Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Fellows Hit the Crag

I took a couple of the fellows from work rock-climbing a couple of weeks ago and scared the bejesus out of them. Partly because of that, I consider the trip a success.

Fear wasn't the only thing Adele and Bryan discovered, I'm sure.

They're both from out of town and have never been to anyplace quite like Camelback. She's from Washington D.C.; he's from -- dang, I forget. It wasn't Libya, so it must be someplace that rarely gets as hot as it did on the day we went, that's for sure. He'd never been rock climbing before, whereas Adele had been to a rock gym once in the sixth grade.

The NT summer fellowship program put seven newly graduated college kids in Phoenix to learn about -- and do -- journalism. Just for kicks, I asked them if they wanted to go rock climbing, and only these two were nuts enough to come with me!

We were supposed to meet at the parking area near the Village at 44th and C-back at 6 a.m., but they were a half-hour late. I didn't mind, but they paid for it later as the temperature rose. This was before the bad heat of this week and a week before my hike with Greg. And, naturally, I picked a crag that's in the shade for most of the morning. Still, conditions were less than ideal for newbies. The heat was the least of their worries, though.

I sent Bryan up Rappel Gully, a 5.4R, after setting the top-rope. He gained about 25 feet before asking if he could come down. "No way," I told him, gently. "See if you can get a little higher."

He dutifully advanced three feet, then turned around and said, "Can I come down now?"

"Okay, I relented. "I'm not going to torture you."

I think that was the not just the end of the climb for him, but the end of his rock-climbing career. Heck, I know it's not for everyone, and the guy showed spirit getting roped up and climbing as high as he did.

Adele proved to be a budding Lynn Hill. She topped out on the Gully in decent time, cruising the vertical crux at the end after a few words of guidance from me.

After I pulled down the rope I asked her if she wanted to do something bigger and more adventurous, and to my happiness, she was game.

I looked around. There weren't a lot of great options for us, considering that I couldn't put either of them on belay while I led. Although I let her belay me on top-rope up Rappel Gully to make it quicker for me to take down the anchor, I didn't have the same confidence in her when it came to leading. Nothing against her -- but with an untrained belayer, that could be even riskier for me than free-soloing because of the possibility she'd pull me off the rock accidentally.

I decided to free-solo the first part of George Route and take her up that.
To my chagrin, the free-solo turned out to be much trippier than I recalled from my forays up there three years ago, when I was looking for the spot where those two dudes got rescued. Near the top of the ascent things get kind of blank, and I was happy I had my rope with me. Unfortunately, I also totally forgot that at that first ledge, there's absolutely no decent pro possibilities without a rack of gear, which I didn't have. All I'd carried up was one end of the rope and a couple of slings, but there was nothing to sling. Not a huge deal, since I could always downclimb the route, but it was slightly embarrassing to realize I couldn't do what I'd intended.

Plan B: I knew from my previous trip up George Route that there was a bolt anchor with chains at the top of a cliff just west of where I was, still along what is basically George Route. That was a little further over than I thought and once again, the free-soloing was unexpectedly risky. Fact is, I was in much better climbing shape three years ago from my weekly gym routine, which is no more. But I got there, found the anchor, set up a TR and rapped down.

Adele boldly climbed nearly to the top, stopping only at about the 70' mark where the crag got very vertical. From the ground, it looked like at least 5.2 at that point. Bad me -- sending a newbie up on something I'd never climbed before. Ah, well, it was just a TR. But there was a catch -- the whole way up, as is typical for uncleaned Camelback routes, Adele was stepping on loose holds and gravel that would come raining down on me. Then, a biggie: One of her main footholds exploded about 50 feet up, sending a baseball-sized rocks toward me. One whizzed within a foot or two of my head. Scary! (And exhilarating! Honestly, it was the highlight of my day, though I did feel a bit lucky. Had one of those caught my unhelmeted skull, I'd be typing this from a hospital room, at the least.)

Adele proved herself to be every bit the adventurewoman she claimed she wanted to be. I hope she continues a "career" in the mountains.

No comments: