Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Old Man of Camelback Mountain, Camel's Foot and More

The time on the mountain went so quickly. It was about nine a.m. when I wrote the last post at Einstein's -- I figured I had about five hours, since I needed to be back home at two. But that actually meant less than three hours of exploring, an hour to hike back to the truck, and a hour total of drive-and-park time on each end of that. I managed to do a lot in those less-than-three hours, but not as much as I wanted.

Finding this gem of a rock formation, which I dubbed the Old Man of Camelback, was one the highlights. No doubt many people have noticed it before, but I'd never heard of it.

The weather was gorgeous, with clear, cool air and a slight breeze. Much of the early part of my hike-and-climb was in the shady north side of the head area, but I shook off the chill quickly as I headed up.

I warmed up by climbing up to the top of the Camel's Ear from the west side. Pictured here (below) is the ramp leading up to a vegetated area.

A couple of friends of mine and I took this pleasant detour a few years ago, and in roughly the spot where I snapped this shot we saw what looked like wisps of smoke rising from the bush up ahead.

What was it -- a fire?

Nope. Bees. They were swarming and seemed ticked off about something.

Going through them would have been suicidal, so we backed out the way we'd come up. I hadn't been to this spot since.

This time, there was no sign of bees. The mini-gully here is peaceful, with great views.

On the east side is the down-climb, a class-three, about thirty feet of easy climbing. But it's always more interesting coming down it without gaining the hindsight of having gone up it. The way the left side of the cliff slopes down swiftly to all-vertical, with the right side a non-comforting chimney that tapers off as it descends, the start of the down-climb doesn't come easily to the eye. Having not done it in a while, I felt a mild thrill as I moved into position for the first foot-drops. This is why I'm out here.

Camelback rock ranks low on the scale of sturdiness
for rock-climbing (overlooking, for the moment, its many quality
routes) because it's an ancient mud pile. The conglomerate-sandstone mix contains a primordial glue that allows magic things to happen, like this gravity-defying boulder.

(Below) Bobby's Rock: A nifty, orange-pink glob
of sandstone opposite a huge wall.

A fun ramp
on the way
up to the
Camel's Foot.

Standing from this point,
it's hard to believe that
an easy trail takes you safely
along the edge of the impressive,
northern-exposed drop-off. (Next
two pictures.)

I decided not to take this little trail,
which leads to the small maze of humps
on the western bluffs. Been there, done that,
and although it's a great place to be, I had
bigger ambitions.

Only one thing for a climber to do when he sees
a symbol like the one pictured below. I shoed up and messed around
on this rotten chimney for a few minutes, going up
ten feet or so before deciding that it was too sketchy.
It doesn't go anywhere too interesting, I don't think.
Protectable with medium-sized cams. Maybe I'll return
with a partner.

An amazing, tiny rock-hollow
on the Camel's Foot approach
caught my eye. When I saw the
picture, I thought the holes
looked like eye sockets. The
second "face" of the day.

Getting near Camel's Foot...


there. It's an impressive formation -- eye-candy. And two climbs on the south side, a 5.1, Camel's Foot, and a 5.8, Otherwise. I've never done either one because they're short. Might be an enjoyable way to pass an hour or so.

A sublime profile of Camelback's hump and... spines? Shot this from a down-sloping, gravelly outcrop as I tried to gauge whether it's possible to descend the steep gulch bordering the south-side head. It looks like a death trap. With two ropes, it would still be a double-rap, with the second one needing to be set up on the fly. No thanks. Besides, the bottom is someone's back yard.

That's the "Copenhaver Castle" in the distance there, with the turrets. It was up for auction a few months ago -- I'm not sure if it sold.

Next two shots: South cliff...

...and a wave of rock.

Finally, I quit screwing around and decided to locate some kind of connection from the Camel's Foot area to August Canyon. This is what I tried in 2008, but failed to find anything. The south-facing cliffs appear impassable without a Bosch drill and a bag of bolts, or maybe a rack of pitons and a hammer. That's not my typical style, of course.

I located a short gully, noticed a cairn piled on a rock shelf and the short face to climb, and thought maybe I'd discovered what I'd been looking for. How could I have missed this three years ago? I wondered. Possibly there was more brush then.

No matter. The eight-foot free solo, class four to 5.0 at the top, leads only to a dead end. The cliff that stopped me was gigantic, about two-fifty to the deck, affording a fantastic, bird's-eye view of Yellow Wall. I took a shot or two there, but the lighting wasn't right at all.

A minute after returning to the Bobby's Rock trail, I found myself cranking up to the base of Yellow Wall, wanting to see it from the ground-end. From my perch up high, I was dumbfounded at how steep and dangerous it looked, with that thought in juxtaposition with the memory of climbing it a few years ago with no rope.

During that free solo, I didn't top out on the stitches-like part -- it was simply too high and vertical. My back-off point was a good 50-60 feet. Now, I needed to look at it from the bottom again partly to judge how my next free solo on it might go. And I wanted to stretch my legs and lungs out on the ultra-steep approach.

I even had a mind to free-solo a ways up Yeller and try to recreate that delicious fear I remembered the first time I'd done it without a rope. After that experience I did climb Yellow Wall all the way with Scott, through the second pitch to the top of the Ridge Route plateau. But it's a good one for free-soloing, again, up to a point.

I knew there was an old beehive next to the base of the wall, complete with curtains of hardened beeswax, so I came closer only with caution, chest heaving from exertion. Damn. There they were.

I have seen the beehive sometimes active, and other times as empty as a skyscraper in a recession -- perhaps the critters go on vacation. On Saturday, the hive was thrumming with life. This is a true danger for people who might free-solo Yellow Wall, I believe. Unlike on Hart Route, which has all kinds of rappel anchor possibilities, the single-minded nature of the vertical stitches that make up the first 75 feet or so of the climb aren't that accepting of pro, and there are no bolts until the top. Down-climbing would be the only option. But it's not a bad option because it's easy.

I didn't feel like finding out how ornery the bees were that day and buggered out of there.

Now running short on time, I jogged over to the Headwall and cruised up the Walk Up, which I often consider a 5.0 but is labeled class four in all the books and Marty's guide. I climbed it in my hiking boots, so I guess it really is a class four. Down-climbed in my rock shoes, though.

Before I started the down-climb, I overheard a kid crying at the top of Rappel Gully. The boy's dad and dad's friend had gotten him up there, and he was scared out of his mind. They were trying to lower him on belay, but the boy -- about Annabelle's age -- didn't want to take that first step over the edge. I know that feeling -- heck, everyone knows that feeling. But the poor boy just cried and cried.

He came walking over just before I lowered myself to the ground on the down-climb, meaning he got over it. Good for him.

Then it was to time to go.

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