What seems to be difficult to work around is all the low-hanging fruit of first ascents available and sweet climbs, and finding time to have structured workouts. At about a week’s notice, I gave up some work and bought a plane ticket to climb with Sam in Red Rock. I just can’t turn down an adventure into the unknown. Sam had mentioned after the last route I worked on a bit last year that there was another line undone on the Aeolian Wall of Mt. Wilson. This one was quite a bit less obvious to me. There was some more unknown than is usual, mainly due to the lack of obvious crack systems on the upper headwall. Certainly there’s a little crack here and there, right?
Sam had scouted a different line on another mountain in the area earlier in the week, and while I had been wanting to climb it for years, it wasn’t quite the route I had made up in my mind. We turned our efforts to the Big Rock of Mt. Wilson and our planning began with my getting my annual cold a few days before I arrived. Somewhat delirious on various forms of cold medication, my stoke was as usual 10/10 for the kiss of an angel = Scrub Oak. I had anticipated we would start as soon as I arrived in the morning on Monday, but we planned and packed and sat in the sun organizing pins and hanging up a portaledge in Calico Basin. We would not be bringing the ledge, but it was entertaining nonetheless.
Enter the behemoth of Mt. Wilson. I had kind of thought that since Sam had bought a giant nailing rack and had just been to Yosemite, he was taking this route a little too much in the “big walling” category. Usually on Wilson we carry alpine packs, a handful of pins, and do a 2 day affair up the thing for a first ascent. He asked me to bring the stubby haul bag, and personally the Dayquil kept me saying yes to whatever he thought was reasonable. We coordinated with some of Sam’s friends, and early in the morning we were walking in with heavy packs up the approach to the Aeolian Wall.
Here I am before relinquishing my lead of the approach pitch to the Aeolian Wall. I did not like this pitch the first time I led it, and I was pleased when Sam said he would do it. It’s 5.9, mossy and insecure with some runouts. I knew I was getting the Garbage Chute next and would have my fair share of thrash. We unroped at the top of the pitch, and scrambled up some 5th class steps to see what we were dealing with.
The Garbage Chute is to the left, and the route follows the roof system left to right up to the overhanging offwidth into a tight chimney. We stood in awe of how much the roof overhangs from the base, and we couldn’t see really if there was a line of cracks we could ascend if things got hairy. The part that Sam recognized before I did is that it was so overhanging, that if we got high enough we would not be able to retreat. The rope would drop straight down from the maw of the offwidth and not touch down to the ground for almost 350 ft. Also, we were above the approach pitch, so even if we left our ropes fixed we would have to downclimb insecure 5.9 to escape. Sam expressed this to me and I also began to feel like maybe this might not happen without some reconnaissance.
We garage saled our gear and discussed our options. We could return to town and get more ropes and brushes to scrub Dream of Wild Cheeseburgers 5.9+, which would be good since it really is a fantastic route. It is burdened by about 1.5 pitches of mossy climbing, but it’s still a great route as is. We also didn’t have enough knifeblades to climb the Original Route 5.9 A3 to the right, so we’d have to go back and get more pitons. Also, we were set up for hauling and apparently that route has many chimney pitches to the top of Mt. Wilson. Sam does not generally bail on routes, but this one had him in a uniquely conservative position.
I think when we left Mt. Wilson after Sam ate all the cheese we brought and I had some ramen and coffee was we were going to scrub Cheeseburgers and let the new line go. After hitching a ride and taking a Lyft, we arrived at the hardware store and had milkshakes while we contemplated how the route could be done safely. I came up with the idea that the Beal Escaper could be the solution to our bailing if it came to that. We’d have to fix both ropes for a completely overhanging 300-350 rappel off of a somewhat controversial piece of ropework equipment. Also, we’d bring a bolt kit for descending only, if it came to that. We finished our milkshakes and left the hardware store empty handed, drove to the gear shop and bought the Escaper. We felt like shit might hit the fan on this route. As our Wilson routes have gone so far, they usually have some interesting story going for each of them.
This time we just called for the permit for two days and parked the van in the Oak Creek parking area. Loaded up with a few extra things this time, we got back up in good time to our fixed line on the approach pitch and I took the lead into the Garbage Chute. I led it as 5.8 C1 since I was ripping out multiple trees and mossy bulges on lead. A small turn around a corner had me up at a stance on top of a chockstone.
Sam took over on the next pitch, we saw there were thin cracks in the wall and not so featured slabs, so there was some tension traversing and short aiding. I found all this quite humorous, and Sam cleaned out some blocks that impeded our progress. He free climbed up to the belay on easy ground and fixed the rope for me, as I ascended the fixed line I got to trundle many, many blocks and enjoy the smell of exploding sandstone. At the next belay, Sam figured the next pitch would be an A3 nailing pitch, so he chose his words carefully and I gave him this lead as well. He began with ladders on thruching up what we called “The Kevin Hole” (our ride on the first day, we told him we’d name something after him).
