Sunday, December 28, 2008

Pena Blanca: Romantic Spy Boulder

Liz took me climbing again, this time we played on a boulder in the Garden area of Pena. There are 5 routes described on the Romantic Spy boulder. I tried 4 of them, and managed to send 3. I spent most of the time working X Spy. This is a short problem that involves finding some beta to get from two holds on either side of a protrusion, to a much higher hold. Right off the bat I could get high feet and would be able to reach the higher hold, but the high feet made the two starting holds very awkward to hold onto, because they are both essentially side pulls. I tried dynos from this position, but they didn't work for me. Eventually, I found a sequence that worked for me which involved a particular foot-work sequence and knee-scum.
Aaron's X Spy Beta:
  1. Grab the two starting holds.
  2. Pull up and get both feet high, basically right at the bottom of the protrusion
  3. Move the right foot over to a hold at the same level but further to the right.
  4. Twist right leg so that the right knee can be pressed into (or near) the right hand. It's almost a knee bar, but more like a knee scum.
  5. Using the knee-scum for some extra balance, reach up with right hand and grab the big hold at the top-right side of the "X".

Liz took all sorts of pictures and video of me working this. For fun, I stitched it into a video to put on our Family Blog. *I forgot that the "hobsonian" is invite only. I'm posting the video here*

The other problem that I spent some time working was Spy v Spy. I couldn't figure this one out. As far as I could get was pressing into an awkward face-smear. Somehow, you can make a big move to a good hold at the lip. My favorite two words, "Next time..."

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Organ Mtns: Barbs Buttress in the Cold

Liz had to do some school-work today so I took the dog and the climbing gear and hiked up into Rabbit Ears Canyon. I wanted to jump on something slabby on Barb's Buttress, so despite the cold wind coming down the canyon and a light dusting of snow visible on the slab, I made right for it. During the winter, this slab gets very little sun, and the wall was still ice-cold when I reached it. The ledges and positive holds were slightly snow covered, appearing almost liked overly chalked up holds. I picked what looked to be one of the easiest routes on a slab to the left of where Scott and I climbed almost a year ago. Since Sasha isn't such a good belay partner, I took out the old Wren Soloist.

Route Description
Name: Un-known. For now let's call it Cruise Control
Length: ~60m. I only got about 30m up which is the height of the corner route directly to its left. The slab appears to extend for another 30 m, with potential crack systems for protection.
Protection: The bottome had nice cracks to protect in. About 40 ft up is a ledge. An option to the left follows some cracks and joins up with the top of the corner route on the left. I chose the option on the right. This one has 10-15 ft slab/face moves between protection. I ended up rapping off a block at 30m because my hands were frozen solid. An interesting note is that the point where I rapped can be reached by scrambling up the gully behind the wall and popping out around onto the face. I was able to retrieve my rappel gear this way.
Rating: Probably a 5.5 with pg13 protection. The upper section looked a little more lichen covered and it was less obvious that there would be protection up there.

Jumping on this route was remiscent of winter climbing. I'd reach up for the next hold and it would have snow on it. My fingers would freeze as I climbed high enough to get my feet up, then I'd get snow on my climbing shoes and they'd feel slick for the next few moves. This wasn't too bad for the start which had good protection, but when I got higher and the protection became scarcer, I wasn't too happy with this situation. Not one to take crazy risks on my soloist, I found a good rappel spot that happenned to be about half a rope length.

Next time: I'd like to climb the corner route which looks like a low-angled off-width. There was also a route marked by a piton in a steep seam just to the left of the corner which looked promising. The start looked cruxy, but the slabs above are what would worry me, because from a distance they do not look very protectable. An option would be to climb a different crack to the left of this and then rappel the route to see if it is protectable.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Day Bouldering: Pena Blanca

Liz and I wanted to go for a hike with the dog, and the hike turned into a bouldering session for me. It's been a while since Liz came bouldering with me and with her as photographer, I actually have a number of decent pictures. We went to the Asian Boulders at Pena Blanca, and I tried some of the steeper lines that I wasn't too bold to try last time without a spotter. I still wasn't too bold on them, but had a good time none-the-less.

Here's me trying a "Annihilator". Lowell rates this V5 with a sit-down start. I didn't try the sit-down start, nor the top-out which looked like small holds over a bad landing. But the middle was fun.

And here's a traverse with Sasha spotting me.

I spent a while on "Asian School Girls", a V7 around the corner. The starting moves were really fun to puzzle out, and involved a diagonal slot which I had to transition from a side-pull to an undercling as I moved up on it. The top of the problem looked like the hard stuff, tiny crimps the rest of the way up.

I flashed the V2 that I did last time I was here. Then after working the other problems, I got back on the V2 for a photo and couldn't send it any more. Bouldering is hard for me like that. When I'm fresh out, I can hit moves relatively easily even without warming up. Once I'm "warm" I can no longer hit the moves. There was nothing terribly pumpy about the V2, it was mostly technical with tricky feet, but I somehow couldn't repeat it.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Tooth: Tooth Fairy for Hannukah

After the marathon rescue a few weeks ago, I was a little surprised that Ben Nadler was ready to go climbing with me again. This time, we chose a crag closer to the Organ Needle, so when the rescue call goes out we would be there already. It was a perfect day, cool and sunny, and perfectly warm. The approach up to the Tooth was a breeze, even with three dogs in tow. Ben brought his heeler-mutts Dyna and Mo so Sasha was in good company. We decided on climbing Tooth Fairy, mainly because it offered quality crack climbing and Ben seems to think cracks are the only thing worth climbing. Ben took the first lead, taking the standard start up the 5.8 crack. He cruised the pitch, even with terrible rope drag. I've done this pitch before, and should have danced up it, but the 5.9 corner crack caused me to hesitate. I racked up for the crux second pitch which also happens to be the most beautiful pitch of the climb. I don't remember this pitch being run-out, or all that difficult, but I was sweating it today. Before launching into the crux slab moves to establish myself into the crack seam, I must have stared at the wall for a good 5 minutes, thinking "how did I do this before". Eventually I gave up trying to remember and just climbed it, and the moves all became apparent as I reached them. When I got into the seam though, I found it difficult to place some gear. The start of the crack is a very shallow "two-finger" crack. I foolishly tried to through in some cams, and all the placements sucked. I wasn't on a good stance and was starting to sweat more as I fiddled with gear. I could throw out the excuse of using Ben's rack which was unfamiliar to me, but really I should have seen that a large wire-stopper would have been easy to place and just thrown one in. In stead, my arms started getting juiced and I labored up the crack, finally reaching the hand-jams and a good rest. A year after first climbing the route, where's my nerve, and climbing sauviness?

Fortunately for me, Ben took the last lead. The last pitch fights past a small oak in a crack, and then claws up some grassy cracks to a Sotol yucca. After the Sotol, there is a beautiful finger crack for the final headwall. when I climbed the route previously, I avoided all this by staying to the right on 5.8 grassy cracks. The direct finish is much better, but also stouter. Again I was glad Ben lead the pitch, he made the finger-crack look easy plugging in all sorts of gear. It took a good deal of my effort just to follow cleanly. Tight finger cracks are something I'll have to work on. Ben gave me a tip later which I'll have to try out. Instead of having your body hang off the finger jams, you can apply body tension using your abs to both help your fingers lock into the crack with less effort, and to cause your feet to press against the wall harder, allowing you to feel more stable on smaller foot-holds. Photo: Ben Nadler on the final pitch's finger crack.

We only had one rope to rappel the route, which works, but you have to rely on some sub-par rappel anchors, like 1/4" bolts and angle pitons.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Climbing-Rescue Double Header

A couple times this week, I got a call from some climber who got my number from Tom Schuster at the City Hall. I finally got around to calling him back and we arranged to climb Sunday. Turns out Ben Nadler is quite a prolific climber, preferring splitter cracks like Indian Creek and the Basalt columns at Smith Rock. He's also climbed Squamish, Argentina and most of the West's more prominent crags. He's been in Cruces for 9 months now and has yet to get into the Organs, so I took him to Southern Comfort wall which has an easy approach and was fairly warm.

