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.