Monday, November 12, 2012

Bro's Before Holes 5.10c

It's not often that a single pitch route in my own backyard stays on the to-do list for almost an entire year.  But the route Bro's Before Holes in Red Rock Canyon has captured and maintained my interest ever since I laid eyes on it in Jerry Handren's guidebook.  Described as an "impressive offwidth" that is "burly and sustained" the book recommends racking up with two #6 cams and six Big Bro's... an equally burly rack.  At the time I first read about it I only owned one of the recommended pieces. A single #6 clearly wasn't gonna cut the mustard.  So I began the slow process of tracking down all the gear needed to get on this beast of a route with a realistic chance of being able to protect it.

Big Bro's are mysterious pieces of climbing gear.  The adjustable tube chokes are coveted pieces for the offwidth junkie, but the majority of the climbing community has never placed one... especially not on lead.  Like offwidths, many people consider Bro's difficult to place, mostly scary, and a completely foreign experience. But with a little experimenting and practice the tubes become your adjustable buddies on your journey upwards into unknown territory at about the pace of a constipated turtle. That being said... once the gear had been gathered and the psych was ridiculously built up it was time to finally give it a shot.  I got my opportunity with Nick Rhoads and Jason Molina on an unsuspecting day in November.  What followed was certainly an unforgettable experience...

Matt Kuehl enjoying the burly and sustained Bros Before Holes.
Photo: Jason Molina

It was the first of the cold days to hit Red Rocks this fall and early winter. Temps in the shade topped out at about high 40's and the light wind chilled any bit of skin left uncovered.  The hike in up the steep and loose terrain was a great warm up for the day, but once we arrived I was eager to stay moving and start climbing before I chilled too much.  So we compiled all of our Bro's and I started eyeing up the crack.  At the base I scummed myself into the start and starred upwards at the massive crack and left the rest to be discovered in the spontaneity of my immediate future.  I felt prepared to do the pitch because I had done a handful of other cracks of this nature in the area.  But no crack is the same and this was truly a unique and challenging size demanding thorough concentration, commitment and strength.  The beginning isn't the most technically difficult because of some occasional fragile face holds, but as you work your way up you can feel the weight of the ground beneath you.  So you pluck the first Bro off your rack of seven and start precision fiddling, yanking, and bashing to secure your first piece.  More arm-baring and heel-toeing will keep your progress moving upwards as you gradually work your feet above your last piece of gear.  So you place another Bro and continue the grind for another 15 feet before all the would-be holds entirely disappear.  Now pleasantly forced to rely on true offwidth technique, I felt the character of the route really set in.  Only being able to occsaionaly rely on a chicken-wing and not being able to get my body fully squeezed inside the crack definitely made placing gear more difficult and strenuous.  I managed to place gear at about every body length until now... but now I'm stuck with a tipped out #6 and a significant amount of climbing to go.

Focusing my energy on moving upwards and relaxing my breathing I gradually slid the #6 up with me until the placement became more secure.  I placed another #6 above that and then slide it along for the ride, now entering the most technical portion of the climb.  This section required fist/fist stacking and some delicately insecure thigh/heel toe jam trickery.  If you are able to summon the ancients and not spin your wheels too much here you'll be just fine. Remember it's only 5.10c offwidth. After this section you are able to gain a small ledge which is an excellent rest spot and the ending of the truly wide difficulties.  What is left after the ledge is a 15 foot right-facing corner that could take a #5 or old #4 cam (that I didn't have at that time). Although this section seemed easier, it was still hard enough and I was already 10-15 feet above my last piece of gear.  I carefully moved upwards with foot jams, calf locks and baggy fist jams.  The rock was starting to get very questionable all around.  I delicately grabbed a small edge out right and begun to weight it while still quite run-out.  In an instant the entire section of rock in front of me had dislodged and crumbled apart hitting me directly in the forehead and torso.  I immediately yelled "Rock! Rock! Rock!" and watched as the sandy blocks hit the ledge beneath me and shattered into thousands of pieces raining down onto the ground. The rope went taunt and I feared rock fall had pinned the rope.  Beneath me Nick and Jason were just getting up after having just jumped into adjacent chasms to avoid the rockfall when they yelled up to me "Are you okay?". To their surprise I yelled back down "Yes... Don't take!" (The tension in the rope was pulling me down into the what-woulda-been scary as hell whipper.) Nick fed me slack as I brushed the piles of sand from my overalls.  I delicately continued upwards and managed to top out the route to complete a action-packed onsight of a route that's been on my mind for what seems like forever.  After I got down we played some Talking Heads and I believe these lyrics best sum up my experience...

"Watch out! You might get what you're after." - David Byrne

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