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.