Dirk & John's Excellent Adventures
Episode IV: Cosmic Wall ( 5.6, 6 pitches )
| 1) Background |
Ever since I made my first visit to Castle Crags back on February 24, 2002 I had desired to go back and climb the Cosmic Wall on Mount Hubris, a 6 pitch 5.6 route that scales the Ogre's south face. While we had summited Castle Dome via the class 3 route on the first trip, it was the Ogre that captured my attention and imagination. To that end, I had sowed the idea of this climb with two of my climbing partners, Dirk and Don, who were both interested in the climb. After all, it's always better to have a backup if a partner falls through for one reason or another. Just prior to this trip, I ran into Don and Larry in Yosemite where I suggested we do Castle Crags again so in the end it was Dirk, Don, Larry, and myself that headed up to climb Cosmic Wall on May 31. We would climb in 2 teams of 2: Don and Larry as well as Dirk and myself. This made sense because while I knew everyone, this was Dirk's first time meeting Don and Larry. That plus they had much more climbing experience than Dirk and myself as we are both just starting to lead. This was just my third trad lead, the previous two being single pitch.
This being Dirk and my forth climbing trip together, we could definately see some trends forming which made us appreciate preparing for contingencies. For our first adventure together, we had climbed the Dana Couloir in ice conditions on July 21, 2002. We started the ice climb late in the day in our t-shirts. We climbed the last pitch in the dark and topped out dancing under a full moon as we threw down our packs and rushed to get on some extra clothes! The ensuing descent in the dark, off trail, and traversing the mountainside with some downclimbing meant we didn't get back to our car until 4:50am! Then on the weekend of January 18-19, 2003 we did two more climbs that started during the day and finished in the dark at Joshua Tree. As we packed our gear for the 6 pitch 5.6 Cosmic Wall, we both knew well enough to pack our headlamps and prepare for adventure!
2) The Climb
We arranged to meet Saturday morning, however, dealing with the ranger and campsites meant that Don and Larry would head up the trail first. When Dirk and I arrived at the base of the route, Don and Larry were wrapping up the first pitch. At this point, Dirk and I decided to have half of our lunch. We had decided to swap leads and Dirk asked me if I wanted to take the first lead but I let him have it since the first pitch was 5.4 and the second was 5.6. Admittedly we were taking a leisurely start but we figured it was still early and the climb was only 6 pitches - how long could it take?
As Dirk headed up P1 he found that placements were few and far between. I think he got in 5 placements on the first pitch, including slinging a tree that took the most time. When he got up to the large belay ledge, he belayed me up. I found the climbing on P1 to be enjoyable. When I got up to the ledge, I saw the natural anchor he built and headed over to look at my pitch which was quite obvious. We still don't have trading the gear down so that took some time between us. I had carried up a day pack with some water, extra clothes, food, and our headlamps. I traded the pack for the rack. Dirk racks mostly on his harness, however, I had heard that it's sometimes more efficient to use a gear sling so I was racking up on a sling of 1" tubular webbing.
I took some photos of P2 and then was eager to begin the lead. It looked like an easy rock stairway. My first job was to put in a piece to prevent the factor 2. This much I had learned from my reading. Dirk and I had some discussion on where a good placement would be but in the end I put in a micro Camalot along the main line of the route. The pitch was fun and included pulling on jugs. Many of the stances were good and I got in a few more pieces including girth-hitching a small rock arch, another cam, clipping a fixed pin, and finally a nut. At this time the terrain got a little more difficult but I didn't notice it at the time. Then it eased off as I started running it out. The climbing was so easy and fun that I just continued up until Dirk told me I was running out of rope. I climbed up another 10 feet looking around for the belay ledge but couldn't find it ... and then I saw it, about 30 feet below my feet. Because I had been running it out, I was 35 feet above my last piece, the medium sized nut. I thought I was screwed. I looked around for placements to set up an anchor but couldn't find anything so I quickly made the decision to downclimb the 5.5/5.6 down to the ledge. I told Dirk to take in the slack as I downclimbed. At first Dirk wasn't sure what I was doing but then he saw I was downclimbing and realized I hadn't placed any pro in quite some time. I'm not sure what he thought of that but that wasn't exactly at the top of my mind at the moment. The last 10 feet was the hardest and I considered climbing straight down to it before going down the normal route and traversing over. I could finally relax. I set up the belay and started belaying Dirk up as I saw Don and Larry down below. They had already finished the climb and rapped off! We couldn't believe it but then again, we did take our time at the base and I did have to spend some time downclimbing. Eventually they'd head off to climb Six Toe Crack while we finished Cosmic Wall. I tried setting up an autoblock from the anchor using a B-52 but I didn't get it quite right and there was way too much friction so I belayed Dirk up on my harness. The ledge isn't quite as nice as the previous one but usable. When Dirk got up he told me he would have set up an anchor up there and ask to be lowered instead of downclimbing. For some reason, I really hadn't considered lowering as an option, probably because I didn't see too many good placements.
