Monday, August 24, 2015

Luxury Climbing up Mt. Evans

Ah Mt. Evans. It's claim to fame is the highest paved road in North America. Throngs of tourists crowd the summit taking pictures of each other and the multitudes of goats and sheep that seem a little bit too comfortable around humans. The mountain also happens to have some really good rock climbing on it. Alpine rock climbing with the possibility of hitch-hiking down seemed like a pretty luxurious day out. So we chose our route - Second Apron, Right Side -5.7 (Really creative route name huh?). It's the second buttress from the right in the photo below. The route was supposed to be a "choose your own adventure" kind of climb, meaning that there were lots of ways to the top, all being 5.7 or easier.

At 5:30 we started our hike to the base of our climb. The sun wasn't far below the horizon, so there was just enough light to see where to go, which was nice since we forgot headlamps! We traversed the slopes south of Summit Lake for a while, looking back as the sun started to rise. Due to smoke from California and Washington, the sun looked deep red as it was rising. Some combination of smoke and altitude gave me a bad headache for about an hour, but it eventually went away.

As we approached the second apron, our route came more into view. I could recognize where the standard start was, but there were so many crack systems there was no single obvious path to the top. Rather, endless possible ways to get to the top!

We reached the base of the climb and by 6:45 we headed up the first pitch. It was a long lieback crack with a decent crack to pull back on with your hands and pretty poor feet most of the way up. The climbing was fun, albeit a bit tenuous at spots where it became really slabby. The rock was very cold, making my hands numb enough that it was hard to feel the tiny edges I had to pull on the slab sections. I got to the top of the crack and traversed over a slab to another crack to the right. This lead to a narrow ledge that I was able to follow to the left for a while. The ledge would have made a good belay position, but I looked down and could tell that I still had plenty of rope left to move upward. So I headed up some mossy cracks, passed a giant M-shaped set of dihedrals, and found a good belay on a small ledge with about 10 feet of rope to spare. We'd be climbing long pitches all day to finish the climb as fast as possible. It was pretty cold and windy all day, so we didn't want to dilly dally.

 Shelby approaching the top of the first pitch

The second pitch was the most straight forward pitch of the day. It headed straight up a mossy crack from the belay and kept heading up. No traversing or any route finding really. It finished with a fun little step with a nice hand crack where I found a hidden jug to get up to the base of a dihedral. The left side of the dihedral blocked the sun and the wind seemed to be shooting straight the dihedral, so this was a pretty cold spot to sit.

From here, the dihedral looked like it wouldn't provide very good protection, so after heading up a bit, I moved out of the dihedral to the left, onto the face where I figured there would be better quality rock. I was glad to find some good cracks with good protection out on the face. This pitch made a zig zag pattern as I traversed left, climbed up, traversed some more, then climbed some more. The traverses were a lot of fun and I was glad to have done a bit of slab climbing recently to help me trust my feet. Just 30 feet away I saw a giant ledge, big enough for a small home and I knew I wanted to belay from there, but I was running low on rope. I headed towards the ledge and felt the rope go tight. I had run out of rope. The wind was blowing loudly and because of the length of the pitch Shelby and I could barely hear each other yelling. I yelled as loud as I could for Shelby to start simulclimbing, meaning that we would both be climbing at the same time with the rope attached to both of us. Since she is tied into the rope, she would still essentially have me on-belay even though she would be climbing. I felt the rope loosen, indicating that she was climbing and soon I was able to reach the ledge and set up an anchor to bring her up. 

The ledge was sunny and sheltered from the wind so we just hung out there for a while before continuing, enjoying the warmth after how cold we were at the last belay. The final pitch was the only pitch we didn't use the entire rope for. It started out with some easy mossy blocks and then I had the choice of taking the easy, but boring way, or the harder but fun way. The route finding all day has had choices like this and since I was still having fun, I chose the harder, fun option which was a wide lieback crack which lead to the top of the technical climbing for the day.

The ridge we would walk to the main summit of Evans 

The climb ends at a sub-summit which is a bit over 14,000 ft, but in order to reach the main summit of Mt. Evans we walked along the ridge for 25 minutes. The walk was a nice cool-down. We talked about our day on the way along the ridge, answering questions from curious hikers wondering why we had harnesses on.

Cairn with Bierstadt and Sawtooth in the background

We made it to the summit and spent some time taking pictures. The young couple that took our picture seemed nice so I asked them where they were from and started a conversation, hoping for a chance to ask for a ride. Sure enough, they were happy to give us a ride back to our car, so we returned the favor by giving them lots of recommendations on places to go during their visit. 

