Where are the 2 x 4s?!
In the spring of 2015, I was hiking up the canyon that contains the Angel food wall trying to find Lean Lady, the route furthest thing up the gully. It was both further up the gully than I thought, and I had to bushwhack and scramble to get there. While doing so, I spied what looked to be a killer, but hard looking line. I wasn’t sure if it was a route or not. Joe Herbst put a route up in the area called Echolalia and I thought what I was looking at must be it. After some corresponding with Larry DeAngelo I discovered the route was undone but, that Larry had tried it and bailed. Unfortunately, he couldn’t remember why he had bailed and lacking the motivation and a partner who wanted to do a new route that looked potentially hellish I shelved the project. I’m hardly some grizzled first ascensionist anyway – hell most days I barely feel like a rock climber.
More recently I have started climbing with Kyle, who like me, is far too ambitious. He wants to do new routes like no one I know. More than I do, for sure. That’s a crazy combination when you’re not that strong, and we aren’t. He talked me into doing a real bad quality first ascent on a limestone peak outside of Red Rock that was just plain dangerous on a rainy day where I had nothing better to do. After that it occurred to me to mention this potential route I had spotted to Kyle. He was immediately excited for the idea. Given that I’d have to do the hard leading I was a bit more reticent. Kyle volunteered to rap the route to see if we could do it with nothing larger than a BD #6. That’s hardly good style, but I was scared and knowing sounded really nice to me. He worked his butt off all day hiking, rappelling, and ascending his ropes back up. In doing so he cleaned a block that could have killed one of us and said we didn’t need anything bigger than a BD #6 because the chimney was easy.
Kyle’s an optimist. I should have remembered that. He and Larry got me fired up on the route and I started to believe it possible. We set out to do it feeling brash and bold. Kyle and I fed off each other’s psych and our thirst for a first ascent worthy of the name needed quenching. When we got to the base of the second pitch, the business end of the route, I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I was unprepared for the raw physical difficulty and terror that was to follow.
Right off the bat there was a bouldery start with a nice BD #2 handcrack and then some thin face climbing up a varnished slab around a bush. From there it got harder. An awkward left leaning BD #1 handcrack led over featureless varnished slab. I felt that I felt would be impossible for me to jam so I laybacked it. The crack widened to a BD #5 size and I used a variety of funky laybacking like techniques to get past it. There may have been a calf lock in there too, I can’t remember. I found all this climbing quite strenuous and a little intimidating. I was scared.
Suddenly, my way was blocked by 15 – 20 feet of perfectly parallel very wide BD #6 off width. I can’t climb off width worth a plug nickel, but laybacking something that wide up a sandy crack to risk falling on a BD #6 that some would say was tipped out was not thrilling. As I seized up and starting to freak Kyle started egging me on, reminding me of all the bold talk I made prior to beginning the climb. I thought ‘this must be what separates the men from the boys.’ Somewhere I found the mental strength and desperately clawed my way up the layback. Half way up I crossed my right hand over my left and found myself gripping a crumbly corner. I forced my mind to relax and bumped my right up further, desperately hoping the rock would be better. My luck held – it was better. As I muscled my way up the crack I knew I didn’t have much gas left. I knew a fall would be bad. I had pushed my #6 as high as I could before setting off but it wasn’t nearly as high as I wished. And certainly while I believed the cam would hold I had no desire to test it. I breathed a sigh of relief when I pulled onto some face holds.
Now the crack was a squeeze chimney. Kyle claimed it would be easy. I didn’t believe him, but I figured it couldn’t that terrible. It looked imposing. Once again, Kyle needled me on. The way he made it sound the route was already over. I wasn’t so sure. He had given me two pieces of beta, left side in and go as deep into the chimney as I could. I took the first piece of advice, but the second seemed to fly in the face of reality. Deep in the chimney looked impossibly small. I climbed generally on the outside of the chimney. At first it was fairly tight, and while strenuous I didn’t believe falling likely. As I got higher the chimney widened and became far more strenuous. Fully knowing the runout beneath me I was concerned. I knew not for certain what a fall would result in, but it could hardly be a positive result. I was at least 60 feet out from my last cam.
I began to hyperventilate as my body rebelled against the discomfort of the chimney. It was that awkward size that was larger than squeeze but too small to get a knee bar or even get my feet high enough to feel secure. My legs were in an open hip position, similar to how one does a frog leg swimming kick, placing tremendous stress on the inside of my knees and hips. It hurt and was intensely physical. My hands were bleeding, I couldn’t remember why. My entire body began to shake. Kyle’s claims notwithstanding, this chimney felt like the hardest I’d ever climbed. I desperately needed a rest. I was so run out I dared not fall. If I did, I’d likely get wedged in the chimney lower down and get some first class rug burns and maybe get so stuck they’d need a crane to get me out. That would hardly be a happy ending. If I managed to fall out of the chimney I was certain I’d rag doll down the face and deck – resulting in my demise; an even worse outcome.
At this point I began to really hate Kyle and his damn optimism. I was breathing so hard he could hear me 150 feet below – while I was out of sight in a chimney. My anger exploded as I screamed, “Kyle, I’m really pissed. I could really use a fucking 2 x 4 right now!” I was referencing our plan to carry cut 2 x 4’s so we could protect the chimney. He had assured me we didn’t need them. I can’t remember his response. I discovered I could turn my body 45 degrees and wedge my shoulders in the chimney providing a crappy and painful rest. I also began to realize if I was climbing right shoulder into the chimney I’d have a much easier time of it, rather than the left side in I had chosen. I attempted to turn my body in the chimney using two small foot jibs that had probably saved me from taking the big whipper. My shoulders were too big. Trying to turn mid chimney made my heart race even more and trying to move a rack including the three largest BD cams around my neck was super fun.
Kyle advised me that I had screwed up and would have an easier time further inside the chimney. I could now that I was higher in the chimney he was certainly correct. Further inside the chimney no longer looked impossibly small and that there were substantially more edges and face holds there. Just climbing 10 feet higher and traversing 30 feet further inside felt like running a marathon. My body felt like it had been in a fight for my life. Once further in the chimney the climbing was no longer desperate. My body still felt wrecked though. I could barely move. My body still shook. I had to get to a belay spot, but it was all I could do to simply move a few feet and rest. I finally reached a chockstone I could sling. It was a terrible belay spot, awkward and hell, but I wasn’t thinking logically. As I tried to sling it, I discovered Kyle’s cordelette had come untied in with all my thrashing about in the chimney. I finally realized the wisdom in climbing a little higher to an excellent ledge. I collapsed and didn’t move for quite some time.
When I recovered and brought Kyle up I thought, “My God, I can’t believe I pulled that off.” I further thought I’d have to get Kyle to finish leading the route given how terrible I felt. At one point I thought I might throw up. Kyle struggled gamely on the climbing below the chimney. I couldn’t see him, but we could hear each other. He fell 3 or 4 times getting to the chimney. He had to carry the pack, not an easy task, hardly making his passage easier. Once at the chimney however he buried himself far deeper in it than I, and scurried up it like it was a piece of cake – it made me feel the fool. Clearly, I had greatly errored in how I chose to climb the chimney. Kyle did have two advantages over me. He’d seen it before, and he had the right beta, a combination of his and my own observations – right side in and climb deep in the chimney.
Kyle led the next pitch. It wasn’t long and it followed an awkward crack one could stem up to a large chockstone, reminiscent of the one on Frogland or Community Pillar, you squeezed behind. Other stones pilled together formed a ledge. Kyle called this the elevator shaft. Above this the crack turned into an off width for a short while and I had no desire to lead it. I climbed around it via a slab on the right with a BD #6 in a horizontal hueco. Above I traversed back into the crack, I climbed dollar sized huecos through an occasional bush to a long ledge inside the crack. Above that an easy run out chimney awaited. My legs were sore and I was finished with chimneys, so I chose to solo a slab to the right and bring Kyle up the chimney. The climb was done. I felt like a shadow of myself. Kyle was kind enough to carry extra weight on the descent.
In hindsight it’s hard to say how hard the route was. My hips and knees were sore for days; I had bruises and scrapes all over the place. I felt it took everything I had, but I was generally climbing with little knowledge of what lay ahead or the correct techniques to use. Beta makes a route easier, physically and mentally. I’ll be real curious to see what people say about it. I should probably tell them, “YUR GONNA DIE!!!!!!”