A lazy start. A stuck rope. A potential fall from carelessness. And victory that ultimately led to 2,240 feet.
This blog recount is about the most intense route I’ve ascended thus far in Red Rocks and period. Physically, the last comparable (kind of) climb I completed had been a 6-pitch, sustained 10c/d/11 route in Costa Blanca, Spain; however, I wasn’t leading on the demanding, taxing route and following it wasn’t too far beyond my range as long as I could take breathers….and it also lacked the incredible fear factor that this route had.
Epinephrine they call it. “Epi” some affectionately say like it’s their friend.
I can’t stop thinking about it. My body can’t stop feeling it. My mind can’t stop seeing it. And I still have the aftertaste of endorphins in my mouth. Thus, I just woke up with a start after falling into a near exhaustive sleep at 1am to recall everything while memory serves fresh. There are other factors that are the catalyst for the flush of excitement that I’m washed in as well.
On the day of, my partner, Ryan decided to kick the tradition of early morning starts. I was more than happy to recognize the need for more rest because we had hung out in the prior days being active – climbed ‘Community Pillar’, did a bit of ‘Magic Triangle’ and I hiked the Angel Food Wall area after work to meet him and his dad after they climbed ‘Tunnel Vision’. Then, the day before he had even come to town, I did a very unserious trek up Charleston Peak and the only reason I say it was quite unserious was because I started at 2 pm; I knew that I didn’t have the time for it but wanted to explore it as far as I could and until the snow stopped me.
So, my present condition for Epinephrine was one of an injured animal. I was completely sore and run a bit ragged from 3 straight days of hiking and climbing but looking forward to climbing this route and climbing with Ryan again. I managed to put the pain behind me and just told myself I would try my hardest.
In retrospect though, I didn’t believe in myself fully. I even voiced my concerns to Ryan. He believed in me all the way and didn’t once seem hesitant that I would fail to be a good partner or fail to ascend.
Fine. My courage and faith were in check and I knew that I would just try my hardest. I thought about the scariest climbs I had been on – and in the end, I was here and looking forward to the “next” climb….so this was it.
We arrived to the base (in Black Velvet Canyon) at around 11. We decided to hydrate on liters of water before the climb and travel light: 2 liters of water, 2 ropes, our headlamps, my phone and his point-and-shoot, 2 bars, 2 snickers and the copies of the topos I scanned. I brought two layers of clothing for myself because I get cold easily and knew from past that belaying in a shaded shelter can get chilly even with 80+ degrees outside.
Ryan advised that to save time, we just scramble up on some mellow 5th class that was 10 feet to the right of the start – instead of roping up for the 60′, 5.8 pitch. He stayed below me the whole time to spot me and make sure I was safe. It was super solid though – no problems.
At the base of p2, we roped up and again, to save time, Ryan would go ahead and link p2 and p3 together and we would simulclimb when the rope ran taught. So right there, we completed 2 pitches of 260′ feet pretty quickly.
When we met up at the bottom of p4 (in the topos, but our p2)- the first all-chimney pitch, I looked up to be greeted by two beautiful, massive walls that long ago couldn’t decide whether they were going to part or stay together – so they just stayed with enough space between them to allow us to play in.
Ryan asked me how I felt about leading and I said I would love to do it. Lately, all my placements in prior trad climbs have been checked by my partners and have been solid – so I’ve been feeling relatively okay with the thought of falling on my gear – although the bottom line for me is “don’t fall. Just don’t”. I’ve also finally gotten much more keen to placing just by eyesight – something I had been incredibly slow with in the past and something that is so crucial when you want to protect quickly and move on. It’s always, always so true the longer you stay in one place, the more chance of you losing it.
I got geared up and started up feeling pretty good and excited. There is plenty of protection deep within the chimney (however, you need to be small to get in there, believe me!) so in general, it can be a pretty run-out adventure. There is also the option to face climb a bit to the right and there is gear in that area but I opted to go into the chimney where I felt more secure. I wriggled my way up almost 80% of the 110 foot pitch. In some places, inch by inch and in others a bit more quickly due to areas of subtle rails and pockets I could use to push on. I felt good but as the chimney got wider and I didn’t feel as protected, it seemed the growing space welcomed in the room for my faith to escape as well. I lost focus. I focused on the fact that I had little protection and although I’m in a chimney, it was so run-out and I could just slide down on the steep wall and…..well, these were thoughts I was battling to push to the side. I had to pause for a minute a couple times and be concscious of my breathing as I pushed with opposing forces to the wall to get myself up. I was so distracted that I ended up going too far above the anchors that were there trying to fulfill my extreme desire for protection.
Finally…….. I was safe.
