Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Some recent caving adventures

I've already written about some recent caving adventures on my other journals. But some links here seemed appropriate. Some of these may not be publicly view-able though.

Reviving this Blog

This blog was always intended to be a simple climbing journal I keep for myself. As my climbing activities have dwindled, and I've starting doing other adventurous activities, the psots here have become less and less. I am adventuring less than I once was, but that is fairly natural considering my life stage. I have a family now, and my leisure time is no longer so focused on the adventures I want to have, but shared with them. But I still have some adventures and would like to continue writing about them. So I'm expanding the scope of this blog slightly to include other adventures.

My geocaching adventures I write about on a different blog already. And my Family Blog (which is open by invite only) is still the best place to capture Family Adventures. Everything else I will try to capture here. For now, that mainly means Caving!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Blue Spring Cave: Fear Chasm

Abby and Matt in BSC

A return trip to Blue Spring Cave. I had contacted Natalie about going caving since it was forecast to be cold. Nothing like being underground in a warm cave when it is icy cold above ground. I was game to visit any cave, but Natalie wanted to go back to Blue Spring Cave, so taht's where we went. We were joined by three other cavers: Abby Harmon, the Chair/Pres of the East Tennessee Grotto of which I am a member. Abby's boyfriend Matt Tomlinson, who is the Chair of the Smoky Mountain Grotto. And a caver and geologist named Sarah, who recently moved to Knoxville to do her Masters. A better group of cavers you couldn't ask for. Our destination for this trip was the Root Cellar, but we were also open to exploring other areas beyond that if we were feeling up for it.

Natalie led the way in, taking us through Johnson Hall and the Ships Prow. I tried to keep an eye out for the BO junction, but without Natalia pointing it out I never would have noticed it. It is very inconspicuous. We saw a handful of bats on the walls, but nothing like what we saw at the Drive In Cave. The main passage, which goes through Tamra's Hall and Buckner's Borehole is very large in most places, and has a lot of complicated climbing over break down. It was nothing like the easy walking passages of the M branch that we did on my last trip. Even so, we made pretty good time and were soon taking a break in the breakdown area where we would connect to the root cellar. This junction is not at all obvious, and involves squirming down through breakdown boulders. Before doing this, we checked out the main passageway continuation which would lead to Thunder Falls, one of our possible destinations. No one in the group had been that way before, so it was enticing to scout the passages a bit. But we didn't want to go that way until after exploring the root cellar.
Chert roots in the Root Cellar

The nature of the cave changes quite a bit once you reach the passages around the root cellar. Instead of giant borehole with breakdown, the passages are smaller, maybe 10' high at most and only as wide as a body length. Smaller, but still quite comfortable. There were also a lot of little side passages that branched off in both directions. We checked out a few of these which were crawls, and I succeeded in getting very muddy. The survey markers were FCK and if I ever get my hands on the BSC mapbook, I'll try to look up exactly where we were. The root cellar itself was pretty awesome, with the chert tubes leftover from ancient crustacean burrows. None of the pictures I took really capture them. It was definitely cool.
Fixed Rope traverse..Fear Chasm?

The passage at the end of the root cellar peters out to a low muddy belly crawl, that Matt declared passable. However, no one seemed keen on pressing it any further, so we turned back to check out the Parallel Worlds passages. Parallel worlds, as the name suggests, is a passageway that is initially parallel to the root cellar. There are even a few small window connections between the two, which makes for funny photo ops. one of these openings is just large enough to squeeze through, and Matt and I both tried our luck in it. I needed some help getting through, but made it through, earning some nice ribcage bruises for my effort.
Matt doing the window squeeze between Root Cellar and Parallel Worlds
Natalie climbs the 15' pit past Fear Chasm
We continued to explore passages beyond Parallel Worlds for a while, after dropping our packs. We passed a fixed rope traverse that we assumed was Fear Chasm.Abby and Sarah both decided not to tackle this traverse, as it was kind of exposed. While they stayed beyond Natalie, Matt and I forged ahead. We got split up a bit, when Matt stopped to check out a pit. I ended up sticking close to Natalie as we continued down narrow stoop/crawl passages that just kept going and going. We eventually encountered another pit. A 15' downclimb landed us int he bottom of the pit, where there was a fixed rope leading up the other side. We didn't have gear to climb the rope, but found going passage at the bottom of the pit and kept going for another hundred yards before finally deciding to turn around. Splitting up the group in the cave was making me nervous. On the way back I talked through my fears, and then Natalie reassured me that we'd be able to figure out where everyone was once we got back to where we dropped packs. Fortunately, we caught up to Matt, and then Sarah and Abby and were all together again.
Matt lights up some Alien writing on a cave wall in Parallel Worlds

