Day 1: Solar Slab
"Shit -- my zipper's busted". Things were not going well from the start. We flew into Vegas the night before and crashed in the car just off the state highway. At 7am, we made our way towards Windy Canyon Trailhead. The weather was not looking up - windy and with a thick overcast hanging above the Red Rocks peaks. I was changing into my spring climbing outfit - appropriate to the locale and time of year (yet defiantly oblivious to weather conditions) - when the fly zipper on my pants came permanently undone. We looked at the clouds; took another blast of sand-laden wind in our faces. Finally, we looked at each other and knew that once again we were not going to go for Jubilant Song
- another Larry DeAngelo guidebook "classic" (a list that we've started trying to tick off). The prospect of bailing in rain and leaving gear behind was a turn-off. As we made our way back to pavement, we were still debating whether to climb something or spend the day more productively by sleeping for 16 hours. Shirley's substantially higher IQ prevailed and at her urging we decided to go for Solar Slab
. Maybe given the late morning start and shitty weather conditions (did I mention it was windy?) we'd avoid the usual hordes on this classic. Sure enough we did not - loads of parties clogging up the "approach" routes: everything from Beulah's Book
to Solar Slab Gully
Let's give it a shot. The traffic jam in the gully proves minimal and we simulclimb the 4 easy pitches passing one party. I pinch myself, then slap myself, and apply other bodily stimuli - all to be sure I'm not dreaming!! Yes, we ARE the first on the Terrace and have the whole of Solar Slab above to do with as we please! We start up and the pitches go quickly. The climbing is nice but gear is spaced out enough in places that it might be kind of exciting for a 5.6 leader IMHO. Did I mention it was windy? Howling in fact. Kind of wind that gives you a headache. At the top, we resist the appeal of the long, arduous walk off and instead give ourselves over to the rap option. On the way down - from the safety of the independent rap line - we witness what I assume are the usual Solar Slab festivities: "That's MY belay bolt!!"; "NO, F... YOU!! It's MINE!!".
As we drive into town for some quality Vietnamese noodle soup, we breathe a sigh of relief seeing that the Red Rock Casino will be completed on schedule in 15 days!! Vegas is soooooooo wild! All that excitement!! How can I sleep?
Day 2: Community Pillar
Morning brings with it calm and sunny weather. Time for page 174 of DeAngelo book. As we're hiking into Pine Creek Canyon, we witness a small herd of bighorn sheep grazing right off the trail. Hopefully, when the Oak Creek Grand Casino finally goes up, they'll exterminate these unsightly beasts (can’t have them shitting up the Pine Creek Golf Course now). The approach to the base of Community Pillar
is straightforward and the start of the route is obvious from the wash bottom (chimney, chockstone, “here” sign). Soon enough I'm looking into the darkness of the squeeze chimney 30 feet up pitch one - at the far side of the cave - formed by the giant chockstone and the afore-mentioned giant host chimney. "This can't be it" I tell Shirley. Yet we both know the truth: THIS IS IT and I'm a fat bastard! Optimistically, I attempt entry with helmet, full rack and - boldly enough - the wallet in my pocket. Soon I feel as though I'm back at my job: I'm suffocating, I can't move, and something (turns out to be a rock horn) is trying to enter my rectal cavity as I slip downward in defeat. Jettison the helmet and the huge cams hanging on my harness and try again. No go. Repeat, though this time using aiders such as "F..." and "Sh.." and various permutations such as "F.. This Sh.." To my surprise still no go - I feel as though I'm choking in the stale air of the 30 foot squeeze shaft. Leave all remaining gear including draws hanging on the last piece and try again. This time, I can feel one obvious culprit that keeps me from gaining entry past my hips: the wallet in my pocket! Slip back down again and toss the wallet down to Shirley. I'm still wearing my fleece....beyond that thoughts of running back to Albertsons to get a jug of KY Jelly race through my head. This time, I attempt entry facing the opposite way. Same resistance but I get as far as the buttocks. My feet scrape desperately on whatever is willing to catch them - leave blood splotches on the walls (sorry - disease free - I think??). I'm trying to suck the stale air into my squished lungs. 10 feet up there's a widening and an escape into a side cavelet. Every maneuver takes unreal amounts of effort and time and though it’s a slight detour, I opt for the rest in the cramped cave. Time to get back to work. I reenter the shaft and continue the upward crawl. A good 45 to 60 minutes have elapsed since I started this last attempt! Soaked with sweat and bleeding I plop onto the flat top of the chockstone. Rest of this route better be worth this!
