Tag Archives: multi-pitch

Trip Report: Red Rocks March 2015

In March of this year, my husband Seth, a few friends, and I headed out to Red Rock Canyon for our third annual Red Rocks climbing trip. I’ve been waiting to write this trip report. Not because I didn’t know what to write, but because I couldn’t write it without acknowledging that at the time of this trip, I was 8 weeks pregnant (yep, we’re adding a baby adventurer to the family). We were still in that “secret” time where you don’t really tell anybody.

Eight weeks pregnant means that I was fully in the throes of first trimester morning sickness. Constant nausea, fatigue, lack of energy and endurance, just in time for a week-long climbing trip in the desert of Nevada. Not planned that way, of course, but one can never quite predict these things.

On one hand I was relieved to not have to be at work pretending that I felt just fine, which was a challenge in itself (we waited until 12 weeks to share the news). On the other hand, I wasn’t sure how my pregnancy was going to affect the trip. Nobody tells you about the sheer exhaustion and lack of general stamina that comes with the first trimester. Maybe they do and I just missed it, or didn’t believe it. It really surprised me, and I definitely had a worry that I may drag the rest of the crew down with me.

Seth and Paul

These guys led my pregnant self up routes all week without complaint. Thanks so much, guys! (photo from halfway up Geronimo)

Before we left, I made the decision that I wouldn’t be doing any trad leading (traditional routes require one to place their own protection as they go. There are no fixed bolts except, sometimes, for anchors). Even though we pIanned on sticking to easy and moderate routes, I didn’t want to risk any big falls. I was pretty bummed about that, especially since I had just gotten to a point where I was feeling fairly solid (check it out). But, for me, not leading traditional routes this trip was the right thing to do, and that left most of the leading to Seth and Paul. They were both super awesome about letting me just follow and for that I was immensely appreciative.

So, without further ado, here’s how our week went:


Seth, Paul, and I flew out together on a Sunday and stayed for an entire week. We steered ourselves towards shorter, easy to moderate traditional routes. Nothing super adventurous this trip, just fun, solid climbing.

Day 1- Monday

The long Minnesota winter means we don’t touch rock between November and April, so the three of us started the week with a couple of nice, chill trad routes for a refresher. The Willow Springs area is perfect for this.

Paul belaying from the top of Little Black Book

Paul belaying from the top of Little Black Book

Seth’s route – That Ain’t No Tortoise, Seth Climbs the Rock – Our first route of the trip turned out to be a bit of a mystery. Seth began at the base of Senior Moment, but took a variation to the left. He ended up at a dead end about 70 ft up, so he built an anchor, brought us up, and we all rapped down from there. It’s very possible this route has a name already, but I can’t find any mention of it, so Seth named it “That Ain’t No Tortoise: Seth Climbs the Rock.” We all agreed it’s in the 5.5-5.6 range.

Little Black Book (5.4) – A nice, long 160′ single pitch trad route. This one was a cruise-fest, but I really enjoyed it. The crux is a bouldery move right off the ground, and there’s a big section of hueco’d rock covering the middle third of the route (I do love some good huecos!). Paul led this one and we rapped off a tree at the top of Sleeper.

Rapping off of Sleeper

It’s me! Rapping off of Sleeper

Day 2- Tuesday

On our second day, we checked out an area new to all of us. First Creek Canyon is outside of the main Red Rock loop. The hike in is about an hour, but fairly straight-forward (although, as with any of the desert hikes, I wouldn’t want to be hiking out in the dark). We got a few pitches in and had a fun day overall. I’d love to explore this area more next trip!

Paul leading Buzz Buzz

Paul leading Buzz Buzz

Buzz, Buzz (5.4) – Pregnancy reared its head that morning. After our hike in, I needed a break. My stomach was not happy and I just needed to rest a bit. So, Seth and Paul climbed this single pitch route while I found a sunny spot below from which to cheer them on. Paul led this pitch,intended as a warm-up, and a lot of grunting and cursing ensued. The 5.4 rating is deceiving. Now that I look at the climb on Mountain Project, I can see that he’s not the only one with this impression of that climb. Seth followed and I heard similar grunting from him as well. Sounds like some of the other climbs on this wall would be better choices.

Rising Moons (5.5) – A bit of rest did me some good, so I joined the guys for the first two pitches of Rising Moons. This was an enjoyable climb. Paul led the first pitch up through a nice chimney. I brought up the rear and carried the bag, which I discovered doesn’t fit through some of the narrower sections of the pitch. I had to employ some creativity and grunting/cursing of my own. Seth led the second pitch, a long, fun face climb, to a set of bolts at the top. The belay stance on this one is a bit awkward. The bolts are set further over than is comfortable (my guess is to avoid stuck ropes when pulling). Seth brought Paul and I up at the same time. We rapped back down to the top of the first pitch and went WAY right to pull our ropes, which I would highly recommend (lots of rope pieces were stuck in a crack near the top). A scramble through to climbers left returned us to the base of the climb.

Rapping off of Rising Moons

Paul rapping off of Rising Moons

Day 3 – Wednesday

We started the day on Wednesday at the Second Pullout. The Great Red Book is a route that Seth’s been eyeing since our first visit to the park. Although you can see the route from the parking lot, the approach is 30-40 minutes of boulder hopping and scrambling. When we got to the base, we were next in line, but as we were unpacking our things a large group appeared behind us, followed by a guide with two clients. Turns out this is a busy route! I wasn’t feeling well again that morning, and the scramble to the base had worn me out. So, I encouraged Seth and Paul to climb the route as a two-person team and I would hang out at the bottom and enjoy the view.

Seth following the first pitch of Great Red Book

Seth following the first pitch of Great Red Book

Great Red Book (5.8) – Paul led the first pitch, Seth led the second. The route is beautiful. It’s a big, red, open book just like the name would suggest, and it looks like a really fun climb. Both belays are bolted, and one can choose to either rap the route or walk off. Although I didn’t climb it myself, the report is that the second pitch has some thin spots and a few bolts to help when gear options aren’t available. The climb is mostly trad, though.

 

My view while the guys climbed

My view while the guys climbed

Seth leading Ok Ok Ok!

Seth leading Ok Ok Ok!

 

After Paul and Seth returned, we had lunch and headed back over to Willow Springs to end the day with a pitch or two.

Ok Ok Ok (5.6) – This is a pretty chill route, 60′. Nice rock, trad anchors. Seth climbed it with ease, brought Paul and I up behind.

Paul rapped first, and I told Seth that I was done climbing for the day. By the time I had rapped down to talk to Paul, he already had his harness off. We were all pretty worn out by this point. As we were hiking back out to the car, it started raining. Time for a rest day.

 

 

We saw lots of these on our hike!

We saw lots of these on our hike!

 

Day 4 – Thursday

Rest day! Our friend Fred joined us that morning and we decided to pack a picnic and head to  Spring Mountain Ranch. There’s a nice, open grassy area there to hang out. We sat in the sun, looked at the rocks, and daydreamed about routes. A nice, short hike sounded good, so we grabbed our packs (they’re so light without climbing gear!) and headed out. We returned two hours later, so I’m not sure how much of a rest day that makes… but we tried.

 

Day 5- Friday

The day we had been waiting for! At the top of our multipitch list for the week was Geronimo. It’s a 4-pitch climb that I found last year, but we never got to climbing it that trip. The three of us were pretty excited to get on it this time around.

