Thursday, May 10, 2012

Cloud Tower, Straight Shot, and Wide Shenanigans

Looking up at Cloud Tower in beautiful Red Rock Canyon.

Man its been a while!  Where can I begin?  For starters my station wagon broke down and we all got to push it back home from Red Rocks.  I haven't done anything that silly in a while... Just imagine the rusty old '89 Buick being pushed down hills and through major intersections by a bunch of climbing rascals in busy Las Vegas. Haha!  There's video somewhere out there.  So that left me carless and happily riding my bicycle everywhere just like back home in Milwaukee.  The terrain here is a little more challenging than the city streets back home, and from my house to Red Rock Canyon is an elevation gain of around 2,500', not to mention the traffic and ridiculously stupid drivers.  I once got cut off by two cars at the same time! Needless to say biking and climbing all the time was starting to make me feel extra fit (and exhausted!).  In the weeks to follow I purchased a GMC Safari van to be my new whip and I can now go back to being a lazy driver person again.  Shortly I'll be taking the van on a road trip to go to Vedauvoo, Wyoming to climb before I'll be heading to work as the climbing director at an adventure camp in Ward, Colorado.  I'm super excited for both of these opportunities and I'm looking forward to avoiding the blistering desert summer heat in Vegas.  I'm sure there will be plenty of great experiences to share and I'll be writing more about these traveling' plans in upcoming posts.  Now onto the recent climbing!

Ryan and Andy in a funky little belay spot.  Note the old 1/4" bolts...

A little while back our friend Ryan "Jungle Dog" Strong came out to crush routes all over the West and stopped in with the good-ole-boys for a few days of climbing.  Together we all went and the Challenger, Straight Shot, Cloud Tower, Critical Cams, and Gin Ricky... all excellent climbs.  Cloud Tower 5.12- was definitely the most serious and committing of all the routes and was very memorable throughout.  We went up as a team of 3 people, and I rope soloed the first 3 pitches so we could keep a leader always climbing and save time.  Eventually we switched to a more conventional style for the last 4 pitches and this is when the exposure and difficulty started to go up a notch. At most all the belay there were some cool photo opportunities, and it was worth bring the big SLR all the way up there even for a few good shots.  I got to lead the long fist/wide crack pitch 5 and the squeeze pitch 6.  Cloud Tower is an outstanding climb with a variety of excellent crack pitches of all sizes.  This was was defiantly an area classic!

Taking it all in before the roof pull on pitch 5. Excellent!

Ryan in the pitch 6 squeeze/tunnel.

Looking up at the pitch 7 perfect splitter corner crack. 

Our preparation for Cloud Tower was a few other hard corners and micro-gear scare-fests like Challenger and Straight Shot.  Straight Shot 5.11d is an impressive and intimidating finger-tips corner on the left side of the Alcohol Wall.  I had seen the line before, and belayed Andy Hansen on his first attempt several months before we finally went back to revisit it.  Andy had his eye on sending the climb on our return, but the stars were not aligned for him that day... personally I think he was under a little too much personal pressure to try and send it home that day.   Luckily for me I had the pleasure of watching him work it from a near by fixed line, where I gladly photographed his painstaking efforts working the route. Way to go get it buddy!  After a few falls in the thin-crux, Andy retired and The Jungle Dog racked up for his attempt.  The route seemed to be relentless and even the JD was getting spit out like chewed up steak.  Ryan's persistent and unwavering approach got him through the crux, but more difficulties were to follow.  (See video).  Although he made it to the anchors, it was clear that a Straight Shot would not go down without a few hiccups.  After watching my two friends attempt the route in a few different ways, I had an "idea" for the crux move that neither of them had tried.  So I racked, clipped a few pre-placed pieces low tot he ground and there I was starring at the crux moves with nothing to loose. 

My "plan" was to avoid grabbing the terrible crux crimp, and instead walk my foot up to stand on the terrible crimp and go from there.  This beta would defiantly go under the "high feet" and "flexibility dependent" category, but was just crazy enough to work!  After walking my feet up level with my hands, I was able to rock my weight over, and in one desperate motion stab at a tiny finger-tip sized slot.  To my surprise I stuck the move first try, and delicately moved upwards trying not to blow it above the disappearing C3 below me. After some more balancey moves, I stuck a sloper/jug and was able to position myself below a roof and relax before finishing the remaining 40' of the route, which was a thin hand and fingers crack to the anchors. My first 5.11d trad flash!  Couldn't have done it without Andy and Ryan's hard work first... 

Andy stares down the next hold while
working the terrible crimp. 

Sticking the sloper two moves after the crux crimp/foot. 