Shirley's turn to have fun! From the comfort of my belay ledge, I can hear Shirley donning the whole rack and my helmet 30 feet below at the base of the squeeze shaft. "No f...ing way!!" I hear her gentle voice say. I smile to myself. For the next 20 minutes, the sounds of metal and plastic scraping rock are mere interruptions to the constant string of profanities emanating from the chimney. As she arrives at the midpoint "rest cavelet", a straight line shot to the belay now allows me to haul up the gear from her. Without the junk, the second squeeze is relatively easy for her. Soon enough we're up four pitches of OK climbing (though pitch 2 OW/face was kind of fun!).
I start up the fifth pitch - nothing immediately strikes me as being particularly scary. A widish crack extending as far as I can see up. I move, and soon dump my #5 Camalot. Kinda tipped out a bit but OK. 10 more feet and the #4.5 goes into a slightly narrower spot in the crack. Well shit - things don't seem to be narrowing down. I continue up - the side walls of the wide crack have some positive face holds that keep things at 5.8. Unfortunately some of those flex noticeably. 15 feet above the #4.5; 30 feet. Each subsequent upward movement is preceded by more and more hesitation as I think about the ledges below. Well out of sight of the last placement I can see the crack open up to a squeeze chimney 20 feet above me. Ever more cautiously, I make my way up. The joy of reaching the chimney and thus living through this shitty pitch overwhelm me. Like an idiot accidentally I dislodge a chunk of rock from inside the widening chimney - it flies down the crack. Now come the shenanigans - the rock lodges in the crack and pinches down our twins. After 10 minutes of wiggling, I manage to get one of the two unstuck. Belay Shirley from within a decent stance in the chimney as she comes up on a single line. Rest of the route offers more of the same: chimney, squeeze, wide crack and an occasional runout to keep you awake. We top out, do the pain in the ass descent and are back in the car before the law arrives.
Day 3: Black Orpheus failure
I don't sleep well that night. In fact, I go through cold/hot spells and shivers. My left elbow hurts which I'm not really surprised at. Wake up tired but since it's our last day we're going for Black Orpheus
. Do the approach hike and the painful scramble up the steep slabs. I feel like shit in fact. We climb the first pitch. Cold sweat is pouring off me. As Shirley comes up, I confess that I don't have the energy to continue. We bail. By time we're boarding the flight home that evening I'm popping Advils like tic tac’s as my elbow is throbbing relentlessly. I still think it's bruised and it sucks that I seem to be having the flu at the same time.
Over the next two days I feel like hell. My elbow is swollen to twice its size and the flu is really flooring me. Shirley forces me to see a doctor convinced that I broke something. The diagnosis is quick and surprising to me: "You got yourself a bacterial infection son". The doctor outlines the edge of the swelling on my arm with a pen and points to one of hundreds of superficial scrapes as the likely entry point. I get a regimen of antibiotics fit for a horse and instructions to come back in 24 hrs. for a check up. Four days, two doctor’s visits, and 16 horse-pills later I still feel like crap though I think the swelling is finally on a downward slope. Hope things start looking up for the weekend cause after 4 days at work, I’m itching to go climbing.
After re-reading Larry's chapter
on this climb, I felt gratified to find some striking similarities in their experiences. I also found it interesting that Larry mentions being 6'3" and 190 lbs (in the context of the crux squeeze). I guess I feel OK about it being EXTRA challenging for me at 6'7" and 220 lbs :)