We climbed Black Velvet first and I let Ben lead all the good parts. I haven't fdone this route in a while, but it felt like it could be done in a single long pitch if you take the slab finish instead of the roof traverse. Ben had a 70 m rope but we still broke the climb into three pitches and we never climbed past the half-way point. We took a little lunch break and then I led us up DWI. This route was just my style: easy 5.10 moves, just-enough pro where I felt secure, but spread out enough where I had to focus. It starts up a loose slabby face past 3 bolts to a roof. 2 of th 3 bolts are old button-heads. The move stepping up under the roof was thin and committing but once under the roof I could reach some large jugs above and pull up to a good stance. The route then follows up a thin crack until the crack becomes nothing more than a seam which doesn't take any pro. At that point I made a few moves to the right where I gained another crack which would take some gear. This crack petered out too at a small stance with two bolts (one new one old). Above this bolt looked pretty blank as far as protection was concerned but I could make out a series of face holds which looked pretty good. I followed these up and slightly to the right where it looked like there might be some pro in some diagonal slashes. Turns out there weren't any placements there, but there were some decent rest-stances and I was able to finish up the route with only a marginal small wire for protection during the last 20 ft. Looking at Mountain Project now, it appears I should have gone left at the last bolt and into a small crack system. Next time.

Ben Nadler rappelling DWI

It was about 2 O'clock but Ben wanted to get back into town early so we called it a day and hiked out to the car. While driving down the Topp Hut road, Ben gets a call on his cell-phone from Liz. That made me a little worried, Liz wouldn't normally call a climbing partners phone while we were out unless it was something important. Ben handed me the phone and Liz tells me that there is a rescue Mission call-out and the meeting point is at La Cueva. Convenient that we were already out there. We head over and are one of the first OMTRS members to arrive. The State Police tell us that a 57 year old lady has fallen on the Organ needle trail, somewhere between a formation called "Yellow Rocks" and a saddle commonly known as "Juniper Saddle, which is about 2/3 to the top. Ben has some experience doing rescue missions and decides that helping us out is more important than his previous plans. We gear up for the mission and OMTRS members arrive at the start of the Modoc Mine rd. Ben, John, Grady James and I are assigned to the first team and we're the first to start up as people are trickling in. I guess this is pretty standard procedure for a mission where the subjects' location is pretty well known. A "Hasty team" sets off first carrying only emergency medical equipment and patient care packages. Their goal is to get to the injured subject as quickly as possible, start first aid if necessary and assess what additional rescue equipment will be needed to get the subject out. The rest of the teams bring up the heavy rescue gear as needed. It is about 3:30 when we head out. I am carrying a large but light pack of first aid supplies, neck-braces and warm blankets and pads. It takes us about an hour to reach the subject who was at a steep section of the trail underneath a large riolite rock formation commonly known as "The Grey Eminence". She looked bad, very pale and with dried blood all over her head. Her friend Ilene was with her and was trying to keep her warm. Ilene had gotten the call out around 2 O'clock, and they had been there for over two hours when we arrived and it was starting to get cold. The subject, Trudy, was in no condition to walk. She had sever gashes on here head, had suffered a concussion and injured her shoulder, all from a simple fall on one of the more treacherous sections of the trail.

What happened next blurs together somewhat, as dozens of people arrive and the team is mobilized to extract Trudy on a litter. John and Ben start first aid immediately and get Trudy more comfortable and warm as night falls. By 6 O'clock Trudy has been packaged up on the litter and various teams are scrambling below setting up rappel anchors to help get her down. The kind of extraction we were faced with is called Medium-Angle by experienced rescuers. This means that it is steep enough to make simply carrying of the litter extremely hazardous, but we are still able to walk/scramble down the trail. To mitigate the hazards, anchors are used to belay the litter down. The team has a humongous (and heavy) 100 m static rope which is attached to the litter to belay it down. The litter-carriers can then hang onto the litter and pull against the rope, which puts most of the weight of the subject on the rope. It's very similar to rappelling from a rock-climb, where you sit back and let your weight hang on the rope as you control your descent. The scale is much larger though, as the litter and six litter carriers can put a lot of weight on the system. Teams of people are furiously working below to make sure anchors are set up. Once the bottom of the rope is reached, a team of people quickly gather up the rope so it can be used below, and remove all the anchors above so that the webbing can be used below for the next a series of anchors. Medium-angle extraction requires a massive amount of coordination and effort. We had over 20 rescuers from both OMTRS and Mesilla Valley Search and Rescue helping and it took about 4.5 hours to get Trudy down the medium angle parts of the trail, as far as the "Yellow Rocks". We stopped here to allow the medics to start an IV and get Trudy full of fluids. We also tried to find a spot where a helicopter could land. From yellow-rocks to the top of Modoc mine rd, we carried Trudy out using the litter's wheel attachment to roll her on the trail. The end of the Modoc mine rd was our best bet for a helicopter landing spot, we reached it at 11pm. A helicopter was sent out from one of the hospitals and we cleared the landing zone and were ready to transfer her over, but the winds and terrain were too much for the pilot and they weren't able to land. We ended up loading Trudy into one of the team members vehicles, a tricked out Hum-Vee. Trudy was down to the main road and in an ambulance by midnight.

It's hard to briefly convey the amount of activity and effort that went into the rescue. We were fully mobilized for over 6 hours. We were a swarm of rescuers, head-lights bobbing up and down the mountain side. Everyone looking out for everyone else, and looking for ways that they can do the most good. At some points it was chaotic. Gear was being shuffled up and down the mountain side. One medic bag was carried up and down the trail twice due to communication misunderstandings. It wasn't uncommon for rescuers to be seen sliding down parts of the trail themselves, cursing and flailing. Collectively we must have carried out half of the habitats cactus thorns. But in the end we were a happy crew. We got Trudy out safely in the biggest mission that we've seen this year. We were tired, and sore, but content in a way that sustains volunteer organizations like ours.

Now, two days later the Organs have finally been dusted by snow, beautiful and rugged as ever.

Special thanks to Ilana, Kurt and Alden. I just got the new back-pack you sent me for my birthday and Sunday was it's first day out. That is an awesome pack, and the pefect size for climbing in the Organs and rescue missions. Thanks!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Pena Blanca: Asian Boulder

I really wanted to get out, so after finishing some painting for Liz, Sasha and I drove out to Pena Blanca for a bit of bouldering. I warmed up on the Smith family Boulders. The rubber on my "new" Katana climbing shoes is worn through at the toe and is starting to be a hindrance. So much for having high-performance shoes. I think I trashed them while scuffing up on slab routes.

I checked out some boulders I hadn't been to before, all the way around to the east side of the rock formations. The first boulder with good problems turned out to be a boulder called "The Jewell. On the SW corner of the bolder is a nice hollow with a perfectly formed hold, what appears to be two giant testicles dangling. They are large enough where they need to be palmed and require some decent body tension to pull the first moves. I flashed the exit to the right starting from these holds which according to a local's website is a V1. I also flashed the problem on the SE corner another V1 called Bling Bling. The slabby face looked fun but I wasn't in the mood.

Slightly further up the hill is a large boulder with some wild looking problems. I took one of the shorter ones which started in a narrow cleft between two boulders. It is a short problem but satisfyingly tricky. The starting holds are poor sidepulls. Once on the wall, I needed to do a balancy move to reach a high right hand side-pull. Once on this, I took several attempts to work out some foot-work which got me high enough to go for the top lip of the boulder. A stronger climber could probably hit the top all static, but for me it was a smooth dyno, the kind that you're surprised to actually stick. In faact, I'm not sure I was even gripping hard when I stuck the dyno and remember thinking to myself, "I should be falling, because I'm not gripping". After getting over this shock, I mantled up and was elated. Lowell rates this as V2 and doesn't even give it a name, but it felt like a triumph to me.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Rough and Readies: Putting up a new line of bolts

I have climbed things that felt like First Ascents before, top-roped choss piles that surely had never been climbed, and even led obscure little cliffs, but never had I installed a line of hardware and made a permanent mark on a rock saying, "this is my route". That is, not until today. Truth be told, it was not really my route, but Bob Almond's. When we were out last week-end Bob took a fancy to a face to the left of some 5.11s. Bob has an eye for sport routes, and was involved in many first ascents in Potrero Chico down in Mexico. I guess the itch to bolt rock returned, and Bob called me up to see if I was interested in helping him equip the route. It was also convenient that I had bolts and hangers.

