Posts Tagged ‘Lumpy Ridge’

Scared to Death on Pear Buttress

September 1, 2010

On July 5, 1992, I clawed my way up Pear Buttress in Lumpy Ridge, Estes Park, Colorado.  This was my first multi-pitch climb and was significant otherwise for two important aspects of my climbing style:  Ignorance and Fear.  And, it was nearly the last climb I ever did.

My first multi-pitch rock climb: Pear Buttress (5.8) on The Book

I’ll start with ignorance. I didn’t know anything about rock climbing.  I had bluffed my way into an ‘Intermediate’ level class because I was afraid of being bored in a ‘beginner’ course.  I was a fool; I started my climbing career with a 5.8 classic.

My ignorance accounted for the fact that I selected my street shoe size when asked what rock shoe size I wear.  What did I know about rock climbing shoes?  My feet swam in rock shoes built for Michael Jordan…and did not hurt me one bit.  In fact, I could not begin to understand the complaints from my fellow climbing students whenever we descended in our rock shoes later in the week-long course.  Also, it explained why I had no ability to stand on anything smaller than a sidewalk.  As a ‘Leg Hauler’, I did more pull-ups that day than I had done in my life to-date.

Still, I was able to do it, somehow. My ability to exceed my physical limitation was related to the second important aspect of my climbing style.  Fear.

For the 1st time in my life, I knew stark terror.  I discovered that I had a fear of heights. Living in flat Florida, I just didn’t know.

The start of Pear Buttress

On the first pitch, I followed Topher, my CMS guide up the standard start.  We went up the slab right of a giant flake and then quickly stepped left to get to the flake. It formed a perfect hand crack (5.7) that was good enough even for a climber without any technique.  Once at the top of the flake, I attempted to follow thin cracks (crux) up to a sloping ledge where Topher built a belay. The key was a little ‘crystal’ for my right foot that I needed to step up on to reach a hand crack.

I couldn’t do it; my foot kept slipping off.  After 5 or 6 unsuccessful attempts, I felt my first sensation of being “gripped’. I felt terrible about failing and about ruining the climb for everyone else.  My vision tunneled and my other senses began to shut down as my mind went into melt-down, just like Colossus when presented with an unsolvable problem (“what happens when an unstoppable object hits and immovable object?”).

A fly buzzing about my head seemed to be tormenting me in my life’s weakest moment.  It was the Devil.

I just wished it would all end so I could go home and say that I tried rock climbing but did not like it.  Topher only said, over and over, “try again”.

In a fit of anger, I managed to step up and reach into the crack.  Thank God.

The rest of the climb went pretty much the same:  I yelled out “falling” whenever I thought the possibility was high and tried to keep to myself any thoughts of how Pear Buttress would be the one and only rock climb of my LONG life.

But first I had to finish.

On the second pitch, we followed the ledge up and left to the edge of the face, then cut back right into a crack which we followed to a belay on a smaller ledge (5.4).

The third pitch followed a hand and finger crack above the belay for 100 feet (5.8).  By this time, my hands and fingers were just hamburger…I painted the route with my blood, and still have some of the scars.  The pitch finished with a traverse right under a small roof to a belay on another ledge.

The fourth pitch was easy going as we climbed toward a ‘cave’…but the face climbing to reach the awkward belay was nearly too much.

Finally, we traversed out of the cave to reach the greatest amount of exposure the world could present (I thought), but a short climb to the top got me out of harm’s way. When I pulled my body up and over the top and shook Topher’s hand, I had an overwhelming sense of satisfaction come over me that was unmatched until the birth of my 1st child nearly 10 years later.

Topher bringing up another of the students to the top of the Pear Buttress route.

I had just completed the most physically and emotionally demanding effort of my life … and I was going to live to tell about it.  I “knew” in my head that this climb would be my last; but my heart couldn’t forget that feeling…that overwhelming sense of satisfaction.

I still haven’t.

See First Alpine Adventure trip report (the climb done on Sharkstooth at the end of the week-long class.

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Lumpy Orange Julius

June 21, 2010

Okay, okay.  The title is a bit misleading, but I felt a little less than myself when trying to come up with a title.  I made do; I hope you’ll do the same.  This is a trip report about a misadventure on the Bookend crag at Lumpy Ridge climbing the classic rock climb, Orange Julius (5.10b).  It is a great climb, I hear; I can personally attest to the 1st and last pitch, which is all we did of the route.

The weekend before, we had successfully dodged trains and unsuccessfully dodged poison ivy in an unsuccessful attempt to climb on Mickey Mouse Wall near Eldorado Canyon.  After finding a “Raptor Closing” sign on the rock, we decided to make the best of what was available, some hard (5.10ish) face climbing on a few bolted routes we found nearby.  With that success, we felt confident to try something new (and hard) at Lumpy Ridge.  Brian picked Orange Julius.

On June 20, 1998, we hiked into Lumpy’s Bookend area and did a warmup climb on The Great Dihedral before starting up Orange Julius.

It was an epic.

Our unintended variation of Orange Julius

Pitch 1

Brian led the first pitch, which was the official crux of the climb, rated at 5.10b (very hard for normal people and one of the top 3 difficult routes I’ve ever done). Oddly, he struggled to get off the ground, but soon was cruising.  He ascended the dihedral and then used thin, wet face holds to traverse left out from under the roof.  The nice horizontal crack at the top of the face (under the roof) provided excellent placements for pro.  Once out from under the roof, he moved higher and found a nice belay behind a tree. I was impressed with how easily he moved past the crux; it gave me hope that the climbing was easier than the rating.

