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.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

La Cueva: Climbing with the OMTRS

I climbed with the OMTRS today. We set up about 5 ropes on the Sunny Side of La Cueva. I immediately jumped on the chance to lead Hive Mind, which has shut me down twice before. To be fair, the first time I took a hang on the route was because I got stung at the crux. The second time I was rope-soloing and not really comfortable taking a lead fall. But today, I had an attentive belayer, Will, and finally climbed the route cleanly. It still felt hard, with the holds all sloping away at the crux and the feet being very crumbly.

Will had a hell of a time on top-rope. He managed to un-clip my draws at the crux, but then fell and swung away from the climb. After what felt like 30 minutes of trying to get back on route, he finally resorted to prussiks to get back on route and finish the route. I patiently belayed him and watched the other climbers. John Gallegos led Piton Power, Bob Almond set a rope on Black Streak and Grady set a rope on Battle of The Bulge. Climbers were doing laps while I was belaying Will, and I watched as Bob Almond led up a crack system to the left of The Bulge which I had been meaning to try. It looked like it protected well enough, and was at a beginner grade (~5.6) but with a more serious top-out crack that Bob didn't tackle, either because he was only wearing approach shoes, or he didn't want to set a top-rope too hard.

Some of the younger/newer OMNTRS members are strong climbers, if a little green. Leading is something they've never done, but they can dance up the 5.10s we set today like it's perfectly natural. I'm happy to see more climbers joining the team, because it means more partners. Pictured above is Natalie dispatching the crux of hive Mind.

Grady mentioned that the first bolt of The Bulge could be replaced as it was rusty looking and I jumped at the opportunity. This turned out to be a big mistake, I spent an hour trying to get that bolt out and only managed to chip away about 1/2" of rock around the bolt, loosen it to a dangerous spinner and expose 3/4" of the shaft. Even repeated bending back-and-forth couldn't shear the bolt off, although maybe it was twisting around rather than actually bending. Eventually, I got tired and fed-up and simply placed a new bolt next to it. I'll have to come back with a crow-bar/cold-chisel to finish the job.

By this point, most of the MOTRS crew were packing up, but Bob was interested in another climb and I tlaked him into checking out the Sun-Rot Dihedral. I remembered working out the moves to the bouldery start, but we both struggled with it on lead, first Bob giving it several tries, then I took a turn couldn't work up the courage to commit on the bad holds into the funny shoulder-scum moves. I was ready to give-up and circumvent the crux, but Bob gave it one more try and sent it. He led up the rest of the route, dubbing it Crumbalicious. I dispatched the crux on top-rope without too much strain, leaving myself to wonder why it was I couldn;'t get it on lead. One thing that made the lead hard was that some of the wires you can place for pro cover over a finger-lock that I use to get myself into the should-scum. I could get my finger into the lock when I was attempting the lead, but if I had fallen the carbiner would have crushed my finger, a thought which scared me off from really going for it. The rest of climb was crumbly, but about how I remembered it. The 1/4" bolt was still there, but after my earlier experience I didn't want to mess with trying to remove it. Instead, we added a second bolt nearby so that the two bolts could be used as a rap-station.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Checkerboard Wall: Humbled by off-width

I've been wanting go to the Checkerboard wall for a while now to try out the 5.10 off-width there. 5.10 off-width, every time I've jumped on one I get thrashed, but they still hold a romantic appeal to me. They are so clean looking, and easy to pick out from miles away. While driving on baylor canyon road, or hiking the approach up to some cliff, if there is an off-width on the wall it will attract your attention. It usually is a stunning line, through clean rock and from a distance you don't fully realize the scale, that horrible region between fist and chimney.

I'm dragging on, the point is, I convinced Bob Almond to try the route Worth The Effort, the established 5.10 off-width on the checkerboard wall. This one isn't the romantic ideal that others are, more of a short off-width section around a roof. This made me hopeful that I'd actually have a chance at success. To stack odds even more in my favor, Bob brought both his #4 camelots to add to my #5 and #3 (plus my #4 forged friend inherited from my father).

Since I was going to take the offwidth pitch, Bob got to lead the first pitch. This seemed fair until we actually got to the start of the route and looked at it. The crack started about 15ft up the face, and the moves to get there didn't look that easy. They also looked largely un-protectable with bad fall potential into a tree and down a slope. It turns out that this climb is one of those examples of a climb which appears more difficult and scary than it really was. A few slightly hidden face holds and some good sloper foot-holds gained a stance wherein Bob could just barely place some gear in the crack. Thus protected, the balancy 5.9 move into the crack was dispatched with confidence.

Bob at the start of the climb
and Bob underneath the roof

Now it was my turn. I had a couple false starts exiting the belay. There werea couple small foot-holds on the right wall, and a decent arm-bar/chicken wing got me to the lip of the roof, but I struggled to get past here. I'd struggle the moves for a bit, panic, and grab my pro. Each time I did this, I'd place one of the other big cams higher, slowly advancing my protection, and giving myself a bit more security to suss out the moves. Unfortunately, I wasn't willing to move beyond my cams much, and they always seemed to be in the way when I needed to shuffle my arm up higher in the crack. Every time I'd make some progress, maybe 12 inches or so, I'd get stuck, or feel insecure and end up grabbing my pro again. Eventually, i turned the lip and got to easier ground, and despite all my "cheating" I was panting and wheezing like I'd just pulled off some herculean effort. Despite the easier climbing, I was pumped and tired and it all felt hard. The crack narrowed to hands and then a few finger-locks beneath an overlap. I awkwardly grabbed for a jug above the overlap, and hung their for a minute or so trying to blindly stuff in a cam above my head. Not happy with the cam, I backed it up with a shallow nut. Neither placement was ideal, but I was running out of strength again, so I committed to the move. Stepping above the overlap and using that last reserve of strength was an endorphin high. I could have fell right then and felt wonderful. Instead a floated up the rest of the easy terrain in a blissful state.

I don't know if Bob struggled with the off-width or not, as I couldn't see him from the belay. He never weighted the rope though, so I'm hoping that he crushed it.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

East Slabs with the OMTRS

When I found out that the OMTRS was doing a "training" to the East Slabs of Sugarloaf, I immediately wanted to camp out at the cave. Bob Almond immediately took me up on a camping trip, and we put out an open invite to the team.

My main concern for camping out was water. The last time I camped at the cave, I went through tons of water. This time a few factors were in my favor, I wasn't bringing Sasha who can drink a half-gallon a day, it wasn't mid-summer, and I already knew that 4 gallon were stashed there. None-the-less, I was resolved not to eat into the water reserves and carried a full 7 liters of water with me for the week-end. This combined with a rack, a rope, sleeping gear, food and all my bolting tools added up to a heavy pack. Maybe I was punishing myself in some kind of competitiveness, as Josie was also going to be camping at the cave. I recalled from the last OMTRS overnight on Organ Needle that she could carry way heavier packs than me, and also brought 2+ gallons of water with her. We'll see who has the heaviest pack this time.

I was relieved when the hike in went quickly, and wasn't all that stressful. Compared to the Organ Needle hike, the trail was less steep and was shorter. We left the Aguirre group parking by 9am and were at the Cave by 1030.

A pair of the faster OMTRS hikers, two students named Joe and Anne, immediately struck off for the climbs. I hung around the cave for a bit to make sure people could find the place. Dropping my pack, I sauntered off down the "trail" and was just in time to yell at three hikers who were heading up the wron way, towards the top of the East Slab rather than where the routes were. Satisfied that the team was on the right track, I went back to the cave to gear up for the climbing. Bob Almond had given his twin ropes to two of the faster hikers whoe were already there, so I decided that I'd take a few climbers up the Great Bowl route. Josie and Bob Cort were both getting ready to climb, and I had climbed with them before and had some idea of their capabilities, so we formed up a team. The bulk of the OMTRS was arriving at the Cave as we were heading out to the route. We also could see that Joe and Anne had stayed too high on the traversing approach to the East Slabs, and were starting up a climb that wasn't on any of the topos we had brought. I felt somewhat to blame for their misdirection, as I had tried to point them out where they needed to go, but apparently I hadn't been very precise. No matter, they had all they needed for a good time.

The Great Bowl route was Bob Cort's first ever multi-pitch. Not to make things any easier for him, I had to explain to him how a two-rope climbing system worked. Both he and josie made the climb look easy. the most trying aspect of the day was dealing with the cold. While gearing up at the Cave, it was warm and we all struck off in our base layers. As we climbed, the sun quickly disappeared behind Sugarloaf and a chilly breeze struck up. By the second pitch we were all shivering. We briefly discussed exiting the route to the right so as to get off quicker, but my thirst to climb Ingraham's Dihedral won out. I gave Bob Cort my shell (which I thankfully decided to carry for emergencies) and Josie pulled on a purple fleece she had tied around her waste and we forged ahead.

Bob Cort and Josie following the third traversing pitch.

Ingraham's Dihedral was every much as good as I had hoped. The pro was very thin, only small wires in shallow placements but stemming provided very secure stances. The crux moves were exiting out the top of the dihedral, not hard moves really, but 15 ft above only tiny wires and 5.8. I arrived at the belay and just as Karl kiser had mentione din one of his posts, the bolts needed replacing. One was a Star Drive-in, a type of bolt that consists of a nail hammered into an aluminum sleeve to expand it into the hole. Every bolting web-site I've read says this type of bolt is no good, but this was the first time I had ever run across one. Bob Cort and Josie had the lucky opportunity to get a lesson in bolting.

It feels a little odd, showing people how to place bolts when I myself have only done it a hadnful of times. It's not a very complicated matter, but the fact that if you do it wrong you could cost someone his life adds gravity to the subject. we pulled out the Star Drive-in first (I backed up the anchor with a cam first). It came out relatively easily and was in a 3/8" hole, so we didn't have to drill long before we installed our first bolt. The other bolt was a 1/4" pound-in, which also cam out easily. I kept thiking back to when I first replaced bolts out here on the East Slabs, how I couldn't get the bolts out at all, and ended up shearing them off and drilling new holes. Things went so much better this time.

Replacing the bolt anchors at the top of Ingraham's Dihedral.

At the top of the route

By the time we finished the climb and got back to the Cave, the rest of the OMTRS team had already left. Aside from Anne and Joe, no one had gone for the multi-pitch routes. Bob Almond found them a 5.8 TR which a bunch of people tried, but I was extremely surprised that their hadn't been more multi-pitch parties. Several people had brought racks and ropse, so there was plenty of gear to send up multiple parties. A mystery to me. Bob Cort hurried off down the trail to catch up with the rest of theam while the rest of us settled in for the night. Bob Almond had a fire going already and cooked up a feast of sausages and roast veggies. Josie was joined by her husband Matt who hiked up in the evening.

Sunrise on our camp

I really like the Cave camp. it's got room enough for 2-5 people, a neat cooking area and a decent stash of water and equipment. I took a full inventory in the morning while the rest were sleeping.
Cave Camp Inventory March 1st, 2009
A 5 gallon bucket suspended in the cave contained the following
  • MRE (heating packet and silverware only)
  • Paper plates, ~20
  • Food bag containing; lemon lime drink powder, old dried raisins, 1lbd macaroni, 1/2 lb oatmeal, 3 teebags, 1 cherry drink powder, 1 freeze-dried coffe pack and salt&pepper packs
  • Blue plastic cup (16 oz)
  • 2 spoons, 1 fork and home-made chopsticks
  • large roll of paper towels
  • 1/2 roll of Toilet paper
  • 1 c brown sugar
  • 4 match books and a lighter
  • 1 can of gatorade powder (very hardened)
  • 5 moist towlettes
  • 1 chicken flavor packet crystals
  • 1 candle stub
  • ~5 sip-lock bags
Other items in the camp include
  • 4+ gallons og water (we added about two more when we left)
  • 1/4 gallon of camping fuel
  • 1 pan
  • 1 small pot
  • 1 small mug
  • 2 plastic tarps (I hiked one of these out which was in terrible shape and threw it away)
  • 1 canvas tarp (also hiked out and tossed)
  • 1 beat up foam sleeping pad (hiked out and tossed)
  • 1 small high-density foam pad
  • 2 metal gratings for cooking
Some critter had tore into the pads/tarps pretty well, but most other items were in decent shape. the critter was also fond of Cholla, and there were cholla spines littered through-out the cave. We did our best clear them out, but you ended up getting them stuck to you, or your stuff. Bob Almond wound up getting a small leak in his thermarest. I added a notebook and paper to the stash to be used as a camp logbook. We'll see if anyone uses it...

Bob Almond, Matt and Josie (top of third pitch)

I let Bob pick the route and he decided on La Mancha with a link-up to Misty for the 5.9 headwall.

Bob on the first pitch (first two pics), Josie styling the crux pitch.

The first pitch gave the most difficulties. Bob was leading up but couldn't see where the anchors were, and was leary about striking out onto the unprotectable slab without knowing where they were. Fortunately we were able to spot them from the ground by scrambling up the slope to the south. Turns out the anchors on this route also need replacing. Unforunately, the two 1/4" pound-ins couldn't be backed up and with four of us hanging from the anchor, we weren't about to unclip from one so as to replace the other. instead, we decided we'd simply add another bolt to the anchor. Bob Almond got started on bolting and handed me the second pitch lead. A clever plan on Bob's part as the second pitch turned out to be completely unprotectable and 140ft to the next anchor. "Groundfall potential" are two words I kept out of my mind as I carefully stepped up the textured slab.

We added a bolt to the 2nd pitch anchor while Bob led up and over to join up with Misty. The first time I climbed the 5.9 corner variation of Misty, I was on rope-solo Top-rope (I had led the easier corner at 5.7) and I ascended by clever stemming. That's how Bob Almond, josie and Matt all tackled the crux pitch. By the time I got to it though, it was calling out to me to do finger locks. In fact, it was almost the perfect size crack for my fingeres. I could just barely get two joints in, for nice tight finger locks. It felt great, but I have to caution myself: it was only 15 ft of steep finger-locks and my fingers were crying out in pain. Plus I hadn't had to place or remove gear while hanging from locks. So before I run out to do 100 ft of steep finger-locks, remember that.

We finished the climb and were back to camp while the sun was still up. We were out to the car right after the sun went down. What an excellent week-end.