Monday, April 21, 2014
My triceps ache. My calves are tight. I have a lingering whole-body soreness; this soreness I’ve been craving all winter long, a reason to rest.
It was evening. The sun was setting and a light breeze made temperatures perfect; warm enough to wear shorts and a tank, but breezy enough to raise the goosebumps - my favorite time of the day. I was making pasta for our big day and getting the rack together. Jim kindly dealt with spilled milk in the food container.
He turns to me, “I’m pretty intimidated by the route tomorrow.”
“I’m not. I’m gunna climb with it no expectations. My goal is to get to the top.” I responded.
Normally, I am intimidated by routes, and get anxiety when diving into an unknown outcome. I scrutinize the topo, read every report online, and find out as much information as I can for a long route, but today, I felt light. No concerns for the outcome, just stoke to enjoy something that would be hard for us.
Rainbow Wall, although checking in at 12a with sustained 5.11 and 5.11+ climbing for 14 pitches, had rappel stations at every pitch, making a descent or retreat with even a 60 meter rope casual. The noncommittal nature of the route put my mind at ease. Worst case-scenario, we bail. Best scenario, we onsight, but I doubted my abilities.
Two days prior, I onsighted my first 11c gear/mixed route Texas Hold ‘Em, and now we were jumping into a significantly more sustained climb. Jim has an impressive resume including an onsight of Astroman (11c) and the Roman Chimneys (11d) in Squamish and an amazing ability for onsighting. I had no doubt that Jim could onsight the route. He knew this too. Me, on the other hand, I onsighted my first and only 11b on the Rostrum, and my first 11c two days before. This would be our biggest free climbing challenge yet.
We rock, paper, scissored for the pitches - one person would get the 12a and 11c while the other person got both 11ds. The rest of the pitches would be split evenly. I hoped to get the 11d pitches; they looked better than the 12a crux. Jim won the game and got the crux pitch. My wish was granted.
The alarm sounded at 5:00 am. We were rested, prepared, and psyched. We strolled to the gates 10 minutes early (6:00 am opening) and shoveled last nights leftovers into our mouths. The guidebook states that the hike was 1.5-3 hrs. We figured about 2 hours. Not fast, not slow, just steady.
We got to the base in an 1 hr and 45 minutes, exceeding our expectations. The Rainbow Wall looked much bigger the closer we got to the base. Accents of green, blue, and purple blended the adobe colored rock to make it’s namesake wall. The route was obvious - a long left facing corner to a ledge system to a beautiful red dihedral system up high.
My stomach churned. It’s going to be a long day.
I turned to Jim, “let’s split the 5.11 corners above the first 11d crux. I’m going to be too fried to lead the last 11b.” Suddenly, I wanted to change game plans. Leading the high 5.11 pitch sounded intimidating and I thought I’d be too gassed for it.
“You can’t lead every good pitch Alix.” Jim whined.
“Well, maybe we should just block lead then, and we won’t have to do two hard pitches in a row. People do it all the time. Most people do it on hard climbs.” I was making excuses for not wanting to lead that high pitch.
“Ok... you lead the first half. I lead the second.”
“Wait, but I wanna lead one of those mega-classic pitches up high!!” My voice raised. Those corners looked perfect.
“I want to lead the first crux pitch then. How about you lead the 11c off the deck? Then, you take over and link the 5.11 corners. I’ll lead the last 11b.”
“Deal.” I liked that idea. Unfortunately, I wanted to lose rock paper so I didn’t half to warm up my lead head on an 11c, and now here I was, leading at my limit first pitch of the day.
I started up the low angle, blocky corner for about 25 feet before I had to make a real move to get to the first bolt.
“Damnit Jim. There’s no pro and I have to step on small holds. I hate not having pro.” My mind started to clutter with fear, normally it’s irrational, but I felt justified this time.
“You can come down and I'll lead it or I'll clip the first bolt for you.”
“Ok, clip the first bolt. Thanks.” I ashamedly replied.
Jim scurried up the corner and clipped the first bolt with ease. I haven’t climbed with many people that are as confident about their abilities as Jim was. I could have easily made the clip, but I lose confidence if I think I’m putting myself in danger. I did have to make a couple of extra stem moves to get to the bolt, and was grateful that I had a princess top rope for it.
The rest of the pitch was sustained. Thin movements between face and corner climbing kept me on my toes. And at one point, I had to grab a jug, paste my feet against a blank wall, and just walk them up to get a high foot right near my face. My feet were sputtering and I was gripped. I barely got by, and that moment gnawed at my mind for the rest of the climb.
I like to make things feel easy and look easy. Climbing is a beautiful art and one of the reasons I love it so much is when things just flow like a well-choreographed dance, but done as improv with grace and beauty.
I clipped the chains. I’ll take it. Desperate and thrutchy as it was, I onsighted my second 11c and I was elated. The next pitch was the first “hard” pitch of the route.
A wide layback off the anchor guarded the corner up high with the cruxes bolt protected. After Jim moved through the layback, he yelled down, “So this is what hard climbing looks like.” I couldn’t see anything, but I assumed the corner was desperate and thin.
