Lighter and epic free

14apr01_will__leading_alibaba

Trip Report: “Lighter and epic free!”
The Shrine, Eardley Escarpment
Gatineau Hills, Quebec – 14th April 2001

  • The Shrine: Alibaba, 5.7 (S, 4B) – lead
  • The Shrine: Living Dead, 5.8 (S, 4B) * – lead
  • The Shrine: Headstone, 5.9 (S, 4B) * – toprope
  • The Shrine: Shangri-La, 5.8 (S, 4B) * – bailed

If you’re following along: last week marked my first outdoor climbing ‘event’, and it was a doozy. We came, we climbed, we almost died, we didn’t start retreating until dark, we almost died, and we got lost. In short: we had an epic.

Well, the good-natured ribbing – and the blank “why would you do that?” stares – of friends, family and cow-orkers sunk in. I decided that our second outing would be epic-free, a time and place where epics were not around.

Reinout, Scott and myself were feeling antsy. It’s the Easter long weekend and we wanted to climb. The forecast was initially not good: rain, drizzle, rain, clouds and drizzle, and rain.

I thought back to third year Eng-Phys class. My Prof, honestly one of the smartest people in the world, would always do a little rain dance on Fridays. He told us that his dance was for the rain, and referred to it specifically as a ‘rain dance’. He said that he wanted us to have good weekends.

Well, the only type of raindance I know about is the one you do when you WANT rain. I never figured out if he was hoping we would get rain, so we could all think about n-p-n junctions and superconductivity, or if he really was hoping that his dance would scare the rain away.

Couldn’t hurt – we already had rain coming. I did the dance. One day later the forecast said the clouds were parting and we’d get a couple of days of +10C with few/no clouds. Oh yeah, baby, yeah.

We all talked and planned. Rather than going to some place we picked randomly in the car, Reinout and myself pored over the guidebook and thought things through. I couldn’t take all that democracy for long, so I gave him the book and demanded he decide. It is also his book, so what was I going to do, keep it?

Reinout chose “The Shrine”. It’s a sweet-looking place: 300m from the parking spot, has seven climbs under 5.9, 300m from the parking spot, and it was described as being a quick walk from the parking spot. How could I not agree?

During the week since The Epic, I had been shopping. I went to MEC and got John Long’s book “How to Rock Climb”. I also picked up a couple of slings, some more ‘draws, a couple of locking biners, a figure-8, and some 5mm perlon cord for prussiking. Reinout picked up “Advanced Anchors” by J.Long. Excellent books.

The MEC weenies gave me stupid looks when I told them my stupid Epic story. I cut it a little short as I wanted them to still sell me equipment. Actually, I stopped after “Yeah we went out! I almost died!”. Meh, my money is good money.

So I had been spending the week reading John Long’s book. I really recommend it; it’s got everything a beginner needs. I wish I had bought it earlier, however, because I wanted to go back to the Western Cwm and try out my new slab/crack moves.

I was pumped.

Scott bailed. He said he had to work, but I think his “work” has breasts. Reinout and myself were it. The dynamic duo, the unstoppable two! We were a little concerned that Scott was getting to be a liability anyway.

We didn’t get lost, although we did take a stupid long way there. By the way, it’s settled: Quebec has no road signs. Picture this: we’re driving north through the centre of Hull, a large Quebec city. We’re on a four-lane road (two in each direction) with MANY traffic lights and side streets. We had detailed maps of the city and we got lost.

It was hard to tell which road we were on, and which roads we were passing. We navigated by map, memory, and geographic features like railroad lines and large bodies of water.

Actually, it wasn’t that bad: cross the river, head west into Aylmer, get onto the 148 Ouest, turn off at Pink Rd. and get onto de la Montagne. The parking lot is located on the right as the road turns sharply to the left, below the scenic Champlain Lookout.

14apr01_the_shrine__the_path

The old cart track was flooded, but passable. It took us 10 minutes of walking to arrive at the rock cairn on the trail, then 30 minutes of bushwhacking to find the right section of rock. We turned right at the cairn and headed towards the cliffs, but the ‘trail’ wasn’t marked and we strayed to the far right, heading back towards the parking spot. If you’re reading and planning your own trip: get to the cairn, turn right, and walk towards the cliffs. Stay close (30m) to the stream. Don’t try to be smart; it doesn’t work.

We found the climb we wanted to start on, Alibaba, a sweet 5.7 the guidebook calls “one of the easiest sport climbs in this book”. Reinout started up first and had one or two problems with the first bolt, but had no other issues. He finished off and abseiled down without any fuss.

As I mentioned, I had been shopping earlier in the week. My new figure-8 and prussik rope had seen lots of practice work before bedtime, but I had neglected to practice on real rope. Reinout talked me through it and everything seemed groovy. My figure-8 seems a little wider than his, and my prussik cord a little thinner, so I wrapped it thrice, rather than twice, around the rope.

