Saturday, May 18, 2013

Gray Wall Finally!

A couple of days after the Triple Top debacle, I was motivated enough to return to the Crags. I was a little concerned that I might have hijacked my friend, Sean's, crags trip. I ran into his perspective partner at an informal gathering of the Shasta Climbing Rangers and Shasta Mountain Guides at Carr's house the day prior. Nick (one of the climbing rangers), said that he and Sean were planning on going into the crags on the following day. I hadn't heard from Sean in a while and wasn't sure the fat kid (me) was invited. Nick took the liberties that Sean confirmed. Our initial goal was the Magic Rib, but inclement weather and a tight/sketchy belay realigned the destination. Sean was up for trying my new climb on the Gray Wall. I had been trying to snag this as a possible FA for a year now. I was pretty sure it had been climbed, but there has been nothing recorded and most of the older locals denied ever having been up it. The possibility of putting up a new, moderate, multi-pitch route had me salivating like Pavlov's Dog with tinnitus! Weather reports looked dismal, but the approach was pretty easy after I had dialed it in last month and spent all day making a trail weeks prior. We started appropriately early, approached and scrambled to the ledge where we would make the first belay.

BELOW: Nick and Sean. Gruesome dudes at the start eating lunch. It's hard to believe this is what Siskiyou County calls "upstanding citizens!"

I was chomping at the bit and was ready first so they "unleashed the beast" on the 5.3!!! Twenty feet off the belay with no pro yet I start searching... no luck... thirty feet... nope... forty... maybe this is ok? Yuck. The pro was pretty dismal starting and the rock, if it had ever been touched, it had not seen human contact in decades. Most everything was pretty low angle with positive holds and good feet. You just have to not step or grab things that aren't big features. I stretched the 70m to about 60 or so and saw an acceptable pine but it was a little left. Above was another ledge, but I didn't think I had the rope for it. I stopped there and the guys weren't too pissed... thankfully. The weather had turned pretty cold. The boyz had puffies but I brought a light rain jacket. Fortunately my blubber was able to provide adequate insulation!

BELOW: Sean was up next on P2 leading out right then up! A front on the NW is moving in.

The second pitch was another 60-70m go. Although not the hardest of the day, it was certainly the best. It went right up a bullet hard, but polished deep water groove. Pro was excellent when available and Sean really placed only a fraction of the gear I would have. I followed Nick as the third and nearly got smacked by some rock. Well, I actually did get hit but it was on the thigh and not the noggin (or nose). Sean led up to a pleasant and spacious ledge where he belayed from a tree and some other pro.

BELOW: Sean sittin' pretty. Clouds encircling from the south east too!

 Next up was Nick. He launched off into the 5.7ish crux. There was some loosey-goosey stuff on this pitch but Nick kept the rock from hitting the belay. The wind was picking up here. Nick really stretched his pitch. In fact, Sean had to simulclimb about 30' as the second, as did I bringing up the rear.

BELOW: Nick doing what he does best, looking good!

I thought the last pitch would be all me. It was a little steep and I was really dealing with some guillotine terminator death blocks that I was trying to avoid grabbing or sending down the hill. I negotiated a pine tree at the start then it was an easy jaunt up to a "gunsight notch." I had the rope to make it to the top, but the last 60 feet was low angle, through some bushes and a bumper crop of loose rock. I called it quits about 60 feet shy of the top at a giant gnarled pine, which was undoubtedly the recipient of 200 years of rock fall.

With some shenanigans on the last sixty feet we summitted. I had originally wanted to bring a drill, but Sean does NOT like rappeling in the crags... AT ALL. So we attempted to find our day down through this pea soup...

BELOW: I really wanted to see this vista to get a better "lay of the land" for the upper Root Creek drainage. Looks like I'll have to go back. This is the base of Castle Dome... I think.

Before we got started on the descent we gathered up our things hurriedly as the weather had finally moved in. It was sprinkling now into what would grow into a pretty reasonable mountain shower. Even though we were hurrying, I glanced down at my foot and found this right on top of the granite sand.

BELOW: A vintage LONGware RURP. 

A little research showed that these were manufactured in the mid-1960s. I think they actually pre-date the Chiounard Equipment RURPS that we all know and love. I'm a little upset that this is evidence that the line has been climbed before. That's the way the crack crumbles though I guess. Still, I think that I will name it for the future guide as follows: "Unknown (aka The Three Amigos): 5.7 III. 5 pitches." FA: Unknown. I will name it in honor of us three. I thought we might have snagged an FA but I doubt it. What the hell was a RURP doing on top of a 5.7 anyway?!

We walked off to climber's left (skiers right) through pretty easy terrain with only one low-angle slab to negotiate.