We backtracked as far as the main passage where the junction to Thunder Falls was, then sat down for a break and some snacks. Abby put on some David Bowie music, which was a fitting tribute to the Rock Star who passed away just days earlier. We munched and sand, and then decided that it was late enough that we weren't goin to explore any further. We were still hours from the entrance and it was time to head out. The return trip was pretty uneventful. Abby attempted to lead us out, to test her knowledge of the cave route, and was mostly pretty successful. I wonder if I would have been as good at navigating through the big breakdown passages. Perhaps some day I'll find out.
Chert root in the Root Cellar

Saturday, May 3, 2014

A Farewell to the Organs

I love the Organ Mountains. For climbing, hiking and geocaching. I combined all these activities into my geocaching series, Organ Saint. Some people, like myself are just drawn to these rugged mountains. So it is sad to say goodbye now that we are leaving New Mexico for the greener pastures of Tennessee. The only proper way to say goodbye would be one last hike and climb. I teamed up with Combatnurse2003, aka Mike, to see how many Rabbit Ears we could bag in a day. You would think a rabbit only has two ears, but not this one, there's the North Rabbit Ear, Middle Rabbit Ear, South Rabbit ear... then there's the Rabbit Ear Massif, and other lesser spires and ridges. No shortage of objectives here. And the hike up Rabbit Ears canyon is one of the best in the range.

We met at 5am at the jeep rd that starts up to the rock hut. I parked my city car, and piled my gear into Mike's sweet 4x4 jeep. We bumped and jostled our way up to the Rock hut, shaving a mile off our hike. It was still dark as we donned our packs, and we wore headlamps until we were well into the canyon. I enjoyed being the chattering guide, pointing out all the rock features and walls, places to camp and general climber's trivia. This was Mike's first trip up the canyon.  Perhaps my chattering frightened the wildlife off, because we saw none, but I was happy to be in my element. At the granite bathtub Mike dropped a gallon of partially frozen water out of his pack to stash for later. I can't believe he carried so much water up here! It probably has something to do with our last big adventure in the Organs on Baylor Peak when he got pretty dehydrated. I don't blame him for carrying so much water after that experience. I should have done the same, but turns out I did almost the opposite. I had meant to take a 24 oz gatorade with me but it had jostled out of my pack on the bumpy jeep ride. So I was short liquids for the day. Bummer, but I wasn't about to let it ruin my fun.

As we hiked higher up the canyon we debated some side objectives. The cache on the Citadel would make a great prize. I was the last find on it a few years ago. We decided that we would wait and see how felt on the way back down. It would be a significant amount of effort either way, what with a few pitches of climbing involved. Another temptation was ORP. Since we were planning on tagging the summit of the Massif anyways, we could almost justify taking the gully that one would take to go to ORP. It would only be a short side trip to that spire, then we could continue up the ridge to the massif. But we nixed this option too, thinkiong that our efforts were best spent on the main peaks. We were making good tme, reaching the saddle around 7:30am. We dropped our packs and made the quick and steep hike up to the Massif, and our first cache of the day, the venerable Labor of Hercules #10. While Mike worked that, I searched in vain for the summit register, only finding an old gatorade-powder lid. I was bummed not to find it, but there was a nice cache of water, 4 12-oz bottles. I grabbed one, knowing my own supply was less than optimal for the hot day we were going to have. Hopefully this doesn't piss someone off later, me steeling their water and all, but it was in a very obvious place where hikers go, so I figured it was fair game.

Our next move was down to our packs and then over to the South Rabbit Ear or SRE as I like to call it. There is a short section of nasty bush whacking here which I had mostly forgotten about. No Organ Mountain experience is complete without this, and I was pleased to get one last taste, although Mike was grumbling somewhat. We dropped packs again at the col between MRE and SRE, had a quick snack and then scrambled up the easy lichen covered north face of the peak. I consider SRE to be an easy peak, and sometimes forget that even it has some serious challenges. The rock gets steep, the plants disappear and you really have to pay attention to what you are doing. This is especially true on the descent. It helped to have Mike there with me, and see the mountain afresh through his eyes. The niceties of being a guide! We didn't dally long on the summit, just enough to grab the cache, and peruse the summit register. Looks like SRE has been getting regular visits. Very cool!

