Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Lost In The Well Of Souls

After getting rained out on Saturday, only an idiot would had back out on a Sunday that holds a similar forecast.  At least I accept what I am!

Sunday found Heather, Mert, and I (eventually) heading up to Cheakamous.  I needed to stop for some chili.  Then Heather needed a coffee.  And Mert wanted insurance, for reasons nobody can understand.  I also wanted to make some inquiries about real estate, but it turns out they weren't open.
Mert on Marion Ravenswood
After much discussion on the drive up Mert persuaded us to hit the 'Well Of Souls' for some good quick warmups.  With a name like that, how can you go wrong?  I submit that you can't. 

What a trek in.  It seemed to stretch forever, passing all the major climbing areas at Chek, until finally Heather spotted a sign on a tree guiding us the last steps of the way.  We found ourselves at the top of one of the boulders that make up the well, and since there was no obviously better way, we decided to rappel down to the base.

At this point we discovered that Heather's shoes were still in the trunk of the car.  Awesome.  Ever forgiving of her injured knee, I trekked back to acquire her shoes, figuring that I would return to find Mert mid ascent after setting up on a 5.9 called 'I Hate Snakes' to rappel.

I found a more cleverer way to access the base of the climbs, and arrived to discover that no climbing had yet been done!  Wow, this really is the slowest day ever!  The team back together, we finally got some climbing happening.

Heather on Marion Ravenswood
The base of the climb was very reachy, leading to some rather uncomfortable moves for Mert and I, and some damned impressive dynos by Heather.  After popping over left, the climbing got pretty, with the other boulder encroaching on your shoulder.  Some decent jugs gained the top of a pretty enjoyable start.

By this time two other groups had set up on the other two climbs that we intended to tackle, leaving us with a rather unfriendly 5.10d or a very interesting looking 5.10b.  We elected to take down the 10b next, and Mert was the first contestant.

A Stab in the Dark's crux was the start, no question about that.  A high first bolt and almost non-existant holds led to some pretty tricky moves.  So balancy, then such a big reach onto a powerful crimp.  Mert made it look pretty easy, and when Heather was ready to start she was already despairing.

I had tried playing with the start already, and had a sense of just how bad it was, but Heather made the first balance like it was nothing.  A couple of nimble moves later and she was ready for a monster move.  She tried it, and just couldn't exert enough squish on the rock to stick.  A few more tries with the same result, and decided to give in, for the first time in a long time.

Now it's my shot, and that start is still horrible.  There really isn't anything there for the right hand, just some weird quartz crystal that looks awesome, but is really hard on the hands.  The sad thing is, once you get your balance in that start you just have to move on, somehow, and move on I did.  Carefully moving through the small, balancy stuff to get to the more generous holds above with fingers aching.  It's great to reach some golden holds like these, you can ham it up a bit and have some fun.

That was a really fun climb, and I'm very pleased with myself.  With no other options available in the Well right now we elect to head back out and search for some big opportunities back towards the parking area.

--Editor's note:  I have since learned that the initial interpretation of the topo for this area was incorrect.  The first climb was a 5.9 called "Marion Ravenwood" the second, "A Stab in the Dark" has been re-graded as 5.10d as critical holds at the start have broken off.--

Arriving at the parking area, and already late in the day, we decide to hit up Conroy's Castle for some awesome scenery and tall climbing.  It's busy here, but we find "The Flying Classroom" available and decide that Mert should experience this big, bold climb.

Not for the faint of heart, "The Flying Classroom" is only a 5.7 and won't test your skill much, but it sure tests your gut.  The protection on this 23M beast is about as spaced out as you could make it.  I remember climbing this one last on a day that I wasn't feeling like awesome, and am looking forward to another visit to enjoy this climb.

I managed to convince Mert to take lead as I had already had the pleasure of doing it once myself, and after some cajoling he tied in and started going.  He was quickly up to the second draw, moving up easily.  Until he wasn't...  The gap between two and three is plenty far, and there really aren't any holds to work with there, Mert stalled, and realized that he was high enough that if he slipped without getting the next clip there was a good chance to deck.  Not fun.  I was starting to get nervous, watching him trying to get the last couple inches to the bolt, remembering how I felt when I was there a few weeks ago.  It's really a tough spot!  He succeeded in getting the draw on, but that was the end of the climb for him.  He insisted that I bring him back down.

