Fiddling on the Roof and other Red Rock adventures

It was 6:00 and I was driving to meet Josh Janes at a gas station outside of Black Velvet Canyon. My iPod was on shuffle, and Orion by Metallica came on. It was going to be a good day!

I met Josh at the gas station and we piled into his Tacoma. My rental Camaro was in no way going to make the trek back into Black Velvet, and I was thankful for his offer to drive us back into the canyon. Our objective for the day was one of his projects: a rock climb called “The Shuffle” rated 5.13a. The route shared the same start as Texas Hold’Em, but later moved right on the wall in order to reach the harder upper pitches. We hiked back into the canyon, harnessed up, and got the easier pitches “over with” in good style. Josh linked the first two pitches and I led the second two. The second pitch I led was 5.10’ish and included a spicy section of marginal pro well above some solid pro in a “no fall zone”. I fiddled with some very small wires before committing to the section, monitored my breathing, my balance, my commitment levels, and plunged through the sequence after mentally noting my fall zone and planned out sequence. I made it to the belay just below the .13a section of rock and brought up Josh.

The beautiful and spicy .10 pitch on The Shuffle

The beautiful and spicy .10 pitch on The Shuffle

Josh is quite a bit stronger than me. I haven’t ever climbed a .13, and he has sent a few already, so I was pretty excited at the prospect of checking out what this grade could be like. Josh went up and hung the draws on the pitch while I belayed and watched him working out some moves.

Josh on The Shuffle

Josh on The Shuffle

After spending some time at the crux, Josh came down for a break and gave me a go at this fantastic looking pitch. I worked my way up the pitch, sussing out each mini boulder problem between bolts. It took a bit of work, but I ended up actually completing all of the moves up to the crux. I gave the crux a few goes and actually got somewhat close to making the initial moves on lead to the next protection bolt. After a few attempts and a few good falls, I lowered back to the belay ready for a break. Josh went up again, nailed the move to the final bolt, and aided up the rest of the pitch. Now it was all set for projecting and I got another chance to go up on top rope and try it out! Super fun. I wasn’t able to complete the 5.13 moves very well, but with an “encouraging” amount of top rope tension, managed to get up the pitch.

looking down the .13 pitch from the anchor

looking down the .13 pitch from the anchor

Josh at the belay

Josh at the belay

While this climb remained a project for Josh, it was encouraging to see him working through the moves and figuring out what it was going to take to send this on his next visit to The Shuffle. We rappelled to the base and hiked out. Day 1 of my trip to Red Rock was complete, and what a day!

I spent the evening at the house of Ash and Randi having some BBQ and trying to convince Randi to come along with us on our next day’s outing to Fiddler on the Roof, a 5.10d R route in Black Velvet Canyon. Randi remained somewhat wary of our ploys, and in the end decided to wait for this route until she felt more comfortable at the grade. Ash and I have taken Randi on a few of our exploits, and her company always makes the climbing more fun and interesting. We were a little sad she decided to stay at home, but were still stoked about the next day’s possibilities.

A few years ago I completed Sour Mash, a 5.10a multi-pitch route just to the right of Fiddler on the Roof. At the completion of Sour Mash, I rappelled down over Fiddler on the Roof as part of the standard descent. I remember noting the seriousness of the route and deciding that I would never climb Fiddler on the Roof. Happily, things change. I was a different climber and felt comfortable enough at the 5.10 grade to give Fiddler on the Roof a try. The notoriety of this route along with a lot of hype about how classic the route is was all it took to make me start drooling over the route during the last couple of years, and now I felt excited to go back and give this super classic route a go. Ash was also excited, and volunteered to lead the odd pitches. This meant Ash would be leading the run out R rated traverse pitch.

We met up at his house at 6:30 AM and car pooled to Black Velvet Canyon. This was the second day in a row that I had driven to this destination and completed the approach hike into the canyon. We brought a double rack of aliens, a set of brass off set nuts, a set of nuts, twin/half 60m ropes, 15-ish draws, and cams up to a gold (#2) black diamond C4.

