Rock Season Dwindles Down

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Looking north toward the Isobuttress Face of the Black Arches Wall.

Rockclimbing season is probably not over, but this current bout of inclement weather is likely to bring a little snow our way. There’s no doubt that the days of warm, dry rock are drawing to a close for 2010. As always, I’m frantically trying to pull a few last projects together before the door finally shuts.

After a long spell down in the Gunks, I arrived home Tuesday night. I had guided for three days (wonderful bunch of folks each day) and given the Praters a quick tour of the place on Tuesday, so I was tired, and a bit homesick as well. After mulling things over for awhile, I looked at the forecast and decided to take Wednesday off. Bad weather was heading our way, perhaps as early as midday Thursday, and I was anxious to get back out on “my” mountain in good conditions.

No one could come out and play with me that day, so I went alone, carrying a small load: a semi-static, 150′ rope, a cordalette, 10 ‘biners, a couple runners, harness, belay kit, shoes, helmet. I wasn’t sure what I would do, but figured since I was alone, it wouldn’t involve leading anything.  The one thing I did have in mind was examining the tall face right of the gully beyond <em>Oddy’s Crack</em>; I had eyed it at every passing for several years now, and over the past weekend Val had also noted it; I figured it was time to give it a real lookover.

A quick perusal along the base of the wall past it convinced me that any approach from that direction would be circuitous at best, so I returned to the gully and scrambled up to its left edge. Here, a wide crack leads up a right-facing corner, entering a chimney before reaching the ledge at the top of the “Long Play” Wall that I wanted to inspect. I decided to pull out the gear and have a go at that chimney. With luck it wouldn’t be too hard, I would get to the top, and have time to rappel and look things over.

There were a few challenges to be addressed before starting. I had an Edelweiss canyoneering rope, not quite fully static, but definitely not a safe lead rope. There was no real way to make it safe for a fall, but in the end, I opted to tie one end to a stout tree, coil the rope several times loosely around it, and then tie myself in with alternating eights-on-a-bight; all of which were tied very loosely. The idea was to supply some dynamics to the system via coil and knot-clinching action. Hopefully, that would stop me from breaking in two like a twig if I fell. Whether this yielded any real safety at all, I’ll never know: it is most definitely not something to do. Only professionals – chiefly idiotic ones, and specifically me – work with this sort of program.

The first twenty feet were easy scrambling up a dirt cone leading to the start of the wide crack. Within reach of the first real rock move, a large birch grew out of the crack, I hauled myself up on this and stood on a nice, flat boulder perched on its upper base. My shortest runner barely fit around the tree if I pushed it up the trunk a ways – hopefully that too would offer some spring, without breaking, if I fell.

The next 3 meters were wide crack moves, assisted by a flaring chimney in the face to my left. It was steep and dirty, but not particularly difficult to climb them, but the corner pitched up steeper and pinched off above into a vertical tunnel, restricting movement and increasing the difficulty considerably. I didn’t have to worry about shockload if I fell: I would almost certainly hit the ground before coming on the rope. Of course, that wasn’t much consolation. I backed down and considered my options. The crack was far too wide to jam a knot, but looking in the notch to my left, I saw some rocks lying within reach. They looked like they might fit, so I yanked one out, eyeballed a likely spot along the crack, and set it home. Perfect. One more, this one a bit wider, fit well four feet higher. Stringing one end of my cordalette to the bottom one, running it up, then lassoing the top one, I arranged a makeshift pair of protection points, once again utilizing loose knots in the fashionable and fanciful hope they would provide the necessary dynamics if I fell.

Moving up again, I peered into the tunnel above me. It would be cramped in there, and it was both wet and dirty. I tell this to my friends all the time: on Crane, wet is OK, dirty is fine, but wet and dirty is bad. I didn’t like the looks of things in there. To my right however, a horizontal crack headed straight out ten feet to the outside corner of the LP Wall. Just where I wanted to have a look-see anyway, and under its heavy garb of rock tripe, the crack appeared to have excellent handholds. I made a tentative move out, scraping away the brittle brown leather, blowing out sand and grit, and scrabbling my shoes against the steep wall below to find footing. The exposure increased instantly, and I nervously crabbed back to my perch in the wide crack, panting from a tad too much adrenaline pumping through the veins. This would be exciting.

It would also require better shoes. Downclimbing to that lovely flat rock on the birch, I swapped footwear, stashing my approach shoes in the crack. Briefly, I considered their value as chocks, but passed on the thought. The now-resident chockstones would do well enough. More important would be protection farther out the crack. About halfway out, a blocky flake looked like it might take a sling, and since I had one left, that would have to do.

Once again, I headed up and then out. The moves were familiar now, much less frightening. A bit of work and that last runner sat securely around the flake, yet one more loose figure eight knot providing that theoretical “give” if needed. My wire brush would be the most effective protection from here on out and up. Once around the bend, the way appeared easy, but there would be no way to tell for sure until I got there. That meant the moves had to be reversible. I took several false starts, going out and back to assure myself I could handle both directions, but the last move would require a committing step up and right. It might be reversible, but it would be hard to do so, and by now, that flake would be five feet to my left. I would have to place a lot of slack in the rope to make the move, so a fall would put me very near the base of the route. I could not see much past the outside corner: a low-angle face cloaked in tripe was evident, but whether it held critical holds or not I couldn’t tell. The one reassuring factor was a spacious foot ledge: once I made that step, I knew I would have a good resting spot.

After a brief rest, I went for it, hopping onto that ledge quickly, and breathlessly eyeing my new location. The traverse took me from a relatively sheltered corner forty feet above a patch of trees, to this airy roost 110′ off the deck. I was close to the top, blocked only by a steep slab secretively blanketed in tripe. Ten minutes of brushing revealed two main options: I could climb the steep edge of the corner on my left using small but sharply-defined side-pulls, or friction-stem my way up the face to my right. In the end, I took the left option, preferring secure fingers to tenuous smearing above the void. One brief difficult move and it was easy scrub-and-go, then a brief wrestling match with a final defensive screen of oak limbs, before I was on top, thoroughly loving the spacious ledge there.

After a brief rest, I rapped down, pulled gear, changed shoes, and belayed myself back up to the ledge. It was a beautiful day, so I took some pictures before rearranging the rappel and heading down the main face. What I found there brought me back the very next day for more fun and excitement, this time with a willing partner and a dynamic rope, but that can wait for another installment.

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The view ESE.

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Nearly straight down, looking at Pinnacle Rock.

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Closer View of the Isobuttress. Carpenter & Das runs through the obvious overhang.

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Looking out from the spacious ledge atop the Long Play Wall.

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