I can't stop the weekend from approaching. The days and hours quickly tick by. I'm still lost in neverland, so excited at the prospect of going to The Needles and at the same time so emotionally empty and completely unable to climb at my limit. During the week I've been hang-boarding and my body is breaking down and trying to get stronger. I don't recover in time for the weekends and the lack of fitness has eaten away my confidence. It's been almost a month since I flowed easily over rock.
H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
Reality hit me. I couldn't stand the thought of bailing. Sure I was weak, but that was a poor excuse. I HAD to know what it was like to climb Romantic Warrior. Kai and I had been talking about going to The Needles for months and I had been thinking about this route for years.
Kai bushwacking around the Necromancer
Going to The Needles was about getting down to business so there was no warmup, no foreplay, straight to the objective, the inevitable ass-kicking. We hiked out the familiar trail to the Witch - Charlatan notch and romped down the gulley, traversing under the Necromancer. I'd never been down this far and the brightly colored walls pushed the psyche up further. Some say that it is best to park on the lower road, but I had also heard that rapping the route was a pain...
Finally at the base, with the Warlock towering overhead, I was at ease. This was exactly where I wanted to be, and we were going to try a route that dreams are made of. Sure we were getting in over our head, but perhaps that is the point. Failure seems to be the theme of the summer, and I was alright with that.
Starting up the funky first pitch
Kai leads living corner.
Kai and I swapped leads up the route with him getting the sharp end for the first of four 5.12 pitches. We fell on every one, both on lead and on follow. The humble pie just kept piling up. As I nervously climbed, and hung my way up the book of deception I was still content with my decision to climb. The earlier pitches I could have onsighed with a bit more fire and fitness but this blank thin corner was not in the cards.
Kai is still all smiles!
Kai following the third pitch.
All of the failure put the route into perspective. It was hard, but far from impossible and a much more difficult onsight than redpoint. I had been falling off 5.12 routes all summer and this one seemed just within reach. After summiting the Warlock as night fell we were zombies on the long hike out.
The next day we came back with drill and hammer and dropped in by climbing the Howling, a fun route. We pulled old 1/4" bolts, updated an anchor and added some rappel rings. Doing a little cleanup made me feel better about all the falling. The route got a summer cleaning, and was much less haggard looking than I was.
Kai following the uber-powerful campus pitch
After the cleanup we got down to business and tried the last two "5.12" pitches. The dreaded 5.11+++ and the Book of Deception. It was great to work on the movement without dealing with any external factors.
Almost done with the Book of Deception
A big epiphany on this trip is my unwillingness, or inability to stem. Sure I can do easy stemming on footholds, but I struggle when forced to palm and smear on blank walls. The 5.11++ is so thin that I was unable to layback or jam the crack. Only through insecure stemming and palming was I able to get through the two cruxes. The same was true for the Book of Deception. When hang dogging I had been able to rest and power layback most of the pitch, but trying to link it together was much more difficult. Little stemming tricks on both pitches made a big difference!
On our second day I was able to climb both of the upper pitches clean on TR. Kai managed the top pitch without falling and surprised himself with a one hang of the crux pitch, a marked improvement over his attempt to follow the pitch the previous day. Both pitches required a full gamut of corner skills separated by a midway rest on each pitch. While the cruxes on the first two 5.12 pitches can be overcome by power, I found the upper pitches to be all about technique and insecure movement. The climbing is safe but the gear is consistently small and sometimes difficult to place.
Romantic Warrior seems to be very similar to Venturi Effect, but a step down in overall difficulty. I was surprised to deal with grainy rock, old hardware and lots of tattered slings on RM. All belays have two solid 3/8" bolts but the route is littered with random 1/4" relics.
Luckily the season was not over and I got to go back in October for another round with Romantic Warrior!
Ben was passed out in the front seat as Blue Thunder whipped around yet another bend on the road to the Needles. Alix, in the back seat, was queezy from motion sickness and Cory was regaling us with another story from his most recent trip abroad. With the Government Shutdown in effect Yosemite was closed and we were on Plan B. It was yet another trip for us weekend warriors and the crisp mountain air told of the changing seasons.
Sometimes I suffer from single-mindedness, but on this trip it was to our advantage. Ben was happy to play along with the extra dose of hauling and hard work that I had planned in addition to the rock climbing. Pushing myself and my limits brings about internal change, but I often seek to leave a more lasting impression on the places I visit. I can derive equal parts enjoyment from my partner's success and the experience of those to come.
Ben on the free-hanging 60m rap to the Warlock
Climbing Romantic Warrior was about fulfilling my potential and finding the line where my body can push past the limitations of my mind. We are almost always stronger than we think, and given the right circumstance can do great things. I wanted to see if I could overcome my doubts.
Ben cruises up the "chossy" third pitch.
As Ben and I climbed up Romantic Warrior I supplemented his power and raw enthusiasm with my knowledge and previous experience on the route. Ben took the sharp end and flashed the first two pitches in an impressive show of power and determination.
Sending was our first priority but we also took extra time to clean up tat and replace bolts on Romantic Warrior. Now every anchor has two 3/8" bolts that are setup for rappel. The second part of our mission was setting up a couple of static ropes so we spend the following day re-bolting Sea of Tranquility.
Ben on the first 5.12 pitch.
I took over the sharp end for the Book of Deception but faltered and couldn't execute the crux sequence. I lost my self-belief and hung on the rope. A few efforts got me through the sequence and I was determined to try the pitch again. As I lowered off I couldn't figure out how I had stayed on the wall the second time around.
I pushed the doubt out of my mind. Breath, execute, layback, send. Simple thoughts as I fought further and further up the corner. I snagged the rest jug with a yell and tried to relax for the final crux. My arms were cramping but I was almost there. More power laybacking, stalling at the final rest and I was clipping the anchor. Such a big improvement over the last attempt and previous trip up the route.
Ben on the Book of Deception
Luckily the small gear was easy to clean and Ben cruised pitch making good use of the tricky stem rests. Ben's enthusiasm was still overflowing and he wanted to get scared and took the sharp end for the 5.11+++ pitch. He loaded up with micro-nuts and small cams and launched off on the final hard pitch of the route. Last time this pitch had totally destroyed me with the technical stemming and palming. I was hoping to do better in this rematch.
Somehow we both held it together and Ben ticked another pitch first try and I grunted my way up clean on follow. Soon enough we were running up the easy slabs to the upper summit of the Warlock. What a stunning day!
Tiny dots on top of the Warlock. Photo by Cory Hall
After climbing Romantic Warrior we should have taken a rest day or done something casual. Instead Ben and I returned to the Warlock to mini-traxion and re-bolt Sea of Tranquility. This route had twenty-something old bolts that ranged from bomber to down right terrifying. The scariest were the bolts (on the right in the photo below) that were just studs with rivet hangers of unknown strength.
Old Bolts from Sea of Tranquility
Sea of Tranquility!
We were both too worked to do the route clean, even on "top rope", but did manage to change out all the bolts. All 3 anchors are now equipped with Fixe Double Ringer hangers courtesy of the ASCA.
The route is definitely an exciting undertaking but is well bolted in the hardest sections. On the final pitch there is big fall potential in the 5.11 range but the fall is clean.
Ben starting up the crux on the 2nd to last pitch of Sea of Tranquility.
Get after it!