Opening Tag

A place where I can openly indulge my megomania

Monday, October 29, 2012

You're Never Too Good To Suck

When I was first introduced to this world I was given some advice. I was told that climbers begin their journey with two bags, one is full of luck, the other is empty, but as you go forward you empty the bag of luck and fill the empty one with experience. This wouldn’t mean much too me until I left the safe confines of single pitch sport climbing.

My first couple years of climbing was crazy to say the least. I had reached into the bag so many times I was beginning to fear I was cursed with luck. Close calls were numerous, but the result was always the same, I returned to the ground safely. This would go on for years and eventually I lost my noobish ways, but kept the cavalier attitude, which was only fed by my growing prowess on the stone.  Similar to how a teenager considers himself invincible.  The problem was that it was a one sided development. Cant do the section? More power. Off route? Plow forward. This worked time and time again, but I knew one day it would get me into trouble.

That day started out like most adventure days, lost & looking for the trailhead.  This time we were in the North Cascades, outside of North Bend, WA, on Mt Garfield. Our goal was a “sport” route called Infinite Bliss, a 2,200’ 5.10c.  We figured this was the perfect route to get our bodies ready for the up coming season.  When we finally found the cairn marking the start of the climber’s trail, my way more fit climbing partner Ryan Carrasco charged ahead. In an effort to keep up, I skirted the obvious trail, opting to climb mossy face after mossy face until I became rim rocked; I could neither safely climb up or down. I was only 800 feet above the car on the approach and I had already put myself in danger. I had given myself one option continue up or fall and break my neck. Luckily I was able to regain the trail and meet Ryan at the base of route. Little did I know, this off route diversion would serve as an omen for the rest of the day.

We stood at the base, staring up at 2,200 feet of granite slab climbing.  At 10:45 I was not surprised to see two parties already high on the face.  Undeterred by this we decided the best course of action was to simul-climb until we ran out of draws. I racked up 40 quickdraws and stepped onto the stone.

I knew almost immediately that I was unprepared for this. This feeling was only made worse by my realization that this route was not really a sport route. It was an endless slab with the occasional bolt. Each pitch was roughly 150’ adorning 2 or 3 bolts. So at any point if either of us were to slip, we were looking at least a 60’ slab tumble.

The first 1,500 feet was rather uneventful. Every party let us pass, route finding was a cinch, and the stone was immaculate. I was certain we’d be up and down in matter of hours. Then we reached the point where most parties turn around, a half mile wide by 600’ tall section of 5.0 with no obvious route. The only discernible feature of this section was two small shrubs at 200’ and 400’. With a great sigh, I pushed on into the maw.

Sub 5th class climbing is always an interesting endeavor. Never once have I climbed a well-protected sub 5.6 route. I can only assume there’s a certain amount of machismo that goes into developing these routes. That if it isnt going to be hard, it’s going to be scary. Well this section didn’t disappoint. The climbing it’s self was simple. The difficulty came in navigating the endless sea of removable handholds knowing that a slip meant a 230’ tumble. I reached an uninspiring bush that would act as our belay for the remainder of the Death Slab and belayed Ryan up.

Casual Slabbin.
I was happy to hand off the next section. More of the same. No gear. No bolts. Choss galore. What we didn’t know at the time was that I had traversed a hundred or so feet from the actual route, which we would only come to realize when Ryan reached the end of the rope. Rather than downclimb 230’, Ryan gave me a meat belay, backed up by a small pile of rubble he had slung. My concerns with this approach was not the difficulty of the route, it was the prospect of a rouge piece of choss greeting my dome at 9.8m/sec. I cursed the topo artist as I laced up my boots and thought “how can this be fun?”.

Our feet hurt so bad by this point, we could barely do summit flexing shots.
The remainder of the Death Slab section was uneventful. We got back on route and tackled the final 600’. The climbing was harder, but well protected. The difficulty at that point was not the climbing, it was jamming my blistered feet into climbing shoes. Neither of us had taken that into account that and we paid for it dearly. By the time we had reached the summit block, we could no longer stand barefoot. Which only made the prospect of rappelling 22 pitches that less appealing. We had 2 hours to rap 2,200 vertical feet before nightfall. Not impossible I told myself.

Rappelling the death slab area. All of these blocks were posed to land on the parties below us.
Rappelling down slabs is not as easy as one might think. You have to take into account the endless rope tangles, route finding, and stopping your line from dislodging death blocks & killing the parties below. Our one consolation as we descended into darkness was a sunset that only an active fire season can produce.

Rappelling madness. 
Among the items we had neglected to bring (jackets, enough water, slings, etc), Ryan and I had each forgotten one crucial item. Ryan’s was a headlamp. Mine was a helmet. This would greatly impede our progress. Our method was for me to rap first and upon reaching the belay look up to help Ryan navigate the sea of choss, putting me directly in the rock fall zone. Each time I rappelled I had to swing a hundred feet in either direction in order to find the next belay station. Each time I was certain I would miss it. Luckily that only happened twice. In the process I left about $50 in gear and put a core shot in my rope.

Seven hours after we summited, we reached the ground. 22 rappels, 15 of which where in total darkness.  Miraculously, we avoided dislodging any loose blocks onto the unsuspecting parties below.

Every time I go out and pretend Im not a sport climber, I pay for it.  Im not sure if it’s willful ignorance, bad luck, or some combination there of. What I do know is that im nearing the bottom of both of those theoretical bags I was given when I started climbing.

Sorry for all of the pictures of me. Ryan took all the photos that day. Nearing the summit. Here you can see Ryan's gross foot. 


  1. My gross foot with a nail that was severely damaged from a previous Ryan Squared™ adventure. That nail fell off 3 weeks later.

  2. It has been said that some things are better to have done...than to do. Was it commensurate with its reputation?