Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Day in the Life


The alarm goes off. Today we are climbing Outer Space, one of Washington's supposed best multi-pitch trad routes, and we want to get an early start. I turn it off and roll back into bed. Perhaps we are tired from climbing the day before, or perhaps we've gone soft with too much bouldering, but for whatever reason we lounge around in the tent and read for a couple of hours, wasting precious daylight. Today the Friends of the Library would be our enemies, as we have become consumed with the recent books we purchased.


We finally got our shit together. We are at the trailhead and ready to go. We start the long hike in.


We are at the end of the Snow Creek approach trail, the cliff we are about to climb looms in front of us. We still have to cross Snow Creek and scramble up the talus to its base. It does not look like fun.


The base of the cliff. We somehow missed the actual approach trail up the talus, and mostly scrambled straight up. The entire approach has been an ordeal in and of itself. 4.2 Kilometers, 1700 feet in elevation gain, 1.5 hours. We are not used to this.

There is one other party on the wall. On Outer Space of course. We will have to wait for them to clear the first pitch. The woman belaying has nice belay gloves on. We eat lunch and prepare. I hear footsteps behind me, another party come to wait in line? I turn around to see a mountain goat. He wanders around us, watching us. It seems as if he enjoys our company.


We finally start to climb. I quickly do the math in my head. 6 pitches should take us roughly 6 hours, putting us at the top at around 7:30pm. I don't remember when exactly the sun sets. We've traveled so much, the days are getting shorter. For some reason I think it's around 8:00pm. We should be able to do the half hour scramble down before dark. Assuming everything goes well, and the party ahead of us doesn't hold us up too much. Our mountain goat friend lies down on a ledge 10 feet away while I belay Kristal up the first pitch.


The first pitch does not quite go according to plan. Kristal unknowingly overshoots the belay ledge, something we learned later a lot of people do, it is not obvious when to cut left. She builds an achor and belays me up. Once I am up we realize our mistake. It is not easy to get onto the second pitch from where we are, so we downclimb a bit and then up again to the correct ledge. Route finding is sometimes an issue on long climbs, it is not all that uncommon, but I nervously look at my watch. We find a nice new belay glove on the ledge, assumedly dropped from the party in front of us.


The second pitch is a breeze. An easy fifth class scramble up and left. It is long though. Almost an entire 70m rope length. But we make up some time, which makes us feel better. The party ahead is still on the third pitch, so we would have had to wait anyway had we gotten there sooner.


The third pitch is a beast. The first half follows insecure flakes that vibrate and shake with every move. Will any of the gear hold? Don't fall Kristal. The crux finger crack traverse is burly and sustained. There is old abondoned gear all over this pitch. The cracks have eaten them up. There is also a nice new Metolius cam which easily comes out. Recently abandoned I assume? Probably again from the party ahead of us.


The fourth pitch is interesting and meandering. The middle section is runout face climbing. Not many places to place gear. I sling a small knob, doubtful of the sling's ability to stay on should I fall. I am hyper aware. Every move is deliberate. Every foot placement exact. There is little to hold on to. I welcome the crack up the side of the pedestal at the end of the pitch. The rope drag is horrendous. At the top I meet the party ahead of us, or at least the better half. I return their cam while I belay Kristal up. Kristal has her belay glove in our pack. Barbie will have to wait for it.


Pure climbing joy. A splitter hand crack on an almost vertical face covered with odd knobs. Kristal leads the fifth pitch, lamenting the fact that I will not be able to experience the thrill. I am happy to follow it. Incredible fun. When I get to the top Barbie is still on the ledge, belaying her partner. She has retrieved her belay glove from Kristal. I leave to start the sixth pitch on her heels. Light is fading.


I run out the sixth pitch, fighting the fading light. Pieces easily fifteen feet apart. The climbing is super fun, more climbing joy. I meet Ken at the belay tree and wait a few minutes for him to leave. He offers to wait for us at the top, so we can all descend together. I tell him that would be cool, but not to worry about us. They should take advantage of what little light remains. I belay Kristal up. By the time she gets here it is dark. She turned her headlight on halfway up. Despite finishing all the documented pitches there is still twenty meters of runout face climbing to the top. It's easy climbing, but in the dark nothing can be taken for granted. The sun set earlier than I expected.


We are at the top. It is pitch black. Ken and Barbie are no where to be seen. We start the descent.
Twenty minutes into it we catch up to them. They have one headlight between them. The are at a cairn but can't figure out which way to go. Left is too steep, right is impassable. I take a look. It is sometimes hard to see where the trail goes, but there are signs if you look close enough. I find a traverse to the left before the slab gets too steep. I follow it and eventually find another cairn. We are still on the right track.

The going is slow. We often have to wait up for Ken and Barbie, not too surprising since they are sharing a headlight, but they also seem to have substandard scrambling skills. We find a rappel station and rap down. Ken is the last to rap and screws things up at the top before descending. The rope is stuck. I have to jug back up the rope to go fix it. How do you screw up a rap? Good question.


The trail splits. I figure the left branch might take us back to the base of the cliff, where we can retrieve the other pack we left there. The right branch looks like a better trail, but probably goes all the way back down to Snow Creek, meaning we'd have to hike all the way back up the talus field to get our stuff. Kristal and I go left, Ken and Barbie go right. They have been up since 4am and just want to make it back to the car. They will get their stuff in the morning. Kristal and I offer to get it for them, assuming we make it there ourselves. We exchange phone numbers, in case something bad happens to either of us, and go our separate ways.


Kristal and I make it back to the base of the cliff. The left 'trail' wasn't much of one, but it had been traveled before. We eventually intersected the talus approach trail that we had missed during our initial approach. We collect our things, along with Ken and Barbie's packs, and head back down. Halfway down we see a headlight off in the distance. It is Ken and Barbie. They are bushwhacking through the woods. They lost the trail shortly after we split up. Why am I not surprised.

Are you on a trail?, they shout. Yup, we reply, the approach trail. We have your stuff. They are overjoyed to see us again, and happy to get their packs back. It turns out Ken works for Metolius, and gives us two new Master Cams for all our help. He insists. We all know that these two would have probably spent the entire night wandering around the woods, or worse, if Kristal and I hadn't been there.


We finally make it back to the main Snow Creek approach trail. I have never been happier to have a one hour hike in front of me.


We finally make it back to the car. A 13 hour ordeal. Everyone busts open a Gatorade and chugs. We say our goodbyes after some reminiscing of the shared experience. We think they should stick to sport climbing for a while. We make it back to the campground and quickly cook up some Kraft Dinner. We have no energy for anything better.


We finally make it to bed. Tomorrow will be a rest day.

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