Long, Hard and Free in Red Rocks

27 10 2008

“Nervous?” Lizzy asked at the belay below the crux pitch. A whirl of thoughts flew through my head. I was distanced from my objective, an onsight of cloud tower, and was not feeling the stress. A little less that a year earlier Lizzy and I had climbed Levitation 29. On that route I had struggled with a fear of failure and had not given the climb my full commitment. While I was still able to do the route onsight I hesitated often and didn’t enjoy the experience as much as I had hoped. This year I was more detached from success and put everything on the line.

Staring up at the thin dihedral I was not afraid and was up for a challenge. After a funky start with some face moves and a couple of bolts (which should be replaced) you reach the base of the crux corner. The left wall overhangs slightly and the crack is THIN. I got a small nut in to back up the old bolt and used some face holds to get up a bit higher. A blue alien later I was standing on some good footholds. I worked my way up the face holds and found a good slot and was able to clip a fixed nut in the main crack. I made my way back onto the face and got a bomber Green (#0) C3. So far the moves had been hard to sequence and I was amazed to still be climbing. The crack was getting wider but far from my finger size. I could see a good jug on the left wall and made some tenuous stems to get there. Resting on this jug with an ok foot I was able to get in a bomber blue master cam (these are slightly smaller than the green alien which helped).

After hanging out on the jug I knew I had to get going, the crux was the next 40 feet and I would have to go all out. I stemmed up got in a green alien and started making the hardest moves thus far. Making long reaches between small pods I was laybacking up the crack, fingers barely fitting. I gained an ok foot and a made quick green alien placement. Pulling as hard as I could I made it a bit higher and was able to get a good stem and a bit of a rest. I was pumped and shoved in my last green alien, wishing I had a blue tcu or master cam since the slot was a bit small. There were no more feet in the next section but I knew the crack was getting larger. I crimped and finger locked my way up the crack and after 10 feet got a bomber lock. Two more pieces went  in and I kept going for the ledge below the belay. Pulling into the alcove I had made it!! A couple more quick placements including the suggested #3 Blue Camalot and I was on the anchor ledge.

Lizzy following the crux thin corner.

This past weekend Lizzy and I were out in Red Rocks. An early Friday morning departure from Pasadena allowed us to climb Friday night. With the parking lot at Black Velvet now open we could access BV Canyon via the standard road. While the road is pretty rough it does not require 4WD which was shown by the two PT Cruisers we saw, I still think it is advisable to have good clearance. Our climb was on Whiskey Peak so we approached to Frogland and traversed across the base. This approach gave us a good overview of the climbs in the area since Lizzy and I had not been to Whiskey Peak before. While simple, the approach was a bit on the longer side and it was mid afternoon by the time we got to the base.

Lizzy gives her opinon on the small crimps of Only The Good Die Young

Only The Good Die Young starts in a gully on the far right side of Whiskey Peak. Even though the line can be seen from the Black Velvet Wall I doubt people realize it is there. The climb is 5 super short (50 – 75 feet) pitches with closely bolted cruxes. The idea was to a bit of a tune up and get ready for Cloud Tower on Saturday. I linked the first two pitches by using long slings and running it out a bunch. The first crux was sustained small hold pulling past 5 bolts with bad feet. Lizzy and I both found this section hard but neither of us fell. The slabby ramp of P3 set us up for the crux traverse. The rock on this slab was a bit hollow and I was happy to have bolts protecting the fun crux. The rock was at such a low angle that the tiny holds felt usable. Staring up at the crux I couldn’t see the holds. After a bit of a rest I set off and made my way up to the crux move. From a good left hand undercling you were supposed to get established on small crimps and then move right to some bigger crimps.

I was only able to hold on one crimp with my right hand and could not make room for my left. I spent about 5 minutes trying things out and then carefully downclimbed the 10 feet back to the belay. I was stuck and couldn’t figure out how to get my left hand onto the one hold. I went back up and spent another 5 minutes trying to figure it out but to no avail. I gave up on a match or a hand switch and decided I had to make a reachy cross to the next hold. I got established in a stem, grabbed the right crimp and turned my body as far as a I could and just made it to the next left hand hold! I quickly clipped the next bolt and made my way across to a large jug.

