Sunday, December 13, 2009

Wildcat Summit Register

The Wildcat summit register was tiny compared to the North Rabbit Ear SR. It fit in an old-style metal Kodak film canister, and consisted of two folded pieces of paper, moldy and faded with various entries scattered around the page seemingly without any order. I think it is quite possible that recent summitters have not written on it for fear of destroying it. There are no entires that were dated after 1989 and I find it somewhat un-likely that this peak hasn't seen an ascent by someone in that time period.

Since the entire log was only 4 pages, it's easy enough to post the scanned images of the log here. While the actual documents are a little easier to read than the scans, they're not much better:

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Wildcat Summit: Regular Route

Looking up Wildcat Gully (Dingleberry is the peak on the right)

Not two weeks after scouting out Wohlt's Welt, I came back to climb all the way to the top. My goal was to summit Wildcat via the Regular route, reportedly only 3rd class, but with many warnings about the tediousness of the bushwhacking. I left the car at about 1mile up Modoc Mine rd (before the gate) at about 8am and made good time up to the entrance to Wildcat gully. There was 4-8" of snow in the shady portions near the entrance to the gully, but the gully itself
was not too bad. It appears that a pretty serious rock-fall or other erosion event has occurred in the past few years and wipe out most of the undergrowth for the first half of the gully. While in this portion of the gully, I checked out climbing possibilities on either side. A nice slab formation on the south side of the gulley looks like it could provide a few pitches of decent climbing, but the better wall was the one on the North, which Ingraham calls the Guardian Buttress in his descrption of the Wildcat climbs. There were several nice looking steep crack systems on this wall, and the approach isn't that bad. Could be worth checking out.
Pictures from the lower Wildcat Gully showing rock-fall damage

The going began to get a little tougher near the top of the Guardian Buttress level. The rock-fall event must have occurred slightly lower, so for the last 100ft or so, I had to navigate around snow covered shrubs. This was easier by clinging to the North wall where passage could be found. The top of the lower Wildcat gully is clearly demarcated at a narrow saddle-like spot. Ingraham calls this the "narrow saddle, on whose left rises a sharp, small spire, into a wide valley running down west under Wildcat's SW face (the Swale)". I think I'll just call this place "the Swale".
At the "Swale"

From this point up to the saddle between Wildcat and Dingleberry, I had to battle up waist-deep snow drifts. I'd try to cling to one side of the gully, but usually could not keep it up for long as the sides were too steep or icy. Just below the saddle is a large oak tree, but before I got there, I had decided to take to the rock wall on the north side of the gully and start my ascent of Wildcat's final rock face. The first hundred feet of 3rd class scrambling felt harder due to the ice and snow obscuring the rock and making it slippery. But once I popped out onto the S. ridge and sunshine, it got a lot smoother. The rest of the South Ridge was pleasant 3rd class rock-hopping all the way to the summit.

Summit Shots

I replaced the summit register with a new one, and took the old one down with me for archiving. This register was a tiny old metal film canister (Kodak) and had only two moldy sheets of paper in it. I'll post the full ascent log soon. Looking to the North, the summit of Razorback is just a short hop away. I was almost tempted to go over to it, but the short hop involves a steep down-climb to an exposed saddle, and with ice and snow, it probably wouldn't be as easy as it looked. Besides, I need to have some good reasons to come back up here. Razorback looks like a great climb. To the South Dingleberry seems massive. there were a few climbable gullies ascending from the Wildcat gully and I considered trying to get up one of these on my way down. But this would be an extra hour or so of time and I wasn't sure what time it was to begin with. I decided it was best to head on down, and get back to Liz and my birthday feast.

For the descent was almost the same as the ascent except I tried to avoid the 3rd class down-climbing by taking a brushy gully on the SE side of Wildcat's peak. Even with a few feet of deep snow-drifts, the bushwhacking was egregious. I can only imagine how terrible it would be in summer conditions. The gully dropped me down on the East side of the Wildcat-Dingleberry saddle, and I had to climb up an icy chimney to get back onto the saddle and start making my way down. Going down the deep snow was much easier than coming up, I butt-slid the whole way down. I was back to my car at 2:15. Not bad time, and pretty much in-line with ingraham's suggested3hr time to summit.
The SW face of Wildcat

Temps throughout the hike were pretty reasonable, hovering around the 40s for most of the gully. It felt much colder than this with the wind though, and I quickly had to use my wind-protection layers to stay warm. I also was not fully prepared for the snow, I didn't have me gaiters. How I could have forgotten these, I don't know. My feet got soaked on the ascent and at the summit I changed into dry wool socks and put on "vapor-barriers" to keep my feet relatively dry. this little trick I picked up in Quebec, and consists of placing plastic shopping bags over your feet in your boot. You lose any kind of breathability, but you keep the worst of the snow-water off your socks, so it ends up being better if you're not sweating too hard. I certainly enjoy hiking these peaks in the winter. now if only the days were longer...

Friday, November 27, 2009

Wohlt's Welt Reconnaissance

I took Levin out this afternoon to do some reconnaissance; we hiked up the Modoc Mine Rd and then found Wohlt's Welt. This is what Ingraham describes as "The Highroad to the Central Organs" and from it one can access several peaks including Wildcat and Dingleberry.

