Monday, September 3, 2007

Sandbag, or, This is rated a 5.5?!

Back from a climbing trip, and just up from a nap. Nice almost ending to the weekend...

We had yet another lucky wonderful weather weekend for climbing. Not too hot, a slight breeze, lots of sunshine. One would think that such perfect weather would inspire greatness in climbing. Unfortunately that is not always the case. Day 1, neither my husband nor I could do anything all that well. Day 2, my husband and I met up with 2 friends, and three of us had a difficult climbing day. Actually, on the rock we ran into 2 more people we knew, and one of them was having a bad day, so that made 4 out of 6.

Part of the problem is how the climbs are rated where we were climbing (admittedly a small part). People started climbing this formation (at least as recorded, and in a 'technical' way) in the early 40's. In fact, the Army used it to train mountain troops for action during the war. In the 50's and 60's the climbers put up a lot of routes. Keep in mind the gear available was much less sophisticated than we have today. These people were amazing climbers to climb some of the climbs they did with the gear they had.

And in climbing, everything is relative. A person who is short will find a certain climb to be much harder than a tall person, and vice versa on a different climb. A person climbing in the 60's or 70's might put up a route and rate it a 5.5 relative to the climbs that had been done at that time, or relative to their ability (which, if you are a potential 5.12 climber, a 5.5 is a walk in the park).

So, my friend and I went to do a 5.5 to make ourselves feel better for not being able to do a 'simple' 5.7 (with an ankle-breaker first section that our burly friend placed gear for us, and a committing in your face move off a ledge later - which we walked away from). The first pitch I was glad she did, because it had a few chimneys, which are not my favorite. Wedging yourself between two pieces of rock, often without wonderful holds, and using opposing force to get yourself up is really freaky sometimes. Yes, even on a 5.5 climb.

The first pitch is lonnnng - 130 feet, and ends on a nice ledge of rock. Wonderful views into the valley behind us, and we could also see our friends down below on the ledge. I was slated for the second pitch, which was only 50 feet long.

If you had a board on the street that was 1.5-2 feet wide, you would have no problem walking along this 15-20 feet board. But imagine this board 200 feet up in the air and separated from the wall of rock by about a foot of space that seemed bottomless. And no gear to be placed between where you stand and where you are to end up. And you might know why my palms started sweating.

The thought of getting down on my butt and scooting along it flashed through my mind for a second. But my pride ruled and I walked it. I got a few pieces in, and felt much better. Until I realized where I had to go next. There was a bulge at the end of this traverse, and you had to scoot around onto the face of it. And just air underneath you. And only one really good foothold. But a really good handhold.

So there's me, holding onto the wonderful handhold, hopping from one foot to the other on the good foothold, with every hop needing to look down into space to make sure my other foot gets on the hold, trying to find a place to put gear so I would feel comfortable making the next move. My husband sees me and calls up to me, howy're doing? "I'm in a rough spot and can't talk now!" Though I normally don't like people giving me advice or ideas when I'm climbing, my friend the belayer said to me - how about where your hands are? DUH! Can't see the forest for the trees or whatever metaphor is best. I got a piece in and felt much better.

The next good hold was just out of reach (remember back to how some climbs are easier for taller people?) so I had to make a technical move to get it, and then made it to a spot where I was safe.

Holy Crap! I pity the modern day 5.5 climber who gets on that route. It's amazing, but so heady, and a true sandbag. (when a climb is rated lower than what it truly is) I had never done the climb because it's 'only' a 5.5, but so glad we did it.

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