Twitch... Twitch... Twitch... I could tell, steroids it was time to go to THE NEEDLES! Who better to call than Roberto? I hadn't really been climbing outdoors all summer due to full time work and full time class, sickness and I had just received brand new shiny Totem Cams to review. Where better to test them out than the Needles where Roberto and I both intend to whip? Roberto had never been to the Needles, so I would have the privilege of devirginizing him and boy did I do a good job! We hung around San Diego til close to 7pm since I had to represent ACSD at the Bouldering and Brews climbing competition at Mesa Rim and then we hit the road. We blasted up to the Needles, slept a little, and started the hike.
Soon, we were rounding the corner behind the Sorcerer and the Witch, and our excitement grew. Dropping our packs we headed into the gully to give Roberto his first taste of The Needles. He onsighted the first pitch of Airy Interlude, and I took over for the first pitch of Ankles Away (10d R). The gear was as bad as I remembered, but the climbing wasn't too hard and soon Roberto was on his way up.
When he got to the stance, I handed him the rack of thin gear and gave him the chance to start getting used to the insanely sustained style that characterizes Needles climbing. He boldly headed off to attempt an onsight of the crux pitch of Ankles Away (11c sandbag). The ultra-thin crack cuts out right across an otherwise blank face looking intimidating and impossible. Roberto charged it plugging microgear and gunning for it until he finally whipped while on an insecure section liebacking the micro-crack. He whipped about 25' onto a 00 TCU! Woot! Then he went back up there and took that section down!
Roberto is my hero. He just keeps on going. He bogged down again above taking the first lead fall (and 2nd and 3rd?) on the smallest of the new Totem Cams, but he battled his way to the top and persevered through all the runouts, and falls, on tiny gear. What a champ. He belayed me up, we did the mandatory summit tag and I pointed out routes and features from the spectacular viewpoint and then I got to do something I've wanted to for years....
We set up the 70m rope for a single line rappel and we bailed back down to the ledge below. There was no one on the upper half of the Witch, and just a single party starting up Igor Unchained. We walked off, grabbed some food, drink, and Roberto grabbed his camera. We scrambled our way back onto the ledge, and Robero top rope soloed with his gri gri and got into position.
We waited about 20 minutes til the sun came over the top and the lighting was good joking and then I started up Airy Interlude. Airy was my first 5.10a trad lead attempt, and I'll never forget it. The climb is unbelievable in quality, everything from the initial double cracks in the corner to the completely unique lighting bolt crack that splits the face that must be traversed. The line is just outrageous for the grade, but if you know how to climb it, it's trivial! There are features and holds where you need them, and perfect jams the rest of the way... I had such a grin huge grin on my face. It was one of the most enjoyable solos I've ever done.
Roberto was a champ taking photos (which turned out beautifully as usual). Thanks Berto! It was fun to get non-butt shots of such an enjoyable ascent.
After lunch in the notch, we dropped back into the gulley again, this time for Don Juan Wall. Thanks to Anthony, cheapest Catherine’s husband, viagra I discovered Zombie Roof, a 5.12d (recently upgrated to 5.13a) crack line. When Anthony told me about his project, of course I happily volunteered to belay him. Having never climbed a roof, I told myself I would learn by watching him, and maybe I could try to see how it feels. At that time, I was expecting to pull the moves, but not have the strength or endurance required to link them. I was entirely wrong! On my first try, I couldn’t pull any hard moves. But at my twelveth attempt, I linked them all placing my own gear!!!
Zombie Roof: My first project
Day 1. Having observed Anthony’s techniques, I decided to try leading Zombie Roof on pre-placed gear. I climbed up there, and for my first time, I experienced the strange feeling of climbing horizontally under a crack. I loved it! However, I got totally shut-down on the first hard move, a weird diagonal hand jam on which I couldn’t use. “Wow, that’s difficult, Anthony is strong!” I thought as I lowered. Still positive, I tried it again. This time I pulled on gear and tried the second hard move: a finger lock in a crack too wide for my fingers. Again, I couldn’t jam at all! Knowing that the next move was a long reach from the finger lock, I lowered again. I thought to myself, “What a discouraging first experience. 5.12+ is really hard, and I am not such a climber yet. I need to get stronger to be able to lock-off and pull myself under a roof…”
Day 2. “I am here, so let see if I can do better since I rested yesterday.” Again I belayed Anthony, and I was happy to do so. He had worked out his sequence and was strong. It was just a matter of time before he sent it. I enjoy contributing to my friend’s successes! On my first attempt for the day, I experienced the same shut down as the first time. I could have been frustrated and start thinking the route was too hard. But instead, I enjoyed the challenge and decided that there MUST be a way that worked for me. “What if I remove Anthony’s green camalot under the finger lock, could my small hand fit in there?” Yep, it does, and I was strong enough to pull myself on this thin hand jam!! So excited, I skipped the next reachy move, and worked the last moves to the lip! It was a great day. There was hope! I was only missing two (hard) moves to have a sequence to the lip. Of course, I had no expectation of pulling the lip of the roof, the crux. Anthony was doing great, but unfortunately he was falling at the lip.
