Climbing in an ocean of darkness

My climbing partner and I wanted to get a few hours of practice in, so we headed out to exit 38 Thursday night. We knew we would be coming off the climb in the dark, but I don’t think either of us expected it to be so fun. Once the sun went down it was like climbing in an ocean of dark.

Night Climbing at Substation

The bright spot in the picture is Clay’s headlamp. He’s building an anchor and about to bring me up. The climb is only a 5.6, but we just wanted to practice a new anchor setup – so it was perfect. I climbed it once in the light, then brought up Clay and hiked off while he built his anchor. So I got to climb it both in the dark and in the light. It was a totally weird and different experience.

Climbing at Index (April 26th)

Leaving Seattle at 7:30, I got to Index and met up with Cameron a little after 9. Then we headed over to our first climb of the day. It was the “ss-ultrabrutal”. I am glad I found about the name after we climbed it – that name is just awesomely intimidating.

It is a trad climb, Cameron led and I cleaned. At the time I thought it was just a 5.6 (it’s a 5.7) but it was an easy climb, and I had hard time on it, so while I enjoyed myself I came off it just feeling a little depressed about how out of climbing shape I was. Definitely time to hit the gym more. In the picture you can just make out Cameron at the bolts at the top of the climb. The climb traverses left to right on about a forty five degree angle – following the large crack above the old tunnel.

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Next we moved over to do the GM route on The Country. Cameron had climbed it before and wanted to lead all three pitches in a single push. So I belayed him from the ground, then he rappelled back down to the first pitch belay ledge cleaning as he went. I’d thought I’d be doing the second two pitches, but I just made such a mess of cleaning the first pitch Cameron just pulled the rope and I cleaned the first pitch. You can see the rope line in the picture. Cameron had already been doing some rope soloing that morning – and I was having an off day – so we called it and went and put our heads in the river.

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Think I am kidding? Nope. Cameron put his head in the river and it looked so refreshing I followed suit.

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All in all a lovely day – but I confess after seeing the camping spot he snagged by showing up on a Wednesday, I was kicking myself for not joining the night before. I skipped the over night so I could attend a practice session on glacier travel. Lesson learned.

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The view from the river was even better.

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Stupider Friends

I really need to get stupider friends. Years ago my old climbing partner from Australia came to visit. For part of the trip, he and a friend of his Jesse (now a mutual friend) came up to Seattle for some climbing. I had to work so I missed the second half of the trip – but I leant Grant my rack.

Well the two of them were nice enough to re-mark my gear – you know – just so it was consistently marked and make sure it I got it all back. They marked it with pink tape. Hot pink tape. I would not be surprised to find out if they had to drive round to find it special. When a decade later – Grant, Jesse, and I went climbing in Colorado we went to upgrade gear – they presented me with a roll of hot pink duct-tape.

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So now whenever I get new gear – the first thing I do when I get home is mark it all with pink. Hot pink. I need to get stupider friends. This is a practical joke that’s been running for nearly a decade with no sign of ending. On the plus side – I have yet to meet someone who marks their gear with the same color.

Day climbing at deception crags (March 20th, 2018)

Made it out to Deception Crags for some more practice today, and boy did I need it.

We started the day by setting up by practicing rope work and rappelling again. Here you can see Tyler transitioning from his personal anchor system over to a rappel. It is hard to see in the picture, but he does have a prussic backup set up. Its actually a good spot to practice. Its a safe approach to the anchors, but immediately exposes you to a vertical drop to practice with.

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Must have action shot. We each did like 3 times down the rope. Main thing was practicing and drilling on coming onto our personal anchor system, then coming off it to a rappel. After that we pulled ropes and went to climb on write-off wall. That’s where things went a bit sideways.

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I was supposed to lead the unnamed climb, set up an anchor, and then come down so Tyler could climb it. I had never climbed this route before, so I got about 4-5 bolts up before realizing that while the line was straight up until then, at the very end of the climb it broke hard right and finished directly over another occupied climb. I was worried about showering the climbers with rocks and crap, so I ended up bailing off onto knife in the toaster, one climb over to our left. It was a dogs breakfast. The rope literally went up, over, and down.

