Sunday, August 12, 2012

Lessons I learned while falling


I’ll never forget taking a leader fall.  The feeling of the rock slipping from my hand, watching the rope lifelessly coil overtop of itself, and the swelling in my ankle after smacking a ledge.  Even now the memory makes my gut wrench.  But I’m here, I’m ok, and I have some knowledge to drop.

So let me tell you something.  All those inspiring Nike commercials and Hollywood movies that glamorize an athlete who gets hurt and tries to make a comeback…  that’s complete crap.  There is no glory in pain, nothing romantic about it. No one is playing ‘eye of the tiger’ as you hobble 3 blocks on crutches to your friends wedding, arriving suit drenched in sweat, and have to wipe down with paper towels in the bathroom as other guests watch and wonder… “is that guy a hobo”?  There is no pride in receiving a plane ticket with the phrase: “Preboard on the basis of disability” written on it. 
Everyone is a little bit nicer to the man in crutches

Falling sucks.  Hurting yourself sucks even more.  And while I could simply tell you ‘my hand slipped,’ I’ve spent too many sleepless nights, replaying the moment in my head countless times to fool myself.  Here’s what I did wrong, and hopefully you won’t.

When your friends climb hard, and you feel like you have to as well, stop, drop and roll and cool that fire in your ego.  But if you really want to push your grade (which is cool) pick a climb at a crag that protects well and has clean falls.  And if that one is taken, try another.  And if that one is taken also, wait in line.  Don’t push your grade on a lower quality climb just because it’s available.

You will also want to stitch that route up tighter than an Armani suit.  Don’t leave half your rack behind because you want to save weight, or aren’t sure what you’ll need.  If you can’t manage a few extra pounds on a 40m climb, you either need to get in shape, chose an easier route, or stop climbing.  Also, don’t stop climbing.

If you’ve exposed yourself to a ledge fall, are having trouble placing gear, and your arms are getting pumped, don’t yell to your belayer “fuck it, I’m going for it,” and subsequently ‘go for it.’  Instead, and this is important, down climb.  And if you can’t down climb, mentally kick yourself for not placing a piece earlier, and hope there isn’t a sudden stop at the bottom of your fall.

We all make bad decisions.  Mine ended with a 20ft fall and a swollen ankle, and this qualifies me to give you some advice.  The more risk you take, the more extreme the consequences will be (see graph).  Every successive decision needs to be assessed based on the previous decisions.  And that was my biggest mistake.  Any single one of my decisions was not a horrible one, but bad decision after bad decision compounded, and well, now I have a swollen ankle.  

If you didn't pass differential equations, you might not
understand what I'm trying to tell you here


Monday, August 6, 2012

Squamish BC - Trip Report from Diedre, Boomstick Crack, and Sunshine Chimney


Talk to climbers in Squamish and ask them to recommend a fun route; over and over, the response will be the same: “Diedre.”  I had heard about Diedre so much, it was like she was everybody’s favorite prostitute.

“Yeah, Diedre is a good time, but gets really busy with parties.” 
“Diedre is a lot of fun, great for beginners.  You should bring lots of protection for practice.”
"You should totally do Diedre."

OK, so I guess I was going to have a date with Diedre too.


You remember that time when you were picking on your little sister in front of your friends, and then she violently pushed you back?  In your mind you’re thinking, “whoa, where’d that come from?"  And “if she kicks my ass, everyone will laugh at me.”  That’s how I felt climbing the first pitch of Diedre. 

Look closely and you'll see people smeared all over the route
The first pitch was supposed to be an easy 5.7 slab climb, I was supposed to just cruise up and own the pitch.  But after climbing almost 20m without a single opportunity to place gear, I was thinking, 'whoa, this is serious."  It was like… well it was like my little sister pushed me back and was about to kick my ass.  If I fell, it would be painful, and I’m almost certain people would laugh.

After slowly, gingerly making my way a few more feet, I finally slung a tree.  I then looked down and saw 3 guys walk up to the bottom of the pitch, nonchalantly throw on their climbing shoes (without actually tying their laces) and walk halfway up the first pitch before traversing right, out of sight. 

OK, what the hell guys… was that really necessary… just then?