Jim huffed and puffed his way up the pitch. He moved to the face and did one of those jug, foot paste, high feet scramble, that I did earlier as well, and then back into the corner. We realized that much of the climbing on this route required this.
When he clipped the chains, he let out a big howl. He was psyched. It was his second 11d trad/mixed onsight. I followed the pitch clean, not feeling as desperate as I did on the first pitch and climbed in control. It was a combination of burly lay-backing, precise smearing in the corner, stemming, and thin face climbing.
The early hard pitches were over. According to Yosemite and Red Rocks hardman, Dave Allfrey, who convinced us to climb this route, the middle 7 pitches were soft and could be done quickly. We swung leads and linked a couple of the pitches. The two 5.11 pitches were still thought provoking, but much less sustained than the first two pitches. After simuling through the 5.7 blocky ledge and chimney system, we were at Rainbow ledge.
One more pitch of 5.8 lead us to the base of the next two crux pitches of a beautiful red dihedral system. It was my lead. Off the anchors, there was powerful lay backing and stemming past a bolt to a large jug in the corner. After pulling myself up onto it, I was staring at a blank corner. Tiny crimps of nothing were chalked on the right wall. There were also large chalk stains on the blank face where people smear palms. In the corner were two tiny seams that you might be able to press a thumb on one wall, and crimp the other; there wasn’t much. The left wall had one garbanzo-bean-sized foothold chest height and nothing else. I couldn’t get my foot that high.
The bolt was at my chest, but I was still scared. Did I not want to fall because I was afraid of falling or did I not want to blow the onsight? Any fear associated with the fall was irrational. I was completely safe, but I still had to keep telling myself that. Despite the bolt right there, I was scared.
I climbed up and down, up and down, trying to find something that would work. Everything felt weird and awkward. The crimps on the right face were shit, and the ticked feet on that wall made no sense. The left wall didn’t have much for feet.
I convinced myself I was safe and that I should try a sequence, commit to something. I found a smear for my left foot, pressed my right palm on the right wall of the corner, used the seam as a thumb catch, and stood up on that foot. I stemmed between the two sides of the corner, and found myself statically reaching for the jug. The movement felt graceful and secure.
I was in disbelief. I yelled down to Jim, “Did that just happen?!”
My heart was racing and I had to calm myself before finishing the pitch. Even though the boulder problem was over, the rest of the pitch was still sustained. I moved up slowly, placing gear when available.
I hollered at the anchor, “WOOOOO!”
I extended my anchor so I could watch Jim do the boulder problem. He tried the high left foot, but it was too high for him too. Then, he tried my beta. He followed it perfectly, and executed the crux sequence. He was at the anchors in no time.
Now, we sat under the last crux pitch of the route, and the hardest pitch - another corner with a couple of bolts, and no feet. It was Jim’s turn to take over.
“I know you can do this Jim.” I assured him.
Getting past the first bolt was tricky. Both sides were mostly blank, but there was a tiny seam to use in the corner for your hands. Jim smeared his knee on the left wall, pushed his hand against the right wall, back stepped, and reached for a crimp to stem out. The first crux was over. He lay backed and stemmed, placing gear through strenuous incipient corner cracks to the last bolt. From there, desperate stemming on smears lead to a jug. He was through the crux. Jim let out another howl, unaware that the climbing wasn’t over.
There was more 5.11 climbing to the anchor, but Jim’s greatest strength is pulling out his reserves through endurance climbing. He finished the pitch clean, his first 12a onsight. We screamed like monkeys on the side of El Cap. I was proud of him.
I followed the pitch clean, but just barely. It was a strenuous lead and I fought for every layback and stem. I was grateful for the top rope.
Jim lead the final 11 pitch which was mostly face climbing, sometimes utilizing the cracks in the corner. I lead the last wandery face pitch to the top.
WE DID IT!! We howled to the setting sun. But when we topped out, there was a ting of numbness. That was it. I suddenly felt directionless like our purpose was lost. We just onsighted our hardest route, but my feelings were neutral. All of the adventure and excitement came to an end in that instant. I was sad it was over. I always thought I’d be overjoyed with stoke after climbing something epic in good style, but I was already longing for another challenge to focus my sights on. We took one more look out the beautiful expanse of Red Rocks and started the long, dark descent.
It was over.
* * *
In total, it was a 17 hour car to car clean ascent of Rainbow Wall. Rainbow Wall, although a big day, is very safe with almost all of the cruxes bolt protected and gear the whole way. A light rack of gear and draws with short pitches makes this route very friendly and I strongly recommend anyone breaking into the grade with all day endurance to try it! You might surprise yourself.
It was our first time to Red Rocks and we had four days. We drove out from Bishop and climbed Levitation 29 and Texas Hold Em the first two days, and then Rainbow Wall the fourth day. It was a good sampling of Red Rocks and we’re dreaming for another return! Maybe next weekend :)
That was by far my biggest endeavor and one of Jim’s as well. Maybe we’ve gotten stronger from sport climbing in Owen’s River Gorge all winter or maybe we were just lucky. I was lucky to get by. After single pitch cragging all winter, it was amazing to get high on beautiful cracks and face. So stoked for more trips to Red Rocks and our Yosemite season this Spring!
GAHHHH, I love rock climbing.