Saturday, May 29, 2010

Rabbit Ears Canyon Climbing with Andrus the Lithuanian

There is a foreign exchange student in my wife's lab named Andrus. Liz has mentioned a few times that he was eager to get out and climb in the Organs, and we finally connected today on his birthday. Originally, I had suggested Sugarloaf as our destination, something very memorable and one of the areas best. But with the heat-wave coming through, my lack of much real climbing this year, and Andrus' telling me he has never done trad climbing, I opted to take us into Rabbit Ear Canyon to chase shade on whatever walls we could.

We left Las Cruces at 7:15 and were in the Canyon a few hours later. The Rabbit Ears slabs were completely shaded so I selected a route that I had done with Scott Jones a few years back to be our first climb. I think I had called this route 5.7, and in hind-sight that is probably pretty accurate, but I wasn't feeling strong or confident on the first pitch. There is a nice variation finish to the first pitch, which doesn't skirt around the large block under the tree, but goes directly up it. It looks pretty doable, and protectable, but I opted for the easier, rotten way around to the left, which Scott had done before as well. Andrus also climbed it this way. The 2nd pitch was pretty much how I remembered it, with a crux move past a bolt out on the left and then easier climbing up to a nice ledge underneath a headwall. We only had a single rope with us, and attempted to descend in two rappels, but the rope was about 5 meters short of the first belay ledge and we had to swing off to a side, build a small anchor and scramble down to the 1st belay ledge. To make things even more fun, when we pulled the rope from the 2nd pitch belay, it got stuck in a flake 10 m above our make-shift anchor, and I had to climb up and un-stick it before we could head down. At least I was giving Andrus a feeling of trad adventure!

The slabs were just coming into the sun as we finished this route, so we packed up and bushwhacked around the corner to the east to try to find a shady climb on the west face of Citadel. A short 5.8 corner was just barely still in the shade so we jumped on it. This route was called Iron Worker, and while the climbing was pretty fun, was very short, had poor protection placements and was a little chossy. I usually had decent stances to fiddle some gear in by stemming the corner, but the gear placements were never that good; wire stoppers that didn't contact the rock well, cams that barely work but have the lobes at awkward angles. And the climbing moves between the "rest" stances involved pulling up steep sections, making me worried my out-of-shape arms would get pumped. Fortunately, they didn't. However overall impression of the climb was not great. We didn't find any fixed rappel gear at the top, although the route tops out on the ledge which connects to Finger Zinger and the West Ridge routes. We could have tried descending one of these routes, but I opted for leaving an old sling and rappel ring above Iron Worker for a simpler rappel.

By now it was past noon and there wasn't a bit of shade in the lower Rabbit Ear canyon. Despite no shade, it didn't feel too hot yet and there was a light intermittent breeze, so we scrambled up and over to the Shortline area. This small wall had two beautiful crack climbs and was our best climbing of the day. We started off on the right-hand crack, "Shortline". The start was a clean and easy hand crack. The crack steepens at a spot where it splits. The upper split had two great hand-jam moves, and then 2-3 perfect finger jams before the crack disappeared at the crux. A bomber nut placement protects the crux 5.9 moves, which are delicate slabby moves past the crack. The slab eases up after the first crux moves, but there wasn't any protection, so I had to keep focused up the final 20 ft to the bolt anchors. This is a fantastic short route, with nice climbing, solid protection and a good spicy slab up top.

The second crack was similar although the climbing easier and the crack a little less pretty (plants in more places). It was still a good climb though. The 3-bolts on the anchor were all old 1/4"ers with thin SMC hangers. they were adequate for top-roping, but could use replacing. I top-roped the thin face between the two cracks, probably a low 5.10, possibly harder if you can avoid using some of the crack features you pass by.

