Friday, April 27, 2012

OMTRS: Gila by Night

It's been quite a while since I participated in a rescue mission. Partially this is because there haven't been as many call-outs in the past year, but also family has kept me closer to home. When a mission call-out for the Gila happened to coincide with a regular off-Friday at work, I jumped at the opportunity. The missions involved searching for some day-hikers who had not returned. We would be searching through the night for the first operational period, so I packed up lots of warm clothing and plenty of light/batteries.

5 OMTRS members responded, enough to field one team, plus provide some base support. Our field team consisted of 4 strong hikers, Gary, James Robert and myself. The other three had recently been in the Gila searching for Micah True only a few weeks earlier, so they all knew the area pretty well. This was a major plus considering we would be hiking in the night on wilderness trails. We were searching for a 50-something year old couple who were out for a long dayhike to some hot springs. Three other teams were already assigned the main trails that would lead to the hot springs, so we were assigned a side trail of the Middle Fork of the Gila River. Actually, we were assigned a "social trail". I had never heard this phrase before but it became instantly clear. A trail not marked on any maps, but it known through social circles. It turned out to be a pretty well maintained trail, even had a gate at the wilderness boundary.

Our main objective was to gain a large mesa simply titled, Gila North Mesa, and to run a loop of trails around the top. the idea being they could have got off on this spur trail to try to find higher ground to signal some help. Once we were on the proper social trail, it was easy going, but we were all pretty tired. We hit the top of the mesa around 1 am and stopped for a "night-lunch". James, ever prepared, brewed up a cup of Ramen noodles. I sucked some power-gel. Robert promptly fell asleep. All of us had worked full days already and the hike and late-hour was beginning to take its toll. Robert seemed especially tired, and kept dropping his flashlight on the trail, practically sleep walking. I gave him a caffeinated gel which seemed to help.

 Our loop trail around the top of the mesa turned out not to be so straight-forward. Basically three trails looped around the mesa forming a sort of triangle. The first leg was no problem but we couldn't find the trail that was supposed to be the second leg. After wasting a bunch of time looking for where the trail was supposed to be, we eventually decided just to go cross country following the location on our maps where the trail was supposed to be. This roughly corresponded to a fence-line. Once we picked up the third leg it was easy going again.

On the way down off the mesa it began to get light. To perform a thorough search, we took the spur trail all the way down to the Middle Fork (not the way we came). Again there was some confusion here because the maps showed the trail junction at the wrong place. We found out later from Gila Rangers that this trail had been moved 10-20 years ago but that most maps were not updated. Too bad Incident Command didn't know that. Below is our team at the trail junction of the spur trail and our "social trail".
 Once down on the Gila we verified that we were on the right trail (White Rocks trail), then followed the river a little ways. We passed by some campers and figured we should check to make sure they weren't who we were looking for. Unfortunately we couldn't radio Incident Command this deep in the canyon or we would have found out that one of the other teams had already stopped by and questioned these campers. So the campers got an early morning wake-up call. I think they said something like "you guys are still searching for them?".
 We had to cross the river a few times. One benefit of our assignment is that it was almost entirely in high-dry terrirtory. Some of the other teams had dozens of crossings. Since we only had a few to negotiate, we did our best to stay dry. Below Robert negotiates one of our sketchier crossings.
 We rolled back into camp tired after a 12+ mile loop hike through the night. No sign of the subjects. About 1/2hr after we got back, news came in that the subjects were located, and that there had been a misunderstanding, turns out no one was lost after all. To quote the incident Commander, "It is better to search for somone who is not lost, than to not search for someone who is."
Well, I for one enjoyed the night-long hike in an area I've never hiked before. It really made me want to come back and hike some of these trails again.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Checkerboard wall with my Dad

I'll be the first to admit that I haven't been climbing much lately. But when my dad came down to help out around the house before our Daughter was born, I couldn't resist taking him out climbing one day. We had a pleasant climb up the Crosstrainer on Checkerboard Wall.
 Above: Dad racking up for the crux pitch.

It felt good to be out traversing stone once again. the route was easy, the day was warm and we both felt good scaling up the wall. Since my Dad's been climbing more than me recently, I gave him most the leads. He also got to play with me double-rope system which was fun. 

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Third Peak Summit Register

On a lot of the "minor" Organ mountain summits, I cannot find an old summit register. I was pleasantly surprised when I found this old film cannister on the top of 3rd Peak back in May. The 3 tiny sheets of paper in it date back to the 50s. Nothing more recent than 1972, wow!