We warmed up on Windy Gap Overlook, the first climb one reaches upon getting to the crag and a pretty soft 5.9. What sets it apart from most of the climbs at the Rough and Readies is that it typically requires a piece of trad protection between the first and 2nd bolts. The climbing between these bolts is easier, maybe only 5.6, but you are definitely in groundfall territory by the time you get to the second bolts, and there are good placements for wires, cams or whatever it is you like to use. I lead the route and Bob cleaned and we were ready to get down to business.

The first challenge for our new route was to set up a top-rope. We had two basic options, scramble sround to the top and lower down off of something, or lead up one of the athletic 5.11s next to the new route. Ego dictated that we lead up one of the 5.11s, we were putting up a new route after-all and had to prove ourselves. I got the sharp end for the route, Well-disciplined Monkey, which starts off extremely overhung and pulls a crux at the lip of the overhanging section. I had tried this climb once before a couple years back and the crux chewed me out. It was no different today. After making the strenous clip on the thir bolt a flailed trying to get past the lip of the overhang, making desparate grabs at poor holds and acocmplishing nothing more than muscle fatigue. Not making progress is humbling, so I had Bob lower me and handed over the sharp end to him. Bob climbed the route with intelligence. When he got to the third bolt crux, he had me tack up slack and took a nice rest. Then he tackled the crux with style and finished up the route.

The new line we equipped shares anchors with "Well Disciplined Monkey", so Bob set a top-rope over the climb and rapped down it placing directionals where-ever possible. He was able to find quite a few placements and it almost looked like you could lead the climb on trad gear, but then, a lot of the Rough and Readies climbs could probably be led by stuffing small cams in the finger pockets. Not only would this remove the best holds from the climbs, but the placements would be un-trustworthy due to the nature of the rock. So despite having placements almost the entire length of the route, we chalked out placements for bolts on top-rope, and cleaned off as much of the loose rock as we could. Bob made short work of bolting the route using is 30 volt hilti cordless hammer drill. Five shiny new bolts lead up out of a rotten crack and traverse out on the steep face and up to the anchors. The bolts are Fixe 3/8"x3.5" at of standard zinc plated steel.
Bob top-roping the route, cleaning loose rock etc.. notice the ample gear placements>>

The route climbed well, although, after leading it we both found some criticisms for how we bolted it. The 1st bolt is fairly high, the second bolt is very difficult to clip, after clipping the forth bolt the rope naturally gets stuck behind a flake and needs to flipped out. Hopefully others will judge our work more favorably, but we were both happy with the climb. Bob named it "Riding Rough on Helen Reddy". Clever, if you know Helen Reddy is, but I didn't. Apparently some famous singer...

Bob leading the route on our shiny new bolts>>

We celebrated the new climb with a pint and burger at high Desert. If first ascents are always like this, than I'm sure we'll be doing more.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Rough and Readies

Bob Almond, Ross Allen and I headed over to the Rough and Readies after an OMTRS trash pick-up in the morning. I haven't been out to the R&Rs for quite some time (since February?) and was pretty sure that the sporty climbs would humble me. We came prepared for cold, as the cliff gets shade all afternoon, but it was actually quite mild and pleasant. I started off our session on Halitosis Monkey, 5.10c. Its a short 5.10 only 3 bolts long, and I figured that even if I pump out quickly I could get through it. Bob flashed up it next and then Ross spent some time working out the crux moves. His height allowed him to reach holds differently than Bob and I had, but he struggled at the crux.

Ross lead up the nearby 5.8 First Move. he claims to not have a very good lead head but he looked comfortable to me. Instead of following him up, I pulled the rope down and led up the short 5.10 between First Move and Halitosis, a little route put up by Scot Jones called Little Brangus. This is another "easy" 5.10 but what makes it exciting is that a fair amount of the holds on the climb are suspect. The clipping hold for the first bolt is a funky chock that looks like it could pop right out on you. Bob cleaned the route.

To my dismay, a small swarm of Bees was attracted to Sashas water dish. I was hoping that the cold weather would have put them into hibernation, but they were still out. Sasha snapped at them, and they got into our boots and chalk-bags, but otherwise were not too much a nuisance. Unfortunatly, their nest underneath Blood Sweat and Steers is still active and none of us were brave enough to hop on one of the routes in that area with the buzzing emanating from the hive.

Instead, Bob hopped on The Paw. He had previously worked out a sequence for the top section that avoids going into the crack on the left. However, on lead, he couldn't remember the sequence. I gave it a shot and wasn't much better. Even Ross with his extra reach couldn't puzzle it out. Eventually, Bob re-worked it out on TR. The key is to grap a small hold at the bottom of a right-handed side pull, but grab it with the left hand. This is not a natural hand to grab the hold with, ut after you work your feet up you can rock up and make the reach to the tiny right-hand crimp under the chains. Its a devious move.

Our last climb was on the way out, on the oddly technical Southern Fried. I had worked this route out previously with Scott and led it. The crux has an awkward clipping hold, then a funny heel-hook traverse to gain the big holds on the left arete and get up to the chains. Even after pulling the crux, I was having a hard time clipping the chains, because the clipping holds under the chains are overhanging and require some decent arm strength. I ended up at a stance a body-length away to the left awkwardly groping out to clip the chains. While we were climbing this last route, another group of climbers was on the North End routes. One of those climbers, Tanner, is an OMTRS member and we chatted a bit on the way down. They had a puppy with them which Sasha was having fun knocking over.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

OMTRS: Overnight on Organ Needle

The Organ Needle was assaulted this weekend, with close to 50 people reaching its summit. Not only did the rescue team bring a large crew up there to spend the night, but the annual WSTF hike also brought a dozen or more folks up to the top. The trail is well beat-down right now, all the late summer growth being beaten back by the onslaught of hikers. Some folks who had never been able to surmount the short technical section of the hike were able to summit for the first time thanks to OMTRS volunteers fixing lines and coaxing people up and down the exposed climbing.

I took advantage of the swarms of hikers and climbers by fishing for tunas; I posted an invitation to the OMTRS email list for climbers interested in doing technical routes on the peaks. I got three bites; Ashley, Bruce and Josie. Between the four of us, we carried two racks and two ropes and set out for the NW ridge of Organ needle. The rough plan was to climb this route and meet up with the rest of the team on the summit. They were then planning on descedning the west ridge and exploring Little Squaretop and the peaks beyond. The one flaw in the plan is that we all had heavy packs and not all of us were used to the additional weight of warm clothes, sleeping gear and climbing gear. Bruce and Ashley fell behind under the weight of their packs, and we didn't end up seeing them until the reached the summit around 4pm. Josie and I however made good time and reached the saddle between Organ Needle and Little Squaretop ahead of all the hikers. We dropped our packs and got ready to climb.