I took over the lead, finishing the climb and enjoying the gorgeous view while I set up the anchor and came down to give Heather and Mert a chance to try the moves as well.  I really love that climb.

I think it's beer o'clock, and Howe Sound Brewery is just 15 minutes away.  What a great day!

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Skaha Adventures!!

I would have to say that this Skaha trip was one of the best vacations I have been on in awhile. It had the perfect mix of all the elements that I love! The combination of cute animal sightings, climbing days, wine touring and some relaxing by a campfire all made this trip very enjoyable.... that is, until we had to leave! Noooooooooooo!!

Climbing in Skaha reminds me of a huge playground, so much to do and so little time to do it all! Which means you get to come back again and again and it will be different each time. We have not even walked to all the different crags yet because there are so many, ridiculously awesome!!!

I loved the number of different little critters we saw this trip, the desert is so full of life! From the baby duckies swimming around the moat of our campsite, the frog in the garbage can that scared me half to death, the marmot at the winery, the many fascinating bird species, and the deer feasting away on the side of the road at dusk. All of these made me smile to watch, but, the highlight for me was the evening at out campsite when I noticed that the ground was moving. Worms were everywhere! These were no small tiny worms, they were big, fat and about ten inches long each! With them coming up from all sides of our campsite we were surrounded by these creatures looking for dry land to camp out on. It was really amazing to see this because there were so many and they moved so quickly once they got going. If you ever get to experience staying in a flooding campsite I hope you get to see this because it is really memorable to see!

Back to climbing...

One of the highlights for myself was climbing lead on the Daycare crag, I just get such a thrill while climbing this way. Knowing that I am safe, but if I fall...eek!!! What a thrill! I also have the support of Wade telling me that I am doing great and looking fantastic so it helps push me along.

Having Wade do the majority of the lead climbing really eases my mind because some days it is very terrifying! On top rope I can do all sorts of fancy moves I would not be confident enough to try while leading. Watching Wade lead climb makes me a little bit envious of his courage and no fear of falling! One day I will get there!!

Overall the trip was awesome with my overall favorite climb being the 10.a on our second day!

What a fabulous time at the bluffs :)

Saturday, 25 May 2013

The Inadvertant 11.b

Another half-decent weekend, another chance to help my youngest daughter, Daisy, discover how awesome climbing on real rock can be.  She had so much fun her first time out, it's all she was talking about.  Now for round two!

It's not the most beautiful day ever, a little rainy in some places, but I'm nonetheless confident that the essentially rain-free forecast in Squamish will be accurate.  Famous last words, those, but onwards we roll.  The destination is Murrin Park, a crag called the Sugarloaf holds a large collection of super-easy climbs.  I have never seen a 5.4 before, but there's three of them here, along with a delightful leavening of 5.7-5.9's.  It's all trad up here, which means that it will be top-rope o'clock, but that's the name of the game when you're climbing with a ten year old.

It was a late start, leaving Po Compton at 10, so it was about 11:30 by the time we arrived at the parking lot.  It was a very short trip up to the crag, thankfully, but upon arriving we found all three of the bolt pairs in the area that I intended to use already full up.  Not excessively surprising, and totally ok.  These are not the only routes in the area!

I hike up to the top of a very high rated 5.8 and I learn something new about the Squamish Select guidebook:  a solid red circle at the anchor indicates a 'gear anchor' and a red and white circle is used to indicate bolts.  Oh.  I guess third time's the charm.  Another 5.8, just a little farther over.  It shares an anchor with Block and Tackle, a very intimidating 5.11b.  Daisy should be able to handle the 5.8 with some effort, then Heather and I can take a turn too.  I set up anchor and rappel down, only to discover that the perspective of the photo in the book is pretty misleading.