We started early, arriving at the trailhead right around sunrise. The hike in is about an hour. I was having another rough morning and wasn’t sure what to do, since this was a full-day venture. I packed my gear and rode out to the trailhead with the guys. Once we were parked at the trailhead, Seth and I talked and decided that I’d hike out to the base of the climb with them and see how I felt. If I wasn’t up to climbing, I could hike back out and come get them later, or just hang out and wait. That sounded like a good plan, so we set off. Once we got to the base of Geronimo, I was feeling a little better, but still low in energy and feeling less-than-awesome. We knew there were bolts to rap from at the top of the first pitch, so I could escape then if I needed to. So… I climbed the first pitch.

And that’s how I took that morning. Just one bite at a time. And by the time I arrived at the top of the first pitch I was feeling much better. Hooray! We all continued on together and had a great day. Just goes to show that you can’t judge a whole day on how it starts.

First pitch of Geronimo. Isn't it a beauty?

First pitch of Geronimo. Isn’t it a beauty?

Geronimo (5.6) – I loved this climb. I can’t wait to go back next year and lead it. The first two pitches are vertical, with good, solid holds and placements. There are a few spots where it feels a lot like gym climbing. Fun climbing, great views… we all had a good time on it. Plus, we had the whole route to ourselves all day (which, apparently, is rare).

Seth led the first pitch and brought Paul and I up together, which saved quite a bit of time. Paul led Pitch 2. The second pitch starts out very much like the first; a vertical, fun, jug-fest. Then, things change. The climbing gets slabby and easy, but exposed and run-out.

I was last in line and when I got to that point I had to do some serious self-talk to keep myself focused and calm. The path led up an exposed slab and then traversed around a corner to an even more exposed face right near the top. I was moving along slowly and talking myself through the exposure when a giant, brick-sized hold broke off in my hand about 20 ft from the anchors. I caught myself and didn’t fall (I was on top-rope, it would have been just fine), but a sound came out of me that I wasn’t quite expecting. Something halfway between a scream and a hiccup. Seth and Paul are still teasing me about it.

My viewpoint 2.5 pitches up Geronimo, while the guys explored above.

My viewpoint 2.5 pitches up Geronimo, while the guys explored above.

That hold breaking off on exposed climbing shook me up quite a bit. I was already running on less-than-full reserves, and found it affecting my mental recovery time as well. We took a short break and had a snack to give me a chance to recenter.

Paul roped up for the third pitch of four. This is where we got a bit lost. Paul went up a ways, explored his options, and took a right. We found out later that it should have been a left (or maybe straight?), but it looked ok to all of us. Paul knew he was off route, so he found a spot to belay and Seth followed. They brought me only part-way up, to a little cove with a slung tree, where I anchored myself in. I hung out there while they explored their options.

Paul scrambled up around the back of the formation and accidentally ended up at the top of the climb. It wasn’t the official way to get there, but it got him there! We’ll call it Paul’s Geronimo variation. He brought Seth up and they rapped from bolts directly down to where I was.

From there, it was a single-rope rap and two longer double-rope raps back to the base.  And that’s where we made this little video, marking our little baby’s first multipitch climb.

 

Websites told us he/she was about the size of a grape at that point, hence the name.

We returned to the car 10 hours after we left. A full day of climbing with perfect weather and great company. I’ll definitely be getting back on that one next time, when I’m not incubating a tiny human.

Day 6 – Saturday

This turned out to be a pretty light day. We were all tired from the previous day’s efforts and not super-motivated. We headed back out to Willow Springs and Paul saw a line that looked interesting. So he said “what the heck,” and decided to climb it.

Sunset crew

Sunset crew

Crooked Crack (5.6) – We found out the name of the climb later from some other folks nearby. Another fun, moderate, trad route. Once at the top, we walked over to the top of Tonto and rapped from there. And then we called it a day (yep, that’s how not super-motivated we were that day).

Some other friends had come into town at this point and we had made plans to scramble up to a high point at the first pullout and watch the sun set. We met everyone there and two friends appeared with a surprise, fully-packed dinner for all of us! Amazing salads in bags complete with dressing, fruit, veggies, and lots of snacks to go around. Our little group sat there, watched the sun set behind the mountains, and enjoyed one another’s company. It was really nice.

 

Sunset over Red Rocks

Sunset over Red Rocks

 

A happy trad leader

A happy trad leader

Day 7 – Sunday

Sunday was our last day in town. We had a red-eye flight back home that night. Two friends, Lea & Galen, who are fairly new to trad climbing, joined us for the day. We decided to head back to one of the first routes of the trip, Little Black Book, and do a bit of trad school with them. Galen had done some trad leading years before, but it had been a while and he wasn’t confident about anchor building and top-belaying. So, Seth led the route and brought Lea & I up together. Then Galen led separately. I hung out at the top and helped him with anchors and belay so he could bring Paul up. After a week of letting the guys take the lead, it was nice to have a chance to do some teaching and use my knowledge and skills!

Lea on her first long rappel!

Lea on her first long rappel!

 

All five of us made our way over to the 160′ rappel and Lea and Galen got to do their first long rap back to the base. We showed them how to set up and back up their rappel, and I stood at the bottom and gave a fireman’s belay.

A fun day of climbing and teaching. We finished up the day (and the trip) with an attempt on Sleeper (5.9), had some snacks and called it.

High fives all around.

Last day's climbing crew

Last day’s climbing crew

Summary:

I’ve gotten better over the years at listening to my body, recognizing where I am, and staying within myself. That doesn’t mean that I like it, though. Not doing any leading and sitting out a few climbs was hard to swallow, even though I knew that’s just what needed to happen. My kettlebells training has taught me how to listen to my body and know when I can push and when it’s best to back off. I think that helped me a lot this trip. I chose to sit a few climbs out, but there were quite a few climbs where I was able to push through and have a great day out on the rocks.

As of now, I’m 18 weeks pregnant. I’ve been able to climb and continue my workouts, (I’m just not leading anything anymore), but I know that as I move forward, listening to my body will be really important, and I’ll alter things as I go. It’ll be interesting to see what happens!

As a woman who can be quite stubborn and strong-willed, it’s not an easy thing to back off. But, I’m always learning, and learning not to apologize for it. As my kettlebells instructor often says, “we do what we can.” What we can do is different every day, and half the battle is being able to recognize when we can push ourselves and when it’s best to give ourselves a break.

All in all a great trip. Looking forward to getting back next year! Thanks again to Paul and Seth for taking the lead.

Trip Report: Boulder Birthday Adventure!

How to have a whirlwind weekend birthday adventure, in 20 easy steps: First, find cheap plane tickets to Denver. When the weekend arrives…..

Saturday:

Leading the North Arete on the First Flatiron

Leading the North Arete on the First Flatiron. Photo: Seth Iverson

  • Wake up at 3am, drive to airport.
  • Catch a 6am flight to Denver.
  • Once in Denver, hop on a bus to pick up your car rental, a 1996 Honda Accord from a nice gentleman you found through RelayRides.
  • Drive to Boulder, have breakfast, fill up water and pick up snacks.
  • Head to the Flatirons parking lot. Cover the car windows and change in the backseat.
  • Climb a flatiron. We went with the First Flatiron, via the North Arete route. Perfect weather and forecast, started early afternoon, finished early evening (I led all four pitches, and felt great!).
ElizBelay

Belaying Seth across. Photo: Seth Iverson

ElizovertheSun

On the Quartz Crystal Pitch. Photo: Seth Iverson

Seth high on the first flatiron

Seth high on the first flatiron

Summit Marker for the First Flatiron. Photo: Seth Iverson

Summit Marker for the First Flatiron. Photo: Seth Iverson

  • Head back to the car, then out for dinner.
  • Drive to Golden, set up camp in the dark at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds.
  • Fall asleep in about 3 seconds.