The descrition of the NW ridge from Ingraham's guide is very short (I've since posted on for a bit more detail). It describes the route in a single sentance, "... steep, narrow, rather holdless, unprovided with piton cracks, and not altogether solid in its first half." This along with the vague rating of "medium 5th class" had me slightly anxious. We looked up at the NW ridge headwall and it matched the description perfectly. The wall was steep enough and exposed enough where I wouldn't dream of climbing it without some decent protection, but there were no visible cracks or blocks which could provide that protection. I geared up anyways and Josie belayed me up to its base for a better look, and still I couldn't read the route. from what I could see, it could be 5.6 or 5.9, and it was quite possible that it didn't have any protection for large sections of it, making a ground-fall possible. Off to the left was a brush filled crack which meandered off around a corner. I was hopeful that this would provide a protectable alternative to the arete, but on closer inspection it didn't look any better. Turning around and looking for another route wasn't a favorable option so I started climbing up the arete proper. I could see a rest stance 15ft up on the arete where I could place some gear. It was the next 45 ft which worried me, which appeared steeper and without any protection. I reached the small ledge and placed two pieces of protection, thinking they might be my last. From this stance though, I could see some better holds camoflauged among lichens. Another 10 ft up the arete and there was a small black which accepted a small wire behind it. 8 ft further and another small block, this time a pink tricam could be slotted behind it. I was exhilerated. Here I was on the narrow edge of the arete, with hundreds of feet of air below me on the right, but the fear was wiped away by finding solid holds and decent protection. I practically danced my way up the arete. From my belay stance, I could see the first hikers to gain the summit and waved happily to them. I belayed Josie up and we made short work of the two 3rd class pitches to the summit where we were greated as intrepid adventurers by the WSTF hikers.

We relaxed on the summit waiting for the OMTRS crew. The WSTF hikers eventually departed, but the only OMTRS folks to reach the summit were Grady and John (not counting OMTRS/WSTF crossovers like Bob Cort and Mitchel). To kill some time, Josie and I climbed up a small summit next to the Organ needle which might be called Buzzards Peak. I lead up a short 20m corner which was about 5.7. John joined us on the summit and anopther OMTRS climber, Josh decided to climb our rope as well. Both John and Josh climbed in mountain boots and did a superb job. The summit was a broad boulder spot, with great views of Minervas Temple to the north and a nice look at the steep eastern face of Little Squaretop. We found a piton to rappel off just as the rest of the OMTRS crew was arriving.

By this time it was close to 4pm and it was not looking likely that any OMTRS expedition over to the Little Squaretop peaks would occur this day. However, Josie and I had left our packs down on the saddle below, so we decided to descend our route with some ascenders and climb back up with out packs. Grady and Josh accompanied us down the ridge. We traveled on a rope down the two 3rd class pitches and made a rappel off of a black at the top of the NW ridge head-wall. My 60m rope was just short of reaching the ledge at the bottom of the wall, requiring a small amount of down-climbing. Grady also came down, but he fixed the ropes and offset them so that he could descend and ascend on a single line and the rope was long enough to reach the ledge. I scrambled down to our packs and we got ready to ascend the ropes.

A note here on the packs: Josie's pack was heavy. I didn't notice how heavy it was during our hike up, because she hiked swiftly with it, and barely had a word of complaint. There was one section of our approach though that required a few climbing moves and I offered to help lift her pack up the section from above. She unstrapped and passed it to me and I gasped under its weight. I could barely lift it up by its handle. We later learned that she was carrying over 10 liters of water, on top of her climbing gear, sleeping gear, cooking gear etc.. My pack on the other hand was like a feather. Yes, I had a rack and rope, and 5 liters of water for my weekend, but I didn't have cooking gear, and barely had any extra warm clothes.

Grady chivalrously offered to take her pack up the fixed rope, and it was possibly the slowest ascent of a fixed rope I had ever seen. I on the other hand opted for a belay from above and re-climbed the route with a pack and approach boots. It was nice to go over the holds again, and recall the anxiety I had held earlier about the route. Now the holds seemed obvious and plenty. Even without climbing shoes and with the weight of a pack, the route felt easy. When I reached the top of the pitch, we re-distributed some of the weight from Josie's pack into my bag and a small day-sack that Grady had, and climbed the 3rd class pitches alpine style.

We had stunning weather for our night on the summit. The famously windy summit was calm and still, the sky was bright and starry and we had a cosy camp-fire to sit around and exchange climbing stories. The hike up had taken a lot out of most of the team, but there was still talk of exploring Little Squaretop the next day. Josie used her abundant water to make hot drinks for everyone and we all found cozy little niches to lay down our sleeping gear and bed in for the night.

Morning dawned and Josh and I were already up and about. the rest of the team took a more leisurely pace to getting out of their bags, waiting for the sun to start warming them before venturing out. The team decided we'd descend via the normal route through Dark Canyon and drop our packs at the bottom of Dark Canyon to go explore Litle Squaretop. This time, Josie and I could act as guides, at least as far as the saddle. Grady, John, Elly, Josh, Bruce and Ashley all hiked over to the saddle. Progress was fairly slow though and Josie and I were out ahead again. Since we had a rope and gear, we decided to start up a nice looking crack on the South Ridge of Little Squaretop Massif while the rest of the crew was coming up. This way we'd have a good view of them as the scrambled up the main gully.

I was half-way up the crack when the rest of the crew arrived at the saddle. Instead of everyone heading into the gully, Grady was leading a party of climbers up after us. Bruce and Ashley followed him and found the first pitch up to a large ledge challenging. By the time they were all gathered on the ledge, I was at the top of the crack and belaying Josie up. I guess some spirited debate was occurring down there over whether to continue or not. Josie was at the top of the pitch and we were all set to continue up to the summit, but both of us depended on getting rides from the climbers down below, and were a little nervous about getting split up. Eventually, they shouted up to us that they were all heading back down, but that we should continue to the summit. We were assured that someone would wait for us by the cars.

What else could we do, we gunned for the summit. We were presently on top of a broad shoulder off the southern ridge to the summit. I wanted to stay directly on the ridge, but to do so required a bouldery move up a steep headwall. After some close inspection, I decided to look around the corner to see if an easier scramble to the top was available and we ended up mking a long exposed traverse along the west side of the ridge. Almost a full rope length of traverse lead to a nice belay spot in a niche just to the right of a smooth slab with a splitter finger crack slicing up it. Again, I wasn't feeling confident about tackling what appeared to be a 5.10 crack, so I found an alternate route to the top, via some wide chimneys. This crack though would make an excellent two-pitch climb to the summit, and I'll have to give it a go next time around.

We relaxed a bit on the summit. I couldn't find any summit register, or any fixed rappel gear but there appeared to be some sort of 4rth class down climb off the North East side. The problem with this descent was that it would put us in a steep gully on the east side and we might have to do some technical climbing to get back up onto the West side. A little more searching on the North West side of the peak yielded a tight passage under a large boulder which descended to a ledge with a short rappel directly down to the saddle between LIttle Squaretop and Little Squaretop Massif.

We rapped to the saddle and then turned our attention to the summit of Little Squaretop. It was realy close and the scramble to the top looked very easy, but both of us were concerned for time. The responsible thing was to head straight down. We looked up at the peak, and then at eachother and decided not to be responsible. The climb up to the summit of Little Squaretop was as easy as it looked. The summit was actually a single boulder with a spine-like ridge. The two of use only just barely could sit on top. From up here, we could see that getting to Squaretop was out of the question. At least one rappel and probably some roped travel would be required to navigate the ridge between us and that peak. 15 ft bekow the summit of Little Squaretop was a small cairn and summit register. This one is similar to other Organ Mtn registers. Very few entries and poor condition writing material. We managed to scribble our names onto a blank spot on a page.

The descent went pretty quickly. We barge straight down the main gully until we were stopped by some short slabs. We ended up rapping one of these slabs, but once down saw a way that they could be surmounted via 3rd class climbing. By the time we were on the saddle between Organ Needle and Little Squaretop we got our first view of our comarades on the descent. They had just reached Juniper Saddle and were resting. Either we were making extremely good time, or they were making poor time. Probably a little of both. We ended up catching up with them under the grey eminence and joined them for the last bit of the descent.