If I let my daughter climb the 5.8, which is certainly within her abilities, I will be setting her up for a catastrophically dangerous swing-fall in the event that she fails to send it.  I look at it, and compare thoughts with Heather.  We agree that I would be completely irresponsible to allow her to try the 5.8.  She's good enough to get to a very, very dangerous point.  Well.  Strike two on the day.  Now I need to go get my gear back and find someplace else to climb.

Bah.  I think I should let her try Block and Tackle for a bit.  She doesn't know it's massively hard, she just loves to climb.  Who knows, if she gets something going, she will be so proud.  She ties in and starts trying.  And trying.  And trying again.  After about 20 minutes she's getting frustrated, so I lower her back to earth.  Upon informing her that she was working an 11.b I got an earful.  11.B!!!  What were you thinking!!!  Right, sorry.  But you did well, dear!

The idea of walking up and around was not something exciting to me, so I strap on my climbing shoes and tie in.  I have only climbed a few 11.b's in the gym, which is generally considered to be soft on grade, so I don't have a whole lot of confidence, although the climb looks attainable.  On top rope, what can I really worry about anyways.  The book says it's a lot of arms and pulls, so it should dovetail nicely with my climbing style.

The tricky start promised by the guidebook is just that, very specific placement of feet to support decent handholds to prevent burning my arms out on the massive flake at the bottom of the climb.  Slowly working my way up, the crack opens up too much for a good finger lock, so it's elbows deep!  If I fail though here I'm going to be facing a significant swing, and I try to keep that in mind as I work my way up.  Moving up the flake is awkward, my left foot outside on the face, my right behind me on the opposite wall when it's not on the ridge of the crack.  Weird positioning!  Arriving at the roof I find a decent hold and assess my situation.

There's not a lot to stand on, but this wonderful, sticky, granite should offer enough to move up and out.  Since I rappelled down I do have some unfair knowledge of just what I'm facing, and I know that the character of the climb is about to change from big and bold to smooth and dainty.  I reach up and over, left hand, right hand, and start shuffling my body left.   After a few 'steps' I find enough below to push my leg up and over, on to the ramp.  Wow!!  I cannot believe that I just made it here!  This is so exhilarating!

The last 4M comes fairly easily, it's such a low angle that hands are really only for assurance, but that's a good thing, because my heart is racing!  High above Petgill Lake, with a little bit of the highway in view, I'm on top of the world, figuratively speaking.  That was a major ascent, tainted only slightly by the fact that I had to do it on top rope.

One of the anchors over on the easier part of the crag has freed, so I wrap up the gear and head that way, setting up so Daisy can get some climbing in.  Powersmart (5.9) and Magnet (5.4) are the options presented by this location.  Magnet is supposed to be a very high quality climb, it achieved a 4 star rating from the book, and the little one is eager to get climbing.

As she starts moving up the clouds start to make their presence felt.  The rain starts falling, and Daisy gets concerned.  I'm not sure if she's made of sugar, or just apprehensive about climbing wet rock, but the child is hesitant for the first time ever.  She's doing an awesome job working her way up the cracks, becoming more confidant as she travels upwards.

She handled it nicely, in what is starting to become a decent downpour.  The biggest problem that she faced last time was trying to descend, and this time she did much better.  Instead of trending sideways to keep her belayer in sight, she was able to turn her back to me and walk down pretty much backwards.  An excellent improvement.

Heather elects to hit Powersmart.  Quel surprise, she opts out of the 5.4!  There's really not much to say about this climb, she ran up it as the rain poured down, and I followed and started wrapping up the rope and gear while they cleaned up at the bottom.  Rained out, it's time to head for a much deserved milkshake!

Friday, 17 May 2013

The 5.10 Day

All tuned up to Skaha rock, we're ready to tackle some harder (and shadier) climbs today.  A group of 5.9+ climbs on Redtail South catch my eye as we looked through the guidebook over breakfast.  'The Dogmatism Group' boasts a 5.9, two 5.10a's, and a 5.10b on a towering, 22M vertical cliff.

There's a couple who are neighbours to us at OK falls just beginning the 5.9 when we get up there, so I decide to start off on one of the 10a's, Basic Black. 

