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Climbers fulfill Colorado goals

BY BRUCE W. DAY Published: November 29, 2009
en I reached the lower crux, one hand holding the knife edge of the flake to balance while extending my left leg across the wall to a smooth toe hold and my hand to a polished hand hold above it, I hesitated repeatedly. It was not a lack of faith in Surapanani; it was simply that I did not want to fall so low to the ground with such a long belay above me.

I finally committed and began my climb up the crack. Surapanani and Woods climbed strongly, as they always do. I was clumsy and inelegant, and once when I could not find a way past, used my knee to access a chest-high ledge to continue. Among the aesthetics of rock climbing are two basics: don’t hang on the belay rope and don’t use fixed belay points as hand holds. I have disregarded these principles repeatedly while climbing. At the belay point, when he saw my knee, and I had confessed to using it, