Saturday, August 13, 2011

Touchstone Wall, Zion

I've been putting this post off for a while. I did this route with Cheyne during our trip to Zion in March:

We had just topped out on Moonlight Buttress. We ran back down to the car with the haul bag, portaledge, ropes and rack. We dumped everything on the ground, turned on the music, and had a Blue Moon that a friend gave us on the drive out. Our celebration lasted one beer as we were having to put together a rack for Touchstone (V 5.9 C2). Our plan was to start early in the morning so we wanted to have everything racked and ready to go. We finally got everything done well after dark, hopped in the car and went to head out. FUCK. The car is dead. We left the music on and the doors open for clearly too long. With it being almost 9:00 P.M. in the middle of March there was nobody in sight that could jump us. Cheyne and I sat for a tense 20 minutes before trying to start the car again. Thankfully it starts. After a filling dinner we were approached by a very interesting, very hick man from Idaho who was in the area looking for his daughter. After explaining to us how he was saved by Jesus Christ he asks for some beer and weed. We give him a beer and he heads back to his trash barrel fire that had grown to about 6 feet high at this point. We set up our beds in the Jeep and try to get some sleep after our strange encounter. We locked the doors.

Alarm goes off. We go back to bed. We wake up to overcast skies thinking it's still early (again we had another high chance of rain for the day). It's almost 9:00. Alpine start it is. We make a quick breakfast and hop in the car. FUCK. The car is dead. Cheyne heads to look for someone to give us a jump since we are already running late. After another 30 minutes of waiting the car fires up on its own. We're finally off.

We finally start to climb around 11. The days are short in March with the sun setting around 7 so we both feel some pressure to move fast. As we are on the third pitch a team is just starting up the route.

Them: "Are you fixing?"
Me: "No"
"You're going to the summit!?"
"Oh. (A bit surprised since it's past noon) Do you know if we can fix the first three pitches with 2 60 meter ropes?"
"No idea. It's our first time on the route"
"Damn, good luck!"

I'm sure they made guess of how high we would make it before we would bail soon after. We made great time though, making it to the summit in just under 7 Hours.Cheyne and I short-fixed the entire route which was really fun. Normally when climbing, a leader climbs up while clipping his rope into gear he places to protect him from falling all the way to the ground. The whole time he is leading he is being belayed by his partner. Once at the top of a pitch, he builds an anchor, pulls up the slack and belays the lower climbing who cleans the gear as he progresses. This puts both climbers and their gear at their high point. In contrast with short fixing, the leader will lead the pitch placing gear as usual, build an anchor, pull up all the slack in the rope, and then fix, or tie off, the rope to the anchor. Instead of the lower climber being belayed he ascends the rope with handled ascenders or jugs. Meanwhile, the leader can now start to make progress on the next pitch with the slack that he just pulled up. There are two options for the leader now: he can either feed the rope through a device called a Gri-Gri that will shorten the distance of a fall or he can let all the slack loop below him. The latter is called a Pakistani Death Loop (PDL). If you fall while death looping, nothing will stop you until all the slack in taken in during flight. This results in falls anywhere from 10 to usually 50 or 60 ft. but can be much much larger depending on certain factors. The PDL is a lot faster but it's only used when you're not going to fall.

I don't remember too much about the route. I know that it was really splitter the whole way. Perhaps not as much as Moonlight but still the route is sweet. Above the second pitch everything goes at 5.11-. I'm awaiting the chance to go back and free the upper pitches. The weather that day was pretty bad. Gusts of wind would knock me sideways at the belay and often the rope would be floating directly horizontal at eye level due to the wind. It was cold. Good route though, easiest big wall approach ever, and the descent isn't too bad. We chose to go down the gully. It was really easy to find all the rappels even in the dark. Most of them were short with scrambling in between. The last two raps were made from hanging belays and there was no 5th class down climbing as the super topo indicates.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Prow, Washington Column

Psyched as could be that I was back in the Valley, I met up with Cheyne and Colin at El Cap Bridge the night I arrived. After dinner and a few beers we head off into the woods to get some sleep. First thing in the morning Colin says to me, "What do you think about The Prow?" I knew Cheyne and Colin would be out in the Valley but I didn't think I would get to do any walls with them this trip since everything they had set out to do this while they were there was in a day. After having a worthless wall partner on my last trip I was eager to get on a wall. I don't hesitate to say "I'm in". Before I knew it we were racked up hiking along the trail from the Ahwahnee. Finding the climber's trail up to the base of the column is pretty difficult. There is a big sign at the start of the trail but it's located behind a few boulders and impossible to see as you're hiking out. We missed it the first day and ended up scrambling and boulder hopping up to the base of the wall.

Colin and I With the First Load
As we hiked to the base there was a small part of me that was afraid . The route was technically more difficult than any other wall I had done in the past and friends had told me that it was sustained climbing. The logistics of moving as a team of 3 had me concerned too. Cheyne and Colin had done Zenyatta Mondatta in a team of 3 and gave me a 2 minute explanation of how it was done. I reminded myself why I came to the valley in the first place. To push myself. I was there to do routes bigger and harder than I had before. I realized the fear was my comfort level being pushed. Soon enough it began to really motivate me.

Our plan was climb the first 3 pitches of the climb then leave 2 ropes fixed in place in order to regain our high point the next morning with the rest of our gear. We had decided to each take 1 pitch that day. Colin started out with a 10b layback section to tricky C1. As I cleaned, Cheyne speed-jugged the free hanging haul line so he could start leading the next pitch. Cheyne started up what the topo said to be a C3 pitch. He cruised it claiming that it was only C2. He then decided to link pitches 2 and 3. This put us up on Anchorage Ledge. Done for the day, we fixed 2 ropes and headed back to the car.