Wade at anchor on 'Basic Black'
The start is fast and easy, it takes no time for me to work my way out from behind the tree that I started beside and get way up.  At that point the holds started to get rather skinny, and after a couple of big steps up with my right foot my knee was screaming at me every time that I moved. 

I struggled upwards, fighting with my right leg's unwillingness to work with me as I picked my way up the route.  Upon arriving at the healthy overhang at the top we had worked our way down to some of the smoothest rock I have seen here at Skaha, and I wasn't entirely sure what to do to pass the roof.

Heather, relaxing in an awesome 'chair'
I felt around, however, and discovered a hole behind a block that I could park a truck in!  A great gripping point for my left hand, I was able to lever myself up with that and reach up and over the roof to a solid hold above.  Secure there, I sent my left up to join in and smeared my way over the roof, only to find myself at the anchor. 

Wow!  That was a really fun climb, and the roof moves were off the chains!  I can't guess how Heather is going to handle that big move though...

After working her way up to the big roof, Heather was able to adapt, as always, and find a lovely series of moves to go AROUND the big overhang, reaching the anchor by a completely different route.  Clever, clever.

Top of 'Facility'
The 5.9 is free now, so we bounce over to 'Dogmatism' and I start up the rock.  I'm going to be honest, this wasn't a pretty one for me, and I really don't have much of a logical explanation for that.  It was a very nice climb, nothing too remarkable, maybe a touch hard for the grade due to the small holds, but certainly nothing to complain about.  It strung together some pretty intricate series of moves, which under better circumstances might have been quite nice.  It was certainly quite nice watching Heather ramble up, so I'll take heart in that, I guess.

The second 5.10a, 'Facility' was a very tough one.  My feet were quite sore, so much so that I switched over to my older, broken in shoes for this climb.  Facility was a pleasant effort, however, and it really smoothed out at the top, making the roof move much more challenging than on 'Basic Black' although there was still enough holds to make it a reasonable effort.  I think the lack of feet when my feet are already killing me just about did me in, though.  Heather and I both nominated 'Basic Black' as the winner for the day, as the raindrops started falling.

The 5.10b located here, 'Tradition' has one of the most intimidating starts, which, I'm sure, must be the crux of the route.  If I had a stickclip available I would totally have given it a shot, but the massive overhang and accompanying dropoff was just a bit too much at this point in my day.  Maybe if it had been the first climb, I might have felt like I could take it down, but after all that climbing I just wasn't sure.  Oh well, I guess you have to save something for next time!

Up next, Hester Creek Estate Winery for some delicious lunch!

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Departing The Flood

Thanks to some quick thinking by Heather, we were able to find another campsite this morning, so we won't have to worry about drowning overnight again.  The water level beside our site rose another 5cm since the time we checked in, so it's not unreasonable to assume that this site could be under water by the time we are ready to leave.  I will admit that it will be tough to leave this interesting spot, with it's moat, and duck paddling training pond...

We decided to have a day of climbing in a new area.  After leaving wet, wet Vancouver to come to this beautiful desert environment, it seems only logical to climb on a face that gets heavy duty sun.  The selection of 'Daycare' seems like a good choice.  It's a bunch of easy, higher routes, apparently set up for top-roping, which will see serious sun exposure through the day.  An excellent choice to get back into the Skaha rock and soak up some big time sun.

Heather runs a daycare for work, so it's an effort of will to begin the hike in for the day's climbing, but she puts on her big girl pants and gets ready.  It's a nice hike in, short, with a little bit of uphill, and we're already there.  I had concerns about interpreting the guidebook, but it's starting to make a lot more sense.

Proceeding in a logical, left-to-right fashion, we set up on a 5.7 called 'Your Father Wears' to start.  Heather is taking the lead, and does a good job on this reachy climb.  I find the toughest spot to be a strange undercut about half way up that is frustrating me with it's lack of handholds.  Luckily I am able to smear my way up to gain the top.

We follow that with 'Generation Z' which I found to be quite delightful.  It had an awesome series of big underclings through the middle which I found to be quite fun.  By the time we finished up with this climb, the midday sun was roasting us alive.  We had to leave the crag to go into town to buy sunscreen, lest we end up looking like lobsters before the end of the day!