Here is Google Earth's rendition of the route up to the saddle between Wildcat and Dingleberry. We only hiked up to the top of Wohlt's Welt, which is the gentle ridge or "welt" that goes from the Modoc rd up to the foot of the rocky cliffs. As far as bush-beating goes, it wasn't too bad, with ocatillo being the dominant shrub/obstacle. It is fairly steep though and there isn't much of a trail so it is slow going. Total distance from the top of Wohlt's Welt down to the Baylor Pass Rd is about 2.5 miles (according to Google Earth) and took us about 1.5 hrs to cover.

View from top of Wohlt's Welt
looking at Wildcat and Dingleberry

Being the first time I took Levin out bushwhacking, I can't resist posting some pictures of him:

Thursday, November 26, 2009

North Rabbit Ear Summit Register

Below is my transcription of the NRE summit register. It was immensely fun to do this, read all the entries from climbers past, learn about new routes. It sure has me psyched to get back up there and climb more. Also I'm now eager to get my hands on the other summit registers and sift through them.

I did my best to record all the original entries, but some pages are badly torn, weathered, or simply hard to read. I noted this in [brackets] in most places. I think I'll print this entire register out on sturdy paper and replace it back with the summit register so that others can read the history. I also will try to archive the originals (and original copy since the 1954-1969 entries were already re-copied once) at NMSU or some other local archive. Finally, the left-hand column estimates the Recorded Summit Ascent # by ascent party. It is approximate, especially in the later decades of the register as pages may have been lost, etc.. By this approximation, our last ascent was the 159th.

Some pictures of the summit register:

Sunday, November 22, 2009

North Rabbit Ear: Boyer's Chute

I was contacted a few weeks ago through Mountain Project by a climber in Durango Colorado who was looking for partners in the Las Cruces area for bagging some of the peaks in our range. It seemed kind of strange that someone from Colorado would drive all the way down here (probably 10 hrs or more) when there are so many high peaks in his own state. But since I am also interested in climbing as many of the Organ Mtn peaks as I can, I mailed him back.

John Bregar was his name, a retired geologist and president of a local mountain club. He made it clear right off the bat that he was not into highly technical routes, and would not be interested in routes harder than 5.5, but that he enjoyed brush-beating up SW desert peaks and wanted to get up some of the more interesting Organ mtn peaks. Many of these have 3rd or 4rth class routes up them described in Ingraham's guide and I've been wanting to check them out as well. After a few email exchanges we settled on climbing Boyer's Chute on the North Rabbit Ear (NRE).

We left Las Cruces early, around 5:45 in order to start the trail-head before the sun had risen. We took only a single 60m rope and light alpine rack. Neither of us wore a watch, so my timeline isn't much good from here on. but it felt that we made good time hiking up the Rabbit Ear Canyon. We left Sasha at the base of the route. a 3rd class slab leading into a deep cleft on the west side of the NRE. After a few hundred feet of 3rd class scrambling, the chute narowed down to a 4rth class chimney. At the top of this was a ratty poot rappel station. This station happened to be at the top of a narrow fin of rock which separates Boyer's Chute from an adjacent chute to the north which appears more difficult. It also looked fun to scramble out to the edge of the fin, but we didn't have time to explore it properly. Next time.

An easy 100ft further and we encountered the first bit of 5th class, a narrow spot with a large chock stone to get around. Total height of this 5th class section is only about 20ft. The easier way is to the right, and John had previously led this way. However, he described it as mostly un-protectable and we opted to try a crack to the left of the chock. John tried leading it first, but quickly learned that it was harder than 5.5. It involves a bit of clever foot-work and stemming, possibly the use of a hand-jam to surmount. I estimated the move to be about 5.8, but it's been a while since I've done much climbing and I could be off. Immediately above this section is another fixed anchor, wire rope and rap-rings.

150 ft further up is the 5.4 crux of the route, a deep chimney with another large chock stone. The right hand wall had some nice cracks for making the climb feel very secure. The 5th class climbing is about 30-40 ft long and an old and decrepit bolted rappel anchor is at the top of it.

The chute turns into more of a right-facing corner system at this point, and stays between 3rd and 4rth class for a while. There was an awesome live-oak in this corner, twisted and growing out across a slab of rock in a way that bonsai cultivators get wet-dreams about. Photos could do no justice. At the top of the corner is a final 4rth class head-wall and then we were at the summit.

I had the fore-sight to bring a new summit register and pen. The existing summit register is really something, providing history all the way back to the first recorded ascent in 1954. It had been painstakingly re-copied in the late 60s. The newer note-book which we signed dated back to the 80s. Since my last ascent in the spring of 2008, only 5 other people had recorded ascents, all via boyer's Chute (and often solo). I carefully packed the fragile records in a zip=lock bag to take down with me. Over the next few weeks, I plan to transcribe the register into an electronic document and post it on the web. If possible, I'd like to try to archive the originals somewhere locally. I also want to print out the completed register and return a copy of it to the summit, so future ascentionists can enjoy reading the mountains recorded history. Maybe it's an ambitious project for me, but I think it will be rewarding.