Despite the cold and the wind, it was a really fun climb and a cool way to do a 14er. I'd say that the climbing was significantly better than the climbing we did on Spearhead a few weeks ago, only with less hype. It took a little more thought and the ability to be able to choose our own route up the crack systems was a lot of fun. It's always a bit frustrating to follow vague step by step instructions up a climb, always wondering if you're off route. So it was cool to just make our own decisions on the route we chose to take. The rock quality was excellent everywhere, except for the right facing dihedral we found on the very right side of the face. But the best part is you don't have to walk all the way down!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

North Ridge of Spearhead

I've been wanting to climb Spearhead for close to 2 years now, since before I could even trad climb. The North Ridge of Spearhead is an easy, high quality, fun route, in the beautiful setting of Glacier Gorge in Rocky Mountain National Park. The climb is 8 pitches, 1,000 feet long, up to an elevation of 12,575 ft. As big as the route sounds, Spearhead is dwarfed by all the surrounding mountains with Longs Peak, Pagoda, Chiefs Head, and McHenry's all being much taller than Spearhead. Nevertheless, it was a great first alpine rock route for us.

The Estes Park/RMNP area was crowded as usual with flocks of tourists up to Alberta Falls. It wasn't too long before we started seeing fewer and fewer people.

Our packs were heavy with camping and climbing gear and neither of us were in particularly good shape, so the hike was pretty tough for us. But the farther we got from the crowds, the happier and more excited we became. Around Black Lake, the trees started to thin out a bit so we started seeing some amazing views.

 Black Lake

After Black Lake, the trail starts to get steep and it's the final climb before hitting tree line, so we just put our heads down and ground our way up the gully. With some careful routefinding through willows and across streams, we finally crested the last hill and started singing Lion King songs in celebration. We made it to Glacier Gorge. 

The park service doesn't allow tent camping in the gorge, so we had to find a boulder to sleep under for the night. Thankfully there are several nice "bivies" with good shelter from the wind and flat ground to sleep on. Ours was so nice we dubbed it the Marriott. We arrived right before sunset, so we had just enough time to cook dinner, filter water, and head to bed. We brought a couple bivy sacks (glorified body bags) to sleep in, which helped a lot with wind protection.

The Marriott

Wake up call was at 5:00 in the morning, a relatively casual start since we knew that the forecast for the day was nearly perfect with nothing to worry about except a bit of wind. We racked up and started the hike to the base of the climb which took a good 20 minutes.

Surprisingly, we were the first group on the route. The next three groups showed up as I belayed Shelby on the first pitch. Good timing! Shelby headed up the first pitch at 6:30 up some easy slabs to the base of a chimney. As I climbed up to her, I could already feel pressure to go fast since there were already 3 groups waiting to climb after us. I climbed a short pitch up the chimney and quickly set up another anchor so that we could climb the next pitch without as much rope drag. The next pitch was a pretty fun and thoughtful one involving climbing some cracks and up a slab to a slot which leads to the base of a v-shaped corner.

I belayed Shelby up to me and she quickly took off onto the next pitch. As I gave out rope, I could tell the climbing started getting easier because the rope was passing through my belay device faster and faster. When I climbed up to her I could see that the next bit of climbing would be easy class 4 stuff. So we unroped and scrambled up the next 150 feet to a nice big ledge right next to the Barb Flake. After roping up again, we headed up a couple easy, but fun pitches up good cracks to the base of the steep part of the ridge.

We were a bit off route, so I started by traversing to the left to get back onto the route. I found the route, but I also found a tricky looking roof that looked like it was much harder than 5.6. I made a move up the roof and couldn't find any solid hands, so I stepped back down and found a way to bypass the tough move. I came to a beautiful finger crack in a corner than I went up. The crack was so beautiful that I would have loved to place a bunch of gear in it, but it was really quite easy so it only got one cam before I found a small stance that I could sit on to belay Shelby. This belay was the coolest place to just sit down and look around from. Being right on the ridge crest, I could look straight down the east face to the harder climbing on Spearhead, looking north I could see the 5 parties climbing behind us, and looking south I could see the precarious summit of Spearhead not too far away.

The cool belay stance at the top of pitch 7

Shelby climbed up to me and we enjoyed resting for a minute. Her feet were tired of smearing up so much slab and we had felt like we were pressured to climb fast all day, so it was nice to pause for a minute. What next ensued was some of the most awkward climbing ever. The guidebook described it as an "awkward slot" and awkward it certainly was. Shelby did a great job climbing up this weird and difficult section, but when I climbed it, it was a pretty ugly sight to see. I wedged my body into the slot and tried to inch my way up it, but it was incredibly strenuous. Somehow I made it up without falling and then I caught up to Shelby at the end of the roped climbing. 

We had heard that the summit of Spearhead was spectacular, so we wanted to make sure we visited it. So it took about 150 feet of scrambling up some cool natural stairs, through a tunnel, and then up an exposed slab until we reached the amazing summit. It was about a 6x10 foot block perched over the steep east face. If you looked over the edge you could see all the way down to the base. It was a pretty amazing summit and we were glad that we stopped by.

For the next two hours we made our way back down to the Marriott. The descent involved a lot of scrambling with plenty of loose rocks, but mostly pretty solid. It looked like we were going to run into a cliff, so we looked around the corner and found a rappel station where we made a rappel down to the route we should have taken off the mountain. Eventually we made it down to easy hiking and were glad to be almost done for the day.

So we spent the rest of the day napping, eating, walking around and generally relaxing. We slept in our cave again and then headed back home in the morning. It was great to finally get on some alpine rock. The climbing itself wasn't anything spectacular, but the setting was just amazing and the sense of accomplishment to have hiked in 6 miles, climbed a big route, and hiked back out was great. The scenery was amazing in Glacier Gorge and I'd venture to say that the cave we slept in was one of the coolest places I've ever camped. So overall, it was a great experience.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Loch Vale and Boulder Canyon

On Saturday, we had plans to hike Quandary Peak but they were cancelled since the weather didn't look very good, so we headed to Rocky Mountain National Park for a hike to Loch Vale for some fly fishing. 

It was a 3 mile hike into the Loch. The trail was low angle most of the time and really well maintained, so the hike was pretty easy. The lake was beautiful and had some cool looking mountains all around with Thatchtop on the left and Sharkstooth on the right.

Once we got to the lake, we spotted a cool spot to fish from on the other side, so we had to cross the stream and bush wack for a little while to get to our spot. We fished near the inlet of the Loch from a big flat boulder out in the water where we could look down and see all the trout swimming around. It was pretty fun being able to see the trout and trying to cast the fly in front of them where they would see it. Sometimes they would get spooked and swim away, sometimes they would swim up to the fly and decide they didn't want it, and sometimes they would try to bite it but miss. What they didn't do is actually bite any of our flies.

After a while of fishing at our first spot, we found another one and after just a few casts Shelby caught her first fish while fly fishing! It was a little guy, but really exciting to finally catch something.

On Sunday we headed up to Boulder Canyon for some climbing. We're hoping to do some alpine rock routes in RMNP soon, so we wanted to get a bit more trad climbing practice in before going. Cob Rock was the destination for the day, a beautiful rock a little over 200 feet high with plenty of cracks for protection.

The first pitch looked a bit intimidating. It was relatively steep and looked like our only holds at a few sections would be the hand crack. Shelby lead this pitch, starting out with some tricky moves up the initial 15 feet up a nice hand/fist crack with only a few edges outside the crack to use for feet. A short section of easy climbing lead to a small roof with a hand crack for hands and just some small spots to smear your feet. The pitch finished off with a tricky traverse to the right and then a nice, easy dihedral to a ledge.

The next pitch pitch was also a lot of fun. It started out with some tough stemming up a dihedral to a small chimneyin a corner. I followed the corner up to a spot with some balancy liebacking and then an awkward straddling move onto a sweet small ledge on an arete where I belayed Shelby up to me.

Definition time: Dihedral is where two planes of rock intersect forming an inside corner. An Arete is a steep, sharp ridge.

The next pitch would be the last and hardest pitch. The first pitch was supposed to come all the way up to the ledge on the arete, where our second pitch ended. Since we were expecting the route to only be 2 pitches, we thought Shelby would lead the first pitch and I would lead the second pitch. But since we split the first pitch in two it was now Shelby's turn to lead on the crux pitch. Haha. So after we moved the belay closer to the wall and Shelby contemplated if she wanted to lead this pitch, she decided she'd give it a whirl and headed up the zig zag hand crack. The crack goes straight up to start with, traverses to the right 6 feet, then goes straight up again, making a lightning bolt shape. It was a tough pitch with no good feet to use for much of it, but the hand crack was really good, albeit slippery. Shelby made it up to the top and was excited to have pushed herself on a hard pitch and succeeded despite feeling intimidated before heading up.