At the base, several other parties were racking up for other climbs in the area. Climbers are great people. Super friendly, curious, and generally stoked about being outside and getting on good rock with good company. It had been a while since I had climbed with Ash in a multi-pitch environment, and I had really missed his company. I noted this as I led up the second pitch. Ash is such a great friend and supportive climbing partner. A good rock climbing partner truly does make a difference in how a day goes! Ash led the first pitch cleanly and confidently. I was encouraged by how well he moved in spite of his sprained left ankle that he had been nursing for the last few weeks in an attempt to recover before our Fiddler on the Roof outing. I also noticed that the battery on my camera was dead. Sad! This climb would have to be completed without quality pictures… Gross. I did manage to get a few pictures with my iPhone, but the usual quality is lacking (apology).

The second pitch included a hand crack which narrowed down to a finger crack, expanded back to a hand crack, an awkward step across move to gain a squeeze chimney, squeezing up the chimney for about 20 feet and gaining a narrow crack and then proceeding up to a bolted anchor. What a fantastic pitch! So much variety and good movement in a short distance. As Ash arrived at the anchor, the temperature started to drop. We both donned jackets and shivered at the belay. Ash sniffed out the next pitch at the belay, trying to decide the proper beta. “Does it go up and then right, or just right off of the belay?”. This question was important and required some trial and error before finally figuring out the beta. The first bolt of the traverse was straight out to the right from the belay, but it didn’t look entirely safe accessing the 20 foot distant bolt by heading straight out to the right. Ash ended up climbing up for a ways and clipping a bolt, then down climbing below the belay and climbing up to the bolt to our right. This method proved to be pretty serious, and Ash noted that it didn’t feel like the 5.10- that mountain project had promised. He managed to stay focused on the moves and move up to the distant bolt without falling. Exciting! After gaining the bolt, he quickly moved up to a crack above and headed out through a small overhang. From there on, it was finicky gear and scary run out moves across an exposed roof to the belay a LONG ways away. As I watched, I could feel the tension building in my blood pressure. This pitch looked very, very exposed. This is by far my biggest weakness. Exposure always seems to give me a lot of mental anguish, and this looks exposed and SERIOUS. As Ash gained the belay, I found myself peeing at the anchor before heading out. I took a few deep breaths and started climbing. At each piece of protection, I hesitated, looked ahead for the next protection, looked at the sequence and what was coming, and then removed the pro. At one point, I found myself standing on a tiny edge directly above the lip of the roof. It took a lot of mental muster to remove the pro that Ash had put in and proceed towards the anchor. As I finally stepped up to the anchor, I clipped in and breathed a long sigh of relief. Wow, that was stressful! We both noted that we were extremely happy that Randi had not come along. It would have been unsafe for her to make this passage, and it would have made for a very long day for everyone.

I looked up at the next pitch, which was the crux and was all mine. The first bolt was about 30-40 feet vertically from the belay. My body started shaking from the cold, and my mind didn’t want to engage with the rock. I tried one of my favorite tactics – delay. Wait a few minutes and see if my situation improved before letting negative self talk over power the situation. As I waited and delayed, I looked at the face. There were actually very positive edges. There was no chalk whatsoever, and route finding looked to be promisingly difficult. Eventually I racked up and set off up the face. I made a few moves on good edges and before I knew it, I was placing a nut 5 feet below the first bolt. The nut was quite fiddly and really didn’t look like it would hold, but it was better than nothing. If I fell from here, I would plunge 30 feet straight down to the anchor and then proceed 30 more feet past the anchor and past Ash to dangle in the middle of the air below the roof. Committing. I fiddled some more, and eventually decided that the sequence looked do-able and that I should go for it before I grew too fatigued from this tenuous stance. I mantled up and found an edge to crimp and clipped the first bolt. Whew! Looking up from here, I really had no idea where the route went. The next bolt was about 15 feet up, but how to get there was a real question. I climbed up to another good edge, placed a black alien, and then climbed up to another good edge. A few feet above me was the second bolt. I found more good edges and creeped up to the bolt and clipped it. Another mental victory and another moment of mental relief. From here, I really had no idea where the route went. I spent about 10 minutes deciding where the path of least resistance was and then clambered up to another fiddly piece of gear. From here, I found a few more good edges and made it up to a decent sized flake, well above my last marginal nut. The biggest cam I had was a gold C4, and it was completely tipped out behind the flake. Ugh… It was all I had, so it had to do. The rest of the pitch went pretty much the same way. More edges, more fiddly gear, more tenuous stances to place it from, and balancey edgy moves upward. Eventually I made my way up to a stance and looked up at the anchor nearly 20 feet away. My calves were completely pumped from all the sustained edging and high stepping and stances, and the rope drag was becoming a real issue. I fiddled in a marginal nut, looked at the sequence for a while, finally committed and made my way up to the anchor. I had made it!

