Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Red River Gorge Half Time Report

Days are blurring together and half the trip has passed while I feel as though I am still cruising along getting used to the style at ‘The Red’.  I have climbed a lot of routes although nothing particularly hard with my proudest send being my first epic route in the Madness Cave called ‘The Madness’. The Madness is a 120ft steep overhang graded at 5.13c (30) and considered hard for the grade. There are no moves that wouldn’t be found on a much easier route but the angle and endurance required is out of this world. It took me 6 shots and I felt the endurance in my fore arms build each time I tied in.  It is one of the coolest lines I have ever done.
Warm ups don't come any better than this. A 5.11d at Solar Collector crag. Photo Jack Masel.
In the late 90s a 17 year old Katie Brown onsighted a route to the left of The Madness called Omaha Beach. At that time it was the worlds hardest onsight by a female climber and weighed in at 5.13d (31). Ever since I have wanted to climb this route, which is now graded 5.14a (32), due to holds breaking over the years. I tried it the other day after sending The Madness, which I had been told wasn’t too much of a step below Omaha Beach, but found it to be incredibly difficult. Ill keep having shots at it although my belief that I have the ability to do the route has taken a hit.
Jack working on Paradise Lost 5.13a at the Purgatory crag.
While visiting a lot of crags and trying hard routes (project shopping) I have also been slowly working on my onsight ability. This mainly has to do with fitness as the routes are generally easy to read. Onsighting is either incredibly rewarding or frustrating, depending on whether you succeed or not. So far I have onsighted up to 5.13a (28), haven’t tried many 5.13bs, and am nowhere near 5.13c.

Just to add a bit of perspective I belayed a young (18?) American guy named Sean Bailey on a route I had a quick go at called Gods own stone (5.14a/32). It was his hardest onsight ever and he followed it up with Omaha Beach a few days later. He has also done three or so 5.14c (34) routes all in a week and a half here and all taking only a few shots. The new generation of climbers around the world are crushing and making a mockery of what used to be considered difficult. It is humbling and a little bit frustrating leaving me wondering what I could have done to be anywhere near that good. I love the struggle of trying hard though and embracing the successes and failures. It feels good to focus on performance/numbers for a while and not worry about run outs or forced bivvy’s.
Me flashing The Force 5.13a at The Dark Side crag.
Other than climbing I have been having a blast hanging out in the amazing autumn surroundings of Kentucky. The leaves are all turning red and there has been a great crew of people around. Jack and Rick are here also throwing themselves at the wall and another friend from back home, Roman, will turn up soon. It’s Halloween on the 31st, which is a big deal here, and there is a dress up party at the Pizza restaurant/campsite we are staying at. The second half of the trip is full of promise and I can’t wait to see what routes I can pull myself up!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Yosemite: The Classics.

The Valley
It has been boiling for the majority of my Yosemite trip with temperatures around 90 degrees Fahrenheit. To combat this elevation was key with Tuolomne Meadows, residing high above Yosemite Valley, being the perfect locale for my transition to North American granite. I met up with Matt Pickles and spent the first week climbing classic knobby faces on the granite domes with the highlights being an ascent of the old school classic seam Electric Africa (5.12c) and a run up the regular route (5.9) of Fairview Dome.

Emer on a 9 day break from work in the north of Western Australia made a whirlwind trip half way around the world to see Yosemite and squeeze in some climbing. I bailed on Matt for a while and focused on some high longer adventures with Emer. We climbed Cathedral Peak (5.7) in Tuolomne, which tops out at 3,326m, followed by Snake Dyke (5.7) on Half Dome. I had a great time doing these longer easier classics, which made a good break from destroying myself on the brutal hard routes I was trying in Europe. We also had a day at Cookie cliff where I climbed the classic Cookie Monster (5.12a), which I had always wanted to do. Emers time passed quickly and before I knew it she was gone and Lawrence had arrived on a two-week break also from work back in WA. 
Emer following Snake Dyke (5.7), Half Dome.
Emer poses in front of Cathedral Peak, Tuolomne.
Emer on the Half Dome summit.
Lawrence brought with him an intensity to climb something big and difficult which ended up with us joining Matt to try and climb Freerider (5.12d, 1km, 30ish pitches) up El Capitan. We wanted to go ground up, all free in about 3-4 days while hauling a large bag full of water and other supplies. It was a bit ambitious and by pitch 14ish we realized we were going too slow. It was like a furnace in the direct sun on the wall and we were unable to climb in the afternoon. Instead we sat on a ledge, using my tent fly for shade and tried not to drink all our water.  Matt and Lawrence had both fallen and had lost the drive to free the route that shot. The realization we would run out of water before getting to the top meant we had to change strategy if we were to make it. Not to mention all the harder pitches were yet to come. We started jumaring the pitches behind the leader who was mixing free climbing with clean aiding. Things moved a lot faster doing this and by the evening of day 3 we reached the top of the wall. I consider this as a bit of reconnaissance for a later free ascent, which will have to wait until another season.
Matt hanging out during a haul.
Me getting all artistic.
Sheltering from the direct sun.
Bivvy ledge one.
Lawrence leading the Hollow Flake with me on belay.
El Cap Tower. Penthouse suite bivvy.
Matt jumaring up high.
Lawrence checks out the topo.
Made it! Summit Bivvy.
After Freerider I was keen to visit a famous roof crack called Seperate Reality (5.11d). I love roof climbs and this had been on my list for a long time. It turned out to be reasonably easy and super fun. Solid hand jams to a little boulder problem to gain the lip. We tried to get some good photos although the depth of field and light made it hard with our cheap cameras.
On belay. Seperate Reality.
Yep its a roof crack.
A fairly long roof crack.
Love the jug at the end!
Lawrence had teamed up with Tony Arbones, whom I had developed some routes with in China and also knew from the Siurana campground in Spain, to try the upper pitches of Freerider again. This gave Matt and I time to go climb Astroman (5.11c), another valley test piece. It is around 11 pitches and very sustained. I really wanted the onsight of the route although I was mentally off my game during the day. I cruised the route except for the infamous Harding Slot, which consisted of climbing an off size crack into a flaring overhanging squeeze chimney. This pitch was far from fun and I fell out of the insecure crack while trying to get into the chimney. Matt and I topped out with about half an hour of light left but made the mistake of following a well-trodden path into the middle of nowhere. We couldn’t find a descent back to the valley floor and had to back track in the dark to the top of the route. The descent was meant to be 1-2 hours but too treacherous to attempt for the first time in the dark as it traversed slippery granite slabs with death fall potential. We ended up huddling for 8 hours under pine needles shivering and waiting for the sun to come up. The next morning the descent was spicy but ok in the light.

Overall it was a great trip with good friends, classic climbs, and some good laughs. This was my third trip to Yosemite and I still haven’t seen a bear there. There are however plenty of deer and I witnessed a coyote eating a chipmunk. I also grabbed a frog in a crack three pitches up El cap. I loved my new trad gear from Kailas which was super light, easy to place, and really colourful which made it easier to organise and use. Can’t wait to come back!