Thursday, October 17, 2013

Linville Gorge Climbing - Team Pizza and Beer

I have discovered that climbing in a gym primarily makes people think they are strong climbers. They think because they can put up 5.11's on sport lead in the gym that they are the subject matter experts on the Yosemite Decimal System. They are quick to discredit a climb outside because it is "only" a 5.5. I'd like to take this moment to straighten this out. A 5.5 in the gym can be put up by a 6 year old with one prosthetic leg, 8 missing fingers, and in socks. A 5.5 outside (especially on the East Coast), on lead (not sport lead), all of a sudden becomes a 5.14 R when the storm clouds have rolled in, the rock is soaking wet, and you can't find anywhere to put some pro. When your last piece of gear was a shoddy nut placement 25 feet below you and your leg starts dancing like Elvis because you are pretty sure that the rubber on your shoes is the same rubber that they make Payless shoes out of, a 5.5 all of a sudden is the most terrifying thing you have ever faced in your entire life. All of a sudden, there are no feet placements, the jugs have turned into slopers that have no grip at all because there is a waterfall running down them into your face. Your chalk is all clumped up because you are soaked to the bone and you want to punch your partner in the face for making you lead the last three pitches, this one pitch being the one that makes you want to maim their face. The rope weighs 900 extra pounds at this point because it is soaking wet and dragging over the last 60 feet of wet rock, and all of a sudden your rack of gear weighs in at 238 pounds.

This is what the third pitch felt like on The Prow in Linville Gorge on Sunday to me. By the time I got to the top of that 3rd pitch I was in a fit of hysterical laughter. I was fairly certain that I was going to be pulled off that face by that god damn rope. It was like dragging a body up that face between the rope and the gear. When I finally made it to the top of that pitch and tied into the anchor, I was ready to have a bon fire with that rope. I have not decided yet if I am still angry with my partner for making me lead this or not... he seems to think I will remember it forever, which might be true... it was life changing, but I was very seriously upset with him on Sunday night for making me do it. On our hour hike out of Linville Gorge, in the dark and rain with headlamps, I was able to collect myself a little bit and talk to him again like a normal person instead of a crazy person. My desire to punch him also subsided.

The entire trip was not like this.... let's start from the beginning. :)

For the last two years my friend Mike has been talking about Linville Gorge and telling me how fantastic the climbing is there. He kept going on about a climb called The Daddy that we just had to do. Two years later, we finally get around to making it a priority to climb there.

Beautifully exposed rock faces

From the 3rd pitch on The Prow

Directly across from us, extremely polite climbers! "That's a nice #2 Brian! Thanks, Jeff. You're welcome Brian!"

We got a late start on Thursday. The four of us met at my house at 3:30; however, we never left my house until 5 pm. After 67 stops throughout the entire state of Maryland, we eventually hit Harper's Ferry and get into another state... 3 hours later. I didn't think we were ever going to get out of this state. Our disorganization continues through the state of Virginia and after 7.5 hours of driving, we decide to stop at a random hotel somewhere in North Carolina (I think). We roll up listening to "Little Lion Man" by Mumford and Sons full blast because it seemed like a good song to roll into the Super 8 parking lot to. The next morning, Friday, we head to Stone Mountain State Park in Roaring Gap, NC. We are headed to climb The Great Arch (5.5).

Jason is always giggling

Racked up and ready to go

This climb was spectacular. It was 4 pitches, the first being a manky "approach route" that Mike got stuck leading. It was pretty terrible. There was a total of three trees all within about 10 feet of each other to be used for protection in about 90 feet of climbing, an off width crack that fit a leg in it and nothing else, and nothing else for protection. Poor Mike... he had about a 50 foot run out across a traverse that was a blank slab of rock. If he slipped and fell here, we were going to be hauling a mangled body out. He handled it like a Boss after 10 minutes of having his leg stuck in this off-width crack, and got to the base of The Great Arch. I left my Snail Trail up the corner of this off width crack and by the time I got to the top of it I was so frazzled that I didn't want to lead the next pitch on The Great Arch if it was anything like that last pitch. I decided to quit being a wuss and I racked up anyway.
Technically the 1st pitch of The Great Arch

