Nerves and no breakfast
When Greg called me in the morning to let me know we were going to McKinley Rock, I asked if it would be multi-pitch and he said yes and I told him I had never climbed a multi-pitch route before. He said that was fine, so I knew he must have some faith in me. Still, I began a little internal war - was I up for this? Could I handle it? I was glad I hadn't had a lot of time to stew about it.
It would Be Greg, Harold and Andrew, who, like me, had never done a multi-pitch route before.
I started climbing with Greg a few weeks back when I helped assist his Rock 1 class at the Callahans (as well as being the Rock Instructor for Ucc, the local college, he is the author of the wonderful Western Oregon rock climbing guides). But that had been one pitch, top-roped climbing, the limit of my technical rock experience.
Looking at the guidebook, I figured we were going to do Easy Street, a 5.7 climb that is the usual introduction for novices to McKinley Rock. I was wrong.
We stopped for Breakfast at the Illahee Restaraunt in Glide, but, since I had no money, I didn't order anything. I had had a large cup of Joe earlier, but in hindsight, perhaps it would have been a good thing to have eaten before undertaking what I was about to undertake.
After they finished their breakfast we headed out, driving past the emerald pools and churning rapids of the North Umpqua until we headed up Steamboat road. Shortly after turning onto this road, a cow elk ran right in front of the truck. Having a deer run out in front of you is startling, but this just about made me jump out of my skin.
After following winding, tree-fallen roads, we got to the trailhead, optimistically put on sunscreen (it had been pretty ugly looking, for awhile we really weren't sure if we'd be able to climb), got our gear together and headed up the Long Ridge Trail.
The Long Ridge Trail - quite pleasant.
The Rock, Intimidation and Self-Doubt
We arrived at the base of the rock, and Greg and Harold made the decision to climb Hang Ten, a 5.10a route, three pitches and about four hundred and fifty feet long. I didn't know what the rating on it was, but I knew it was high. I also knew that I didn't want anyone to tell me what the rating was, I just wanted to get on the rock with no preconceived notions. But I knew it was somewhere around 5.10.
Gear was distributed, we got our gear on and Harold started up, belayed by Andrew. Right out of the gate it was obvious the first mossy ten feet would be a challenge. We all ended up slipping and sliding.
The slip 'n slide start
After getting past the moss, Harold quickly made his way up the first (5.9) pitch.
After Harold had built his Belay station 130' up, Andrew started up, struggling to get past the accursed moss. It was a difficult day for the young man, his stomach was bothering him and he persevered through the moss and the first few cruxes, and once past the difficulties he was able to make quick work up to Harold. Now it was my turn.
I got my shoes on, tied in and mentally steeled myself. I also put the camera way, not wanting to have anything extraneous on me while I climbed. I would later regret that decision. I had managed to take a few bites of food, but not nearly enough and I was feeling shaky even before I began my climb. But I was quite thankful to get on the rock, stop thinking and start doing. I'm always alot better when I am in action.
I made it past the moss and struggled a little with the first crux, not really being used to the extremely coarse dacite, not fully trusting my feet, but Greg kept reminding me that my feet would stick to just about anything on this rock, and he was right. But before I got past the first crux, I was already wondering if I was really up for this. Once I got past it, though, I flew up to the first belay. I was really surprised at how comfortable I felt on the 5.8/9 terrain. One of the nicest things about this rock is that whenever you really need a handhold, there always seems to be one available.
I joined Harold and Andrew at the belay station, and then Greg followed and cleaned the route.
Pitch 2 - The Wave.
Once we were all securely anchored in, a decision had to be made. Andrew wasn't feeling well at all, his stomach issues being exacerbated by the stress of the steep, intimidating route. He felt it would be better if he descended, rather than have an emergency higher up. It's a tough decision, but all of us have had to make it one way or another. Harold also wasn't feeling too hot, his back being really sore. So it was up to me whether we continued or not, Greg being somewhat concerned about me not being able to get over the roof and getting stuck, but by now I was feeling determined to somehow complete the route, and told him I really wanted to give it a shot. He also figured out that he could lower some webbing to me if it got too difficult, so we decided to press on with the two ropes while Harold and Andrew rappelled the first pitch. Now it was just the two of us.
Greg really made quick work of most of the pitch, it was really fun to watch him climb. When he got to the wave, he set two quickdraws in the bolted overhang, lowered a little and then attempted the crux. Watching him struggle with it, I knew
I couldn't get past it free. He took one short fall, got back into position and tried again. Not to be denied, he powered through it. I was totally impressed.
One of the cool things about this route is the hang Ten belay, a really comfortable block just on top of the lip, like you are riding the crest of a wave (hence the name). Greg set up, I untied from the belay station and started up. For the most part, I was able to move pretty quickly up to the roof, but once I was there, I knew I just couldn't do it. If I was climbing regularly, had eaten a decent breakfast, I could do it, but not today. So Greg lowered the webbing and for a few minutes I couldn't even get myself up that and I got really worried, but each time I would pull up, Greg would cinch me down so eventually I was able to make my way over the lip. It was then that I knew I would complete the route. The worst was over.
The last pitch of Hang Ten is the easiest,though somewhat gravelly, and we both got up to the summit ridge in short order. Once on top, I ripped off my shoes to give my aching feet a couple minutes reprieve. After that we scrambled ten feet to the true summit and signed the register (apparently we are the first party to summit in nearly a year). Clouds were starting to roll in at this point, and quite frankly, I was ready to go down. I was apprehensive about going down alone to the next set of anchors, but I finished my rappel and set myself into the bolts with no issues. Greg soon joined my and I started down the final stretch - my first free-hanging rappel. When my feet left the rock, I started to flail a little, really wanting that contact, but I reminded myself that it really didn't matter, I was in control, I just had to keep lowering. So I relaxed, enjoyed the experience and soon I was on solid ground, letting out a triumphant whoop and quickly getting out of the system. I called off-rappel to Greg, then limped/ran to get out of my torturous climbing shoes. I took a picture of Greg doing the last rap.
A fine day
I couldn't believe I had done it! I felt so proud, satisfied, energized, elated. It was the hardest rock climb I had ever done, by far. I was smiling then and haven't stopped yet. We drove back to Roseburg, to home, loved ones, a shower and a good dinner. It was one of the best days of my life.