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.

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