BELOW: A dramatic pic of Nick in the weather looking into Root Creek. Castle Dome would be to the viewer's right, but still out of the picture.

Home all wet but before sunset... this time. My biggest regret was that my friend from Seattle, Matt, wasn't able to join us. I had to ask him to cancel at the last minute because of my schedule changes. This one's for you buddy! It was really wet if that's any consolation...

Friday, May 17, 2013

Early May Mini-Epic: Triple Top

Frequently when I climb in the Crags I get home after dark. In general though, I try not to descend sketchy terrain past sunset. I like to hustle down any steeps before the headlamps come out. Last year Darin, Sean and I manzineered our way off of Battle Mountain's "Plum Line." I vowed to not have to do that again.

With a late start Jason and I set out for Triple Top. My goal was not only to climb the original line of Bryron Cross's "Runaway Train" (5.7 III), but also to fix the anchor bolts so future climbers could avoid the single bolt raps that Sean, Ryan and I descended last year. With my Battle Mountain experience long faded from my memory, Jason arrived at my house a little late and we didn't get the car parked and start walking until about 11:00am. I forget how my dilly-dallying delayed departure. Therefore, I will blame him entirely... hah!

BELOW: That fat kid on the approach. "Runaway Train" follows the shaded area to the summit of TT, which looms above. The patch of trees waaaaay up there is "near" the end of the "approach." Ugh...

Jason had no idea of how long the approach would be, but I remembered it being one the longest and most technical in the Crags. Plus, because of the Springtime rains and snowmelt, the approach gully to Triple-top ("Middle Gully") would be more wet. Since it was north-facing, you engineers could probably calculate the friction coefficient for polished granite, coated with shiny, slick, green algae. Plus there are about 3-4 short sections of 4th/5th class to negotiate. Obviously my memory was flawed as I got off route on approach and found myself on some steeps. Jason had enough time to pause and get some shots.

BELOW: Fortunately you can't see the wet spot betwixt my legs!

Even on his worst day, Jason is twice the climber I am. Nevertheless, he called for a rope midway up the approach. It is understandable. It was steep 5th class goo, running with water.
For those of you who've bought the guide book you'll notice that the descent is through some questionable single-bolt stations. Last year, Ryan, Sean and I climbed way left of those bolted stations. We thought we were on a new line and it turns out we were! Speaking to Sean we think an appropriate name would be "Derailed." (5.7 III). And so the next edition will reflect that. This day, Jason and I climbed the actual "Runaway Train." Additionally we found a bolted variation pitch. Just near the last pitch, there's a cool ledge where I stopped for a belay. To climber's left there is a low-angle arĂȘte, where there is sparsely bolted line that looks incredible! If you get back there before me, take a bolt kit and fix them please. Consider adding one or two as well. I saw only two bolts in about 60' and one was crushed (likely by rock-fall).

BELOW: Me on the ledge with the El Cap-like views. (Great pic Jason, thanks). The sparsely bolted arĂȘte is behind me.

We got to Ryan's Sean's and my high-point (last year) at about 5:50pm. Sun was going to set in an hour and ten minutes. I knew we were screwed, but I wanted to get SOME work done. We called it there, one pitch shy of the top. Therefore, I broke out the drill and added a bolt to the highest single bolt rappel. It still needs a chain, but it's closer to being safe. Next time...

If you go up there. Please note you need TWO 70m ropes to descend "safely." Now you can make raps off of two-bolt anchors for each rap except the low ones. See my guide's topo for details. Especially be cautious near the end, because you have RAP OFF THE ENDS of the ropes onto EXPOSED 4th class terrain. Then, you traverse down and climber's left to get to a single bolt anchor. This work down low, I'll save for next time and do it on the climb rather than hurried on the descent. I'll try to get it fixed-up for everyone by the end of summer so we can use a single 70. I'll just need to start earlier! We made it down after sunset, but the sky still glowed brightly. We negotiated the first 5th class descent after regaining the "Middle Gully." This led down to the long, exposed, low-angle slab to the area above where we roped up on the approach. I traditionally rap here anyway. The easy, but slick, 4th class approach was pretty scary after dark. My headlamp needed new batteries and was super dim. With an over-abundance of caution, we made several raps (3 or 4) starting at the mid-point where Jason called for a rope on the approach. We both slipped all-over, even on the raps. I was stoked about our mutually agreed upon "slow and safe" style on the descent. I got home at 12:15AM to a not pleased wife. Jason spent the night at the house with us, exhausted. We were wrecked. Stacy had learned how to make egg-rolls that day and we feasted on them, four hours late for dinner. I was even too tired for a beer. I crashed around 12:45AM. A long day in the Crags. Thanks for a safe return, Jason! Thanks Stacy for not strangling me in my sleep or the next morning when I hit the snooze 6 times.