Fiddler 2

Crux pitch of Fiddler on the Roof

All in all, I think I was on the crux pitch for nearly an hour on lead, and I was exhausted. Ash made his way up to the belay and looked how I felt. We looked up at the next pitch. More run out climbing that looked serious and sustained with problematic route finding. Ash racked up and went for it. The first bolt off of the belay was about 40 feet up, and the way there was not obvious. Ash headed way right and then worked his way up to the bolt. About 30 feet off of the belay with no protection, the climbing got harder. Ash found a stance and found the nerve to calm his breath and then proceeded to make tenuous moves over balancey edges and crimps. He made it to the bolt and then happily clipped it. I was definitely relieved, but probably not nearly as relieved as Ash. I was proud to have been there for Ash as his partner. Ash headed up to the next bolt and clipped it. The moves past the second bolt to gain a third (and distant) bolt were not obvious. The route finding was tenuous, and Ash tried a few variations before finally committing to a sequence. As he moved upward, he lost his balance and fell about twenty feet onto his sprained ankle. We were done for the day.

With a little bit of creative thinking and solid use of our twin/half ropes, we managed to make our way over to the anchor above the crux pitch of Dream of Wild Turkeys. We rappelled from there with a minor mishap of getting our rope stuck on a rappel pull. As we got to the ground, we were both excited with our successes for the day.

fiddler 3

Rappelling off of Fiddler on the Roof

That evening, Laura and I had an early Valentine’s Day dinner date of oysters, sushi and ceviche. I would be in Ouray, Colorado for Valentine’s Day, so this was our Valentine’s date. The next day, I would be climbing Honeycomb Chimney with Randi.

I showed up at Ash and Randi’s house at around 7:00 AM, got gear organized, and packed into Randi’s Nissan small SUV. After about a 45 minute drive, we were at the parking lot and racking up. Today we would ditch the bags at the car and hike in with only our harnesses, gear, ropes, and a small climbing backpack that contained food, water and layers of clothing. Neither of us had been up to the buttress in question, but with frequenting the book beta (pictures on our iPhones), we managed to make our way up to the proximity of the start. We made a small mistake on our approach and ended up under some easy 5th class looking terrain. I roped up and went up a small flake/detour that looked “fun” but dirty. I built a belay off of a tree and brought Randi up. Although Randi did fine on this approach pitch, her banana, which was in the follower pack, didn’t make it.

 

Randi's banana mess

Randi’s banana mess

At least she had the opportunity to eat the banana before the entire pack became a banana split.