One nice thing about linking up SRE to MRE is that on the descent from SRE you can really scope out the regular route on MRE. I pointed out to Mike all the belay ledges, the crux moves etc.. and he had an absolutely clear idea of where to go. Then he handed me the rack... (just kidding, I was planning on leading the fun stuff anyways!). It's been a little while since I roped up for some real climbing. I was using my twin ropes and thin rack supplied by Mike. I knew the route, had climbed it multiple times but still got that nervous feeling in my gut... and sweaty palms. Well, that's why climbers use chalk right? Powdered courage! I stepped up to the rock and started to climb. Style, well, I've had better days. But man was it fun, and exhilarating. I think I've been missing this too much these past few years, chasing geocaches instead of technical climbs. Maybe I can remedy that in Tennessee? Who knows, but it felt real up there. Alive and one with the mountains in a way you can't get any where else. And as we climbed that sour thought kept popping into my head, "I am probably never going to see these mountains again".

We relaxed on top of MRE for a while. Mike was famished and tore into his lunch. My first priority was to look at the summit register. Marta had warned me that the jar had broken a while ago and she had replaced it, but it didn't occur to me that because it had been broken that pages would be damaged. A small animal had eaten away at the pages I left up here, making fractaled edges. And several pages were completely missing including the ones from my visits in 2011. I was a little bummed, seeing those entries is a cheap way to wax nostalgic about past achievements. The logs that caught my eye were from last weekend when Jon Tylka, Nate Fry and Glen Melin had attempted the full traverse of the Organ Needles. They ended bivying before the low horns, then fighting 70 mph winds.. all the way to NRE before finally calling it. Amazing! Another entry that caught my attention was one from March 28t where two climbers named Luke and Chance had written "Full Traverse". I wonder how many of the peaks they had actually nabbed, and if they had completed the full traverse? These thoughts distracted me for a bit, but eventually, the urge to check on the geocache I left up here grew too strong and I goaded Mike, who was comfortably relaxing, into making a search for it. He was doing what veteran cachers do, not relying on his GPSr and searching plausible locations. Except up on top of the MRE, every square foot is a plausible location. My impatience got the better of me and I pulled out my GPSr just to "check where GZ was". I was immensely pleased to see the numbers on the display drop down to zero ft as I stood directly over the cache. For only my second cache placement, I had marked coordinates very accurately!

The cache itself was pristine. I don't know why I would worry about it, but for some reason I had imagined that either climbers would mess with it. Or maybe I had thought that the effects of ice and snow from the mountain top winters would allow water to intrude. Completely unreasonable it turns out, the little water-proof matchstick holder was untouched, and dry as a bone. The paper was still crisp and neat. There wasn't even a chew mark on the outer portion. This give me good hope that the cache will survive for many years. And why wouldn't it? Only I probably will not know because another geocacher might not be up here for several years s well. Mike sat down at the cliff's edge and signed the log in the coveted FTF spot. Today is his 39th birthday, so this is my birthday present to him.  A worthy FTF prize if ever there was one.

Eventually we felt rested and ready for some more and started our way to the north side descent. This involves a very steep down-climb to a faded orange rappel sling I vaguely remember from 3 years ago. I checked all around it and decided it was good to use, but we probably should have added a piece for back-up. I hoped on the rope first, and was quickly down to the churchkey. A bit lower I found a pair of shiny bolts, anchors that Jon had told me he had placed. Having well placed solid rappel stations made the next two rappels much nicer. I could have linked them up into a single 60m length rappel but I was worried about rope getting stuck on the stunted trees covering the middle ledge, so we broke it into two rappels to have more control over the rope-pulls. The rappels off the churchkey are fantastic, with free hanging sections, and an immense neon green lichen roof system off to climber's-left. A great mountaineering experience. As we went I pointed out route features on the north face of MRE. Mike wasn't interested in tackling the North Face directly. The long day was starting to wear on him and he was only up for the easiest possible route which would be the Davis Route. We checked the time, 2pm, and did some thinking. If we were to tackle NRE as well, it would probably be 4hrs to get up and down, plus another 3 for the return trip. That put us back after dark. Definitely doable, and perhaps if we had been younger, or more gung-ho we wouldn't even have hesitated. But the thought of a 15hr day, getting home after the family had already gone to sleep, and missing any further birthday celebration (for Mike) made our decision for us. I know we could have completed the MRE this day, but we made the wise decision to call it a day.

