hit the ledge.  My left foot must have hit the ledge or something on the fall because it had a slight bit of pain.  After a few minutes of regaining my composure I went back up to that piece of gear.  I then attempted to aid through that section but did so without any luck.  The bolt was just a bit too high for me to reach.  I was now forced to free the moves.  This second time I beared down and latched the good hold, moved my feet up and clipped the bolt.  From there I moved up a few moves into easier terrain.  Once up on the ledge, I began the process of trying to settle my nerves so that I wouldn't freak out too much on the upcoming pitches.  Pitch four was done.  It was my biggest worry for the day.

The next pitch was just some 5.7 climbing up to a stance below a small roof.  It must not have been that great since I can't remember much about it.  The sixth pitch though was uber-good.  While looking at it from the belay atop the fifth pitch, I could tell that I was going to have some exposure right off the belay.  Once I was put on belay, I started up this little dihedral that I built my anchor in.  I soon found out that it wasn't the way I was supposed to go.  Instead, you do this airy traverse to the right off of the belay and head up to a dihedral to the right of that little roof.  It was very exposed and unprotected until I hit the roof line.  There I got a piece and moved into the dihedral.  At one point, I got a bit confused as to where the easiest path was.  Eventually, I figured it out, made some super sweet moves and hit a ledge.  From this ledge, you continue up to the belay.  This is the most exposed belay on the entire route.  You have only a few holds to stand on and you are mostly hanging from the anchor.

Michael finishing up the sixth pitch.

The next pitch is the crux pitch if you are trying to free it.  It goes at 5.11a but is well protected by three bolts.  These bolts also allow you to aid through the section making the rating A0.  Once I reached the first bolt, I decided to just aid through this section.  The moves looked very long and by this point I had given up on moves that would be made more difficult for me due to my size.  Above the bolt ladder though, the climbing eases up and you are just climbing on big jugs.  From the top of this next pitch, you can decide to stay with the OR or finish on Traditions.

View from the belay below the Bolt Ladder Pitch

We opted to finish on Traditions.  It offers a more direct line to the top but with some harder climbing.  Also, most people said that it is much more enjoyable than finishing on the last pitches of the OR.  The eighth pitch then, hits a bolted ramp that has some 5.9 moves eventually hitting a large ledge.  The ninth pitch is a steep 5.10a pitch with two bolts.  I was told that this pitch was good but never imagined that it was as much fun as it was.  From the belay, you continue to the left side of the ledge.  There you hit a flake system.  Near the top of the flake, you clip a bolt then make long, overhanging moves on jugs.  After that you continue straight up on some easier jugs until you hit a big tree ledge in which you have to tunnel through vegetation to get on.  While leading this pitch, I couldn't help but yell out of excitement.  I am up a few hundred feet, pulling on jugs in overhanging, exposed terrain with good protection.  I still have a huge smile on my face from that one pitch.  I may also be bold enough to say that it is my single favorite pitch that I have climbed in North Carolina.  This ledge offered a great place to sit and relax for a few minutes.  Michael and I chilled on this ledge for a while, enjoyed a snack while checking out the amazing views offered from our perch.

The last pitch was before us.  Michael had asked if he could lead one pitch on the route, so I gave him the rack and he headed up a 5.8 pitch taking us to the top.  Once we were both up top, we organized the gear, coiled the rope, took a summit picture, and then headed down the trail back to the parking lot.  Once at the parking lot, we enjoyed some burritos we had made.  This was a great way to cap off an amazing day of climbing.  This was one of the best routes I had done in North Carolina.  I can see why it is such a classic route.  It offers fun, bold climbing up an exposed face.  I can't wait to go back and do some more climbing on this face. 
Summit Shot!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

New Ground at Laurel

A while back, Ron was telling me about a line that he wanted to do with some clients that was easier climbing at Laurel Knob. This past week, we went there to equip the route with proper protection.  Ron had previously done the route without these permanent anchors.  Without the bolts though, it would not be very safe for climbers looking for routes that are easier.  The whole thought of the route was to get an introduction route for people looking to slowly break into the climbs at Laurel Knob.  Before this, 5.8 was the easiest route.  So when Ron asked me if I wanted to go to Laurel to equip the route I was stoked.