Complicating things – and part of the problem, I think, was that I was more sketched out than I realized by leading the climb. The climb is totally a 5.6 on top-rope, but it has got two nasty looking falls. All in all I found leading and down climbing the 5.7/5.8 climb I had to do to get the gear I left behind easy by comparison. Something about that climb was just messing with my head. The climb runs about 3 feet to the left of the rope line Tyler is on in this picture.

In the end Tyler climbed it gracefully, then rappelled back off the climb.

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In a word, ugh. There are no bad days in the mountain when nobody gets hurt, but this was just a weird, weird, day. I’m glad we put in the time to practice. It was a fun if frustrating day, but I think I really needed the drill time.

Day climbing at deception crags (March 16th, 2018)

Tyler and I started the day by setting up a top rope on Glob Job. It is only a 5.7 – but neither of us wanted to lead climb it since it looks like it has a real ankle breaker of a first bolt start. Here you can see Tyler setting up the rope for the climb.

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Turns out, once we were on it the first bolts is not that bad, the crux move seems to be clearing a tiny bulge in the wall to get to the second bolt. I figure we will try leading it later in the summer but ick. The concrete crack is full of small sharp as stones and just ripped up our hands. I ended up coming off the climb and taping up to do it.

After that we hiked around to write-off rock and did the unnamed 5.6 between Knife in the Toaster and Mom There’s Pink in my Burger. It was Tyler’s first sport lead – and it was a decent climb for that. Solid holds and well protected. Only weird part is the chains are kind of far above the last decent footholds. So Tyler got up there only to find that the chain link PAS system I lent him was to short so it was kind of awkward for him setting things up. I felt bad. I use a longer anchor system, so had less problems breaking things down when I cleaned.

While we do need to get faster – it was all in all a good day. We got a bunch of solid rope work practice and climbing in. Joel and Owen met up with Tyler and myself.

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Owens only 6 – but it looks like he will be a hell of a climber one day. The picture had him motoring up a 5.4, and we had to physically lift him off the climb to prevent him from just motoring on up the rock. I’ll be curious to see how he does when we bring him out there with a harness and let him climb roped up. Probably the weirdest part – is the last time Joel was out there was when we were climbing together in college twenty years ago.

Day climbing at deception crags (March 10th, 2018)

Tyler and I took my Aunt climbing today at Deception Crags up at Exit 38. It had been nearly a decade since either of us had climbed there – so we went up without a guidebook and kind of played things by ear.

Unfortunately, I picked a 5.9 for my Aunts first climb – Knife in the toaster. It is smack in the middle of “Write-off Rock”. She did awesome, but it had a 5.4 on the left and a 5.6 climb on the right – so I just totally miss called the difficulty of the climb. I felt especially bad since right after she left we ran up flammable pajamas next which was the super easy 5.4.

Probably the first lesson of the day was that I look ridiculous in a pony tail. I’m choosing to ignore that lesson though.

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Knife in the toaster had five bolts and was my first lead of the season, and first in nearly a year.

Its actually more like a 5.7 climb, with a 5.9 crux move at the end. I just was not seeing the last move though. I got the bold clipped, and kept going up and down looking for the next move but just was not seeing it.

Here you can see the line for the climb – I just need to head straight up and to the left a bit to nail it. In the end I finished by going round, and to my right. The lead for flammable pajamas was next, and it was super weird. You have to climb half way up the climb to get to the first bolt, so the climb with only two bolts, feels like it is over before it feels like it starts.

All in all a lovely day – we need to go out there again soon.

Early march attempt of the Tooth

Yesterday Conrad and I attempted a snowshoe approach for climbing the Tooth. We were initially going to meet at the trailhead for a 9am start. This was the first snow shoe trip in several seasons for me, and Conrad’s first snowshoeing, so we ended up deciding to meet at REI at 9 instead so we could each pick up a few things.

Unfortunately, on Sunday REI does not open until 10 so we lost an hour. Then we got stuck in a crazy traffic snarl getting to the pass. So we did not hit the trail-head for our start until 2. Yeah, it was a super late start. We had no idea what the hike in times would be – so we decided to bring full climbing packs anyway in case we got lucky. If we didn’t then worst case we know our travel time with packs for when we come back.

I think we both had a fun day. I know Conrad got a lot of laughter in when I tried out a new down hill “glide step” technique. Which started out awesome for the first 3 steps – then it turned into me tumbling ass over teakettle down hill.