Mike on the first pitch
We went with two rope teams instead of one because four people on a rope is a mess at belay stations, in my opinion. On this climb, it was Mike leading with Sarah following on one rope, and Jason and I trading leads on the second rope. We set off, Mike and Sarah first, then Jason and I. About 15 feet up, I place my first piece of gear, a solid #2 Camalot. This piece of gear is bomber, it makes me feel instantly safe. At some point early on Mike hollers down about how this pitch being "pumpy." I figured he meant your arms... I was wrong. Another 15 feet up, I place a sling around the tree in the above picture... at this point, I have only gone about 30-40 feet and my calves are burning, this is what he was talking about when he said pumpy. They hurt so much!!!! I place a couple more pieces of gear, but run out the last bit of the pitch because my legs were burning too much to take the time to place gear and the climbing was easy. It had bolted anchors, which is always nice in my opinion. I belay Jason up and he leads the next pitch.

Me at the belay anchor looking down at the first pitch on The Great Arch

At the belay anchor on the first pitch

Looking up at the 2nd Pitch on The Great Arch
The second pitch was very much like the first, it was a solid lie-back. The crack between the dihedral and the slab was nice and took gear easily, it was just sooooo tiring. The next belay station is at a tree, again with a bolted anchor. This was a really nice break. By the time I got up to Jason, my calves were filled with lactic acid. I look up at the final pitch of this climb, it looks daunting. It is my turn to lead, the crack has gotten exponentially smaller, there is a 30 foot run out where it didn't look like any gear would fit. Slipping at this point means that you are going to skin your nipples right off your chest as you slide down the slabby rock. I'm taking a rest and talking myself into leading this pitch when all of a sudden, Jason just decides he's going for it. He's all like "Ahhh fuck it! I'm just doing it" and decides he's going to run up the wall so we can be done and drinking beer. I am secretly thankful for this because I did not want to lead it... a decision that I later come to regret.

Jason at the final belay anchor, belaying me up the last pitch
The last pitch was about 100 feet with a lot of friction... as I'm going up it removing gear, I'm annoyed with myself for not leading it. It was one of the easier pitches because the friction was so good. We get to the top where Sarah and Mike are waiting for us. It is then a 2 mile hike out to the car. We eventually make it there, have a beer, and head out to find some food. Mexican... the food choice of Champions on this trip. It seems as though we ate Mexican food for 3 of our 4 dinners, and beans every single day. There was a cloud of noxious gas following us around.

The trail was about 300 feet of hiking up this slab of rock.

All done with The Great Arch!!!
At The Bier Garden
Saturday morning we wake up with tight calves and tight buns. We decide to take the day to go sight seeing in Asheville. I was super stoked to go to Asheville after reading this article: Asheville: Home to Satanists, Rapists, Gays, and Pedophiles. Asheville, NC is one cool little town. The local music scene is thriving, the street art is rad, the shops are so cool, and the food/bar scene is flourishing. We people watched, went to a Latino Heritage Festival, found a neat book store, drank some delicious local brews, and walked around the city before heading out to The Blue Ridge Parkway to watch sunset. Sunset didn't work out, but it was still beautiful up there. We went back into the city after to close down The Bier Garden. At 0200 we make it back to our hotel knowing we have to get up early on Sunday morning to go climb in the Gorge.

I decided my happiness factor would increase tenfold if I were to get my face painted

Spoon feeding chocolate cheesecake at The Bier Garden

Ahhh Sunday morning. It was Mikes turn to want to punch me in the throat for making him get up. Jason was up at the ass-crack of dawn and ready to go every single day of the trip. Next time we are going to ruffie his ass so he sleeps longer. Sarah and I eventually get ourselves up and around and we all start heading toward Linville Falls, the town right outside the Table Rock area of the Gorge. Stop at a bar that happens to serve breakfast on the way, have cold breakfast and cold coffee, and head out.

Team Pizza and Beer

Scrambling down funk to get to the bottom of the climb

After driving up an incredibly motion-sickness-inducing dirt road for about 8 miles, we get to the trail head to get down to the Amphitheater area of Linville Gorge to start our approach. Due to the government shutdown, the bathrooms are locked, the trash receptacles are locked and closed, and there are no rangers in sight. We sort gear, talk Jason out of bringing a Big Wall Rack again, and start our hike in. We don't get to our route until about 2pm after about an hour and a half hike in. The sun is shining at this point and there are black clouds in the very far distant. My oh my how fast a storm can roll in.
Everything is closed!!! 