After the break we returned to Daycare, to battle 'Rattlebag' It was a very exciting climb, I found the bolts to be about as spaced out as they could be.  It was quite the adrenaline rush in several locations, but you never really were too worried, just a little excited.  Probably the best of the three 5.7's, the rock was getting impossibly hot by the time we finished up this climb.

There was a very different sort of climb just up to the right.  Graded somewhere between 5.9 and 5.10b, depending on the source of your information, this was really a horse of a different colour.  Heather and I went up to check it out because of it's shadier location.  I certainly didn't expect what I found there, but it was pretty fantastic.  Big, bold moves, and really exciting, light touches were needed to achieve the pinnacle here.  Probably the best part of warm-up day for me, I think Heather really liked it as well.

After that big effort we decided to head down from Daycare, and opted out of any further climbing, deciding instead to have a relaxing lunch at Hillside Estate winery.  What a chore!

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

The Return To The Desert

With the Victoria Day long weekend approaching, I am tired of this city.  I want to leave.  I don't really want to come back, either.  Seems like the perfect time to head back up to the heart of awesome, the Skaha Bluffs.

After working for as many hours as I could bear, Heather and I loaded up the car and set forth on a grand adventure of relaxation.  With the intention of camping, and no reservation at any location, we were relying on our Wednesday afternoon arrival to secure us a spot.  I had located a nice little provincial site about 20 minutes from the bluffs at Okanagan Falls which was to be our intended residence for the duration of our stay. 

Upon arriving at the campground we were happy to discover that they had one site remaining.  I really didn't expect that it would be so busy, but the park was full of RV's and grey hairs, so I guess that wasn't surprising.  Our site was awesome, as high water levels in the area had caused it to flood, creating an island with a small land connection from the campsite.  The rangers advised us about concerns about continued rising water levels, showing us just how much the water had come up that day, but we remained confidant, and set up camp.

Base camp established, it's off to the Bluffs.  It was late already, we had no food yet, and the campground closes its gates at 10PM, so this is really just a climb for the purpose of going climbing, no real time to do much of anything.  That said, we head back where we were in March, to Another Buttress on Redtail.

A bronze-rated 5.8 called 'Lichen in her Panties' will be the effort of the evening, as it is close to the parking lot and not much to worry about when you have spent the last 5 hours driving.  With a bunch of new gear out for it's first day's work, I was excited.  Heck, I was excited to be out of the damned city, frankly.

It's a beautiful, warm evening, as we trek in to the crag, quickly setting up to climb.  I had forgotten just how different the rock is up here.  So edgy, so sharp!  The start was tough for me, my new shoes aren't very broken in yet, and it was all about careful foot placement.  It was very secure, nonetheless, as there were some solid edges to hold while trying to get my feet in the groove.  A fair bit of back-and-forth, and it was up, up, and away!

The top half of this climb had some pretty, hand-to-foot moves, one after the other.  I made it to the top without a whole lot of drama, and some big, big smiles.  As I set up the station and descended I thought I felt a drop of rain...  Quite concerning, considering that the forecast called for this possibility far more often than I wanted to see.  Nonetheless, Heather began her ascent of this little beauty, dancing up with ease.  By the time she had topped out the rain was actually starting to fall in earnest, and I started to pack up surplus gear, thinking only of the tent, with its mangled fly, sitting in our fair campsite.  Sigh.

As we drove down from the bluffs to buy a few days worth of groceries the sun came shining out again, and spirits were high as we looked ahead to some much-deserved relaxation.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Cal Cheak--The Next Generation

After being robbed of two opportunities to get up the corridor last weekend due to work, I decided that it was going to be a climbing-rich weekend this week.  Unfortunately, that spiteful wench, Mother Nature, decided to try and have an opinion too.  After eight or nine days of amazing hot weather and sunshine, the weekend forecast started to look grim.  Ever the optimist, however, I decided to take the promise of 'Saturday evening showers' very literally, and make plans to climb Saturday morning.

