Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Adventure Punks

Despite a reputation for soft grades and comfortable climbing, more often than not, the routes in Red Rock can bit a little heady, and sometimes downright bold.  Of course, the previous sentence is not referring to Urioste clip-ups (many of which I really enjoy).  Some of the original Yosemite "stone masters" such as Richard Harrison, Paul Van Betten and Sal Mamusia (aka the Adventure Punks) put up some unequivocally bold routes in the canyon.  Among them (though certainly not the zenith) is Adventure Punks 5.10d X? R? PG13? 5 pitches.  Jared and I reunited for some proverbial slam-dancing on the highly underrated, Adventure Punks.

About 20 ft off the deck on Adventure Punks two thoughts occurred to me:  First, "I'm 20 ft up, pulling a 5.9 move and think I might fall and break my ankles," Second, "even if I make this move I haven't placed a cam in almost a year."  The route gets most of its fearful status from the X/R/PG-13 rated start of the first pitch.  The climbing is actually a lot easier after that... but not that easy.  Every pitch has intricate gear placements and delicate climbing for the grade.  Jared and I agreed that the 10a/b rated fourth pitch seemed headier and more difficult than the guidebook crux fifth pitch off-width.  In its current state, the fifth pitch has two new bolts placed long after the first ascent.  Without these bolts some extra wide-gear might be required, but with a little trickery (pushing the big cams along as you climb) it shouldn't affect the way the pitch climbs or protects.  Regardless, this fifth pitch must have been the climbing equivalent of a banzai charge before the advent of wide cams.  Plan accordingly and embrace technology!

Approach:  ~1 hour.  Walk past the Mescalito and follow cairns up and left toward Adventure Punks.

Rack:  Offset Stoppers, Single Set Cams to #6 (extra #5 and #6 if bolts chopped), Offset Cams in tips/fingers (optional but nice).  2 ropes to rappel.  We heard that a single 80 m rope would work for raps but cannot confirm.

Jared following the first pitch.  He is roughly where the
first decent protection is found... a long way from the haul bag.

Stellar climbing on the third pitch...

Heady climbing on the fourth pitch.  The route climbs left through
the steep head wall on a flaring crack with thin face climbing above...

Jared leading out on the second pitch... 

View down the  third pitch...

Another view of the third pitch...

Saturday, June 14, 2014

It's Getting Warm In Here

It's June and it is starting to get warm in Las Vegas.  

The Las Vegas "winter" is three months of blazing heat.  As far as compromises go, I suppose retreating to electric light and artificial air for three months is better than nine months of hibernation and moss growing in the PNW.  Last year at this time, highs in Las Vegas were pushing 120 degrees Fahrenheit.  Mere low-triple-digits are a blessing.  

In my two-ish years living in Las Vegas, I can say that late-May through September and November through February are my favorite months.  The downside of living at a "destination" area is that the crowds gather during peak times of the year.  I consider Red Rocks un-climbable during March and April, when essentially everyone I know is visiting the area to get on the classics.  During this time of year you should be prepared to wait for a half-dozen parties to siege their way up whatever route you were intended to climb that day.  If you wait another month, when "it is too hot" you will find empty crags and tolerable temperatures.  

June is that month.  Triple digit heat and direct sun make it a choir to reach the wall.  However, if you choose a shady wall, you can climb in shorts and a tee-shirt.  In addition to the comfortable temperatures in the shade, the crags are absolutely empty.  

My buddy Rob visited Las Vegas a couple days ago.  During the few days Rob was in Las Vegas we climbed Crimson Chrysalis, Triassic Sands and Inti Watana to Resolution all without even seeing another party.  I'm not sure where everyone else is, but it is all happening in Red Rock in June.

Rob somewhere on Crimson Chrysalis.

All alone on the most popular route in Red Rocks...

Rob on the first pitch of Triassic Sands.

Rob up high on Mt. Wilson
 and the Rainbow Enscarpment

Looking down from the 11th pitch of Inti Watana.

Rob up high while desert rockneering
on Mt. Wilson.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Les Miserables

Alpine climbers, much like the characters in Les Miserables, are mainly concerned with avoiding the chop.  For Jean Valjean it was fear of the guillotine, for alpine climbers it is a vast multitude of fears:  seracs, avalanches, cornices, rockfall, falling, phantom, etc...

On Mount Hunter's North Buttress this past May, the fear was palpable.  The North Buttress has been the scene of fatalities, perhaps most notably, Steve Mascioli.  The face is littered by  car-sized (and larger) snow mushrooms, pasted improbably to steep walls and roofs.  One of these snow mushrooms collapsed in warm conditions, killing him instantly.  Given the record high May temperatures at the Kahiltna Base Camp, this thought was ever-conscious as we ascended the face and passed many gargantuan snow mushrooms.