So that about brings up to current times. Andy left a few days ago to continue his climbing journey in Boulder.  To celebrate Andy's departure we set out on a day of crack climbing on Ginger Buttress as the "last hurrah" before drinking a bunch of beers. Andy had his sights on doing All You Can Eat 5.10b/5.11b which was a corner crack that went from tips to wide fists.  It also had two variation first pitches, one being a .11d tips corner, and the other a 5.11b/c offwidth to tips corner.  I was super excited to try the offwidth, and when I got there I was little scared surprised to see that the crux of the offwidth looked to be a pretty desperate thin corner.  How am I supposed to jam my knee into a penny slot? Sheesh Andy... Either way the pitch was excellent, and I felt super comfortable on the wide section, and surprised myself on the tips section, although I still took a fall. After the whole team was at the "party ledge" I went lead up the second pitch so I could hang a line an photograph Andy going "sans-bolts" on the second pitch.  He cruised the corner section and avoided clipping the bolts by placing a few nuts and small cams.  Well done Sir!  With four people total, a nice ledge, and two cameras, we only managed to climb the first two pitches of this route and it was still worth the long(ish) hike.

Andy Hansen says "No" to bolts on All You Can Eat.
Andy sneaking in a hand stack on the second pitch of All You Can Eat.

While Ryan was still in town, we were also got a few chances to get on some other wide cracks. It wa s a was a nice change of pace from some of technical micro corners we'd been doing and I wanted to show Strong some of the wide cracks that Red Rocks has to offer, so on our way to the Alcohol Wall we stopped up at the Lucky Nuts Wall to warm up on Critical Cams.  When we got up to the crag it was totally void of people as we expected, but following shortly behind us were two climbers from Scotland who were hoping to get on the classic "Mudterm" as a warm up.   They were excited to watch me climb the offwidth and said that they'd never seen anyone climb an offwidth that "knew what they were doing". Haha! So I quickly made it clear that I "didn't really know what I was doing" but I was pretty sure I could climb the route anyway.  They seemed to get a kick out of the experience, and luckily for me they shot a little video of me on the climb. Thanks to John Trythall for the video.

This route was established by my friend and local hardman "Scary" Larry DeAngelo and has a pretty entertaining story that accompanies the first ascent.  Honestly, I don't think many people climb this route and I think they are missing out!  I found the line to be a lot of fun, and slightly different than most of the offwidths I've climbed so far in Red Rocks.  It was fun to start in a human sized crack that eventually squeezed you out to hand jams and even a finger lock or two. Unfortunately the climbing was made easier at times by occasional hidden crimp features and I thought the climb was more in the low 5.10 range (rather than its proposed grade of 5.10d). Regardless of grade I would not hesitate to get back on this climb, as I found it enjoyably and fairly do-able for the non-wide zombies out there. 

Happiness is a wide crack.
The Jungle Dog gets his wide style on sending Critical Cams. 

And now last but not least.....  Return To Forever!

Return To Forever is the center monster offwidth.
Very impressive, intimidating and radical!

 One of the most exciting and inspiring routes I've climbed recently has to be Return To Forever 5.10d.  This route climbs the impressive 180' offwidth crack next to Ixtlan and it quite a spicy meatball!  The crack is wide throughout and takes no gear smaller than a #2 Camalot and multiples of the big sizes in everything. On my first attempt on this climb I found myself below the crux roof with no gear that would fit the crack and I was already 20' runout over a Big Bro and a slung block... yaaaa!  After some trickery I was able to downclimb (have you ever tried to reverse knee jams? it's not easy) and bail off the route while still remaining super psyched, although it defiantly felt good to be back on the ground!  This route was my first experience with monster tall offwidths and running out of gear with no bolts to bail from was certainly a learning experience... and no laughing matter... lets just say it's not for the faint of heart.  So with a little more planning and some gear gathering I set back out to finish Return To Forever.  This time I was armed with a plentiful wide rack consisting of three #3's, two #'4s, four #5's, two #6's, a #3 Big Bro, and Tricams #6 & #7.  It was a hefty load but I knew with this much gear I'd be able to more comfortably finish the entire pitch.  I set out and climbed the whole pitch smiling ear to ear the entire time, pulling the crux roof and never looking back.  The route demanded an array of offwidth techniques and was unbelievably engaging the entire time.  The moves are great and the knee jams, chicken wings and open arm bars abundant.  Although not pumpy on the forearms, negotiating the whole crack is a full body workout and many difficulties can be expected.  In hindsight I'd say the true crux of this climb was simply the intimidating and exposed nature of the crack.  A most inspiring line that pulls on my heart strings and keeps me loving the wide!  But now I've found myself asking... what next?

The wide rack for Return to Forever. 

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