Thursday, September 25, 2014

Tour de Platte

With plans to camp with friends west of Cheesman Lake, Shelby and I made plans to climb a fun link-up of the main domes of the Sheep Rock massif during the day when everyone else is napping, shooting guns, and playing lawn games. The link-up is sometimes referred to as the Tour de Platte and it enchains any routes up Helen's Dome, Acid Rock, and Velcro Wall. The route goes from the bottom to the top of the formation in the picture above. Relative to our last big climb, Royal Flush, there was relatively little information about this climb and the approach and so it made for a fun adventure with all the route finding. The approach was a beast. Easy hiking for about 20 minutes led us to a giant boulder where we turned left and headed straight up the hill with lots of scrambling and steep hills to ascend. Getting to the base of the climb was the most tiring part of the entire day.

Luckily we were able to get to the base of the first route which was called Fractured Fairy Tales which is a 6 pitch 5.7 route that goes all the way up Helen's dome. If we were going to finish the entire Tour de Platte, it would be a total of 11 pitches which would take a long time. In order to save time, we decided to try to simul-climb the easy climbing on Helen's Dome. Simul-climbing is necessary when the leader climbs far enough that she runs out of rope, but doesn't have an anchor to belay from. When you run out of rope the second climber can fix the rope to himself and begin to climb at the same rate as the leader until she reaches an anchor. This is the fastest way to climb easy terrain since both climbers can move at the same time.

About to start the climb.

We rock paper scissored for the first lead and Shelby took off first leading some pretty easy low angle slabs. At points you could easily stand up on the slab without touching the rock with your hands it was such a low angle. After reaching the first anchors, Shelby started a traverse pitch to the right, hoping to link the first two pitches. She ran out of rope and called for me to simulclimb, so I took off after her. The rope drag became too much for Shelby to continue leading, so she just stopped at a bolt while I caught up with her. From here, the bolts started going up, but disappeared with no bolts anywhere near us. We were dumbfounded. Going straight up where the bolts appeared to be heading looked very difficult. There was a ledge we could take down and to the right that seemed like it might make sense, so I stopped at a bolt and belayed Shelby while she continued down that ledge to find the route. Glancing back at me she started laughing. The anchor was 10 feet below me where I was belaying from the last bolt of the route. Any time we had saved by simul-climbing was eaten up in the time we took to find these anchors which were placed in a very odd location right under out noses. 

We were off to a rough start, but after this the climbing went much more smoothly. We had heard that there were some spots on this route where it was nice to place a bit of protection to reduce the runout, so we brought a small trad rack. I had the pleasure of placing one cam on the next pitch and I belayed Shelby up to the anchors at a very small ledge. I led the next pitch which had a fun little 5.7 roof move. The views started getting better and better the higher we went up. You could see leaves changing on the mountains in the distance.

Shelby at the top of pitch 3

Our route description told us that the next anchor wasn't at a very comfortable spot, but that if you kept climbing another 10 meters you could belay from a comfy ledge using gear for an anchor. Shelby took the lead on this one and she ended up linking all of pitch 5 and 6 with some simul-climbing, practically finishing the route without noticing. Oops!

Shelby leading pitch 5 up the fun arete

Shelby belaying from the top of pitch 6

The last part could have been done easily without a rope, but I dragged the rope along for the ride and clipped one bolt on the way. Later, Shelby climbed to the top of the dome in her Chacos. Yep, pretty easy finish. The view from the top was spectacular. 

The top of Helen's dome with one of the "hot-tubs" on the right.

Funny looking selfie from the top of Helen's with Acid Rock in the background on the right.

Upwards we hiked/scrambled towards Acid Rock. At this point our feet were starting to bother us. Neither of us had brought the right shoe for the job of climbing up so much slab, so we were starting to question whether we would finish the Tour. I wanted to at least try out the next route on Acid Rock, so we found a good rock to hide under to take a 15 minute snack break before continuing. There were boulders everywhere up there. Some were absolutely gigantic and we had to find our way to the base of the next climb by crawling through caves formed by huge boulders leaning on each other. All the scrambling and navigating around obstacles was part of what made this day an adventure for us.

The route I chose up Acid Rock is referred to as "Unknown Between Divine Miss M and Erotic Plants." Shelby decided to just call it Miss M's Erotic Plants.  It's listed as 5.9+, but it felt like at least 5.10a to me, but I admittedly haven't been climbing too much recently and I'm not a slab climbing master, so my rating could be off. We weren't optimistic about finishing all four pitches, so I dragged our second rope so that I would be able to climb as much as possible and still be able to rappel off. The first few bolts were the crux of the first pitch with some pretty thin, slabby moves and then the pitch finished off with easier climbing with lower angles and bigger edges. I headed up the second pitch immediately and it brought me to where the wall steepens. The route goes up between two black water marks that look like car skid marks. As I approached the crux I told Shelby that it was about to get pretty hard. I made the first couple moves and clipped the next bolt. As I started up again I started to get scared and told Shelby that I could fall here. The holds were absolutely tiny and I was afraid that my feet would slip or that the tiny edges would break beneath my fingers. I made it to the next bolt and looked up. This crux was relentless! The angle wasn't about to ease off anytime soon and the wall was smooth all the way up. I had started going up the left skid track, but at one point I was stopped. I would step up into an insecure stance and would find no hands and no feet any higher. I went up and down between this spot and a more secure stance a foot below several times before my feet couldn't take it anymore. My feet were tired of standing on these tiny edges and I wasn't making any progress. I called out to Shelby to take in the rope and I took a rest hanging on the rope. While hanging I looked at the right skid track and saw much better edges that I could use to make some better progress. Soon I started back up and made it to the next bolt, finding that the right skid track was much easier. But the pain in my feet didn't go away. These shoes were not made for this kind of climbing and my toe knuckles were dying for a break. I wouldn't be satisfied stopping where I was, so I determined to just push through the pain and make it to the top where I could take off my shoes. I inched up the slab and got to the last bolt. I stemmed my legs from one skid track to the next and was able to pull out of the steep part. I climbed the remaining easy ground, clipped into the anchor, and ripped off my shoes. Shelby told me that she wasn't going to climb up after me. Her feet were already tired of her shoes and she could see how bad the pain was for me on this pitch, so I contentedly tied my two ropes together and rappelled back to the ground. This climb felt like one of the hardest leads I've done and Shelby later told me that she had never heard me make the noises I made on that climb. When an edge broke under my fingers I made a loud gasping/grunting noise while doing everything I could to stay on the rock. Near the top I was making a pretty bad groaning noise because my feet where hurting so bad.

Despite not finishing the entire Tour de Platte, we started the hike down feeling content. The climb up Fractured Fairytales was very pleasant and the views were amazing. I felt very accomplished to have pushed myself to my limit on Acid Rock and we were looking forward to coming back to this wonderful climbing area again. 

But what made this climb special was that it was our first big climb after getting engaged. We first met climbing and somehow she entrusted her life to me, a complete stranger, allowing me to belay her. Climbing will always be a reminder of the early times of our relationship. I have always had a passion for adventures and I'm so happy to have Shelby to share these adventures with for the rest of our lives. Especially the adventure of marriage which might be one of the most epic adventures ever.

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