Ryan took a different way up and was at me in no time to take on the next crux chimney pitch. However, after placing two pieces of the next pitch, the trailing line that was on him got stuck way below from the belay we were at prior. He had to lower himself down, unstick the rope and he jugged back up; all of which took precious daylight hours.
He got up the crux extremely calm and confident; just beautifully. I followed and could definitely see how this was the crux pitch. The chimney was wider – which was fine but toward the top, it got awkward and very difficult. I tried to imagine myself leading it but made myself shudder in doing so, especially since I was still trying to get over my loss of focus on the last pitch.
After p5 (our p3), Ryan again took the lead on the next chimney which was a good and fun one. One side had lots of texture to help get us up. I was still a bit unfocused but found more refocus on this pitch and although you worked hard pushing, it wasn’t bad following.
P7 (our p5) was back to face climbing. I would go ahead and take the lead on the 5.7 which I scaled quickly and it was protected with two run-out bolts. Everything was there though. Then I came to a small ledge where to the left is this overhanging bulge. I placed gear in the crack to the lower right and took some time to investigate the pregnant-looking rock. I kind of had it in a bear hug because I layed myself back leaning toward the left so all my weight was on my right on the curved, sloped side. I looked up to see what was available for holds and looked down at my feet. There were chicken heads sticking out above so I thought, okay, this is fine for my hands. However, there were not any feet available except for a very high, slopey, right step which would have me actually have to do a pull-up move; and when I decided to commit, I’d just have to hang on to the good right hand jug, lift my feet off and grab the left hold and get the high, sloped step above my midsection and reach for the next positive hold. I went back to the right to rest myself for the powerful move and meanwhile, Ryan, who was observing me from below, recommended that I add a longer sling to lengthen what I had to prevent more rope drag. I did so.
I felt rested and ready. Calm. I finally committed to the move. I grab the protruding hold with my right hand, feet high on the right where there was feet available, swing left, grab a positive hold with my left hand and my feet were lifted. I was in air.
All of a sudden, Ryan says very, very calmly,
“Christine, you’re not clipped into the rope.”.
I somehow didn’t notice that that the lead line wasn’t in the sling’s biner…. and didn’t have protection from the last bolt that was maybe 20-25 feet away.
The unsettling fear quickly hit me at lightning speed as I had turned around mid-hang, looked down at the red sling attached to the piece I had so carefully placed in the crack – a yellow alien. I’ll never forget. My mind operated in milliseconds. First, I first tried to investigate downclimbing. No. I could not. I had already committed to the move and had no feet. My muscles started to burn from the invading fear. I had looked at Ryan’s calm but “interested” face when he told me what had happened and I never wanted to see him mouth the warning that he did ever again.
I immediately told myself that I could make this move and as funny as it sounds, climbing at the gym helped me. I had done much harder moves that were a bit similiar and I knew I could do this one, however now I was battling that horrible fear and it was trying to absorb into my grip. I would beat it to the punch. With all of my might, I did a pull up, brought my leg in high to get on that step and my muscles almost……almost gave away as I held myself in with my left hand and reached for the next hold.
Got it. I knew it would be fine. I got myself up…..went up a bit to find a good placement and relax because I was shaking with fear.
“Hardcore…….” was all Ryan said in a funny, casual way.
I didn’t feel it at all. I felt I had had a fit of “fight to survive”.
We linked the next two pitches which Ryan led p8, p9 (our p6) – all of about 200 feet. Easier, delicate, face climbing than the chimneys. Technical moves which are my favorite.
As we got to the start of p10 (our p7), we were at a tight belay space. Ryan offered the lead to me but I knew we were running out of time. Even at 5.7, I could try as hard as I can but not be as fast as Ryan – or I would just run it out which was the furthest thing in my mind at that point. We quickly scampered up it – and I almost felt like the long-running 5.9’s we had just previously done were easier in some places than the .7.
The rest of the climb to the top was relatively uneventful although just beautiful. Scenes I had never seen before at about 2,000 feet.
Getting down was actually the most difficult. We topped out around 6, 6:30 and by the time we got halfway down and followed the cairns – the darkness had eliminated our trail. There was just a moment of silence as we concentrated on finding it – attacked by brush, cactus needles, bugs swarming our warm headlamps, it was quite a challenge and I fell behind as I was much more exhausted than Ryan who is just fit for any situation.
He finally found the trail – I had been calm and positive …and believed he could find it. I was too slow to help in any hunting – trying to watch my every step as I am violently and dangerously clumsy in the dark, in pain and at that point of exhaustion. However, it’s something I want to get stronger at so I’m really happy to partake in the extreme suffering.
This week has been a highlight….for everything that I experienced and learned. I am incredibly grateful….