Sunday:

Our lunch spot, partway up the second flatiron

Our lunch spot, partway up the second flatiron

  • Drive into Golden for breakfast, then back to the campground to check in, because you got in too late the night before to do so.
  • Head back up to Boulder. Downgrade climbing plans to account for a late start… due to the aforementioned need to check in at the campground.
  • Hike up to the second flatiron, realize you’re completely exhausted from the day before. Also realize that you’re 5,000 ft. higher in elevation than you were 24 hours prior.
  • Rack up, climb two pitches, decide that’s good enough. Stop for lunch, enjoy the views. Exit off the side. Hike back to the car.
  • Head straight for ice cream in Boulder. Make sure to get sprinkles. Use your first aid kit to fix up a kid who put a gash in his leg.
  • Drive back to Golden, change in a gas station bathroom. Attempt to make hair look presentable.
  • Meet up with friends (who don’t care what your hair looks like) for drinks. Be reminded, once again, that you’re over 5,000 ft above sea level when the alcohol hits you hard. Enjoy a fun evening with great people.
  • Crash at campsite.

Monday:

  • Wake up at 5am, pack up camp, make your way to the airport.
  • Fly home, stop home for a quick shower, and go to work.
  • Fall asleep on the couch at 8pm.

Birthday weekend complete!

First Flatiron summit. Happy to get four more trad pitches under my belt!

Seth and me on the First Flatiron summit. Four more trad pitches under my belt. Happy birthday to me!

Trip Report: Wyoming 2014 Part 2 – Grand Teton

I was able to take two weeks off of work for this summer’s big trip, so after a week in the Cirque, there was an entire week left to play in the mountains before heading back home! (If you missed Wyoming Part 1, you can go back and read it here).

The Tetons, silhouetted against the night sky. Photo: Seth Iverson

The Tetons, silhouetted against the night sky. Photo: Seth Iverson

After our hike out of the Cirque, Seth and I drove into Pinedale, WY, found a nice little hotel, and spent a day doing laundry and recovering. We met two guys who were in the middle of hiking the entire Continental Divide Trail, and we saw a rodeo, complete with Mutton Bustin’, my new favorite rodeo event (tiny kids riding sheep = awesome).

Then, up to Jackson we went to meet up with our friend Fred. Our objective was the Grand Teton, via the Owen Spalding route. Seth and I actually climbed the Grand two summers ago (that report is here). That was a guided climb, via the Upper Exum Ridge. This time, we wanted to do it on our own, and Fred agreed to join us! The weather forecast showed a perfect, two day weather window that matched our summit plans exactly. A relief, after being rained out in the Cirque the week before!

The Approach – Trailhead to Lower Saddle

The approach to the Lower Saddle, where we would camp the first night, is brutal. I’m not going to gloss over it, it’s hard. I had, apparently, blocked it out of my memory. We had more weight in our packs this time, carrying our own ropes, gear, tent, etc, so that added difficulty as well.

The trail begins on the valley floor, at Lupine Meadows Trailhead, elevation 6,732 ft. Over the course of six miles, you hike up to the Lower Saddle, at 11,600 ft. That’s nearly 5,000 ft of elevation gain. There’s very little relief, and it’s a mental and physical challenge just to get to the lower saddle.

Heading up Garnet Canyon. Photo: Seth Iverson

Heading up Garnet Canyon. Photo: Seth Iverson

We were feeling good. We heard of a few bear sightings along the trail, but made some noise and didn’t encounter any ourselves. A couple miles in, I was dealing with a painful spot on my hip where my backpack was resting. It had bruised badly the week before in the Cirque and I had hoped a few days of rest would help. Seth came to the rescue and fashioned a piece of his foam sleeping pad to reduce that pressure point and it allowed me to forge ahead.

Our camp at the Lower Saddle

Our camp at the Lower Saddle

About 3/4 of the way up, somewhere around 10,000 ft, I began to feel some signs of mild altitude sickness. Nausea, weakness, headache… I had spent the entire week before between 9,500ft and 11,000 ft, so it didn’t make any sense to me. I had only been back down to 6,000 ft for a few days, so I felt like I should have been fine. We continued on, set up camp on the Lower Saddle at 11,600 ft, and hoped that some rest and a night of sleep was all I needed.

The three of us had dinner, prepped for the morning, rested up. Seth was feeling strong, so he went up and explored the couloir, our final approach to the technical climbing on the Owen Spalding route. When he returned, we were able to talk with the park rangers about the approach (the rangers have a little hut up in the camping zone, and were a great source of information). We felt that we were in a great place to start in the morning.

Mountain shadows over the valley

Mountain shadows over the valley

The Lower Saddle itself is worth the trek. I’ve camped there twice now, and it’s definitely the coolest place I’ve ever spent a night. It sits between the Middle Teton and the Grand Teton. On one side is a view of Jackson Hole, 5,000 ft below. On the other side looks out over a few smaller mountains, and Idaho stretching beyond. We had perfect weather. No wind, no clouds, not too cold… and it happened to be not only a full moon, but the *supermoon* that night. While the sun set over Idaho to the west, the supermoon rose over the Jackson Hole valley floor to the east. It was truly a sight to behold, and a magical evening on the mountain.

Supermoon rising at sunset

Supermoon rising at sunset (on the left)

Fred watching the sun set over Idaho. Photo: Seth Iverson

Fred watching the sun set over Idaho Photo: Seth Iverson

The Climb – Grand Teton via the Owen Spalding route

Our alarms were set for 3:15, with plans to leave camp at 4:15. Some parties headed up as early as 3:45, most without even turning their headlamps on, because the moon was so bright (did I mention that conditions were perfect?).

That morning I still wasn’t feeling well. Nausea, no appetite, headache, and some dizziness as well. Mild altitude sickness is what we suspected. I had been planning this climb with Seth for over a year, we had done all of the prep together, studied the route a million different ways, talked through it over and over. We had planned to share leads; Seth would lead the first pitch (belly roll and crawl), and I would lead the chimneys that followed. A big part of this trip for me was not only summiting, but leading. Leading some pitches, leading the team.. it was really important to me.

After I forced some oatmeal down that morning, the three of us had a final check-in. I wanted to climb. My symptoms were mostly just uncomfortable, and a nuisance, not severe enough to be dangerous. We decided that all three of us would climb, but Seth suggested that if I was feeling at all dizzy, it wasn’t a good idea for me to lead. It was a decision not just for me, but for the team as a whole. I knew he was right, I knew that it was the best thing for our team of three, and I agreed. That was tough. Seth would be leading all of the pitches.

We headed out of camp at 4:15 and began our ascent up the moraine and into the Col, guided by our headlamps and the bright moonlight. A couple of hours later, we were at the first pitch of the Owen Spalding route. The infamous traverse that includes the “Belly Roll” and the “Crawl.” The climbing is very easy, but very exposed as well. An unprotected fall would mean a long drop into Idaho. Seth led the way and brought Fred and I over after him. Several parties lined up behind us, and we were glad that we got an early start!

