Sunday, March 01, 2015

Group Therapy

Red Rocks

We decided to do a multi-pitch trad climb called Group Therapy. It was beside a popular route we'd done a couple of times before (and really enjoyed) - Tunnel Vision.

Although it was the same grade as Tunnel Vision, Group Therapy sounded a little more challenging. It had an off-width crack - too small to get inside, but too large to jam a hand or foot. Think knees and elbows and shoulders and jamming feet lengthwise. It also had a big overhang to surmount. And the protection sounded a little sparse. We bought a #4 cam but some people were recommending #5 or larger. But the climbing was rated well within what we should be able to handle so we decided to do it.

the rack

We found the start of the route without any trouble. (That can be the first challenge!) Shelley led the first pitch. The description sounded simple - up and left to the base of the off-width. But how far left, and where the heck was the base of the off-width? After some up and down she picked a place to stop and brought me up but it was unsettling not knowing if we were in the right place.

Meanwhile, belaying at the bottom, I was freezing. It had been warm hiking up, but now we were in the shade and it was only about 10c. To make it worse I could see the sun on the bushes about 10 feet away. We froze all the way up, with every belay either out in the breeze or in the back of a cold damp corner. It's hard to do jumping jacks when you're on a little ledge hanging on your harness. Shivering and isometrics are pretty much it.

I headed up the next pitch and it turned out that we were in the right place since I was soon into the off-width. It turned out to be relatively easy - there were enough holds in and beside the crack and it wasn't too steep. There wasn't a lot of protection but it didn't feel too bad.

But the next pitch we were back to not knowing where we were supposed to be. The climbing wasn't too hard but it was frustrating (and worrying) being uncertain. I'm pretty sure we were off route at least some of the time. We found some stuck gear that others had left behind, so we weren't the first to come this way, but it wasn't much reassurance - they were probably off route too!

A pitch that was supposed to be an easy scramble was harder and very run out. The last 35 feet I didn't get any protection. I kept looking down and imagining what a 70 foot fall would be like on this broken terrain. Not pretty. I wasn't a happy camper. The climbing wasn't hard, but that doesn't stop soft sandstone holds from breaking off. I belayed where someone had rappeled off a single nut. That was a little unnerving - did they rappel off because they were off route? I was pretty sure I should have been in the crack / chimney to the left but I hadn't been able to find a way to get over there.

We considered rapping down to where we thought we should be but it would have been a hassle and it looked like the ramp above would get us to the base of the overhang and back on route. And it looked like there would be some protection, at least at first.

Shelley headed up. Unfortunately, there wasn't much protection higher up. Almost at the base of the overhang she went to traverse on a large surf board sized flake. Except once she was hanging on the flake it started to move. There were no screams but I could tell from the panic tinged curses that she was in a bad situation. I was thinking "what can I do?" But there was nothing. My belay was as secure as I could make it. I held tight on the rope, again imagining the consequences of a long lead fall, only this time Shelley and not me. Thinking about the aftermath, I think I'd almost rather be the one to fall than the one to pick up the pieces.

Thankfully (understatement) Shelley managed to get off the flake without dislodging it. I could tell she was freaked out but she kept her s**t together and made the tricky moves above and around the flake and into the chimney at the base of the overhang. She was ready to keep climbing but I knew she had to be shaken and I offered to take over the lead.

She set up a belay and brought me up. I carefully avoided the flake. The moves around it weren't easy and I was impressed that Shelley had kept her cool on it. Not easy when the adrenaline is pumping.

The flake was an accident waiting to happen and I would have liked to kick it off but we had no idea if anyone was below us.

After my run out pitch and Shelley's close call I was a little psyched out myself. The overhang above us looked intimidating. I took a couple of minutes to catch my breath and get my head together.

The chimney up through the overhang wasn't too bad. I indulged my bad habit of jamming myself too far in so I feel more secure and don't feel so exposed. Of course, once you're wedged in securely it gets hard to move, making it more of a struggle than it really needs to be. On the positive side, thrashing up the chimney was the only time on the whole climb when I was warm! Again the protection wasn't great but a little creativity found me a few placements. I could have used the big cam but Shelley had it in the belay so I used the biggest hex, old school :-)

determined to lead the last pitch

In the spirit of getting back on the horse, Shelley led the last (easy) pitch. It felt good to be finished the climb. But, as any climber will tell you, getting to the top is only half the battle. We still had to get down. And having flailed on the route and wasted a lot of time, it was now 3:30 and the gate closed at 5:00. So we had no time to relax or eat lunch.

The descent was mostly straightforward since it was a walk off and we'd done it before. But first we had to find a way to get to the descent gully. I traversed right but was blocked by cliffs. I came back and tried to go left. That didn't work either. We descended and crawled through a tunnel under some huge blocks to get into a gulley that led downward. Unfortunately it ended in a cliff as well. Back up the gully and over into another only to reach another drop off. Except this one had rap slings and at the bottom we could see the path in the descent gully. Thankfully the remainder of the descent went smoothly and we made it out before they locked the gate.

Don't get the wrong idea, this wasn't some epic dramatic adventure. Just a moderate climb that we fumbled on a bit and had a close call on. I doubt we'll do this particular route again, but we'll no doubt do other multi-pitch trad routes, hopefully in a smoother more enjoyable style!

NOTE: If you're looking for a more gentle introduction to multi-pitch trad at Red Rocks you might want to try Johnny Vegas - shorter, easier route finding, well protected, bolted belays, and a straightforward bolted rap route down.

See also Shelley's post about this climb

1 comment:

  1. We are so thankful that you are both okay. Way too close a call! Stay safe out there but keep doing what makes you happy.