We are again on two rope teams. Jason leading with Sarah following on one, and Mike and I supposedly trading leads on the second rope. I start the first pitch, after placing a tiny Camalot in a tiny crack 20 feet up, I continue upward. About 15 feet above that last piece of gear I can't find anywhere to place anything. I get scared and my leg starts shaking. I down climb a little bit but I know that I can't bitch out so early without ridicule when the climbing really isn't hard, it is just a mental game. So I skip out on placing any pro and move right up to a tree to sling. I continue up the first pitch with no incident, just slow going. My fear is starting to subside because I know I get to relax the next pitch while Mike leads.

Ummm, yeah.... I build the anchor, belay my partner up, and he pressures me into leading the second pitch. He made the executive decision that I should lead the entire climb so I get more comfortable. I actually don't mind at this point still because the first and second pitch of this climb are easy and uneventful. It was the 3rd pitch that was stressing me out. I finish the second pitch and Sarah is still at the belay ledge, so I give her some gear to take up on her next pitch and just use the anchor that Jason already built. As I'm tying into the anchor the sky opens up and starts down pouring buckets of rain on us. Everything is wet, I'm soaked, pulling the rope through my ATC is like playing Tug-o-War with Andre the Giant. I have Sarah leave all the gear in place as she's climbing up so Mike and I can get up the pitch faster due to the weather turning to shit.

I'm pretty much freaking out by the time Mike gets to the belay ledge on this pitch. It is raining, I'm having a meltdown on the inside, and somehow he talks me into leading the 3rd pitch because this is the "fun" pitch and I should lead it. He is singing me a song and telling me that it is pretty much like leading a sport route since all the gear is already in place. I think this is what made me do the pitch... this thinking that it will be like a sport lead and I don't want to have any regrets later about bitching out on it. Everything is fine the first 45-50 feet of the pitch... and then it happens.

Looking up at the 3rd pitch from the start

I come around the corner and there is nothing but air under my ass. I look down, I see the tree line, the river below it, and about 900 feet of air straight under me and nothing else. The rain is pouring down. I am on a tiny lip that is about an inch and a half wide and soaking wet. My chalk is clumped, my hands are shaking and cold, the 600 pound rope is pulling me downward, my rack is stuck on something and heavy, the tri-cam I'm trying to clip into is down by my feet and the only solid hold is near my face. I start pulling on the rope to get some slack in it because it was so heavy and I start laughing. Maniacally. It is what I do when I am afraid. I laugh. Hysterically.

 By the time I get to the anchor I am so agitated with Mike for making me do this that I gave him some penalty slack for his climb up. Not that it really mattered, his fear tolerance and my fear tolerance are drastically different. Plus, pulling the wet rope through my ATC was so incredibly difficult that slack was inevitable. Mike gets to the anchor and makes the remark of how slippery that pitch was. It crossed my mind at that very moment that maybe he just doesn't really like me all that much and I should rethink this friendship. I was not speaking to him any longer after he had gotten up there unless it was climbing commands. I was so stressed out. 

Sarah on anchor at the top of the 3rd pitch

Jason hanging out

Sarah and I just hanging out.
Mike coming up on the belay ledge of the 3rd pitch, me fighting with the rope.

Jason led the 4th pitch and we all top roped up to get out of there faster. It was sloppy jaloppy. Everything was wet, chalk was useless, the skies were darkening, and we all dead fish flopped up on to the ledge. We all just wanted off that rock face. We were hungry, cold, wet, and thirsty. It was dark and we had a long hike out still by the glow of headlamps. Never leave home without a headlamp.

Linville Gorge is an amazingly beautiful place. The rock quality is great and I wish we had more time to climb other routes, specifically when the weather isn't shit. Another trip is necessary to climb the other "classics" in the gorge, but god dammit if my life wasn't changed on the rock that day. Never again will I be nervous about a bolted sport lead with 6 feet between bolts. Also, never again will I allow someone to say "it's only a 5.5." It is a 5.5 in perfect weather, on a top rope, when you don't have to place your gear, or drag a body up with you on your rope, and a 5.12 gym rating when all of the opposite is true.

From the Blue Ridge Parkway, looking for sunset

Team Pizza and Beer signing off until next time.

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