Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Equinox : Part III

Please see Part 1 and Part 2 of this story for the complete epic tale.

It got late quickly. Each rap was pretty straightforward, but long and sometimes overhanging, leaving our feet to dangle. Caleb and I simul-rapped for speed, leaving Hanmi had to wait in the pitch black for a bit, then carefully thread the rope into her rappel device and descend in total darkness. She asserts that it was quite exciting. Bats and the occasional ringtail cat kept her company.

Long-exposure shot from the top at night

We had no problems rigging the raps all the way down. We were very tired and dried out, but the cool breeze of the night woke us up and the rappels kept us sharp. Nothing is more dangerous in climbing than the rappel. You’re usually tired and prone to mistakes. Rappelling also relies on fewer redundancy systems than in ascending. There is no climbing ability involved with rapping, which can leave a climber feeling more helpless. So, we were all checking one another and talking aloud and employing auto-blocks on the ropes for addition safety.

Then, some minor disasters: Twice Hanmi’s ropes became tangled in trees, causing her to have to wrestle them free in order to continue down. On the next to last rappel, we descended to a ledge couldn’t find the anchors. After some tense searching, they were found along the ledge some distance away requiring more scrambling on loose rock in the dark. Then, during another overhanging rap, a knot of rope got bound up in my rappel device. I tried in vain to free it, then to set up a system to ascending the rope above to unweight it, but the slings I had didn’t hold. Then Caleb, also dangling next to me in the darkness, grabbed it with his teeth and pulled like a rabid dog until it came out. We got to bottom and quickly loaded up the water bottles from a nearby spring.

Top of the, um, mornin' Mom!
By now it was after midnight with moon almost full and bright across the valley. We thrashed our way to the road, giddy with mineral-water-laden bellies, knowing that the final straw to secure this day as an “Epic” was drawn: The free shuttle into and out of the park was gone. We had to walk the five miles out with the gear.

Looking up, we saw the formations we had descended, now bathed in moonlight. The scale of the wall from the base was so much greater than the hundreds of individual inch-by-inch movements we’d used to go up. Some off-the-cuff calculations put the total ascended gain at over 1300 feet.

After some food and more water – couldn’t get enough – we started marching. Then soreness took over. In a flash at one point, Caleb dropped his pack and yelped “I forgot! I have ibuprofen!” A few animal sightings later, with some strange noises along the creek and amazing moon-shadowed canyon buttresses, we arrived at the lodge.

The lodge was closed. It was locked, with folks were asleep in their rooms at 1:45 AM, as we expected. Caleb managed one bar on his cell phone and called a friend. 20 minutes later, we’re stepping out of the car at our campsite.

I go walkin', after midnight...

Our bodies took a tremendous beating. The off-widths and chimneys were exciting but tiresome. Scratches appeared were normal climbing would never touch. Our hands, although initially taped, had worn down to skin and beyond in many places. I crashed in the tent, with a gear sling still on my shoulder and still wearing my tape gloves. Hanmi and Caleb still had some adrenaline that kept them up for a bit.

Grade IV routes are described as “one long day or two days”. In review, we weren’t organized enough at the belay stations to tackle such a climb in one day – we could’ve done more to snack and rest while someone was climbing. Instead, we chatted and savored the view until we had burned too much time. Route finding and weather also played against us, but ambition and adventure always make climbing the exhilaration we seek – and we got more than enough that day.

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