Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Inauguration of Summer- White Rock and El Rito

Saturday afternoon I received a text from Casey that we were going to leave at 6 the following morning. Our plan was to climb at El Rito, a good sport location, and a mysterious new crag called White Rock. My goal for the trip was to break into climbing 5.11's both trad and sport. A very attainable goal, I thought, since I had been training in the gym and felt much stronger than I had last year.
As Sunday morning rolled around I woke up very easily without even needing my alarm. A bit too easily in fact. I looked at my watch and jumped out of bed as though it was Christmas morning when I realized it was already 6:15. I rushed to get ready and quickly loaded my stuff into Casey's truck while apologizing to Casey and Hillary for causing them to wait so long.

On the road, we decided to first check out White Rock to see if it was any good. We made a quick stop at the REI in Sante Fe to buy a guide book to White Rock, but we were forced to just get some coffee when we found REI was closed. Hillary spotted a book store and a brief search revealed the guide book we needed. 

We easily followed the guide's directions to the town of White Rock just outside of Los Alamos. It took us a good 30 minutes to find the climbing area we were looking for. Once we did Casey flew up Beginner's Hand Crack 5.9 for the onsight. I followed but was over confident and slipped off the first six feet. I took another go at it, humbled that I had fallen soo easily following a 5.9, and met Casey at the top. We both agreed that it was a tough 5.9, especially the 
first six feet. 

As we were about to pack up and find another area I saw it. Fingertip Layback, a doable 5.10d/5.11a finger-crack that was only 25ft long until it joined a much more doable 5.9 to the top. 
This is what I came for, I thought as I racked up nervously about to jump on my first 5.11 trad lead. The first 7ft seemed almost impossible, but I reached up and placed a less than confidence inspiring nut and was motivated to push on. I climbed on and got a better look at the nut. It wasn’t completely awesome, but it looked like it would hold. I decided I just didn't have it in me to risk a long fall on a piece I wasn’t sure about. Down climbing was out of the question, so I had Casey take and I fell gently onto the nut which held beautifully. After lowering I decided to try it again now that I was sure the nut was solid. 

I climbed past the nut, already starting to feel the pump growing in my forearms, and threw a small cam into the crack above. I kept climbing the strenuous and sustained crack. With each move I felt as though I could fall at any moment, but the pro was good so I continued on fearlessly. The pump starting to overtake me, I threw in a link cam and continued past the crux, surprised that I wasn’t falling. I reached a good ledge at the end of the 5.11 and looked up at the steep 5.9 section above me. The last thing I wanted to do was lose my redpoint attempt to a silly 5.9 section. Nervous and excited I continued up, climbing through the pain until I reached the anchors. I did it! My first 5.11 trad lead. I lowered down and cleaned the route. Casey jumped on hoping to top rope it, but after falling off the crux he decided to save his energies for tougher sport climbs later that day. 

After quickly eating lunch, we not so quickly found our next climbing area-- Below the Old New Place. Our imaginations were excited when we saw the wealth of trad and sport climbs this new wall provided from 5.9-5.12. 

Casey jumped on Scandinavian Airlines, a fun looking 5.10c warm up climb which turned out to be not such a warm up. Casey, Hillary, and I fell at the difficult, beta sensitive crux. 

Around the corner Casey spotted Monsterpiece Theater, a beautiful slightly overhung 6 bolt 5.12. He started up and threw down the first 30ft of the climb. Fifteen feet from the top he fell off, dashing his onsight attempt to pieces. A couple more tries and he figured out the crux and made his way to the chains at the top. 

Hillary and I, hoping to onsight a 5.10, hopped on Ralph's Revenge. It’s a beautiful finger crack in a dihedral which actually turned out to be just stiff 5.9. 

 After lowering down we peered around the corner at
Left Twin Crack 5.11a/b. It looked pretty fun, but it was late in the day, so we headed into town after a great day of climbing. The climbing was so good, we were determined to come back the next day so Casey could have a chance to redpoint his 5.12 and Hillary could catch the epic send on video. The only problem was video cameras need battery juice to work and all three of our batteries were dead. 

Looking for a place to charge the camera, we spotted a Starbucks and pulled over. Hillary plugged in the camera while Casey and I searched for a place to fill our water bottles but couldn't find anything. So we cleverly got the girls at starbucks to fill our bottles for us. I say cleverly because we had about 8 bottles to fill and we knew they weren’t going to say yes if they saw them all at once. So I only brought three to the counter at first, then as they were filling those Casey snuck two more onto the counter, and the girls were busy filling Casey’s bottles Hillary brought three more to the counter. "This is pretty ridiculous, I'm not going to lie." the Starbucks girl said half jokingly as she filled the last bottle. We bought some coffee and walked out just as they were closing the doors for the day.
The camera still needed a lot more charging and, unfortunately, everywhere tends to close early on Sunday evenings. So we drove 30 minutes to Walmart and bought a DC to AC adapter for the car and charged the camera.Camping was the next topic on our minds. 
The guide book basically told us to dive until we found any good looking dirt road which should take us into the middle of no where and providing us with good camping opportunities. We drove and drove, but all the dirt roads had signs saying, "No trespassing, video surveillance in use. Fragment area." Not quite the place you want to camp. Finally we found a decent spot and got some much needed sleep. 
Monday we woke up and, after a quick breakfast, went back to White Rock to search for a new area called the Overlook. Our hope was to find some easy sport routes to warm up on. An exciting and exposed ridge lead to a trail around the top of the cliff. Tipper and Bazel proved themselves to be brave mountain pups across the scary sections of the ridge. We hike down to the wall but were unimpressed at the lack of easy sport routes. An abundance of trad and harder sport were there, but we already had more difficult goals for the day. So we headed back up and across the ridge to the truck.
After flipping through the guide, we found a cliff just under Below the Old New Place with had an abundance of easy sport. Perfect for our pre-send warm up.