A few meters later and I was at the top of the pitch, sharing bolts with another party. 

2nd pitch of Diedre
Before we had started the climb, getting roped up and slinging gear, a party hiked in behind us.  “Hey, what are you guys doing here” they had asked.
“Same thing you are, Diedre” I responded.
“OK, we’ll get in line” came the curt reply.

It’s a funny thing about climbers.  We love to share knowledge and recommend climbs.  We love to find the classics so we can check them off our list.  But when we arrive at the route, we’re surprised and always slightly offended to find somebody else already there.  Go figure.

The whole rest of the climb was the same story.  Parties were strung out like beads on a string.  It was as if someone announced that Reel Rock Tour would be having a showing at the top of Diedre and everyone wanted to be there first.  The lines of people were longer than a verse by Tupac.  At times I would start a pitch with legs numbed from hanging in the belay so long.

I was so frustrated with the delays I (accidentally) lead the last two pitches as one, subsequently running out of gear the last 20m, freaking myself out at the crux, and forcing Joryce to impromptu simul-climb behind me.  Note to self: don’t do that again.


From the top of Diedre we continued up Boomstick crack, a hallowed diagonally running crack that looks about ready to peel off off and tumble down the mountain at any moment.

Finding still more crowds, we decided to admit defeat and make way to camp.  On the way down, Joryce suggested taking a peak at Campground Wall, a section of short, 1-2 pitch climbs.  There we found Sunshine Chimney. The route followed an off-width, and then literally into the rock and came out the other end.

Joryce lead it, and the whole time he was laughing like a baby playing with a rattle.  “Oh man, this is fun” and “wow, wait till you see this move” he kept repeating over and over again.  His laughter was contagious, and at the belay I couldn’t help but smile.  I soon followed, and understood why he was having such a blast.

Exiting from the bowels of the chimney
It was the kind of fun you have in the summer as a kid, running through the sprinklers in your underwear or catching tadpoles in the creek.  And in the depths of the rock, I felt like a big kid, getting dirty inside Sunshine Chimeny.  Stemming with my body, jamming my arms deep into dark cracks, and spitting out the dust that would inevitably cover me after every move.

At the top of the climb, I slapped Joryce on the back.  “Good call man, I’m glad we did that.”
“Yeah, that was fun!” Came his reply.

While Joryce had a snack, I laid back, hands under my head and looked into the distance.  It was late in the day, and the sky was beginning to take on a blue-orange hue.  The water shimmered lazily and the mountains rolled in the distance. 

The day had started with aspirations of linking several climbs in a big multi-pitch day, but ended climbing at a humble crag; and that’s ok.  I was reminded that, for me, climbing isn’t about simply getting pitches under my belt.  It’s about the relationships I build and the simple joy of rediscovering the 5-year-old kid in me who still loves getting dirty.  The masses had Diedre that day, but Sunshine Chimney was all mine.  

Squamish as seen from Sunshine Chimney

Diedre- Beta

Pitch 1: 50-60m pitch.  Start up a slab and sling trees for protection.  Look for the obvious cracks for additional opportunity to place gear.  Aim straight for the obvious ledge with bolts that appears after the 2nd major crack.  Good belay stance on a ledge.  5.7

Pitch 2: From the bolts follow the prominent feature at a 45 degree angle left, then traverse left.  Don't climb too high here.  As you traverse off the 45 degree angle slope, you will notice a feature on the rock for good foot placements.  Bolted belay with good, comfortable stance. 5.6, though the start is the only tricky part.  There are no intermediate bolts.  ~10-15m

Pitch 3: Follow the obvious crack system to bolts.  Look for gear placements inside the crack, and on top of the adjacent rock feature.  The crux is a tricky move from the lower rock feature to the higher, adjacent rock feature.  Opportunities to lay back.  Gear up to #2 works well.  The belay is a semi-hanging belay.  ~50m, 5.8

Pitch 4: Continue up the corner in the crack system.  Gear placements similar to pitch 4.  Bolted belay, slightly more comfortable than previous belay, but only slightly. ~50m, 5.8

Pitch 5: Follow a low angle crack system on slab.  This pitch takes smaller gear, microcams and small nuts/tricams work well here.  Bolted belay, comfortable stance, 5.7

