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...


  1. So now you are an archaeologist, studying ancient rock-climbing gear from the last century!

  2. Grover,

    My name is Brooks. My wife and I have been living in Mount Shasta for about 8 years now. I am an avid moderate climber and route developer. I have been climbing and teaching for 20+ years and a board member of Friends of Pinnacles, but... who cares!

    What does matter is that I read the Searchlight article and it seems like you are truly a nature first type of climber. Myself, coming from an "old school" ethic of climbing being a way to connect directly with nature, was struck by your comments.

    If you are interested, I would love to connect. You can reach me or 918-9585.

    Cheers and Climb On!

  3. Hello! Great job on the climb and a cool piton discovery.
    Our museum: is putting a comprehensive LONGware display and timeline together and we would love to make you an offer to include your piton, and the story of your climb and rediscovery of it, in our archives. Please let us know if you have a moment to discuss this further. Thanks!