Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Black Canyon, Accidental Adventures

I wish this was a post about how we climbing something big, it was hard, and we did it. This post is a little different.. 

Everyone's got a story to tell. Here's one...

Wednesday night a group of my close climbing friends got together to make plans to go climbing in The Black Canyon. Details were sorted out, and we we found ourselves on the long stretch of I-70 while everyone else back in Boulder did their homework and got ready for the next school day. 

The objective for this weekend: Stoned Oven (5.11+)
It seemed right, it would be at the onsight ability for both Colin and I. Psyched! 

After quickly glancing at the topo we split up the non-glorious pitches. I called dibs on the pitch called "The Womb Fight", (This is my new strategy to tricking myself into wanting to climb a section or pitch that isn't going to be fun in the slightest), and he planned on getting the 5.11a offwidth pitch, yikes! 

A quick look at what we might be getting ourselves into. I would have never imagined that it would end up that way it did.

I decided to start off with the first lead block. We located the inconspicuous start of the route without much fuss, and before I knew it I was confidently moving up a muddy, dirty, loose chimney. As I led higher on the pitch, the fluctuation of safe and do-not-fall zones started to weigh more heavily on the dangerous side. I found myself already off route, and was unable to reverse moves and down climb to get back into the correct crack system.

Not to worry though, a sketchy unprotected 15 foot traverse would put me back on route where I could belay Colin up.

An hour for me to lead, and an hour for Colin to follow. I shook off our slow start, and started up the next pitch. 10 feet above a marginal belay anchor, that we were both nervous about, I placed a red camalot into a flake that would not even hold my body weight. The picture above is the sketchy second pitch.

We both accepted that we were slightly in over our heads, and with our lack of experience climbing in The Black Canyon, it would be a responsible and safe decision to go climb something a little bit 'easier'. 
We officially bailed for the first time. 

Next on the menu: The Scenic Cruise
    Featuring two psyched climbers starting at 1:00pm! 

Colin ran up the first few approach pitches and I simul-climbed behind him. I stepped on the first granite foothold and it didn't feel right. I often get more scared when I am following or top roping a pitch than when I am leading. For some reason I can't quite find the focus that I have when I am on the sharp end opposed to when I am safely following up a pitch. 

I led up the next pitch and couldn't get rid of the knot in my stomach. I was tried to climb as fast as I could because the limited amount of daylight, but the feeling of insecurity prevented me to move quickly.

It's a pretty terrible place to be in..... 500 feet off the ground wanting nothing more than to be back on the ground. The last thing I wanted to do was to try and climb my way out of this canyon.

"Ok the good news is that we are about half way, but the bad news is that route finding from here a little more difficult," said Colin as he handed me the rack. 

I led the next few fairly straightforward pitches without any issue and reached into my soul to get a little psyche and gain a bit of confidence to get through the pitches. 

"I'm pretty sure the route goes straight up from here." 
I then led a full 70 meter pitch traversing out of sight thinking I was completely off route. I sigh of relief quickly came as I got a decent piece of protection and then saw chalk residue at the belay

The sun had disappeared, and I resorted to using our single $4 headlamp from Wal Mart. The crack system I was in faded away into a vertical scree field, and again.. I found myself off route. This time, we wouldn't be able find any weakness that would let us finish the last 200 feet of the climb. Around midnight we decided that the safest decision to bivy and finish the following morning. 

Yeah, it was going to suck and be very uncomfortable spending the night on a very tiny ledge, but I knew we would get through it. I had mixed feelings of frustration and fear, yet still felt in control of our situation. 

This was by far the coldest and worst night that I have ever experienced. I would attempt to dose off, only to wake up to by my body uncontrollably and violently shivering all night long. 

This is a great picture. Exhausted, dehydrated, cold, hungry, and definitely not psyched.

Our 'bivy ledge'.

Eventually the sun came up, and our bones slowly thawed out. Our friends 'Big Will' and 'Little Will' were there waiting for us at the summit. It was odd an uncommon for something like this to happen to Colin and I. Everyone that we were with couldn't help but wonder what had happened, and why we didn't come back that night.

The next day and a half we recovered. Colin eating a peanut butter and nutella bagel, respectively.

I am trying to hold my head high, but my ego is forceably leaving me with my tail between my legs. We messed up, and paid for it. There are a series of mistakes that we made that caused this to happen. We were climbing too slow, started too late, didn't have a topo, and didn't have sufficient headlamps. We also realized that the energy spend trying to sleep and stay warm was far greater than trying to find our way back on route. 

I have been progressing as a climber, yet I am completely aware the precautions that need to be taken. This truly is a serious game. This Scenic Cruise was well within our ability level, but we lacked the necessary logistics before we even started the climb. In this situation, the issue of safety was greater than successfully climbing the route fast, or in-a-day. We made a responsible decision to stop climbing that night. For that I feel satisfied. 

I love climbing. I want to ensure that I do everything I can to keep doing what I love. 

1 comment:

  1. You made the right choice. No shame here. It's all part of the learning and experience curve. This is the start of my 29th season as a climber, and the same kind of thing has happened to every great climber I know (and to me, too!). You are in good company, man.