Thursday, July 26, 2012

Damn It Feels Good to be a Gangsta

The Bugaboos are only two weeks away, and the trip is looming in my conscience like the huge granite spires waiting for us over 1,200 miles away.  

Unlike past trips, where I did way too much research, created extensive tick lists, and obsessively charted out rest days, I am showing up with almost no goals.  This makes the trip seem deceptively relaxing.  Although the technical nature of the climbing is less demanding, the logistics, and cumulative effects of long approaches, climbing 20 pitches in a day at altitude will probably crush me.  The only goal I do have is to show up, have some fun, climb some beautiful stuff, take lots of pictures and try not to hold my partner back.

Tan Buttresses.  Our route goes up the sunny face to the right of the leftmost large shadow.
So as a last ditch effort to prepare for the Bugs, Ben Collett and I headed up to the Tan Buttresses on Mount Evans and put up a new route.  The goal was to spend time at altitude, and establish something ground up, on an unexplored and impressively steep section of the buttresses.

Ben approaching the Tan Buttresses.
Two things made this route more memorable.  At the base of the route, I realized that I had forgotten my belay device.  So we decided that the second would be belayed with a Munter.  I have been climbing for 17 years, but I had just coincidentally learned the knot a few weeks ago driving home from Utah.  Second, Ben convinced me not to bring any water.

Old school!  HTFU!
The first pitch headed up a left leaning dihedral.  Fun moves and a few crack transitions led to a wet chimney which topped out on a grassy 4th class ledge where we set up an anchor.  I would say this pitch was 5.9.

Ben on Pitch 1.
Since the rock above us look questionable, we decided to follow the vegitated ledge up and left in search of a more inspiring line.  After scrambling for 80 feet, I was forced to climb a 20 feet 5.7 dihedral.  Barely able to pull up rope I constructed an anchor on a small green ledge below a steep, broken corner.  Not the best pitch but it got us in position.

Pitch 3 (House of Cards) turned out to be a much cleaner than it appeared.  Although we trundled a few blocks, most of the pitch was steep and airy with blocky features and lots of good gear.  The top half of the route follows a large, lower angle corner with multiple cracks to the base of a pretty gray headwall.  We thought it was around 5.10b.

Ben starting up Pitch 3.  Note the loose looking blocks.
Ben on the House of Cards Pitch.
Higher up.
The last pitch follows a pretty finger and hand crack that breaks left from the large chimney system onto a steep gray head wall.  Riddled with uncertainty, I cast off into a series of discontinuous, splitter cracks that undulated between fingers and hands until I reached a large pegmatite band.  To my horror, the crack pinched off.  On the brink of panic, I clawed past a slopey offset feature and with choss raining down on Ben, made a few face moves to reach more cracks.   With every point of contact crumbling beneath me, I realized that the next set of cracks were almost 15 feet away.  Freaking out, I noticed some large features, so I followed them to the right towards the chimney.  Then, my brain froze, my body started down climbing, and my mouth said "Take".  And all the sudden, the madness stood still while the disappointment gathered.  I hung for a moment, and then did the 5.10 escape moves to get into the chimney where good gear, solid rock and a steep hand crack lead over a roof to an easy and well protected chimney.  Adrenaline makes it hard to rate things, but I would say the 4th pitch was 12a.

Starting Pitch 4.  The Gangsta Pitch.

Stemming like a Gangsta.

Pulling into the chimney.  You can see how the crack continues up the steep face above where I broke right.  Harder variation?
Topping out, all I could think about was my throbbing toes, my nagging dehydration headache, and how I had cracked under pressure.  We grabbed our stuff and started hiking out, which left me alone with my thoughts.  Thunder cracked and the sky drenched us with absurdly cold rain that washed away my sense of failure.  There was a lot to be proud of.  We had fought with the unknown, grappled with our fears, and created somthing new for others to enjoy.


As we rolled out of the Summit Lake parking lot the first song we heard was "Damn It Feels good to be a Gangsta".  For some reason, it felt appropriate.

A complete route description is posted on Mountain Project at

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