"Well, I think I'm ready for Spearhead," Shelby told me at the top. Spearhead will be our main objective when we go back to RMNP next weekend, so hopefully you'll hear all about in the next post.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Independence Pass on Independence Day

It was 10:00 and my wife and I had passed the last campsite along a 4 mile stretch of Lincoln Creek Road. It had been slow going because the road neared the limits of what we could drive in our Subaru Outback- 45 minutes of driving from one site to the next only to see a tent tucked away behind some trees or the twinkle of a campfire signifying that we had to keep driving. Campsite 22. A brown sign said, "No camping from here to Portal Campground." I had heard of this campground, but had no idea how far it was down the road. Would we drive another 45 minutes only to find a full campground? Having no better option, we continued on, picking up speed for maximum puddle splashing. We were desperate at this point. Our hopes had been destroyed at each occupied campground and we needed somewhere to sleep. We turned down a side road, but only found a lame camping spot where our friends, who would be meeting us later that night, would never find us. It would be our last resort if we found absolutely nothing else. We got back on the main road and continued up the valley along the roaring creek. It was fully dark now, but the full moon illuminated the valley revealing the grand mountains that surrounded us. We were in a special place, but the stress of not having a place to sleep overshadowed everything else. Eventually we saw the sign pointing us to the campground.

Tiki torches welcomed us to "The Portal," as we started calling it, which featured around 10 sites and 2 vault toilets. Around the one way loop we drove. Taken. Taken. Nope. Taken. Wait! Oh my goodness, the last site! Pull in... The absence of a car gives you the hope of a spring in a desert, but the upside down camp chairs and and the 3-man dome tent rips that hope right out of your chest and lets it fester in front of your blood shot eyes as you cry out in anguish!

Melodrama aside, we saw that the road continued up the valley. It went from a one and a half car width road to definitely just a one car width road, with the much more likely possibility of bottoming out. The full moon revealed a beautiful meadow above Grizzly Reservoir with daunting black peaks guarding the end of the valley miles ahead. We drove on, passing a couple groups camping at undesignated spots here and there, past stretches of meadow and patches of trees. The road curved to the left and crested a slight hill where we saw a large flat area on the right. Unoccupied. This would be our home.

We set up our tent and started a fire using pallet boards that we scavenged off of Craigslist over the winter. The air was cool. I had forgotten what 45 degrees felt like. The sky was clear and if it wasn't for the full moon, the stars would have been spectacular.

One beer down, my wife and I looked down the valley to the campground. The tiki torches had been blown out and only a few fires still burned. It was late and we had long lost hope that our friends would be joining us that night. It took us over an hour to drive down the dirt road to find this unlikely spot. Surely our friends would give up hope and meet up with us the next day. But as we looked down to the Portal, car lights appeared moving along the windy road. Could it be them? I started the car and drove toward the lights. Through the meadows and patches of trees, I noticed that the lights stopped moving. I came within 100 feet of the car. The lights shone in my face, so I couldn't make out the car but my lights revealed a single mountain bike on the back. Both of our friends are mountain bikers, but one of them has a broken wrist, so they would have only brought one bike. As I got closer I finally made out that the car was a white Subaru Outback. I rolled down the window and with a huge grin on my face said hello to my friends.

Back at the campsite we added more wood to the fire and drank one more beer. Sitting down, reflecting on our nights, I couldn't help but feel that that night was special. After our hopes of finding a decent campsite dwindled to nothing and the chances of our friends finding us were slim to none, we were reunited with our friends in the most beautiful alpine meadow that we would get to call home for 3 nights. I just felt very richly blessed by God that night.

The next day Shelby and I went to Weller Slab for some trad climbing. I didn't realize it until we showed up, but the area required a half mile scramble up a steep talus field to get to the climbing. We picked our way through the boulders and got really tired, but made it to the slab after 30 minutes. 

Filtering through the info on mountain project we eventually found where our climb would start. The first pitch is a route called Two Ears, a moderate climb up a broken crack system up a face. The route was not always perfectly obvious, so I had fun figuring out the best way to the top. It was easy enough to find cracks that I could follow and place gear in. The tricky part was knowing exactly where the pitch should end . So I just kept climbing up. There were a few fun thin moves and a couple little roofs to pull through. The pitch was supposed to be 160 feet and looking down at Shelby, I could tell that I should be getting close to the end soon. Following what looked like the most natural line through a steep section, I climbed up through some rock that initially didn't look very solid, but actually ended up being pretty high quality when I banged the rock with my fist. Pulling up onto a ledge I looked to the right and saw that I passed the chain anchor. So I downclimbed an easy few moves to a small ledge and setup the anchor to belay Shelby up. 

