Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Tunnel Vision -- Not an Epic

Monday, February 25. This morning George, a young local climber, and I set out to do Tunnel Vision, a six pitch climb on the Angel Food Wall. George works as a lead rigger for the Cirque du Soleil (sp?). He has a lot of experience working with ropes and has trained to handle emergencies. As you will read, his experience and training came in handy.

Tunnel Vision is an unusual route, having several tight chimneys and a tunnel, that’s right, a tunnel, that goes behind an enormous flake and exits on a different part of the face. The approach hike is short but steep and rugged in places, not the best for my bad calf, which seems to hurt most when I’m walking to and from the climbs. George had to wait frequently for the Relic to huff and puff his way to the roping-up spot.

I led the first two pitches, rated 5.7+ and 5.5, respectively, by the new Hendren Guidebook, which makes much of the “intimidating” hand traverse at the start of the first pitch. I found that section to be pretty easy, with good feet if you look for them. The second pitch had me grunting and groaning up an awkward chimney that ended in what I decided was a “wedge belay.” I clipped two bolts and then wedged myself into the chimney to belay George up with my feet against one side and my butt against the other. Uugghh.

Pitch three was George’s lead. It goes about 60 feet up a very narrow squeeze chimney with sparse protection and then exits left and up into a corner with a layback on a long flake. Although it carries the same 5.7+ rating as does the first pitch, it looked harder to me. The tightness of the chimney reminded me of that day a lifetime ago when Lois got her helmet stuck on the top pitch of High Corner at the Gunks. That girl can cuss! George worked his way up the chimney, managing a few creative placements deep in the back.

He exited up into the start of the corner where he placed a cam that would soon prove its worth. As he moved up into the layback, his foot slipped off a rounded hold. Not having anything solid for his hands, he fell about 25 feet back into the tight chimney, hitting both sides as he went down. The cam held, however, and my belay stopped him 30 or 40 feet above me.

His first words were, “My ankle feels funny.” His pants were also quite dramatically ripped. After a bit of discussion, we decided his ankle was in no shape to continue; we would retreat. I lowered him to me and climbed back up through the chimney to retrieve as much gear as possible. I got everything but the top cam. As I was down climbing, the belay rope, which had slid down the cliff, got stuck 30 feet below George. Now, I was stuck too, because the rope had to be freed before he could pay out any more of it to allow me to finish coming down out of chimney. As I was forming a plan to untie and climb down to reach George, he went into action. He tied off my belay so I could hang out of harms way in the chimney. Then he rigged a rappel, which he used to make a one-legged descent to the point of “great rope stuckedness” (as Pooh might have put it). He freed the rope after several minutes work, and prussicked back up to the belay, still with only one useful leg.

I was soon back down with George at the belay. We held our breath as I pulled the rope down through that top cam; one thing we did not need was another of the stuck ropes for which Red Rock is infamous. It came down free! George wrapped his ankle with tape and an ace bandage from my pack, and we made two rappels to the ground. Easy for me; not so much for George, who had to balance on one for most of the distance.

I offered to go for help to carry George out or to let him use me for a crutch, but he would have none of it. He toughed out the rough, often-steep trail back to his jeep. Only then did he concede enough to his injury to ask me to drive; the jeep has a standard transmission and his left ankle was not up to working the clutch. I left him with his wife at their condo with plans to get an X-ray to make sure his ankle is only sprained, not broken. Assuming he heals quickly, we are going to return to finish Tunnel Vision next Monday.

George’s handling of the fall and its aftermath impressed me greatly. He kept his cool head, solved several problems and toughed out what must have been a very painful walk out. Thanks to him, our adventure on Tunnel Vision was “Not an Epic.” I’ll climb with him anytime.

Tuesday, February 26. I spoke to George this morning. His ankle is only sprained. We're hoping to get back to Tunnel Vision next Monday.

Photos from top: George; George leading the tight chmney; same; George after his fall working to free our stuck rope; George rappelling on one leg; Tori examining the injury (she has nursing training, you know).

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