I had already been up part of P3 and the rest of it wasn't any different, a 5.5 stairway with trivial route finding. The only tricky part was finding the belay station since there isn't a good ledge here. As Dirk headed up, we got some tips from Don below to look for some ratty bolts for the 3rd belay and a tree on a ledge for the fourth. When Dirk had set up the belay, I put on my shoes and pack and started to head up. I had picked up the habit of removing my rock shoes at belays from Dirk. This probably slowed us down a bit as well. I had never done this before but it was a little addicting and decadent. The belay station consisted of a two bolts in the middle of the route without a ledge. The main difference between my previous climb of the beginning of this pitch and Dirk's was that he had made five placements in the 30 feet I just ran out. Other than the downclimb, this pitch was unremarkable.
P4 (5.5) was quick and easy. To tell you the truth, I was a bit disappointed it was so short. From the belay, I could look up and see the P4 belay ledge already. Dirk thought this was more to climber's right because there was a large tree visible there, however, I thought that the tree looked considerably off route. Standing a few feet above Dirk on the route and looking straight up I could see the tip tops of two other trees and thus make out the edge of the ledge. Soon enough I was off. I put in a micro Camalot to prevent a factor 2 and then ran out the rest of the pitch. I went up the "wrong" side of a small rock fin and had to traverse over to the ridge. I was glad I didn't place any pro otherwise we'd have a lot of rope drag. As it was, I just flipped the rope over. The P4 belay ledge is awesome. From here, the views were stunning and we could appreciate how much higher we were than the top of Castle Dome. I anchored into a tree and slung a rock before belaying Dirk up from the anchor. While he was climbing I made sure to ask him to check my placements. When he got up he told me I should have used the singular for placement ;-)
Looking above to P5 (5.6) while I was belaying Dirk, I immediately thought it was aesthetically the best pitch so far. It was great to look at, much longer than P4, and the climbing appeared more challenging than what we had seen. Since P4 was so short, I was a bit disappointed that I would not get to lead P5. Since this pitch was a bit more challenging than the previously ones at 5.6, Dirk made sure to make many gear placements. I could see that some of his stances were less than ideal. I took some photos as he moved half way up the pitch and then was out of view for a while. The climbing here was fun and included pulling yourself up on great handholds often times with less than ideal foot holds. The footholds were reasonably small which made it interesting. The last part of the pitch mellows out as I joined Dirk at the notch. The notch is an awesome area and has views in two directions.
As I racked up for the final pitch, I looked up at what appeared to be "easy street" or the ridge heading up to the summit that had been used by Don and Larry as well as other SPers. Since I had led a short P4 and Dirk had led a great P5, I was a bit disappointed to see what I thought was a short distance to the summit. This was a great climb in an awesome area but for some reason I wished for harder and longer leads. Of course, my desire for adventure was quickly answered as Dirk persuaded me to head over to check out the "low-angle chimney" mentioned in in the Laird Davis guide. The chimney is the only summit route mentioned in the guide and the only pitch that doesn't have a rating. The ridge looked so easy, full of holds, and potential for placements, that I was confused why anyone would want to consider the chimney which looked dangerously runout to me. Dirk, however, was concerned that we wouldn't be able to cross over to the summit from the top of the ridge so I went to check out the chimney. There's a small traverse to get there and about six horizontal feet before the chimney I placed a micro Camalot. Then I got over the chimney and saw that it was really more of a water chute with exactly zero opportunities for placements. There are also very few hand or footholds and most of the time you have to rely on friction. I was not happy about this to say the least. I let Dirk know my reservations but I figured I'd give it a shot anyway. I had learned the arm bar technique from Morgan previously at Castle Rock (CRSP) and used it here to enter the chimney and move about ten feet up to a minor rest stance before the crux, a four foot exposed section where the left side drops away. I tried moving up several times but could not find decent hand and foot holds. In fact the hand holds I found for my right hand all broke away with the slightest pressure. Exfoliating rock I thought to myself. I did find a shallow fingertip pocket but was not about to dyno on just that! As I took more time to examine the crux, Dirk could see my discomfort and told me that I could downclimb and go up the ridge. However by this time, I was determined to find a way up. I finally found the right sequence of hand and foot moves to get me up over the crux and into the chimney again. I found and clipped a fixed pin for some heaven-delivered peace of mind and continued up the "chimney" with the rack scraping against the rock until the water chute opened up with some rocks inside. I threw in a medium sized Camalot, hopped over the rock and walked up to the summit.