Next up, we moved the belay over to a larger ledge at the base of Zanzibar Dihedral, a pitch that gets 3.7 out of 4 stars. I had high expectations, but was a bit nervous as it was at about the peak of my trad climbing difficulty. The dihedral has good hand-sized cracks on the left wall, but the right wall was a pretty featureless slab. As the climb goes up, the left wall arcs overhead, threatening to take away all the nice footholds.

The dihedral from below (photo stolen from mountain project)

So I headed up, plugging away my gear. There were lots of good places to put nuts, so I think I set a personal record of 4 nuts in a pitch! I placed lots of medium sized cams at first, but realized that I should look around for other size cracks so I didn't run out of good gear before the crux. I used a combination of liebacking and stemming to move up the climb. Liebacking is when you hold onto a crack, lean back as far as you can and work your feet up a more or less featureless wall. Stemming is when you stem your legs (or arms) from one wall to another. The liebacking was exhausting and the stemming rests weren't very good either because of the lack of feet on the right side. I would try to rest in a stemming position, but my right calf would start to burn. After one particularly strenuous move I had no good place to rest so I placed a cam and I rested on the rope while I tried to catch my breathe. After the rest I moved through the rest of the crux and then found that where the left wall starts to arc over, you suddenly start to get more face holds and the climbing starts to get easy. Once you pass the point farthest to the right, the rest of the climb is just a jug haul to the top. I made it to the top and belayed Shelby while she climbed up, enjoying the views of Independence Pass.

The next day Alan and I went to the Grotto Wall while the ladies went on a hike up the valley where we had camped to some lakes at the base of the daunting black peaks. We only climbed a couple single pitch routes, but the highlight was a trad 10a route that is mostly a lieback on really juggy holds called Cryogenics. We were waiting to get on a fun 5.8 that I was interested in leading, but the group ahead of us was climbing very slowly, so I may have pressured Alan into leading Cryogenics, since he's a much better climber than me. He did a great job leading it even though he couldn't remember the last time he had lead a trad climb and ran it out at the crux at the top. I tried it out on top rope and I would rank it up there with some of the best climbs I've ever done. The liebacking was a lot of fun, you could find decent rests stemming across the dihedral, but it was pretty sustained up until you get to an amazing rest where you can basically wedge your body behind some rock, giving you a no-hands rest. After catching my breath at the rest I headed up into the crux where the crack narrows and you have to do some more powerful moves to make progress. Struggling to find a good foot placement, my right foot slipped out and I almost fell, but caught myself and was able to push through the crux to an easy top out to the anchor.

The Route (Photo stolen from Rock and Ice)

Afterwards we headed back to Aspen for gasoline and firewood and went back to our spectacular campsite for a bit of fly fishing. We didn't so much as see a fish, but it was nice to get the rods out and throw a few casts until it started raining. 

The next day, Shelby and I made an early start and drove back towards Twin Lakes to get some climbing in at Monitor Rock. The climbing didn't go exactly as planned. We wanted to climb a long 5.6 route called The Nose, but it was crowded and the weather looked like it could turn bad before too long, so we just climbed a couple single pitch routes. The warmup was a 5.8 route on a seriously glacially polished face. There were some pretty sketchy moves using very slippery footholds to traverse, but once we passed that, the rest of the climbing was pretty fun. Next up Shelby lead a sweet 5.9+ called Going Greek, which started off up a pretty polished low angle face and then went up a vertical section that stretched a few bolts. She confidently went up the beginning part of the climb to the crux and after a couple attempts, made it through the 2 bolt crux, which required a few very thoughtful moves on slippery holds and then a few more fun moves to the anchor. Thankfully when I climbed it afterward, the rain decided to start immediately after I made it through the crux! I had the joy of cleaning the anchor and rappelling while it was raining, which actually turned out to be somewhat refreshing, but I was glad not to have to do much climbing in it. We were glad that we bailed on our initial plan to climb the 5 pitch route.

