“No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No!”
That’s what was going through my head but I’m pretty sure the sound coming out of my mouth was more like adrenalin infused whimpering. Regardless, Andrew knew I was in trouble. We were on the second last pitch of “Group Therapy” in Red Rock Canyon.
The day hadn’t been going well from the start. I had the first lead and immediately got us off route. At least I thought I did. Turns out, I was just short of where the next pitch was supposed to start and, despite thinking Andrew may not have enough rope to finish the second pitch, we were fine.
|Looking down, Andrew climbing up.|
But we were both climbing much slower than usual, trying to figure out the route. The whole route is trad protection and, other than a route two days before, we hadn’t done any trad climbing since last summer. We’re out of practice setting gear anchors instead of clipping bolts so each belay seemed to take forever!
Although it was sunny out, it was cold and sometimes breezy in the shade. The majority of the climb was in the shade and, standing there in our light jackets patiently (or not so patiently) waiting for the other person to climb and set up an anchor meant we were near popsicle status at least half the day.
At the top of the fourth pitch, we were again slightly off route - one corner crack system to the right of where we were supposed to be. Both led up to a small alcove below a large roof overhang, which is where we wanted to go. It looked doable (slabby but relatively low angle) so instead of rappelling and down climbing over to the proper area, we decided I’d go for it.
|In the middle of the photo, the large roof and the two crack systems leading up to it (just right of the large black spot).|
On the way up I managed two good cam placements and a small (very small) nut. Above the nut, the crack closed off and I couldn’t see anywhere else to place gear. The corner angled up left and closer to the other crack system. Just a bit higher there was a large flake that appeared well attached with decent handholds at the top and a foothold about four feet below. From there I figured I could step over into the other wide crack system and presumably find somewhere to put in more gear.
As I moved three points of weight over (two hands, one foot) the slab started to slide.
“No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No!” (Whimpering noises.)
Climbing friends, you’ve no doubt seen videos where someone is ice climbing and the whole sheet of ice or pillar breaks off with the climber still hanging onto it. In a split second that’s what I envisioned happening - me sliding down the cliff hanging on to this 4’ x 3’ rock. It could only end badly. Very. Very. Badly.
But it slid only a couple inches and stopped. I loosened my grip, thought light thoughts, and slowly and gently moved my weight back over onto my right foot and plastered my hands and left foot back onto the slab.
“Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God.”
“Are you okay?” asked Andrew.
In hyperventilating gasps, I explained what had happened. “I just need a couple minutes to get my shit together,” I said.
“Yep, take your time,” he said.
As reality of what could have happened sunk in, I thought, “You can’t die today Shell. It would be really rude to die on your sister’s birthday.” (Yes, Bev, I really thought that!) “You gotta calm down and do this.”
Trying to decide what to do, I looked down. Not a great option. I looked up. About 10 feet above me there was a horizontal crack that looked like it would provide both good handholds and a place to put in gear. From there I could make a big step over to the alcove. More slab climbing up to that point. Trust your feet! I moved upwards.
“Fuck!” The horizontal crack was flaring with only sloping holds. I hate slopers!
“Ok, just keep it together Shell. You can do this.”
I moved my hands and feet cross to the left, palming the rock, and took a big stretching step over to the alcove, grabbed a good handhold and moved the rest of the way over. “Whew!” I slammed in a bomber cam placement and finally breathed easier. (Thank goodness for that shiny new big #4 cam we bought a couple days before at REI.)
From the safety and security of the alcove, I took in the next part of the route. To get out from under the roof, there’s a large chimney on the right. The guidebook notes that it looks very intimidating but has decent holds if you can convince yourself to stay on the exposed outer edge instead of jamming your whole body into the chimney.
Just as I’d convinced myself to keep going Andrew said, “You can belay from there if you want. That’s the belay noted in one of the books.” He barely finished speaking before I grabbed the lifeline and said, “Yes!” A second good cam placement and I had an anchor in no time.
|View from the alcove under the roof.|
As Andrew led the next pitch I looked down at what I’d just climbed up. I generally make a point of not dwelling on what “could” have happened but this time I couldn’t help it. It was a good 20 feet back to where I’d put in that last nut. If I’d taken a fall, it would have been 40-50 feet. I have my doubts that small nut would have held that sort of shock load. Which would have meant an even longer fall. Not a pretty ending.
|Looking down from the alcove.|
Luckily, I didn’t have too long to dwell on it as Andrew did a great job leading past the roof. I followed carrying the pack. (We’d left one pack at the bottom of the route. Whoever was following each pitch carried the second pack with our shoes for the descent, water and food.) Even trying to stay on the outside edge of the chimney it was a struggle with the pack getting caught and a few burley overhanging moves to get past. Huffing and puffing I thought, “I just want to get the fuck off this route!”
Andrew graciously offered to lead the final pitch but I said no. “Suck it up, Princess!” We made it to the top without further difficulty.
|Getting ready to lead the last pitch.|
|Panorama view from the top of Group Therapy.|
By this time it was 3:30 in the afternoon. About the time we’d expected to be down and back to the car. The descent from this route is a walk off but not an easy one. More like a scramble off. First, finding the correct big gully can be a challenge. Then there’s a lot of boulder hopping and more route finding involved. Luckily, we’d been down this way twice before over the years after having climbed Tunnel Vision (a great route!) so we at least had pretty good idea of what we were looking for.
We made our way back to the start of the route, picked up the pack we’d left behind and arrived back at the car just before 5pm. Having not had more than a handful of gorp and an apple since morning we immediately drove to one of our favourite restaurants. That glass of beer sure did taste good!
|View of the whole cliff.|