We descended the chute using the numerous rappel stations and doing a bit of easy scrambling.down-climbing. I think we made 7 rappels over-all, and for the most part didn't have to leave additional gear/webbing as John had already left new stuff when he was up here a month ago.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Adopt-A-Crag: La Cueva

Some folks from the OMTRS organized a trash pick-up at La Cueva. The Access Fund and Toucan market supplied goodies, and a team of OMTRS members, Adventure Crew teens, and church goers spent the morning combing La Cueva for garbage. I found a few really old stashes of coke cans (steel cans instead of aluminum) under some nasty thorns up high on the west end of the rock formations. Overall, there was not a whole lot of trash. Two immediate things come to mind; 1) not very many people come here to trash the place or 2) the recreational users of Las Cruces are good stewards. I prefer #2. Walking around the entire rock formation (not the eastern satellites though) I re-examined all the routes I've done here, and was reminded of how much more is still to do. I haven't seriously climbed here in a while. Well, since Levin was born this summer, I haven't seriously climbed at all. Being back at the cliffs made me reconnect. I know La Cueva isn't the best climbing out there, the rock is chossy, the routes are mediocre. But it is still a nice local spot, easy to get to and with plenty of variety. I hereby vow to make a point of coming back here as frequently as I can.

After the trash pick-up, we set up a couple top-ropes on the Sunny Side around the route Piton Power. Inevitably, this is the area that gets the most attention, but I always feel like it would be better to set up ropes on the back side instead. There's just more stuff on that side, especially for beginners. I'll suggest this next time OMTRS does one of these events.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Minerva's Temple

This year's WSTF Organ Mtn hike had a small turn-out. Last year, OMTRS/WSTF had probably 30 people summit, and a dozen or so camp out on the summit. Josie and I climbed the Organ Needle North West Ridge and also SqaureTop then. This year, we were only nine, and I was not among those sleeping on the summit. Despite not spending the night on the summit, I still brought climbing gear because Bob Cort had enticed me by suggeesting we do a route near the top. However, depending on how many people showed up, especially those who might need encouragement through-out the climb we hadn't planned on anything concrete. When I showed up this morning and there were only 5 other hikers in the Pan-Am parking lot, all seasoned hikers, we decided we could get away with a route.

We settled on Minerva's Temple as our goal. From the ORgan Needle Summit, this appears to be a small peak-let off to the South-East, but is actually a gigantic rock tower when viewed from Aguirre Springs. I remembered reading about it in Ingraham's Guide, something about the Yale Mountaineering Club doing the first ascent and that it was 5th class climbing up from a small gap between it and the "Retaining Wall". I figured it could only be 3 pitvhes at most, and if the Yale Mountaineering Club did it back in the 60's or something, it probably wouldn't be that hard.

We split off from the rest of the hikers at Hummingbird Saddle, ~10am. To get to the small saddle between Minerva's Temple and the Retaining Wall, we had to descend into the canyon/gulley on the east. This canyon was pure bliss, a perfect glade of 20-30ft tall mountain maples, in various states of fall foliage. Yellows and Oranges, thick layers of fallen leaves under-foot, that wonderful autumn smell. It made me miss fall in New Hampshire. And it was especially nice to discover that I can come here every fall, for my own little deciuos heaven.

We started our climb about 100ft uphill from the gap between Minerva's Temple and the Retaining Wall. Ingraham descibes a 75ft rappel from this gap into our canyon, but a quick look at the drop showed that it didn't look like the best climbing. By starting 100ft uphill we were able to traverse right into the gap. A Maple growing against the side of the wall makes a good marker for this traverse starting point. The traverse itself is 5.5 or easier, but fairly exposed and with loose mossy steps and lichen. We roped up anf I led the traverse to be on the safe side.

The pitch climbing up from the gap to the top of Minerva'S Temple W ridge is the crux. I could immediately see several variants, some of which looked very challenging indeed. I opted for what looked like the easiest route, climbing twenty feet up to a weakness and then turning the corner to the south face at a bush. This move ended up generating a lot of rope drag, which a payed for later. ONce established on the South face, I was on a sloping ledge that had 4-5 parallel crack systems going straight up to the top. The first was a burly looking off-width. The second a narrow un-protecable seam. The 3-4 looked like something I could on-sight. They were close enough together where it looked posisble to use features from both, and had sections of thin hands to fist size cracks. I started up the left one, got about 10 ft up it and starting losing my nerve. I wasn;t having difficulty with the mves yet, but the way the cracks were situated on the wall, I didn't feel like I had good feet, ubnless I smeared on the granite. The protection was good but it felt much harder than I was feeling comfortable with. I felt my way about making the move to jump over to the right hand crack, but this also felt more strenuous than I had bargained for. I started grunting and sweating more and wishing I had brought my chalk and a full set of cams (I only brought a light "alpine rack" consisting of chocks, a set of tri-cams, and Camelots #1-3). When faced with the decision to push myself or back down, I chose to back down. I cleaned my top peice and down'climbed-slithered back down to the ledge.

