Things nobody really cares about but I'll comment on them anyway
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Sunday, January 18, 2009
My friends Lynn and Jasyn have spent the last three years trying to find this elusive beast and after last year's experiences had narrowed the location down with a little helpful beta from a climber in Asheville who had actually done the climb and some verification from a few other reputable sources I was feeling pretty good about the validity of the claims. Weather conditions this past week had lows in the low single digits and even subzero range for a few days in a row. Rather conveniently this weather window happened to time perfectly with the weekend. A plan was formed mid-week that included Lynn, Jasyn, another friend Pace, and myself. I was told to expect a very long day. Headlamps and extra warm clothes were mandatory as it was likely we wouldn't top out until the very end of the day and would be descending in the dark. All of us showed up at Lynn's house at 6 a.m. Saturday morning well prepared and psyched. We made it to a church parking lot in the community of Celo Knob the northernmost high point in the Black Mountain Range which includes Mt. Mitchell the highest peak east of the Mississippi. After a quick scout of a local waterfall on private property that was for sale, we headed back to the church to sort gear and do the final load of packs. We were out and walking on the trail by somewhere between 9 and 9:30 a.m. Although we traveled over terrain mostly devoid of trails, the going was not too bad. We made good time and were to the base of the gully we were to climb by 11, and although there was already a party of two not far ahead of us (one of whom happened to be the guy who had given Jasyn and Lynn the beta) we were climbing by 11:30. We roped up in teams of two each team tied into a single 50m 8mm line doubled over. That left about 80 ft. of climbing before you were simul-climbing with your partner. The terrain was like a very steep frozen creek bed with mostly low angle thick ice that poured over drops of 10-20 ft. every hundred or so feet. As the lead team passed gear they simply unclipped and allowed the following team to sport clip the in-situ gear. It was a great system that had all four of us about a third of the way up the climb in a couple of hours of sustained effort. Jasyn who lead the first mega-block with me following, cruised like a champion moving very efficiently. Lynn and Pace followed quickly behind us and those first two hours were a very satisfying feeling of continual movement over good ice with enough vertical steps to spice things up just enough. The temps were perfect probably in the high teens although none of us felt cold under the constant movement. After somewhere between 600-800 feet of climbing Jasyn began to run out of gear to place and the flow became extremely thin to where we needed to walk around to reach the next section of ice. There we switched team positions and Lynn and Pace took the lead with me in front with Jasyn trailing. Another 4-500 ft. up we caught up with the party above us who were bailing at about 4 p.m. for a commitment in Asheville. We decided to continue on and up not knowing the next time any of us would have the opportunity to be on such a magnificent climb. We had been well warned about a heinous bushwack to eventually reach the top but all of us agreed that we had come to do the climb, felt we had the time to continue, and were prepared to finish the descent in the dark. An hour or so later our progress had slowed considerably and as the sun departed the temps began to drop making the ever thinning ice to become increasingly brittle. At some point as Lynn led a steep and sustained section Jasyn and I decided that we were running out of time to continue and that it was questionable how much longer the gully would hold climbable ice. We decided to unrope stash most of our gear in the packs and scramble up the side of the gully in the woods trying to keep up with Lynn and Pace.
Begin Epic. While in the woods which were a steep collection of rododendron thickets and other small brambles growing out of a 45-50 degree slope of frozen turf mixed with sections of slabs thinly iced over or covered with old powder snow, I was lured further away from the gully trying to make vertical progress. Jasyn remained alongside the gully trying to stay within sight of Lynn and Pace. My forray ended up committing me to some pretty exposed turf and ledge link-ups that I had no interest in trying to reverse. Long story short I was now committed to my own personal rodo-grovel bushwack hell. And of course I had no-one to blame but myself. Jasyn decided to drop back into the gully with Pace and Lynn following their own sketchy turf climbing nightmare albeit he was now unroped with a nice precipitous tumbling drop below him. The next two hours were spent battling upwards with fully loaded pack through surprisingly resilient and springy underbrush between exposed steps of sketchy turf climbing. About every fifteen minutes or so one of the others would yell at me to make sure I was still ok and near them. I began trying to angle up and to the right hoping eventually to meet the gully they were in but it never happened. By 6:30 the rest of the team had abandoned the gully and was now heading up and left to intercept my path. In the failing light I was able to calm myself enough to find a small clearing, sit down, take stock, eat and drink a little, find my headlamp in the growing dark and even get fresh batteries into it albeit at the end by feel. About 45 minutes later I could see Jasyn's glowing headlamp approaching from below and to the side from the gully. I could also hear him battling the same style of thickets I had been fully enmeshed with for the past hour or so. Lynn and Pace were not far behind him. As I waited I started to get a little cold, so it was difficult to not want to launch onward and upward as soon as he got there just to get warm again. Did I mention the snow had started to fall? Nothing big just a light but steady stream of small flaked that glinted dazzlingly off our headlamp beams.