The following section was quite exciting as you moved across this large rail with insignificant feet. There was even a fun clip where you had to reach below you to clip the bolt. The holds were large and I made my way to the end and pulled up and around the corner. With a long runner on the first bolt and I made my way through two more bolts of thin slab to gain a ledge. The rock was quite rotten and did not inspire me to stop so I kept going and belayed much higher at a notch. Lizzy followed the pitch clean, using a bit of A0 to clean a draw, and was able to match the crimps at the start and make the reach with your right hand. After reaching my belay Lizzy set off across some 4 class ledges and after a rope length we switched and I led across and down to our rappel tree.

Lizzy rapping down into the gulley.

A short rap and we were in the gully on our way down. The gully split and we took the easier left branch which did not lead directly to the base of the route. It seemed a bit easier but required us to traverse right at a big cairn, which might have just been 2 random rocks on a big ledge, and make our way over to our packs. A more direct hike down to the wash saved us some time going back to the car but we still finished the hike in the dark.

Saturday morning we got going a bit after 7am and drove into the loop road and called in a Late Exit Pass. The hike to Cloud Tower starts at the Pine Creek Canyon parking lot and traverses on some good trails towards Juniper Canyon before going up a large hill to the base of Cloud Tower. A few false turns and we were trudging up the hill towards our route and Crimson Chrysalis. When we reached the base there were many parties on this classic 5.8, one on route, one just leaving the ground and one patiently waiting. We made our way past this mess to the empty Cloud Tower.

Lizzy starting out on the 3rd pitch of Cloud Tower. 

Lizzy lead the first 2 pitches which we kept separate due to a lack of gear. I was carrying a few extra cams in our pack so Lizzy was a bit short on hand sized pieces, which I thought were only necessary for the last pitch. Having the full rack and a few runners would allow you to link these two pitches. We brought the following gear: #00 C3, #0 C3, 2 Blue aliens, 1 Blue Master Cam, 3 Green Aliens, 2 Yellow aliens, 2 Grey aliens, Red alien, #.5 C4 , 2 #.75 C4, 2 #1 C4, 4 #2 C4, 2 #3 C4, 1 #4 C4. Even with this massive rack we could have used more. At a minimum you NEED a second #4 C4 for pitch 5. I would also suggest another #1 and #3. Having another #2 would allow you to really sew up the last pitch. On the Crux pitch as I said previously I would rather have had 2 green aliens and 2 blue tcu/master cams. I did not use the #00 C3 but there were places on P4 it would have fit.

Lizzy in the middle of the hand crack on the 3rd Pitch. The wide 5th pitch can been seen above the crux dihedral.

After the first two funky pitches Lizzy lead off on the 3rd pitch, a sweet hand crack followed by a face traverse to the belay below the crux dihedral. Lizzy styled this pitch and made it look easy. After reaching the belay I went about swapping the gear. All the large gear save a #3 went into the pack and the trail line came out so that I could haul the pack for Lizzy. The pitch was awesome and I was happy to have gotten the onsight. I hauled our pack on the trail line, using a DMM Revolver for a pulley and Lizzy got ready to follow the pitch. She climbed without hesitation and fell only a few times due to the pumpy nature of the pitch. With her little fingers she was able to avoid the face holds that I had found quite necessary. Happy to have the hardest pitch behind us we had lunch in the little alcove before continuing on.

The next pitch started with a fun hand crack through a roof and gradually became wider as you got higher. I stubbornly had only brought two #3’s and one #4 and had to do a bunch of runouts and leap-frogging and backcleaning my cams. At one point the crack became too big for my #4, luckily the climbing was not too hard (10-). Shortly I was able to get some 1″ gear in a hidden crack that helped my lead head after the 30+ foot runouts. I found one final placement, where you could belay, to the left of the crack before tunneling through to the other side. The chimney was easy and while you were a bit runout from your gear you would not fall. Even if you fell you would just get stuck inside the crack. I belayed below the final splitter and used a high cam to protect Lizzy on the final moves. Lizzy laybacked much of the wide pitch and after shuttling the pack to me made it across the chimney.

Lizzy pulls up into the good rest after the thin dihedral.

