Epinephrine, Red Rocks - Black Velvet Canyon
A lazy start. A stuck rope. A fall that would have been a horrible accident from carelessness. And victory that ultimately led to 2,240 feet.
This recount is about the most intense route I've ascended so far in Red Rocks. Physically, the last comparable (kind of) climb I completed had been a 6-pitch, sustained 10c/d/11 route in Costa Blanca, Spain; however, I wasn't leading on the demanding, taxing route and following it wasn't too far beyond my range as long as I could take a few breathers....and it also lacked the incredible fear factor that this route had. Another comparable climb I've done (and only because it had double digit pitches as well) was Royal Arches in Yosemite; however, I can't even compare that because physically, it was relatively easy; even as a beginner climber. But honestly, I don't think I can compare climbs because each one is so unique - the technique used, the rock, the environment, the views, the state of mind, the partner; even the wake-up call right before you set out with your rope and pack; welcoming a day of experiences that is one-of-a-kind.
Epinephrine they call it. "Epi" some affectionately say like it's their friend.
I can't stop thinking about it. My body can't stop feeling it. My mind can't stop seeing it. And I still have the aftertaste of endorphins in my mouth. Thus, I just woke up with a start after falling into a near exhaustive sleep at 1am to recall everything while memory serves me fresh.
On the day of, my partner Ryan suggested we kick the tradition of early morning starts. I was more than happy to recognize the need for more rest because we had climbed tons in the days prior - routes 'Community Pillar' (my second ascent - such a fantastic route!), did a bit of 'Magic Triangle' (the first two pitches are absosmurfly NOT 5.7) and I hiked the Angel Food Wall. Also, the day before he had even come to town, I did a very unserious trek up Charleston Peak and the only reason I say it was quite unserious was because I started at 2 pm; I knew that I didn't have the time for it but wanted to explore it as far as I could and until the snow stopped me.
My present condition for Epinephrine was one of an injured animal. I was completely sore and run a bit ragged from 3 straight days of hiking and climbing but looking extremely forward to climbing this route. I managed to put the pain behind me and just told myself I would try my hardest.
In retrospect though, I didn't believe in myself fully. I read peoples' experiences on the route; one too many horrifying experiences. I expressed my concerns with Ryan.
"I read similar experiences on "Community Pillar".....and that wasn't bad, right?" he said to my nervous self.
"Good point" I said.
"That's why reading those reports aren't an accurate way to gage a route - everyone has a different climbing style and are at different state of minds....."
'Even better point' I thought.
It was fantastic to climb with someone that believed in me all the way and didn't once seem hesitant that I would fail to be a good partner or fail to ascend.
Fine. My courage and faith were in check and I knew that I would just try my hardest. I thought about the scariest climbs I had been on (which, actually aren't scary to me anymore) - and in the end, I was here and looking forward to the "next" challenging climb....so this was it.
We arrived to the base (in Black Velvet Canyon) at around 11am. We decided to hydrate on liters of water before the climb and travel light: 2 liters of water, 2 ropes, our headlamps, my phone and his point-and-shoot, 2 energy bars, 2 snickers and the copies of the topos I scanned. I brought two layers of clothing for myself because I get cold easily and knew from past experiences that belaying in a shaded shelter can get chilly even with 80+ degrees outside.
Ryan advised that to save time, we just scramble up on some 5.5/5.6 something or other that was 10 feet to the right of the start - instead of roping up for the 60', 5.8 pitch. It was super solid - no problems.
At the base of p2, we roped up and again, to save time, Ryan would go ahead and link p2 and p3 together and we would simulclimb when the rope ran taught. So right there, we completed 2 pitches of 260' feet pretty quickly.
When we met up at the bottom of p4 (p4 in the topos, but our p2)- the first all-chimney pitch, I looked up to be greeted by two beautiful, massive walls that long ago couldn't decide whether they were going to part or stay together - so they just stayed with enough space between them to allow us to play in.