I think we both were having fun.

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We hiked in to Source Lake, then turned south east to switch back up to the Great Scott Basin. In this picture its that V where the two dotted paths split just below the tooth. Not the chimney, the one on the snow field.

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We were loosing the light – so we turned around just under the 3 hour mark. We were making good time down the mountain so we took a break for a celebratory beer and some food before motoring on out. Thats going to become a tradition – because that beer was perfect.

It started snowing fairly heavily on the way out – which I found hilarious – since Konrad was at times like an abominable snowman in font of me. I found the half inch of snow hanging on the tip of his ice axe especially funny for some reason.

We ended up hiking out the last hour and a half with headlamps. No one was anywhere around – so the world seemed to be ours. Here is what it looked like. We only had to back track once – and that was my fault.

All in all al lovely day. With an 8am start next time we should have no problem summiting and hiking out before we loose the light. Cant wait.

Rope work Practice No. 3

Tyler, Chris, and I met Sunday to do another round of rope-work practice at Marymoore. We drilled on anchors and Z-hauls again.

Here is Chris demonstrating one way of reliably putting a clove hitch on a carbineer. While this method uses two hands, it avoids the problem where you accidentally put a Munter and not a clove hitch on the carbineer and have to redo things.

That clove hitch is used on the first piece of the anchor system we have been working on. Seen here:

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I talked about this setup before – where you use the rope to build the anchor so I wont get into it here. One interesting thing with this anchor – is that since you are not using a separate anchor line – you have a moment where the last person off the anchor system has a very large potential fall while the belayer is pulling in the slack that used to be the anchor system. Now he is sitting on a single piece of pro, and holding onto the rock, and it is probably the person who climbed up and built the anchor in the first place. So a lot would need to go wrong for there to be a fall – but is something we are all talking over as part of dissecting and drilling on technique.

One thing new we were drilling on was escaping a loaded belay. The guide mode ATCs have friction horns that get engaged on a fall. The problem is you then need to “break” the lock the ATC has on the rope to lower someone. That’s hard to do with any control if they are loading the rope with their body weight.

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The trick is to pull the ATC out of the locked position. Here you see a carbineer clipped into a small hole on the ATC provided for this sort of improvised handle. The purple chord seen here runs up above the ATC, through an anchor point, and extended back down to the belayer with the green chord. By pulling on the green chord, or if needed stepping into it, the ATC is pulled out of lock and the belayed person is lowered. Its easy enough to set up – but something you totally need to drill before you need to do it in the wild. It is very easy to drop someone with no control if you are not careful. The tradeoff is an auto engaging belay arresting the fall immediately, for a harder to control lowering after the catch.

Then we went on to drill Z hauls again. We started with a simple 3:1 setup on the fence again:

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We were playing with using significantly longer loops of chord for our prusiks. The thinking being if we can slide the ropes a bit farther we should be able to increase raising and lowering speeds without sacrificing safety. So before we were moving the load by 8 inches a haul, and this setup let us move it by 12-14 inches. Here you can see the pulley implementing the Z, which provides the 3:1 mechanical advantage. So basically we were building this system, but with a bully swapped in for the carabiner and not using a single master point for clarity.

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Next to practice raising vertically we climbed up onto one of the walls and setup a z-haul and raised a large bag. It turns out the only picture I got of that was Chris getting ready to set the system up. It was freaking cold out and we were wanting to get out of there as soon as we drilled this – so I am afraid we stopped taking pictures. It was the same setup as on the ground, it is just critical that you get all the lengths correct for a vertical system – since the person running it is less able to move. You also need to set up the system thinking about how you will bring the load / body up the wall.

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I finally saw the butterfly in an alpine butterfly

So to get back in climbing shape I have been drilling on my rope work – including my knots. For some reason one knot in particular, the alpine butterfly, has always given me trouble. It is not actually that hard a knot to tie – just for some reason it is my knot nemesis. If I am going to have to re-tie a knots its going to be a butterfly.

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The one thing I never got about it was its name. Then the other day I looked down at the practice knot I had just tied and got it. The knot looks like an upside down butterfly with two little wings formed by loops, and the third loop forming a sort of abdomen. Full head slap moment, I can’t believe I never saw this before.