Little Squaretop Summit Register

I retrieved the summit register from Little Squaretop back on May 13th 2011. There was an old metal kodak film cannister tucked inside a newer plastic container. The old container had a sheet which had been recopied from a previous register, but it had information dating back to the first ascent parties in the 50s. always cool to read that old stuff.

Middle Rabbit Ear Summit Register

I retrieved the old summit register from Middle Rabbit Ear May 21st, 2011. It consisted of a PVC tube. The contents were not in good shape, and haven't been since 2007 when i first found it. I left some fresh paper (our route description) in order to sign, because the only other stuff in the tube was a moldy, wadded up piece of "paper" crammed in the bottom. I wasn't able to decipher much from this old sheet of paper, but what I could decipher is transcribed below. I plan on placing a copy of this transcription back up on the summit this weekend.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Sugarloaf: Simul-climbing with Jon Tylka

I've been going strong the last 5 week-ends, piecing together portions of the Organ-peaks-linkup, and this weekend was to be a break from that. Jon and I are going to try our big day next weekend. So instead of climbing or scrambling along the Organ Needles, we struck out for Sugarloaf today. We went to have fun and practice using my brand-new set of half-ropes, which we'll be taking with us for our big day. After some previous weekend trips, we decided two ropes were necessary and I was leaning towards getting a new rope anyways, so I bit the bullet and ordered a set of 8.1mm half ropes. Sugarloaf was our proving ground.

A few other OMTRS climbers, Bob Cort, Marta Reece, Matt Wotford and Cat Wu, were also wanting to climb Sugarloaf so we decided to head out as a big group. Once again, Eddie South agreed to let us in the BLM gate early, and we met him promptly at 5am to be let in. It was forecast to be a hot day, and it felt hot even at 5am. We spent a little while gearing up but were soon on the trailhead and flying up the trail. It took us 1h20m to reach the base of North Face route. Jon and I stopped here, planning to simul-climb this route first and then try another route later in the day. The other two parties had their sights on the Left Eyebrow and continued up a little bit further to the base of their route.

Instead of the light alpine rack Jon was used to seeing me bring, I had a full compliment of cams and nuts, and loads of runners. We discussed simul climbing details before starting up, such items as good communication, keeping solid pieces between climbers, and clipping both ropes through each piece (using them as twins). this last item is important because while simul climbing you cannot feed the ropes at different speeds, so they both need to move together. I racked up first and started up the immense and beautiful slabs, still in the morning shade.
Jon cruising up the North face
We made a steady and good pace up the route. I paused a bit at a slabby run-out variation on the "3rd" pitch, clipping both 1/4" bolts along this section. For the most part, simul climbing is about being comfortable and confident on the rock, climbing fluidly together. After a little while, my world narrowed to a focus of climbing movements. Eyes darting to each good hand and foothold, stepping up and feeling for slack or tension in the rope, and always moving upward. I ran out of gear a little over half way up the route, on the huge grassy ledge. I set an anchor, but Jon on belay and brought him up quickly. He already had most of the gear with him, but I gave him the remainder and tried my best to point out the route for him to lead us to the top. "It goes right to that block," I pointed. He nodded and agreed, and then proceeded to climb straight up well left of the normal route. I reminded him a few times that he was off route left, but he was already on his way. That's one of the beautiful things about leading, is you can pick your own way, travel up whatever looks best to you. In this case, it meant a little dirtier climbing, more lichen covered sections, and some loose rocks, but overall decent climbing. Jon eventually met up with the normal route near the upper pitches, and when i reached him at the top he was all smiles.
Jon tossing the rope for the east side rappel
Our ascent had taken 2 hours, it was about 9:30. We rested a bit on the top and then talked about the descent. I have always rappelled down the south side, but we had noticed a newish looking suing on the East side and decided to give this descent a try. We were able to scramble lower than this first sling to another rappel station, and set up the ropes for a double-roped descent. I went first, sliding quickly down the two brand-new half ropes. 60m put us on a large ledge where there was a single 1/4" bolt rappel point. It looked to be in decent shape and we were sure to be able to reach the ground from there, so we pulled the ropes, only to get one of them stuck. The orange rope had caught on a flake and was not budging. We tried all manner of flipping the ropes and gently tugging, but I was worried about damaging my brand-new ropes, so I had Jon put me on belay on the purple rope, and I climbed up to free the stuck loop. Turns out it had wedged into a small flake and came out easily by hand. No harm done to the rope, I down-climbed back to jon and we set the 2nd rappel. This time Jon went first and immediately tacked right when he spotted a nest of climbers booty. He is still building his rack, and any gets super excited about finding climbing gear. Since he wanted to work on cleaning the two wires and tricam (plus 5 carabiners), I went ahead and rappelled down. Attached to the booty-anchor was a ratty old rope, sheath completely missing and totally coming apart. I tugged it down while rappelling so that we could trash it.
Bottom of 2nd rappel on East side
Jon was successful in cleaning one nut and the tricam, but couldn't get the last nut. Still a nice find, he was over the moon about it. We packed up the ropes and scrambled down the east side gully of Sugarloaf. This area was pretty heavily burned out by the recent Abrams Fire, and there were some large felled trees as well. some sections require a bit of down-climbing finness but overall it was a decent route. Still, after getting a stuck rope, my preference lies with the cleaner South side rappel route.