Ryan asked me how I felt about leading and I said I would love to do it. Lately, as a sort of "newish" trad leader, all my placements in prior climbs have been checked by my partners and have been solid - so I've been feeling relatively okay with the thought of falling on my gear - although the bottom line for me is "don't fall. Just don't". I've also finally gotten much more keen to placing just by eyesight - something I had been incredibly slow with in the past and something that is so crucial when you want to protect quickly and move on. It's always, always so true the longer you stay in one place, the more chance you have of losing it so I strive to keep my body moving.
I got geared up and started ascending feeling pretty good and excited. There is plenty of protection deep within the chimney (however, you need to be small to get in there, BELIEVE ME) so in general, it can be a pretty run-out adventure. There is also the option to face climb a bit to the right and there is gear in that area but I opted to go into the chimney where I felt more secure. I wriggled my way up almost 80% of the 110 foot pitch. In some places, inch by inch and in others, a bit more quickly due to areas of subtle rails and pockets I could use to push on. I felt good but as the chimney got wider and I didn't feel as protected, it seemed the growing space welcomed in the room for my faith to escape as well. I lost focus. I focused on the fact that I had little protection and although I'm in a chimney, it was so run-out and I pictured myself sliding down on the steep wall and.....well, these were thoughts I was battling to push to the side with the same might I was using to push against the sandstone surface. I had to pause for a minute a couple times and be conscious of my breathing as I defied gravity with opposing forces to ascend. I was so distracted that I ended up going too far above the anchors that were there trying to fulfill my extreme desire for protection.
Finally........ I was safe.
Ryan took a different way up and was at me in no time to take on the next crux chimney pitch. Poor guy - he had to retrieve the gear I placed deep within the chimney's back wall...haha...he had to use the nut tool to grasp at the cam's trigger. As a sister of Eve, I swear I accepted the rib he donated to me to get it.
Anyway, Ryan began ascending up the next pitch and lo and behold, after placing two pieces, the trailing line that was on him got stuck way below from the belay we were at prior. He had to lower himself down, free the rope and he jugged back up; all of which took precious daylight hours.
He got up the crux extremely calmly and confidently. I followed and could definitely see how this was the crux pitch. The chimney was wider - which was fine but toward the top, it got awkward and very difficult. I tried to imagine myself leading it but made myself shudder in doing so, especially since I was still trying to get over my loss of focus on the last pitch.
We were making decent time - and didn't feel too tired at this point.
After p5 (our p3), Ryan again took the lead on the next chimney which was a fun one. One side had lots of texture to help get us up. The best advice on this climb is if you're facing one way to the wall - don't forget to look behind you for assistance! I was still a bit unfocused but was able to refocus on this pitch and although you worked hard pushing, it wasn't bad following.
P7 (our p5) was back to face climbing. I would go ahead and take the lead on the 5.7 which I scaled quickly and it was protected with two run-out bolts. Everything was there though. After the last bolt (the second one), I came to a small ledge where to the left is an overhanging bulge. I placed gear in the crack to the lower right of the bulge and took some time to investigate the pregnant-looking rock. I kind of had it in a bear hug because I layed myself back leaning toward the left so all my weight was on my right hand that was upon the curved, sloped side. I looked up to see what was available for holds and looked down at my feet. There were chicken heads sticking out above so I thought, okay, this is fine for my hands. However, there weren't any feet available that I could see. When I decided to commit, I'd just have to hang on to the good right hand jug, lift my feet off and grab the left hold, pull-up and get the high, sloped step above my midsection and reach for the next positive hold. I went back to the right to rest myself for the short but powerful move and meanwhile, Ryan recommended I add a longer sling to my protection to prevent more rope drag. I did so.
I felt rested and ready. Calm. I had gotten through all the cruxes in the route now so there really wasn't any fear. I finally committed to the move. I grab the protruding hold with my right hand, feet high on the right where there was feet available, swing left, grab a positive hold with my left hand and my feet were lifted. I was in air.