Pitch 6: The climbing on pitch 6 is very similar to pitch 5, follow a corner system up a slab.  However, the increase in difficulty rating (5.8) is due to two factors.  Opportunity to place gear is less, and there is a bouldery move at the finish.  Protect the finish with the existing piton or place gear or sling a sturdy root (or all three).  35-45m, 5.8  Belay off tree

Note: Recommend having smaller gear for this route finger tip to thin hand

Related links:

Diedre Trip Report
Calculus Crack Trip Report
Calculus Crack Beta



Saturday, July 28, 2012

Calculus Crack - Beta

Pitch 1: Climb through trees and over boulders.  Few vertical sections with fist and hand jams, slinging trees provide most of the protection. Big gear works well for this pitch.  Pitch one ends when you are facing a near vertical hand crack.  Build your belay and bring up second

Pitch 2: We went climbers left around the corner and did the 2nd pitch of St Vitus Dance by accident.  The real pitch 2 climbs a short hand crack and then 4th class terrain to a tree belay.  The 2nd pitch of St Vitus dance follows a longer hand & finger crack that is run out towards the end to bolts.  Bring big gear, double set of #1 - #3 and a #4 are good for this pitch.  In my opinion, this variation is more interesting, albeit sketchy (wet conditions made for little friction on the run-out section).

Pitch 3: Beautiful parallel lines of hand and fist jams straight up.  Clean rock, good pro, awesome friction, cool exposure.  Build a belay


Pitch 4: Crux pitch.  The start takes small gear, 2-3 microcams are good.  Tricky finger crack follows left around a hand crack until you reach a near vertical flake.  Build a belay.

Pitch 5: Climb the flake and the following hand crack to a slab.  Climber's right for runout but easy slab climbing to bolts.

Pitch 6: Long runout slab climbing, but pretty easy.  Hip belay while anchoring yourself to a tree

Note: The book gives this route 3 stars, but IMO it's a 4-4.5 star route.  Must do!

Squamish BC - Climbing Calculus Crack; A Trip Report (Kinda)

Squamish BC - Climbing Calculus Crack; A Trip Report (Kinda)


There are days when weeks of hard work come together in an effortless symphony.  When the motto “with hard work, nothing is impossible” rings true.  And you feel like you are, in the words of Leonardo DiCaprio, the “king of the world.”

This wasn’t one of those days.  I was floundering up the 4th pitch of Calculus Crack.  Two pitches below another climber had warned me that 5.8 leaders have a hard time with the finger crack on the 4th pitch.

You don’t say?

My hands were like a fish flopping around out of water as I slapped at the crack, the rock, anything to make some progress.  I slipped the rope through a draw, TAKE!

Oh yeah, I was on lead too.

Christina was patiently giving me a belay, smiling the way she always does, as if to say: don’t worry about it Saif, I got nowhere else to be. Sameer and Joryce (a Frenchman we had met at the climber’s campground) were climbing ahead of us.

I looked down, I had barely gone a few feet and my arms were already pumped… this was going to be painful.  So I did what any climber in my position would do.

“Christina, you’re a better climber than me, you want to just lead this one real quick?”
“There are two parties behind us, that will take too long.  You can do it” Christina responded as she sat onto the anchor.

Damn.

So I leaned back into the crack.  I jammed my right toe straight down into a constriction, smeared my left foot, and reached up with my right hand and pulled sideways on the crack.  Yes, it was as awkward as it sounds. 

Extend my leg, index and middle finger in a deep finger pocket, left foot jammed sideways into the crack, cam it by flattening the foot, right foot out for balance, right hand on a sloper, stand up. 

I grunted and cursed my way up the finger crack in glorious agony, inspecting each placement before I clipped a draw.  The end of the crack mellowed out to a near horizontal plane where I could stand up, flex my fingers, and curse Squamish.

Squamish, as seen from the Smoke Bluffs (top of Penny Lane)
At home, my desktop image is an aerial photograph of Squamish, BC.  It features a massive, 2000+ foot monolithic structure simply called "The Chief."  It dominates the landscape like Godzilla about to devour Tokyo.  There are climbs all over The Chief with routes dating back to the 60s.  When I first saw the picture, I knew one day I would climb there.