The hike out was at a leisurely pace. Part of this was by necessity, the gully we had to descend was steep, loose and full of Organ Mtn vegetation. Mike took a couple of spills and bloodied himself from a close encounter with a cholla. No Organ mountain adventure is complete without someone getting intimate with the veg! At one section Mike lost his footing and came careening down on top of me, nearly bowling me over. He managed to shift his center of mass just enough to avoid a nasty collision, and halted himself without any injuries himself. This kind of stumbling is another typical feature of a long day in the Organs. Fatigue and dehydration add up and make the feet clumsier and clumsier as the day goes on. Another good reason to have called it a day instead of doing the MRE. But with plenty of afternoon daylight we could afford to take breaks, numerous relaxing breaks at several scenic spots in Rabbit Ears canyon. The ice water that Mike left by the bathtubs was divine. We chugged half of it, then decided to leave the rest as a water cache for future hikers and climbers. It is hidden away, but in a spot that is likely enough to be discovered by those who would need it. A bit further down we stopped at my favorite tree, a stunted broad-leafed tree with a canopy just my height, creating a perfect shady rest on one of the hottest parts of the approach around the Citadel. We chatted and laughed the whole way down, and I quietly said my goodbyes.

Goodbye ringtail cat, that looted our food when we camped here with a 7 month year old son.
Goodbye finger-singer, that slick 5.10 slabby test-piece that I so bravely led years ago.
Goodbye Lambda Wall, where I climbed with an Air Traffic Controller when we first moved to the area.
Goodbye Mexican buckeyes, with your startling rattles every time you are brushed.
Goodbye lonely spires, visited by the rare few who love to roam harsh terrain.
Goodbye rusted mining equipment, slowly decaying but still alluring.
Goodbye ocatillo blooms, flashing bright red buds against a see of browns.
Goodbye golden eagles, gently soaring from lofty perch to lofty perch.
Goodbye Organ mountains. My heart will forever ache for you.

 Goodbye Organ Mountains....

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. 

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Assault on the Organ Mountains

I don't know why it's taken me so long to write about this. Jon and I had prepared for our assault on the Organs for months, hiking and climbing almost every weekend leading up to the big day when we would attempt all the peaks in one go. We made our bid July 3rd, and now 3 months later I'm finally getting around to describing the adventure. Partly, I put off writing about it because it was so daunting a task. We covered so much ground, pushed ourselves to our limits moving for nearly 24hrs straight. It just doesn't seem possible to put this ordeal down in writing and convey the true feeling of it all. Maybe if I were some genius writer I could, but I worry that it will all come out sounding rather dull or monotonous, "and then we tackled the next peak, and then we drank some water, and then we rappelled down..." Indeed, some of my memories of the trip are just like that. We became machines, plowing down through the granite peaks almost without thinking. Constantly pushing, moving forward, trying to keep a lid on the bubbling up fatigue that threatened to derail us. Well, before memory turns the whole thing into something it wasn't, I better put something down here so that I can go back and get a feel for how it really was, not just how I remembered it.

The trip really started the day before. Our plan was to hike up to the summit of the Needle Friday evening, and bivy the night up there. We'd then be able to start the ridge at or before the crack of dawn. To save carrying a bunch of unnecessary gear, our bivy would be two foam pads and an old wool blanket, shared between the two of us. Food consisted mostly of high-energy snacks, power-gels, cliff bars and the like. I spent the day before resting and eating a lot, hopefully storing up the energy I'd need for the next day. Jon called around and got us a ride up the Modoc Mine Rd. I packed a cooler full of cold drinks and food to leave in my car at the Baylor pass trailhead, where we met at 6pm. Our ride up Modoc Mine Road was provided by John Gallegos and his beefy Hummer.

I can't thank John enough for the ride up this road. It was a hot July afternoon and the Modoc road was in full sun with very little breeze. John's hummer made short work of it, crashing and grinding up the rocky road saving us a lot of effort and sweat. He dropped us off near the final switchbacks and wished us luck. Then we were off, marching up the trail. I've hiked this trail numerous times, once at night, and lead the way. We made good time, but it felt like forever to reach the top. By the time we hit Hummingbird Saddle, the sun had dropped and we were in the last little bit of twilight glow. Instead of taking the regular trail around the east side of the pass, I led Jon up the South ridge. This involved a little bit of exposed solo climbing, but got us up to the top quickly. We were tired and sweaty from our long hike and plopped down at the summit bivuoac spot to eat some dinner and prepare for the night.