The drive home was inevitably a pain due to the 4th of July traffic, but overall, we had a great time camping at one of the coolest spots we've ever camped out, spending time with good friends, and getting some really good climbing in. We're looking forward to the next trip out there!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Turkey Rocks Crack Climbing

The South Platte area is growing to be one of my favorite places to climb. Away from the business of the climbing areas of Golden and Boulder you can drive through small towns like Deckers and Pine Junction, spotting beautiful granite domes in the distance among lush ponderosa pines as well as burn scars from the 2002 Hayman fire that burnt 216 square miles in the area. The area is just peppered with high quality granite with some of the best slab and crack climbing in the state. Aside from the giant granite domes, there are thousands of small rock outcroppings all over, just begging to be explored.

Shelby's excited to climb some cracks

Last weekend we went down to Turkey Rocks, which is one of the most popular SPlatte areas known for the highest density of crack climbing in Colorado. Cracks in the rock are an essential part of trad climbing. A crack in the rock is often the most natural line up an otherwise featureless rock because it gives you something to hold onto with your hands and feet and more importantly provides a way to place protection in case you fall. Before drilling bolts into the rock became common, a crack was the only way that you could place protection in the rock, aside from the odd rock horn or tree that you could wrap a sling around. So naturally, whenever you want to set off on a climb using traditional protection methods, you are restricted to following crack systems in the rock. You can sometimes find holds on the face and just use a crack for protection but sometimes there are no face holds and your only option is to jam your hands and feet into the crack to move upward. This is called crack climbing.

Pikes Peak in the distance

After a chilly and breezy night, we made some breakfast tacos, drank some coffee, and headed to the crag. First up would be a route called Left Handed Jew, a wonderful 5.8 hand crack. We top-roped this climb last year, so we knew it was probably easy enough for us to lead this year. I started up using the face holds at the bottom of the route as much as I could, but it wasn't long before I had to commit to using only the crack. I placed most of my hand-sized cams on my right side, which turned out to be a bad idea. The route goes up a left-facing corner, so my body was always pushed up against the right side of the corner, making it very difficult to get my gear. The jamming felt solid all the way up the main crack with only one section that bulges out a bit, making it a little difficult. I had been practicing on a 5.9 crack at the gym so this crack felt easy compared to the one at the gym. About 2/3 of the way up you have to traverse over on nice big feet to another crack so you can top out. Once I traversed to the left I stopped and evaluated what my next moves would be. I was able to get a mediocre cam into the crack that I would be entering, so I had some reassurance that I'd be caught if I fell. The crack starts around face-height, so in order to get into the crack you have to jam your hands in the nice hand crack and smear your feet on the mostly featureless face, working your hands up as much as you can until you can get a really high left foot, which you can stand on to get fully into the crack.With a good amount of effort I was able to get up into the crack to an okay stance and placed another piece of gear before I got to a no-hands rest. The last 20 feet of the climb were easy, using a hidden lie-back crack and a very low angle hand crack to get to the top where I set up an anchor on a giant boulder. It felt great to get my first crack climb cleanly and I was excited to clean all the gear and watch Shelby lead it again after me.

Dave leading Left Handed Jew last year

For some reason, we decided to try to climb off-widths for the rest of the day. Off-widths are cracks that are an awkward size that is too big for your hands or fists, but too small to wedge your whole body in it. They are notorious for being painful and difficult. The next climb was a 5.7 and is called Wet Turkey. It starts up some easy hand cracks till you get to a big ledge. From the ledge you can either stem your legs across a huge gap or climb a slightly overhanging hand crack for 10 feet. Since I haven't been able to do the splits since never, I opted for the handcrack. This was pretty strenuous but short. I climbed up a bit higher to a small ledge, which was where the off-width crack started. I foolishly already used my #4 cam, which is used to protect relatively large cracks from 3-4in wide. So the only gear I had that would really be useful was a single #5 cam for 20 feet of the hardest climbing on the route. If I were an off-width master, this wouldn't be a big deal, but for a noob like me, I just hoped I could bump the cam up little by little as I climbed and find some hidden small cracks somewhere. I started climbing up by sticking my whole arm into the crack, bending it at the elbow to bridge the large gap. I shuffled up by bridging my foot from heel to toe across the crack. This was exhausting. I would sometimes find a small face hold that I could use for my hands or feet and I was able to jam half my body into the crack and have a very uncomfortable rest. But the movement was very strenuous. As I moved above my cam I jammed half my body into the crack and attempted to bring the cam up. But of course I had jammed the rope between my body and the rock, so this was very difficult since the rope was connected to the cam. Eventually I got the cam up and above my head, which was exactly when I told Shelby to take and I sat back on the rope, resting on the cam. Exhausted and a bit concerned about the protection situation, I looked around for opportunities to place some of my smaller gear. I found a half inch constricting crack that was perfect for placing a nut (a small trapezoidal piece of aluminum with an attached wire that can be placed in constricting cracks and used for protection). I felt a bit better about bumping the cam up with some extra protection, so I attempted to move up a bit. No go. I couldn't make any progress anymore because the rock was starting to bulge out, making it slightly overhanging and way beyond my skill level. So I decided to try aid climbing for my first time. Aid climbing is where you place gear into a crack and pull on the gear or step onto the gear to move up. This is in contrast to free-climbing, which is when you never pull on or step on gear to move up - you only use your hands and feet on the rock to move up. So I was able to step on a sling attached to the cam and get up into a position where I could climb again. I shuffled up towards the top, crawled through a tunnel into a topless cave where I set up an anchor and belayed Shelby up. We were totally beat after this climb, so we walked down together and took a nice long lunch break before contemplating climbing anything else. 

