Tuesday, April 5, 2011


This past weekend I had a chance to go to Jackson Falls for what may just be my last trip down there before I leave the Midwest.  I was blessed to be able to share it with Travis, Chelsea, Ted, and Chris.  This trip started out a bit abnormal for me.  First off, we were not leaving my house until a bit after 9.  I would have preferred to leave at 5 but one of the others had work so we had to accommodate. Once we arrived at Jackson, we found a great camp site, set up tents and got ready to sleep.  I slept in my hammock since I let Chelsea have my tent. I also, trying to be a gentleman, let her use my zero degree sleeping back and the better of the two sleeping pads.  Now I had never slept in my hammock before.  I had tried to last fall but it was so noisy at the camp ground I crawled into my car and slept there.  As I soon found out, your backside get cold quickly while trying to sleep in a hammock.  At 230 in the morning, only an hour after getting into the hammock I decided something needed to change.  I could just sleep under it on the ground.  I could crawl into the 6 person tent that only had three people in it.  Or I could try to insulate myself better.  I then grabbed my other sleeping pad threw it in the hammock and them proceeded to try to sleep again.  It worked well.  My backside was no longer cold.  The only problem is that after a while my whole body was cold.  This led to a night of crappy sleep.  I was excited when I began to see sunlight in the morning sky.  That meant I could get up and start warming up.

After eating and breaking camp we headed down into the canyon to get our climb on.  We started off easy doing a 5.8 and a 5.9.  I started to instruct Chelsea on how to lead a sport route.  I wanted to teach her how to trad climb but she was having none of that...yet.  We then moved to some other easier climbs.  After leading a 5.8, I top belayed Chelsea up and taught her how to rappel.  Then it was her chance to lead.  We went around the corner where she did her first lead on a 5.6 called Big Wall Greg's Chicken Shack.  She experienced the normal frightening feelings that you get on your first lead and had to rest a few times on the rope.  But after evaluating the situation, she continued on and got all the way to the top.  She and I then went to go try a 5.8 for her to lead called the Dagger.  She did great on it.  She had no problems, stayed calm, and onsighted it.  Later that day she would lead another 5.8 that is trickier.  She did well even after getting freaked out at the crux.  I then told her the story of my first day leading where I led a 5.7.  Then after that 5.7 I went to try a 5.8.  On that 5.8 I freaked out at the second bolt and from there down climbing the route.  It was awesome seeing her do so well on her first leads.
Chelsea on her first lead Big Wall Greg's Chicken Shack 5.6

Chelsea nearing the first bolt of many that she will clip.

Before we went to the last 5.8 I managed to get on a 5.11b offwidth.  I had been looking at doing this climb since late this past fall but was unsure of the protection and my ability on offwidth cracks.  For those of you who don't know what an offwidth is, it is a crack that is bigger than a fist crack but smaller than a chimney.  A Chimney is something that you can get your entire body into.  They are sometime referred to as awfulwidths due to the nature in which you have to climb these cracks.  They normally require specialized techniques, creativeness, and a lot of struggling your way up them. Recently I purchased a number 5 Black Diamond Camalot.  It is a large piece of climbing protection.  With this new piece of gear, I had the confidence in being able to climb the route.  So we walked to the crack set the rope in front of it then began to prepare.

Once racking up, tying in, and getting the shoes on I set out up the crack.  It starts of with a very thin vertical crack that doesn't offer any protection for about 13 feet.  The beginning is all face climbing on pockets, dishes, and the few holds that the crack offers.  You then get to place a hand sized piece and begin to move up a slightly flaring hand crack.  After negotiating a slight bulge you get a good stance to view what the guide book calls a "solution offwidth."  All I know is that it looks nasty but will take smaller gear in the back of the crack in these little pods.  This thing looks nasty.  It flares enough that you are unable to hand stack.  It is wide enough that you also cannot get a knee jam in there to rest on.  There are a few face holds, but they make the easier ground.  This is where the fighting comes into play.  You basically have to squeeze as much of your body in the crack, put your feet on something, and then fight your way up making sure to squeeze back into the crack when not moving up so that you do not move down.  This is much more tiresome that it sounds.  The whole time I was doing this, the crack was trying to spit me out into the openness of the air which would result in a fall.  Never before had I experience a crack like this.  Luckily, I was able to find good rests throughout the climb.  Without them I probably would have made it to the top, thrown up, then passed out on top forcing my climbing partners to hike all the way to the top and rescue me.

Me struggling up AppleJack Crack 5.11b

A full view of Apple Jack Crack

When you do a climb like this, you are constantly wondering how sane you are to be torturing yourself on a thing like that.  Even afterwards you wonder why you just put yourself through such a miserable experience.  But after about five minutes of chilling at the top of the pitch you realize that what you just did was so amazing that you want to do it again.  At least that is how I felt.  I am actually hoping to go back this weekend and redpoint the route.

Doing this climb and thinking about it makes me want to compare it to different struggles in life.  You know that you have to go through them.  They are never fun while in the middle of them or even right after, but if given time to recover you begin to appreciate the struggle and how you have grown from it.  I suggest you all learn to appreciate offwidths in your own lives and grown through the experience they bring.

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