Looking NW from the start of the Owen Spalding Route. Photo: Seth Iverson

Looking NW from the start of the Owen Spalding Route at sunrise. Photo: Seth Iverson

After that traverse was a short chimney pitch, the “Double Chimney,” and then an option to either do an exposed traverse or climb the “Owen Chimney.” We opted for the latter. The Owen Chimney was my favorite pitch of the climb. Oh, how great it would have been to lead it…. Seth did an amazing job, though.

Climbing the Double Chimney

Me at the base of the Double Chimney. Photo: Seth Iverson

Fred giving me a hip belay

Fred giving me a hip belay. Thanks, Fred! Photo: Seth Iverson

Above the Owen Chimney was Sargeant’s Chimney. Most people were climbing up a chimney to the left, but we climbed the chimney on the right, which definitely had some 5.6 or 5.7 moves in it. We learned later that we had taken the ‘true’ Sargeant’s Chimney, but now days most people take the easier variation to the left.

Above this last technical chimney were some slabs meandering back and forth, and then a patch of sunlight above. The first sunlight we had seen all morning, as the whole route is in the shade (and COLD because of it!). Seth offered for Fred to lead us to the summit. Fred couldn’t believe we were there, and I distinctly remember that feeling the first time we climbed it two years ago. We made our final steps up to the summit into the warmth of the sun, and enjoyed the view. We had done it!

Fred leading the final steps to the summit

Fred leading the final steps to the summit Photo: Seth Iverson

On the summit of the Grand Teton. Fred, me, Seth.

On the summit of the Grand Teton. Fred, me, Seth.

Twenty minutes on the summit, and it was time to head back down. We roped back up and started working our way back down the slabs. One short rappel down Sargeant’s Chimney took us to the big rappel, a 120 ft. mostly free-hanging rappel. We triple-checked everything and Seth headed down first, followed by Fred, myself, and a guy we met who had just free-soloed the Upper Exum route.

The rappel was more intense than I remembered, maybe because we were on our own and not with a guide this time. I quadruple checked everything, then checked again. The first 30 ft. walk down a face, and then the bottom comes into view, and the rope ends are WAY THE HECK DOWN THERE. Then the wall falls away, and the last half is free hanging. Exhilarating is a mild word to describe it.

After the rappel, the technical parts of the day were over. We made our way back down the col and arrived back at our tent on the lower saddle mid-afternoon.

Heading back down the col to camp. Photo: Seth Iverson

EyeofNeedle

Fred at the Eye of the Needle. Photo: Seth Iverson

Seth going through the eye of the needle.

The three of us had lunch (I was finally able to eat a full meal for the first time that day), rested briefly, packed up camp, and began the long descent. We had a camping permit for the Meadows, about halfway down, but when we got there we decided to book it all the way back to the car. Our totals for the day were 2,000 ft of ascent, 7,000 ft of descent, and approx. 8 miles total. We arrived back at the trailhead at 9:30pm, making for 17 hours straight of physical activity. We were toasted.

We headed into Jackson for some pizza, and called it a night.

The wrap-up

We climbed that mountain, a two day ordeal with route finding and technical climbing. We did it on our own, and we did it well. I feel immensely proud of that. It was a mental challenge, it was a physical challenge, and it was also a challenge of confidence. Can we actually do this? Having climbed that same mountain previously with a guide, I knew I could physically do it, but having a guide makes it still seem magical and mysterious somehow. Going on our own, doing the planning on our own, making sure we had the necessary skills, the fitness, studying everything over and over again, talking through scenarios and what-ifs… and then actually putting all of that into practice and doing it… and succeeding…. was empowering. And it took a lot of the magic away. I want to do MORE.

With that being said, I grappled quite a bit with the disappointment of not leading. Because I wasn’t feeling well, Seth led every pitch. It was awesome that he took the lead when the time called for it. I am grateful to him for that, and to have such a strong leader on our team.  I had wanted to lead with him, though. And, even though I was involved in all of the prep and the decisions leading up to that morning, circumstances changed, and plans changed. I didn’t feel well, and Seth took my leads. For weeks afterwards, I struggled with a feeling that I didn’t contribute in the way that I wanted to. Instead of Seth and I co-leading, Seth led, and Fred and I followed. Even though we had successfully climbed the Grand, and we did it fully on our own, without a guide, I didn’t fully meet my personal goals. I felt that I had failed somehow and struggled with that quite a bit.

It’s been nearly a month since our summit, and I’ve had a chance to work through that disappointment and come to terms with it. I still believe that we made the right decision, based on how I felt that morning. When you’re part of a team doing something dangerous like climbing a mountain, every decision is about everybody, and not just about one person. The decision for Seth to lead wasn’t about me. It was about the safety of the team. And it was the right choice.

I’m so proud of the three of us, Fred, Seth, and myself, for our work together as a well-functioning team, and for our successful summit of the Grand Teton. It was an amazing experience, and I am so glad that I got to share it with two incredible people.

As for my personal disappointments? I’ll be heading to Boulder, CO with Seth for my birthday weekend, and I have plans to lead the *crap* out of some flatirons. Seth has already said that he will gladly follow. Wish us luck.

Summit Selfie! Seth and me.

Summit selfie! Seth and me. Photo: Seth Iverson

Trip Prep: Wyoming 2014

Just a quick post here. Our trip out to the mountains of Wyoming is approaching, and the prep has begun! We’ve been physically preparing for a few months now; practicing our trad climbing and getting into good physical shape. Now we’re close enough to start packing!

Cirque of the Towers, Wyoming

Cirque of the Towers, Wyoming (photo courtesy of Seth)

This trip presents a few challenges on the packing front. We’re heading into the Cirque of the Towers in the Wind River Range and will be in the backcountry for about five days, miles away from the trailhead. Weight adds up quickly, especially when you add a rope and climbing gear to the mix, so we’re examining everything, looking at what can be used for multiple purposes, what we need for survival and emergencies, and what’s more for comfort. For example, we’ve opted for a tent (not a super-necessity, but awesome to keep the bugs out), but are passing on camp pillows. Rolled up clothes work just fine. Yes to sunscreen, no to dry shampoo (my hair is going to look *amazing*). Yes to coffee. Definitely yes to coffee.

The same went for our climbing gear. As fairly new trad leaders, we tend to take along more gear than we need. For this trip, we did a close examination of our rack and got it down to something reasonable. Still quite a bit of weight, but much lighter than it was.

Seth's homemade tether

Seth’s homemade tether

A bit of homemade gear innovation by Seth: he made tethers for our nut tools out of parachute cord. We like to have our nut tools attached to something so we don’t drop them off a cliff and have been using long slings up to this point, but the slings tend to get caught on stuff and tangled in the rest of the gear. Seth has fixed that. Pretty awesome.

After the Winds we’re heading up to the Tetons, at which time our team of two will become a team of three. So, we made some team prusiks for the occasion (in the season’s hottest colors, of course). Shiny new prusiks are awesome and fun, and when used correctly, they save lives.

Team prusiks. Wyoming 2014.

Team prusiks. Wyoming 2014. Not shown: two more team prusiks.

On the food front, we’re portioning out meals day by day before we pack them, with a bit of extra just in case. This will, hopefully, help us to avoid packing too much and save some weight there.

Very little in the way of clothing changes, mostly we’ll just have layers and rain gear and plan on wearing the same thing for 5 days. We’ll be a stinky pair by the time we come out of the Winds. Luckily, we’ll be heading straight up to the Tetons, and the showers of the AAC Climbers’ Ranch. Yay for showers!

We’re reading up on routes and getting beta. I’m brushing up on my weather knowledge (Seth got me a nice little book about reading the weather), and things are lining up!

On a related, but not-related note, this trip will be a step into new territory for me. It’ll be my longest time in the backcountry, completely reliant on what I take with me. It’ll be my first time camping in grizzly bear country (most of the grizzlys are in the north part of the range, but a few have migrated south, which is where we’ll be). And the climbs on our list, although in the easy to moderate range, are not small. We’ve chosen alpine trad routes, just what I like. They’re tall and exposed, and I know they will challenge me and push me. I’m definitely stepping out of my comfort zone, and I know that I’ll learn a lot as a result. I’m nervous and looking forward to it, all at the same time.

Any other pack weight advice you can offer for 5 days in the backcountry with climbing gear in tow? Gear innovations? Tips and tricks? I’d love to hear them!

Everything’s Changing.

“The only thing constant in life is change.” – François La Rochefoucauld

Everything is changing. All the time. And that includes us, as people.

An advantage of aging is that over time you get to see the parts of you that change, and the parts of you that stay the same. You get a pretty good handle on the “core” stuff; what defines you as a human being. And you begin to clearly see the stuff that changes over time; things that maybe felt like a “core” part of who you were at one time.

We’re all slowly changing, all the time. Like mountains, slowly heaving up out of the earth. Glaciers moving, ever so slowly. Even in those stretches where we feel that everything is good, that we’re settled, we’re imperceptibly changing. Evolving. Moving. Sometimes that change happens quickly and violently, spurred by a specific event. Most of the time, though, it’s slow, and we don’t realize it’s happening until it already has.

When I started this blog, I was fairly new to climbing. My life before climbing was mostly dedicated to music. I was a bassoonist, well on my way to making that my career. I had focused on bassoon since I was 12, and forced myself to march down that path far beyond when it became obvious that it was no longer the right one. It took me a long time to accept that a part of me that felt so fundamental could change. That inflexibility caused me a lot of strife.

Bassoon. Then a few years of floating…. trying to accept a move away from the only life I had ever known, looking for what was next. And suddenly, there was climbing. I fell in love with it. Hard. Climbing has taught me the importance of risk, has forced me to face fear, to deliberately move into mental discomfort and to meet myself in that place, face myself head on. I’ve learned a lot about myself through climbing, and I continue to do so.

A successful climb in Yosemite

A successful climb in Yosemite.

Even while climbing continues to be a big part of my life, I can feel my passion for it evolving and changing underneath me. Ever so slowly. At first I was climbing in the gym and at the crags, climbing hard, chasing grades, trying to be the best climber I could be. Looking back, I can see where the change started, with my first multi-pitch climbs, including a big, but pretty chill, climb out in Yosemite… I remember clearly the sound of the gear clinking as Lizzy led those pitches ahead of me. The quiet and peace of the rock, and the way it felt to climb that day. A year later, I climbed the Grand Teton. The Grand was an experience that I still haven’t been able to fully put into words. An experience that didn’t fully sink in for weeks afterwards. Since that climb, my drive to pursue hard sport routes has vanished. I’ve been dreaming of alpine climbing.

I have friends who want to climb the hard stuff; little crimpers on vertical rock. I’ve tried to get my mind back there so that I can join them, but just haven’t been able to. I’ve changed. Seth and I are heading out to Wyoming next month to tackle one or two routes in the Wind River Range, and then up to do a climb of the Grand Teton on our own. All alpine climbing, all trad. Just a few objectives for two weeks of time. A shift from where I was a few years ago.

And even while I plan and dream about this trip, I think that maybe I’d like to do some backpacking sometime, without the climbing gear. Go trek through the mountains for a few days, or a few weeks, just for the sake of being there. Maybe I’ll like it. Maybe there will be another shift towards just plain old backpacking. Or maybe there won’t. Maybe I’ll stick with alpine climbing and mountaineering for a while. Or maybe I’ll decide to sit home and knit instead. There’s no way to tell.

We’re all constantly changing. It’s the reason that friendships come and go. Why relationships come and go. Often, we form relationships based on common interests. Only the bonds that go deeper, that go to the core of who we are, survive our personal evolutions.

Change is ok. Unavoidable even. I’m still climbing, but I’m a different climber than I was four years ago. I’m still a musician, but in a different way than when I started. The stuff that’s stayed the same is deeper, and even those parts of me that feel central are slowly evolving, just at a slower pace.

We all owe it to ourselves to be flexible; to accept that we’re ever changing. We tend to identify ourselves by the things that we do, so when those interests change, we feel a need to hold on. It takes courage to accept ourselves as we morph and evolve.

This trip coming up reflects my changing goals and passions as a climber, as an adventurer, and as a person. I’m climbing to get somewhere and to be in a beautiful place, not just for the sake of climbing. It’ll be a big trip, and I have no doubt that I am going to learn a lot about myself. I can’t wait to get out to those mountains!

How do you view change? Have you noticed these kinds of evolutions within yourself? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Trip Report: Black Hills May 2014

Roadside sculpture along I-90.

Roadside sculpture along I-90.

Ah, the Black Hills. Even though it’s a 10 hour drive from the cities, many Minnesotan climbers claim this area as one of their home crags. Hop in the car, head southwest through rolling farms to Sioux Falls, and then straight west across South Dakota. Landmarks along the way include a short dip into the river valley of Champlain, a roadside sculpture of a skeleton person walking a skeleton dinosaur, Wall Drug, and the Badlands. Stop in Rapid City for a bite to eat, and then head on south into the hills.

The Black Hills are beautiful; pine forests with giant globs of granite plastering the hillsides. The rock here is granite, laden with tiny crystals, making for great friction and sharp rock. Place your foot somewhere and it will probably stick. Nearly every climb is a summit.

On this trip was myself, Seth, and our friend Paul, and I’d say the main story was the weather. We spent a lot of our time dodging storms and trying to figure out where we could climb once the storms rolled in.

Day 1:

Conn route, take 1

Conn route, take 1

Our first day out, we headed up to Sylvan Lake to warm up on the Conn Route on Aquarium Rock. Paul led the first pitch, brought Seth and me up, and then Seth took the lead from there. As Seth was heading to the summit, we could see a storm approaching from the west.

Storm in the distance

Storm in the distance

Seth linked the 2nd and 3rd pitches and was on top of the climb when we saw the lightning. We had two choices: bring Paul and I up and all do the double rope rappel from the top, or bail from where we were. We chose the latter. The storm was approaching quickly. Paul set up a rappel back to the ground from our perch, and Seth set up to rappel back down the route. Some good teamwork and problem solving got us all safely back to the ground.

Soon after, the storm hit. Rain soaked the hills, and our climbing was done for the day.

Later that afternoon, we hiked up to the Cathedral Spires and scouted possible climbs for the next day.

Scrambling in the Cathedral Spires

Scrambling in the Cathedral Spires

Day 2:

Spires in the morning

Spires in the morning

Same weather forecast, so we knew we needed to get moving. Our objective was Spire 2. The Cathedral Spires are a line of granite towers higher up in the hills. I had been on Spire 2 twice before, but never actually finished it (see posts here and here). We got an early start, made the hike in, and Seth set off to lead the first pitch.

Paul on top of Spire 2

Paul on top of Spire 2

I love this climb. The climbing itself is pretty casual, but interesting. The belays are bolted, which are always nice and save a lot of time. The first two pitches climb through a fun gully with a few short headwalls. The last pitch starts up a short chimney and then steps across to exposed, unprotected face climbing to the summit. The view from the top is gorgeous, and I was so happy to finally be able to see it.

The weather was beautiful, and our team of three rocked it, finishing the three pitch climb in three hours. After a short time up top and a long rappel back to the ground, a storm rolled in.

Storm over the Spires

Storm over the Spires

We retreated to lower elevations, back behind Mt Rushmore. The storm missed us there, and Paul and Seth finished the day climbing Shark’s Breath.

 

Day 3:

Back to the Conn Route to both finish it and retrieve our gear. I led us up the first pitch this time and brought Seth and Paul up together to save time. We all had our eye on the weather, as the forecast once again called for storms. This is the same climb on which we had nearly gotten caught in a lightning storm earlier that week.

Paul took the lead to link the second and third pitches and brought me and Seth up behind. Even though this route is rated a 5.3, it’s fun climbing and worth doing. The first pitch traverses a comfortable, but fun, flake, the second pitch is up through a squeeze chimney (kind of a pain with a pack on!), and the route finishes up with a bouldery move to some easy face climbing up to the summit.

At the top, the weather was *still* perfect. We set up the rappel, but hung out for a bit to enjoy the view.

Seth and I on top of the Conn Route

Seth and I on top of the Conn Route

Five minutes after this picture was taken, Paul looked over his shoulder and said “guys, maybe we should get out of here.” A storm had appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, and was bearing down on us. We all rappelled as quickly as we could, and by the time we were on the ground, it was hailing. We took shelter under a rock overhang and managed to avoid getting soaked.

After hailstorm number 1, Conn Route behind us.

After hailstorm number 1, Conn Route behind us.

The tornado. Photo by Wakispe Win via Black Hills Fox TV

The tornado viewed from Rapid City. Photo by Wakispe Win via Black Hills Fox TV

Back at our campsite, storms were all around. Clouds swirled overhead, moving in every direction. It was quite a show. Shortly thereafter, we were all hunkered down in the car, waiting out another hailstorm. The storm was intense, and we learned later that the same storm had produced a tornado. Very glad we weren’t out climbing during that one, and also that all we got at our camp was a lot of hail and wind, and no tornado (our Marmot tents held up beautifully, by the way).

So… day 3, a nice, casual multi-pitch, gear retrieved, two hailstorms and a tornado. Check.

 

Day 4:

Contrary to the weather up to this point, the forecast called for ZERO PERCENT chance of rain! Zero. Awesome. We took full advantage of it.

Paul and Seth on Weird Water

Paul and Seth on Weird Water

This is the day that I was reminded of what a Black Hills 5.7 is. Friction is the name of the game. Don’t expect bomber footholds or handholds. Feet smear on sandpaper rock, hands balance on tiny crystals. Repeat.

We started the day on Weird Water. Paul led the trad variation of this start. He set up a belay at the top of the crack, turning this into a two pitch climb, and Seth and I grunted our way up the sharp, painful crack that Paul had just very impressively led. My confidence was low as I realized I didn’t really know how to climb a Black Hills 5.7, so I lowered down and waited below while Seth and Paul finished up the climb. Here’s a photo of Paul belaying Seth up to the summit.

Next up was Gossamer, a really cool rock fin with a big hole in the middle, and another Black Hills 5.7. Trad start, sport the last half. No feet to speak of once you’re on the face, just lots of smearing. Paul put this one up (Paul had some really great leads this week) and I followed. Here’s where I figured out how to climb a Black Hills 5.7. Smear smear smear smear and… smear. It’s all about the feet. Once I got a feel for the technique, Gossamer was a super fun climb.

Gossamer. Paul on the left, me on the right.

Gossamer. Paul on the left, me on the right.

It was getting late in the day and I wanted to get another lead in to finish off the trip. The 5.7s we had been on that day were a bit heady for me, and I was just figuring out the technique, so I sought out something more in the 5.4-5.5 range. I found a climb called Dunce Cap, a 5.4 trad route, that was close by. I led, Seth followed. When I got to the top I had to laugh at myself for choosing it. It wasn’t a fun climb at all, mostly just grunting my way up a gully with way too much trad gear getting in my way. I did get to place some gear and build a trad anchor up top, so not all was lost. I brought Seth up, and then we actually just downclimbed the last half of it and walked off the other side. Wah wah.

And that was the end of the trip. All in all very fun. Lots of weather dodging, with climbing in between, and a great last day with perfect weather. We got in a couple of multi-pitch trad climbs, and worked really well as a group, so I’d say that was successful. We were not struck by lightning or hit by a tornado. We made it safely to the ground before impending lightning and hail storms, and our tents survived the hail and wind and stayed mostly dry.

I’d love to get back out there later this season. Other climbs that have caught my eye: Sultan’s Tower, Spire 1, Spire 3 (first pitch), Station 13…. there is an incredible amount of climbing out there.

Trip Report: Red Rocks March 2014

Beautiful Red Rocks

Beautiful Red Rocks

I’m not a big fan of Vegas, but I *am* a big fan of the large rocks that sit just outside of its borders. That would be Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Red Rocks for short. This was my second trip out to the park and it’s becoming very clear to me why this is such a popular destination for climbers. There’s tons of sport climbing (that’s mainly what we focused on our first trip), and even more trad, of all kinds. Short approaches, long approaches, single pitch, multi pitch, easy, moderate, hard…. And there’s a LOT of it.

The crew.

The crew.

This time around we focused on traditional climbing instead of sport. In six days we didn’t even begin to cover what the park has to offer. As a group, our goal for the week was to seek out easy to moderate trad routes and improve our trad skills in general, including gear placement, rope handling, climbing as a team, etc.

There were five of us. Myself, Seth, Russell, Zack, and Paul. We flew out the 3rd week of March, rented a condo in Summerlin (only a 10 min. drive from the park entrance) cooked our own meals, and had a pretty fantastic week overall. We mainly used Jason Martin’s guidebook “Fun Climbs Red Rocks: Topropes and Moderates,” supplementing route info with the Handren guide and Mountain Project. Here’s where we climbed:

IMG_4009

Paul on “Chips and Salsa”

Chips and Salsa

This is a short, 3-pitch climb in the first pullout on the Tuna and Chips wall. The approach is only about 10 minutes.

We kicked off our week with this route, and it was a great choice to start out on. The climbing is fun and fairly casual, and it was short enough to take our time and work on our systems. At the top of the route is a big, beautiful area to hang out and have lunch, and the view is quite lovely.

I would have liked to go back and climb this again at the end of our trip, but unfortunately we ran out of time.

 

Sorting gear on top of “Chips and Salsa”

Seth leading Tonto

Seth leading “Tonto”

Willow Spring

We originally chose this area for its afternoon shade on a day when the temps climbed into the 80s. It ended up being the most frequented of our trip. There are a quite a few solid options for single pitch trad, and it’s a great spot to climb. Bring your long sleeves; it can get chilly when the sun tucks behind the rocks in the afternoon.