By 7:30 we were regrouped and I was happy to turn over the route finding to anyone willing. Jasyn first and then later Pace would weave us through the thickets with a seeming sixth sense, that still involved the occasional grovel but a much less intense battle than I had performed on my own. Of course maybe it was just that I now had three companions to share the misery with and just follow blindly. After a seemingly endless hours of weaving ever upwards I took over the lead again and within about 15 minutes heard the wind roaring as I approached the ridge and summit of Celo.
After a brief celebration we noticed that although there was a trail or make that trails now before us, none of them were marked and most seemed to disappear into thickets of you guessed it underbrush and rododendron. We spent the next hour bumbling around finding the marker for Young's Peak which we now know to be the summit of Celo Knob, although Youngs Peak was not on our map. We had now been on the move for the better part of 9 hours, it was cold, dark, and the bushwack climbing had taken its toll. An hour later we finally had discovered the official ridge trail and quickly arrived at the marked intersection with our descent trail. It was now 9:30 and I finally felt we had a moment worthy of the celebration flask I had stashed in my pack. This would be tantamount to the enduring image of president Bush standing in front of the mission accomplished banner.
The descent trail although a well blazed was its own special slice of epic fun. It followed a relatively steep ridge straight back down to the base with pretty much a fall-line direction. At some point all of us busted it on this trail. It was brutal on the feet and more so on my quads constantly trying to control my descent. At least each of us had a treking pole to stay mostly in balance. The technical nature of the trail and my wasted physical and growing mental deterioration was forcing a pretty slow pace. And the real kicker was that our descent trail would dump us out on a road over 8miles by road away from where we had parked. Jasyn had previously scouted out a series of logging roads that would get us back to our car. But that was about a year ago and he had done this previous travel in the daylight in much better conditions than any of us were now in. Lynn and Jasyn had met a lady that lived at the base of the trail we were on but we quickly realized that it would be midnight at the earliest before we would reach her house. The likelihood that she would even answer her door was pretty slim. In the end we opted for throwing ourselves on the mercy of the Yancy County Sherriff's Dept. We told them our predicament and they graciously offered to send a deputy to give one of us a ride to our car.
We popped out at the trail-head at 1 a.m. knowing that the calvary was on the way and indeed two minutes later headlight rounded the bend with our saving chariot. Before we knew it Pace was back with his truck and we now knew it was over. Or so we thought.
Twenty minutes later as we approached Spruce Pine, the cars belts started screeching for no apparent reason. They eventually stopped, though their silence was accompanied by the loss of power steering. Pace pulled over at a closed gas station. Turned the car off and then back on. We drove on now with a battery warning light glowing on the dash. 10 minutes later the headlights were beginning to dim and we all knew our night was not over. We almost made it to Crossnore before the truck just conked and Pace pulled over in an empty parking lot. Thanks to Jasyn's AAA membership we called at 2:30 and a truck was there by 4 a.m. We got towed to Boone, where Pace was able to get his fiance's truck and shuttle us all back to Lynn's house. I crawled into the warmth of my own bed at 6 a.m. snuggling up against a deliciously warm Amy who had been wondering just what had happened. We had actually kept all the significant others in the loop throughout the evening thanks to excellent cell reception on the mountain, so she knew at 1 a.m. that we were safely off the trail and would soon be headed home. I decided not to wake her again with news of the tow truck issue. In the end we all made it home safely to our families tired but uninjured with a great adventure shared. We all agreed it was some of the most stellar ice climbing any of us had done, but hardly worth the bushwack to the summit followed by the steep technical trail descent. If we go back and I hope to some day we will probably rappel part of the route and walk off like the party in front of us did.
Waterfall for sale.
Our objective the prominent frozen drainage on the left.
Thursday, January 1, 2009
Amazingly enough the gate was still open to the parking lot and the day was shaping up into one of the prettiest of the month. Mid-fifties and blue-bird skies. Final route decisions were made in the parking lot. I was thinking something really laid back and in the sun in the 5.6 range. Tim was eyeing something a little more sporty. He picked out Second Stanza. It's a four pitch 5.8+ just past lunch ledge that joins with the final pitch of My Route. Neither of us had done it and failing to see the + after the 5.8 rating and with just a little apprehension I agreed to give it a go. The little voice in my head was having quite the vociferous debate.
"Well you said you needed to get out on unfamiliar terrain and push yourself a little.:
"Yeah but the last climbing I did was back in August and the other night I couldn't even muster a pull-up on the ice tools in the basement."
