I got back late last night from my Washington climbing weekend… Shawn, Kelly and I spent Friday at Exit 32 and then went to Leavenworth Friday night for an early morning start on Outer Space (III, 5.9). I’m not going to do a full trip report… this trip was about the climbing, not the blogging or photography (I didn’t even take a camera, for once)…
But, the longer I’m off Outer Space, the better it gets so a short blog post is the goal (maybe – we’ll see when I’m done typing… and now that I’m done typing, who am I kidding, I can’t do a short blog post to save my life). I guess you’re right, guys — I just can’t not blog about climbing.
During the route, I had moments of total bliss… mostly, actually, sitting on ledges while my climbing partners either climbed or belayed (we were a party of three, so there was some time to sit around and rest and take in the views and flick ticks off ourselves and the gear). I used to be terrified of heights… but climbing has either become an exception or it’s just different from other kinds of “being up high” — I know and trust the system and my partners, so I can actually enjoy the height, look around, and take in the views, without feeling panic. At just two pitches up, I was already looking down on birds flying around, which was very cool. The route was unusually empty — we had two parties ahead of us and one or two parties behind us, but after the first anchor we didn’t actually see or hear another climbing party except for the occasional climbing command shouted out way, way above us and obscured by the wind.
This was my first YDS grade III (graded as a half-day climb)… my multipitch experience before this was limited to a handful of two or three pitch outings. The whole thing was very “heady” for me… it’s always a lot of responsibility to be a climbing partner, but I really felt the seriousness of the undertaking (despite the relatively easy or moderate climbing) on that particular route. I took, I think, two falls while seconding and felt really awful that my partners had to catch falls.
After climbing in the middle of the party most of the way up with Shawn (who visits this route annually) and Kelly switching leads, the guys gave me the option of leading the first “money” headwall crack pitch. I very nearly passed on the opportunity because I was tired and scared. But, I took a few minutes and thought through it… looking at the route, I thought it was within my climbing ability, I just didn’t know for sure whether keeping a party of three safe was within my trad leading ability. On the other hand, I knew I’d get good feedback from Shawn on my gear placements, and I figured — if they trust my ability enough to offer the lead, then I should trust my ability to do the lead. While the climbing was relatively easy, the gear required some thinking — Shawn had prepared me for the fact that the crack is really consistent (#2 camalot, most of the way up the 150 or so feet of climbing) so I’d need to backclean/leapfrog gear to protect my lead while conserving pieces, since we only had three #2 camalots. I got in several nuts and smaller cams down low on the pitch and then hit the “gear conservation” consistent section, where I got into a rhythm of climbing, running it out a bit, finding a good stance for placing a #2, then climbing, looking for another #2 or #1 placement, putting the gear in, and then backcleaning the lower piece by either reaching down to get it, or downclimbing from my high point to retrieve the gear for reuse.
I got so into the rhythm of backcleaning that I was a little overzealous about it — I actually arrived at the belay ledge with a #2 left over — that piece should have been left somewhere on the route to protect my lead, not on my harness. I built the best anchor I could knowing that Shawn and Kelly were freezing on the ledge down below during my not-super-fast lead, and then brought Shawn up. Did I forget to mention that it started to rain during my lead? Not bad, but enough that we needed to move and not dilly dally since the descent would be even less fun (read, potentially very dangerous) on slippery rock. Did I also forget to mention that after placing a handful of nuts, the rest of my nuts on their wiregate carabiner inexplicably flew out of my hand (I still don’t know what happened — I had just placed a nut, and I don’t know whether I was trying to clip the carabiner back to my harness or whether I just plain dropped the gear) and I watched them tumble down, down, down — calling “rock” and with the rest of my party doing the same to notify any lower parties and/or the herd of goats at the base of the route. Yup, I think I forgot to mention that part. I have seriously got to work on being less of a fumble-fingers. And, note to self — I simply have got to teach myself and practice how to belay and rap on a Munter, and how to rap on a carabiner brake, before my next climbing trip.
Anyway, I didn’t relax at all until Shawn got up to the ledge and told me my gear placements were good and my anchor was acceptable, at which point the whole thing became suddenly just very, very, very fun and rewarding and satisfying despite the embarrassing newbie oops of potentially losing half my rack of nuts and the very full knowledge that were were probably all crawling with ticks. Sitting on library ledge, wiggling around to keep warm, while Shawn brought Kelly up the pitch I’d lead was my favorite part of the whole day. The next pitch was the 2nd best part of the day — Kelly lead it, so I got to just enjoy the climbing without having to worry about leading, and the pitch was just absolute fun from bottom to top. Shawn ran up the final easy set of knobs to the top, and belayed both Kelly and I up to the topout where we enjoyed a minute or two of the view and then quickly coiled ropes (note to self #2 – my rope backpacking technique needs some work) and packed gear to start the descent before the weather got even worse. The descent was sketchy at points, but Shawn knew both the fast way (which we didn’t take) and the relatively safe way (which we did take) and the descent was marked with a number of cairns so trail-finding wasn’t terrible. We stayed harnessed up in case we had to rappel, and we didn’t have to rappel. The guys quickly located my lots nuts (which were REALLY banged up from their little encounter with gravity and solid surfaces) on our way out, so that was a bonus. The easy hike out was a relief after so much scrambling and uphill, and daydreams of dinner kept me moving at a relatively good clip.
It was about an 11 hour day from car to car; our climbing went a bit slower as a party of three than a party of two would, but the parties of two behind us didn’t catch up with us so we weren’t moving too slowly. The approach is long (about two hours) but do-able… I’m sore this morning more from the hiking and scrambling than the climbing, but I wouldn’t hesitate to do the approach again. The stop off for burgers in Leavenworth was well-earned. All in all, it was another perfect day of climbing.
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