We climbed mostly on the Ragged Edges wall. My personal favorite route was “Tonto” (also my first lead of the trip, so I might be a little biased).

Other routes climbed were “Ok, Ok, Ok!” “Ragged Edges – 1st pitch,” and “Go Ahead and Jump.”

 

Seconding "Ok! Ok! Ok!"

Seconding “Ok! Ok! Ok!” (Photo: Zack)

Zack on Ragged Edges

Zack on “Ragged Edges”

Seth on Peaches

Seth on “Peaches” (photo: Zack)

 

We went back on our last day to the Children’s Crag and climbed “Peaches,” which was also a fun little climb.  The descent is a bit tricky; I’d recommend a double-rope rappel over the walk-off.

 

 

 

Paul on Peaches

Paul on “Peaches” (look closely, he’s up there!)

Rusty on Scramblers Wall

Rusty on Scramblers Wall

 

Scramblers Wall

Our group headed here for its low grade trad climbs. It was fun, easy climbing, but a bit chossy and very run-out. If I could go back in time, I’m not sure this area would be my first choice for the day (I’d probably check out the Romper Room Wall in First Creek Canyon instead).

That being said, it did end up being a full day of climbing, and the group climbed every route on the wall. Leading, following, working on skills… I think for most of the group it was a confidence builder. The very next day, Seth and Paul tackled “Solar Slab,” and Rusty, Zack, and myself headed back to Willow Spring, where I got my first lead of the trip.

 

 

Solar Slab

Solar Slab

Paul on Solar Slab – Pitch 3 (photo: Seth)

This is where our little family of five split into two groups. Seth and Paul took a day and climbed Solar Slab. I’m trying to get Seth to write a trip report, but for now, here is my second hand account of the climb

They approached through Solar Slab Gully (five pitches). That gets to the base of Solar Slab itself, which is another seven pitches.

It sounds like the first two pitches are pretty straightforward, and after that it gets more exposed with harder climbing for pitches three and four. The route then gradually eases up. Paul and Seth chose to stop at the top of pitch 7 (that’s the recommended way to do it). There’s an off-route rappel, which Seth really liked. It keeps rappelers out of the way of climbers and also results in fewer rappels than if one were to rappel back down the route.

Seth on top of Solar Slab

Seth on top of Solar Slab (photo: Paul)

 

This route does get very busy. Seth recommends getting a start earlier than the 6am park opening time. You can park at the loop exit lot, and there’s a trail from there to the Canyon. We heard from several parties that finding the way back in the dark is challenging. There are lots of braided trails, so its very easy to get lost and end up wandering through the desert. Another reason to get an early start.

Overall, with some waiting for others and route-finding, the day was 14 hours total for those guys. The overall report? Exhausting… but a very fun climb.

 

 

 

Solar Slab Gully

The hike in to Solar Slab Gully

Hiking in to Solar Slab Gully (photo: Zack)

That's me starting the 3rd pitch of Solar Slab Gully

That’s me starting the 3rd pitch of Solar Slab Gully (photo: Zack)

Seth and Paul needed a rest day after their climb of Solar Slab, but they recommended the Gully as a fun climb all on its own (and a good route for a beginning lead climber like myself). So, Zack, Russell, and I headed out the next day to tackle the Gully. It’s five pitches officially, but we linked the last two short pitches into one. I thought this was a very fun climb.

This is a very popular route, as it is one of the approaches for “Solar Slab,” and a route that folks climb on its own. We were behind two other parties when we arrived, so there was a bit of waiting. Something, maybe, to expect on this wall.

The first pitch is a bit tricky and exposed, and the crux of the route, in my opinion. Our fearless leader, Russell, rocked it (thanks, Rusty!). The remainder of the route has a lot of really fun climbing. Some chimneys, some run-out slab, and huge belay ledges. Advanced climbers may think this route is boring, but those climbers would probably continue on to climb the rest of Solar Slab. Personally, I thought the gully was great fun and the perfect way to spend a day.

Zack, me, and Russell on top of Solar Slab Gully

Zack, me, and Russell on top of Solar Slab Gully (photo: Zack)

A bit of rappel beta: from the hang out spot on top, look back down the slab towards the canyon and you’ll see a big rock perched below. Just to the left of this, looking down, are a set of chains. A double-rope rappel from these drops you down to the landing at the top of the 2nd pitch of Solar Slab Gully. From here it’s two more raps to the bottom (a single and a double). So glad that Russell and Zack scouted this out. Way faster than rapping down the route.

And… that was our week, with a lot of goofing around in between. We had a great time. I want to go back again RIGHT NOW, but alas, it is not to be. Aiming for a similar trip next March. Thanks again to my awesome crew for a great time.

Clouds over Red Rocks

Clouds over Red Rocks

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Other posts from this trip:

Diary of a Trad Leading Newbie: Part 1

Diary of a Trad Leading Newbie: Part 2

Diary of a Trad Leading Newbie: Part 2

I’m home after a week climbing out in Red Rocks, a beautiful park just outside of Las Vegas with climbing galore. It was a great trip, and a week of learning and growth on my part. One of my main goals was to get more pitches of traditional leads under my belt. Prior to this trip, I had only led one pitch on trad gear (traditional leading means that the first climber places pieces of gear for protection as they go. There are no bolts in the rock). Midway through our trip, I found myself struggling quite a bit. Read that post here if you haven’t had a chance.

Here’s how the rest of the week went:

——

After I took a day off, three of us went back to the Willow Spring area. A few days previous, I had led the first half of Tonto and set up an anchor, turning the climb into a mini multi-pitch. It wasn’t a pretty lead, but it was a lead nonetheless. I went up a few pieces, I came back down to collect myself, I went up and down again, and finally pushed through and made it to my goal.

Bringing Russell up on Tonto

Bringing Russell up on Tonto

We were back at that same climb again after two days. I knew I could climb the route; I had climbed it a few times and led half of it already. So it seemed like a good place to work more on my mental game. It turned out that a day off had done me a lot of good. I racked up, took a deep breath, and led the whole thing. There was no whimpering; I felt calm and confident. I placed a lot of gear in the initial crack and ran things out on the easier stuff up top. I kept breathing, I kept my focus. It felt amazing to get to the top and yell “Off Belay!” because I knew that I had just busted through a big mental barrier.

I brought up my other two partners, set up a rappel, and we all returned safely to the ground.

The next day, the three of us tackled a bigger objective. Solar Slab Gully. This is a five pitch climb (a pitch is the distance between where the first climber starts climbing and when they stop to set up an anchor and bring up the rest of their climbers), 540 feet total. The plan was that Russell would start us off, and we would decide leads as we went. He was prepared to lead the whole thing if necessary; we were just going to wait and see how I was feeling.

Oak Creek Canyon, our approach to Solar Slab Gully

Oak Creek Canyon, our approach to Solar Slab Gully

Zack starts the first pitch to Solar Slab Gully

Zack starts the first pitch to Solar Slab Gully

Russell led the first pitch, and I’m glad he did. It was a bit hairy in spots (spicy, as our guidebook liked to say), and scared me a bit even on toprope. We got to the top and I decided to take on the short second pitch. I geared up, made the crux move (the hardest move of the pitch) right at the start, climbed to the anchors and brought up my climbers. That felt pretty good, so I decided to keep leading. The third pitch was a long one, probably 180 feet. The first half is a really nice little chimney with a big exit move up top. Then it continues with quite a bit of slabby climbing and a short chimney to finish. That pitch felt really good, too. From there, we could see the top. So, after Russell and Zack joined me at the anchor, I led the last two short pitches.

