The alarm went at 5am and I was already up and the coffee was on. I was excited beyond belief, for today was the day that I was doing my first traditional multi-pitch lead. I was on the sharp end for both pitches and placing protection as I went. This was something I had wanted to do for so long and I was stoked to be doing it with Albert Torres.
The route was called Physical Graffiti (5.6). I had been searching through the Red Rocks climbing guide for something to do that I felt comfortable with and this sounded like just what I was looking for. Two pitches of crack climbing on a slightly slabby wall with an easy traverse out to the start of the second pitch with double ringbolt belay followed by a trad anchor at the top with a 5.4 walk to descend. Perfect!!
We parked the car at about 5:30—6:00am and commenced the walk in to the base of the route walking along the hiking track into the Calico Basin area of the Red Rocks Recreational Park in Las Vegas. We were chipper and ready for action. Albert had said the walk-in was pretty easy and would take us about 30 minutes. About five minutes into the walk we started talking through what was going to happen regarding safety checks and just generally looking after each other on route.
I was on the sharp end for the entire route and Albert seconding, we weren’t swinging leads so our rope management had to be good and we didn’t want to have any issues. We were on a tight time line as the temperature today was supposed to peak of 106 degrees and we had a nice 104 metres (330 feet) of climbing to do placing gear. This is a much slower process than just clipping bolts and with a rookie like me at the wheel it would take a little longer. Albert also had to be at work a little earlier than previously thought and we needed to get a move on.
I racked up all the required hardware on my gear sling and tied in, being sure to check that I had a couple of double sets of certain gear. This was necessary on the first pitch as the hand crack was pretty consistently sized. I was a little anxious and I made Albert aware of this. He just smiled and said “Relax mate, you’ve got this. Its well within your skill set and ability”. With this in mind I pulled on to the rock and commenced my ascent. I felt solid and placed my first piece at about 6 metres, Albert said on belay and we were off and running. The next couple of placements were a little nervous but I was feeling more confident as I climbed.
One thing I was really aware of was that my gear placements had to be good or better as if I fell off there is the possibility that the gear below me might pop out of the rock and I would fall a lot further. I was checking all my placements and the distance between pieces was what I thought an acceptable distance, about two to three metres between placements. Albert also reminded me I should not try and place to much gear to close together you might run out of gear before you get to the first anchors……..I thought “Shit! Thats a really valuable piece of information.”
As I approached the 35 metre mark, my feet were starting to hurt from my little shoes cracking my feet and I was in considerable pain. I needed to get to the anchors fast and get my shoes off or at least loosen them. The crack was thinning now and placements were a little less available. I placed a bomber cam and moved on and climbed through the little roof-let and continued up. When I looked down I could not see my last placement and then realised that I was about 5 metres above my last piece of gear and it would be a good idea to get a piece in……..Now!
This was a psychological gear placement, meaning it would serve no purpose what so ever but to make me feel better. It was a shit placement and dubious at best. As I moved on I looked down to watch this little piece of happiness spin mindlessly down the rope to the piece below it. I was now shitting myself and in a lot of pain. I steadied myself and brought my heart rate back down and then placed a piece immediately where I was standing. It was a great placement Albert would tell me later. He also said it was a bold effort to continue on after that little nut fell out.
As I approached the anchors I felt a sense of relief that was overwhelming and a tear flowed from my eyes as I had broken through another barrier that I had placed on myself for years. I quickly tied into the bolts and yelled “SAFE”. Albert replied in acknowledgement. I relaxed now and began pulling the remainder of the rope up before Albert yelled “Thats me”. Belaying Albert up the route was the easiest thing I had done all morning and it felt very relaxing with the sun on my back, my shoes loosened and the bolts clipped.
Before leaving the ground I had asked Albert to assess my gear placements and give me some feedback on my work. As he climbed he was yelling out this feedback and I was happy hearing it. It was a good thing to have an experienced trad climber assessing my placements. There was only two pieces that he said were average but the rest were bomber. He climbed effortlessly through the route and arrived at the anchors smiling as always.
We swapped over all the gear that I had ejected and Albert had collected along the way so as to prepare for the next pitch. This was the was about 45 metres of slightly slabby crack climbing on bomber sandstone. A crack climber I was not and I knew I was in for a very new and demanding experience. Stepping out right I headed up and across traversing about 6 metres from the anchors before the first placement. Once in I felt far better and commenced my ascent of the second pitch.
As I moved upward feeling sketchy to say the least, I placed gear as much as I could as my hand jams and finger locks were indeed average and although stable I was still veritably shitting myself. This pitch really tested my mettle and I was thriving on the stress and anxiety being caused. This was where you step up and dig deep. Alberts continuous support was just what I needed to inspire me through any doubts I may have had about what and why I was doing this.
I was back to excruciating pain with my feet screaming in agony and about 15 metres of climbing left. I placed what effectively was my last piece of bomber protection and decided to get this pitch over and done with. As I moved up the crack ceased to exist and the slab eased off again and I thought lets just get this done. I started what felt like running up the slab, although it wasn’t really but I knew that I had to get out of these shoes and I ran it out to the end where I could build a reasonable anchor and get out of these fucking shoes.
I found three solid placements and wrapped a sling around a chockstone. I got my equalisation point pretty well sorted and I was ready for Albert to come up and meet me for our wander down through the Nevada desert. Sitting at the anchor looking out over the vast desert and part of the keystone thrust was a beautiful thing. Albert was enjoying cruising up the route as I belayed and we chatted loudly through the ascent laughing about what we were going to do for breakfast and whether we should do the adjacent route called Big bad Wolf today or get out early tomorrow and do it.
As Albert walked over the top, yes walked up the last 8 metres I laughed and thought wow I wish I was comfortable enough to do that……..it just looked so easy. We laughed at the simplicity of what our lives were presenting us with on this day and what we had done. We decided to comeback tomorrow and do a speed ascent of Big Bad Wolf (5.9) three pitches 154 metres……….I followed this agreement with “Lets go and have breakfast mate, my shout!”
What a fabulous morning and such great company too. Thanks Albert………See you in the morning for round two 🙂