The Original Route: My first attempt at leading a big wall

Training for Moonlight Buttress, side effects Roberto and I were short on time one weekend but long on energy.  We decided to hit Eagle Peak and just climb everything we could get our hands on!  The plan was simple: show up and punch out as many pitches as possible with the time we had. The sun was up when we left San Diego, stuff so as punishment and hour and a half later we jogged the trail out to Eagle Peak.  Luckily, we ran into Fred Maki and a few others who informed us that a few of the routes we intended to do were closed due to raptor nesting.  Change of plan, explore the summit area!  Fine with us, we'd never climbed up there.

Once we arrived at the back of Eagle Peak we quickly chose the wrong approach and came over the shoulder too early.  We ended up bushwacking and 5th classing a little to get to the base, but we made it.  We racked up the draws and headed off.

Rober Over the last year and a half I have been lucky enough to put together a spectacular list of long climbs: Dream of Wild Turkeys, more about Levitation 29, The Original Route, Rainbow Country and Moonlight Buttress, but none of them really felt like they were my trip.  It never felt like success or failure rested on my shoulders.  So I figured it was time to plan my own trip and climb a big wall with all the pressure on me.  I chose the Original Route on the Rainbow Wall for two reasons; first, I had done it before, so I knew I could do it again, and second, it is close to San Diego.

I asked my friend Adam if he wanted to climb The Original Route on the Rainbow Wall.  He had been training really hard recently.  In the past, others had taken a chance with me because I trained hard, so I figured it was time to return the favor.

At the base of the wall we were greeted by a family of about 10 bighorn sheep; it was a warm welcome to the place we would call home for the night.  We had a quick snack and set up our bivy.  I have camped in many places and many environments, but I have to say that the bivy at the base of the Rainbow Wall ranks amongst the best all time.  The 1000ft walls of rock seem to wrap around, it feels almost claustrophobic, but once you realize there is a line that goes up the heart of the wall, it is quite inspiring.

View from the bivy

As the sun rose over the valley below, I reminded myself I was here to push my limits, not to have a nice vacation.  I told myself I would not say “take” all day. I would either fall or send, no matter what.

We set out at about 6:30am.  The sun hit the base of the wall, the temps were high and there was no wind in the amphitheater of rock.  I would guess that the temperatures were close to 80 degrees on the first pitch.  I was sweating my way up the first pitch and working my way past the second-to-last bolt when, suddenly, I found myself falling.  The bolt whizzed past me and I said, “NO!”  It was a very unexpected slip.  I still have no idea what happened.  The first pitch is 130 ft long and traverses a bit, so Adam had given me a healthy amount of slack.  I came to a halt about 20 feet below my bolt and looked up at 1000 feet of rock.  No Red Point today.  I looked around and I was mid crux of the 12b direct start to The Original Route, so I reclimbed it…it felt much easier than it did in late October of last year.  Soon I was at the anchors of the first pitch and Adam was on belay.   He climbed very well and reached a section where he had to make a decision, go left or go right.  He chose right, I had chosen left.  This lead him to a pair of horrible foot holds and mediocre hand holds, but there was a better hold in sight.  I saw him look at it and I assured him it was good.  He paused momentarily and his eyes got big, then he exploded towards the hold and snagged it one handed as his feet peeled off into space.  It was a proud send.

The next few pitches were much less eventful.   We both climbed efficiently and with great control.  I lead the 11d and Adam linked the following 11a and 11b pitches for one super long 11 pitch.  He then linked the 10c and 10a. Atop the 10a, Adam decided to flake the rope around the tree in the middle of the crack which meant I was looking at a monster 40 foot swing to my right into unknown territory if I fell, so I followed cautiously.  When I reached the God forsaken tree at the end of the 10a pitch I realized the rope was running through a branch, not a big enough branch to stop any kind of fall, but enough to cause Adam trouble as he belayed me up.   I decided it would be best to free the rope and climb THROUGH the tree.  I can only imagine what Adam experienced.

Me- “Adam, up rope!”

Adam- “WHAT?”

Me- “UP ROPE!”

Adam- “I can’t hear you”

Me (quietly to myself)- “Fuck it.  I am on top rope right?  20 foot fall and a 40 foot swing is no big deal.”

From where Adam was all he could see was a tree shaking voraciously and hear me swearing.   A few minutes later, when I was through the tree and within earshot of Adam, I stopped and said “Up rope.”  I waited as Adam caught up to a point that I judged satisfactory and climbed to the anchor.

We now sat on a ledge of class 4 choss.  Adam had just lead 4 pitches linked into two and was not terribly pleased with the last 100ft.  Neither was I as I had to bushwhack my way to the ledge.  We were a little dehydrated, but we wanted to make it to the Over The Rainbow Ledge before we stopped for a break.  I was feeling rather ill at this point, not sure why, but I nearly vomited at the top of the 10a.

Adam took off on the Class 4 section and I simuled behind him.  At the top of the class 4, you are faced with the decision of a scary, weird, 5.9 crack or a very exposed 5.7 face.  Do the 5.7; it is amazing.  You reach high to a monster jug then step onto the face, which cuts away below; this is when you realize you are off the deck.

We had attained the Over the Rainbow Ledge and it was time to eat some food.  We were both very warm and the rest of the route was in the sun, so we decided to wait it out on the ledge until the red dihedral came into the shade.  We found no shade on the ledge, but fortunately we had the gift of song to keep our minds off the heat.

SOME WHERE OVER THE RAINBOW...LEDGE [vimeo]11848252[/vimeo]

Adam lead the 5.8R traverse, it’s not hard, but it keeps your attention. [vimeo]12163737[/vimeo]

Finally.  The reason I came here.  The next two pitches would be my test.  The first of the two crux pitches is an 11d that involves a very improbable and delicate move, this is the most memorable move on the route.  We refer to it as “the pea move.”  Once you get there you will know why, and once you have done it you will never forget it.  It took me a while to get set up or, I guess, to convince myself this was the way to do it, but I made the move and was ecstatic!  As I looked down at Adam I could see the surprised look on his face, not sure what he was thinking, but his face was priceless.  Adam was equally as pleased to have climbed the pitch with no falls.

Next was the 12a pitch, powerful layback moves in a flaring corner.  I had picked out gear for this pitch from the base, but I had picked wrong.  As I futzed with a blue TCU my feet slipped and I fell.  My fingers were cammed in a finger lock, but I couldn’t fight the fall.  I felt some pain from my fingers and instinctively put them under my armpit.  I pulled them out to examine the damage; it wasn’t bad, but I was bleeding.  “Damn, I have to do that same move again, that might tear this wide open, but tape would make my fingers too big for the jams…”  I pulled the gear and lowered back to the belay, I wanted another shot at that pitch.  I wiped the blood off my hands and set out again, if you go there in the next few weeks you will see I tagged all the right hand holds with little red dots…you’re welcome.  This time I made it through the layback and fell reaching for a hold.  I got right back on; now it was about training.  I wanted to finish the rest of the climb tired.  I got to the top of the pitch, I climbed up nearly even with the anchor to clip an old bolt then traversed left to the anchor.  The last time I did this I was on TR and I headed straight for the anchor, this time I had to traverse.  I moved out and found I was just short of the finish jug/mantle.  My finger tips could just barley touch the bottom of it.  I had been out of Adam’s sight for a while so he had no idea what I was doing.  I decided “go big or go home”, so I jumped left the last 3 inches and swung over to the block.  It was a tough move and I let out a yell.  The best part was I had just jumped back into Adams line of sight and all he could see was a couple of fingers followed by a person swinging across the rock and yelling.

Adam started up the climb and I think the powerful nature of the first section surprised him a little, but he fought through it and when he made it to the no hands rest he was able to take in the exposure and really appreciate all of the day’s climbing up to that point.

The little hop i had to do to get to the ledge was a complete jump for Adam, still he stuck it.

From the last belay, in a small cave, I asked Adam if he wanted to lead the last pitch.

I had done it previously and I found it a very memorable experience.  Adam was tired, and he fought his way through the roof.  From where I was, all I could see were two legs writhing about.  I laughed a little on the inside, I had been there before.

On top of the Rainbow Wall is a summit log buried in a cairn.  We took a second to find it and logged our ascent; I noted my nearly free ascent and Adam logged his no falls day!

Climbers will often tell you that the summit is a bit anticlimactic.  It signals the end of the climbing and the beginning of the descent.  As we sat on the summit I took solace in the fact that I had just climbed The Original Route and it wasn’t epic at all.  It was the first time I planned and lead a big wall.  It wasn’t too bad; I was tired, but not destroyed.  I smiled as I thought about the next climb on my list…Halfdome baby, yeah!

The rappel went without incident and we were at the car before sunset.  In the parking lot we met two Aussies who had just climbed Crimson Chrysalis; they offered a place to crash that night, and even though we didn’t take them up, a very sincere thank you!  We decided to head back to San Diego after dinner and arrived home at about 2:30am.

It was an amazing trip and a boost of confidence.  In June I am headed to the Valley for the first time with plans of doing Halfdome in a day.

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