Monday, June 7, 2010

Sandia Sweetness

Hillary, Katie, Casey, and their dog Bazel, picked up Tipper and me just before eight Saturday morning. We were on our way to spend a couple days climbing two 5.9+ routes in the Sandias above Albuquerque. Both Aviary Oort Overhangs and Excitable Boys were on our todo list. We reached the parking lot at 11:20 and made it down the steep trail to the base of Aviary Oort by 12:30.

Casey racked up and began climbing the steep dihedral toward the first overhang and a two bolt anchor. He made it through the scary, awkward slot at the roof and reached the bolts with ease. He put me on belay and I headed up to meet him. Easy climbing lead to the awkward slot which, due to the small pack containing our shoes and some water, I was unable to wedge myself in. I reached deep into the slot, and after finding some face holds, I was able to get through the crux of the first pitch. 

We re-racked and Casey continued to lead and headed up the crux second pitch. He ascended past some young chicks nesting in the crack, but avoided the temptation to use the perfect, chick infested jam and instead reached higher into the crack. He ascended the Sustained 5.9, climbing through overhang after overhang in the dihedral. This lead to the crux of the route-- a scarcely protected, thin traverse above an old fixed piton. He couldn't reach the piton which was about eight inches below his feet so he tried to make a very scary 20' runout with disastrous fall potential. Pulling the mantle after the piton, Casey noticed that there was still no protection in sight, so he backed down and clipped the old rusted piece of steel. He pulled the mantle and went on to the anchors.
I began climbing and pulled around the difficult overhangs passing them on the left. I reached the traverse and moved out over sketchy feet. I tried to reach down and unclip the fixed pin but found that my arms were just a few inches too short. I traverse passed it and found a good hold which provided me the opportunity to reach lower and un-clip the piton which was probably 30 years old. I continued up the right facing dihedral and met Casey at the base of the last pitch 
The final pitch was just as the guidebook said - a vegetarian delight. Lichens that looked like lettuce adorned the garden style dihedral. Casey began climbing the dihedral and up a section of loose blocks which led to a sloped face just below the top.  He made his way up to the summit and the final set of anchors.

I followed, snapped a picture of the lettuce and met Casey at the top where we snapped the mandatory summit shots and scrambled across the 4th class ridge toward the descent. We reached the saddle, which was our descent trail to the bottom formation. On the way we saw a crack where someone had left their thumb. We reached the scralus(tm)? (scree/talus as denoted by Casey Eales) which led down to the main trail. We ran into Mick Schein (the author of Sandia Rock) and talked to him about various climbs in the Sandias. This was a great coincidence since the last time we here we ran into him as well. We thanked him for the beta he gave us on  both encounters and continued on the steep trail to the truck.  

We made the drive to the convenience store at the bottom of the mountain and bought some drinks to quench our thirst. The drive back up went quickly and soon we were on the trail searching for the descent to Muralla Grande and hopefully a camp sight. This  was a bit scary since some people told us they has seen a bear near-by 20min before. We prayed and of course never saw or heard anything from the bear. We followed the broken trail in the dark and found a spot overlooking the city lights of Albuquerque, just big enough for our two tents. I tied my sleeping bag and pad to a tree to avoided sliding down hill during the night. Hillary saw to it that the easy mac cooked quickly, and soon Tipper and I were sound asleep in our small tent, preparing our bodies for the next day.

We woke early and descended the horribly steep and loose descent trail to the base of the Muralla Grande formation. We found the start of Excitable Boys 5.9+ and I started climbing up the easy dihedral. I reached the first pitch anchors, but I felt good and had enough gear to continue on. I opted to climb the dihedral directly, a fun 5.10 variation, and reached the anchors at the base of pitch 3 with only about three meters of our sixty meter rope to spare. Casey followed and quickly met me at the anchors. 

We swapped gear and I continued on, climbing in the corner, passing a huge roof on it's left to a dihedral. 
I passed the anchors at the bottom of pitch 4 and continued up until I came to a large roof. I thought the route ascended straight from the p4 anchors so I climbed to the bass of a huge roof. Thinking it would only be 5.9 I climbed through the 6ft roof placing a bomber #4 cam in the middle of it. Strenuously I fought past the roof and reached up into the shallow finger crack above. "there no way this is 5.9" I thought.

 I felt as though I could slip at any moment and fly into space until the #4 arrested my fall, dangling 300ft off the ground. I had to keep moving. I pulled through the shallow finger crack, the face affording my feet no purchase, until I reached a small ledge 10ft above the roof which was not much bigger than a laptop. I heard God tell me that I wasn't going to fall and that took the edge off of the moment. I mantled the ledge, still unable to place gear, and desperately searched for a foot hold.  To the right, a sloping lichen-covered ledge looked like my only option. I placed my foot on it and nearly fell twice when my foot slipped on the lichens. I placed my foot mire carefully and forced the rubber into the pores of the pink granite. It held. I was then able to match my left foot onto the ledge and was finally able to stand up in relative comfort. I was able to place a couple pieces and continued 15ft up to the huge ledge system above. I located the belay anchors 20ft to the right of where I was. I clipped the anchors and belayed Casey. He reached the roof and began laughing. Apparently the much easier 5.9+ section traversed easily under and around the huge roof. He cleansed the #4 and climbed the easier 5.9. Once onto the face he traversed to the gear I had placed and joined me at the anchor. Apparently not a 5.9, it turns out I found a likely 5.11 variation to this pitch. 

To save time, Casey cruised up the 4th class gully and we both climbed to the base of pitch 6. I grabbed the #5 and climbed up the 5.9 dihedral to the corner offwidth. I struggled up wedging  my entire body into the crack at times.  I continued up past another awkward slot to the belay ledge just 100ft below the summit. Casey flew through the off widths and climbed them with ease even though he was wearing our small pack. 

A tricky 5.7 section filled with a lot of loose blocks led to the top-out. I brought Casey up and we made our way back to camp. The dogs were happy to see us and we broke camp and loaded our packs for the short hike up to the car.   

We drove into Albuquerque to eat at Buca di Bepos Italian Restaurant and, after a satisfying meal, drove back to good old Amarillo. 

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