Two years, one flight, a call to Christina and Sameer each, and I was finally in Squamish.  However, the first two days there, we were forced to stare up at the rock as rain poured down all over our juicy granite, turning it into slick slime.

So when the rain finally stopped, and the sun dried out the rock, there was only one place to be.

Sameer on the first pitch of Calculus Crack
By now I was out of Christina’s sight.  The route followed left off the face of the chief and into the shade.  From so high up, the exposure made it seem as if we were climbing an arĂȘte.  The crack had opened up and allowed for consistent hand jams.  I was swimming.  My arms wind-milled up as I karate chopped into the crack and shoved my thumb into my palm; every hand placement was a belay.  On and on it went, and I was at peace.  For once I was able to take my mind off the intensity of the climb and just observe the exposure. 

The breeze had picked up slightly as it kissed the rock and howled down into the valley.  The granite cooled my sweating arms as I placed them into the crack.  I could see the top of an endless sea of moving green trees as they leaned left and right.  

But the magic of the moment didn’t last long.  I moved a few more steps and realized the hand jams disappeared and the climbing suddenly intensified.  A moment later I found myself lying back on a flake, using opposing forces to smear my feet into the rock while I pulled back on my hands.  I looked right and suddenly my heart was pumping pure adrenalin; I had run out the last 30 feet without a single placement.  A fall now would be disastrous.  

I quickly drew a pink tricam off my gear sling and shoved it into the flake.  Whip on a draw, clip the rope, breathe. 

For the moment I was ok, but I knew that somehow I had made a wrong move and that I should be climbing above the flake, not laying back on it.  I kept following the flake up and left and then found myself on high angle featureless rock.  It made a gradual slope, but there was nowhere for me to place gear, and I realized I was going to have to climb far above my last piece again. 

Christina cleaning the 4th pitch
So I moved slowly, methodically, balancing every step and testing every hold to make sure I was solid before I moved on.  Inside of me I could feel an overwhelming sense of panic and fear.  Around me, the exposure was suddenly scary.  I dared not look down at my last piece; my fear of heights would almost certainly paralyze me.  I shut down my peripheral vision, quieted the fearful voices in my head, and started talking to myself.

“Stay focused.” 
“One move after another, you got this.”
“You’re ok, just listen to your hands and feet.”

Push my left toe onto a small ramping feature.  Bend my knee overtop of my ankle.  Crimp with my right hand.  Gradually bring my weight on my left foot.  Reach up with my left hand.  Find a small ledge.  Push back on a vertical feature with my right heel.  Lift myself up.  Match my left foot with my left hand.  Hip into the rock.  Slowly, gradually, stand up.  Breathe a desperate sigh.  I was way out of my comfort zone.

And then, I found the most perfect hold.  It was as if God, while he was shaping the universe, designed a feature in the rock to fit my fist in the most perfect union of anatomical design and rock creation.  That piece of the rock rose out of the ground, from the depths of the earth’s core, just for me.

I slipped my hand into the crack, made a fist, and leaned back on my arms.  It was a beautiful moment; butterflies and bright yellow Jesus light could have burst from the seam. A sense of relief washed over me; I laughed off the tension, feeling it melt away from my body.  The panic and anxiety I had known were already a distant memory.

A few minutes later I was at the top of the pitch.  Sameer and Joryce had moved on.  For a moment I was by myself, a hanging belay on an isolated, exposed section overlooking an expanse of wilderness from hundreds of feet.  Above me the route climbed a flake before settling back into a hand crack; the route would give us one more pitch of slab after that before finally coming to an end.  I pulled up the remainder of the rope, and put Christina on belay. 

As she cleaned the route and I pulled up the slack, the rope made a whizzing sound slipping through the ATC, the carabiners clicked against each other as the friction caught.  Whizz, click; whizz, click; whizz click.  I could have been listening to Mozart, or Bach.  There’s something special about that peaceful moment between leads, when you’re by yourself, secured by an anchor you built, where you can let the noise of a lead just settle, and enjoy the silence.


From the top of Calculus Crack.  Left to right: Saif, Joryce, Sameer, Christina

Related links: 
Calculus Crack Beta
Diedre Trip Report