Monday, September 6, 2010

Looking for Trouble

'Pee Wee's Big Adventure' opens with an amazing sequence of events taking place as Pee Wee wakes up and begins his day. A myriad of Rube Goldberg machines work in sync to crack his eggs, make his toast (which is flown in via wooden pterodactyl), and help him brush his teeth, at which point he foams at the mouth and growls "Mad Dog! grrr". I love this sequence. But he's having such a good time just getting up in the morning that he does not heed the advice which is received from his fortune telling machine. It spits out his daily fortune: "Don't leave the house today" and Pee Wee promptly scoffs at the warning and heads out, thus beginning his 'Big Adventure'.

My warning came a little later in the day than Pee Wee's but just like Pee Wee I scoffed and continued toward my 'big adventure'. I've recently gotten pretty psyched on the Orange Wall at the Meadow River which also happens to be the most remote crag in the region despite the fact that if you have a 4wd vehicle the walking approach takes about 5 minutes. If you don't it's a bit more complex and of course I don't. I left the house with two goals in mind. Check out a new crag Dan Brayack has been developing called the "high density feed lot" and make it down to Orange Wall to rap down two bolted projects.

Max had never been out to the Southside of the Meadow before and this was his inaugural mission. He performed flawlessly at the river crossing and soon enough I was bushwhacking in search of the 'high density feed lot'. A handful of routes looked good but as I walked the base of the crag with my eyes upward as usual I almost stepped on this fella right here. He was a grumpy little dude.

I figure, statistically, that the longer you live the greater chance you have of dying unexpectedly. And one of my favorite songs tells me as much with the lyric: "This is your life, and it's ending one minute at a time." You can do a lot to prolong life and avoid risk but I think it really comes down to luck sometimes. Imagine that you start each day with a full glass of "luck". You can walk carefully through each day making sure to not spill a single drop of the luck out or you can stumble (as most people do) through life spilling luck from the glass in large torrents or even dropping the glass entirely and watching the last drop of luck sink into the ground.

All I'm getting at here is that when you almost step on a Copperhead you should start treading lightly to ensure you hold on to that last half glass of luck that you started with. Pee Wee and I could both tell you that hindsight is 20/20.

So we left the feedlot and Max charged headlong down the narrow dirt road that leads to the Orange Wall. We both cringed everytime the West Virginia rainforest reached out and clawed at Max's sturdy flanks. Lilah rode shotgun and sniffed vigorously at the outside air. Max made it as far as Hedricks Creek and called it quits. The road is too rough past there. So I jumped on the mountain bike and we hauled ass down the dirt road. Me coasting as fast as possible and Lilah running behind me at 1/2 throttle. We got to the trail head, dropped the bike and headed up hill.

I eyeballed the projects to be rappelled, noted some landmarks to look for, and headed right along the cliff band looking to gain top access. Of course, it was 10 times as far as I though it would be before finding a sketchy top approach. I jumped to a tree limb and hauled my ass over a log then scrambled up pine-needle and rhododendron covered fourth-class to the ridge line above Orange Wall.

I tied off to a sturdy pine, hooked my grigri to the line and eased over the edge of the overhanging 140 foot cliff. As is always the case when things go wrong a string of events usually leads up to the predicament and one of those events happened before I left the house. I was packing my bag and decided quickly to grab the harness I use for guiding instead of my normal climbing harness. I thought it would be more comfortable to hang in and brush holds, etc. Clipped to my harness was the grigri I use for guiding, not the one I use for climbing but I figured that for a rappell mission it would be sufficient.

So I ease over the side of the cliff and my grigri is not locking on the rope. It's sliding down the rope much like an atc would but grigri's are not supposed to do this. I quickly rap my brake strand around my leg and chill for a minute. I start doing some rough calculations: Grigri is 7 years old, I guide (conservative estimate) 50 full days a year, everytime I belay a goober on Easily Flakey two hundred feet passes through it, I do this about 10 times a day, lets see....this grigri has passed about 700,000 feet of rope through it. And that's just guiding. All the time it saw climbing as well...maybe another 300,000 feet?

So if you're wondering when you should retire your grigri, the answer is: well before a million feet of rope passes through it.

But that doesn't help me much right now cause I sure as hell aren't going to go any further down. So I hook my jumar on and start chugging upward. Lilah is wondering what the crap I am doing. She's staring up at me from a hundred or so feet below, still a bit peaved she couldn't summit due to the fourth-class nonsense.

I get back to the top and I'm getting really faint from the heat on the wall. I may not have mentioned that the wall is baking in the sun and it's in the 90's this day. Super heinous. Which makes me not want to hike back down because rappelling straight down will put me at my waterbottle in two shakes of a lamb's tail. I decide to go for a double rope rappell on the atc and pull my rope from the bottom. At the time I didn't realize how tall this cliff was so as I ease over the edge I can see the tail ends of my ropes tickling the tree tops. No bueno. much too short. The hanging belay anchor for Due Date is within reach but as I'm going for it I realize that no one knows where I am, I'm quickly dehydrating and getting dizzy, and my rope is running through a tangled web of sharp boulders up top. If I go to pull my rope and it gets stuck I'm done for, only to be found days later hanging in the middle of a cliff, baked to a crisp, being picked apart by vultures. So back up the line we go, shimmying up a double line with an atc. I resign myself to pulling up the rope and hiking off and it does in fact get stuck in the boulders so I fix one end and rap off, again on the slick ass grigri, unstick it, jug up and flop onto the summit feeling like I just sucked down a nitrous balloon at a Phish concert. I packed up my shit and cut myself to pieces hiking through the greenbrier on the way back down, missed the gully, and had to do a nasty double rope jungle rappell back to planet earth where Lilah was waiting patiently for me to pour her a drink. I have no idea what those projects are like. Lilah was eager to get back to the AC and I was easily talked into it.

