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.

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