With a little bush whacking, we moved to the right about 30 feet and I racked up for the first pitch. What a relief from the previous day’s outing. The pitch was all big holds and good jams. At the top of the pitch, I looked around for a spot to build an anchor. There was really nothing up there! After a few moments, I spotted a slot/tunnel that passed through the rock and would accommodate a cordillette. I stuffed the cordillette through the hole slinging a good sized column of rock, pulled all the slack up until I heard Randi say “that’s me”, and put her on belay. After Randi arrived at the anchor, we flipped the rope stack so my end was back on top and I led up the second pitch. I had only brought gear up to a size 5 friend, and the first reasonable protection needed a size 6 (the largest Technical Friend) cam. Looks like I would have to keep going until I found more protection higher up… The pitch exited the large crack to the right and started up a juggy face. As I climbed up on big holds, I noticed that much of the rock was friable and appeared breakable. After about 50 feet, I started to get pretty nervous. Finally I found a hole in the face that a gold C4 would go into and placed the cam. I felt much better now that I finally had some protection that would keep me from taking a 100 foot fall! I climbed up higher and found the pitches crux, a 5.7 roof. I placed a red C4 here and started pulling up over the roof. My right foot was suddenly loose and as all the weight shifted to my hands, and I realized that I had broken off a foot hold on the roof. The rock whizzed downward and I let Randi know it was coming. This route certainly had not seen very much traffic… I pulled up to a good sized ledge which signified the end of the 200 foot pitch and found a tree to sling as an anchor. I yelled down to Randi to take me off belay and barely made out a response. After Randi arrived at the anchor, we packed the rope into a back pack and hiked up about 100 feet of 3rd class terrain to the next belay.

The next pitch was the namesake honeycomb chimney and looked both beautiful and fragile from the belay stance. Excellent climbing with somewhat marginal gear brought me to the next anchor position. Again, no place for a gear anchor! I instead wrapped a large rock with my end of the rope and tied a figure 8 out of the rope. I hauled up the rope until Randi let me know all the slack was gone and brought her up.

The honeycomb chimney pitch

The honeycomb chimney pitch

What an amazing pitch! Randi broke off a foot hold as she climbed up to the anchor. More evidence of the route’s unpopularity.

 

From here, the route proceeded up through a stemming section to a squeeze chimney. We restacked the rope to put me on the sharp end and I headed up the pitch. Again, without a number 6 cam, there was no protection options available. I climbed all the way up through the squeeze chimney without any protection. Once I gained the security of the squeeze section, I felt much more relaxed. The pressure of the chimney on both sides of my body made me feel much more secure. I removed my shoes and jacket from my harness and “tagged” them from my belay loop to allow me passage through the chimney. This section was really narrow! Just below the end of the pitch, I managed to find a spot to put a red alien in and pulled up onto a belay edge. The anchor on this pitch was very similar to the previous pitch; a slung wedged boulder.

can you spot me in the squeeze chimney?

can you spot me in the squeeze chimney?

Randi had never been in a squeeze chimney before, and as I brought her up I tried to help her with instructions on how to jam her body into the crack. She did fantastically and soon she was with me at the anchor.

Randi in the squeeze chimney

Randi in the squeeze chimney

From here, we only had some 4th class scrambling and one more 5.9 corner pitch before we were done with the climbing portion of our day. With a little route finding, consorting with the mountain project app, and looking at pictures, we arrived at the base of the 5.9 corner. This pitch looked amazing!

Last pitch

Last pitch

I racked up and headed up the pitch. The first section included about 20 feet of squeeze chimney moves, and then a crux that required moving out of the squeeze chimney and into the corner. As I progressed up the corner, I stemmed, jammed and lay backed up the system to the top of the climb. I was now at the top of the climb and stoked to have had the opportunity to climb such an excellent pitch!

top of the route

top of the route

I built an anchor somewhat distant from the edge of the climb and extended the anchor using the climbing rope. This allowed me to keep good visual contact with Randi as she climbed up behind me. She did great! I got a few pictures of her on the corner.

honeycomb chimney 4

Randi on the last pitch

Rand stemming the last pitch

Rand stemming the last pitch

Randi at the top

Randi at the top

All that was left now was the descent. The book had been pretty ambiguous as to how this was to be achieved, but after some deliberating, we found what we considered to be the best option: 5 single rope rappels to the base of the climb.

rappel route

rappel route

We headed up and right and found a large tree with some rappel slings on it. After rappelling from this tree, we headed downhill again and somewhat right to a two bolt rappel station.  After committing to this rappel station, we landed on a large ledge with another rap station. This sequence of events continued until we reached the base of the formation. From here, we hiked out and made it back to the car at around 4:00 PM. Awesome day and an excellent climb to end my adventures in Red Rock on this go around.