Two days after that we went back out again. This time more properly armed. Lilah and I borrowed Gus (Elissa's CRV), remembered to take the good grigri, and our good friends Kirk(the dogfather) Bjorling and John (Gayveritte) Averitte joined us. A party of three is perfect at the Orange Wall. Two people can be crushing rigs while the third is rapping lines and looking for new stuff. Kirk was psyched to be the explorer this day so he started hiking around looking for potential. John and I started climbing and had a great day just climbing for fun. I warmed up on the cleverly named 'Geneius' (named for Gene Kistler's uncanny ability to have his hand in more cookie jars than the world has cookies) and then fired 'Territorial Pissings' which may be the definitive New River route. I'm saying that this is the best 12a in the region and it may just be the best route of any grade in the region. If someone was going to climb just one route at the New and wanted to be awed, I would say: go climb 'Territorial Pissings'.

This route is located on the far left end of the Orange Wall which is considered the Orange Wall proper. 4 routes ascend this section of wall and they are all of the finest quality. They are all mixed face climbs with a smattering of bolts and some interesting steep face climbing on unbelievable pockets, horizontals, and edges. Kirk rapped a potential new line on the route and proclaimed it to not go. He found another one around the corner and started bolting. I did another cool 12a sport route then John and I headed to the right side so I could get on the project. I climbed some choss, eventually pulled through the big roof, and found myself plastered in a holdless stem corner. I bailed and might not get back on this one. We finished with a 100 foot Obedesque adventure up a flawless wall of golden stone called 'Slapping the Curmudgeon'. We drank Dortmunder Gold's as the setting sun and the high alcohol content transformed the wall into a more beautiful creature with each passing minute.

Two days later we returned with the posse:

From left to right:

Eddie (Jumbo Hoss) Avallone

Rachel (Twin Cannons) Melville

Kirk (Static K) Bjorling

Lilah (Beast of Burden) Colley and

Elissa (Colley Lama) Williams
This time we had a party of five and so I began with a failed bushwhack in search of a buttress I saw across the river from the top of the curmudgeon. Then I hiked up to meet the crew. Kirk got on his new project that he bolted and what he thought was 11d is much harder. So far no one has been able to do the move. I'd been eyeballing this completely blank orange sheet of glass between 'tatanka' and 'territiorial pissings' that appeared to have some bullet hole monos in it. Eddie said he'd swung over from another anchor at one point and found a sinker pocket. That was all the motivation I needed to hike up top and rap down it. The upper section all looked good but the lower section looked hideous. Just a couple of shallow monos and slots. But it definitely had potential so after some deliberation we decided where to put the bolts. We only brought 4 with the intent of adding one to the start of 'Rock Jihad' to make that safer and possibly one up high in the retardedly runout section. With Kenny's approval of course.

So we only had two bolts. I fired em in, jugged the line, made sure the top would be safe on gear, and fired it. This route is very, very, cool. There are only a couple lines I've established that I'm truly just blown away by and very proud of. This is definitely one of them.

It starts out with a few techy powerful moves on somewhat suspect edges. The only poor rock on the route. Then goes into some big huecos. At the top of the huecos is the blank section. You reach up high and in the middle is a perfectly round hole that accepts one finger all the way to the hilt. Unbelievable.

One pull off the mono and you gain some small edges then stem left to a sinker three finger and the crux.

From the three finger sinker you reach high to a shallow three finger dish paste your left toe in a shallow mono pod and step up high to a 1/2 pad left hand mono divot. Yard on the divot, hike a high right foot, and huck meat for the ledge. Then it's some adventurous 5.11 with one 12a section over a not perfect TCU. I'm going to go back and add a bolt for the upper crux. It's not fair to the onsight climber. I had the advantage of scouting the holds on rappel. I also finished up and left to the 'tatanka' anchor but a straighter line goes to the top. I'll add an anchor as well. This is truly a world class route on flawless stone. The holds seem to have been drilled but I promise they are entirely natural!
There is nothing more satisfying than showing up at a cliff, spying a blank piece of rock, and then slowly watching a route materialize throughout the day. It's like it creates itself or, more accurately, reveals itself. And the ultimate is being able to watch that entire transformation occur in the span of a few hours. And the best part of this experience was that I didn't go looking for it. I spend so many days hiking around, engaged in epic bushwhacks and rapping potential routes that would go except for one blank section. Most of the time when I go looking for trouble I find it. But this day was different. I headed up with the intent of spending a beautiful day with good friends and was rewarded with a gift: an immaculate four star classic.
It's definitely worth checking out if you're interested. The grade is 5.12+ and it's called 'Rhymes with Orange'. Take a standard rack up to a #3 Camalot. What rhymes with orange? Nothing really. This route stands alone just like every route. A completely singular sequence unlike any I've ever done before. It's what keeps climbing fresh you know? Wouldn't it be boring if they were all the same?

1 comment:

Red Bunny said...

Hey Mike. Your blog is awesome. Call your little brother for some design tips though. Ick. You gotta put this thing together and make it prettier.