Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Equinox : Part II

Please remove holds before climbing.

Please see Part I of this story if you need to catch up.

This pitch was crackers
The next pitch followed a thin seam that closed in many places on a broken face, my turn to lead. The holds were typical of a varnished face: small and highly incut “plates” all over the wall. However, these were the most friable, delicate holds I’ve ever used. The protection was laughable, with just a few small RP’s in the seam (about the size of 2 or 3 stacked nickels) and a few looped plates and 1 looped little bush. I pushed a bit further than the topo’s stated “anchor” because it was a single old drilled piton that stuck halfway out of the rock as the face eroded from under it, and up to a little crack.

Tarantula hiding from Han as she belays

I had holds break many times, and one time was a full one-armed swing off the rock and a re-grab to new holds, all 20ft off my last looped horn. Dramatic and scary! Caleb had a hold break off on the way up and took a full fall, pulling me sideways a bit – we both ended up with some chewed hands on that one. Hanmi didn’t fall, somehow climbing lightly enough – or perhaps we broke off everything loose already. It was raining rocks, some as big as softballs.

Like a drink from my invisible water bottle?

There was little room for three folks at my anchor, but I had pretty much run out of gear. Caleb came up, took the remaining gear, and passed me climbing to the next anchor. Hanmi came up as I kept belaying Caleb, using the beauty of an autoblocking device and some directional pieces.

All during this time, whenever the lead climber headed straight up, small-to-medium sized rocks fell on the lower ones. There was a lot of yelling, and each rock could shatter into several more on the way down. Some of the larger rockfall could have ended our day (or life) quickly, but thankfully it either missed us or shattered above. Both Han and I had golfball-sized ones hit on our helmets and shoulders. All of us had helmets, and I began to think about wearing one even on the Zion hikes.

The final pitches were about chasing the light as the sun lowered in the sky. We were out of water and all quite sore, especially our feet, as climbing shoes always strain your feet. Climbing moved slowly, with some movements causing cramps to bind your hands, arms and legs into searing pain and strange shapes. Starting at 7AM we were watching 7PM go by while still on the wall. The last few pitches were pretty good, with another scary lead out on tiny gear (I got that one and climbed it almost delirious, singing and placing tiny nuts anywhere – my mouth dry and sticky). This high up, the ledges were full of dirt, rock and scratchy scrub brush, with the occasional cactus for some additional challenge.

Ok, who turned off the lights!?

One of the pitches was an overhanging off-width that constricted, something I had never climbed before. With just a few holds to work with, we all managed to make it somehow, and Hanmi did it dragging the 20lb pack. Above that, it widened into a box chimney, where stemming needed one’s full leg length to reach ass to foot across the chimney walls. I didn’t see Hanmi climbing it, but since Caleb and I are in the 6ft range and she’s 5ft 4, I’m sure she pulled some crazy positions to get through that part. It was almost wider than my arm span.

It the top of these Zion towers the rock levels out, but it is covered with loose plates and rocks, all set in sand. Some of the rocks are teetering, balanced on a wind-swept fulcrum that demands you not touch it. It’s like walking on a chunky dune, but you cannot allow the rocks to side off and kill the folks behind you. It’s nerve-wracking and tiresome. At one point Caleb stopped climbing above us and tried to clean up all the rocks on the ledge and stack them to one side. The sun had set and the last light was leaving us as we reached the summit. We cheered quickly and it was time to descend.

Since none of us had done this route before, and the rappel route was different than the climb, so the pressure was still on to search for the correct path. But now it was dark, and although the moon had risen we were still in the shadow of the buttress next to us. This forced us to all move slowly on some high-angle loose terrain using just the one headlamp we brought.

After some time of searching and steep scrambling to edge of a dark cliff, we found a tree with slings and rappel rings. We looped the ropes through the rings and tossed it into the darkness. Caleb rappelled down first and shouted up that he had found the next anchor. Hanmi and I rappelled next and we felt sense of relief to be on our way. In total, we had 6 sixty meter raps to the base of the wall.

Part 3 of 3 coming up next...

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