Friday, February 29, 2008

Group Tunnel Grope

Friday, February 29. Yesterday I got out on the rock again, this time with Johnny Ray and Luke, both of whom are local. Johnny, who often styles himself the “Trundlebum,” is a refugee from the 70s climbing scene in the Valley and an endless source of great stories about the old days. Luke is an 18-year old transplant from Alaska who excels in the gym and is rapidly developing into an excellent trad leader. My first thought on meeting him was “rope gun.” We set out to do an interesting 5.7 called Group Therapy on the Angel food wall. It runs just to the right of Tunnel Vision where my partner George fell and hurt his ankle earlier in the week.



Johnny explained that when climbing with a three person team they like to tie the second and third climbers into the same rope (about 25 feet apart) and have them climb simultaneously while the leader belays both of them from above. I had never climbed this way before, but said I was game to try it. We climbed the first four pitches of Group Therapy this way, sharing the leads without incident. But when we looked up at last two pitches from the fourth belay ledge, my companions were distinctly unenthusiastic about the off-width crack that skirts a big overhang on the final pitch. Both agreed they wanted no part of climbing it. I might have been willing to give it a go, but was not about to try to overrule my local partners who are stronger climbers than I and know this sandstone well. So I said little.

We debated for a while the best alternate course, ultimately accepting Johnny’s suggestion that he try to lead a traverse across a 40 or 50 foot face to the tunnel pitch on Tunnel Vision. The plan was to finish on that route. In concept it was a decent idea. In implementing it we hit a couple of snags.

The traverse was a lot harder than it looked at first. Solid holds soon gave way to tiny slopers and there was almost no place to get in any decent protection. Johnny spent quite a while fussing, grunting, starting, stopping and complaining about the lack of pro. From my spot belaying him, I couldn’t see what was happening, but Luke looked out from a dubious perch on a little tree and gave me reports on Johnny’s progress or lack thereof. Very slowly, sometimes ten inches at a time, the rope paid out. After way more than enough time for me to wonder seriously about the wisdom of the “Trundlebum Traverse,” Johnny made it to a good ledge at the far end. I later realized what a damn fine lead Johnny did. I greatly admire his skill and cool.

It occurred to me that this was the perfect moment to abandon our practice of having the two followers climb simultaneously tied to the same rope. I found something disconcerting about the image of Luke and me smashing into the big corner at which the traverse ended if one of us fell and dangling there while Johnny tried to hold our combined weight of 400 pounds on belay. I also pointed out to Luke that if we climbed across one at a time, I could belay him from behind while Johnny did likewise from in front. That way, even if Luke fell, he would not swing far. He liked that idea and we broke out the second rope we had prudently brought. In the event, Luke crossed without problem.

Now came my turn. Of course, there was no one left to give me a second belay from behind, so I was a tad nervous as I set out. “How bad could it be?” I asked myself. “They both made it OK.” “Plenty,” I answered. “They struggled, and they both climb harder than you do old man.” The first part was not bad, but the last 15 feet got really thin: little rounded, sloping nubbins for both hands and feet. At one point I found myself honestly puzzled as to what was keeping me from succumbing to the pull of gravity. But I too ultimately made it without falling. The “Trundlebum Traverse” was quite a bit harder than anything else I have done here, certainly a grade or two harder than 5.7 and likely harder than the off-width we did all this too avoid.

But at this point we encountered a second problem. The “Trundlebum Traverse” ended half way up the tunnel pitch, in the middle of the said tunnel. Now, the thing about tunnels is that one can get into them at the top end or the bottom end, but not in the middle, unless of course someone has cut a window into the middle, like the famous window in the railroad tunnel on the north face of the Eiger. We looked, but alas, we were not on the Eiger (Alas? Probably a damn good thing, Relic.), and there was no mid point window in this tunnel. Luke suggested rapping down to the tunnel entrance and climbing up. We agreed and rigged anchors around a couple of big blocks at our ledge. I contributed my beloved equallette to the effort. Grrrrr.

Luke seems really to like the tunnel pitch. He proposed that we coil the ropes and just solo it. When I insisted on a belay (Hey, the guidebook rates it 5.6), he led it without placing any pro. Johnny and I followed, again simul-climbing. The next and last pitch is a nice corner, rated 5.7.

That, dear readers, is how we got up the Angel food wall. I have decided to call our mongrel route “Group Tunnel Grope” because we started on Group Therapy, finished on Tunnel Vision, and generally groped around in between.

At the top Johnny took and promised to send me a pic of Luke holding Tori. I think she has the hots for him.



The “walk off” descent, lots of scrambling and boulder hopping, really beat up my ancient joints. So I am hobbling today, but I had sooo much fun climbing with Johnny and Luke. They are great climbers and good companions. I wouldn't have missed the Trundlebum Traverse for anything.

Photos from top: Long shadows of early morning at the parking lot; Tori and her heart throb Luke at the top of the Angel Food Wall. Both photos by Johnny Ray.

2 comments:

JurassicBark said...

Sounds like a real adventure Bill. Maybe not as much climbing as you planned, but lots of fun.

I really enjoy reading about it!

john said...

interesting- its a shame you didnt continue upwards on Group as that menacing looking offwidth is actually a jug haul thanks to nice face holds on the right side! :)

if you're at all interested, the route you traversed onto was the upper pitches of Stilgar's Wild Ride- an interesting 5.8 that is pretty hard above the tunnel....

also- just fyi- there's no pro in the tunnel anyway....

that said, sounds like you had a good time!