On Tuesday we headed out there.  Once we hiked to the base of the route, called Biopsy (5.7), Ron described the route from the ground.  After that he took off with drill in tow and began the process of making this climb safe for the 5.7 climber.  Ron would climb up to a stance, drill a hole, hammer the bolt in, and then tighten down the nut.  This process happened a few times, then he belayed me up to the top of the first pitch.  The first pitch starts off with an easy slab, past one bolt then hits a vertical bulge that you must navigate.  A high bolt on this section can be reached from the slab to offer protection from breaking your ankles on the slab while pulling one of the hardest moves on the route.  After the bulge, you have another section of easier slab protected with one bolt half way to the belay.
Ron on the crux move of the first pitch of Biopsy
The second pitch continues up this slab.  It offers one bolt, a less than ideal gear nest, and a whole for a cam to protect the pitch.  It is easier climbing (5.5) but still fun.  From there the third pitch passes two bolts and heads for a brushy ledge called Three Way Ledge.  This pitch goes at 5.4.

From this ledge you have some options.  Above you, there are two distinct water grooves and just to the right is an obvious line of weakness.  This day, Ron offered for me to do the middle line.  He said that it had not been done before.  He offered me the first ascent of the pitch.  I was stoked.  I went up with just trad gear.  After some slab climbing, I came to the base of the water groove.  I got a piece of gear, then started up the groove.  It had some interesting moves and protected fairly well.  After I got through it, I set a belay part way up the last pitch and brought Ron up.  This pitch is rated 5.8 and called Socket Rocket.  If you were to do the line to the right, it is the original line for Biopsy and goes at 5.7.  It has two bolts protecting the pitch and can take natural gear as well.  The line to the left is a bit harder and is protected by two bolts right at the crux.  This line is called Yes Ma'am and goes at 5.9.  Each line is really fun and offers different styles of climbing from the other lines.  My suggestion would be to lead up to the ledge, then climb each line before continuing on to the  top.
Me getting the FA on the Socket Rocket pitch

The last pitch goes right of the water groove and hits a small vertical section which has a very well protected 5.6 move.  From there you pass two bolts to a rappel station on a tree.  It is a very fun climb and will probably have the 5.7 thinking on a few of the moves.  

After we got off of this route, Ron and I headed towards the main area of Laurel to get a few more pitches in. After passing Seconds (5.8) we saw a line that looked fun.  I recognized it as Stemming Laurel.  I was stoked to get on it because it looked really fun.  Ron led the first pitch.  It has some sections that have potential for long falls.  But Ron, as usual, completed the pitch with style.  I led the second pitch.  It was a bit harder but followed a very obvious crack up the face.  The climbing at first was super fun and protected well.  Higher up though, the climbing became a bit trickier and I was not able to protect it like I wanted since we only brought a single rack with us that day.  After making some committing moves well above a poorly placed purple C3 I made it to the anchors.  From here we rappelled back to the ground since we had to get back home.

The next day, Ron, Karsten, and I headed back to Laurel.  This time to finish equipping Biopsy and put up some new stuff.  I led up all of Biopsy while Ron and Karsten put in the remaining bolts.  From the top, we traversed to the right and rappelled to a huge terrace with tons of trees.  There Ron and Karsten each put up some new single pitch lines that went on natural gear.  These routes were 5.9 and 5.10a.  After this, Ron and I top roped a line to the left.  It may go near 5.12.  It has some super fun moves with good holds.  While we were at this wall, I eyed some lines that I am thinking about putting some time into as well.  After we were done playing here, we went back near Biopsy and possibly put up another two pitch line that hits the Three Way Ledge.  We are still trying to verify its virgin status as a route.
Karsten climbing into the unknown on a new route.

Overall, it was a great two days.  I learned a bit about route development.  We each had a chance for some first ascents and have looked at more virgin terrain for the future.  I highly suggest checking out Biopsy.  Though it doesn't have the stigma of some of the other routes at Laurel, it is a great climb for those looking for a challenge at that grade.  You can find information about the climb here on the Carolina Climbers Coalition's website.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Rock Instructor Course

Ever since I moved to North Carolina, I have been preparing for the AMGA's rock instructor course.  I spent my summer getting the required resume and technical skills.  It seemed like a daunting task at first.  I arrived having only a dozen or so multipitch climbs under my belt but needed 50.  When everyone told me it would be easy to get the required climbs, I laughed until I managed to complete multiple multipitch climbs in a since day early on.  From then on, it was game on.  Then in August I was able to complete the requirements by climbing two grade III routes in a few days.

