Being one of the 50 Classic Climbs of North America, The NE face of Pingora, naturally attracts almost the all of climbers camped in the Cirque of the Towers. Being on our first trip there from Europe, and having devoured the book, it was obviously on our list of climbs we wanted to do. Unfortunately as were climbing as a rope of 3, climbing fast was going to be the order of the day.
We got up very early and hiked around the base of Pingora, taking far to high a line through the talus. Eventually we reached the slab that guarded the crack that the route takes for most of the route. Being the designated slab-meister (despite having had one of my only major falls on a slab!) I had the pleasure of tackling this as the first pitch of the morning. In actual fact, it wasn't that hard with just a couple of moves of friction before reaching the ledge at the bottom of the crack where Heather and Alasdair soon joined me.
Despite the fact that the routes crux is really at the top, the first crack pitch is quite intimidating, going up a leaning corner before breaking out just as it overhangs! We had decided to climb the route in blocks and Heather started up. Despite the early hour I was frantically worried about time, and continually willed her on to get up the pitch as quickly as possible. I always feel this way for the first couple of pitches - the worry that we're going to be too slow, or find the climb too hard, despite the fact that 5.8 was easily within our abilities. It seemed to take forever for her to complete the pitch as the sun rose over Mitchell peak. Finally the wait was over and I started up. I soon realised how hard the pitch actually was with quite strenuous moved over the lip. I was glad Alasdair was carrying the rucksack.
Luckily the next pitch was fairly easy and I was feeling slightly better about the climb by the time I took over leading. By now we were on the face proper, with the barrel shaped wall curving away from us to the left and right. The first couple of pitches I led at a pace. The climbing was fairly gentle and secure, no need to place huge amounts of gear, and good belays. Alasdair and Heather climbed together to save time. I completed 3 pitches in well under an hour, quite good going. Eventually the crack petered out and the route-finding became tricky. I was supposed to climb up right on some ledges but couldn't make the rock fit the guidebook. Eventually I found a belay and let Alasdair lead through to where we were pretty sure the next pitch started.
By this time clouds had gathered to the North over Temple Peak. We could see lightning striking it almost continually, and it was heading our way. It started to rain as Alasdair led the next pitch. I was very worried. Rapping down from 7 pitches up as a rope of 3 was not really an option, and above were two of the hardest pitches. All I could do was hunker down and hope. It started raining. Heather and I didn't talk much as the rope (now thoroughly wet!) slowly snaked upwards. We were both quite scared, praying that the storm didn't continue towards us. Finally Alasdair shouted down he was safe and I gallantly let Heather go first. Luckily she climbed fast and I started up quite soon after. The rock was good and I am sure Alasdair enjoyed it, but as everything was now very wet and I was carrying a rucksack I just ran up it on a tight rope as quickly as possible. Unfortunately there was more, and it was raining harder. Luckily we hadn't seen any very close lightning - though Mitchell Peak, about a mile away, was being struck every minute or so.
Alasdair led off and we tried to press ourselves into the rock to avoid the rain. By the time I started up again I was shivering and my hands were numb. Luckily the end was now in sight and the rain began to ease off. A short pitch later and we were on the terrace just below the summit. Alasdair and Heather were a bit lost but I knew exactly where we were and scrambled around the to the rappel anchors. Just as I reached the anchors the thunder and rain stopped. Alasdair and I started to grin inanely. We knew now we were fine: 3 raps to the ledges than half an hours walk to the campsite.
According to Alasdair the last couple of pitches were great fun in the wet. He reckoned he had an easy time of it relative to us, just getting on with the climbing, rather than getting cold and worried. I'm not sure I agree though - I didn't have the responsibility to actually get the pitch done!
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