I belayed as Casey easily led Princess Buttercup 5.5 so that he could get a good angle to video Hillary following me on Once Were Warriors 5.8-, a great route for the grade. After we all made it safely down, they began coiling the ropes as I soloed Giant Killer- a short super easy 5.4 scramble with solid holds all the way up and an easy down climb. We packed up and went back to the truck to sit out the heat of the day and eat some lunch.

After eating, Casey and I taught each other songs as he played the mandolin and I the guitar. Our break ended when we remembered how badly we wanted to go climb Monsterpiece Theater 5.12a.
I led Polyester Terror, a cool looking 5.10a trad, and traversed to some anchors across from Monsterpiece which would allow Hillary to follow and video Casey’s sweet send on rappel. Once I made it to the ground, Casey jumped on lead, quite eager to snag the redpoint. He climbed to the crux and almost pulled through until he fell, trying to make a dynamic move to a mono-sloper, great idea Casey. He bumped back up and pulled through  the crux to the chains then set up a top rope for me. 
I climbed up to the crux, surprised that I was holding onto so such small crimps, and fell half way through the crux. A second try, and again I fell almost nailing the move. Not wanting to get too tired I had Casey lower me to the deck.

Around the corner Left Twin Crack 5.11a/b, a 60ft slightly overhung hand crack, looked too fun to resist.
I racked up and began climbing. The climbing was hard and sustained. I knew I had to place gear quickly to keep from pumping out. I placed a #2 C4 deep into the crack just below the crux at the top. Confidence inspired by the placement, I carefully continued up. I threw my left hand into a constriction followed by my right just above. I reached up and leaned out left. I searched desperately for good feet to oppose my hands, but couldn’t find anything very substantial. I was so close. Just another few feet and I would reach a good ledge just below the chains. Pumped out of my mind, I couldn't convince my arms to let go for even a moment to reach higher into the crack.

"Take!" I yelled as I felt myself slipping. After falling about twelve feet, the C4 arrested my fall. I hung there and rested while reassessing the beta for the crux. I jugged up to the cam and gave it a second go. This time I leaned out right where I found a bomber foot hold to oppose my side pull. I reached up above the crack to some tiny holds. Quite pumped and 10ft above the C4, I was a bit scared, but after some thin face moves I reached the big ledge and made my way up to the chains. I set up a top rope for Casey to follow and he flew up the crack making it look easy. His TR flash concluded our day, and we decided to head to El Rito, a good sport crag with better camping to finish out our trip.
A few hours of driving later we arrived.  Casey and I built a fire. We were very surprised at how quickly a bushel of pine needles ignites into a massive fire ball. Hillary prepared  dinner while Casey and I played mandolin and guitar in front of a quite fire. The stars overhead were so numerous, it was as though they had shown up just to hear our private concert. 
In the morning, Casey and I collected more needles and built another fire. Surprisingly the fire lit off the coals which had smoldered all night. After breakfast, we headed up the steep trail to the crag and passed Casey's year-long project, Wipper Wonderland, a steep 45ft 4 bolt 5.12b, which he hoped to redpoint. We walked around the corner and I jumped on Clast Act, a highly recommended 9 bolt 5.9. I easily led it, the entire time realizing that it was a super fun climb. Lots of variations made route finding challenging and fun. I set up a top rope and Casey used this opportunity to warm up. 
We walked back to the base of Wipper Wonderland and Casey grabbed his draws and tied in to the sharp end. He climbed gracefully to the fourth bolt. After chalking up, he climbed to the crux, and fell just 5ft from the chains. After a rest, he jugged up and tried it a few more times. After finding an un-chalked two-finger pocket, he was convinced he could make it after a good rest. He lowered off the fourth bolt and I tied in to try my hand at this difficult crux move. I climbed up, basically on top rope, past the fourth bolt. I fell just below the crux, but after trying it a couple times nailed the move, skipping the two finger pocket and going for a good three finger pocket out right. Hanging there I was within reach of the chains, which had permanent biners. I would have reached up with my left and grabbed them, but the fear of snagging my fingers inside the gate was too great. 
I took a decent fall and, after a few more tries to just grab the three finger pocket, I lowered down, happy that I had done as well as I had.

Casey jumped back on the rope and climbed back up. He pulled into his two finger pocket. He reached with his right to the three finger pocket I had discovered. With just one move to the top, he hung there unable to get is fingers out of the pocket fast enough to throw for the finish hold and the chains. He took a big fall and after a few more tries decided to come down. He remembered a way to avoid leaving a bail biner called the Texas sport rope trick  and cleverly rappelled off the fourth bolt and retrieved our gear from he route.  He made it down safely and we packed our stuff and headed to the truck, satisfied by a great day of climbing and an even greater trip to some incredible crags in northern New Mexico. On the way home we discussed climbing the Casual Route 5.10a on Longs Peak but perhaps Excitable Boys 5.9+ in the more near future.  

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