Saturday, May 1, 2010

Spring Training

We've been busy this week, hitting the trails and starting to build some fitness for the summer season.  Jens and Sol were lined up for another attempt at their "L-Town 15", a marathon suffer fest between the widely spaced gems of our area.  Jens was struggling with the motivation required for this day of battle, but was sure that Sol was psyched.  In classic fashion Sol was also having second thoughts but figured Jens wouldn't back down, he casually mentioned some adventure climbing instead, perhaps Bridge Creek Wall.  Jens and I turned to each other and smiled, we had been shut down on the BCW the week before due to weather and wanted to get up there before the short season for this wall was over.

Sol wandering up the first pitch

Jens had climbed this massive (for the Icicle) wall once before, as well as establishing a new route on a hidden aspect near the descent, the Hidden Wall.  It's always reassuring to climb with someone who's been there, but it certainly doesn't guarantee success.  Our plan was to attempt the Nose route, a six pitch outing directly up the center of the picture in the new guidebook.  Of course, mountainous walls are never that simple, we climbed ten pitches, some short, and weaved a serpentine path that just barely allowed us to top out.

Myself trying not to fall onto the precarious block hidden around the corner, fourth pitch

The hike, while strenuous and steep, went well.  We followed a decent trail to the top of some low-lying crags and then wandered up the sandy hillside, sometimes hitting goat paths and making some attempt to establish landmarks for the descent that we knew would be in the dark.  A steep mountain stream offered a chance to hydrate, this will dry up as the season advances, effectively shutting down climbing in the area.  You could carry your water from the bottom, but it probably won't be enough considering the intense heat that is sure to come.  

  Traversing off of the pedestal, pitch five.  Serious nut-tool gardening was required to utilize the crack I'm in.

Once at the base the adventure begins.  One of the cool things about this obscure wall is a lack of fixed gear, we only found bail slings which are more ominous than helpful.  We settled on what seemed like the easiest path that headed towards the obvious pedestal below the upper headwall.  Sol weaved through the ledges and cracks and got us to the base of this feature without much difficulty.  I grovelled up a grainy chimney, stopping for a quick dry-heave mid pitch, and gained the spacious ledge below said headwall.  This swath of stone is impressive and has potential for some amazing climbing.  Unfortunately the features are thin and widely spaced, the idea of a techno-aid route or a 'modern' free climb are pretty daunting way up on that hill.  Excessive motivation would be required.

Launching onto the link-em pitch, Mt. Cashmere's massive bulk looms in the background.

After a short traversing/gardening pitch I brought the boys over to my stance and considered giving the lead to Jens.  A wild chimney looked down on us, the only other option a blank looking slab to the left.  I still had most of the gear and wanted a real pitch, and I got one.  Two flaring cracks were separated by a single knob, Jens would later show me how to slab climb through this gap, my bouldering instincts took over and I did my first, and hopefully last, slab dyno.  A few more funky moves got us to a nice ledge and what looked like the rest of the route, a splitter offwidth pitch to a roof somewhere above.

Jens scraped his way up the grainy wideness, thankful for the big gear we lugged up the hill.  The next pitch was supposed to be the crux roof, supposedly followed free at 5.11 (on the first ascent?).  An easier, dirtier option to the left looked appealing, an obvious, small roof was directly above and Jens bravely continued towards this feature.  

A splitter hand crack (seen above) led to a marginal stance below the roof.  Our poor decision to not tape our hands had Jens cringing towards the lip, a valiant attempt to climb free ended quickly so we switched into survival mode.  The weather had vacillated all day but it was getting colder and the snow was approaching.  A lack of protection had Jens a little freaked out but he managed to clear the roof and not fall onto the slab below.  A piton or two would make this pitch much safer.  

  Jens under the gnar (top) and Sol getting his aid on, aka survival mode

One more easy pitch got us to the top of the wall, the snow began to fall so we didn't linger on top, we had about an hour of light to get back to our packs at the base.  One rappel, some dicey slab scrambling, and a little more steep sand was required to get past the Hidden wall and into a mellow gully.  Just as darkness fell we stumbled back to our stuff, very thankful to take off the climbing shoes and slip into some tennies.  

  Jens starting the descent

Sure enough, we descended in the dark, our landmarks totally obscured in the gloom.  Somehow we made it back to the climbers trail and found a final wind that carried us back to the car.  After years of looking up at the Bridge Creek Wall it was satisfying to make it to the top.  Our hope was to 'free the Nose in a day', while this didn't happen we know it's possible.  With our knowledge of the route and some more gear we'll be back, probably next year, for another attempt.

After a few rest days Jens and I took advantage of a brief window of good climbing conditions in the snow.  We hiked up to Colchuck Lake with an open mind and ended up climbing the '71 North Face route on Dragontail.  It involved a lot of snow, a smidgeon of ice and a tidbit of rock, some very high winds near the summit and about a mile of walking on the road, it's not quite open all the way to the trailhead.

Smidgeon of ice (top), tid bit of rock (bottom)

To round out the week I managed to climb one of my harder boulder problems to date, Spanman.  Not a bad week...

  Drew Schick on Spanman