I have two daughters, 15 and 10 years old, and have been working on bringing them into the climbing world ever since December.  My youngest is overwhelmingly enthusiastic, and jumps at any chance to climb, showing that legendary stubborness that seems to be a family trait.  The older is less passionate, as her social circle has much more interesting activites available on a regular basis, which is certainly understandable at the age.  I decided, however, that today would be a great day to get them their first experience outdoors.

At the last minute Princess Heather decided to bow out, citing the need for a spa day overcoming the need for a climb day.  Uh-oh...  Now here's a tricky situation...  I belay.  The children, not so much.  Easy answer says that I need to head somewhere that I can set up top rope situations without leading any routes myself.  There are certainly places that I can do that.  I select Cal Cheak as my destination of choice for a number of reasons.

1.  Super easy access to stations on Huckleberry Lane
2.  Super friendly climbing on Huckleberry Lane
3.  Genereally very quiet location, shouldn't be rushed
4.  Reasonablely short approach march

With that settled, we load up the car and hence forth.  Upon arriving at the crag I quickly run up shelf road to set up top rope on A Walk on the Wild Side, a basic 5.5.  I rappel down to the ladies and take stock of their preparations.  The little one informs me that she's checked all the harnesses and everything is good to go.  Can I climb first, please?  Ok.  Sounds good.  She ties in and starts RUNNING up the rock, rapidly outpacing my belay and forcing me to shout at her to slow down!  Once she's under control, I ask her sister to come over if she might like to learn a bit of belaying.  She is interested, so I show her the correct technique to use a Gri-Gri.  I totally have an ulterior motive here, because if she learns how to belay, I will be able to climb the routes when I want to move the rope to the next anchor.

Climb #1 in the books, we discover that letting go and lowering off are still the hardest part of climbing for a ten year old.  It takes some serious coaxing to get her to remember proper technique for walking down, but we get there.  Now sister has just informed me that she slept for about an hour last night, and hasn't eaten a bite yet today.  Good.  She is bowing out of climbing for the day, as she doesn't feel quite up for it.  But she's excited to belay her little sister while she climbs.

Ok, here we go.  Again the little monkey shoots up the route, trying to keep better movement with her feet despite the easy climb.  Big sister has excellent technique on the Gri Gri, and I feel totally comfortable with her belaying.  She lowers her sister off with control and skill, and it's gut check time for me.  Do I walk up and around again, or do I trust the belay of a 15 year old?  Not much of a choice, really.  It's only a 5.5, but it's still climbing!  Up I go, being careful not to hurry, and soon find myself at the anchor again.

Next up a big 5.6, A Little Bit of Squamish.  Same result for the little one, although she takes a bit of pause at the steeper face.  She's quite the climber, really.  Up and over, using great underholds on the fractured flakes, she quickly and confidently moves to the top while her sister belays.  A small spot of bother about half way up helps her learn that the shoes on her feet are totally excited to be helpful for her, and that's probably a very good thing. 

The clouds are starting to look menacing, and time is ticking by, so I set up to tackle 'The Hard Way Home' which is a fun little 5.7 for the final climb of the day. 

Again, she shoots up the start like a jackrabbit, outrunning her sister's belay, but quickly finds herself stumped.  There's a tricky hole in the middle of this climb, and all of a sudden you're facing a spot where your body is forced into a very awkward position.  Finally, something that slows her down.  She struggles mightily, trying everything she can think of, before she's finally able to commit to a move that will bump her up to better holds.  What an achievement!

I zip up to reclaim my gear one last time, quite enjoying my new belayer.  I was tempted to take a little slip, just to see how she would react, but decided against it.  Cleaning the station, I reflected on just how fun this might become.  I rappelled off like I was thrown from the cliff, and had just finished coiling up the rope when I noticed that I had no quickdraws on my harness...  Looked up and--DAMN.  What nice decorations left behind on the wall.

What an idiot I am.  I had to walk around and set up AGAIN on the same climb so I could retrieve my gear.  Ah, Wade.  Sometimes it's so easy to get lost in the moment.  All packed up, and happy to share my passion with the next generation, we enjoyed a nice, relaxing car ride home.