Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Sting in the Tail

-and Finally a Beached Whale-

When a route is called "The Wasp", you might optimistically think that the FA party had a funny encounter with some annoying bugs. Or maybe that it's an obscure acronym.

But really, the most likely reason, and I'm sure the true explanation for the gorgeous route in RMNP, is that the route sports a sting in it's tail.

That is to say, the very last move of the route is "non-trivial".



Cody going ground-up on the Wasp (5.13-). Photos by Ben Walburn.

A few weeks back, my friends Zack, Cody, Ben and I headed up to Rocky Mountain National Park's "Rock of Ages" crag. ROA is a sub-alpine gem of fine grained granite, some of the best stone on the Front Range. The two-tiered crag sports a steep 200' lower wall, with classics like Day's of Heaven (5.10d). The upper tier is a 100' tall chunk of perfect orange and white granite, accented by green and black streaks. Smack in the center of the upper wall lurks the Wasp.

After warming up on Days of Heaven, we all took turns trying the Wasp. After I pussed out and decided to toprope it, our friend Cody manned up, pulled the rope, and went for the lead. The Wasp is one of those treasured rarities, especially here in Colorado: a natural line, entirely protectable by gear, that features difficult and aesthetic face climbing. And thankfully, no one bolted it!

We all were blown away by the continuous, quality climbing, which at first seemed impossible, but slowly became imaginable.

So yesterday, we assembled another crew and headed back up to the Park. Again splitter blue skies gave us piles of stoke, and the pleasant approach hike got our blood flowing. Matt, Josh, Joel, Wade, and I all humped a mountain of gear and rope up to the crag with only one goal in mind (Well, in my mind at least).

I worked out the moves and gear placements on top-rope, making my ascent a "headpoint". This isn't really necessary on this route, since it provides very solid gear, but for me it seemed like a reasonable strategy since this route was at my absolute limit in terms of difficultly, and since the crag was two and half hours (by car and foot) away from my house, being efficient was necessary. Still, on-sighting the route, or even just working it ground-up, is a much better style and I have huge respect for folks that have success with that strategy.

Riding the Wasp. Photo by Wade David.

So, mid-day yesterday, I tied in for my first lead attempt. It went surprisingly well, and I managed to stave off the pump by climbing slowly, milking the rests, and only placing gear from stances. Three-quarters up the route, there's a great rest with a two-handed jug and two well-placed foot chips. I hung out at this stance for over ten minutes, prompting jeers from my friends below. Finally, well rested, I powered into the crux sequence, hitting the crimps and sidepulls in series, nailing the thin footholds, and moving quickly. One big move gains a good hold at the lip of the wall, and I relax for a second. The route is not over, but ends with a frustratingly blank mantle to gain the top of the crag. An hour earlier, describing the route to Joel, I had described this mantle as "non-trivial" but added "but you're not gonna fall off it..."

Staring the mantle, I pasted a high right foot, switching my hands from pulling to pushing and began to lever myself up. My center of gravity was maybe one inch away from being safely atop the crag, and in my mind I let out a silent cry of joy: "I've done it!". Then, in an instant, my body-tension relaxed, my crappy right foot gave way, and I was airborne. Flipping upside-down midair, I sailed about forty feet down the cliff. Finally, the rope came tight on my high piece (a piton, the only fixed piece on the route), and I was hanging inverted, letting loose a crowd of caustic curses at my failure.

After pulling up and finishing (the mantle felt easy that time!), I sullenly lowered back to the ground. My friends were quick with encouraging words: "You looked really solid through that crux!" "You sent it 99.98%", but I was bumming. The weather had started to threaten, who knows if I'd get another attempt in today, who knows when I'd wrangle up a partner to come back here. Doubt, insecurity, disappointment.

An hour later, I've sat in my puffy jacket, watched as Joel top-roped the route, and re-assembled my rack. One more shot for the day. As I lead up the bottom portion, the moves feel familiar, but the pump is building a bit faster than last time. A powerful crux comes at half-height, and I barely scrape it out. Resting again for a long time at the three-quarter height jug, I keep shifting my feet on the small edges so as not to terminally pump my calves.

Finally, I pull into the final crux, hitting every crimp, letting the finely edged rock bite into my worn-out finger tips. Again the toss to the final hold feels desperate, and again I set up for the mantle. I start to rock over, my right foot high on the same slanting, sloping, smarmy hold. My arms are past the point of uselessness, but I press with my whole body, and miraculously get my center-of-gravity over the top of the cliff before everything gives way and I flop onto my belly, the perfect beached whale.

Me Sending the Wasp!


Addendum:
I remembered that in my last post, I promised to report back on "Tague Yer Time". My friend Josh and I got back out there last week, and enjoyed warm (hot) weather while completing the upper half of the route. Spectacular! Recommended!
We again swung leads, and I continued my no-falls ascent all the way to the final 5.12 pitch (of five pitches 12a or harder), before falling on a steep thin finger crack. I lowered back down to the ledge and then sent the pitch.
Unfortunately, I have no photos from the trip, since my camera battery was safely tucked away in the wall charger at my house the whole time (doh!).
The Chris's topo (see previous post) is great, and contact me if you want any more beta!

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