Taking a break before our last climb of the day

Eventually we worked up the motivation to try one more. After getting beat up by a 5.7, we opted for an easier 5.6 off-width called Sangaphogos (aka Easy Offwidth (I like the name of this one!)). This one was much more pleasant and doable. I may have hung on gear once for a rest, but mostly climbed it cleanly. It was nice to get to practice off-width technique on something that was actually possible for me to climb. I got to the top and brought Shelby up where we decided we were satisfied for the day.

Tired after a hard day of climbing

The next day we visited a different area of Turkey Rocks to climb a 4 pitch 5.7 called Nighttime Madness. Here we would put to test our crack climbing skills that we practiced the day before and get high up on the rock. Shelby was up for taking the lead on the first pitch. So, she started up two parallel cracks, which from the bottom look like a perfect hand crack on the left and a pretty nice finger crack on the left. It bulges out a bit, but the cracks look so nice it couldn't be too hard! Wrong! Shelby got two good pieces in and started up the slightly overhanging part. She stepped up, made a bit of upward progress, then downclimbed and rested on the rope. She tried a few times, but couldn't make it work, so she let me give it a try. I got up to her second piece and started to move up when I realized that the parallel cracks were no good at all! The left one was too big for a fist and the right one was too small and too shallow to jam my fingers in it. The feet were bad and the hands were bad. I told Shelby to take and hung on the rope. It turned out that this was the crux of the entire two pitches that we climbed. Part of what made it tough was that it was so close to the ground. It's ironically nerve wracking to have the hard part so close to the ground because it means that if you fall you could run into the ground due to rope stretch instead of being cleanly caught by the rope. While sitting on the rope I was able to figure out a sequence that would work and grunted up the crux to get to easier climbing. The rest of the pitch wasn't too bad. There was a short traverse to the left, similar to Left Handed Jew and had bad feet with a high crack that you needed to get into. Once I got into the left crack it was pretty easy to get to the top of the pitch. 

The route with the belay locations in yellow

The second pitch was a ton of fun. The first half was an off width crack in a corner. Yesterday's offwidth was miserable, but today there were lots of face holds on the left side, so it made the climbing much more doable. I was able to get my right arm deep in the crack and either bend my elbow to bridge the crack or find hidden holds inside the crack. My right leg was in the crack using a heel-toe cam and the occasional face hold to move up. And my left arm and leg used faceholds almost exclusively. I went up like this for about 25 feet and made it to a good rest. From here it was a somewhat steep hand crack with some faceholds along the way which was tough but a lot of fun. I made it to the top of the second pitch without hanging on gear and I felt great. Shelby got up to the top and we discussed our options for the next pitch. 

As you can see from the above photo, there are tons of cracks on this rock, so it can be difficult to find your way. We had a few options for ways to get up the next pitch so we decided on the easiest option and then looked out at the view. The clouds were starting to get pretty dark, the wind was starting to blow, and the temperature seemed to be dropping. Shelby reminded me that we still had 2 pitches to go and pointed out that if we were going to bail from the climb, now would be the time to do it. We didn't know about any fixed anchors up higher, so once we decided to continue up we would most likely need to climb all the way to the top since we wouldn't have any anchor to rappel off of. This option sounded like it could be miserable if it started raining and getting cold, so we decided to rappel back to the bottom off of a steel cable anchor and then two bolts at the top of a neighboring route to the first pitch. As soon as we set up the rappel it started raining, so we were happy to have made the decision to bail. The two pitches we climbed were a ton of fun and felt like a good accomplishment considering how challenging they were for us.