Our sweat dried quickly and soon we were cold and putting on all the layers we had brought with us. A breeze was kicking up as we settled down on our foam pads, and tucked the single thread-bare blanket over us. I was counting on it being the hottest time of the year so we wouldn't need to bring extra warm clothing. But as the night wore on the wind picked up and lightning storms passed through the valleys around us. We didn't get rained on, but it was very windy and we shivered. We emptied out our backpacks and put our feet inside of them, but were still chilled by the wind. At some point in the middle of the night, neither of us could sleep due to the cold wind, so we got up and made a wind-break out of rocks. The labor of moving dozens of rocks warmed us right back up, and soon we had a serviceable wind-break to hide behind. It was still cold, but we had enough shelter from the wind to get some sleep.

There's something about upcoming excitement, a big day of climbing, that seeps way back into your brain and governs how you act. Somehow, both Jon and I were up before even the first lightening of dawn. The night had been restless and we were eager to get moving. All our gear was scattered about when we dumped our packs, so we set about organizing and preparing. We filled up our water bottles with the gallon of water I had stashed here several weeks back, and drank the remaining bit, then stashed the empty bottles, foam pads, and blanket under a large boulder near the summit. We wrote some notes in the summit register and were soon ready to go. We descended the North ridge of the needle by headlamp, carefully picking our way down dome steep terrain. By the time we reached the rappel sling I had left, it was light enough to turn off the headlamps. The 30m rappel landed us on a high shoulder, but it was easy downclimbing to the saddle. From the saddle, I led jon up the easy 5th class solo climb to bypass some slabby climbing around the corner. The short pitch gains a nice ledge where an airy traverse leads over to the main gully which ascends to Little Squaretop summits.

We scrambled up to the summit of Little Squaretop in time for the sun rise. The short climb up also served as a nice warm-up. We jotted some optimistic comments in the summit register and scrambled down to the spot that I had used previously for a rappel. The last time I rappelled off the North side of LST, I had scrambled down the blocky summit boulders to point where there was a short 40ft drop down a wide crack and overhang. I had rapelled off a knot-chock and ended up scraping my knuckles when transitioning opver the lip. It was an awkward rappel, and I was hoping to find something a little better this time. But after a bit of scouting around I didn't see another simple place to leave an anchor and since it was such a short rappel I decided we'd just go for it. We set up one of the 8mm ropes through the anchor and rappelled down to a little cave below. I pulled the rope and it started coming down but a large loop fell down into the wide crack above a chock stone and got stuck. Jon and I both tried flicking the rope, and moving to different angles. jon even tried climbing up the wide crack for a ways, but the awkward off-chimney crack and overhang was hard to get up, and he couldn't reach the chock where the rope was stuck. It became apparent that we'd need to climb back up to get the rope unstuck but going back up the wide crack didn't seem that feasible. I scouted around the corner to the SW to a steep gully that Jon and Marta had used a few weeks back when they bypassed around the LST summit. There was a spot in the gully that looked pretty climbable up to a clean corner crack. I put on our small rack while Jon flaked out the 2nd 8mm rope for me to climb on. The climb was pretty short, maybe only 50 ft but was actually really fun. Probably a 5.6 hand and fist crack, and smearing against quarry-grade granite. I was quickly up to a stance where I could squeeze through a gap in the boulders and get our other rope unstuck. I tossed it down and then squeezed back through the hole and set up a different anchor for Jon to lower me down.

This whole time spent rescuing my rope I am thinking about how we are losing time for the rest of our enchainement. Overall, we lost about an hour. Didn't seem like that much, but later on I was wishing we could have gained that hour back. Ropes safely stowed we scrambled down the ridgeline over to Sqauretop. Jon led up the easy pitch to the summit, although "led" is pretty generous. He placed some pro for the intial crux, and maybe one other piece a little higher up, but then he cruised to the top, not seeming to mind when he entered groundfall territory. I quickly joined him and once again we were jotting down optimistic notes in the summit register, and setting up the rappel.

The descent from Squaretop over to the Wedge involves one of the longest sections of scrambling without hitting a summit for the entire day. We used one more rappel in the gully beneath Squaretop but mostly just 4th classed. The bushwhacking between the Squaretop gully and the saddle underneath the Wedge slowed us down, but not all that much. We had both traveled this route recently, and knew exactly how to shortcut around the east side of the saddle, into the stand of scorched maples and over to the ascent gully on the Wedge. The climb up the Wedge is one of the longest of all the peaks, and it also was starting to feel hot. I was sucking down my water, and sweating profusely. It was a great comfort to find the stash of water that Marta and Jon had left on the wedge and add it to our packs. We soloed up to the top of the Wedge and made our mark in the register. It was already 9:49 o'clock and we had quite a ways to go. Is this still feasible? No time to worry about that, we had to get a rappel set and press on to Lost Peak.

For Lost Peak we broke out the rack and ropes and Jon led up, taking a corner system. We stowed one of the ropes and the rack, but left the other rope out to make a short rappel down to the saddle next to Third Peak. There, we dropped packs entirely and scrambled up the 4th class terrain to the picturesque knife-edge that is the summit of Third Peak. One hour had elapsed since the Wedge, which was only a short distance away. We quickly and carefully down-climbed back to our packs and set off for the 3rd class climb to Dingleberry.

It took a purposeful effort to remember to eat and drink. I knew we were sweating off lots of water and losing salts, and would try to keep the camelbak tube stuck in my mouth during the easier scrambles. I also was trying to keep a steady flow of "food" in my mouth. You know, all those gawdy wrapped marathon-runner foods like "gels" and "chews" which would somehow supply all the energy we would need to keep moving, and keep our electrolytes in balance. Still we needed to break to get some real food in our bellies. We finally topped out on Dingleberry at 11:28 o'clock and left our mark in the register, then started scrambling down towards Wildcat and our next water stash.

Previously, I had managed to down-climb most of the Dingleberry North Descent gully, but I opted for a couple short rappels this time. With two of us it just seemed safer and not much longer. While I was messing around with the second rappel we heard a voice and some movement from the Wildcat gully. Then we were surprised to see Marta coming down the gully! She had biked all the way up Dripping Springs road that morning, and hiked up Wildcat to try to meet us at our "half-way" point. She had beaten us to wildcat by an hour or so, and had just decided to head down when we finally came down off of Dingleberry. Now I knew we weren't making as fast progress as we had hoped. She graciously refilled some of our water and gave us encouraging words, something like "you guys are it!". It was nice to see a friendly face and get that encouragement because we still had a long ways to go. With a hug we left Marta to descend, and turned ourselves back up the easy scramble to Wildcat's summit. Here we picked up a nice water cache that we had left a month ago, hastily signed the register and then picked our way over to Razorback.

The terrain between Razorback and the Spire is where we knew we would get bogged down. Getting down from Razorback involves a couple long rappels, and then we needed to break out the climbing gear for the South Face of the Spire. Even though we had opened up that route a few weeks ago, it still took time to climb the two pitches up to the Spire, and by the time we were scratching our names in the register it was 1:40 o'clock. Somewhere around this time is when I started a conversation with Jon about what are prospects of finishing this epic really were. In my mind, we were only going to continue until it got dark, and if we hadn't finished the peaks by then... well we probably wouldn't finish. Jon was in a different frame of mind, one of we go until we drop from exhaustion. There is definitely something heroic [naive] about pushing on through the dark to reach a goal, and I could tell where he was coming from.

The Low Horns, or as Jon likes to call them, "the Slow Horns" are not terribly difficult, or high, but each one requires either some careful soloing or a short roped pitch up or down.We knocked them down as quick as we could, but it just wasn't quick enough. Low Horn 6.... 2:57pm... Low Horn 5.... 4:24pm... Low Horn 4... 4:53pm... Our daylight hours kept ticking away and we pressed as fast as we could... Low Horn 3....5:20pm... Low Horn 2 .... 5:31pm... Low horn 1.... 5:51. At least the last 3 horns went quickly. But shadows were growing long and we still had the Rabbit Ears to tackle. Exhausted as we were, it looked like it just might be doable, especially if we could just get past the Middle Rabbit Ear which is the hardest of the bunch. If we had been making better time, we would have considered tagging the summit of Gertch, which isn't really a mountaintop, but is an impressive cliff when seen from the west. Absolutely no thoughts of doing that in our fatigued state. Just a waste of effort.