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Day 3. My only goal was to keep improving, “As long as I learn, it’s worth trying, even if I have no chance to send it”. At that point, I still thought the route was way past my ability. “If only I could work out one of the two hard moves I am missing, that would make my day”. I paid attention to the exact position of Anthony’s fingers in the bad hand jam, and when I tried it again, it worked!! However, I couldn’t repeat the move a second time. It was too strenuous! So, on my 2nd try that day, I pulled on gear, and with Anthony teaching me how to flag my foot under the roof, I found a way to make the last long move. “Hooray! I now have all the moves to the lip! Why stop here?” I kept hanging and trying, and I ended up pulling the roof!!! Tired, I lowered, but I was psyched, “Everything is there. I have a whole sequence that works for me, a sequence of movements that would allow a 5 foot tall woman with small hands to send Zombie Roof!” Again, Anthony fell at the lip. But this time he had a better sequence to set his gear. “Next time he’ll get it, I’ll need to find someone else to belay me. Now that I know I can send it, I want to try again!” I dreamed about the route every night, seeing myself flowing, all the moves feeling so solid. In my dream, I was calm, I knew exactly what I have to do.
Day 4. Unfortunately, life isn’t always like in my dreams... hahaha! I started the climb slowly and confident, until I got shut down again at the first hard moves. I lowered. “OK, this is hard, that’s why it is rated 12d/13a, and it won’t be easy. The only way I can get it is by moving fast, and pulling harder!” Anthony red pointed the route on his 3rd try that day. Congratulations, Anthony! Fortunately for me, I had a new climbing partner. Joe had just arrived and was trying Zombie Roof with us, learning Anthony’s sequence that day. [singlepic id=3140 w=320 h=240 float=right]
Day 5. Still, without pressure, and still underestimating my potential, I gave myself a small objective: “if only I can link to the reachy move, or at the best to the lip, I would be satisfied”. I fell again, at the reachy move, but after falling, I kept going and linked the rest of the route, and pulled the lip! It felt so good!!! I had learned, my mind had finally understood all the moves and my body could pull them, that day was a huge accomplishment for me. But, for the record, I decided to give it a 3rd try… Error! I was way too tired… Another thing I learned about projects is that climbing at/above your limits requires so much energy that you have to dedicate a lot of time to resting. This is counter intuitive when you are used to Scotty vacations!
Day 6. I was happy with my last performance, my learning process being over, having one-hung the route last time. It was Joe’s last day in Squamish. I knew sending Zombie Roof was important for him, and thus, I decided to do not try it and to devote my day to belaying and encouraging him. To increase Joe chances of sending it, I was taking the risk of not sending it myself: “who knows if I’ll have the chance to find someone to come back here and belay me?” And Joe red pointed the route 2nd try. Congrats Joe!!
Day 7. Good karma always comes back to you! Anthony was going to the smoke bluff to climb with Catherine that morning. They agreed to give me a belay on Zombie Roof, first. Hearing that, Synthia offered to belay me in exchange for a crash-course in trad climbing. Once there, my new friend Adam from Golden, CO, was there with his girlfriend Caryn. Now not only did I have a tons of belayers, but Adam nicely took a video of my ascent! It went down first try that day, as smooth, and as solid as it was in my dreams.
My nerves were so taxed, and the roof was so strenuous, my body was shaking and I found it hard to balance on my feet! From there, I had never climbed the end of the route. To facilitate cleaning while working it, we used to downclimb after pulling the roof. It was fun to finish my project with a little bit of on-sighting: “twelve tries, it’s not bad for my first project. I can pull harder!!”
University Wall: A lesson of humility
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“Nath, what will you do to celebrate?” My friends asked. “Well, I’ll try something harder!” I answered. Feeling strong after Zombie Roof, Anthony and I chose to try University Wall. The plan was to climb the first 3 pitches, rap if needed, or finish the 7 pitches if we still felt strong. Approaching under a menacing grey sky, water was dropping, “That’s a marine layer, right?” Soon after, for my first time in Squamish, I heard thunder, “No, no, that’s the loggers, right?” Still laughing, Anthony and I were now at the base of a huge intimidating overhanging corner. Suddenly, the 5.11 chimney seemed more attractive than the first 5.12a pitch to me: “Anthony, if you don’t mind, I changed my mind and I would prefer to lead the second pitch rather than the first one…” There goes Anthony leading, taking, climbing, and pulling on gear: “I’m sorry Nath it’s taking me so long”. Poor Anthony, I thought: “it’s difficult to lead; he must be flash pumped or having a bad day. I’ll second quickly, so we’ll make-up for time and I’ll be fresh to lead the next pitch”. As a perfect lesson of humility, next thing I knew, it was my turn taking, taking, taking, and pulling on gear!!!
Bottom line: this pitch (and probably the entire route) is SOOOO hard. We bailed. “I really wanted to climb a multi-pitch with you Anthony,” I said sadly, until we both started laughing again. “At the least we hung on a belay together!”. Next year, we’ll be back… and we’ll pull harder!