Archive for April 18th, 2011

Moby Grape!

Monday, April 18th, 2011

This is an article I began directly after our trip, back in early August. I’ve only just finished it enough to post now. Somewhere, there are a few more pictures to add; if I find them I’ll do so. In particular, a photo of the mushroom rock is a critical visual aid in following the descent route. 

Jamie McNeill and I made a crazy-rush drive out to Cannon Cliff on the last day of July 2010, to climb Moby Grape. After a couple trips out there way back when (as in, the 1980’s), all of which were complete washouts, I swore never to go back unless the weather guaranteed no rain. Which Saturday’s forecast did. So five hours of driving and minimal planning later, the two of us stood around the car at the Profile Lake pull-out, culling two racks down into one barely manageable one sporting a #4 and two #3 Camalots. Talk about Heavy Metal!

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Racked and Ready to go, with Cannon Cliff waiting in the background.

At 10:30am, we were on our way, hiking briefly on the trail, then weaving upward through a dense forest, over unstable boulders in the talus field, and onward to the base of the route.

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Yeah baby, that’s what I’m talkin’ about!

I’m usually pretty good about sharing leads, but one look at the first pitch and I couldn’t just let it go. One hundred feet of hand crack are too tempting; Jamie no doubt felt similarly. I won the toss and took that lead, promising Jamie the crux pitch as a consolation. With minor modifications, we swapped rope ends for the entire route.

Moby Grape starts out with that wonderful crack for the first pitch, then weaves around an exposed outside corner for another 80′ to a bolt belay at the top of the second, two pitches that run straight enough to combine. After that, Jamie took over, scrambling a short class 3 stretch where he opted to take a direct line to the next belay, yielding some good 5.7 climbing very close to the corner once again. Belaying at more rappel tat, we stood below the triangle roof, the crux of the route.

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Watching the action across Cannon’s face while we wait our turn at the crux pitch.

The previous party – there’s always a previous party on Moby Grape – had struggled on this one; they were both at the belay stance above ours, waiting their turn as the party ahead of them continued up the fifth pitch. We relaxed a bit, figuring we were late enough to be the last crew on rock there, but soon, I spied another party flaking rope at the base. I thought we were climbing fast enough to take it easy while we waited, but the leader of the lower party clipped the anchors below us in minutes. This guy was either real familiar with the route, climbing way below his ability, or both. We decided to move on.

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Jamie about to lead the crux roof pitch, the business end of which is upper left in this photo.

Jamie led up to the roof, placed a solid piece in the lip, and began pulling up around and above it. Looked strenuous from my stance. After a few moments planning his moves, he worked through the difficulties and worked the crack leading up to the right. Soon, it was my turn. And yep, it was strenuous. Pulling the roof is a mirror image of climbing the overhang on Torcher, just a bit easier and without the 5.10a move afterward. It is, however, quite runout once the crack fades. There’s a stretch of slabby friction to reach a ledge, and another slightly sketchy run to gain the belay alcove.

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Heading for the crux overhang.

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A good stance below the roof provides opportunity for equally good pro.

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Let the battle begin!

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Careful rope management is important after passing the overhang.

Pitch after pitch of 5.7 to 5.8+ climbing follow each other; to be honest, the order of pitches isn’t clear to me already. Pitch-by-pitch descriptions can be obtained here or here or here.

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Leading the next pitch, climbing up onto a broken arête.

Mine was an easier pitch, 5.7ish, heading up and right to an arête, swinging onto its right side, then up to the next belay stance.

Jamie got the famous Finger of Fate pitch, another runout affair with plenty of exposure. I feel bad for the poor bloke that’s riding this pony when it finally falls down. Getting off the thing back onto the main face is another sketchy affair, poorly protected and delicate.

I don’t remember the lead above this, but I recall that our pursuit had caught up and was forced to wait at every belay stance while we worked through the moves. Jamie and I decided to eat lunch and let them pass. Turns out this was guide Art Mooney with a client. We picked his brain for a few vital facts: how best to finish the route and how to find the descent route. The latter turned out to be real valuable, it’s not an easy path to find.

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The Finger of Fate pitch.

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Ride ’em, Cowboy! Note the runout…

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Our pursuit catches up with us.

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Jamie heads for the cave; another difficult and runout crux high on the route.

Pitch after pitch ensued. The Cave Pitch, a particularly frightening, runout 5.8 affair, was once again, Jamie’s lead – thank God! It frightened me following it. Art recommended finishing in a large, left-facing corner called Curt’s Corner, and that was my pitch to tackle. Art said it is 5.7; my impression is that it is 5.7 – for about one hundred feet. Slightly awkward, slightly strenuous, slightly scary moves seemed to go on and on forever. With 800 feet of climbing behind us, I was ready for easy going; this wasn’t it.

One more pitch, this time truly easy, if runout, slab climbing led to level ground. Level, mushy ground: our shoes got soaked entering the vegetation zone. But we were safely on top of the ridge. It was cold, threatening weather, so we didn’t dawdle, only long enough to snap a picture or two, before following Art’s excellent directions for getting back down to the parking lot.

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Victorious at last, on the top.

Definitely worth it.