As usual, more complete route descriptions can be found at

Monday, October 13, 2008

Middle and South Rabbit Ear Peaks in one day

I'm starting to get a bad habit: I see a climbing route that looks fun. I jump on it. The climbing starts to get hard. I panic. I fall. I lose my confidence and bail on the route. I tell myself it is 5.10 climbing. I go climb a 5.6. This is how the climbing day started out. Ross and I hike dup the Rabbit Ears canyon with no real route in mind. Once we got close to the Middle Rabbit Ear, I spied a few bolts heading up a fairly steep face. Above this face are improbably looking overhangs, and I should have taken a cue from those and set my sights somewhere else. but what's the fun in that? I rope up and tackle the route:

The start seems ok, a short corner where I clip a good bolt. Past the bolt is a delicate move to the left to gain a shallow crack system. I place a good wire and blue TCU in the crack system. More delicate moves are pass the crack but I still feel pretty good. I get 5 ft past my pro and gain a stance where I can clip the second bolt. The moves above this bolt are thin, and I take few false starts trying to decide on a sequence. Eventually, I commit to doing a hard sidepull on a shallow corner. I get high enough and reach up to what I hope is a good hold in a shallow crack, but turns out to be not that great. I'm about 10 ft past my bolt (CG speaking) and starting to not feel so good. I know what I need to do, make a smear with my feet and continue side-pulling on the shallow crack until I can gain a stance (and hopefully pro) but I can't make myself do it. I start cursing, and then shout "falling". Ross catches me all the way below my wired-stopper, about a 25 ft fall. My knee is alittle banged up and my arm is scraped, but I'm otherwise ok. I decide I don't want to try again though, and clean my gear and bail off the high bolt. Ross top-ropes up to the bolt and makes it look easy. My climbing esteem is pretty low.

Ross doesn't lead trad yet, so I get to pick the route we do next. I pick the easiest closest route to where we are, which is the Normal Route on the Middle Rabbit Ear. The route is fun, but it's not much. There was really only two pitches of climbing, and considering we hiked a considerable distance to get up here, it didn't leave us totally fulfilled. There were supposedly some harder variation finishes that I thought we would give a shot, but as soon as I got close to them, I balked. The one variation that looked do-able to my ego-weakened state had ants coming out of the holds.

Ross down-climbing to the bottom of the 3rd pitch.>>

At the summit, there still isn't a working pen at the register. the last entry is from June 2007 when Scott and I climbed the West Face route. Fortunately, I had a pen with me, so we sign the register and leave the pen. The register needs to be replaced badly. The PVC tube is not water tight and the pages are molding. I know those pages are only a year old too, because I left them there. Once agian I vow to bring a new register on my next summit bid.

After we rappel down to our packs, I'm starting to feel like we need to do something else before hiking out, so I suggest we run up an easy route on the South Rabbit Ear. After checking to make sure he has his head-lamp, Ross is game. I shed part of my rack and we strike off up the West Ridge of the South Rabbit Ear. We make short work of the route and I'm starting to feel better. Two technical summits in a day is pretty good. And an idea occurs to me: Both the North and middle Rabbit Ears have descent routes on the south, there is a very logical link-up which could summit all three rabbit ears.

The sun has set by the time we get down the steep gully underneath the peaks and we have to use head-lamps all the way out Rabbit Ears Canyon. Once we hit the Topp Hut road, a big moon rises over the rocks we were just at the top of, and the rest of the walk is casual and relaxed.

Another great day out in the Organs.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

OMTRS: Achenbach canyon

The rescue team had a huge turn-out for the high angle training at Achenbach canyon waterfall. So many people, a lot of them new, and it was not uncommon to see people with nothing to do, waiting their turn to learn rescue rigging techniques. Fortunately for them, I brought a top-rope. The cliff underneath the waterfall is crumbly igneous stuff. After knocking off the worst of the loose blocks, we had a decent top-rope with a 5.5 route and a 5.7 route. The crux moves were getting around a large hedge-hog catcus.

I didn't actually get much training in myself, but on a whim, I jumped into the litter to see what it feels like to get lifted up. The waterfall was dripping so I got cold and wet. I also learned that even though the patient is protected by a metal cage, he can still feel rocks poking into his back. The litter rigging looks pretty complicated, but is actually pretty straight-forward. The team has a fancy litter with color coded straps so as to help you remember which ones go where. Even after all the straps are in place, the patient is tied directly to the ropes as a double-back-up (in case he falls out of the litter!). I mistakenly made this tie-in too short. While going up in the horizontal position, this wasn't a problem, but as soon as they tipped the litter vertical, the haul-line pulled me directly from the harness instead of pulling the litter. Very un-pleasant.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Southern Comfort Wall: Rain melts away ego

I was really looking forward to climbing with Bob Almond today. I had climbed with Bob before, as part of OMTRS groups, but never just the two of us. He is a strong, cautious climber, with a strong sense of adventure, and he has an inexhaustible store of climbing tales. We met at our house for breakfast of grated zucchini omelets, then struck out for the Organs. Clouds were rolling in, and I vaguely remember waking up at 5am to the sound of rain, but we ignored these signs and kept on going.

The approach was cold, beckoning autumn. It was windy and misty and I hadn't brought warm clothes figuring that we'd have the typical sunny New Mexico days I've grown accustomed to. By the time we got to the wall, two clouds had allready passed around us, leaving a fine dew on every surface. Oh, and there was thunder and lightening nearby. Somehow though, one of the climbs looked dry enough to jump on. The alcove on the far western end was protected from the winds and rain. I had climbed this route with Scott Jones a while back, so Bob got the lead. By default, he would also get the piece of booty high up on the route, a yellow runner.

As Bob ascended, it got colder. I was shivering pretty steadily, and even Sasha was looking pretty miserable pawing at the damp earth for a dry spot to curl up. By the time Bob was near the crux, it began to rain on us. But instead of just a fine mist like the previous cloud crossings, the rain grew steadily in volume, until the entire slab was dripping. Luckily, Bob had just reached the booty, which provided a perfect bail out spot. The moves past the booty/bolt were the crux slab moves, and at first I was incredulous as it looked like Bob was going to try to surmount this spot in wet and freezing conditions. Good sense got the better of him, and he bailed, cleaning on the way down so i wouldn't have to subject myself to the wet route.

By the time we had packed up the rain had stopped, but more clouds were on the way. We thought about walking back to the car, and getting hot-chocolate. But our curiosity got the best of us and we ended up hiking up to the Lesser Spire to check out the big chimneys and offwidths which grace the northwest side of the tower. The chimney route didn't look to bad, and even had a bolt before a crux-looking spot. The offwidth looked hard and also sported an old 1/4" bolt before the crux section. When we get bigger gear or bigger balls, we'll be back.

Sasha was getting pretty beat-up by all the scrambling. She also had her first close encounter with a rattler. despite all our yelling, and me leading her around the snake, she managed to back-track right over it. Luckily the snake was pretty cold and sluggish and was happy to sit quiet while clueless Sasha stepped right over it. Today she's lucky, but I worry about her snake-sense.

We got back to our packs stowed on the west end of Southern Comfort wall and it was finally sunny without clouds in sight. However, the wall was still pretty wet so we started heading down. On our way down we passed by a short headwall a little to the north of the main Southern Comfort wall. This short headwall has two obvious routes, a 5.10 crack and 5.11 overhanging roof system. The wall was getting full sun and appeared dry, so we decided to try the routes out. We opted for the 5.11 first because it was drier. Neither of us felt up for leading it though, so I scrambled around to the top where I found a pair of bolts (one 1/4" one 3/8") for top-rope anchors. The climb was burly. It starts with 20 ft of moderate crack face climbing up to the first roof. Strenuous lay-backing gets around the corner to a decent stance and then more strenuous lay-backs get around the next corner, where your left to haul yourself up jugs to the top (total length ~20m). The moves were all straight-forward, but neither Bob or I could send. We repeatedly flamed out getting around the lay-back corners.

After burning ourselves on the 5.11, I foolishly though I could lead the 5.10 crack. It looked simple and short. The inital 15 ft of climbing was steep hands/fingers to a rest. than another 10ft crux past steep fingers lead to easy climbing to the top. Almost a high-ball boulder problem. I got 5 ft off the ground and placed a cam while hanging off a hand-jam. Then I got another five feet up and had my hands on the jugs which would let me gain the rest-stance. but I couldn't pull up. My arms were lead, and I panicked and grabbed the cam, and took a short and awkward swing-fall managing to skin my fingers pretty badly. Utterly deflated we called it quits.

