Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Wallface: An epic delivered

Both of us needing an adventure, a buddy and I made an attempt on the Diagonal (III 5.8...7 pitches) on Wallface in the Adirondacks this past weekend. The plan was this: 

Dave and I would drive the nine hours from DC to the trailhead Friday night and bivy by the car. The next morning we'd hike the 5 mile approach, setup camp, start the route, and fix the first two pitches on rappel. Sun morning we'd jumar the lines, finish the route, then hike and drive back. 

We drove up Friday night (stopping by a bar in New Paltz where the guys from Rock and Snow left us a guide book and topo), hiked in Sat morning, setup camp in a sweet little cave and set out through the talus slope. We heard that there was better climbing further to the left of the standard route, which you could link up (somewhere), so we spotted a nice line off to the left and started climbing. 

There was some good and dirty 5.7ish climbing in a corner for a full rope length, which got my hands good and cut up. Water ran down the rock in some areas, and every once in a while the wind would carry the spray from water falling overhead. The second pitch, from a hanging belay, moved out into some face climbing for around half a rope length onto the top of a small triangular ledge. 

We couldn't see how the line would link up with our intended route, but there looked like there was some good climbing and we were optimistic. At this point it was getting cold and the light was starting to go...we needed to get down. Should we fix the lines and continue from there the next day? Or should we rap and start from the standard route? Dave said he was interested in trying to continue our line and I was excited by the prospect of our own link-up. We fixed our ropes, tied end to end, and rapped on the single strand. 

The next morning I jugged the line, which was...interesting--a new technique that probably shouldn't have been tried for the first time in the Adirondack backcountry--but I was getting the hang of it and starting to have some fun, despite the ice particles that would periodically rain down on me. 

About halfway up (~150' up), just after a free hanging section of the ascent, I decided to tie the line below me off to a cam, just in case the anchor blew above me, or the rope cut or something (psychological pro)... As I continued up and as I unweighted more and more of the rope, the rope-stretch relaxed and the line pulled tight on the cam, so I was ascending a tight line. I was disconcerted, but it didn't shut me down. 

Once I got to the top, the falling ice was no longer in particle form. Larger, walnut sized chunks cut through the air near me. I looked up. Where water was falling about 300' above me the day prior, there was now a ledge of ice and a row of icicles. I watched a shoe-box sized chunk break off, fall and explode into safer sized chunks after bouncing off a rock about a 200' above. Each chunk that hit my head made me glad for my helmet, yet, overall, I was recoiling at the idea that the next wave could take me out. 

I thought about bailing, but I couldn't rappel because the section of rope above the cam was tight. I could have used the ascenders to reverse ascend, but that was complicated and I didn't want to leave my cams and the rope in the anchor up there. 

I radioed to Dave to free the rope from the cam so I could setup a rappel. He was already on his way up, but the rope below him got snagged, so he had to rap down, free the rope, then continue ascending. I just had to wait it out. 

I curled up on my little diving board, 300' up, trying to become the smallest target possible. I heard the ice breaking off above me, but I didn't want to look up for fear of a piece catching me in the face. 

All of a sudden the entire valley filled with a thunderous sound. A couple hundred feet over a boulder the size of a desk tumbled down the cliff, exploded off another rock and slowed to a stop. 

Disaster scenarios overwhelmed my thoughts. 

Finally Dave got to the cam. "Dude, the rope is worn thru to the core." " it's trashed?" "Yeah." We knew that rope damage was a concern when jugging a dynamic line, so we had been really careful not to let the line run over any sharp edges, however, when the line relaxed tight on the cam, the knot was forced against the rock. When Dave jugged after me it sawed right through the sheath. 

Dave then rapped down to a tree and anchored in. I broke down the cam anchor I was on and replaced it with a single nut, backed up by a sling threaded around where two boulders touched, hooked up the single line and rapped--passed the knot where the damage was and continued to the tree. We cut off the remaining 30' of the damaged rope and rapped down our good one. We hiked back to our camp and enjoyed a quiet lunch--our minds having plenty to process--hiked and drove back. Quite an adventure. I can't wait to go back.