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!