Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Eagle Dance and The Simple Life

Unknown climber on Levitation 29.

A lot has come to change during the month or so since my last post.  Since then I have spent most all of my time removed from my previous everyday use of technology.  I have embraced once again "the simple life" or as it turns out... just life without a computer, TV, music player, or place to upload photos.  Hardly simple and certainly not difficult, life without these things is just a little slower,quiet and removed. Without a computer to flip open and the internet to browse endlessly I now find myself flipping pages of a books and pointing through maps instead.  The local library became my best resource for information and even a little entertainment.  I spend more days exploring my brain, observing things for too long, and starring off into space contemplating existence. On my days off from this grueling mental head space I go to work at the photo studio, and on my days off from that I escape to go out and climb in Red Rock.  The escape climbing provides me is very balanced. It is relaxingly intense, quietly motivating, humbly challenging, and peacefully life threatening.  The escape itself is balanced with the predictablity of my everyday obligations outside of climbing, and this balance makes the climbing even more rewarding.  I am finding that "the simple life" is balance.  It is a shame that this understanding was gained as the result of my Las Vegas house being robbed, but like everything... the scales always have a way of leveling out.

Andy on one of the upper pitches of Eagle Dance.

On one of my days off Andy and I set out to do the classic line Eagle Dance 5.10+/A0.  This line is next to another classic route, Levitation 29 5.11c, which we've both had our sights on for over a year.  Both lines are long and ascend the intimidatingly steep vertical face of the Eagle Wall.  Eagle Dance is the easier of the two routes but once being called "a death route" is certainly nothing to take lightly.  At a route length of 1000' with 11 pitches and an approach and descent which combined took about five hours in itself, it is safe to say that attempting this route was committing and a test of our endurance.  To help add to the level of commitment for our ascent Andy and I chose to only bring one 60 meter rope, which would make retreat (bailing) via rappel extremely difficult, if not impossible to do safely.  I guess we valued the ability to travel quickly with one rope than having the ability to bail.  Our sights were set at the summit, and once we left the car we knew we'd only be back having successfully reached it.  This type of approach isn't uncommon in climbing, but for Andy and I this would be out first big-wall style ascent in a day.

Andy leads up the A0/A1 aid section of Eagle Dance.

Although it is often overlooked, there is a significant differance between this route and other long Red Rock multi-pitches.  Indeed a "big wall" style climb is different from the "regular" long multi-pitch climbs, but a little it open to interpretation.  In most occurrences, big wall style ascents are long and often cannot be done (easily) in a day.  On most big wall climbs, setting up temporary bivouacs or a "bivys" is the only way to take a break from the climbing to eat and sleep during the night. Often the bivy will be a porta-ledge that is brought on the climb, or if the route provides it will be a natural ledge.  Big wall climbs often include pitches or sections of rock that cannot (easily) be climbed freely without the aid of climbing equipment for vertical progression.  On these "unclimbable" pitches Aid climbing is implemented to ascend past what would be extremely difficult, or otherwise unclimbable terrain that cannot be avoided.  Being able to do these pitches requires an understanding of the Aid discipline of rock climbing, which is often entirely overlooked or not taken seriously by some climbers.  The reality is Aid climbing is difficult even at its easiest rating (A0) and extremely dangerous at its hardest (A5). Hard Aid requires sequential gear placements that are so marginal they can only temporaily hold body weight! That means no falling...  Although Eagle Dance had no Aid climbing as serious as that, the A0/A1 section did provide us with a unique challenge and difficulties about halfway up the Eagle Wall.

As a side note: When Eagle Dance was first climbed it took Jorge and Joanne Urioste two days to complete and it can be assumed they bived on one on of the routes natural ledges, one or two which are large enough for two people to lay down.  The route didn't see a lot of traffic (by today's standards) and after it's initially ascent in 1980 it was soon considered a "death route" due to the terrible bolts and bad gear.  In 2002 most (but not all) the bolts were replaced with modern hardware and they once again became a classic.

Andy on one of the lower pitches of Eagle Dance.

We spent a leisurely six hours climbing Eagle Dance that day, stopping at some of the ledges to take it all in listen to a few tunes.  The view from the different ledges was exceptional because of the continuousness of the wall, which seemed to haves vaulted us into the sky. The large slabs beneath us seemed to have shrunk and the massive Ponderosa Pines we used to find our way on the approach now shared an equal grandeur of the surounding scrub oak bushes.  The wall easily towered over the valley and we found ourselves somewhere in between the distant earth and the nearing sky.

After a few minutes of relaxation, Andy and I kept moving upward towards the summit.  Near the top even the 5.9 pitches felt like 5.10.  Most of the cruxes on the route already felt harder than we expected and like our bodies, the rock itself was becoming fatigued from overuse.  What at one time was an OK handhold was now a worn down sandy ripple in the soft sandstone.  Many hands and many feet have used, or attempted to use, the same holds for almost 32 years now. The result is a route that is technically harder to climb, and often requires the use of less positive holds, more balance and less resting.  There were two distinct crux pitches on this route, but there were also 2-3 more than proved to be a respectable challange for Andy and I.  Although we both climbed the route without falling, there were times were both of us weren't quite sure how we didn't slip the disappearing holds.

The rustiest car in Vegas showing its good side.

Eagle Dance will be one of the first routes on my list of climbing success stories to tell in the future, and certainly on my list of recommended routes.  As for the stories, some of them are best told in person.  So the near time the beer is out, and the camp fire is roaring, you better believe I'll be telling a more detailed and (potentially) exaggerated story from our day spent climbing my favorite route in Red Rocks so far. Cheers to Eagle Dance!


Ian Reineking said...

Great entry Matt! That climb sounds fun I will put it on my list. Sorry to hear about the house getting robbed. but to lift your spirits I officially am coming to vegas Jan 20th. I bought my ticket last week. I fly in friday evening and out sunday evening. Unfortunatly it will be a quick visit to vegas as work is not allowing me off as much as I would like. I will keep you informed on our plans and I look forward to hanging with you and andy a bit. Let me know if you or andy want me to bring something from your homes or familys to vegas with me. See you soon.
Take Care Buddy

Matt Kuehl said...

Sounds good Ian, get in touch with me sometime when you figure out more details. I'll be back in Wisconsin briefly over xmas, perhaps we can meet up.