Our decent had taken nearly two hours, almost the same amount of time as climbing the route. Still, there was plenty of time to get on another climb, and the other two parties could still be seen high up on the mountain. We rested a bit, and refilled our water from the generous water cache the Bob and Jon had hiked up last Wednesday. I can't stress how utterly awesome it was to have 4 gallons of water here at the base of the cliff for us. I'm sure we all could have done with just our own water, but we were in oh so much better shape with it. Despite the heat, I was feeling good, not fatigued at all.

For our next route we were both interested in the hard slab route, Science Friction. We made our way up to the base of it, and stared up at the intimidating blankness. Unlike the North Face route, this one is steep slab, thin 5.10 moves between widely spaced bolts.It didn't take me long to balk at leading it. I told Jon I'd belay him, but didn't think I was up for leading. He was seriously tempted still, but ultimately decided that he wouldn't want to fall on the initial pitons. Our eyes then turned to the large right facing corner just to the left. My topo called this 5.8 corner Banana Peel, it didn't look easy. 
Attractive right-facing corner of Banana Peel
The right leaning corner looked like a powerful layback climb, with almost no feet or rest stances. Jon though was game for it, and racked up. This time we decided not to simul climb, letting Jon place as much gear as needed, and use the half-ropes as they are intended, clipping either rope as needed to reduce rope drag. This worked beautifully, as seen in the picture below.
Half-rope technique displayed, on Banana Peel
Jon muscled up the layback, and looked to me to be confidently sailing the route. Right above a small rest-stance, he dropped the set of nuts while trying to place them, and by some lucky break they stopped short in a flake just below him. He was able to retrieve them and continue up. He did appear a bit nervous in one section and took a rest at a stance above to recover. I discovered why on seconding, the layback was committing and draining. There were some good stances though that couldn't be seen from the ground, the key is all in the footwork. But even with good footwork, placing gear from the layback position is strenuous and I can see how he could get a pump trying to work in a piece. At the crux section, a fixed cam was overcammed way back int the crack. Jon had clipped it, but it was difficult to even clip because the wire-;loop was deep in the crack. This is where Jon had exerted the most effort, and I could certainly understand what was going through his head on lead. Above the crux section the climbing got a bit easier, but it also worked over this hollow huge hollow sounding flake. Easily a couple body-widths across, it resonated with each step I took on it. It didn't appear to be in danger of falling, but that ringing boom is enough to make anyone nervous.

At the top, Jon had set his belay right at the corner of the ;edge, but there was a bolted belay 20 ft back and at a better stance so I went straight for that, and then pulled the rope over to me. Since the rope was then stack for Jon to climb again he took the next lead. We decided to get back to simul climbing, the corner above us looked very easy, and then it joined right up with the Left Eyebrow. Matt and Cat were still high up on the route, and we exchanged a few hollers before heading up.
Easy middle pitches of Left Eyebrow Route
Jon made it all the way up to the large dead tree beneath the crux pitch, but a poorly planned gear placement had left him with terrible rope drag and he decided to set up his belay there. I racked up at the tree and got to lead the high quality upper pitches. The only other time I had climbed this route was with John Hymer years ago, and again we had simul-climbed it. I didn't really remember the route, but had a good enough idea. plus a fresh trail of chalked holds had been left by the party above, so i could always just follow their lead.

The exposed crux pitch was awesome, and as good as it gets for a 5.7 multi-pitch route. Probably 1000' above the floor, you swing out to a committing move around a roof/prow, not being able to see what's on the other side. You can swing your feet and out, and yelp away, then pull over and find bomber jugs to haul up on. really a stellar feeling, maybe even the best move on all of Sugarloaf. Above this move the climbing stays interesting, with run-out slabs, gneiss intrusions dotting the rock and providng holds, and the opccasional old 1/4" bolt. I took my time threading through the terrain, searching out the best rock and most protectable features. I also made sure to holler back down to Jon to make sure he let me know when he reached the crux moves. I knew he wouldn't have a problem with them, but I also wanted to make sure I had a decent stance when he got to this section. With simul-limbing, communication is key to avoiding sticky and uncomfortable climbing.

