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.

No comments: