Saturday, March 26, 2011

ORP - Orgy

Marta Reece with NRE in the background
After last week-ends botched attempt to rope-solo the route Orgy on ORP, I returned this week-end with a climbing partner, Marta Reece. We made a fairly early start, I picked her up a 6:30. It was actually fairly cold and breezy on our hike in but we made good time and were racking up at the base of the route at 9am. As we were racking up both of us were shivering, it was definitely much cooler than last week-end. I quickly led up the first pitch, staying more to the right than before, on 5th class rock (instead of the easier ground to the left). this pitch climbs past a tree and ends up on top of the first shoulder. The top of the first pitch I was in the sun and began to warm up. I brought Marta up quickly so she could warm up as well.

Looking up at the 3rd pitch. 
The second pitch I had rope-soloed before, but even with a proper belay, I felt a little off. It involves some fist-offwidth like cracks, which are not difficult but felt awkward to me. I'll be the first to admit that I am not in good climbing shape anymore. I retrieved the gear I had bailed off of last week-end and set up an anchor below the steeper wall that had intimidated me before when I was solo. This made for a short second pitch, but we were in the sun and quite comfortable.
Looking down from the 3rd pitch
According to the topo I had brought the 3rd pitch was the crux, if you could call 5.6 a crux. It looked almost wide enough to involve chimney climbing and there were a couple dead brushy growths. I hacked away the growths without much of a problem, and found the climbing above to be excellent. Good moves and protection up through the steep wall, but very comfortable feeling. The steep wall was only 60 ft or so high and above was some easy scrambling to reach the top of a large shoulder on the E buttress of ORP. I chose a belay spot near the top, but in a pretty direct line from where Marta was belaying me.

We consulted the topo before continuing. from the shoulder the buttress had another steep headwall, but it looked harder than the 5.4 suggested by the topo, and also fairly dirty. A comment on the one of the topos mentioned going around a corner and then up a 5.4 dihedral, and the only thing that seemed like it matched this description was to scramble over some blocky terrain down into the gully on the left of the buttress. After I had done this there was a dihedral-like corner on the right hand side of the gully which would top out near the small saddle beneath ORP. Despite placing little gear and having, I ran out of rope about 1/2 way up the corner, and had to stop and belay Marta over. She wasn't too happy about the traverse/scramble intothe gully, I had not protected it well for a second, and she faced a serious fall if she had slipped, but once in the gully she felt better.
Marta scrambling off the shoulder and into the gully on our 4th pitch
Our final pitch up the corner had one interesting section/move, which was a big reach to a good hold for me, and more technical for Marta. I guess you could say it was a 5.4 move, but at this point I don't trust my abilities to rate climbs much. At the top of the corner I passed some old rappel slings, and then I scrambled up 3rd class terrain until I reached the end of the rope, only a short distance from the summit. We didn't dawdle long on the summit, it was pretty windy. I put a copy of the transcribed summit register in the new jar, and we scrambled back down for our descent. It was 12:30.
Glorious summit

For the descent we decided to rappel down the gully on the south side of the buttress, which would put us right at our gear. From the rappel slings at the top of the 5.4 pitch, a 30m rappel landed us in the gulley, where it was broad and brushy. We hiked to the bottom of this section and the top of the large chock stone that had stopped me on my first scramble attempt back in January. the rock above this chock was very loose and we tumbled down a few pieces while searching for something to rappel off of. Moving the rock opened up a hole behind the chock which I thought we might be able to chimney down, but Marta didn't like the looks of it. The walls were pretty far apart for easy chimneying. One bad effect of the hole was that wind funneled up it and kept blowing loose dirt in our faces and eyes. Marta found us a climb of living shrubs that she thought we could rappel off of, and when I went up to get a closer look, I found an old 2-piton rappel anchor hidden in lichen just off to the side.
suspicious looking piton rappel anchor
The top piton was not very deep in the crack, and did not lend confidence but the bottom one looked decent. I was ready to use the pitons, but Marta felt more comfortable using the climb of shrubs, so we used them. Rappelling down the chock was only 20 ft to another brushy area, and I was hoping we could continue down past another chock/steep section, but it was clear that the rope would not reach to the bottom of the next section, so we pulled it down and set up for a final rappel. Again, we were shifting through loose rock to try to find something to anchor off of, and then spotted some old slings off the north side of the gully. the only problem was that to get to the slings involved a very exposed 5ft move over a steep slab, where a fall would be deathly serious. Unfortunately we had already pulled our rope from the above rappel anchor, but I made it over to the slings by protecting the exposed move with a wired-stopper, then setting up a quick anchor to belay Marta over.