Rappelling from Nighttime Madness

Despite being defeated by the weather, we were really satisfied with our climb for the day and had a great weekend climbing some beautiful cracks in a wonderful place. The aftermath on our hands and arms wasn't pretty, but the smiles on our faces were wide.

P.S. If you're curious what I'm talking about when I use the words trad climbing, nuts, protection, cams, etc. REI has a decent article explaining it all linked here.

 The aftermath

Wednesday, April 29, 2015


Well, I'm a married man now. Shelby and I got married about 4 weeks ago where else but on the top of a mountain in South Carolina. The mountains are where we have had some of our best times together as a couple. So as was probably expected, we chose a place in the mountains for our honeymoon - Leavenworth, WA. Shelby spent a summer as a raft guide nearby Leavenworth so she knew a little about the place. Bavarian town with lots of sausage and beer, surrounded by beautiful mountains with all kinds of outdoors things to do. It regularly ranks in the top 10 for Cutest Tourist Towns and Coolest Outdoor Towns, so what's not to like?

The trip started out with a delicious biscuit sandwich and the purchase of an entire king salmon at Pike's Place Market in Seattle. You can imagine that we ate well this week.

We rented a cabin 20 minutes from Leavenworth. The cabin had everything we could want for a honeymoon week, including antlers.

Our first day in Leavenworth we pretended to be tourists and checked out the nutcracker and lederhosen selection. Shelby had to restrain me so that I wouldn't buy the $200 pair of lederhosen.

The next day, the weather was a bit dreary again, so we went for a casual hike in Icicle Canyon and stumbled upon a beautiful crack climb that Shelby lead a few years ago.

We had much better weather on Wednesday, so we decided to go for a short hike till it warmed up a bit and then go on a climb. The adventure for the day would be the 3 pitch Midway route up Castle Rock in Tumwater Canyon. It was a really cool climb that got you up high above the canyon with some fun climbing. The first pitch went up a steep corner chimney that was super fun and pretty tough to the top of a pinnacle that is detached from the main wall. You get to start the second pitch by stepping across the void onto the main wall, which made for a pretty exciting move. The next pitch went up a crack system then had a fun traverse over to the next crack system. And the final pitch went up more easy cracks then to some easy runout slab to the picturesque summit. The weather was perfect, the climbing was fun and we just had a really great time climbing together and then enjoying a celebration beer afterwards on Logger's Ledge. One of the highlights of the honeymoon for both of us.

 Castle Rock from across the river

Shelby climbing the first pitch 

 Summit selfie

The view
The next day started out with a riveting game of golf on the putting course in Leavenworth. This isn't your typical mini-golf course. It was made entirely of real grass without any of the crazy loop-de-loop nonsense. Just a game of golf with nothing but the putting greens. It was quite fun, but Shelby beat me soundly.

Shelby got an eagle on this hole and subsequently whooped me

Once it warmed up a bit that afternoon we headed to Icicle Canyon again for another multipitch rock climb. This time we'd be climbing a route called R&D up Icicle Buttress and this time the wind decided to harass us the whole day. The climb started with 2 pitches of forgettable slab climbing on licheny rock before the climbing started getting interesting. At this point I knew I didn't want this climb to last forever because of the wind, so I climbed a full rope length pitch up a blocky step, along an easy slab, to the base of a chimney. The anchor here was at a very small ledge in the middle of a relatively steep face, so it wasn't super comfy. Next up was a very short pitch to the top of the chimney, which was pretty fun and easy and I found a nice spot to set up an anchor that was out of the wind finally. Enjoying being out of the wind, but ready to finish the climb I didn't wait long before heading up the next pitch. It had a short but beautiful hand crack that had no face holds, so it was 100% jamming in the crack which was pretty new to me and a lot of fun! The final pitch had an easy traversing undercling crack which led to easy slabs to the top. The descent was pretty annoying because we opted to walk down the back side, which was very loose and steep. We were pretty tired by the time we were done, but overall the climb was still pretty fun thanks to the top few pitches. After the tough climb we treated ourselves to a beer at Icicle Ridge, which was quite satisfying. 

Licheny slab climbing

 A cozy belay at the top of the slabs

Smiles less authentic than yesterday, but still having fun despite the wind

On our last day in Leavenworth we decided to live high class. So, we got massages, which of course was very nice and we went to a "wine tasting" at one of the local wineries (there are a lot of them). I didn't learn much about wine there, but I did learn that I'm pretty content with cheap wine, which is convenient.

And that concludes the honeymoon activities. Now we're back to normal life again, enjoying our new home in Lakewood and enjoying figuring out marriage together.