The conditions we encountered were far from the sticky blue ice seen in pictures from teams running up the face in a day or two.  In fact, the conditions were quite bony.  We climbed through several pitches nearly devoid of protection.  We found ourselves at the belays, questioning whether we ought to have just climbed the pitch.  Regardless, the climbing was never hard enough to shut us down but the sum of all fears was sufficient to stop our ascent.

I know more risk adverse climbers would have continued.  The climbing was not impossible.  However, if a snow mushroom had collapsed and killed us, other climbers would have looked at the temperatures and said "What did they expect?  It was record high temperatures."

Climbers always justify the risk, insisting that they would not make the same mistakes as parties who made poor choices and paid dearly.  In reality, most climbers justify the risks and then make the same decisions as those who perished before them.

Some get away with it, some don't.

If you believe you make better decisions than those that passed before you, then you actually need to make those difficult decisions.  If you do not make the difficult choices, then you have deluded yourself.  A successful ascent does not necessarily mean you made better decisions.  You were just luckier.

Mt. Hunter's North Buttress

Marcus low on the North Buttress.  This ice sections would be melted
out two days later and not frozen overnight.

Myself somewhere on the North Butress...

Aiding the bergschrund on pickets and screws...

Monday, February 10, 2014

Never Winter

Las Vegas, like most of the Western United States, had no winter this year.  We had many 70+ degree days, lots of sunshine and prime rock climbing conditions.  Despite being an ice climber at heart, I have to admit that climbing pitch after pitch of warm rock and cooling off with a beer afterward is pretty nice.  I had hoped to tap into Utah and Mt. Charleston to get a bunch of ice mileage this season, but nothing formed in the balmy temperatures.  Despite the poor conditions, I did manage to snag several routes that, while not notably difficult, are absolute classics.  

Of course, with Red Rock Canyon in my backyard it is difficult to not come home with a bunch of classics under your belt.  Thankfully, I have a partner who isn't tired of lapping the classics and is always eager to get out and put in the work for the longer routes.  The other great thing about Las Vegas is its proximity to other destination climbing areas, like Joshua Tree.  I was lucky enough to have a half-dozen or so days in Joshua Tree this season.

Enjoying a full 70 meter of ice in
deteriorating conditions on the "Zicicle"

Adrift in a stony sea on Levitation 29

Jared crushing on Eagle's Dance, we were
dive bombed by several raptors during the climb...

Marcus make casual work of Birdbrain Boulevard

Hoping for Hot Rocks 11b in cool temps in Joshua Tree.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Hey You! Get Off of My Cloud!

The Cloud Tower is one of Red Rock Canyon's mega-classic routes.  Jared and I ran up the route last week and needless to say, we agree.  Every pitch on this route is a classic for the grade and having them stacked one upon-the-other makes it a masterpiece.  Though this route goes at 11d (some say harder, but the crux is a lot easier than many RR 12a's) you can plug protection almost anywhere, making it a perfect route to break into the grade.  If you can climb within a grade of 11d, get on it, you won't be disappointed.

Make sure to pack the following: 2x 000C3-#4C4, 3x0-2C3, 3x#1-2C4, 4x#3C4 (Think about taking an extra #2 and leaving a #1 behind).  For the descent a single 70m works for all raps, but you'll need a second rope for the first rap (and to tag the pack on the crux).  I'd advise you stop at every rap station on the way down (rather than making longer raps) as the descent is a real rope-eater.

Jared leading the perfect hand crack on pitch 3.

Jared about to punch it on pitch 4.

Red Rock Sympathiomimetics

Jared entering the classic
chimney pitches on Epinephrine.

I'll admit it, I underestimated summers in Las Vegas.  They are unequivocally hot.

Needless to say, there aren't a lot of traveling climbers in the area during the summer so the classics are vacant.  But you still have to beat the heat.

Our solution to this problem was a 3pm start for the mega-classic Epinephrine.  We still suffered through triple digit heat and a sunny approach, but the Black Velvet Canyon was shady and offered a relative reprieve.  Unfortunately, the late start in the late summer meant that we were caught by night on the final ramp leading to the summit.    Fortunately for us, I think the reports of a difficult descent are generated by inexperienced climbers.  We found the descent very straight-forward, except below Frogland, and were back at the car in short order.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Nouveau Classique in the Bugaboos

Blake and I had an opportunity to make a short trip in the Bugaboos at the end of July. While we had fantastic snow conditions and generally dry rock, an unsettled weather forecast kept us from going after our main objective on North Howser Tower.  Most days it snowed but we were able to continue climbing in marginal weather.  Though this is my third trip to the range, my future tick-list is a little longer than when I arrived.  Blake and I got on two newer classic routes, climbed one area-standby and got lost somewhere in the hinterlands between two routes.    

