My first climbing day was Sunday morning. Here's a look at the base of the first pitch and one of me getting about to start climbing.
I hadn't made up my mind how much I was going to do on the first day, so I wasn't prepared to haul or anything at this point. I was just shooting for the top of pitch 2.
Here's a look at pitch 2.
The second pitch climbs a wide crack to a squeeze chimney with lots of jams and holds. I actually enjoyed this pitch quite a bit. This was the first time I had ever free climbed using my Silent Partner. The clove hitch was jamming often, making progress difficult. Sometime during the second pitch, I decided that I should haul to the top of pitch 3, so that I could have a better start the following day.
Here's one of me on the top of the second pitch. I'm getting ready to go down, eat some lunch, and pack the haul bag.
I decided to break the haul up to the top of the second pitch into two shorter hauls. I fixed a single 60 meter rope from the top of the second pitch down to the top of Alpine Start (5.9), a nice looking, but short, corner with a tight hands crack. It was good I decided to do this because the bag got stuck within the first 10 feet of hauling. I rapped down, freed the bag, and continued the work with no further incidents.
The Supertopo guidebook lists a few options for pitch 3. I decided to take the steep flare chimney. It seemed to be the most direct and easiest hauling option. It was a fun climb, steeper than it looks. There was some cool stemming at the top. Again, I was fighting the Silent Partner for slack.
The pitch 3 anchors were two drilled angles. Somebody had used some climbing rope to add a fixed, equalized anchor to the pins. This rendered it impossible to clip any carabiners directly to the pins, which bothered me. The rope looked to be in good shape though, so I trusted it.
Here's a look at that anchor.
After hauling to the top of the third, I decided to quit for the day. I fixed my lines and rapped off. I was at the car by 4:30. It was a full day, but definitely at a lazy pace. I made it to the Visitor Center just in time to get an overnight permit.
The next day's challenge.
The next morning, I slept in a bit, due to nervousness. I probably didn't get started jugging until 8:30. I was ready to lead less than an hour later, still in the shade.
The first half of pitch 4 is a bolt ladder. The first bolt is pretty reachy and it is followed by an easy hook move. After the bolt ladder, the fun begins. Offset nuts and finger sized cams were the ticket for most placements.
As I worked into the crux of the fourth pitch, I came up on my first "tricky nut" placement. I put a #3 HB and it looked pretty great, I bounced it with my daisy a few times and it held so I started up my ladder. Before I completed the second step, pop!, the placement failed and I took a 4 foot daisy fall. It was my first aid fall. After the fall, I tried a #4 HB and it held fine.
Here's a look at the #4 HB that worked. If you look closely, you can see the "track marks" where my previous piece failed.
A few moves later, I was at another crux. High above, I saw a nice constriction, perfect for a DMM offset alloy. The constriction even had a small lip to hold the nut in. If I could only reach it... I decided to place an intermediate piece for a handhold so I could top-step to reach the placement. This strategy worked and I got a red DMM offset to sit perfectly. I tested once with a daisy bounce and started up my ladder. As I became head-level with the piece, I noticed a hairline crack to the right and below my piece. I thought to myself, this whole chunk of rock could come off one day. As you probably expected, at that moment the rock exploded in my face and I took a 20 foot ride, caught by my Silent Partner. I batmanned up the rope and tried again, getting a cam to work instead. I was becoming discouraged by this point and contemplated bailing, but decided to push forward. I cruised through a few more moves, one of them being an oddly placed red tricam, and back-cleaned most of them. Soon I came to yet another crux. I placed a medium sized HB and tested it. It seemed to be good so I climbed up the ladder. Right as I was getting ready to unclip my daisy from the previous piece, the piece I was weighting popped and I took an 8 foot daisy fall, a genuine factor 2, onto a .75 camalot. Fortunately the piece held, because I'd otherwise have gone for a huge whip due to my back-cleaning. After some finagling, I finished the pitch.
Rapping, cleaning, and hauling went easily. I pre-rigged my haul through the micro-traxion and rapped down on the haul line.
Pitch 5 went better. I was more wary of placements and had a better idea of what would hold. I decided to take a lunch break after finishing and hauling pitch 5.
The view down-canyon from the top of pitch 5.
Pitch 6 and 7 were much easier. They'd probably have gone mostly free if I were with a partner, but I aided them all the way through. It was fun hand jamming to help me top-step.
I forgot to pre-rig my haul after finishing the lead on pitch 6. When I finished cleaning, I decided to rig a quick Z-pulley with an ascender and a few slings. It worked well enough for me to the the haul line on the micro-traxion.
The anchor situation on Earth Orbit Ledge sucks. The drilled angles are on the middle of the ledge, 30 feet right of where pitch 7 ends. I decided to build a 4 piece anchor at the top of the pitch, and back it up with the drilled angles. Rapping down was easy from here and the hauling wasn't bad either.
Here's my belay cluster on Earth Orbit Ledge. I was pretty tired at this point.
I set up my sleeping situation in the dark. The ledge was much more angled than I expected, and in all the wrong directions. I ended up sleeping on a pile of rocks (with a pad, sleeping bag, and bivy sack obviously) because it kept me from rolling outwards. I clove hitched myself to my hand line so I wouldn't slide too much.
The sleeping locale.
Looking down at my truck.
I was slow getting ready the next morning. I had to flake out my ropes multiple times to get all the tangles out from my previous night's haste to eat, sleep, and drink. The rack was spread out between my gear anchor and the drilled angles.
I was tempted to lead the last pitch with only draws, because the topo said it was just a bolt ladder. However, my conservative side won over here and I brought a single rack of cams and nuts.
The pitch starts with some incredibly exposed 4th class traversing to the bolt ladder. These were scarier to me than the approach to Leaning Tower because there was 800 feet of air below you!
The first two bolts on the ladder are very close together, but the third one is significantly higher. So high, in fact, that I was unwilling to try to reach it. Fortunately, I had the rack. I was able to make a green C3 work for a handhold while I reached up to place a gold DMM offset. Once I was hanging on the nut, I realized that there had once been another pin here, but it was broken off.
The rest of the pitch went fine. I hesitated for a while on the final free moves, but once I committed they were easy.
Rapping back down to Earth Orbit was challenging. My haul line was very kinked and it didn't want to feed through the gri-gri. I ended up using my ascenders to pull myself over to the ledge.
Cleaning this pitch was exciting, to say the least.
Me, about to take my "spaceshot".
Looking down at the bag, getting ready for the swing.
Topping out wasn't very eventful. I spent some time re-organizing the rack and shuttling gear through the 4th class.
The descent was the scariest part for me. I'd never rapped with a bag before, so it was a learning experience the whole way. The first two raps were done backpack style. The second rap gets very steep and I nearly lost the bag. After that I "rode the pig" down. It was much easier this way. Five raps to the ground with double ropes and minimal down climbing.
-There were fixed webbing, slings, and rope at every belay anchor on the route. Many times this prohibited one from clipping the bolts/pins directly. This was very annoying. I considered cutting them out, but wasn't sure what is customary here.
-In retrospect, I should have fixed to the top of the bolt ladder on pitch 4 and blasted in a day. I think I lost at least 20-30 minutes on every pitch hauling. An alpine start would have put me on top with time to spare.
-I hauled two #5 Camalots up the whole climb, never placing them once. This was a waste of effort. I only needed a single #4 camalot.
-A triple rack from #1-#3 is sufficient for pitches 6 and 7 if you're okay back cleaning them.