From that point on, my focus shifted to getting in shape. Since my heel was better I attempted to start running but realized that I don't like running.  Instead I made it a goal to do something everyday whether that be running, hiking, climbing, or a combination of them.  Then September hit.  Work slowed down but it seemed like I was still busy a lot of the time.  I was either working on the house I lived in, guiding, or climbing.  Eventually trying to get in shape fell by the wayside.  Then the week before I was to leave for Oregon, I had to drive to Illinois unexpectedly.  Once back in North Carolina, I rushed around getting things packed and in order for me to leave.  Luckily, Monday morning I was all set to make my way to Central Oregon.

Once in Oregon I felt I could relax finally.  I was here.  The next day, I went out to Smith Rock to get used to the funky rock there and set up camp.  Since I flew I did not have a car so I would be staying at the bivy site right there in the park.  The first morning of the course I awoke at 5 AM, well before my alarm.  After going through what would become my normal morning routine, I headed to the rendezvous point for the first day of the course.  In full character of myself, I arrived at the set meeting location 45 minutes early.  I then had the privilege to sit there and enjoy the cool, brisk autumn air.  Finally, after everyone arrived the course initiated.  We went over introductions, the goals of the course, and a few other discussions about professionalism, guides notebooks, guide meetings, risk management, and what every guide should have with them.  At this point it was close to noon so we took off for the North Point at Smith Rock.

The North Point is a great teaching location but not on this day.  It never seemed to warm up that day and the North Point stays in the shade given its norther aspect.  There we went over protection, anchors, knots, belaying and other basic skills that we should have known before arriving at the course.  We then jumped into belaying with the plaquette device (ATC-Guide, Reverso, GiGi).  From there we learned belaying multiple clients up a pitch and also rope management at a belay station.

The second day started in a very similar fashion.  After a guides meeting, we went down to the dihedrals area and went over descent techniques.  This involved lowers and rappelling.  I learned a lot in these lessons, especially in the area of client care.  After going over these things and practicing it was time to hit the rock.  I started by doing a route called Bookworm (5.9).  It starts as a hand crack and widens to an offwidth at the top of the first pitch.  From there we followed a bolt line and joined up with the second pitch of Bunny Face.  I was climbing with Keith (one of the instructors), Max, and Claude.  I brought them up each pitch then did a single double rope, stacked rappel to get us safely back to the ground.  While Keith was coming up on a fixed line, he broke a hold off.  This was the start of encountering poor rock conditions for the remainder of the course.
Keith Garvey demonstrating lowering techniques

After that route, Max led us up an easy bolted line to the top of the Cinnamon Slab area. Then Claude led a gully/ chimney route that ended on a ledge shared with Cinnamon Slab.  When I got up there, every person from the course was hanging out on this ledge which comfortable fits 3.  It was probably quite a site for those climbers around us to see everyone crowded on that ledge.

On day three of the course, we split up into two groups.  Max and Claude went with Angela while Ryan, Leslie and I went with Keith.  They were going to do a demo of a guided multipitch route.  Keith chose White Satin (5.9) to take us up.  This route only has one good pitch which is the third and also presents many guiding challenges.  I managed to get hit in the helmet by a falling rock while belaying Keith on the third pitch.  This route also showed us that the rock was not the best quality on the multipitch routes.  After topping out, we rappelled onto the back (west) side of Smith.  We then made our way over to Spiderman Buttress.  There Leslie led up two pitches.  After he leads, I was given the rack and told to take us to the top.  Once up on top of the buttress, Ryan was in charge of getting us down.  We did two rappels back to the ground, closing out day three.
Keith on the top of White Satin

On day four we spent the whole day learning short-roping techniques. Since it was a Saturday, we decided to avoid the crowds during this day of instruction.  We elected to hike to the top of the Smith Rock Group.  This is the massive group of rock formations to the southwest of the main part of the park.  The top of the group has a good selection of easier scrambling terrain in which to practice short-roping and short-pitching techniques used when guiding 3rd and 4th class terrain. I really enjoyed learning the "ropes" of guiding this type of ground.  Later in the day, we had to short-rope over to a summit pinnacle and then guide each other up it.  It was a very short easy pitch but it led to some great views of the entire park.  The only bad part about the day was that it was really sunny that day.  I managed to get some heinous helmet strap tan lines. For the rest of the course we were able to apply these techniques to everyday guiding. 
Angela Hawse showing us how to short-rope two people

Day five was one in which we just did mock guiding all day. That day, I was grouped with Ryan and Max with Angela as our instructor.  Our original plan was to climb Zebra-Zion, top out, then head over to the Monkey Face and climb the West Face Variation.  Well people were just starting the first pitch of Zebra-Zion so we headed over to Phone Call from Satan (5.9) and did that as a first pitch into Solar (5.9).  Ryan led all three pitches of this route.  It was a really fun route with a great position on the third pitch.  After topping out, Max was in charge of the “decent”  It wasn’t really a descent since we continued up with a long pitch then split into two groups and short pitched up this ridgeline to the top. 

Once off of the ridge, I led us to our next objective, the West Face Variation but to our dismay a group had just started up the first pitch.  Our back up plan was to do Trezlar but that was also taken.  We resolved to climb Tale of Two Shitties (5.10a).  I led up the first pitch hoping for a good belay ledge.  I reached on spot that would accommodate us with minimal discomfort but the gear was so bad for an anchor that I continued up into the dihedral of the second pitch to set an anchor in better quality rock.  The second pitch is a beautiful dihedral that goes to an overhanging, juggy  crack.  The dihedral was a lot of fun but a bit heady.  I didn’t know that it stayed about the same size the entire time.  For most of the pitch, the crack remains in the size range of #1 and #.75 camalots.  I could have used one more of each to protect the pitch adequately.  Instead, I just have to push through some sections of it.  Finally, at the overhanging part, I resorted to resting on a solid #.4 camalot before tackling the final jugs.  After resting for a minute I took off up the jugs and made it to a nice ledge from which to belay.  Once everyone was up, we decided that a decent was the best option given the time so we did two rappels back to the ground.  I beat myself up over this route.  I felt I could have done much better than I did but After looking back the only bad thing I did was choose a route that was a bit too close to my limit to guide three people up.

Day six was our rescue drill and scenario day.  The weather was supposed to be sub-optimal for the day so we had a backup plan of going to the Bend Rock Gym and doing the drill there.  Luckily, the rain came early on and scooted off to the east early in the day.  We started out by going over different aspects of rescue techniques under the pavilion at Smith.  Then after lunch we headed to the north point so that we could all get a chance to run through the rescue drill.  The first run I was the patient.  I had the privilege to hang from a rope for 40 minutes.  Luckily I brought a prussic and a four foot sling so that I could stand up on that.  Next I had a chance to run through it.  I had done it before in the shop at the headquarters for Fox Mountain Guides but this would be my first time on vertical terrain.  It is a bit tougher.  I ended up having some troubles with ascending back up a fixed line so my time was not as good as I was hoping.  That will change soon though.  Once we finished the drill, I decided to climb a route that was right there just to get some climbing in that day.  It was enjoyable to climb a short sport route.
Day seven, we resumed the mock guiding.  I was teamed up with Ryan and Angela.  We had been given guiding assignments of Voyage of the Cowdog (5.9) and Peking into Moscow (5.8).  Given the location of Voyage of the Cowdog and the relative temperature we elected to not do it since it would be in the shade all day.  Instead we started out with Peking to Moscow, which Ryan led us up.  He did a marvelous job.  Then we hiked back down to our packs.  From there I led up us Super Slab (5.6).  If you haven’t done that route before, I would suggest you do it.  It has some of the best rock we encountered at Smith.  It provided some guiding challenges but I felt that I nailed it.  For the first time on the course, I felt like I was doing really well.  The only thing that I was critiqued on was a runnout on the last pitch.  
Ryan on the final pitch of Super Slab