Blake coming up the fantastic second pitch of Divine Intervention.

Day one saw us on the new route called Divine Intervention on Bugaboo Spire.  The route climbs the left side of the face, as viewed from Applebee Dome, and then joins the NE Ridge to the summit.  The route’s name came after the first ascensionist fell while soloing high on the route and his certain demise was halted by a piece of gear errantly clipped to his harness happened to catch upon the rock mid-fall.  Most parties (ourselves included) climb only the initial five pitches (about two pitches from the NE Ridge variation) and descend back to the glacier.  The “easy” climbing on this route felt high in the grade, which took the sting out of the 11b crux.  For future aspirants, the 11b face climbing is well protected but you will have to climb mid-5.11 above your gear.  For something 30min from camp, this is a mega-classic that could be extended to a full-day if you continue to the summit and down the Kain Route.

Blake leading out on Sunshine Crack.
Lots of wide climbing...

We had a forecast for 70% precipitation on day two and decided to get on Sunshine Crack.  Sunshine Crack has a short approach, bolted rap stations for an easy descent and has absolutely fantastic climbing on every pitch.  This route is not to be missed but be forewarned there is a lot of wide-crack climbing.  You could easily bring three #4 camalots and not feel like you brought too many.  Thankfully, Blake conceded and allowed us to bring both of our #4’s.  With all due respect he did lead the sustained wide-crack pitch, so I suppose I can’t complain!

Blake about to start up the first 12+ pitch...
The amazing reverse split pillar pitch...

The best climbing on our trip was on the new route Sendero Norte.  While we did not get up the entire route, our two attempts were still worthwhile.  Sendero Norte is a proud, proud route on the E Face of Snowpatch Spire.  There are two 5.12+ pitches, one 5.11+ pitch, one 5.11b pitch, several 5.11a’s and many 5.10/10+ pitches.  We climbed the lion’s share of the difficulties on both of our attempts but bailed due to a storm and free-climbing meltdown/fatigue respectively.  Personally I was pretty fatigued on day-five, our second attempt, and wasn’t able to send my pitches.  I certainly climbed worse than on our first attempt.  I can’t say the performance was due to fatigue, a meltdown or it being generally hard but I will return to finish this route.

Our only non-classic day was our fourth.  After a morning vacillating over route selection we headed for the North Tower Direct on the W Face of Snowpatch Spire.  I climbed about 60m of dirty, gritty climbing before deciding to bail in search of something better.  We recalibrated and headed up a route immediately to the left called Flamingo Fling.  What we ended up climbing, I can’t exactly say.   I’d call it type-2 fun.  It was dirty, gritty, grungy, adventurous climbing.  I’ve learned that this type of climbing is genuine type-1 fun for Blake (perhaps he just uses a different scale?). 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Riding The Rainbow

The Original Route on the Rainbow Wall is unequivocally one of the best routes I've ever climbed.  It has an easy approach and descent, the climbing is clean and enjoyable and most pitches would be an area classic even if they weren't stacked upon each other.  The grade should not turn anyone away.  If you even think you have a chance to climb 12a then you'll be able to figure it out.  The cruxes are short, could be avoided with french-free and interspersed with easier climbing.  This is a route that you want to do, and once you've done it, you'll want to climb it again.

Jared grabbing the finishing jug on the 11d eleventh pitch.  

Approach:  We had seen some reference online that said we could expect a 3-4 hour approach.  Even at a casual pace with several water stops and wrong turns we did the approach in 1:45.  On the way down, in the dark, we did it in just over an hour.  A lot of people seem to bivouac at the base of this route.  There is absolutely no reason to bivouac given the short approach and straightforward climb.  Call in for a late-exit permit and you should be able to do it in a casual-day.

Climb:  In early June, when we climbed, there is sun on the wall until about 1100, which is unfortunate in 100 degree heat.  If the temperatures are warm, I would definitely wait for the shade because the first three pitches go at 12a, 11d and 11b and there is some insecure friction climbing.  We found that it made good sense to combine the following pitches with a 70m rope:  1+2, 5+6, 13+14.  It might be possible to link more pitches, but there would likely be some extra drag and you'd want a bigger rack.

Descent:  This is how we rappelled using a single 70m rope.  From the top of pitch 14, rappel climber's right to the top of pitch 12 (red dihedral).  Knot your rope ends, I even joined them, because you need to pendulum hard to the right and nearly come off your rope ends.  Follow independent stations rappelling down the face left of the red dihedral for three rappels until hitting the major ledge system at the top of pitch seven.  Four or five more single rope rappels will bring you back to your packs.

Rack:  Single rack from #0 C3 to #2 C4 with a small rack of medium stoppers and larger rp's.  A couple extra finger sized pieces might be used on a pitch or two, but not needed per se.  Take about 8 draws, 4 runners and one 70m rope.