Saturday, June 4, 2011

From Wildcat to the Spire

After linking up the Rabbit Ears, the next big question mark for me on Organ Ridge through-climb is between Wildcat and the Low Horns. We this in mind, Marta, Jon and I struck out to find a route through these peaks.
View from Pine tree Trail showing the "green ramp" between Dingleberry and Wildcat dead-center
We got to Aquirre Springs campground a little after 8am and ran into the BLM host. Eddie South is his name and he was kind enough to give us his phone number and allow us to call him to open the gate early should we want to do so in the future. What a champ! We quickly started hiking and opted to take the elusive Ghost Fire trail in hopes that it would save us some time. the Ghost Fire trail/canyon was first shown to me by Marta on our trip up the Wedge last fall, and is a nice shortcut to the middle of the Pine tree Trail. Marta made me lead, and I got it wrong in a couple of spots, but now I have a nice GPS track of the route.
jon digging the nice slabs on the approach 
Marta underneath Dingleberry
We took a short break at the top of the Pine tree Trail, Marta said she was not 100%. It was also a very hot and humid (by NM standards) day and I was sweating profusely. We ambled north along the Pine tree trail for a short ways before coming to the gully which leads up between Dingleberry and Wildcat. The first 1/4m or so up this gully was tough and nasty bush-whacking. Jon coined the term "narberries" to describe the thorny plants we had to get through during this part of the hike. It was reminiscent of my adventure on the Lost Carabiner route last year.
Jon and Marta nearing the top of our approach gully

Fortunately, the gully became steeper and more passable the further up we got. Near the base of Dingleberry's cliffs, we bore right up a beautiful slab, to get to a right leaning tree-filled ramp which leads up to the Wildcat-Dingleberry Saddle. The tree-filled ramp was pretty descent traveling, but near the top the brush got pretty thick again so we opted to scramble on rock to climbers right, and quickly gained the summit ridge of Wildcat.
Jon on the summit ridge of Wildcat
We did not stay on Wildcat for long, stopping only for some food and water. I left a ~2l water cache near the summit for future use. It was hard to tell what the best way up Razorback would be from our viewpoint on Wildcat, but there was an easy scramble to reach the saddle, so we decided to go check it out. The scramble down is on slightly to the NW, and while descending we found the easy SE Ramp route up to Razorbacks summit.
Jon Tylka at the top of the SE ramp
Razorback did not have an existing summit register that I could find, so I left a brand new one. Jon found a rappel station for the north side, and set up a double-rope rappel while Marta and I relaxed a bit.  The Spire's summit is incredibly close, and we had good opportunity to scout out routes up its southern wall. there was a huge ledge about half-way up that if we could get to would surely get us up to the top, but it was hard to gauge the lower pitch to get to this ledge. While waiting for my turn to rappel, I also scoped out the beautiful razor-sharp West ridge which gives Razorback its name. I was very tempted to hand-traverse out across it, it looks so inviting. I will definitely need to come back to climb this route some day.
Marta getting ready to rappel off of Razorback

We used two ropes for the rappel from the summit, my 60m and Marta's 50m 8mm rope. The 50m rope just barely reached a small ledge where Jon found a single bolt/quick-link. Fortunately, this was not one of the old rusty 1/4" bolts, but a newer looking 3/8" expansion bolt with a beefy metolius hanger. From this bolt it was another 20m rappel (just using Marta's 50m rope) to the saddle.
The namesake knife edge on the West Ridge
While the west gully between Wildcat and Razorback appeared very difficult to go up or down, the west gully between the Spire and Razorback looked walkable. We definitely had the option of hiking around the west side of the Spire and going up the Normal Route, but Jon was psyched to try a crack system on the South Face. this would give us a direct (and hopefully shorter) means of summiting the Spire when we go for our big day. We started the climb adjacent to a tree a hundred feet or so west from the saddle. Jon took the first lead and made it look easy, dropping into a hand-traverse at the identified crux-traverse. He stayed there a while to place pro, then mantled up and disappeared from sight, quickly reaching the large ledge. Marta struggled with the traverse on this pitch, trying to balance through it without dropping into a hand-traverse position. 
Marta starting out on P1 of the South Face route
At the large ledge, I swapped gear with Jon to lead the second pitch. It was less steep than the first, and involved a couple blocky sections between ledges. I chose a direct line at the back of the ledge, starting up a weird lay-back crack. What made it weird was that there was only 6-8" of rock to lay back against, and the threat of barn-dooring was real (this happened to Marta). this turned out to be the crux move, but was only a a few moves long so I did not end up having a problem with it. Above this the climbing was easier, but the rock was a little crumbly and there was also a large detached block that concerned be quite a bit. I warned Jon and Marta not to touch it much and finished up to the top.
Myself just before the crux layback
On the summit of The Spire
At the top, Jon posed for some "Deep Survival" photos. "deep Survival" is a book being passed around the OMTRS community about people surviving extreme conditions. the cover has a photo of a climber out on a rdige-top, with the rope making a gentle arc through space to him. It looks something like this:
Jon posing for a "Deep Survival" shot
According to the summit register I left here back in January, no one has been up here since then. We scrawled our names, then started the down-climb. I guided Jon and Marta down the way Dan and I had descended before. this involves some down-climbing of 4th class rock to reach an old rappel station about a rope-length from the summit. We did a single 30m rappel, angling west, and then down-climbed/scrambled the rest of the way down to the Spike, and then the saddle below. Some of the down-climbing along this route may be at the limits of 4th class scrambling, and Marta voiced her concerns more than once, but we made it down in one piece. It was little past 4pm and our next goal was Low Horn #5 & 6. Except I wasn't feeling it. Maybe it was the heat, or maybe it was a lack of energy coming from not eating enough. But I was feeling a little shaky, slightly nauseous, and not too eager to take on another unknown climb. I called Jon and Marta over to a shady spot so we could talk over our options. Jon was gung-ho eager to go, and offered me some gelatinous electrolyte. Marta was more neutral, saying she was good to keep going or head down. I was the one wanting to head down. I felt bad about being the weak link of the group, but I really didn't want to push myself too far and make myself miserable later on. We were at a good spot to descend between the Spire and Low Horn #6, and would get back to the car at a reasonable time. to me, it just made sense to "quit while I was ahead", but another side of me chided myself for being weak, and giving up to easily. How can I entertain ideas of linking every peak if I can't even push myself on a single day hike?

despite me feeling wimpy, both Jon and Marta were very gracious about calling it a day, and we headed down the rock-slide/gully back to Pine tree Trail. Of course, they did try to kill me once on the way down, by trundling enormous boulders at me, but that's another deal. By the time we got back to the car, i was feeling better, but glad we were down and headed home. despite not stringing together all the Low Horns, we still had a great day, discovering a new route up the South face of The Spire, and connecting over from Wildcat.

1 comment:

Eugene Smith said...

You guys are like two-legged mountain goats!