So after watching too many videos on the internet of people climbing hard trad cracks, I decided that I needed a project. Something really hard. After a little poking I found the perfect candidate. A 70' finger crack on the Little Twin Owls in Lumpy. It was perfect because it was:
1) Hard! Desperate, insecure, painful, slick, overhanging finger crack. Rated 5.11b but generally accepted as a sandbag so probably closer to hard 11.
2) One pitch and I could scramble to the anchors, so I didn't have to worry about leaving gear
3) I saw a picture of Lynn Hill on it
4) I could aid it and have enough cams that size to keep the "freak out" level low
5) Approach, while about a mile long has a minimal amount of hills.
So we packed the gear and headed out to receive our beating. I knew that there was going to be a lot of hanging on gear, aiding, and top roping. But as usual, what really happened was quite unexpected.
After a brisk 20 minute hike we dropped packs at the base and took stock of what we were in for. Here is a pic. The route is the obvious crack arching towards the left.
After some discussion, I racked up and got ready to start off. Here I am realizing how much this is going to hurt.
I reached up and placed a small cam as high as I could and clipped it. I managed to find a sloppy hand jam and reached up, desperately looking for a finger lock. I found a rattly layback kind of hold and moved my other hand up for what looked to be a sinker lock but was not. The crack is kind of back in a groove, making it hard to get any locks in. Then my feet popped off and I was sailing back towards earth. Molly caught me but I was just a few inches off the ground so she lowered me. This was going to be hard and painful.
Then something strange happened. Molly asked if she could lead it. So, after getting only one piece in (which I placed from the ground) I gave the sharp end over to Molly and we racked her up.
And up she went! She mostly aided the crack but she made headway. After about 25 feet she came back down and let me have another crack at it.
I took the rack, tied back in and took off. Even on top rope, the climbing was desperate and I ended up grabbing gear through much of it. I got to Molly's high point and realized that I was not having much fun. Over Christmas I jammed my finger climbing with Joe. The finger is still swollen and sore at times but I thought it had mostly healed. In hind sight, perhaps a finger crack like this was not good for it. It was throbbing and hurt to bend. I managed to place another stopper higher in the crack but could not clip it. Disgruntled, I asked for the dirt.
We discussed our options. I was ready to scramble up the back of this thing and clean our gear on rappel but Molly wanted another go at it. So she racked up again and hoisted to her high spot. I am not sure how long it took her but she made it up another 20 feet or so before the sun started threatening to set.
So, after a valiant effort Molly asked for the dirt and I set off to scramble up the back of this thing with a rope and something to rappel with. This also turned into somewhat of an epic. We were climbing on what was essentially two towers of granite, each about 70 feet tall. On one side there were a series of ledges that one could negotiate to get near the top. For the last 15 feet or so, you actually climb a widening chimney between the two towers. As you get higher, the towers tend to round over, making the chimney wider and wider until you have to make an exposed move to get on top of one or the other. The tower I had to get on top of was no wider than the back of a horse. Once you mount this stone horse, you have to scoot along the ridge for about 10 feet before you reach the safety of the anchors. Now if this scooting was only a few feet off the ground, it would be no big deal. However, when you are looking at 70' of air on either side... well, it is a big deal. I sat in that chimney between the towers for a long time, thinking about my options. To go back down and finish aiding the crack would put us well into darkness. Between me and all the scooting to the anchors, there were absolutely no cracks or any form of protection. Freaky. In the end, I hatched a plan that was shaky at best. I tied into one end of the rope and threw the other end down to Molly on the ground, where she put me on belay. However, between her and I there was nothing but a sickening arch of rope. No gear so a fall off her side of the tower was not an option. However, if something were to go wrong during the dreaded scoot I could bail off the opposite side of the tower and Molly could catch me with the rope, assuming the rope stays crossing over the top of the tower. It was the best we could do so I pushed down the dread an climbed onto my stone horse.
It was actually quite casual. The scoot was over in a few seconds, there was plenty of stuff to hold on to, and at the end of the scoot there was a nice place to sit and leisurely hook into the anchors. Next time I could probably do it without a rope, as long as there is no wind! After a quick rappel down the crack and some cleaning of gear, we were packed up and headed back to the car.
The day did not really go as planned but I would still mark it as a success. I was hoping for a couple day project but this one looks like it could take much longer. Plus, I'll have to wait for my finger to heal a bit more. I was thrilled to see Molly volunteer to hop on the sharp end of a hard trad lead. It shows me that her confidence is growing. Plus aiding hard stuff is a great way to learn how to trad climb.
Until next time....