3) The Summit
The high point of the summit is at the far end of the top and as I walked over, the sun was setting on the horizon and the views were simply jaw dropping. Walking over to the incredible summit in gorgeous light after being triumphant in onsighting what could reasonably called 5.8R was a great feeling. Looking down the rap descent and across to the other peak (not sure of the name) was breathtaking. The summit had a set of truly bomber anchors - the most bomber I had ever seen. I anchored into the three bolt rap station and belayed Dirk up giving him a tight belay on the exposed pitch. When he got up, he got to see the chimney up close and personal. He agreed that there was no place for pro and told me that while watching me do the climb he thought if I had fallen there I'd go "Squish, like grape!" I had initially rated the crux 5.7 for the simple reason that I knew it was harder than 5.6 but Dirk rated it 5.8 and after thinking about it I agreed that 5.8 would be a reasonable rating. He mentioned that he would have downclimbed, gone back to the belay station, and climbed the ridge. He had suggested this to me but he was the one the urged me to check out the chimney in the first place. I don't think I would have led the exposed crux if I hadn't previously climbed some exposed routes. Snake Dike, Slot Nose (CRSP), and The Cleft (5.6 free solo at Pinnacles) were good physical and mental preparation for my leads and downclimbing on this climb.
We took a number of photos before preparing to sign the summit log and rap off. Unfortunately we couldn't open the summit register! The case was a "jar" made of PVC plumbing pipe with a screw on lid that we couldn't get off. Although I suggested we simply take the register with us to sign down below, we decided to forgo that and just rap off.
4) The Descent
What would any adventure be without a cool descent story? The sun was starting to set as we prepared to rap off. We knotted the ends of the rope and Dirk put on a prussik back-up before rapping off. I let him take the first rap because I thought it would be cool to have the first rap and I had just led what I thought was a pretty good pitch. Dirk had to untangle some ropes part way down as they landed in some trees. It got pretty windy on the summit but when Dirk was ready, his voice carried easily and I slid down the rope. Then we started a two man pull before I looked up and yelled out in alarm. We had forgotten to untie the knot at the end of the rope! Luckily that end was only about 10 feet above us. Dirk and I had some nervous laughs about getting stuck on the rappel ledge overnight but I quickly decided the easiest solution would be to climb up to the rope since it wasn't too high. Dirk gave me a belay and I put in a micro Camalot to get to the rope before untying the knot and rapping down again. This time we did everything right. We then did the second rappel and of course our rope got tangled on a rock fin when we pulled it (same happened to Don and Larry we later learned). This time Dirk went up to free the rope, unroped. As we headed down, it became dark. Our main concern was getting through the manzanita back to the Observation Deck so we could get on the main trail down. But before that happened, I lost my $15 gas station sunglasses which I went back to find. When we got back to our bags, it was dark out, and we were laughing about how long it took us to do the climb. We had the rest of our lunches, some Gatorade, and chocolate before heading down. Naturally we lost the trail in the manzanita but on the way in I had remarked on the large number of large dead trees we were passing. Dirk remember this and located a large dead tree that we hiked over to where we found the trail.
The rest of the descent was fairly uneventful. We didn't stop to rest until we got into the state park signed area again by which time we were pretty confident that we were on the right route. We drove in to Shasta City for some drinks and then headed to the Hungry Moose for dinner. We finally rolled into the campsite at 3am. The next morning Dirk, Don, Larry, and I decided to head out instead of doing more climbing. Don and Larry had climbed Six Toe Crack the previous day. They had wondered if they should go look for us in the middle of the night but rejected that idea and, as climbers, we didn't expect it either. Overall, another great adventure the continuing saga of Dirk and John.