After a moment or two, Brian yells down to announce that the blue rope is stuck and he could only give me a belay on the green rope (we use a double rope system). Great.

I did a layback move to get past the ground level difficulties, and made good time up the dihedral to the roof. I then examined the rock under the roof to see what kind of hand I’d been dealt.  My high hopes for a moderate traverse were dashed immediately.

The holds were very thin and very wet.  I didn’t see any way my shoes could stick to that thin razor of an edge protruding from the rock face that I had to use, and my hand holds were worse. And everything was slick with water. I had to admire Brian for his grace, but then I realized that he had a top-rope!  The gear was above his head when he did the crux.  I had already removed the piece in the roof that protected these thin moves, and the next piece on the green rope (blue was stuck, remember) was 15 feet directly to my left; if I fell, I was going to swing a long way before smashing into the rock.

So, I had to do it.  The sequence was step out onto the wet, razors, and then step through to the next set of wet, razors, and then grabbing for a bucket.  Oh shit!

Okay, I’ve done stuff like this before, I can do it! (yeah, right; I’d done it once or twice, when dry, and not facing a big fall).

1-2-3, step, and step, and reach….made it!  How’d I do that?  Sticky rubber is truly a miracle.  I love sticky rubber!

I then cleaned up the rest of the gear, including the one that was all jammed up with the blue rope. I joined Brian at the belay and we exchanged some prideful notes on the crux pitch.  It was my turn to lead next; I was so pumped full of adrenaline that I didn’t bother to look at the topo in my pocket.  I just started climbing up the rock.

We wouldn’t see the Orange Julius route again for several hours.

Pitch 2

I went straight up the crack above me looking for a traverse right; what I should have done was quickly head right.  But I was just climbing along without thinking, and was happy as a lark.  That is, until, the good rock ran out.

I came to a mantle move that didn’t seem to lead anywhere. I didn’t want to have to reverse a mantle (and I hadn’t been able to place gear in a while), so I looked around for a better path; there wasn’t one.  So I took the mantle and then started feeling around the bulge to the left for holds; the rock above and to the right was blank.

I felt a crack, so I blindly stuck my foot around the corner and jammed my toe in the crack to balance my reach around to place some protection.  Delighted that I wouldn’t have to fall a long way, at least for a while, I made the move around the bulge and continued up.  The higher I got, the less protection I found and the dirtier (read: not climbed often) the rock became. My mind finally started working, and I started to realize that something was wrong.

I made another mantle…8 feet above my last protection…I put in a very bad TCU and then made a 5.9 crack move to a ledge…now 15 feet over my last good protection…and all the while thinking that my gratitude for chalk bordered on the religious. And looking up for some salvation, I could see bolts!  I’m saved!

My desire to live was high as I crept up a sloping slab of grit covered rock to reach the ledge with the bolts.

Brian followed quickly and offered me his highest possible compliment under the circumstances, “I bet that was scary!”  What I mean is he couldn’t rightly offer me a ‘nice lead’ complement when I really screwed the pooch.

Pitch 3

Brian then took off up some nasty off-width. He found the right path, but didn’t have enough big gear to stay in it; so, he stepped left and worked up some overhanging rock with good holds to reach a good ledge atop a pillar.

I followed quickly, but begged off taking the next lead. It was getting late and God only knew what rock was above us; we needed our best climber on lead, if we were going to have our best chance to make it out alive.

Pitch 4

As we were getting ready for Brian’s lead, the rope pile slipped off the ledge.  Brian asked if we should restack the rope; I looked over the ledge and saw that it was merely hanging straight down, not caught on anything.  I said ‘no’, it will be okay.  Brian accepted my judgment and started up the 4th pitch.  The Utter Fool!

As he was climbing, the rope was giving me more and more trouble.  It was getting friction on the rock below somehow; but I kept working on it enough to feed Brian the rope he needed….right up to the moment that the rope got fully stuck below me.

I yelled up to Brian to see if he could get off belay to let me fix the rope. I could barely make out what he was saying until I finally understood that he was saying ‘no’. I pulled like madman and managed to get enough slack to let Brian reach a belay.

But even with both hands available, I couldn’t work it out.  I managed to pull in enough slack on one rope to rappel over the edge to clear the jam.  It was overhanging, so it wasn’t easy to reach the problem.  I finally managed to work it out, but then I had to climb back to the belay station while giving myself a belay; I would climb a bit and then take in the slack and re-tie in.  The climbing involved some hard face climbing and a pendulum, but I made it.

And then I had to climb up to the next belay; well, at least this part was on a good belay.  The hardest part was a dead vertical section with thin holds.  Normally, the pro is placed before a hard section, but this time Brian had really wedged in a brown tricam right at the pitch crux.  I worked on it until my hands gave out; then I worked on it while hanging on the rope.  I still couldn’t get it out; I really hate it when Brian places tricams like nuts instead of cammed.

I was already in a foul mood from the stuck rope; I just left it.

When I reached the belay, I told Brian that I left that damn tricam behind because it was placed badly.  He grinned and said, ‘that was a hard section, huh?’  I agreed, and then he said, ‘that’s where I was when you asked if I could get off belay’. Touche.

Pitch 5

We figured we were back on route, finally.  All that was left was a 5.7 chimney that led to a bunch of easy but exposed scrambling.

It was a hell of a day. I really have to be more careful.

Someday I’d like to really climb Orange Julius; I hear it is a great climb.

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