Fortunately there was an easier way to the top. A few more feet to the right was the last crack which als looked hard, but from this crack I was able to make an exposed traverse move over a knobby face and get into an easy corner. From here it was a cake-walk up to the top of the ridge, except for the fact my rope-drag now felt like I was hauling up a 50 lb weight. The exposed move turned out to be the crux, and even spit off Bob as he followed up. I couldn't see him from my belay, but he was stuck at one spot for a few minutes and all of the sudden yelled "Falling!" and the rope got tight. Fortunately, he picked a good spot to fall, where the pendulum from the traverse was almost negligable. He quickly established himself back on the wall and joined me on the ridge-top.

From the ridge we had an excellent view of the rest of our party over on Organ Needle. For a while it seemed as if they were spectators, grouped together on an overlook facing our way. While belaying Bob, I watched as they cajoled Sasha into getting up to the summit. To reach our summit, Bob and I still had to negotiate the exposed ridge. Bob took the lead and did a full rope-length of 4th class scrambling, over a mini sumit and to a nice clearing with low aspens. From here, he led another short 40 ft pitch to the true summit. This pitch actually turned out to be tricky, involving a steep final 10 ft in an awkward corner, and stemming out to a crack on the face. The summit was a beautiful slab of granite, gracefully sloping down to the easter side of the moutain, where it abruptly drops off. We looked around for signs of previous ascents and for a fixed rappel. I found some tattered pieces of blue webbing and an old biner, but not in the location we wanted to rappel. I was a little disappointed not to find a summit register. It would have been really fun to read about the Yaler's first ascent. But no register was found, and I doubt this peak sees many summiters anyways.

Now we just needed to find out how to get down. With no obvious signs of a rappel route, and no beta, we were on our own. Bob then played the rookie card and left it up to me how we were to get down (well, it was also my rack that would be at risk of attrition should we ahve to leave gear). I decided our best bet was to re-trace our ascent route, because this way we at least knew what were getting into. I left a small loop of webbing and biner at the summit to rap back down to the aspens, then we roped up and simul-climbed back over to the west end of the ridge. I almost chose a spot at the top of the ridge to set our final rappel, but ended up down-climbing about 10 ft where we were able to find a suitable place to leave a double-length runner and biner to rappel back down to the gap. It's a good thing we descened that extra ten feet, our rope only barely made it to the ground. From the gap, we roped up and traversed back over to where we started rather than leaving more webbing/biners to rappel the 75ft down from the gap. I didn't mind down-climbing the traverse, bu Bob said it was for the birds, and he had a point, on second he had a pretty decent fall potential.

We parted ways at Hummingbird saddle. It was 2:30 pm. The rest of the group had already made it's way down, except for the two who were spending the night. Bob climbed up to join them for the night, and I hustled my way down. The whole time I was hiking down, I was thinking about whether or not I would catch up to the rest of the group. They must have had an hour or more of a head-start, but one of the members in their group was sure to take a slower pace on the treacherous sections of the trail, and I played out the ope of over-taking them. At each point in the trail that offers a view of the trail below, I paused and tried to make them out, but never saw them. It wasn't until I got back on the Modoc Mine road and their car came in sight when I spotted them at the car. They were sitting back, and waiting for the last member of their group, Ilene, who was a few hundred yards away. I caught up to them at the car only a few minutes after her, and found out that I had done the entire descent in 1hr 40 minutes. Not bad at all, but my knees were aching. My car was still parked another two miles down the Modoc Mine rd, but Grady offered Sasha and I a ride. Sasha looked in worse shape than I, her pads were all beaten up and she barely had enough energy to get up. All in all, a very succesful day.

When I got home, I felt naseous. I had pretty much forgotten to eat all day. Lucky for me Liz had baked a fresh batch of molasses cookies, and whipped up a batch of turkey soup to calm my stomach. She sponged off Sasha's feet while I cuddled with Levin, relaxing and shaking of the fatigue from a long day. I'm thinking next year, if I turn this hike into a climb, it might be better to spend the night. But if I do that, I also know that I'd end up just doing more climbs, and being even more exhausted when I got home. At least now, I have a full dya of recovery before having to go back to work.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Caballo Lake: Grey Wall

After a nearly 5 month hiatus from climbing, I was finally able to tear myself away from our new baby, Levin, and hit the crags. A group of Las Crucan's were heading up to Caballo lake and I tagged along.

Despite not climbing for a while, I felt pretty comfortable getting back onto the rock. Comfortable is an understatement, I felt like I was coming home. My shoes hurt a little more than usual, my heart raced a little faster, but being on the rock again was like meeting an old friend. Bob Almond and I teamed up to climb the buttress of the Grey Wall (the only bolted climb to the right of the two routes we did previously on this wall). I led the first pitch, a bolted 5.9 (or so). Beyond the first pitch anchors, we saw another bolt about 20 ft up the corner, and it tempted us to try the second pitch. Fortunately we had the presence of mind to bring a long a rack and bolt kit, because that one bolt was the last. Bob led the second pitch in style, finding adequate protection and good climbing all the way up. We made a belay at a ledge 40 ft from the top and I carried up our heavy bolting gear. We debated placing an anchor right where we were, but Bob decided to push on to the top. He placed one bolt on lead (from a ledge-stance) and topped out by a Cholla.

We bolted a rappel anchor at the top, but unfortunately, a single (60 m) rope rappel did not reach the anchors at the top of the first pitch, so we ended up stopping at Bob's lone bolt, and rappelling off of it. By the time we were back on the ground, it was evening and the rest of the climbers were ready to go. Bolting by hand takes up a lot of time. We'll need to return some time and put in a proper rappel anchor at the cliff's mid-point.

Before taking off for the day, Scott Jones and I did a lap up the first pitch again (picture below).

Thursday, April 30, 2009

OMTRS: Rescue at Dripping Springs

By request, here is the write-up of the rescue mission on April 19th (also at the Hobsonian).

Liz: Aaron goes climbing in the morning, then saves the day again in the afternoon/evening! Stay tuned for a full mission update on "Rescuing Ron" when Aaron recovers from his post- climbing/rescuing/going-to-work-the-next-day-super-early stupor...

Full mission report huh? I'm not feeling terribly prolific right now but here's a brief: A solo hiker/scrambler named Ron was on a slabby rock wall and fell 30-40 ft and lended on a ledge. He was hurt pretty bad, but managed to call 911. By the time our team showed up, a pair of medics had already reached Ron. This fact led our team leader to believe that the mission would be a pretty quick extraction. We were able to get a visual of Ron using binoculars from the Dripping Springs parking area and we headed towards him straight away.

Once we got to the slab, we quickly realized that the extraction was going to be more difficult than our team leader had first thought. While Ron could be reached via easy scrambling, it was over a hundred feet of exposed slab, and not all of our team-members were comfortable doing the climb, especially carrying rescue equipment. We ended up setting a "hand-line" to help people reach the ledge. Ron would definitely need a medium-high angle rescue lower, which requires a beefy anchor. Unfortunately, anchors were scarce where he was. The anchor we had for the "hand-line" was a sketchy dead juniper which had already toppled. Eventually, we found a few anchors, one 100 ft higher than Ron (around the spot where he must have fallen from?) and the other in a good crack system about 100ft to the left. From this second anchor, it was about a 300 ft lower down the slab. Luckily, the team has 100m ropes. We didn't bring them on the hasty team, but called for one of the secondary teams to bring them up.

Using the two anchors, two 100m ropes and three other ropes, we were able to rig Ron up for lowering. I was in charge of the anchor installed in the crack system mainly because I had brought my climbing rack with me. If a regular climbing anchor is "bomb-proof" the anchor I built for Ron was "Nova-proof". A total of 8 people were attached to the ropes while lowering from my anchor and I'm proud to say that the wire-stoppers weren't even that welded in place!

Getting Ron off the slab was the biggest chore, and one our team specializes in. After that slab, there was another 100ft rappel before the litter-wheel could be attached. For the final carry-out, there were a dozen or so fresh volunteers from the Mesilla Valley Search and Rescue team that added to our ranks and we got Ron out to the ambulance by 9:30. The original call-out was at 2:30.

I haven't received any updates about how Ron is doing. I hope he's been able to forget the whole experience, he was miserable for that 7 hour extraction. He had several broken bones, and a sever laceration on his head all the way down to the bone. Jostling him down a mountain did not do much to ease his pain.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Hueco Tanks: Annual OMTRS trip

The last time I went to Hueco, it coincided with a "training" trip for the OMTRS. I wasn't on the team at the time, but I climbed with them and it was soon thereafter that I joined up. Last year only a hand-full of OMTRS volunteers made the trip down to Hueco to climb, this year we descended in force. We had 15 filled reservations and another car-load of people trying to get in as "walk-ons". Unfortunately, when the walk-ons were told they would have to wait up to an hour before knowing whether they could get in, they bailed and went to the Franklins. The rest of us went over to the Cakewalk buttress for a full-days worth of climbing.

Much like my previous experiences with large OMTRS climbing trips, it starts off pretty chaotically. A couple climbing teams immediately pair off and start climbing, others are waiting around wondering which wall to set ropes on, and as usual there are those who don't really have a clue what they should be doing or where they should go, and are waiting to be told. All be told, this trip worked out better than the previous trip to the East Slabs of Sugarloaf. Grady set up a top-rope on Alice in Bananaland, John Gallegos and Cort set-off on Cakewalk, Almond started up Cakewalk Direct and I went over to the Lunch Rock area to set some beginner top-ropes. I led up Hueco Walk, a 60 ft low-angle route with plenty of decent huecos and some marginal gear. After setting up a top-rope, I jumped on Malice in Bucketland. This route looked intimidating, with the first bolt being four moves up good huecos but with terrible fall potential because you start off from a boulder 30ft off the deck already. Leading it didn't feel that bad though, and when there was a long 25 ft between bolt #2 and bolt #3, it still didn't feel bad. It's part of the charm of routes at Hueco Tanks, even the sport routes get your attention, but if you climb with confidence, than they turn out to be adequately protected.

While I was coming off of Malice, Grady had set up a rope on All the Nasties. Ashliegh was next up on this route and ended up having an epic struggle, battling her way up 80 ft over 30 minutes until she took an awkward fall and swung around the wall, scraping some skin in the process. Thanks Ashleigh, for showing us that even on top-rope, you can get banged up. Meanwhile I wen tback over to the Lunch Rock Wall and set up another top-rope. Checking the guidebook, both top-ropes are on the route "Hueco Walk" but there was certainly room enough on the wall for a couple lines. I had Jeff Campbell belay me and then clean the route. Jeff is pretty new to climbing, and has been taking small steps to gaining proficiency at the various skills involved. Today he achieved two mile-stones, completing a climb without falls and cleaning a route.

Now that ample top-ropes were set-up and everyone who wanted was getting rope-time, Bob Almond and I scrambled over to the Flake Roof to test our mettle against the classic roof problem. We Ro-sham-bo'ed for the first lead and Bob won, so I watched him and tried to learn as much beta as I could. The starting dihedral gave him some pause, and he used a combination of wide stemming stances, and lay-backs to gain the top of the dihedral. ONce there, he made an insecure traverse left under the roof on sloping holds until he reached the last clipping stance under the roof. Shaking off the pump as best he could, he launched into the horizontal moves under the roof. It looked like there was a good left hand jug, but then the next hold was not as secure and Bob came tumbling down. Three more tries and Bob had gained the lip of the roof, but couldn't fight the pump and came off again.

My own attempts were much the same. Luckily, Bob left the draws in for me, so I was able to clip each bolt from low stances and dispatch the starting dihedral without too much difficulty. The roof moves shut me down. The one positive though was that unlike previous routes that I was leading frightened, I was pretty calm while tackling this roof. The fall is really clean so I just put it out of my mind and concentrated on figuring out the moves almost as if it were a boulder problem. Even though I couldn't figure out the sequence, I am pleased to have stayed calm on lead. After I gave up, Bob gave it another try before calling uncle and heading down for some lunch.

Bob Almond on Malice and Isabella and Grady finishing up Divine Wind

After lunch I pulled Almond's rope off of Cakewalk Direct and tried my hand at leading it. The crux is the shared start with Banana Patch. At the top of the first seam, a delicate move up to grab a nice hueco allows you to traverse left to the first bolt, and from there on the route is pretty straightforward. The tricky start though seemed to shut-down everyone who tried it, and Bob ended up climbing it three times to retrieve gear.

The day was winding down and people were starting to take down routes when I got the briliiant idea to try to top-rope the chimney left of Alice in Bucketland. With Kurt's help, I managed to flip the top-rope into the chimney, but the ropes twisted below the knot (we needed two ropes tied together for a top-rope) making it impossible to belay. Thus thwarted, we spent 15 minutes trying to un-twist the rope/pulling down the top-rope and only succedded in pulling the rope 20ft before the ropes twisted again and became stuck. To un-twist them, I had to climb 20 ft up the chimney to grab the free end. Once un-stuck Kurt pulled it down, but horror of horrors, the falling rope got stuck around chocks 45 ft up the chimney. By this point we were getting pretty fed up with the chimney. Bob Almond was on Malice, and offerrred to try to swing around to retrieve our rope, but it was too far for him to get to. After 15 minutes of pointless rope flipping, I finally declared I would lead up the chimney, free the stuck rope and then rappel off with the two ropes. I was itching to try the chimney in the first place, but it was obvious that there wouldn't be much protection. Also, if I did find some protection, than I would have to clena it on rappel and then the rappel ropes would be in the chimney again and we could end up in the same boat. So I told myself, "Do not place Pro" and squeezed into the chimney. At least for the first 40 ft, I could grab/sling the stuck rope.

I'm probably being too generous by calling this chimney comfortable, but for a 5.9 climb without any protection, I never once felt like I was in danger of taking a bad fall. For much of the climb I was tightly wedged in the squeeze chimney, slithering my way up. For a few stances, I came out to the edge and used a good hueco or two, but for the most part, I let the chimney swallow me up and regurgitate me up its length. I freed our stuck rope, tied it on and kept on going to the top. I placed and left a piece once the chimney opened up considerably (around the intersection with Banana patch) and then placed one more peice 10 ft from the anchors to protect a final move exiting the chimney.

The route done, I felt great, and set up the rappel. I was careful to keep the ropes un-twisted as I lowered. After removing my two pieces, I quickly swung myself out of the chimney and got the rope out on the face so it couldn't get stuck in the chimney again. I made it down and was fairly confident that we'd be packed up and done in a few minutes, and thus was quite pisse doff when we couldn't pull the ropes. We heaved and heaved, but they wouldn't budge. Somehow, the ropes had gotten twisted up again near the knot. Luckily Bob Almond was cleaning Cakewalk Direct next to us, and directed us which way to un-twist the rope. Eventually we got the ropes moving and pulled the rope down to land across the desert floor.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Pena Blanca Rescue Mission Double Header

Liz is great. Even though there are several half-finished projects around the house that need my attention, she still is perfectly ok with me taking the morning off to go climbing with Bob. Since we only had half a day, we went to Pena Blanca for a quick burn. We warmed up on the Romantic Spy boulder and then walked over to the Garden Spire to jump on the pair of sport routes on the back-side. I led up the 5.10 route Hole in the Wall and got a pretty good pump doing so. The line of bolts is to the left of a crack system, and at the second bolt I was looking at ways to not use the crack system. However, the crack won out, and I grunted my way up the awkward moves using this crack to the good rest stance 15 ft below the anchor. I was pretty flamed from the start, and took a good rest before dispatching the final face-moves to the top.