Cleaning the First Pitch
Cheyne on Pitch 2

Feeling Good on Anchorage Ledge
Back down on the valley floor we packed the haul bag and cooked dinner. Dinner was interrupted by a short but intense rain storm. Within a half hour the gutters were flooded. Thankfully Mark Hudon and his partner John offered us a spot in their campsite in Upper Pines.

Equipped with two double portaledges and a six-pack of Old English Malt Liquor, we started our push to Tapir Terrace (top of pitch 8).

I took the lead first thing in the morning. Pitch 4 starts with a shiny bolt ladder which leads to C2 for the 2nd half of the pitch. There were a bunch of fixed heads on this pitch and a hook placement. Not a whole lot of opportunity for free climbing but I was able to get out of my aiders for 10-15 feet of the pitch. Once I finished Colin came up the haul line and started off on P5. The day before a party had told us there was a blown head on the pitch that forced them to retreat. We had a head to replace it but we managed to tap in a beak to the top of the head instead. There were no features to hook on or clean placements we could have made to make it passed the dead head. Colin gave a loud cheer and a "You have to look at this beak" once he was back on bolts. The beak was extremely shallow and easily came out by hand. The rest of the climbing was easy. We were also now in the shade since the sun hides behind the column after about 1 or 2 p.m. on that route.

Colin Leading Pitch 5

Clouds on Half Dome
As Colin is leading, I'm belaying and Cheyne is hanging out and taking pictures. We decide to get some music going. Cheyne starts to dig through the haul bag to look for the speakers and iPod we have with us. As I glance over I almost say "Make sure my sleeping bag doesn't fall out. It's right on top." I figured it was improbable that something that size would work it's way out of the bag and into the abyss. As I look up at Colin, I hear a loud boom. A quick look over the shoulder leads to the sight of a bright orange sleeping bag falling towards the ground. The boom was the compression sack exploding as it bounced off a ledge. "Dude, a sleeping bag? Really?" Bewildered, Cheyne looks over his shoulder and replies "Shit! Sorry" Too happy that I'm on a wall to give a damn, Cheyne and I laugh about the incident and forget about it.

Pitch 6 With a Floating Haulbag on Re-Animator
Cheyne made it through the "Strange Dihedral" pitch and linked it with the following pitch to Tapir Terrace. The Strange Dihedral was some of the easier C2 on the route. The rope drag was horrendous near the end of the pitch. Cheyne even back cleaned and slung out most of the gear on that pitch. He said once he was actually on Tapir Terrace he had to pull up rope by hand just to be able to move around on the ledge.
We all decided to get two pitches fixed above us while Cheyne stayed and set up the ledges. I took P9 which was rated C1 on the topo but was more like C2. I leapfrogged cam hooks for 3 placements and then moved into some more flaring pin scars. The C2 section was only 40' or so. This gave way to some 5.9 free climbing or really awkward aid. I made the mistake of not wearing climbing shoes on this pitch and took a while to make it through the loose C1 grovel. The anchors for this pitch is two pitons on the right and a really bad bolt out left. Thankfully there are places to plug plenty of pro.

Colin lead the majority of the 10th pitch via head lamp. The 5.10+ or C1 section was soaked an had to be aided. The rest of the pitch is a 5.0 gully which, even at night, Colin was able to move through really quickly.

Our PLUSH Bivy
Colin and I fixed the ropes and rapped down the the SWEETEST bivy. Two side by side portaledges, chilli in the JetBoil and Olde English Malt Liquor. Thanks Cheyne! After chilli-cheese burritos, we all relaxed on the ledge with music and Old E. With Old E weighing in at 7.1% alcohol, we were all unexpectedly drunk on a portaledge that night. Sleeping was even easier than normal that night.

Effects of Olde English Malt Liquor

With two pitches fixed above us and two easy pitches to go we had an easy morning with a great view of half dome. Hauling through the 5.0 gully was a bit of a drag but nothing terrible. We topped out around 11 a.m., polished off the rest of our food and any excess water, and were on our way down North Dome gully.

On the Summit With Plenty of Juice to Spare
This proved to be one of the more miserable descents I've ever done. I must say it probably wouldn't be that bad but with a 2 haul bags, 2 ropes, 2 portaledges, and a rack it was tough. Hiking down always proves to be the hardest part of a wall for me. It may just be the fact that it's the only part I don't enjoy doing or I'm just really out of shape. Either way descents never end soon enough. We were back down at the Ahwhanee around 3:00 with the rest of the afternoon to relax.

I stop to use the bath room at the hotel on our way out. As I wait with a 1000 yard stare I see a man holding his child's hand going from stall to stall getting more and more frustrated after each one. He says something along the lines of "This one's dirty too!" and finally walks into the last one. Moments after I hear him walk out and say "God! $500 a night and no toilet paper! Let's go!" I laugh, leave and think "Thank God I'm not a touron".

Overall the climbing on The Prow was good. The route a a tons of fixed gear that really took away from the route IMHO. Tons of hammered nuts, excess copper heads, etc. I don't think this route can be done with out a portaledge unless you are traveling solo. Even then, the bivys are pretty shitty. Climbing as a team of 3 was way less of a cluster than everybody makes it out to be. Having a person to talk to while belaying made the climb much more fun also (If you're interested or have questions feel free to contact me). I was really confident in my wall systems and with the exposure of a grade V after this climb. I highly recommend this route to anyone wanting to get on bigger routes. The Prow left me feeling ready for El Capitan.

Prow EDIT by Cheyne Lempe