On the eighth day, I was teamed up with Angela and Leslie.  We were going to do another up and over day.  We started on Cinnamon Slab and took that to the top.  From there we crossed over and descended besides the Spiderman Buttress.  That felt a bit adventurous because we got to go down a slot to get back to the ground.  From there we hiked to the base of the West Face Variation (5.8).  Our plan was to take it to the top by the diving board.  The first pitch is stellar.  It get airy just 20 feet off of the ground with a fun move around an arĂȘte on to the face.  From there you go up some blocks to a killer dihedral.  After the dihedral you have a few bulges to navigate and then you arrive at the belay.  Most parties go left from here and do the direct variation to the notch between the main wall and Monkey Face.  We continued up a 5.6 pitch that traverses right around a roof.  It then cuts back left  to the bolted anchor.   This pitch proved to be one of the most challenging.  After coming around the right side of the roof, I got a good look at the next pitch.  It looked horrible and had a good number of pigeons guarding it.  Also, I noticed that if I were to go to the bolted anchor it would produce a ton of rope drag and put a very nasty traverse into the pitch. At first I checked out a crack straight above me.  It didn’t look like it would yield sufficient gear for an anchor.  Then I went to the base of the dihedral of the next pitch.  The rock there looked crappy.  So against what I should have done, I went to the bolted anchor and started to haul up rope.  When Angela came around the side of the roof and saw what was before her, she very gently told me that having a traverse like that would not fly.  To bring Leslie up, I went over to that initial crack, took more time to find gear then belayed her up to the crack, then down to the bolted anchor.  From there we rappelled back down to the ground but not without a few snags.  When pulling the rope from the first rappel, it got stuck on a chock stone in a chimney.  I then had to climb back up to free it.    Once we were back down, Leslie took us over to the Kiss of the Lepers area.  There we did the first pitch of First Kiss (5.7).  That concluded our day.

The ninth and final day to be on the rock, I teamed up with Max and Keith.  Max and I kind of tailored our day to give Keith a chance to get on some classics that were a bit harder.  We started off on the Picnic Lunch wall.  There we warmed up on Honey Pot (5.9).  After that we did Teddy Bear’s Picnic.  It is three pitches of 5.10 that offer great rock, good climbing, and an amazing position.  It goes up this huecoed face then on to knob climbing.  The second and third pitches traverse slightly to the left and get out on an arĂȘte to offer some sweet exposure.  The cruxes are not super hard, just delicate.  Max did a great job on the climb and on getting us back to the ground.
Max leading the way up Teddy Bear's Picnic

After that, I led us up Misery Ridge trail over to the Mesa Verde wall.  There we were going to do Cosmos (5.10a) into the second pitch of Trezlar (5.10a).  I had done this same route less than two years ago so I figures it would be easy.  I also had planned on us to rappel back down the route when we were finished.  I started off up Cosmos.  I forgot about the tricky section right before the anchors.  There I ended up grabbing the draw and figuring the moves out since it is frowned upon to take a lead fall with a client belaying.  Even after scoping the section out, I had to make a committing move on little knobs to reach the anchor.  I skipped the anchors of Cosmos and went to the base of the amazing, overhanging dihedral that is the second pitch of Trezlar.  I brought up Max and Keith.  From there I took off up the dihedral.  I had a great time climbing it.  Then at the top I set my anchor and extended myself so that I could see Keith and Max as they climbed.  When Max reached the top, Keith suggested that we do the fourth class decent which goes off to the left.  I wasn’t happy about this because I knew that the rappel would be the easiest way out.  From that, I start making my kiwi coils to short-rope them back to the ground.  As it turns out, the descent involved a sketchy traverse, a rappel off of a pigeon crap encrusted pillar, and then skirting left until we were able to reach a trail.  This was the most technical short-roping that we did the entire course.  I was glad to be back on the ground after that adventure.  From there we moved to Spiderman Buttress and Keith had us do a drill where we made bail anchors with as little as possible.  It was a good reminder that you can make a solid anchor with very little if you have to.  Once we did that we high tailed it over Astriks Pass and back to the parking lot.

This concluded out time on the rock.  The next day we didn’t meet until noon to do debriefs.  I was rather surprised at how I did on the course.  It went very well and I learned a ton.  As I am finishing writing this I am flying back to North Carolina and I am super excited to put all of these skills to use for guiding.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Sketching on the South Side

This week, Lindsay and I went out again to get in some climbing.  This time, we went to the south face of Looking Glass.  We go there often to guide because it has many single pitch moderate routes which are fairly easy to set up.  I had some of the 5.8 multipitch routes there.  If you go to this area, you have to do them.  They are very enjoyable and aren’t as scary as some other routes in the area, specifically the routes that we got on this past Monday.