Bob led the route and made it look easy.

We then set a top-rope on a line just left of the Hole in the Wall route. This line starts off with crumbly holds for 25 ft to gain a finger-crack. The start spit us off a number of times, first from holds breaking off, and then from lack of holds. Eventually, we found a sequence that worked, which climbed a little to the right (almost to the start of Hole in the Wall). Once you reach a good hueco 5 ft below the crack, good holds get you to a decent finger jam, and then its smooth sailing up to the rest-ledge. The final headwall is steep and has tiny holds. We both looked at it and felt around for ways to penetrate it, but ended up using the left-leaning crack to the right.

It was almost noon, but since we were right there, we set a top-rope on the 5.12 route "Fortune Cookie". I couldn't get to the first bolt. I just kept falling off. There were holds, but I always lost my balance. Bob styled it but fell trying to get past the 5th bolt.

Tired enough, we called it a day. Only two hours later was when the call came for a rescue mission at Dripping Springs. The house projects were simply not destined to be. The rescue mission was a pretty serious one, a hiker was scrambling on some slabs near dripping springs and fallen, breaking several bones. It turned out to be a medium angle rescue, with a 300 ft rappel to get the subject off of the slab. The trickest part was finding an anchor, as there were no good anchoring features anywhere near the subject. For those who have access to it, I posted a fuller description at the Hobsonian. It's invite only, but if you really are interested in the details, post something here and I'll send you the full story.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Caballo Lake: Bat Cave

Bob and I went back to the Caballo lake armed with a hilti and bolts. This time we went to the actual Bat cave. Amazingly enough, the tracker made it all the way up to the Green truck. It was iffy at times, and I needed a running start for one gravelly slope, but it made it.

Someone's been hard at work there: we found lots of equipment for terracing the belay areas, gasoline cans, a generator, broken helmets, and a dozen or so sick lines climbing the overhanging cave. We jumped on two of the routes at the caves periphery, both pretty dirty. The one on the cav's far right was 5.9ish and not too steep. Then Bob jumped on one on the left side of the cave, steeper and harder. He hang-dogged up it, but said it probably would clock in in the 5.11 range. However, there is still loads of loose rock on the route, holds breaking off and chuncks of rock waiting to fall on your belayer. Not exactly confidence inspiring while you're on lead. To make things even sketchier, one of the higher-up anchors near the lip of the roof had a chain haning from it with a bolt attached to it! A bolt pulled out of the rock! Who's setting this stuff up!

Our curiosity sated, we were about to head down to the cars to get bolting gear for Gotham Wall, but then Bob noticed a line of bolts on a wall about 300 ft south from us. This wall was more like the Gotham wall, except taller. The line of bolts looked freshly drilled, with rock dust still bordering the bolts. It turns out there were two lines of bolts. the left-hand one had an anchor at about 80 ft. I led up to this anchor (about 8 bolts), and then Bob finished the route up past 5 more bolts. The 60 m rope was 3 ft off the ground for the rappel, just barely good enough for us to use.

We then tried the right-hand line. This one turned out to be more difficult, with a thin crux using some gastons and tiny crimps to pass two bolts. Bob led this one too, and I got to tool around at the crux on top-rope.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Caballo Lake: Gotham Wall

To the bat cave! That was Bob Almond's call to arms in an email last week. A climbing gym up in Albuquerque sent out a newsletter with pictures of a new sport-climbing area at Caballo lake, only an hour drive from Cruces. The lure of un-bolted limestone, a short drive and a catchy name added up to Bob roping a bunch of us OMTRSers into checking it out.

The bat cave
The driving directions were fairly accurate and I'll place them here for those interested in checking it out:

I-25 south to Exit 59 Arrey Derry/ Caballo Percha State Parks
Turn right (southwest) at exit for 2.7 mi.
Left on W. Wagoneer Rd. for 1.1 mi.
Left on Sugar Sand Rd. for 0.7 mi.
Veer right onto dirt for 0.2 mi.
Left at Tee, drive under highway in single lane tunnel for 2.6 miles to dam
Continue for 3.7 mi and turn right onto a 4WD road
Continue for 0.4 mi. and veer left
Continue for 0.6 mi. and veer right
Turn left at Green Truck and drive to end for Bat Cave
Continue straight for 0.25 mi at Green Truck for Gotham City

What kind of directions have you turn "left at the green truck" when you are miles out in the desert? But there it was, an ancient looking ford pick-up that looks like someone has been living out of it for a while now. And to our surprise, the registration tags were current.

We decided not to check out the Bat Cave itself, which reportedly has a bunch of 5.14 projects. Instead we wandered off to find the Gotham wall where 5 5.10-5.12 routes were supposed to be already established. The email Bob had wasn't very specific about finding the wall, and there were limestone walls all over the place. We'd scramble up scree and around prickly pear to reach one, and it would turn out to be chossy, or short and definitely not developed. After 3-4 of these walls, we were starting to work our way pretty far up the canyon. We encountered a few odd signs: first a bunch of empty explosive boxes under a juniper. Then little "Caution" signs complete with skull and crossbones were found at little junctions in the trail. At one rock, someone had spray-painted "STOP" and put up one of the caution signs. But hey, we're on BLM land right, so we scouted ahead. Bob and Grady went the furthest along this trail (the rest of us had retreated back towards the cars to check out some cliffs we hadn't thoroughly inspected) and found what appears to be a prospectors stash. Hammers, shovels, wire-rope, all sorts of mining tools. Someone has been very busy up here, and recently too.

