Posts Tagged ‘Zowie’

A Quick Zowie

September 1, 2010

For August 28, 2010, it was another bad weather forecast.  This time we chose Zowie for its short approach (1.5 hours) and short climb (6 short pitches) that, combined, would allow us to beat the 40% chance of rain after noon.

The only problem with Zowie was the 5.8+ finish on the easiest route to the summit. There was a time when that was no problem; but, we haven’t climbed anything harder than 5.7 in a long time. Brian remembered that we could bail from the bottom of the crux pitch, so we decided to go for it.

Approach to Zowie & Wham

We started hiking at 4:45am on a clear night from a nearly empty parking lot.  The trail went faster than the week before, and so the sun didn’t come up until just before we left the trees.  Heading toward Zowie, we left the trail soon after leaving the trees; we turned left to cross the Andrews Glacier drainage creek, and then hiked uphill to the base of the climb.

I’d done Zowie at least three times before.  The first climb of Zowie (7.27.1997) was up the left side of the South Face with a true south face finish. I don’t know the route name; I just climbed where Mark indicated.  The second climb of Zowie (9.21.2001) was the standard South Face route (that ends on the East face), or, at least Brian and I thought so at the time. The third climb was in August 2003 when Brian and I redid the standard South Face route except for a variation on the last pitch where we traversed back to the south face to climb to the summit.

This time we’d repeat the standard South Face route although, this time we’d find a better path, that stayed on the south face until the final pitch.

We stopped at the base of the climb to eat a bit of breakfast. Oddly, neither of us could remember the actual start to the climb.  The topo didn’t seem to match the rock; but since we could see the big chimney that we had to climb to reach the big ledge, it didn’t matter.

I took the first pitch so that Brian would lead the crux pitch.  I traversed along a seam in the rock to get below the big chimney, and then belayed on a nice ledge below the “V”. It was rated 5.5 but felt harder in a few spots; I supposed I just wasn’t climbing well.

Brian then ran the rope up the chimney.  We took the lefthand part of the “V”.

Once on the big ledge, we moved the belay to below the dihedral/chimney. I used tricams to set the belay to I could have all the cams.  I had a feeling that I’d need all the cams on the climb.

The third pitch felt hard.  It was very steep with great holds, and since my hands were way out of shape, great holds on steep terrain eventually felt like bad holds on steep terrain.  At least the protection was good.

Once at the top of the dihedral, the ledge looked familiar. The topo showed the route continuing up the chimney, but it didn’t look familiar to me. I yelled down to Brian and he remembered traversing right. I thought I should follow the route this time and climbed up into the chimney to see if I could make it work. The only problem was my backpack and my big body (215 lbs) fitting into that tight space. But it went.

Brian wasn’t convinced that it was the real route, but if it wasn’t, it should be.

Brian took the 4th pitch.  He stayed on the south face, near the east edge; he climbed past one ledge and belayed on the second. The crux of his pitch was an excellent 20-foot off-width crack, where we found and cleaned a fixed nut.

I took the 5th pitch, my last of the day.  The topo said to traverse to the east side and then climb up cracks to the base of the ….  But when I traversed over to the edge and looked over, it didn’t look right. As I moved back toward the belay, I noticed a fixed nut near a giant flake about 10 feet above me, on the south face.  It struck me that I might be able to climb that flake and the rock above…and I could clean the nut.

It was a great pitch! The climbing was awkward, but otherwise easy (5.5ish). I stayed on the south face until reaching the bottom of the summit block; I climbed NE over some blocks to reach the normal belay below the crux.

Still, Brian had a big job to do.  He had to run the rope up to the summit, and that would take some doing for an old guy.

Remarkably, he did a great job.  He got all the way to the dead-vertical part, 10 feet from the top, before needing a rest.  After a short rest, he made it to the top. And, then it was my turn.

I started up the initial wall.  It looked hard, and was certainly harder than anything climbed on the day.  I made it up to the ledge below the hard crack, and then continued up past the pins and to Brian’s last piece of protection before succumbing to gravity.  My hands were gone.

I was surprised to feel the grip of panic as I hung from the ropes; out of practice, I suppose.  I was able to put it out of my mind and just focus on helping my hands recover. But they wouldn’t come back.

After a couple minutes, I decided I would just try to move up a a few feet.  I did this a couple times to reach the top. My hands were so bad I was worried I couldn’t hold the rope on rappel.

The weather, which had been good all day, finally turned ugly.  We rappelled into the backside without incident and then scrambled down to the final rappel with only the miserly of scrambling down loose scree.

We continued the scrambling down the gully to reach our packs, where we stayed to eat until a few drops of rain fell out of the sky.

The light drizzle continued for about 30 minutes as we made the 1.5 hour hike back to the trailhead.  We arrived at 3:30pm for an 11 hour round-trip.

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May 20, 2010

Hike to Wham

Rocky Mountain National Park is my favorite playground.  And, I am not alone in feeling that way.  The secret to finding great alpine adventure unspoiled by throngs of people in RMNP is to start early and to seek out the rock less climbed. This trip report is about reaching a bit too far, a bit too casually to climb Wham, the ugly twin of the Zowie pinnacle on Otis Peak.

Anyone climbing Sharkstooth or Andrews Glacier has seen the fantastic pinnacles hanging off the south side of Otis Peak. Most people just keep on going, but I and a few others have had the pleasure of climbing Zowie. It is a smaller version of the Petit Grepon with the same exposure and great climbing, but with far fewer people competing for a place in line (generally, none) and a good deal less rock to climb to reach the top. I’ve climbed it three times whereas I’ve only climbed the superior Petit twice due to justifiable fear of crowds.