This day left me wanting more, but also feeling like I lack the strength and resolve I once had. I am attempting to train at home, but it's not too serious and I am skeptical about the results. My goal is to do 30minutes of "climbing training" at least four times a week for a month. This can entail hang-board work-outs, pull-ups, core body exercises, whatever. I just want to get my arms used to holdiong my weight again for extended periods of time. I'm hopung that by the end of the month, I'll be able to hang for a little longer on jugs, and won't pump out after a mere 30 seconds of effort. I'm dangling a carrot in front of myself too, if I complete this training regime, I'll splurge on a new cam, a #2 camelot or equivalent (a serious hole in my rack).

Bob and I will be back soon, and have our glorious reprise of these routes.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Sugarloaf: Flea Tree Dihedral

Sugarloaf has a special appeal to Las Cruces climbers, it's uninterrupted North face stands out from all the jagged Organ peaks. Once again I found myself heading back to Sugarloaf to roam the expansive slabs. This time, with a fellow co-worker and OMTRS member, Ross Allen. Ross is at WSTF as part of an internship with NASA. I hadn't met him until an OMTRS event for some reason. Once I realized we'd both have the same off fridays, I invited him climbing. He was gung-ho about doing Sugarloaf, even though he's never climbed trad, and never done multi-pitch. I figure, he's frsh tuna I can exploit to do some new routes. So off we go.

I end up picking the Flea Tree Dihedral because it is shorter (only 6 pitches) and has easier route finding. That pretty much sums up the climbing on this route as compared to the other routes on Sugarloaf. To make things a little more interesting, I only brought five cams and relied on wires and tri-cams for most of the routes protection. This saved a lot of weight, and I rarely missed having the cams. I'd say that for most "moderate" Organ mountains routes, a light rack will suffice.

Route Description
P1: 60m of 4th and easy 5th class scrambling. I ended up belaying in a corner above a tattered poot sling which was cleverly threaded through a hole in a granite shelf. Easier scrambling looks possible more the the west where a broad ledge sports a couple trees.
P2: Another 60m of low fifth class climbing put me 15 ft below a two bolt anchor. Above the anchor is a sloping ledge and then the crux head-wall.
P3: At the far right end of the sloping ledge is a vertical head-wall. Hand cracks and good holds surmount the headwall (5.7) and an additional 60ft of 5.7 climbing gains a spacious alcove for a belay spot. To the left of the initial 5.7 crack is a very clean and appealing finger crack which slices up a smooth and steep slab. I'll ahve to look into this harder variation another day.
P4: Continue up the brush filled corner system with easier climbing. Off to the left, the steep face looks like it could offer a more challenging variation. A full 60 meters put me 25 ft short of the "Flea Tree" on a nice ledge.
P5: A few slabby 5.6 moves are required and then climb past the flea-tree to a final headwall. We climbed the head-wall direct, which felt 5.8 and was fairly exiting on lead as the pro is at the bottom of the headwall (which is 5 ft high). An easier exit to the right exists.
P6: 4th class to the top (only about 30 m). You end up on the summit close to the descent ridge.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A quickie at Cueva

It's been a long time since I've done any real climbing. So after one of the OMTRS technical training days at La Cueva, I harnessed the enthusiasm of three team members to stick around and climb some routes. For one of the team members, it was his first outdoor climbing experience and he was totally psyched, even though the route was a little crumbly, had awkward position in a chimney, and he had to borrow my climbing shoes which didn't fit all that well. none the less, he was stoked. It turns out all three of the climbers work out on NASA rd and one of them even is in the Propulsion department with me.

We only had time to get in one route, the chimney I dubbed Backscratcher.But it felt good to rope up again, and show people some climbing basics. Hopefully, I can make climbing at Cueva a regular event.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

East Slabs of Sugarloaf: A climbers Civic Duty

My second trip to these impressive slabs, but this time I brought my rope-soloing gear, and something else: In a response to my posting on, a climber mentioned that many of the old bolts on this slab needed replacing. I happen to have three bolts that were left to me by Charlie Cundiff, a former Las Cruces hard-man and excellent adventurer. My goal was to climb the route mentioned in the on-line post and replace some of the bolts.

This was my first multi-pitched rope-solo, and one of the great joys I found about this technique is the opportunity to climb each pitch twice. The first pitch I led by meandering in from the left where there was good protection, and then past the first (and only) bolt I meandered to the right where I found a little more protection before zagging back to the left to the anchors. I hung my pack at the anchor, rappelled down and cleaned my gear, but now on top-rope, I didn't hesitate to climb directly up to my pack. >>

The second pitch I also meandered to the right, looking for protection. I probably strayed too far because I ended up at the belay for the next route over. Directly to my left about 30ft was the anchor I was supposed to be heading for, but I hadn't seen any protection that direction. No matter, I set my anchor and traversed over to the "right" anchor before rappelling down. The correct route it turns out is almost un-protecable. There was a single old button-head bolt about 60ft below the anchor, and 80 ft above the lower anchor. And that was it. The second anchor also had old and suspicous looking bolts, one of which had a piece of aluminum angle for a hanger. I rummaged through my ruck-sack, and pulled out the tools I thought I needed to replace a bolt: crow-bar, hammer, a pair of pitons of different widths.

The basic premise is to wedge the pitons under the bolt until it starts coming out. At which point try to pry it out the rest of the way. I spent a good half hour on my first try, hammering those pitons in from every angle and trying in vain to use my little crowbar. I managed to get the bolt out about 1/2", but at that point I was ready to give up. One other tool I'll need to look into is a "funk-ness" device. This is basically a stout metal wire that you attach to your hammer and the bolt, and then swing the hammer out to put force on the bolt. I tried this with some cord I had, but the cord was too elastic to be effective. Eventually I simply whacked the head of the bolt off. This done, I spent another 1/2hr drilling a new hole and installing my new bolt. It is now wonder why climbers do not do this often, it is hot, sweaty and tiresome work, and takes up lots of your climbing day. But on a pitch with only a single bolt for protection, why take chances on an old button-head? I finally finished climbing up the pitch to the anchor, where I set to work on the bolt with the aluminum hanger (shown above). This one went faster because the aluminum was soft enough where the hanger yielded around the head of the bolt (note to self, avoid aluminum hangers) and once the hanger was off, I pounded the button-head in until it was flush with the rock and drilled my new bolt.

As you can see, I didn't replace the old 1/4" stud. I was starting to worry about time, and the anchor now has one good bolt, so it's that much safer.

The third pitch wasn't all that great, but the fourth pitch was beautiful: a pair of splitter cracks surmounting a 10 ft head-wall. I led up the right hand one, ~5.8, set my anchor and enjoyed the left-hand crack on top-rope. The left-hand being the harder of the two, involved a thin finger/finger tips crack in a right facing corner. It only lasted for about two strenuous moves, but they were a nice challenge compared to the rest of the climb, probably weighing in around 5.9.

Overall I made four pitches feel like 8 pitches of climbing (finishing of the last pitch solo, easy slab) and was exhausted. More about the climb at . More about my exhaustion at The Hobsonian.

Friday, May 2, 2008

East Slabs of Sugarloaf

Over a month and no climbing, so what do I go and do on my first climb? I go and solo a long 5.5 in the Organs on a slab I've never been to before. To be fair, I've been to Sugarloaf many times, and am pretty familiar with the approach. But the East Slabs aren't even really in sight during the approach. I felt like exploring today. I took my climbing shoes, harness and a light rack and rope "just in case" and Sasha and I struck out for the slabs.

At a small saddle before the slabs I came across a nice camp where it appears that climbers have stock-piled supplies. It looks like the stuff has been un-touched for a long time, and if I needed the water, I'd use it. The rest of the gear was in pretty sorry shape, but the camp looked cozy and I'm already thinking about who I can convince to spend a week-end up there climbing all the slab routes.

At the base of the slabs, I tied Sasha up and scouted out the routes. I was able to identify the starts of most of them, and the rock was beautiful and inviting. Slabs so mellow you could run up them, lumpy hand-holds through-out. After my quick scouting, I decided I'd jump onto the Normal Route.

The start of the route>>

I had a light rack of nuts and tri-cams, as well as my aid hook and a 30 m rope. This is how I justify doing risky things, telling myself if I get sketched out I can simply put in some pro and get through or bail. I should have brought a bolt-kit too, because there isn't much pro you can place on a slab.

I didn't get sketched out though, in fact I felt good. Calm and steady, I made my way up the route. I took my time, and paused frequently to check the topo I had. The light was strong, my focus was good and I let the accumulated stress of the last few weeks flush out of me.

I don't solo climb often, and I always prefer to climb roped up. I thought about this as I made my way over the delicate slab, how much of a difference a rope can make. ON climbs like this one, even being roped up doesn't help much because there are sections of slab over a hundred feet long without any protection. But still, knowing that if something were to go wrong, you have a safety net is a big psychological effect. And it kept my mind occupied for the first 200 ft or so. At some point though, I stopped thinking about how I was doing something potentially dangerous, and simply let myself wander over the rock, and follow the contours and cracks. Exploring and investigating different possibilities. Looking around myself and seeing blank but welcoming rock.

Hopefully I'll be back at those slabs again, preferably with a partner. For now though, I'll curl up with Liz and sleep soundly and contentedly.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

OMTRS: Tyrolean traverse

The OMTRS did its annual Tyrolean traverse training at La Cueva last Saturday. There was a lot of equipment involved: large tripods to set up anchor points, pulleys galore, ropes, emergency litters, the whole shebang. This being my first exposure to technical rescue techniques I mostly sat back and watched the experienced members of the team run things. A lot of the rescue techniques are new to me, but the equipment is all pretty familiar and I do not doubt that I'll be able to pick up this skills with a little practice. My only complaint is that everyone was too occupied fiddling with rescue gear to want to go climbing. Next time...

Saturday, March 8, 2008

North rabbit Ear: Awful Buttress

Today felt like mountaineering. Cold winds buffetted us through-out the day, and I was actually forced to climb in a toque and wind-breaker. Scott and I stabbed at the North Rabbit Ear, blundering onto a route called Awful Buttress . For some reason the name failed to ward us off, but the main reason we ended up on this climb was it was the one route with a descrption that I could vaguely follow up the North-West face of the NRE. One thing we forgot to account for was that the descent was off the south-face, and unless we wanted an additional hour of scrambling/bushwhacking, we needed to climb with our packs. Another reason that it felt like mountaineering...

The meat of the climb was dealing with chimneys and off-widths. Having packs on made this more difficult than it should have been, as well as scarier. Below the crux pitch was a delicate face traverse under the lip of a roof, at which point Scott started looking for alternatives. Instead of completing the traverse, he convinced me to abandon the crux pitch and attempt a corner system 100 ft to the right. This also ended up to be a chimney (last pitch of the PeaPod route I think), and for once we got smart, and dropped our packs to make the squeeze chimney climbable. We then angled back left on a rising flake and re-joined the Awful Buttress route just above the crux off-width.

Of historical note, the last entry in the summit register was May, 2004. This doesn't really surprise me as Dennis Jackson omits the Rabbit Ears from his guide, and local beta is hard to come by. A lonely peak on a windy day. I thumbed through the register to an entry in the 70's, Dick Ingraham's second ascent (solo) of the NRE, where he rants about the soon-to-be-built Aguirre springs campground. I sometimes wish that the Organs had better access. Roads that any car could get up, a network of maintained trails. While these would make climbing up here so much easier and more accesible, I also see the beauty that Ingraham saw: rugged inaccessible mountains, that will stay that way as long as roads and trails are absent. A proving ground only for the truly determined and adventurous. A bastion of wildness only a stone's throw away.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Dona An Mts, Charlie's route on V-dome

It's been a long week and it was looking like I wouldn't be able to go out climbing. I got called in to work on Saturday and couldn't join the OMTRS at Percha Creek. But since I've been getting up early consectuively for such a longs spell, I figured it wouldn't hurt to get up early this morning and tackle a short route the Charlie Cundiff showed me a year ago in the Dona Anas. The route is located on the dome in front of the Checkerboard wall, and we dubbed it Vedauwoo Dome because of the parallel wide-cracks that we climbed there last year. Last years trip with Charlie was a follow up trip for him, as he had already climbed one of the best looking lines on the formation, and dubbed it "Cultural Learnings of America" after some movie. Liz got up with me early this morning and we dragged the dog out there to try it for ourselves.

Cultural Learnings of America
I didn't remember the approach being too difficult, the usual scrambling up boulders and dodging the prickly plants. KLiz and Sasha felt otherwise. We slowly picked our way up to the gully beneath the route and when Liz saw that I expected her to continue scrambling up the 4rth class gully, she put her foot down. We roped up for the gully. The climb itself was a great little route. The business was the first 20 ft, which were steep, dark, and dirty. Absolutely no evidence of Charlie's FA is left, and I felt as though I was making the first ascent all over again; brushing off the dust and dirt, cleaning out the cracks before trusting my jams, carefully testing the rock for soundness.

CLA is the shaded corner on the right side of the Dome.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Wedge, Shillelagh

A little over a year since Scott and I climbed the Wedge's West Ridge, we came back to climb the other classic route on the Wedge, The Shillelagh route. Scott has been talking about doing this climb for a while, it's special appeal being how the first ascentionists used a wooden stick to aid up the crux, giving the route it's name. Scott was hoping the Shillelagh would still be there...

I made the mistake of taking Sasha. On the past few climbing trips she's been on, she was great. This time though, the 4rth class scarmbling and heavy bush-whacking were too much for her, and it was all I could do to coax her out of hiding so that I could haul her over obstacles. I got pretty adept at slinging her under one arm and climbing up 4rth class slabs.

I posted the full route description at Mountain Project. My first impressions of the first pitch was that it looked easier than 5.9. I was in for a treat. After the chimney section was a nice ledge and a steep handcrack bulge. It looked like one could escape the difficult moves by reaching around the corner to the left and reaching into a separate crack. But it also looked like I could attack the crack straight on, move up on a good jam, and make a reach for a shallow ledge. I attempted just this and gained the ledge, and was very happy with myself, until I wasn't able to pull up past the ledge. There wasn't a good jam or hold past the ledge, my feet were poorly placed, and the shallow ledge was slightly sloping and I was pumping out hanging on it. I fidgeted for about a minute, trying to position my body right to get through. then I got pumped, and thought about trying to down-climb the difficult jam move in order to get back to the ledge. I didn't get the chance, a slipped off the ledge, and took a tumble.

The fall wasn't very far, maybe 10 feet before my purple camelot brought me to a stop. I don't remember being scared, or really gaining much speed, but I ended up with my head facing down and a massive ache on my back. My leg had caught under the rope and flipped me around. My back must have slammed into the rock, or perhaps the descent shoes tied to my back were crushed between me and the wall. Either way, my back hurt, and my heart raced as Scott called up to see if I was ok. I took about a five minute breather on the ledge, regained my composure and backed-up my purple camelot. Then I jumped back on the climb, this time getting a better foot placement and passing the crux. It's a good feeling: to succeed where once you failed, to triumph after a defeat, and to muster up courage instead of cowering after a thrashing. I felt good belaying Scott up the route, my head clear, enjoying the wonderful views of Squaretop peak.

I led the rest of the route and let Scott finish the last pitch that is shared with the West Ridge Route. We ate a hearty snack of sardines and saltines at the top and enjoyed being at the top.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Rough and Ready Hills, Scott's new trad line

Scott has been great this past week, helping to install our new patio door. This morning, he showed up at 9am and finished casing the door, a tricky job due to the walls of our house not being plumb. I guess the reason he's being so nice is that I've been very agreeable to where we've been going climbing this past month. After finishing the job this morning (as well as bacon and eggs grace a Liz) we headed out to the rough and readies to finish off a trad route that Scott has been eying for some time.

