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.