I reached the summit just a minute behind Cat. 10 minutes later bob Cort came into view atop the north face route. He and Marta had heard Matt complaining about a loose pitch on the Left Eyebrow, and decided to switch over to the North Face route at the large ledge. The timing was perfect, with all six of us on top together. It was around 3:00pm, it had taken us a little over 2 hours to climb another route on Sugarloaf. Once agian I forgot to birng up a proper summit register, but thanks to a geocache on the summit, I left a make-shift tiny register in the summit cairn. It should last 6-12 months, by which time maybe I will be back to put a proper log-book up here.
Myself and Jon, with the ridge-line we hope to conquer in the background
After the requisite summit tom-foolery, we set-up a fixed line down to the South rappel. With 6 people and 4 ropes, we made good time setting rappels and getting down. Once again we all refilled our water and drank the last of the 4 gallons of water. We took a leisurely pace on the hike out, making it back to the cars by 7:30pm. Bob had a cooler of ice cold water and beer waiting for us, now that's what I call prepared!
Left to right, Top: Jon, Cat, Marta, Matt. Bottom Aaron, Bob

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Last Peak, Nordspitz and Baylor Pass

The North rabbit Ear looms behind a yucca from the summit of Last Peak
I reached a special milestone today. Ever since we moved to Las Cruces, I have wanted to climb up all of those jagged peaks on our horizon. Today I reached the summit of the last two. Well, to clarify, the last two of the jagged "needles". I still haven't been on Baylor Peak, or even Organ Peak (restricted are). No matter, I am happy anyways. Reaching these last two peaks also gives me a little more confidence about the upcoming Organ peak Marathon. I have a basic familiarity with all the peaks on our route, ways to get up and down, information which is key to our attempt to link all of these peaks in a single day.

My hike today started before the sun came up. I bade my sleeping family a quiet "goodbye-morning" and jumped in the car around 5am. I parked at my usual spot a mile or so up the Topp Hut road, and started hiking up. I decided not to bring any climbing gear with me, but my pack was still heavy because I was carrying an extra 4 liters of water to cache. I was also solo today, Marta and Jon had decided to team up and hike up the Organ Needle and familiarize themselves with the northward route from their (they made it all the way to Lost Peak). Being solo is nice sometimes, and I took a several extra geocaching diversions on my way up.

The hike in was nice and cool, and stayed cool all the way through Rabbit Ears Canyon. There was an unfound geocache on top of the Citadel which I decided to go for. I dropped my heavy pack in the canyon and took a 30 minute detour to grab it; Normally, the Citadel can only be topped out by 5th class routes, but I was pretty sure I could find a scramble up it. I remembered a hidden gully to the west of the route Wish You were Here, which was an easy scramble. It topped out on a large shoulder a few pitches up on the West Ridge. This left me with a little bit of  exposed climbing, but after looking at it carefully, I was confident I could get up it. I did have a few second thoughts about coming back down. After all, I had no rope or gear to rappel with. Pushing those thoughts aside I summited anyways, thinking there was probably another descent/scramble on the south side. I did find nice rappel chains on the SE side side of the summit, but no easy scramble down. However, down-climbing wasn't as bad as I had feared and I was soon back down to my pack, and on my way up to Last Peak.