The route from the Low Horns down and over to the Rabbit Ears is not fun, consisting of thick bushwhacking through hostile plants. Oh how nice it would have been if there was an actual trail here! We did have another water cache though, which we took advantage of, stopping and drinking as much as we could. The Low Horns were especially hot and had dehydrated me a bit. We needed every drop of the cached water here. The summit of South Rabbit Ear is just a scramble, and we could even leave our backpacks at the saddle between it and MRE, which felt amazing. Amazing but still exhausting. We tagged SRE at 7:22pm, then made our way down to our hardest climb.

Funny that a 3 pitch 5.7 route would be our hardest climb. That's not really that stout a grade. But in my exhausted state, it was all that I could muster just to get up. I faintly recall my limbs burning as I pulled through the crux moves, and then struggling even more on the easier moves above, which should have been a piece of cake. I was clearly drained, but we topped out just as the sun was going down, just after 9pm. I was so beat that I demanded a rest before we tackled the tricky rappel down to NRE. And I practically fell asleep right there on the windy summit. Night set in. I dozed but soon it was time to get down. We dug out our headlamps and forcefully propelled ourselves down to the tricky rappels off of MRE. To make matters more difficult, the wind was picking up. Actually it was hard to tell if was picking up, or if the narrow gap between MRE and NRE was funneling a normal amount of wind. It didn't really matter though, the wind made communication during the rappels harder, shouting with hoarse voices to be heard over the wind. But make it down we did and the massive NRE loomed in front of us. The last, big obstacle of our assault. It was 10pm. And it was getting stormy.

We debated a bit about whether to head up or not. The storm blowing around us did not make for good conditions for us to complete our traverse. And we were already exhausted. but we were also so close. One more big climb, one more tough rappel, and then the remaining peaks were fairly small. Still tiring, like the Low Horns had been, but small. Then the long bushwhack to Baylor's pass. Actually, the more I thought about it, the more I doubted I could manage. But Jon was willing. The biggest concern though was this storm. If it hadn't been storming about us, we were both willing to press on. But in a storm? Could we handle the remaining challenges in stormy conditions, with high winds and rain? I didn't think so. And Jon reluctantly agreed. But it wasn't raining yet. We decided to go for it, but if it started raining we would reassess and see if we could bail somewhere. Jon took the lead, heading up the Davis route, the easiest, but meandering route up NRE. As he climbed lightning began flashing around us and the winds whipped up even more. He reached the first anchor point just as droplets of water were starting to hit us. He climbed fast and confidently, but the rain was the last straw. Writing now, with so much time elapsed, I honestly can't remember if I even climbed that pitch. I don't think I did. Jon probably set a rappel anchor and cleaned on his way down. And then we were bailing down into Rabbit Ears Canyon. It was past midnight.

Making the decision was both terrible and immensely relieving. We were having to turn away from this long envisioned goal, admit that we didn't quite have what it takes to complete this crazy traverse, and hang our heads in defeat. At the same time, a giant burden was lifted from us, and we seemed to have new energy the lower we got down the rough trail that constitutes the route up and down Rabbit Ears Canyon. In an odd echo, the stormy tension surrounding the Rabbit Ear peaks also lifted as we descended. We didn't get rained on, the winds died down, and the sky cleared up to be a beautiful summer night. We could have pushed forward, the storm was just a feint, a test of our resolve as it were. And our resolve had faltered... so we faltered and stumbled down, down, down. Down the rough trail to the modoc Mine Road. Down the miles of rough jeep trail to the paved Baylor Rd. Trudging one step after another along the paved highway, miles to go until we reached the Baylor Pass trailhead. We stumbled up to my car at 2:38am. And collapsed. The cooler had some cool beers in it though, but even better, was the fried chicken. We slumped to the ground, utterly spent, and looked up at the mountains behind us. They appeared peaceful and quiet. Where would we be if we had continued to push? Would we have already come off of NRE and be in the last final peaks? Would we have gotten by those already too, and be thrashing our way down to Baylor's Pass? Would we be giggling and giddy from exhaustion while trundling ourselves down the Baylor Pass trail? There was no way to know. The one thing that was certain was that if we had pressed onwards, we would still be up there somewhere. Struggling to keep our wits about us as we navigated the treacherous terrain. And we both felt a sadness at that thought. We could have completed this, we were so close. It wasn't meant to be.