All of a sudden, Ryan says very, very calmly,
"Christine, you're not clipped into the rope.".
I somehow didn't notice that that the lead line wasn't in the sling's biner (from when I had switched it out).... and didn't have protection from the last bolt that was maybe 25 feet away. It was not a clean fall.
The unsettling fear quickly hit me at lightning speed as I had turned around mid-hang, looked down at the red sling attached to the piece I had so carefully placed in the crack - a yellow alien. I'll never forget. My mind operated in milliseconds. First, I first tried to investigate downclimbing. No. I could not. I had already committed to the move and had no feet. My muscles started to burn from the invading fear. I had looked at Ryan's face when he told me what had happened and I never wanted to see that look again.
I immediately told myself that I could make this move and as funny as it sounds, climbing at the gym helped me as much as I had initially despised being on plastic. I had done much harder moves that were a bit similiar and I knew I could do this one, however now I was battling that horrible fear and it was trying to absorb into my grip. I would beat it to the punch. With all of my might, I did a pull up, brought my leg in super high to get on that step and my muscles almost......almost gave away as I held myself in with my left hand and reached for the next hold.
Got it. I knew it would be fine. I got myself up.....went up a bit to find a good placement and relax because I was shaking with fear.
"Hardcore......." was all Ryan said.
I didn't feel it at all. I felt i had a fit of "fight to survive".
We linked the next two pitches with Ryan leading p8, p9 (our p6) - all of about 200 feet. Easy, some delicate, face climbing. Technical moves which are my favorite. It was cruise for us...but I was getting worn out.
As we got to the start of p10 (our p7), we were at the belay and Ryan offered the lead to me but I knew we were running out of time. Even at 5.7, I could try as hard as I can but not be as fast as Ryan - or I would just run it out which was the furthest thing in my mind at that point. We quickly scampered up it - and I almost felt like the long-running 5.9's we had just previously done were easier in some places than the .7.
The rest of the climb to the top was relatively uneventful although just beautiful. Scenes I had never seen before at about 2,000 feet.
Getting down was actually the most difficult. We topped out around 6:30 or 7pm and by the time we got halfway down and followed the cairns - the darkness had eliminated our trail. There was just a moment of silence as we concentrated on finding it - attacked by brush, cactus needles, bugs swarming our warm headlamps; it was quite a challenge and I fell behind as I was much more exhausted than Ryan who is just fit for any situation.
He finally found the trail - calm and feeling positive, I believed he could find it. I was too slow to help in any hunting - trying to watch my every step as I am violently and dangerously clumsy in the dark, in pain (hiking in climbing shoes) and at that point of exhaustion. However, it's something I want to get stronger at so I'm really happy to partake in the extreme suffering.
It was definitely the best route I've climbed in Red Rock so far and probably not as scary as I have described. If you are a strong party - it's not crucial to do such an early morning start - you can complete this is in 3-4 hours maybe. Just make sure you know the descent - you have to go up......to find your way back down. It seems like the ridge goes forever....but the cairns are definitely noticeable. Thanks to all those people that put those up!! And the biggest thanks to my partner for believing in me and for being so knowledgeable on the climb.
1st all-chimney tunnel
From a distance; nearing the summit.
Eating bunny poop.......or actually raisins that fell out of the bag. (Ryan's dad asked me if I was eating rabbit shit and inspired this photo)
Ryan leading up 'Magic Triangle'......one of the few climbs in Red Rocks that was astoundingly hard for its grade.
Ryan at the top of Community Pillar
at pitch 10 or 11...
Detoured from the 1st pitch of Epi and went a few feet to the right to a scramble up 60' to the 2nd pitch.
Father and son.
Beautiful souvenirs from the climbs.
Ryan's dad...climbing at 67. The beginning pitch of 'Chocolate Flakes'.
Ryan up on 'Community Pillar'
Rapping off of Community Pillar.
Top of Community Pillar.
over 1000 feet up.
Ryan on Community Pillar
In the cave; Community Pillar