And to avoid lawsuits for lack of disclosure, I’ll mention that there is something terrible about Andrews Creek below Zowie that facilitates the birthing of massive clouds of mosquitoes. One trip in particular represented the worst mosquito event in my life, and I grew up in South Florida. I still blame that day for my serious bout of West Nile Virus in 2003.  Consider yourself warned.

Approach to Zowie & Wham

On our last visit to Zowie in the summer of 2003, Brian and I gazed over at Wham, Zowie’s next door neighbor, and agreed that we should do it before returning for another ascent of Zowie. Brian broached the subject in September of that year, but I was afraid it was a loose mess and didn’t want to waste a day.  Nearly a year later, Brian’s persistence paid off and we selected Wham for the Saturday, August 7, 2004.

The only worry was that Wham would be too short and easy (5.7) to fill the day; the plan was to bag Wham and then re-climb Zowie (5.8+).

August 6, 2004
How about Wham tomorrow?  It’s fairly short.  If we’re feeling fast maybe we could redo Zowie afterwards.

For better or worse, Wham turned out to be more than an appetizer.

We left Boulder at 3:30am for RMNP.  We started hiking at 4:50am and quickly made our way up the trail toward Loch Vale and then Andrews Glacier before turning off the trail just after leaving the trees.

The start of Wham

We crossed Andrew Creek and ascended toward Zowie, winding our way through the trees and small cliffs. Once out of the trees, we aimed toward Wham and made our way to the gully between Zowie and Wham.  This was infrequently visited terrain; there were no clues about the start. We figured the real start was on top of the shoulder, so we just took the nearest nice looking line that led there.

Reaching the shoulder, we found it was covered in dwarfish trees.  Brian remembers it as a “big shoulder plagued by trees”.   We had to bushwhack our way to the base of the pinnacle; the trees grabbed the rope so badly Brian had to untie before bushwacking. We should have tried to climb directly to the spot where the pillar meets the shoulder.

Finally, we could start the climb.  The guidebook merely said to go up the South Face; over the years we’ve mostly found that to mean it is obvious, but other times it has meant the guidebook author doesn’t know (didn’t do the climb).  We hoped for the “it is obvious” option, but it wasn’t. I remember sitting down and studying the rock, but I couldn’t figure out where the 5.7 line was or even how to get off the ground without performing death-defying acts. In a desperate effort to save the day, I offered the notion of bailing and climbing Zowie instead.

Brian refused to be denied.

Brian recalls:

From the runt trees, the line was a not-too-steep dihedral with a few loose-looking holds.  Again and again I started on it just to find that it magically steepened at my touch.  Each time, I came down and looked at the even steeper route to the left, then discarded that idea.  That one just looked very sustained with no chance of success.  Finally we were ready to bail, and I decided we might as well risk one tricam on the left line.

Sure, the line seemed impossible, but the placement was bomber, so why not?

I hoisted myself up and stared at the next 3 feet.  Hmm, more good cracks, Ok, we’ll just risk one more nut so I can see around the corner.  And on it went for the next 30 minutes and 120 feet, until I looked at the depleted rack and relenting angle of the face and realized the we were actually going to make it.  Not only that, but we’d get our rack back, too.  All I had to do was somehow scratch out a belay and haul Joe and the metal up.

The last pitch was easier, but just as dramatic as the face sharpened up into a ridge of bouldery steps.  That was the best pitch, knowing that nothing could stop us.

Our winding route up the South Face of Wham. Photo taken from Zowie.

We made it. But it sure didn’t feel like 5.7. Maybe we didn’t do the correct route, but we sure tried to do so.

We sat on the summit for a while enjoying our success on our unexpected adventure.  Clearly, we wouldn’t be visiting Zowie.

When it was time to head down, I dug out my notes on the descent I collected from my old Gillette guide (the one I swore I would never use again after my fiasco on Northcutt-Carter):

Several long rappels west into gully.

I looked over the edge to the west.  It looked like a long, long way down — too long even for a double rope rap. Brian and I looked around for a better line but couldn’t find one. I said I’d go down and take a look, hoping to find something, anything.  I rappelled over the edge and spent 30 minutes working around from the west to the north side before finally finding a decent spot on the north side to build a rap station for the 2nd rappel.  Brian recalls:

Joe rapped down the left side and then spent a half hour looking for the next rap while I was on top wondering what the heck was going on.

But we still weren’t out of it. We couldn’t figure out how to get back to the base. We hiked around to the West side, thinking that the 3rd rap must be there.  But we found nothing useful.  It was all loose, steep rock split by a big ledge that provided only false hope for an escape.

We went back to the North side again and carefully worked our way down the gully leading west (toward Zowie) below the ledge. It required a couple 4th class downclimb moves, but it went.

Then we scrambled south toward the bottom of the gully between Zowie and Wham. The terrain was serious enough to require a belay for the final 100 feet to reach the edge of the final cliff where we found a rap anchor with an ancient biner that seemed to be made of lead (heavy, soft metal).  I replaced it with a modern aluminum biner and we escaped to the base of the climb.

Naturally, the rope got stuck and required some delicate scrambling among loose rocks. It was a relief to finally escape the grasp of that little pinnacle that we had so little respect for a mere 8 hours earlier.

The path less traveled sometimes leads to some serious shit (see all axioms).

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