Bob Almond styling the overhang
Prospecting aside, we finally located the bolted lines on a cliff band that started pretty close to the parking spot, but extended around a bend to the south. We stopped at a pair of lines, a steep and thin looking line on the left and a more moderate line on the right. Both were amply bolted and both had variation starts to increase the difficulty. Bob and Matt started to gear up for the easier line, so I decided to try my luck on the steeper line. Right from the start I was flummoxed. I moved up off a good left-hand side-pull and could reach a decent pinch with my right hand, but then kind of froze there, unable to budge. It took me 3-4 false starts before I found a sequence that I liked, and then my arms were already starting to burn. I took a short rest, and then scrabbled my way up past the first crux and up to the third bolt (actually the fourth, but the first bolt can easily be skipped). At the third bolt I took another pause, which turned into a hang. Here, the holds moved left a bit to a good hand-ledge, but the next move looked big to get to a left-hand side-pull/pinch. I stuck this move after a brief rest but it was getting to the next bolt which really got me. The moves didn't look hard, but the holds were all tiny crimps and I got scared. Why get scared, I was above good bolts with a clean fall. But scared I was. One reason for this fear was that I had already committed to a move that I couldn't reverse. I couldn't wimp out and reach my last bolt for an easy take. I either had to fall (probably only 6-10ft) or pull through and reach the next bolt. I cursed under my breath a lot but held together long enough to slither up to the next bolt. I shamelessly grabbed the draw as soon as I could clip the bolt, but even that was hard to do. My arms were so flamed that hanging onto the draw felt impossible. I managed to clip my rope in and shouted "take" with relief. Sitting here, it's hard to put myself in the same frame of mind. Why did I show so much fear? Why couldn't I just relax, enjoy the climb and simply fall when my best efforts ran out? It makes me think that I need to work at these tough sport climbs, work on becoming comfortable not just with falling, but with pushing my climbing abilities without a guttural fear. Easy to say, but hard to execute. The rest of the climb was more straightforward, but still had challenges. Two bolts higher was a short overhang. Above that was three more bolts of thin crimps. I took more hangs, but managed to top out, arms like wet noodles, and pride between my legs.

Grady Viramontes top-roping the "easier" route
I watched as the rest of the crew climbed this route, Bob and Matt both pink-pointed it while Grady opted for top-roping. Matt just moved to Las Cruces and was invited out by Bob who has a mutual acquaintance. He's tall and thin and his worn climbing gear makes everything I own look like brand new. He claimed to be close to falling at the place where I was most distressed, but his flash looked all smooth from the ground.

I jumped on the easier route to the right, leading up through Matt's draws. This route lacked the strenuous moves of its neighbor, but still required good focus and technique up some small crimpers. It starts in a corner underneath a roof, and traversed out left past 4-5 bolts, turning the roof on the left side. Above is slab/face climbing on beautifully textured limestone. A hard white base is ribbonned with razor sharp blackened rock, providing thousands of micro foot-holds and razor crimpers. I finished up the route and took another turn on the firt line, this time on top-rope. I figured that with a top-rope, I wouldn't have fear and could concentrate on simply climbing. This didn't make the climb easier though and I fell at each of the crux moves. ONce again, I'm left with a resolve to train and get stronger. So easy to say yet so hard to do.

Bob Almond starting up the shady overlook
Meanwhile, Bob had moved south along the cliff about 100m and found a steep line of bolts in the shade and with a gorgeous view of the lake. We were all getting pretty sun-burnt and it was nice to sit in the shade and watch Bob artfully send this challenging route. It is by far steeper than the previous climbs, and the gap between the 4rth and 5th bolts is enough to give most people pause. Watching Bob work up it was like watching a drama un-fold. He seemed to casually float through the first three bolts, but at the fourth, he paused. A good flake could be reached to the right, but he wouldn't trust it (it did seem a little suspect). Instead he strained to get good body position on a small hand-rail, even gaining an awkward arm-press in order to clip the fourth bolt. Once clipped, he danced over right using the suspect flake and gaining a shallow stance to rest. The space to the next bolt was daunting and it appeared that the rest-stance wasn't so rest-ful after all, Bob kept fidgeting and shaking out his arms. Eventually he committed to the finger-crack moves and the long potential fall. We watched on edge as he grappled with the crack, hoping he wouldn't slip, and we all breathed a cololective sigh when he clipped into the last bolt.

I took a turn on this route on top-rope and was almost immediately shut-down at the first two bolts. The moves involved using bad side-pulls. open-handed holds, and funky body positioning. I took several falls but eventually executeds the moves. The upper section was more straight-forward but I was fighting the terrible burn in my arms, and marvelling at Bob's endurance as he led the route. Bravo Bob!

Over dinner at Sparky's smokehouse in Hatch, we hatched plans to return. Bob with his Hilti and bolts, already has a few lines in his sights. Me, I just want to tussle with the rock again. And maybe this time, come out on top.