The final rappel was on piton-like stake driven straight down behind a crack. It looked pretty solid, and the sling around it would also be held by the rock. This last rappel put us almost at the very bottom, where we could scramble back down to our packs. It had taken nearly 2 hours to descend.
Final rappel. the first pitch of the climb is on the right hand side past the tree, but could just as easily start from here.
Overall the route was pretty good but not my favorite. The first 3 pitches were on very nice rock, and there is good potential for difficult variations on other crack systems. However, scrambling down into the gully to finish up the 5.4 corner detracts from the climb. It would be better to continue more directly along the buttress, tackling the final head-wall. The descent could also be improved by adding some descent rappel anchors. Another project for another day.

Friday, March 25, 2011

ORP summit register

The ORP summit register that I retrieved last weekend was a good one. Similar to the one found on wild-cat, it was a small metal film canister (rusted out a bit), with bits of folded paper in it. The whole thing had been placed in a larger orange pill container, which would help preserve it, but it looks like this pill container is relatively new. I left a new jar and notebook, and plan on bringing up a copy of the transcription when I next climb up there (tomorrow). The register did not have many entries, but it did have entries dating back to the 60's and the early Organ Mountain climbers. Very cool.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

South Rabbit Ear summit register

I replaced the summit register on the South Rabbit Ear on 3/18/11. the existing register did not date back very far, and a cursory glance did not show much climbing beta in it. Still, it was only some loose scraps of paper in a degrading plastic pill bottle, so I left what I hoped would be a more long-lasting glass container and notepad.

Friday, March 18, 2011

A trio of summits in the Organs

Once again I find myself solo in the Organs, with a pack full of gear. I know I could have tried harder to find a partner for a climb, but I also feel a need to be out on my own. Well, not entirely alone, Sasha came with me this time. After dropping Levin off at daycare, we made it to the Topp Hut Mine around 9:30am. It took another hour to reach the base of the climb I had my sights on, a route up ORP called Orgy. I got Sasha situated with a bowl of water, and then geared up for some solo rope climbing. I had my Wren soloist, and a small rack, but I had in my head that this climb would be so "easy" and comfortable that I wouldn't need much prop, and maybe wouldn't even need to rope-solo. But just in case I got all geared up, attaching the soloist to a make-shift chest harness flaking out the rope in my pack.
Summit of SRE, with old register next to my pack

The first pitch was pretty easy and comfortable, I had climbed it before, and I was hoping the next two would be similar. However, as I started up the 2nd pitch some of the moves and positions left me a little uncomfortable. Instead of giant positive hand and foot-holds, there were some wide cracks, which although fairly secure, never leave me as comfrtable. I negotiated one of these before deciding to anchor and rope up on a nice big ledge. With the rope attached I tackled the next crack section and started to feel a little more confident. At the top of a short crack I made a balancy move left to get into a corner, and placed some more gear, then gained another large ledge. Aboce this ledge was a steeper section, probably the "crux" of the route. I was feeling a some significant rope-drag (the soloist tends to make it more pronounced) and was going to remedy this by pulling up the tail end and stacking it on the ledge I was at. As I started pulling up though, the rope became stuck. Porbbaly this was because of the safety knot I had tied in the end, getting stuck in one of the cracks below. Part of using a soloist properly is tying safety knots in the tail end of the rope, so that if the device doesn't catch properly and starts sliding through, the knot would catch you (instead of running off the rope!). With my knot stuck, I had no choice but to set an anchor and ,make this a short pitch, but then something inside of me said "what the hell are you doing, why don't you just rappel down and do something less risky". Maybe I was feeling nervous about the soloist system, or the fact I was on my own with no good means to get help, or maybe I just am not as confident/risk-taking as I once was. Whatever the cause, I decided to simply rappel back down and give up on a rope-solo climb.
My damaged rope. When did this happen!?
I was feeling kind of down with myself as I made this decision and rappelled to my anchor. It's the same feeling I get whenever I bail off of something that I feel I should have been able to do. I reached my anchor and cleaned it, and that is when I noticed that my rope was damaged. A section near where I had tied into had serious sheath damage, I could see the core though and it looked ok, although it didn't feel too good. A more portentious sign I couldn't have asked for, I really should not be risking myself all alone out in the Organs like this. Luckily, I had already finished the rap, and could down-climb the rest of the way.

Looking up the SE gully of ORP

Sasha was glad to see me when I got down, and I relaxed a bit before deciding what to do next. The day was still early, it was only 12:00, so I decided to try to climb up ORP via the next gully to the south. I had recently received an email from Tom Lepinski saying this route was a good scramble, and that the summit register had some good history in it, so I was excited to get up there. I left Sasha at the base of the ORP butress still, not wanting to get her into a bad position on the scramble. I bush-whacked south and uphill until I came to a broad gully which ascended the southeastern flank of ORP, or maybe you could say the northeastern flank of the Rabbit Ears Massif. The gully was a pretty straightforward hike, not too brushy because it looks like falling rocks destroy vegetation in the gully on a somewhat regular basis. It was nice and cool and afforded nice views of the Rabbit Ears. It topped outing a little saddle between ORP and an un-named tower to the south. I scrambled down to the spot where Tom had left a rappel anchor. I could see why he would, there was a steep rocky section about 10' high to get down, and the down-climb did not look simple. I avoided his rappel though by climbing a little bit down to the west. This was very exposed, with a nice long drop down into ORP's SW gully, but was not any harder than 4th class. Once down this one difficult section, the climb up ORP's S ridge was easy and fun. Not very exposed 3rd class scrambling over slabby rocks. I located the summit register and replaced it with a new one, then re-built the protective cairn around it. After a quick call to my wife, I started back down, already setting my sights on Rabbit Ears Massif.

Instead of the 4th class and exposed scramble I had down-climbed, I climbed directly up to tom's rappel anchor. Climbing up was fun, and not as exposed or dangerous. It was a steep 10 ft, but with generous holds. If it wasn't for the awkward top-out around a boulder, the down-climb would be fun as well. Hiking up to the top of Rabbit Ears Massif was gorgeous. The ridge from ORP all the way up has a nice open pine forest, a rare treat in the Organs. The duff carpet was peaceful and shady, but at any point I could and did step over to the top of the ridge and look out over steep cliffs descending to the west. I scrambled on top of the un-named tower, and then made my way to the summit post of the Rabbit ears Massif. This was only my second time on this summit, but reading through the register I realized that I had never signed the first time. The register must have been covered in a drift of snow that first time I was up here. I had brought a new note-book and jar for this summit, but decided not to leave it. The existing register note-book was in good shape with about half its pages left. It dated back about 6-7 years, so it's probably safe to say it will last another 6-7 more before needing to be replaced. Plus, ti didn't have the same kind of attraction to me as the registers on the more technical summits. there were no entries about which routes people had climbed, really not much climbing history at all.

I drank all but the last gulp of water from my bottle before heading down "standard" way to get back into Rabbit Ears Canyon. Once at the top of the canyon though, I figured I was so close to the summit of SRE, that I might as well bag it as well. In contrast to the nice hiking through pine trees on the Massif, getting over to the saddle between SRE and MRE was a terrible bushwhack through dense mountain mahogany, spanish daggers and cholla. Plus it was in the full sun, and there wasn't much of a breeze. from the saddle I scrambled up the normal route and was feeling exhausted when I slumped onto the summit. I took the final unsatisfying gulp from my water, grabbed the old register, left a new one and immediately started heading down. I was tired enough, but now I wanted more water, and I couldn't get any until back at the car.

How is that I find myself dehydrated again in the Organs? I thought I learned my lesson after the Lost Carabiner route, but here I was again. I had only brought 2 quarts of water, and Sasah had consumed half of that (her bowl was still partially full when I got back to her, but she finished that on the descent). My mistake this time was being convinced that there would be water in the canyon, which Sasha could drink. Last year in March, I had camped in rabbit Ears Canyon next to beautiful green-tea pools, and bubbling streams. I knew this year was dryer, but I think I still counted on there being some water in the canyon this early in the spring. I would have been dead-wrong if it weren't for a tiny scuzzy pool in one of the bath-tub like depressions in the canyon.

With thirst driving me, I got back to Sasha at 3:20. My 3-summit circuit had taken a little over 3 hours. Another hour and we were back at the car, re-hydrating up and speeding off to Las Cruces to pick up my son from day-care.

Self-portrait looking south