Saturday, 29 June 2013

Picking Up Where I Left Off...

As Canada Day approached, plans were made for a return to Cal Cheak and some more awesome Squamish climbing.  A rainy week brought back memories of last year's Yahtzee under the tarp marathon, but forecasters were all in agreement--record temperatures coming this weekend.  Pretty tough to believe on Friday night as I sat beside a small fire, listening to the rain pelting my tarp...

Saturday arrived, however, and the clouds were long gone.  Better late than never, and just in time, hopefully the rock will be dry in some areas, at least...  Over Wildwood breakfast Mert indicates his desire to sample the Nordic climbs that I was bragging on a couple weeks back, so we roam northward to the small, quiet area in Whistler.

Wade On 'Groovin' Mice'
Hiking in is wet.  Very wet, in fact.  I recall that there isn't a whole lot of vegetation above the climbing areas, however, so hopefully it won't be too drippy still...  After raving about the climbing on the Swiss Cheese wall, that's our first destination.  There's already somebody climbing the 5.7, so we set up on the 5.9 to warm up for what is promising to be a very, very, warm day.

Mert is as excited with his first look at the rock as I knew he would be, he's beside himself with joy.  He eagerly sets up to lead the first climb of the day, and I am reminded again of just how different some people can climb.  The route that he takes up the face and through the overhang is vastly different than what I had done on my first try here.  He shoots up the climb and is back down before you know it.

I pull the rope and set forth, determined to try and follow his route rather than the one that I remember taking.  I have limited success, and end up with a strange hybrid that is nonetheless very enjoyable.  By the time we're cleaned off the route even more climbers have arrived, and the Swiss Cheese wall is full.  Off to Midway, I guess.

There's nobody home on the Midway wall, so we set up on 'In Tha House' and Mert flies at it again.  He makes a few beautiful reaches through the bottom, and is pushing through the top before long.  A nifty little traverse at the end brings him to the station.  As he's is coming down, Mert giddily exclaims that this is his best day of climbing in Vancouver, ever!  Wow.  I knew he would like it here, but that's some high praise indeed.

'In Tha House'
Taking my turn, I remember just how much I didn't like the reachy, awkward part below the second bolt, but I certainly did a better job of it today.  The top is just pleasant, I love the big reaches and pulls.  It's a quick climb, though, and I'm soon down at the bottom.

We move next to 'Droolin Jugs' which is over at the far right of the wall, next to a very intriguing 5.11a that is just begging for some attention.  Mert moved very well through the start, and worked out a tricky spot on the arête that didn't seem to make him smile too much.  Once it was my turn I thought I had a pretty good plan.  As I started up, however, I quickly discovered that I had my hands mixed up.  Bad.  Hard to recover from.  I expended way too much energy trying to get back to a comfortable position, and couldn't get it out of my head when I continued up...  As I arrived at the arête I just couldn't recall the moves that Mert had taken up, so I started experimenting.

I quickly found myself in a very comfortable position around the back of the rock, with my right leg wedged solidly in a gaping crack, trying valiantly to reach out to get the rope clipped in to the next draw.  It was a million mile reach, and I couldn't get it.  My body fatiguing from the horrible position, all I could see was what a magnificent whipper of a fall I would take if I didn't sort myself out soon.  I had gotten myself into a rather dangerous place, and it didn't feel too good.  I carefully maneuvered my body back to the face of the arête, and using a couple of massive leg-hooks combined with less-than-optimal holds, I managed to get myself back on track.

Mert preparing for 'Finntastic'
The climb went much more smoothly from there, and I was back on the ground in due course, looking for our next adventure.  Logically, after you have climbed 5.9's, you go on to a 10a, and there just happens to be one on a small outcropping above the Midway Wall.  We head there next, and find 'Finntastic' nestled in behind some mossy boulders. 

A very short climb, it is highly rated and looks really interesting, so it's gotta be done.  Mert has some issues on his climb, so when my turn comes I'm ready for whatever this bright green rock has to offer.

As always, my ideas are very different from Mert's, and I find myself quickly stretched to the max, bridged between the main rock and a giant flake that detached from it a few hundred years ago.  It had seemed like a great way to work my way through some thin holds, but now I'm as far up as that technique will take me, painfully overextended, with shoes that are worn out and slipping.  As my legs are about to give up the ghost I gather myself for one lunge at a promising hold.  I just barely manage to get fingers on it, and am lucky enough to get stable and make a solid move up the rest of the way.

Definitely one of the more interesting climbs that I have encountered, it's time to move on.  We drop back down to Midway and reflect on the 5.11a.  It's getting quite warm out, and I don't feel like the shoes that I have are quite ready to tackle an 11a, so we decide to trek off to the Go Gadget wall to check out a 10b.

Go Gadget Shoes, 5.10b
We eventually find the climb, no small feat, perched precariously on a gravelly hill.  Not quite a belay stance to write home about, the climb looks like a beauty.  There seems to be some strangeness with bolt positioning on a big roof near the top of the climb, but it's too far away to see if there's something to be concerned about right now.

Mert gets going on the route, three bolts in and starting to maneuver underneath the roof, he's just loving life.  This climb really tests his versatility, and getting out from under that roof looks quite challenging, but totally within reach.  He vanishes over the top, and I'm admiring the rope dancing around as Mert finishes the climb and returns to the ground.  That looked awesome, I am really looking forward to this one.

I am up to a rather high second bolt almost immediately, and reach up to lock my left hand into a decent crack over my head before trying to make the next sequence of moves when I notice a very significant pain in my left shoulder.  I try making the move a few more times, but the pain is bad once my arm is over my shoulder, and trying to close my fingers is just plain excruciating.  This is not good.

What a lousy spot to be in.  Somebody has to finish this route, but I'm in a lot of pain, and climbing isn't possible with only one arm.  Balls.  I concede defeat, but will still execute my responsibilities.  In a shameful display which I won't even talk much about, I gain the top of the climb and begin what is possibly the hardest route-cleaning ever.  With the big overhang and crazy rope angles, by the time I get down I'm bleeding from even more places than I already was!

My day is done, but Mert isn't ready to stop yet.  He wants to hop over to the 'Zoo' and hit 'Funky Monkey' a tricky 5.10c.  He starts out well enough, but soon discovers that he is too worn and tired for this climb.  He branches over to Bumbly, a 5.9, for the finish of an amazing day.

I have a great feeling of satisfaction as we return to the car, but am more than a little concerned about that pain in my shoulder...  We shall see...

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Whistler--Not Just For Drunken Partying Anymore?

Sunday comes, bright and shiny, and we decide to revive a Cal Cheak tradition.  Breakfast at the Wildwood Café in Function Junction.  Good breakfast food, simple and filling, they also have a cranberry sourdough bread that is to die for.  We strike camp and head off in search of nourishment, discussing the plan for the day.
There's a small grouping of crags in Whistler's Nordic subdivision that has been eliciting a lot of curiosity for quite some time now, and since we're already here it just seems logical to give it a look.  The descriptions in the guidebook are very intriguing, the rock isn't granite, but volcanic basalt, and it sounds like a very different animal.
Well fed we head for the short drive up to the crags.  Finding the trailhead is a cinch, but finding parking is a touch concerning.  Whistler has some very different parking regulations, and I can't think of a bigger disaster than coming back after a day on the rock and not having a car to go home with!  After much discussion we decide on a place that seems legit sand we load up for the promised 10 minute trek in.
According to information that I acquired from the Squamish Access Society's website, there has been a recent 'Adopt-A-Crag' day here, dedicated to improving trail access and climb base conditions.  A wonderful idea, I hope to participate in one this year, and need to hurry up and contribute to the sport that I love so much.
The hike up is wonderful, scrambling up the talus to a series of fixed rope traverses, it serves to get the brain focussed on the day, and we're soon arriving at the climbing zone itself.  There are several crags close together at this point, and we have selected 'Swiss Cheese' to be the sampler for the area, with a  number of lower-graded, very highly rated climbs.
I don't know about swiss cheese, to me the rock looks more like old trees that have come under assault from decades of woodpeckers, but to each their own. Either way, it looks like something completely different here.
Logical progression being, well, logical, the obvious starting point is with the 5.7, and we'll see what we say after that.
As I stand at the start of "Cheese Grater" a 15m 5.7, I start caressing the pocketed face, quickly discovering that the pockets that look best don't seem to be ideal.  The ones that are really money are the ones that look insignificant and useless.  As I start on my climb it becomes quickly apparent that these little pockets, although marvelous for fingers, are not quite ideal for my big ol' feet. 
This climb has two decent ledges on the way up, and I'm on the first without much issue.  Nearing the third bolt the holds start to thin out quite a bit, and I notice that they are really, really sharp.  It's no big thing, some of them are worn nicely.  It takes some long reaches, but I have the technology, and I'm up without much trouble. 
That was definitely something different, but a lot of fun for a 5.7.  Not much to say about a view from here, and the constant traffic noise coming up from the highway makes communication a little questionable, but a good start to the day.  Heather shoots up with one small slip at the smooth spot, proving that even her little feet aren't the best friend of these holds.
Feeling good about the rock and my general feeling today, we evaluate the 5.8 off to the right.  Much more vertical, with a tree growing right up beside the route to complicate things.  It's got an almost-overhang up near the top to keep things interesting.  The start is in a bit of a crack, and my body position feels very, very awkward while I'm trying to get to the first bolt.
I make the bolt and throw a big heel hook out into the crack to get enough support to get up behind the tree.  A good little ledge here allows me to evaluate my next moves while using my height advantage to get another quickdraw on the wall.  I seem to keep ending up in very awkward positions on this climb, with my feet having a very hard time staying centred underneath my body, getting involved in a series of push-up type moves to advance through the middle of the climb.  It's a very pleasant sequence, leaving me smiling.
The steep bulge underneath the anchor forces the climber to commit to some pretty small footholds while reaching about as far as I can to get up and over.  With a couple more steps I'm at the top, as the sun breaks through a cloud and lights up the spot where I am building an anchor.  As I'm coming down I take the opportunity to admire the bolts that protect our lives as we climb.  Questionable work, some of them.  I would come down pretty hard on an apprentice for burying a bolt so deep and not cranking some threads back through.  And not even stainless!  That's just not impressive at all!
I digress...  Next up is a four-star 5.9, 'The Cat Came Back' which has an absolutely gorgeous roof section.  Starts in a big crack, and uses a LOT of leverage to move up to even the first bolt.  The hands are secure, and so is the whole body, but there really isn't much for a foot all on its own.  As I come around from inside the crack and move over to the right I quickly find myself tucked up underneath the roof.  I know there's a bolt just above the roof, and those super-handy long arms allow me to search for it to get some security before some big reaches.  I locate it, clip in, and select a pair of massive, comfortable, handholds. I lean WAAAAAAY back, finally getting a clear look at the next section.  Much like the rest of this area the rock has abundant holds, and I start trying to get my feet up above the roof by pretty much using arm power to start off.
The final section of this climb sees me throwing down a series of sweet laybacks to reach the anchor on one of the most amusing climbs that I have played on in quite some time.  Totally worth the four-star rating!
Swiss Cheese is exhausted now, the only other route being traditional, so we walk up to the Midway wall, which has some interesting sounding climbs.
The first effort on this crag will be 'In Tha House' which is another 5.9.  It starts pretty tame, not too much effort to get the first two bolts, which is always nice.  Then things start to get confusing.  The healthy supply of holds seem to tell me to favour left, but the anchors are trending right...  The logical answer, I guess, is to take the right side of left!  I soon found myself somewhat stuck, with a  beautiful undercling down by my waist the only thing keeping me on the wall.  After climbing all morning on big, positive holds this was somewhat refreshing.
I was able to move through that section with a very questionable foot placement which got me enough altitude to get my claws onto some decent outcroppings above.  Now I was ABOVE the height of the anchor chains, and still 2M away to the left.  Oops...  I had to go hand-over-hand to get back to the chains, then cling for dear life while trying to secure myself!  That was almost the biggest effort of the climb.  Another spectacular route, this Nordic area is pretty awesome.
After that climb we decided that we had best head off, as some deadly dark clouds were threatening, and the hot, muggy air was getting unpleasant.  What an awesome day though.  I was eyeing up a 5.11a while on Midway, and I hope to develop a relationship with it soon.

Step OFF!

After being in the city for two whole weeks cabin fever is setting in HARD.  I need out, and I need out now.  The weather is looking pretty good this Father's Day weekend, and it's time to head back out into the forest. 

Cal Cheak has changed over the winter.  It looks like a logging company had a field day.  There's no way that they can justify this kind of destruction as being for safety purposes, but the signs try to pass it off as such.  What a load of bull.  Thankfully the mosquitos haven't gone anywhere, and it is still far away from the horrible, horrible, city.

Saturday dawns, and a very exhausted pair prepare to head to Cheakamous in search of some awesomeness.  It's a little bit of a late start, not feeling a lot of motivation, and we decide to head a little off of the beaten path in order to possibly avoid some traffic. 

We had climbed at The Crest once before, and it was good, so we slogged up the hill and into the trees, quickly locating a likely 5.9 to try and get going on.

'Step Off' was one of the climbs on the lower tier of the crag, so we were ready to go quickly.  An obvious crack is the obvious start, but there really isn't much in the way of foot support available.  My fingers have got some nasty cracks in the joints right now, so this might not be the best way to start the weekend. 

It's good, but it hurts.  I work my shuffle my hands up the crack a few times to gain the first bolt, and am able to reach up and over left to a good hold on a ledge.  Mostly dangling off my left hand, I match hands quickly and throw my left leg up and onto the ledge while reaching my left hand way back on the ledge, hoping to find something to grab...

Luckily, something is actually there, and it is another, much friendlier, crack for my throbbing fingers to stab in to. Safely to the ledge, I make the second quickdraw and begin some very careful work on some little edges, moving slowly up a very smooth bulge, the obvious crux of the route.

The feet were pleasant, and getting over the bulge wasn't excessively taxing, although I wasn't feeling like an all-star at this point, and I found that the obvious crux was not, at least for me, the crux at all.  About 3M below the anchor chains, standing comfortably upon a solid outcropping, I was confronted with a very, very, high step, with pretty much nothing visible to grab above.  The angle on the rock wasn't overly steep, and I could almost believe that a bold lunge would allow me to reach an unseen hold that I was hoping would be there, but the first few exploratory moves didn't fill me with confidence, and the feeling of propelling myself off the rock was not the most comforting thing in the world...

Stymied, I kept working to find something excellent, or at least less tenuous, but it just didn't seem in the cards.  A big left foot up, stemming from the right, and trying to steady myself on the nothingness with my arms spread wide, I found myself slowly grinding my hand up the rock, never really finding anything at all, but reaching the chains all the same.

I hate days like this, when nothing feels excellent.  My hands are on fire, my feet are screaming at me, and all I want to do is sit in the shade and relax.  Bah.

Now Heather's eyeing up the rather tall start, pondering how best to approach it.  After many very creative efforts and a fair bit of blood from some of her more... dynamic...  attempts, we decide to call it a day, neither of us really being in the mood to be there.

You win some, you lose some, I guess...  Oh well, way too beautiful a weekend to get too wound up about this!

Sunday, 2 June 2013

I hate you, Emil!

After working ALL weekend after waiting so long for the sun to grace us with it's presence, I just had to get out and have some fun.  I can't stand looking out the window and seeing a beautiful day while I'm all cooped up inside!

I had been corresponding with a couple of couchsurfers while trying to decide if it was worth it to head up late on a Sunday afternoon, and decided it was a good idea to try.  I hurried and pushed, and was able to get out of work around quarter to three, and quickly made my way home.  The car was still loaded and waiting, so we ripped down Broadway to pick up Sarah.

A nice, friendly young lady from Leeds with no outdoor climbing experience but a lot of enthusiasm, we enjoyed chatting while I drove up to Cheakamous Canyon.  Arriving in a PACKED parking lot, already 5PM, it was pretty obvious that we would be climbing close to the parking area, just from a time standpoint, and with so little to choose from, it was Emil and the Detectives stepping up to the plate.

I don't love this climb, for some reason I find the start of the second pitch to be just nightmarish, but you can't fight city hall, so our path is set.  This first pitch is a snap, and some nice climbing as I listened to the ladies below chatting and giggling.  What a beautiful evening.  I got the station all set up and belayed Sarah up to the anchor, she looked very confidant coming up, moving without much hesitation on her first outdoor pitch.  Heather followed quickly, and then I started trying to convince her that she wanted to lead the second pitch.

Alas, it was not to be, and I was given the duty to lead again.  The second pitch is short and simple, but there's one move just at the start that I just have a very hard time dealing with.  Today was no different.  It's annoying to have that much difficulty with such a simple move.  Oh well, I guess it is what it is.  I'm at the top, belaying again before you know it. 

The view up here is magnificent, which, I think, is probably the reason that Heather selected this climb for our guest to experience for the first climb.  The whole time that I was belaying Heather up Sarah was happily ooh-ing and aah-ing while snapping away with her camera. 

Now for the sticky part:  Sarah hasn't rappelled since a short class she took quite some time ago.  Heather sets herself up to demonstrate and descends without issue.  I help Sarah set up and try to show her how the mechanism is working.  She is nervous, understandably, and proceeds slowly, but she gets it done, and is able to get down to Heather at the mid station without much trouble.

Soon we're all at the bottom, and we realize it's already almost 7 o'clock!  Time sure flies, Sarah needs to be back in the city for eight, so we pack up after a very brief outing.  What a weekend!