My approach was up the main gully on coming down from the north end of North Rabbit Ear. About half way up a rocky ridge divides the gully. I had been up the right-hand side before, on a previous trip up to the CWM, so I decided to try the left-hand side this time. It had a few sections of tough bushwhacking, but was pretty easy and direct. I was soon up to the saddle between the CWM and Last Peak. I stashed 2 liters of water and scoped out the potential routes up Last Peak. There was a promising route right up the south face that I was interested in. I could see a way to scramble up some ramp systems to a shoulder mid-way up the face. from here I could only see a 5th class corner to the top, but the rock around the corner was hidden from view and I was thinking that it might have a scrambleable gully. I decided to have a look. The initial "scramble" section involved a 5th class move, and once again I worried about reversing it. Still, I went up hopeful for the nice gully around the corner. I got up to the shoulder and looked around the corner, and was dismayed. Not only was there not an easy corner, but it was actually steeper over there. right above me though, was a very attractive route up a narrow rib. It looked in the 5.6-5.8 range, but there was no way I was going to solo it. Lucky for me, I did not have to reverse the hard move I had done to get up here, instead finding a secure (but 5th class) down climb in a crack system with good holds. Safely back at the saddle I made my way west around the base of the wall to look for the regular route up.
South Face of Last Peak, and my aborted route attempt
Only a few hundred feet away was the 4th class (3rd class Ingraham) route, up a nice weakness to the top. I quickly ascended and was on the lovely summit ramp in no time.
4th class route up Last Peak
I found a small summit register left by a recent Geocacher, and added my name to it. The log was only a single sheet of paper, so I think I'll bring up a proper notebook when we come here next. It was still early in the morning, so I found a nice spot to sit and eat breakfast. I had birds-eye view of the summit of The Citadel where I just was an hour ago. I took my boots off and let my feet air out, munching on trail mix and gulping water.
Dry feet are happy feet
Agave blossom/fruit on summit of Last Peak
After a suitable rest, I peered over the north side of the peak to scope out the descent down to Nordspitz. A jagged ridge led directly towards the saddle. There were a few spots that looked like they might be difficult to negotiate, but overall it looked doable and direct. I started down the exposed ridge-line, carefully climbing over blocks and down boulders. About half-way down I was stopped by a steep section. It would be a short and easy rappel (although I saw no rappel gear from previous parties), but I had no rope. However, there was a weakness on the east side which i thought I could down climb and I decided to go for it. I had to be extremely careful here, using the crack for solid jams and carefully placing my feet and testing the rock as I lowered myself down. It was indeed down-climbable but when Jon and I come back this way on our big traverse, I think we'd be better off rappelling.
Looking down the North Ridge of Last Peak
Getting up Norspitz was a cinch, a simple 3rd class scramble up the south side. There was another new register placed by the same Geocacher. I looked around for signs of an older one, but didn't find anything. It's pretty unlikely that this peak sees many ascents anyways.
Summit shot on Nordspitz
I didn't stay on the summit long, and started scrambling down the North side of the peak. The scramble off was nice, over some beautiful slabs and past some nice old trees. I had to zig zag a bit to avoid a large steep wall, but it was all very straightforward and actually quite pleasant. Minimal brush-beating, not too much slippery gravel, and slightly shady from the North-facing aspect. When i finally got to the bottom and looked back up, Nordspitz actually looked like quite a nice peak, with gently slabs growing up into a nice little summit. It would probably be a nice hike to come up this way from Baylor pass, but my goal today was to do the opposite.
North Side of Nordspitz
The first 1/4mile along the ridge towards Baylor was the worst of the bushwhacking. I delicately threaded myself through mahogany, cholla and yucca, eventually reaching a small summit. From there it was a bit easier although still brushy. There were occasional faint traces of "trail" and I was before I knew it I was down at Baylor pass. I cached another 2 liters of water under a shrub, and pondered my next move. Getting back to my car on the Topp Hut road would take some doing, I could go back the way I came but what fun would that be? Another route I considered is a sort of ridge-line which goes from the top of the Lambda to somewhere near the pass. Ultimately though, I opted for a lower elevation route, skirting around the base of the some unnamed cliffs. Partially this was motivated by a few more geocaches, which I picked off lower down, but I also was interested in checking out the impressive cliffs on the North side of the Lambda Wall massif. I've often stared at these cliffs while driving along Baylor road. There are some obvious corner systems which beg to be climbed, and I was interested in some reconnaissance.
All smiles before I left Baylor Pass trail
I left the Baylor Pass trail a little bit below the camping spot, and aimed for a small pass to the south.from there I was able to scramble over maintaining my elevation to another little pass, overlooking the canyon beneath the unnamed wall. So far the brush hadn't been very bad, but I could see that traversing around the base of this wall was going to be tough. The steep slope beneath the wall was boulder-strewn and choked with vegetation. I didn't see any possible easy route, so just forged ahead trying to maintain some elevation. I got a good look at the corner systems, they look like they could be really awesome routes. The approach from Baylor Pass would be reasonable, although it would be better in the cooler months.
Unnamed Cliffs North of Lambda Wall
My water was running low, it was the hottest part of the day and I was in the worst terrain the Organs can throw at you. It seemed like forever, but I finally rounded the corner underneath the Lambda Wall, and made my way back into Rabbit Ears Canyon. To my surprise there were hikers there, two guys coming down from Rabbit Ear Massif. they had just passed by the campground and lost the trail. I helped them get back on track, and then hiked out with them. One of the guys, Andre, actually grew up near the Gunks, and went to school at Plymouth State, right near where my Dad lives in NH. Small world. I enjoyed the company for the last hike out, we commiserated about our lack of water, and the hostile Organ mountain plants, and cruised back down the Topp Hut road. Overall route stats: Hike came in around 10.8 miles with a total elevation gain of about 2500 ft. Car-to-car in about 9 hours.
Hot and hazy looking South-East from the Nordspitz