We were both tired and were running low on water. After the last pitch I was nervous about having enough gear for the final pitch. I aggressively back cleaned as I led and wasted a lot of energy placing, removeing, clipping and unclipping my cams. About half way up I was exhausted and hoped that I had enough gear to finish. In fact I though the bulge I was climbing up was the end. With the motivation that I could be finished I pushed hard only to find out there was still more climbing. Luckily there was a no hands rest before the final crux bulge. I still had some gear and had to try for the onsight. The climbing was steep but the holds were good. I placed gear quickly, sure that I would fall at any moment. At one point after placing a high cam. I was unable to pull up the rope to clip. It took me three tries alternating between hands before I got the rope in.

Luckily some foot holds appeared on the left wall and I was able to get in some more gear. “I may fall at any moment” I yelled to Lizzy from the final bulge. I was so pumped and the steep climbing was getting the better of me. One last cam and I was at the top of the bulge. I was jamming my feet into the crack and had my hand in the wrong position for the reach over the top. I switched to a different jam, almost slipping out of the crack. From this new position I was able to reach a good fingerlock over the lip. With no technique left I pulled as hard as I could, flopping my feet over the bulge. I grabbed the next jug and pulled myself onto my feet. I was almost dry heaving I was so tired. The experience reminded me of thruching up an offwidth in Indian Creek. My core was so sore and my arms were rubber, but I was done! I tied into the five crappy bolts and pulled up the rope to belay Lizzy. She lowered the back pack to the ledge below and climbed up with the trail line. The crack was all the wrong size for her but she still made it in only a few falls.

We were happy to have finished Cloud Tower but were both thrashed by the final pitch. Its steep and powerful nature was a hard blow at the end of the day. We quickly rapped off, drinking the rest of the water before reaching the ground. On the final rappel, after walking across a big ledge, we got our rope stuck. The suggested rap route, down the first two pitches, didn’t look so good but it was getting dark and I was worried that an alternate route migh risk a big swing or cause rock fall. We ended up getting the rope stuck, with the knot connecting the ropes securely wedged in a crack. Luckily we could still reach the ends of the rope so I reclimbed the pitches self belayed by my Shunt. Even though it was quite dark the climbing was relaxing after the hard pitches and I was having fun despite having stuck the ropes. I made my way up to the stuck knot and adjusted the ropes so the knot was below the constriction. I rapped down to the midway station and pulled the ropes. I got our new Ion down without a problem but when it came time to pull the trail line I had no hope. I pulled as hard as I could but to no avail. I was now feeling the effects of a long day and didn’t want to have to relead the pitch and potentially get the rope stuck again.

I had Lizzy tie my knife to the end of the trail line which barely reached the ground. My though was to cut the majority of the trail line and rap with the 70m rope. When I tried to pull up the knife it got stuck in a crack; honestly you can’t make this stuff up! I was done, I was no longer having fun and was now accepting that we had lost the rope. I coiled our lead line and attached the trail line to the quick link on the mid anchor. I single rope rapped the trail line and was able to free my knife and make my way to the ground. In retrospect we could have re-climbed and then downclimbed the first 2 pitches but it was late and we were pretty tired and a bit dehydrated. Leaving the rope was a small sacrifice to be safe so we left it.

The hike out proved fast because we were going downhill. We made it back to the car in 1 hour and 15 minutes, almost a half an hour faster than we approached. With no ticket on the car we headed into town for some fast easy food and went quickly to bed. It took a little over 11 hours car to car. 

Tired from all of the hiking and climbing from the previous two days we decided to do a bit of sport climbing. It was hot and the Black Corridor seemed like a good destination. Moderate sport routes were our speed. After leading a few routes Lizzy was feeling the effects of the hard climbing of the previous two days and deferred to belay duty. I sampled as many of the climbs as I could manage. The two sides of the corridor are vastly different. One side is steep with deep huecos and jugs everywhere. You can easily crawl inside to rest or get a variety of knee bars. The other wall was devoid of large features and was slabby with small incut holds. The climbing was interesting and the rock quality was a bit lacking. I managed to do 9 routes up to 10d in the 4 hours that we were there.

We were tired from a long weekend and by 3:30 were ready to go home. A bit of Starbucks later we hit the road and made good time to Primm. Whenever Lizzy drives she tends to summon wind or traffic. For some reason the setting sun was a bit too bright and brought traffic to a stop going up the big hill just after the California border. We sped up for a while before hitting a major traffic jam before the Agricultural inspection station. We lost more than an hour to traffic and made it home around 10pm with a Baja Fresh stop for dinner.

It was great to get back to Red Rocks and I look forward to future trips!