Sunday, December 18, 2011

Birdland 5.7+

Ben Willkommen places a .3 on the first pitch of Birdland.

If you have ever over heard people talking about Red Rock Canyon it is probably them praising the long moderate multi-pitch routes like Epinephrin, Crimson Chrysalis, and Solar Slab.  These routes are classic because they pose a fun, long, challenge while still remaining accessible, clean, and mostly well bolted. These climbs, along with hundreds of other moderate multi-pitches attract climbers from across the globe to test or hone in on their multi-pitch skills in preparation for the next big adventure.

One climb that falls into the easy/moderate multi-pitch classics is Birdland 5.7+ in Pine Creek Canyon.  Although not nearly as committing and long as Epinephrin, Birdland has five pitches of easy to moderate climbing, bolted anchors, and is less than an hour from the car.  Mark Limage and Chris Burton only put this line up in 2001, but since has become extremely popular and has probably seen thousands of ascents from beginning multi-pitchers to old school wall veterans.  Birdland is simply a must climb for the grade.

Lindsey Gram checks out the pitch 3 traverse.

A few days ago I had the pleasure of doing this climb with five friends from Wisconsin. We hiked in with the warm December and could spot the line from the trail.  The large group we had today presented me personally with my first good opportunity to photograph on a multi-pitch climb, which would put my photography skills to the test.  This climb (among countless others) has been photographed from point and shoot cameras from each and every belay, with an even larger amount of butt shots from the ground.  Although I have shot these types of photos while belaying and multi-pitching before, this time I wanted to approach it with a little more planning and vision.  In order to get the photos I was looking for I needed to be independent from the climbers, hanging somewhere around them in mid air.  Things worked out perfectly for photographing considering the larger group we had this day, but there were some additional logistics we also had to figure out on the climbing side.  With six people total on route we decided to break into three separate teams of two, each team with a climber and belayer at anytime, which turned out to be pretty ideal.  So thinking ahead considering how to get the best perspective, I decided to lead things off and left the ground first. Being the first person up gave me some time to scope out the best places to shoot, and also allowed me to fix a line to rappel/ascended independently for positioning on pitches one, three and five. 

Ben Willkommen after the traverse.

 The third pitch on Birdland is when the fun/challenging climbing really starts.  This pitch starts on a good ledge and moves up a flake through some okay gear placements before you eventually reach a bolt.   After the bolt there is a relatively exposed traverse left and up until you can eventually place a nut.  This section of the climb is pretty exciting and is where I first thought I might get some good shots.  So after climbing this pitch and bringing up my belayer, I fixed my rope and rapped back down the pitch.  I positioned myself above the traverse and hung here for a while. I was able to shoot both Ben and Lindsey on lead, and Chris seconding the pitch.  It was cool to see everyone having a good time on this section, especially considering it was Ben and Lindsey's first multi-pitch route. After spending some time hanging here it was time to get the show back on the road.  So I jugged back up my line and got racked up to lead the last two pitches.

Chris Keller on the excellent last pitch of Birdland. 

The fifth pitch is by far the most exciting and aesthetic pitch.  After rounding over the last lip the climber gains a thin finger crack the goes up the last portion of the pitch.  This impressive crack just calls out to be climbed, and provides the climber with a spicy section of stone protected by some potentially tricky nut placements for protection.  After pulling through the crack and reaching for the sucker ledge, you end up just feet below the anchors.  The whole pitch is excellent, and is an exciting finish to the climb.  Above this there is an addition six pitch that can be climbed, but it is rumored to be a little choosy and broken, so most people lower after the highlight fifth pitch.   In the interest of time we also decided to rap after the fifth pitch allowing more time for the other two parties.   It was a little tricky rapping from the same shared anchors as the climbers who were still climbing, but with a little patience it can be done pretty easily and even allows for some climber to rappeller high fives. 

Who's this hangdog?

So if you're looking for an easy/moderate multi-pitch for your first trip to Red Rocks, or just want to get on one of the classic I'd certainly recommend Birdland.  The route soaks up sun and the first few pitches have nice large ledges.   You can rappel from any of the anchors and retreat would be no problem so long as there isn't a bunch of people below you chomping at the bit. 

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