Last week was going to be my first bigwall climb. Who wouldn’t be psyched about that? The weather looked iffy so we (Rob and I) decided to do be conservative and go for it anyway. At the base of the climb, as I craned my neck to fully take in the 1000 or so feet of vertical stone that soared above us he confided in me that our signal to turn around would be any rain whatsoever. After hauling 100lbs of gear between us across the virgin river I was far from excited to retreat.
I drew the lot of leading the first pitch–160 feet of a little bit of everything. There was some wide cracks, thin cracks, face climbing, trees, brush, sand, loose rock and all of those endearing characteristics that make desert climbing so much fun after it’s done with. I made the mistake of not bringing enough runners to extend my gear placements so that the lead line effectively ran in a sort of zig-zag that put a lot of friction into the system. Rob told me that he saw it happening and thought about saying something…but didn’t. Oh, also I managed to run the rope straight through a tree which added to the fun.
I could hear the raindrops splattering on my helmet as I topped out the pitch and I knew that meant at least a delay of game, best case scenario. I fixed the haul line to the anchor so that we could simply ascend the rope and go again if the rain let up. By the time I got back on the ground you could see squalls blowing through the valley and the rock was beginning to run with small rivulets of rainwater. Rob was happy to hang out as I got some time lapse footage but we both knew our attempt was off.
Sandstone is a very weak, porous rock compared to granite. When it rains, sandstone becomes weak and friable because it soaks up water which destabilizes the bonding agents (lime) which hold it together–sort of like a fair-weather concrete. Usually it is prudent to give at least 24 hours of drying time after a rain before climbing on sandstone. Failure to do this can be dangerous, as protection placements and handholds lose their reliability and you also run the risk of being the jerk who ruins a word class climb for everyone by breaking off important holds.
The rain has been on and off since then, with today being the first solidly nice day. It snowed up high recently and only now is it starting to melt. We have decided to try and go big this coming week and try firing Moonlight Buttress in a single day–and the weather is forecasted to be perfect! Initially we wanted to go plush and take our time on the wall but we re-evaluated that and decided that it would make more sense to do something less contrived to up the ante and bang it out in a day and practice the essential alpine skill of hustling–by doing more with less and keeping moving.
Today is day 90, and with the last few days of inclement weather we have been forced to boulder indoors or take on non-technical objectives. Hopefully we will be outside this afternoon, tacking on the footage. At last count I have accumulated 24,650 vertical feet.