"Well it's only 5.8 (yes this would come back to bite me) and besides Tim will be leading the crux pitch. The other two pitches were ONLY 5.6 and 5.7 how bad could they be. "
The braver voice won out and we hiked around to the base arriving at the small ledge in good time. My first impression was "steepnesss" wow did that first pitch look steep. At 5.6 I figured I could get my feet wet without too much embarassment. The first pitch was awkward and as I overgripped my way white-knuckled through every move and trying to find a groove I have been out of since I can't remember when, I realized how much I really needed to be doing this. OK so I grabbed a cam to keep from pitching off the awkward mantle but falling on a 5.6 for good style just ain't my thing these days. (It's never been my thang). I finally clawed my way to the nice ledge belay and tried to generate enought spittle to let Tim know that I was off belay after fiddling in a gear anchor. Tims grunts (although I think possibly played up a little to assuage my bruised and shaken ego) were a little satisfying. Eyeing the next pitch while he climbed up to me I knew it was all him.
In fine Henkels style he cruised the pitch which looked even steeper and more intimidating than the one I had just thrutched through as he stemmed wildly into the almost overhanging awkward 5.7 crux. Did I mention the awkwardness of the route. I guess it's been way too long since I've been on something I didn't know like the back of my hand. This is far from the climbing I had done in college when I dreaded repeating routes too many times. As I rallied myself and sketched my way up to Tim the second weaker voice was really screaming now, "I told you we weren't ready for this. Now we're two pitches up on a gear anchor with a 5.8 roof to pull on a rising traverse. LOVELY" I wasn't ready to hit the total panic button yet but my more assured voice trying to reason that it was only one crux move and that I could probably gut my way through it was getting more and more faint. Long lost was the earlier dream of soaking up sun drenched pitches of the kind of laid back climbing I'd become so accustomed and addicted to. Now was the reality of not overly cold yet shaded pitches of steep challenging climbing and a slow growing fear of the unknown (adventure?) Tim kept the banter light hearted and up-beat picking up the slack for my increasing brooding silence. He moved just below the crux got in a couple of pieces and then leaned back to get a nice long look and plan out his moves. Just before setting off he zipped his shoes back to me on one of the free double ropes (now I was really sketched). But then just as quickly he fired through the crux on what appeared to be nice large holds. The silent internal psych-up or psych-out continued as he quickly worked his way throught the rest of the traverse and set up a belay thankfully well within earshot and mostly within view of the entire pitch.
Now there was no back-out. I cleaned the anchor and set off delicately to just below the crux. It was all there. The holds were positive sharp edged and mostly within reach. I cleaned the last piece below the roof and launched up into the sequence only to run out of juice mid reach. I gave it the Klamborowski "College Try" at least half a dozen times before trying to figure out how I could cheat my way out of my predicament. The prussik cord I had over my shoulder was almost as thick as my double ropes and wasn't biting well. There was no piece of gear close enough to grab or clip a sling to aid through and there was nothing available for the pieces of gear that hung from my harness. The only way out was up and with much pulling from Tim I eventually dry humped my way to within reach of the finishing jug. Thank you Tim (Bones) Henkels for getting me into this ha ha ha.
Perhaps if I hadn't overgripped my way through two other pitches I would have had something left for that crux. Perhaps if a million other things had been different. In the end I'm blaming it all on Tim's shoes a full size larger than my own and three quarter high tops that were hanging off my derier through those critical moments for my failure at the crux. Whatever the reason the day was the best possible adventure to be closing out the year with and the company was unbeatable. Tim cheered and pulled and pulled and cheered and pulled some more on those skinny strands until I couldn't not get my big butt up that crux. I gave him a hard time for picking this winning route but secretly I really was thankful that he had chosen it and for the entire experience. It made the final 5.4 BOLTED pitch to the summit of Table Rock all the sweeter. As we coiled rope we even had our very own trail angel. A random hiker at the summit also named Tim gave us a snickers bar which we promplty split and inhailed after coiling ropes. Then after some summit shots in the waning afternoon light we walked lightly down the trail in gorgeous sunlight to the parking lot for some post climb home-brew libations while we sorted gear on the tail-gate.
I couldn't have asked for a better day out catching up with a good friend. Classic NC climbing experience. Pics should be coming soon. Tim has promised to send me his shots. I left my camera in the car and even if I had had it with me would probably never have thought to snap anything except maybe the summit shot. Glad I finally caught up with Tim as his visits are few and relatively far between. He and his wife head back to Quito tomorrow to finish out their contract for this year before finding out there next destination in international teaching. Safe travels to them and hopes that they may find better beer options in Ecuador in the coming year.
Uhmmmmm your lead Tim!
Smiling only after having been levitated through the crux.
You know you're with a true friend when they're laughing "with"you (harder than you're really laughing).
Safe at the belay.