Scott's route takes a clean-crack just left of one of his other new unnamed routes. the crack is fun, and well protected and tops out on a ledge about 60 ft high. Instead of stopping here though, Scott continued up over low-fifth jumble of loose rock until he gained a final 20 ft head-wall. this is the kind of climbing most climbers avoid, especially at a sport-area like the Rough and Readies. The only time climbers purposely climb over rotten rock is to reach summits, so this had the feel of training for a mountain route. The final 20 ft was a little better, and it achieved something that very few Rough and Ready climbs do, it attains the top of the crag. We un-roped and meandered around on the plateau above, noting that the other jeep in the parking lot was gone, and commenting on the chossy upper cliffs, and how there could be some routes in there as well.

The second reason for leading this trad climb was to throw a rope over an adjacent roof formation to see if it would make a good route. The over-hanging section was actually pretty good, with good incut holds up the steep section and solid-sounding rock. Too bad the first 30 ft is a chossy mess. I think Scott still wants to bolt it though.

We finished the day with burns on Rough Rider (5.11a) and Brangus Muffins (5.11b), both led by Scott. My arms are not used to these pump-fests.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Pena Blanca, Outing with OMTRS

I heard that the Organ mtn Search and Rescue Team (OMTRS) was going to be training at Pena Blanca today and decided to meet up with them. I've known about the team ever since moving to las Cruces. My first climbing partner was an OMTRS member named Steve Kellum and I distinctly remember him not being able to climb on several occasions because he had to train with the OMTRS. I decided then that I was not interested in joining this group, because it would take away from my precious climbing days. Now two years later, i am considering becoming a member. It's not that I have any urge to do mountain rescue, but as far as I can tell, there the closest thing to a local climbing community. I'm eager to meet more local climbers and learn explore more of the Organs, and this group seems to be all for it.

They were easy enough to find, 3 SUVs, one with the OMTRS logo on its side, passed me by near the Volcano, and I quickly caught up with them on the approach to the Garden area. The president, john, welcomed me to join them and up we went. their training mainly consisted of teaching basic rock-climbing skills to new memeber; how to belay, tie knots, basic climbing technique etc... I was happy enough to set up two ropes for them on the Garden Slabs, both new routes for me. The new climbers didn't seem to mind dso much that the routes I set up were on crumbling, and rotten rock, making the climbing sketchy and dirty. I guess their used to La Cueva, and also other "training" scenarios during which rotten rock is all part of the game.

One other climber I had met before at Hueco, Grady, and we set up a few harder routes, one on an un-named formation just up hill from El Diabolo. The corner on the north-east side was challenging and sharp, with a crux move to skin-tearing finger slot. The cooler temps definitely helped keep the skin on.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Organ Mtns - Barb's Buttress

Scott and I hit the Organs again today without a real definite destination in mind, but agreeing that somewhere in the region of the Citadel would be a good place to start. By the time we got into Rabbit Ear Canyon we had agreed to try out routes on Barb's Buttress. I didn't have any topos for this face, but had glanced at some done by Charlie Cundiff, and knew that there was supposed to be a good 5.6-5.7 route on the wall.

When I got back this evening, I drew up this topo using PDF Annotater on Charlie's file.

Route A-1: We didn't have time to jump on this but I marked it because I saw two bolts on the route, and it looks like a good line. Both bolts are 3/8" and appear in good shape. The route looks like it could go from 5.7-59 slab.

Route A-2: This is the climb we jumped on first. We broke it up into two pitches, with Scott leading the first 80ft to a Juniper tree/ledge. The first pitch climbs a short corner and then some loose-sounding blocks to gain the ledge. Climbing isn't that hard (5.7+?) but the rock could be better. The corner is good though. From the ledge, climb left past an old 1/4" bolt (with a shiny 3/8" right next to it) and then up an exposed section of slab. The climbing isn't too hard (5.7+?) but crux moves are 10ft higher than the bolt and are committing. I then followed easier climbing past a bolt and up to a small juniper beneath a headwall. We rapped fromt eh juniper with two 60 ms and hit the ground.

Route A-3: If I had to guess, this is route that I would call Buckey blue from scattered information I have heard from local climbers. We climbed 200 ft of excellent climbing, nothing harder than 5.7. The climbing after the first stunted juniper was pleasant. Ok, so that's not too descriptive but that's how we felt. the rock was solid, and had an aesthetic look, the route follows under an overlap with a top-out crux. Scott belayed from a ledge just underneath a large right-facing corner. I took the final lead and opted not towards a lone 1/4' bolt on a slab, but instead charged up the large corner (5.7). There is a large ledge with an ancient juniper covered in tattered poot slings, and I stopped here rather than continue up what looked like low-fifth. We rapped from the juniper with tw0 60ms and hit the ground.

route A-4: Before heading up the previous climb, I had spied a lone bolt on a slab under a roof-corner problem. After rapping A-3 (Buckey Blue) we still had time for a quick pitch, and I convinced Scott that we should try this roof. The bolt was curious, in the middle of a short slab section surrounded by 4th class climbing. I was skeptical that the bolt led to anything, and doubted even that the roof/corner would go. Just past the bolt and under the roof is a huge hollow flake, which can only be described as a bongo flake. I seem to recall hearing this description for granite flakes elsewhere, but now I understand it: you could pound out a nice rhythm on this flake. the roof proved to be protectable and climbable. It is essentially a boulder problem, being only 8 ft high, but and it took me one failure before I figured out a sequence. By working your feet up high and using a lay-back, I was able to extend my right hand to just below the top of the crack, where it took a weak finger jam. I then attempted to bump my left hand out to the lip of the roof, but was not able to grab anything and was losing my balance in the crack. it wasn't until my right foot accidentally got stuck in the crack lower down in a toe-hook fashion that I was able to balance, and then grab a large jug with my left hand. So how hard was it? If I bouldered more, I could probably relate it to a V1(+), but I haven't been bouldering in a while and could be way off. Scott wasn't tall enough to use my beta, and wasn't able to figure out a different sequence.

The big surprise for me today was seeing another pair of climbers. Because there is so little information about the climbing in the Organs, I find myself believing that climbers just aren't out here these days. I imagine that most of these routes haven't been climbed since the hey-day in the 80's and 90's. But then I see these two climbers, tackling a rock formation on the north side of Rabbit Ear canyon across from the Citadel which I have don't even know the name of. These guys could be climbing all sorts of routes, on unnamed formations, and be familiar with all these old routes I've been trying out this past year. I look around some more and see fresh bail gear on The Nose (on Citadel) which I climbed a year ago, more evidence that people are out here more than I would think. In a way, it makes me feel guilty for wanting to gather and make public Route beta. Part of what I enjoy about the Organs is being able to go out and climb something without any beta. It feels like you are first ascentionist, even if you stumble across old pitons, or new bolts. By trying to publish a guide, would I be taking some of this away from future climbers? It's a ridiculous argument when you think about most other climbing areas in the country, but I see some merit in it. Not having public information on the climbs, means less climbers coming here, less impact to the environment, and more rewarding adventures for those who like this kind of climbing. This argument works best for long-time residents, who have the opportunity to explore the wide-ranging Organs year after year. For climbers who are in town only short periods of time, it could be frustrating; not knowing what places have good routes and are worth the effort, not being able to tap into a local climbing community, because it really isn't there. That's the other issue I have with the lack of information on the climbing here. It seems that the lack of information leads to the lack of a climbing community. Those few who know the ways and routes may only climb in small circles. I have been making forrays into the Organs for 2 years now, and have met only one "Old-timer" local with deep knowledge of the routes here. As a result, my thirst for more information is limited to how many trips I can get in. I'm realizing this is a weak argument, but I think this issue is one which I need to hash out more thoroughly. Maybe during my next climbing trip...