Following some interesting free climbing mixed with aiding, he got to the business. A thin nailing seam, overhanging to a beautiful flat alcove. I mean this alcove was like a closet, and COMPLETELY FLAT.
After some hook moves and some pins, Sam fixed the lines and we descended to the bivy spot to rest as the sun had begun to set, and the winter mountain air chilled us. It would find us again the next night.
The next morning we woke up at dawn and packed up all our belongings and attached the haul bag and the backpack we had to the static rope. I felt rested and jugged the lines quickly, and Sam followed and attached both ropes together for a very long haul up to the alcove.
The bag hung in free space for 95% of the haul, and were beginning to feel like this might actually go down. I looked up and read my lead, a .1-.2 crack that splits two shields of beautiful sandstone. Up to a funky flaring offwidth, it looked as if we would not have to do anything too crazy to get around it. I borrowed Sam’s fifi hook as I had forgotten mine, leapfrogged the only two cams that would fit in the crack and leave a .3 behind occasionally. For some reason we only had 1 of each grey and purple metolious cams, but 4 blue metolious cams. Anyways, I arrived at the lip and set the #6 Camalot, and tensioned up to try and get some higher pieces. The exposure was incredible.
After some free and funky aid, I got to the base of a squeeze chimney. I left my approach shoes on a piece of gear and changed into my climbing shoes. The chimney was quite strenuous with a wall rack on, it’s also that fantastically difficult froggy size of squeeze towards the top. After rope drag, I built a mostly hanging belay and for ease of hauling.
Looking up into the corner filled with bushes, Sam led up and aided and grabbed bushes for upward progress at least once, then went out onto the face for some 5.7-5.8 beautiful varnished plate climbing into another alcove that Sam said was “bivyable”. It would be fine… I Started leading up this pitch, and I think either my lead head was off or my cold was starting to weigh me down. I gave the lead to Sam, which had sorted the bags to climb with since the route was becoming “non haulable”. Thus began what I would call the crux of the route…
Sam led straight up after popping out around the face. At some point when carrying the stubby haul bag with 40 lbs of shit in it I gave up on the 5.9 and started jugging the rope. I came up to two pieces, and looked directly right 50 ft and saw Sam at a hanging belay, no gear between us. “You’re going to have to free climb this.” said Sam. I collected my thoughts, pulled the last nut and climbed to a foot rail and cranked out some 5.8 sideways moves to this position.
Generally the spooky climbing gets easier during the day, and I just chose to not give a shit anymore and focus on just moving quickly and efficiently. That bag was HE-AVY. At this point it was getting quite late in the day, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to navigate this style of climbing with any speed. I figured my job was to follow the pitches as fast as humanly possible, we didn’t know if this section would even go and we’d be stuck out on the headwall at night time. Thus Sam began his Vision Quest out onto the headwall, going right then traversing horozontal to find spare gear placements. Then me following and traversing with the pig on my shoulders until the rope went vertical so I could jug the line.
By the time I reached the belay, it was nearly 4pm and an hour left until darkness. We flipped the ropes while both of us were trading shivering belays. At the end of this pitch, we began to do the “yelling gibberish” routine to get us warmed and psyched up.
Sam left the last headwall pitch belay with a headlamp, and we began shivering whether we were moving or not. Sam was getting Elvis leg from the cold, and when the rope came taught I exploded up the fixed line. Not only because I was cold, but because I knew Sam was probably in a more exposed position and even colder than me. I jugged to a piece where I moved to free climbing a traversed 30-40 feet to the left to meet Sam. We were in the cleft of the tower at the top of the wall. Sam put me on belay and I “ran” up as fast as I could being as cold as I was towards the ramp system of Resolution Arete. I belayed him up short in an alcove since it was nearly 15-20 degrees warmer out of the wind! We moved our gear up to the catwalk, and ate a pouch of tuna each, our last of the food. It was 7pm, and now we would sleep until the sun warmed us. My flight was the next day in the evening, so we had a little time!
After waking up warm, we moved the gear around the corner to the last two pitches of 5.8, which I led with much labored breathing. I sewed up the pitches as my lungs and nose tried to clear themselves of fluid. From the top of here, some scrambling and shortroping had us tromping up to the summit of the Big Rock.
We evened out the bags, and started the long descent down my most favorite Canyon, Oak Creek. The Tortilla boulder is still there, and we made it back to the van with three hours until I had to be at the airport.
Much burritos, soda water, missing skin and windburnt faces, it was a good time! Certainly much better and more memorable than scrubbing a route, especially since we had scrubbed for days finishing up The Ascentionist a few months earlier. Avoid the heavy packs at all cost!
On the order of Training, I have been resting and working some for a few days, nursing the end of my cold. I expect to be hitting the strength training tomorrow. I banged out a couple pull ups on the door frame, and I noticed how much easier they are just after a few weeks and a couple less pounds! I’m looking forward to retaking the Alpine combine test!!!