I changed into my shoes and racked up, yeah, all five ‘draws and a couple of slings, but it feels like a rack. Having seen Reinout working the route, I didn’t have a couple of the problems he did (unlike our next climb), but it was still tough. I really have a problem with heights. I moved slowly and carefully, and finished off without incident.

The first bolt is a little high for me – a 2m fall onto a 60-degree rocky slope, with the belay anchor 5m away – but there’s a good crack to the right that you can layback before clipping. The cracks are good, but full of dirt and mud. We were probably the first people on this rock this year.

The next couple of bolts are do-able, but require quite a bit of traversing back and forth to get the best holds. I topped out without falling or weighting the rope, and clipped my harness-connected-slings into the anchors.

It was tough to convince myself it was okay to call “off belay”. Sure, the slings are bombproof. Sure, the locking biners are locked and weighted. Sure, the anchors look gleaming and solid. It’s just weird to willingly ask to have your safety line released.

I hauled up half the rope and wrapped it around the dead cedar tree (bomber, I was assured by Reinout), then untied my harness rope and passed it around as well. Again, it was tough to untie my harness connection to the rope – even though it wasn’t connected to anything! I guess I still have some mental things to work out.

I was really worried about dropping the rope (without looping it around my abseil anchor) and being stuck up there, sans rope. I worried about dropping my figure-8. I clenched each biner with a death grip as I unclipped them from my harness. I know that with practice it will get better, but my hands shook when I looped the rope around my figure-8. I took my time and got the prussik tightly connected, far away from the figure-8.

Unclipping my slings from the anchors was also mentally tough. I couldn’t figure out how to unclip the second (and last) sling while applying tension to the prussik. Just not enough hands. I ended up sliding up the rope – a _very_ tedious task, let me tell you – and weighting my abseil device higher than the sling. I should remember to try to do that next time.

On the downward abseil I reminded myself that I should try some things BEFORE relying on them to save my skin. The 5mm perlon was too small to work well, and the figure-8 was large enough to allow the rope to move through pretty damn quick. It was only halfway down that I got the hang of moving my prussik hand (and therefore the angle of the rope below the figure-8) to slow my descent.

We hauled the rope down and moved next-door to Headstone (5.9, *) and Living Dead (5.8, *), each with four bolts. The routes are side-by-side, Headstone heading up the corner and Living Dead moving towards the right. It’s interesting to note that the guidebook lists Headstone as 5.8 and Living Dead as 5.9 – which is a blatant lie.

I’ve assumed Mr. Yann Troutet made a simple clerical error when writing the book. Reinout and myself hold no grudges.

Reinout tried to lead Headstone (being what we thought was the easier of the two climbs), but got stuck at the crux. It looked really difficult, and he eventually moved over to Living Dead. The routes were close enough together that he was able to switch his first two clips without coming down.

Living Dead was much easier and he joyfully cranked upwards. He clipped the fourth bolt and climbed up over a ledge to find the anchors of Headstone to abseil from. It took him a while, and he kicked down some mean choss, but he eventually found the anchor and came down. He didn’t mention any problems and I didn’t ask (dumb, dumb).

I racked up and headed off. Like Reinout, the first two clips of Headstone weren’t that tough, just some balancing work. I found the sequence for the crux, but I was too scared/wussy to try it on lead. After half an hour of climbing up, getting faked out, and climbing back down, I agreed to toprope Headstone next climb and switched over to Living Dead.

The third and fourth clips (and 7m) went easily, more like 5.7 that I’ve seen. Heh, listen to me, re-grading routes on my fourth outdoor climb.

14apr01_will__toproping_headstone

Anyway, I was really pumped out – especially after wasting so much time on Headstone and posing for some pictures – and I didn’t know where to go after the last clip. This was the first route that I hadn’t examined the guidebook for, and I wasn’t clear on where Headstone topped out.

I climbed a little above my last bolt and started panicking. My arms were throbbing, I was breathing really hard, and my mouth was really dry. I wanted some water and a place to rest more than anything. To make matters worse, when I get nervous or scared, my legs start shaking and become less reliable.

So I use my arms more. Which pumps them out more.

Unfortunately I climbed something I didn’t think I could downclimb, and I wasn’t sure how far above the last bolt I was. I figured around 4m, given the nonlinear route the rope was taking. I jammed my body into a crack and shouted down for assistance.

Reinout wasn’t that helpful. He kept telling me to go left, and I just didn’t know what he was talking about – I couldn’t see the anchor at all. I did the only thing I could do: I climbed higher, not left.

My fear of heights kicked in again and my legs started shaking. I wished that I had some trad gear I could stuff into the rock. Then it hit me: I’ll just wrap a sling around something and clip in!

Remember the choss? Well, I pulled out a good 10lb rock and sent it down. I yelled “rock” as soon as it was moving, and Reinout knows what he’s doing, but a falling rock is a falling rock.

After last week’s crash-course on gri-gri operation, Reinout wasn’t too happy with the fancy-shmancy American version of doing things. He was belaying from a ‘biner. I had images of being suddenly off-belay flash before my eyes, and I got even more nervous. I managed to find a shrub – the only thing around that wasn’t loose – get a sling around, and clip my harness into it.

Once my own safety was assured, I yelled down for Reinout. Apparently I had been kicking rocks and dirt down for a few minutes before, and he had already moved behind the tree. Smart lad. Besides, the belay was intentionally put off-center. Yessir, “How to Rock Climb” and www.petzl.com. Who rules at this stuff?

I tried to calm down, but couldn’t. I explained this, and that I was still lost, to Reinout, but he wasn’t being helpful. He kept yelling “on your left”. When he finally yelled that the anchors were part of the Headstone route, I headed left a bit and spotted them.

After traversing across a steep sandy section, I managed to clip in. Huge gleaming hangers attached to thick gleaming bolts. The feeling I had was of pure joy, a blissful state where I was safe. Heaven.

I set up a toprope anchor, managed to retrieve my sling and biner from the shrub, hauled the rope up and abseiled down. I wondered how Reinout had done the sandy traverse.

He says he doesn’t get scared of stupid things, and that he wishes sometimes that he would. I’m not sure what would be better: to be terrified every time I’m above my last bolt, or to be oblivious of every danger. I think we would both be better off in the middle.

We had lunch, a couple of bagels and some cheese, and Reinout smoked a cigarette. We talked about the Netherlands and I gulped down water. Apparently cheese is a big thing in the Netherlands. It tasted a little better than adrenaline and dry mouth, so I was happy.

Reinout headed up Headstone on toprope, but still couldn’t figure out the crux moves to get to the overhanging ledge. He took a couple of falls, but being on toprope rules. I understand why people like it. He eventually switched over to Living Dead, pulled a few moves, then switched back to Headstone. We snapped some pictures and lowered him down.

My turn. Sometimes I’m happy when it’s my turn, sometimes not. I was still happy – shit, we were toproping – but I was beginning to feel my limits. I cruised up the first part, having climbed it before and seen it done twice, and immediately ran up against the crux.

Lo and behold, I found a small ledge that Reinout had discarded as “too painful”. I got two fingers on the sharp stabby hold, and my other hand on a small nobule of rock, and cranked for a small flat section under the ledge. I was happily surprised when I stuck it.

I smeared and laybacked up the side of the ledge rock and clipped into the third bolt of Headstone. We took some pictures and I shook out my arms. I was getting tired, but the route was very very fun. I got back on and actually used a hand-crack move! Hand up to the wrist, fingers and palm on one side, knuckles on the other – yummy.

When I’ve read and talked about crack technique with other climbers, I’ve always thought it was a last-ditch sort of thing you would do when you couldn’t layback. Muscle over mind, every time baby. I was surprised with how bomber the move felt, and I was able to weight it enough to haul myself up with minimal foot/leg work.

Unfortunately the crack above was full of mud and dirt, so I was unable to continue jamming. I laybacked and scrabbled up. I was getting tired. I did one or two huge pumpy moves, then degenerated to scrabbling and flailing. I setup the abseil and came down.

Reinout wanted to try a 5.8 around the corner, and went off to look for it. While packing everything up, I assessed the situation. My arms were shot: poking my forearms hurt my fingers. My hands were so tender it felt like I could pop my fingertips by squeezing the nail. I was bleeding from the knuckles and wrist, scratched from elbow to finger, bruised everywhere, but my spirit was high.

The next route Reinout found, Shangri-La, was very intimidating. The book calls it a “very vertical climb”, and indeed it is. Reinout lead off and was simply amazing. He did some sketchy moves that had me ready to haul rope and brace for impact, but pulled them off. He climbed, he traversed, he clipped! He went above the anchors, located only 15-17m off the ground, and climbed a good 7m above them to a tree. I wondered about his not-being-scared-enough problem, but shut up and prepared to see my first real leader fall.

14apr01_reinout__leading_shangri-la

Of course he came through like a pro and fixed an anchor. I lowered him down and was surprised to see him shaking. He went on and on about how awesome a route it was and how happy he was that he led it. I stalled and tried to buy time, but it was my turn. I wasn’t happy/ready for this one.

I got to the second clip and decided that I was done. I couldn’t rely on my arms, my legs were shaking, and I didn’t have enough skill to finesse through the tough parts. I downclimbed and bailed. Oh well.

I climbed around behind the cliff, salvaged Reinout’s anchor gear, and scrambled back down the side. Reinout was having a second cigarette, still stoked from the climb. I muttered something about how the crux of Headstone was fun too, but I couldn’t bring him down.

We headed back to my Jeep, our heads in the clouds and our feet in the wet mud.

I might just buy some nuts at MEC this week.

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