New Years – Drive From Hell
So the projected 22 hour drive has just stretched to 23 and we are still not out of f…ing LA traffic. Where do we go? Moab? Why drive 14 hours for a forecast as shitty as Smith. Red Rocks looked wet too. Four days is not enough for anything further. Never been to J-tree but that’s a lot of driving for single pitch stuff. OK, how about Cochise? 3am we arrive in Benson and all too soon the alarm clock rings. Stumble out of bed in Motel 6 and before I’m fully awake, we’re at the trailhead and hiking toward our climb. What is this? Where are the sunny skies? OK, at least it’s not raining (yet). Harness up, tie into the rope, and as I turn towards the start of my lead my right foot blows off of a wet log at the base. 18 inches lower, it finds a landing zone atop a fist sized rock. Somehow the air is knocked out of me as I drop to the ground. Shirley is standing over my contorted, squirming body with a look of “what the hell??!!” Obviously events looked less dramatic from her point of view. My foot swells, Shirley coils the ropes, and we hike down. 10 hours after finishing our first 25 hour drive, we’re off on another. This time pissed off and headed back towards the rainy Oregon. The only highlight of the outing was running into Eric and Lucie on our way out of the Stronghold. We had dinner with them that night and as always found them inspirational!
Four Months Later Things Went BetterSo I find these cheap airfares that should get us out of the rainy Northwest and into the desert. Unfortunately they’re for Boise and not Salt Lake meaning that the Moab outing will still involve 17 hours of driving time that weekend. Saturday early afternoon finds Shirley and me picking up the remainder of our ten essentials: a 2 gallon jug of water and a six pack of beer from a supermarket in Boise. Off we go. We arrive at a trailhead in Canyonlands a tad after 11pm Saturday. Eight hours of beauty rest in the back of the rental and we’re packing up the gear in the breaking daylight.
“I thought you packed the bottles?!!”
.Oooopsie daisy. We’re faced with a dry climb or alternatively with Shirley carrying the 2 gallon jug of water in her backpack up the tower….I like that option and my inner Taliban would like to toss in two bottles of beer into her pack as well. I’m brought back to the reality of western civilization with a solid smack to the back of my head. OK, no water, no climb. Switch gears and hit our day 2 target first.
We head for Arches via a detour up River Road in an attempt to find Brad’s campsite. He had expressed interest in possibly joining us on this climb in our phone conversation earlier that week. Many campsites but no Brad to be found (& no reception on his phone). OK, back to Arches.
The ClimbSo there it is! 300 yards across the desert looms our adventure of choice. At 440 feet (per Eric Bjornstad’s guidebook), Sheep Rock is likely the 3rd tallest (after Tower Of Babel and The Organ) tower in this here National Park. The resemblance to the farm animal is indeed striking. A five minute hike up a nice wash brings us to the base of the tower.
Things start out reasonably well – a mantle move up onto a ~45-degree slab and soon I’m clipping the first brand new bolt (see below). The familiar sandy crunch is felt between my teeth – it’s good to be back on Entrada. The slab is sandy (did I mention it’s Entrada) but featured with old (and blown out) angle holes that provide holds. Couple of free moves and the terrain steepens. Transition to aid climbing mode is immediate – starting with standing on bolts to taking out the aiders shortly thereafter. A C1 bulge and more bolts. Back to semi-free: I mantle one of my feet onto the bolt and throw for a two finger hold in an empty piton hole just at the edge of my reach.
.What is this mysterious force trying to pull me down??!!!
I’m a moron! I realize that I forgot to unclip the aider from the bolt on which I’m now balancing my foot. I’m a f…ing f…ing moron!! I can’t move up as I’m held in place by a shortened daisy tethering me to the aider and bolt. The bad news is that I can’t reach down to unclip it (I have a bulging wall in my face now……yes, I’m a f…ing idiot) nor can I place any pro above me to clip into. The anticipation of a bone rattling 3-footer onto the static daisy is exciting. Easy, easy… OK, here we go: “falling”. The impact is surprisingly soft as 3 stitches rip on the daisy dissipating the fall energy gradually before the rope catches me. I’m a dumbass. Take two. Rest of the pitch is uneventful.
Shirley arrives on the nice belay ledge and we both look at the start of the C1 traverse pitch.
.Another sandy mantle to reach the crack. Looks hard. A hook comes out and a bomber foothold in the form of an aider step presents itself. The rest of the pitch is fun – perfectly horizontal leftward traverse with some nice exposure. Shirley quickly follows and we are soon both looking up at the 45-meter “Ewetopian Crack.”
I have a (sinking) feeling that I’m about to try the most sustained aid lead of my (non-existent) aid career – the crack is thin. It goes from none (couple drilled pegs get you started) to about a green to yellow Alien sized for the final 20 feet. Now how do I reach the first peg just out of my reach? Try cams & tricams. Try hooking. Nothing will provide even the most tenuous placement in the blown out piton hole. Free move looks unreasonably hard and so I end up cheating the first 8 feet with a stick clip – oh well. Visible above are at least two more drilled angles – safe havens from the thinness that lies in-between.
.The first series of thin placements take a bit of getting used to – it’s exciting to see a series of #4 to 6 offsets (some attached to purty new Screamaids) in Entrada separating you from the belay ledge 50 feet below.
Finally, I reach the fixed angle and exhale in relief. More of the same is encountered higher. A satisfying #0.75 Camalot in a horizontal crack offers the next bit of mental rest. I see Shirley below snacking on chips – I should get moving before she takes out the beer and makes a full-on picnic. A #5 offset goes into a yet another slight piton scar – looks nice. A gentle test – still good. OK, step-up and give it one more vigorous test. I hear a ping and a cracking of the rock and feel the acceleration. Though the fall is short (less than 15 feet and probably 70 feet out), I recall clawing at the wall trying to slow my descent. The thrill ride is thankfully over quickly as the #0.75 assisted by a ripping screamer stop me. A 10”X10” plate of rock on left side of crack unexpectedly gave way under the pressure exerted by the nut – good times. The crack soon gets wide enough to slot blue, green, and even yellow Aliens.
.Shirley tops out quickly just as a slight drizzle begins. She gives me a look that says “you better hurry up on the next pitch!” OK, here we go. Pitch 3 begins with a nice if short crack to a roof traverse to another piton. Above the pin, a few feet of thin nutting (hybrid Aliens feel better) in crunchy rock would not be so bad if it were not for the lower angle slab directly below. Going eases quickly and I’m soon belaying Shirley up from the top in increasing drizzle. We don’t scramble the ridge to the head but start rapping down. Ropes pull smoothly and soon we’re eating Mexican food in Moab & tossing down Dos Equis. A great route.
So the sound of rain wakes us in the middle of the night – OK I guess no need to get up early. In the morning hopes rise as we see a patch of blue sky. We repack have coffee waiting for rock to dry. We drive out to the trailhead just as a full on downpour begins. No blue sky & no hope for more climbing. We’re done. 9 hours later Boise & flight home back to work.