After these 3 climbs it was really getting hot, and we were about ready to call it a day, but before leaving, Andrus wanted to try out trad leading on an easy pitch on the Rabbit Ears Slabs. It was mostly a scramble, but he basically has the idea and his placements were decent. However, it was really starting to get hot now, with climbing shoe rubber burning through, and our water supplies depleted, we quickly cleaned Andus' little climb and hiked out. It took us an hour before we were on the road and could stop at a gas station for some cold refreshments. We were sun-burnt and Sasha was wiped.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Two days of climbing with my dad in the Organs

My dad came to visit for a week. I was expecting a leisurely visit with some climbing high-lights. This changed a bit when the first day he was here, the conversation turned to painting our house, something my wife has been wanting to do for a year. My dad seized on the idea, "I'll help you paint! You'll need this, this and this..." The next thing I know we are spending our time together painting the house bright yellow. After 4 days of painting, I had enough. There was still some trim-work to be finished, but if we were going to have any father-son climbing adventures, it needed to happen right then.
Dad low down in the Chute

Despite my Dad feeling sick with bowel troubles, we took two days to climb in the Rabbit Ears. Our first day turned out to be frigidly cold and windy. By the time we had hiked up through Rabbit Ears canyon, we were being buffeted around by the wind like rag-dolls. Not wanting to admit defeat, we opted to climb up Boyer's Chute. This turned out to be an excellent choice, as the chute was very well shielded from the wind. It is also simply a fun scramble. My dad soloed the first "crux" 5th class section by going on the right side of the chock-stone. I attempted to bypass this by climbing a bit further to the right, and what looked to be an easy ramp. This is what John Bregar had climbed before and said was kind of sketchy. After climbing it I agree, while none of the climbing was difficult, the rock was a bit crumbly and it involved some awkward balancy steps.
Dad at the first "crux"                            Dad climbing up the crux chimney

Dad let me lead the crux chimney, not feeling up to snuff himself. We then simul-climbed the rest of the way to the top. I was pleasantly surprised to see 5 or so new entries in the Summit register that I recently had replaced. A couple parties had climbed Boyer's Chute and someone had done one of the West Face routes, but wasn't sure which one.

Dad near the top of the chute
We descended back down the chute, and I replaced the bolt rappel station at the top of the chimney pitch. Dad timed me, it took 20 minutes for me to drill and install a bolt. I wasn't able to cleanly remove either of the existing bolts. I was able to shear them off though, so they are unusable and not so conspicuous. Overall, thoe choice to climb Boyer's chute was a good one, it was probably the only route well protected from the howling winds and allowed us a great day out despite the weather.

The next day we had much nicer weather, calm and warm and headed back up Rabbit Ears Canyon to attempt our original goal: The Church Key route on Middle Rabbit Ear. This route is described in Ingraham's guide as being "5.7"" and with a possible pendulum move on the first pitch. The first challenge was just making sense of the route description. The route starts at the saddle between NRE and MRE, by scrambling upa mossy 3rd class slope.
Dad on the 3rd class
From here the description says to head directly up a chimney, or take steeper rock on the left until climbing becomes "impossible" and then pendulum into the corner.

I tried the direct approach first, climbing directly up the corner crack pictured below. This was surprisingly steep, and I ended up below the wide section of crack and scratched my head. I was hoping it would be a squeeze chimney, but it looked too small for me to squeeze into. I hadn't brought my off-width cams, and I'm not even sure if they would fit, but after scopung it out up close a few minutes, I though "No way this is they way they went" and I bailed off a chock stone to try to find the alternative 1st pitch.
The "steep rock" to the left was up this blocky arete. The climbing was pretty easy up to the last step, at which point it became nearly blank. This matched the Ingraham description where the climbing became "impossible". It actualyl looked pretty doable, slabby but not impossible, The only problem was that there didn't appear to be any protection if I continued up the arete. The alternative was to place a pendulum peice here and move back into the corner. However, it was clear that this would land me at precisely the same spot under the wide off-chimney that I had decided not to attempt. After some deliberation, I decdide to bail again, this tiome simply down climbing.
By the time I had bailed off both the first pitch attempts it was getting close to 2pm, and we decided we'd pack it in for the day. While dissappointed that we hadn't climbed the route it was still a nice day out with my dad. The whole way down I was thinking about how I should have tried harder to squeeze into the off-chimney, or if I had only brought a bolt kit I could have mustered the courage to attempt the arete. This will have to be added to my list of "next times". 

Dad scrambling down on the descent. The large chimney shown above him is bypassed by going around the left and up to the NRE/MRE saddle. The mossy 3rd class scramble puts you on tom of this chimney/shoulder where the climb "actually" starts.