Monday, August 13, 2012

Climb More Delay Less

Last Thursday I got a text from an old co worker.

"Hey Greg it's Jess. Just wanted to connect with you incase you wanted to climb sometime."
"Hows Sunday?"

As we drove up to our local summer sport crag of Holcomb Valley we caught up about work and life. I found out Jess was pretty new to climbing outdoors as she had been less than 5 times before. I saw a challenge to see how well I could move with someone who would need to be shown most of the tricks. I told her, as I do all of my partners, I like to be on the move the whole day. When I climb for speed I am much more concerned with the overall movement and efficiency of the team rather than a climber sprinting up a route. I told her I would teach her some tricks and, for fun, we will see how many routes we can get done with out redlining all day.

We started with a few warm up climbs and had to deal with the ever growing crowds at this particular crag. Seems that each season increases in the number of climbers out there and since most routes are easier than 5.11 most tend to be beginners. Who knows, maybe I just know what I'm doing now. Holcomb is laid out with Northern, Eastern, Southern and Western Pinnacles surrounding the overly crowded Central Pinnacles. We hit a popular wall that is open and have to share the last route before we leave after about an hour of being there. We manage to knock down 5 routes quickly since they were all off the same anchor. This allows me to just clip and lower back to the ground, have my second climb and clean the route, lower and pull the rope leaving gear at the anchor rather than reseting it each time.

We head over to a lesser known shady wall in the area and knock off 3 more routes, 10a, 10d, and a 5.6 free solo which happened to be my first trad lead ever. It is somewhere around 12:35 at this point that the crowds are really taking over all the popular areas. I decide to take things to a lesser traveled wall in the Northern Pinnacles. On our way over we stop at Wilbur's Tombstone which is home to some moderate friction climbing. Crank out a few of those routes and on the third one I was climbing up an easy crack system and stick my hand into a mandatory pod. I had no cams with me and was just soloing the crack until I was back into bolted climbing. As I pause 25 ft off the deck I pull my hand back for a second to move my feet around and was startled by some crazy looking reptile in the crack. It really looked like a snake as I poked my head around to try to see what it was. I find a sequence with out the hold and tell Jess to check it out. She agrees it looks like a snake. After a little while on the ground I come to the conclusion it was a bat in crack. Still slightly spooky. A miss is as far as a mile though. On to the next area. At this point our pitch count is up to 13 and it's 2:30. We slow pace a little and climb some steep edges. One route only rated 10c gave me a bit of a headache as I got drawn up the easy path and had to do a cruxy traverse back on route. Definitely harder than 10c but only because of operator error. Another 5 routes puts us up to 18 and time for one more stop before taking off. We hit a wall that was crowded earlier that day and I was able to revisit some old routes. Jess tied in first thing for her first lead ever. Definitely psyched I was able to share that with her. I top rope and clean the first route of the day.

At this point Jess is done. I just want to move as quickly as I can and go for quantity before the buzzer goes off. I just move down one route to the next to the next. Tagged a 10c and a 10a. I cruised up to a crack and did what some purists might call my first onsight free solo ever. I had no idea of the rating system or beta on the crack. Just saw it and climbed it. Ended feeling easy and rightfully so it was rated 5.8. At this point Jess is ready to head out but I talk her into letting me do just one more route to hit route 21. I choose an 11c route with sustained 10+ face climbing to a rest right before an 11c slab crux up top. Hardest pitch of the day for last. Let's see if I really am feeling as fresh as I still feel. I make it to the crux and have a few looks at the blank section of wall in front of me. With an edge no larger than the edge of a dime for my left hand and and a side-pull only slightly thicker for my right I knew I would have to trust the microscopic feet I had chosen to get through the next 2 or 3 moves to a horizontal dike with some larger holds on it. I tenuously put weight on my right foot opposing so hard with my right hand I thought the razor sharp edge was definitely going to draw blood. My left leg is extended behind, and far beyond my right for balance as I pull my hips over the high right foot. Move my left had to a small crystal and trust that the nonexistent hold my right foot is on will be enough as I push with all remaining strength I have to get through to the dike. Some how it all comes together and I'm able to make the pitch with out falling.

I get back on the ground and try to bargain for route 22 as there is an 11b I had never done right next door but rightfully calls it. All in all a great result considering we never once had tense moments about moving fast.

We started casually around 945 in the morning and finished sometime around 645. Took 2 or 3 breaks but they were no longer than 20 minutes in length. Climbed up to 11c and didn't over exert at all. There was no yelling or hurrying the whole day just minimal downtime. We just focused on continuously climbing. After all the only thing better than climbing is more climbing. A few things I did in order to move faster and get more routes in:

1) Pack like you have a 3 hour up hill approach. All too often I see people going sport climbing with a bag filled with more gear than it takes to push El Capitan. Rope, Draws, Food, Water. That's it. Sure maybe a guide book if. As long as it really isn't a 3 hour approach, both people should hike with their harness on. The next person to lead should have draws and shoes clipped to their harness. In a small pack (about 15 L) carry the water, headlamps, food, guidebook. The water and guide book up top and the rest near the bottom. The second person should have the rope coiled and tied to their back. Just flake the rope on a rock or the small pack in order to keep it clean. This eliminated wasted time of going into and out of your pack except at lunch.

2) Don't chase classics. It's worth the extra time to do the climbs surrounding the classic at the crag. You'll often be able to use the same anchors which means if you leave draws on the anchor you can do multiple route with only have to set a rappel once. Hiking also wastes a lot of time. You may miss out on one classic because you make it to 3 crags instead of 4 but it's usually worth the extra 9 routes because you did 4 routes instead of 1 at each area.

3) Speed cleaning. I have ethical issues with posting the beta of what this is. If you know then you know. If you really want to know leave a comment and I'll explain. Every area has their own standards and certain areas like Boulder Canyon this is perfectly acceptable and normal. Other areas are really against the practice because it wears through rap rings faster. In the long run it doesn't save as much time as the first two tips anyhow.

4) Just keep moving. This doesn't mean running but it does mean doing things like eating on the hike to the next area. Sitting around and having a huge lunch can be really demotivating. I try to split my lunch into two or three and space them out while I'm moving. Also try to encourage partners to not sit around. I can't tell you how many times I see partners sitting drinking water with the rack a mess all over their harness and the rope needing to be coiled. Make sure everyone is doing something rather than one person doubling the duration of work.

Holcomb Valley Top Out

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