That took us to the top of the climb. I realized then that I had just led all but the first pitch, and that all three of us were safely at the top. Mentally, it had all felt pretty solid. There were a few places that I had to breathe and take a moment to stay focused, but that’s part of the game. I was all smiles.

At the top of Solar Slab Gully

At the top of Solar Slab Gully

High fives were exchanged, smiles all around. It was a fun climb. After a short time at the top of Solar Slab Gully (and the base of the much bigger climb, Solar Slab), the three of us worked our way down to the rappel bolts. We teamed up with a pair from Germany, and three rappels later we found ourselves back at the bottom, packing our bags for the hour-long hike back to the car.

All in all, I led six pitches this trip, after feeling halfway through the week that maybe I wasn’t destined to be a trad leader at all. I learned, once again, that the process of moving through something that’s scary is not a straightforward one. This week was a very clear example of that. I pushed myself through something that felt really tough mentally. And from there, I actually needed a day to back away, process, and recover from that push. Once that happened, I was ready to take a step back and start again.

I emerged from this week as a more confident trad leader, and that was exactly what I was hoping for. I’m at the beginning, and there’s a long way to go, but it’s a solid start.

A big thanks to Seth and Russell and Zack and Paul for cheering me on, supporting me, and respecting my process. What a fantastic week of climbing it was.

My First Trad Lead: Spire Two

Spire Two. A few years ago, this climb had been my first multi-pitch attempt. I had followed our guide up the first pitch, and after some time at the first belay station found myself spiraling into a panic. I lowered off the climb (full story here). Now, three years later, I was back to not only climb the route, but to lead it. Seth and I had chosen it as our first trad leads.

Hiking in to the Cathedral Spires

Hiking in to Spire Two

The Cathedral Spires are a line of tall, pointy rocks perched high in the Black Hills in South Dakota. There are five main spires in the group, and many ways to climb them. Spire Two is a three-pitch climb with decent placements and bolted anchors. Seemed like a good choice for us.

I had been practicing gear placements at our local crag, placing gear on top rope, having them checked by another climber, asking questions. I had plenty of sport leading under my belt, and following of trad pitches. I had been pouring through “Freedom of the Hills,” making sure I wasn’t missing anything. Books can only get you so far, though, and at some point, it was time to just go for it.

Starting up the first pitch.

Starting up the first pitch. I really should have worn a red shirt!

A relatively short hike in got us to the base of Spire Two, both excited and nervous to do our first trad leads on this rock. It was a gorgeous, sunny morning, not another human in sight. We knew we would be slow at the belay stations, and weather was expected to move in later, so we set a turn-around time for ourselves and stuck to it.

Seth flaked the rope, I racked up, we exchanged high fives, and off I went, up the first pitch.

And…. I loved it.

I felt focused. Hyper aware of what I was doing, where I was. No other thoughts were swimming around in my brain. I was out in this beautiful place, climbing this spire, and that was all that was happening. There were no other people around, no commotion of any sort. Just me, the rock, a gentle breeze, and the sound of my gear clinking together as I climbed. It was amazing.

I knew that I didn’t want to fall. There are good gear placements on the route, but there really aren’t any clean falls. The climbing was not difficult, I just needed to be thoughtful. I didn’t feel overwhelmingly scared, I didn’t feel anxious. I just felt focused. Again, an amazing feeling.

Happy after my first trad lead

Happy after my first trad lead

Top of 2nd pitch. Seth's first trad lead!

Top of 2nd pitch. Seth’s first trad lead!

I reached the top of the first pitch, anchored myself in, and set up the belay for Seth. This was the place where I had panicked three years earlier. Now I felt calm and collected. It’s really fun to see that mental progress! Seth climbed up to join me, more high fives were exchanged, and we continued on. Time for Seth’s first trad lead now, on the second pitch of the climb. He rocked it.

On Rappel!

On Rappel!

We decided to rappel back down from the top of the second pitch. It was nearing our turn around time, we had felt the wind shift, and we knew we were going to be slow. By the time we reached our car, it was raining.

Seth and I learned a LOT on this climb. We picked a route we knew we could do, and we allowed ourselves ample time to figure it out and triple-check everything. We didn’t make it to the top, but I still considered the day a success.

We both fell in love with trad climbing that day, and as we continue to learn more, a whole new world of climbing is opening up for us! Seth has gone on to do a lot more trad since, and I’m not far behind. As for Spire Two, I still haven’t finished the entire route, but it’ll get ticked off next season.

 

 

There He Goes Again…

I was at the beginning of a pretty normal day at work when this photo arrived on my phone.

Seth in Smith Rock, Oregon

That’s my husband, Seth, on a climbing trip in Oregon with one of his buddies.

His previous trip was in July, to the Wind River Range in Wyoming. Him and two friends made a whirlwind trip to the Cirque of the Towers and climbed Wolf’s Ridge. That was a big trip, with some big stories. But I wasn’t there.

After my first trad lead

After my first trad lead

The last climbing trip we took together was in May, over Memorial Day weekend. We headed out to the Black Hills in South Dakota and together we ticked off our first trad leads. I was super excited to do more, as was he. He’s had the time to take more trips since. I just haven’t been able to get away.

It never occurred to me that he could eventually be seeking out climbing trips on his own. Seth initially began climbing because I climbed. It was something I had fallen in love with. When we met, I was just getting my first multi-pitch climbs under my belt, doing some sport leading, and starting to work on my trad skills knowing that’s what I wanted to be doing.

Now, Seth is not only climbing, he’s surpassed me in a lot of ways. And my own reaction, although I’m not proud of it, is interesting to observe. When he was out in Smith Rock, I found myself grappling with my own feelings of jealousy, resentment, and plain old selfishness. Since our first trad leads in May, Seth has gone on to lead close to 10 more pitches of trad. I’ve led none.

I hear how that sounds. Even reading it back, I hear a whiny little brat stomping her feet and saying “but why don’t *I* get to go?” I hate that I even *had* that reaction, but I did.

Just to be clear, I love my job. It’s been pretty hard to get away, but I really enjoy my work. My colleagues are awesome as well. Two of them even climb with me. And it’s my choice to be there, doing the work that I’m doing, and sometimes sacrificing trips to do so. Despite knowing that, it was hard to watch Seth doing the things that *I* want to be doing more of, and finding myself looking in from the outside.

Those feelings of jealousy and resentment are no good in a marriage, so we had to work through them pretty quickly. The solution seems to be to focus on my own goals, keep working on getting out there, even if it’s close to home, and, of course, to look past myself and realize that I’m super excited for Seth. I am! He’s out there having fun and doing things he loves. And yeah, he’s gotten out more than me this summer, but I have big plans for next season. We’ll get to do lots of climbing together, I have no doubt.

Seth has fallen in love with trad climbing, and it’s really fun to see that. Once I catch up, we’re going to make a pretty great team, and be able to do even more awesome stuff together. Maybe we’ll be like the Smileys someday. A competent trad climbing partner is a *very* good thing to have.

I’m curious to hear your comments. How do you balance work and play? Have you ever struggled with jealousy of a friend or partner’s adventures?