Sunday evening Lindsay and I started looking at a guide book to plan our day of climbing on Monday.  I had been wanting to do Rat’s Ass and Windwalker.  Rat’s Ass is supposed to be one of the best 5.8’s of the ones on the south side and I have not done it yet.  Windwalker is just to the left and goes at 5.9.  I figured that would be easy.  She wanted to do one of the 5.10s on the far left side.  We decided to start on Ruby Tuesday then head over to Windwalker.  I figured that this would only take a little while given that they are both only 2 maybe 3 pitches max.  I greatly underestimated these routes.

We started off on Ruby Tuesday.  This is a 2 pitch route with both pitches going at 5.10.  I elected to take the first pitch.  After about 10-15 feet of climbing I found a small cam placement then had no idea where to go.  After probing into the moves multiple times, I finally committed to making the dicey moves and moved through that section.  After which I was able to get my first really good piece of gear.  Then some easy moves led to another cruxy section.  This involved making some more committing moves with gear that was less than comforting.  Finally, I made it to the belay after about 65 feet.  I then belayed up Lindsay.  She floated all the moves.  At my last piece she had to remark at how crappy the placement was.  It turns out, that the cam had rotated some and two lobes were not cammed at all.  But that was no longer a concern of mine since I was sitting semi-comfortably at the belay with a less than comfortable stance.

About the time that Lindsay was about to take off from the belay, we heard a voice in distance calling for Lindsay.  It was Sarah who was supposed to be joining us.  We had originally figured we would get this route done with then meet up with her but the first pitch took a lot longer than I had figured.  Now we were a party of three heading up this route.  Lindsay started to lead up the second pitch while Sarah chilled at the base.  Then once Lindsay felt she was on more comfortable ground, I brought up Sarah while lead belaying Lindsay.  Now I have top belayed multiple people many times but lead belaying and top belaying at the same time throws a curveball at you.  Luckily, everyone arrived at their desired goal without completely testing my belaying skills.  Lindsay did an amazing job on her lead.  The moves up the water groove on the second pitch are a bit dicey.  Eventually, we were all sitting at the top of the climb preparing for the rappel.  We made it back to the ground and headed over to Windwalker.

Once at the base of Windwalker, we checked the time and found out that it was 12:30 already.  We then ate some food and Lindsay took the lead up the first pitch of Windwalker.  She started into the main business and came back down to a nice ledge.  There she decided to have us come up and we would go up from there.  Once all three of us were on the ledge, she took off again into the water polished face.  She made it about 30 feet up and encountered a move above some gear that was questionable and decided that she had already been mentally taxed enough for the day.  She then came back to the belay.  Sarah then took the sharp end and busted out some sweet moves on these really slick holds.  It also helped that Sarah had done this route before.  Lindsay and I then followed up the route.  Once I got to where Lindsay had been I realized why she came back down.  The moves are sketchy.  I thought I was going to blow it while on top rope.  

Once at the belay, I was handed the rack for the second pitch.  It goes at 5.5 so I figured it would be a simple tromp up the face.  It too presented its own challenges but nothing like the first pitch.  I stretched the pitch all the way to the top since it looked like some rain was coming in.  At the top I belayed Lindsay and Sarah up the 200+ foot pitch wearing myself out fighting rope drag while belaying.  Once we were all at the top we headed back down to the ground.  I can’t speak for the ladies but I was done for the day.  Physically, I was fine but mentally I didn’t want to do any more climbing.

I have found it funny how when you get on a route that challenges you mentally, you become more worn out than when you are on a physically demanding route.  That happened to me that day.  It was good though.  I managed to push myself out of my comfort zone and commit to moves that felt like I was going to come off at any moment.  It is always funny to look back and see how much the mind affects the body’s ability to perform.  We had a good day still.  Now I eagerly await the next day we can get out on the rock to prepare for what awaits us in October.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


The other day, Lindsay and I headed up to Shortoff Mountain to get some climbing and training in.  In October we are both enrolled in either a course or exam for the American Mountain Guides Association’s rock discipline.  She is taking her Rock Guide Exam and I am taking the Rock Instructor Course.  Even though I am only taking a course, I want to be in good shape and be prepared for it as much as possible.  I remember feeling very out of shape when I took the Single Pitch Instructors course and exam.  That was mostly because I had to keep up with Ron while hiking.  Since Lindsay is gearing up to take the exam for the highest certification for the rock discipline, she has reason to be training and working on her technical skills.

When deciding on where to go, we decided to go to Shortoff.  First off, it has an approach that will wear you out before you even get to the top.  It is about a mile up hill.  It isn’t so steep that you have to slow down or take big steps but it is steep enough that it can get you tired fast.  Secondly, once at the top, you have to scramble down a gully.  Lindsay used this gully to practice her short roping skills.  Short roping is a technique used by guides where they use of a small section of rope to aid in the clients ascent or descent of tricky 3rd or 4th class terrain.  The guide uses this to help prevent slips and falls.  Another reason we chose Shortoff was that the climbing there is normally really fun.  It would have to be my favorite crag in North Carolina.

While planning our day, we decided to check out Julia, Little Corner, and maybe Ecumenical Serenade.  Since neither of us had done these routes we were excited to get on something new.  We had agreed that Lindsay would basically mock guide me up the routes.  The next morning we met at the office around 7 then began our trek to the Linville Gorge area.  

Upon arriving at the parking lot we were a little disappointed.  The weather forecast for the day had said that we would have mostly sunny skies with a high of 75.  Instead we were greeted with overcast/foggy skies.  The top of Shortoff appeared to be in a cloud.  We knew that things would be wet since it had been raining the past couple of days but this guaranteed that it would not be dry.  Still we got ready then headed up the hill.  I managed to set a pace that I was able to keep the entire approach but still moving quickly.  Once at the gully we got geared up and Lindsay stashed her pack.  She then practiced her short roping skills as we went down the gully.  It was a little weird being short roped here.  I had been short roped once before and didn’t mind it.  That day though I felt like one of those kids whose parents keep them on a leash so that they can’t run away.  Surprisingly, the rocks weren’t too wet.  The only thing that was really wet were the plants.  Even before we started down the gully, my pants were soaked from contact with the brush along the trail.

Near the bottom of the gully, there is a section that has a fixed line on it to aid in getting through the 10 feet of blocky, overhanging terrain.  This rope was in sad shape.  But we had brought a line in which we could replace it.  Now you don’t have to hold on to this tattered rope while going down this section.  After replacing that rope, we continued on to our climbs.   
Lindsay putting in the new rope in the decent gully.

At the base we studied the routes and the topo map to make sure we had the right route.  After figuring out that we were at the chosen routes, we decided to head up Julia first.  It looked fun and dry.  Lindsay headed up the first pitch which is partially shared with Little Corner.  It is a really fun crack but at a moss patch you head left into this overhanging dihedral which is the crux of the route.  She ended up having massive rope drag while leading this pitch.  Eventually she got to the belay ledge and brought me up.  The climbing was fun but there were a few questionable holds once you cut left to the dihedral.

The second pitch is a series of dihedrals with a roof or two that you must navigate around.  The first part had some questionable rock as well.  Luckily, all the rock held while we climbed that pitch.  During the lead, Lindsay once again had trouble with rope drag and had to expend more energy than normal to get to the belay which was positioned under a roof/ flake system that goes out to the right.

Lindsay then took off to the right working with the flakes.  She was able to get some good gear soon off the belay which always makes me happy.  Then while she was starting to pull up out of the flake/ roof system, her movement looked a little weird.  The next thing I know, she is no longer attached to the rock and a chunk of rock is plummeting down the face.  Once again, we had entered into the less than quality rock.  She was fine except for getting a nasty flapper on one of her fingers.  She then climbed back up, trying not to bleed all over the rock, and finished out the pitch.  From the belay, we had an easy 5th class romp up some jugs to the top.  Even on this pitch there were blocks that were frightenly loose.  At one point my knee touched the rock and I heard it move. It confused me because I didn’t see anything that appeared to be loose.  I did it again and I saw this flake that was lying horizontally move ever so slightly.  It was about 2 inches thick and four feet wide.  Luckily, we were done with that route.  We topped out around 1 and from there decided that we were no longer motivated.  It was still overcast and the adventurous nature of the climb left us fulfilled enough for the day.  From there we packed up our gear and headed back to the car.

It was a good day even though the route was of lesser quality than we had hoped.  We did what we came to do.  That was get a workout in, practice some skills, and climb.  Expect to hear more of our training days in the following weeks.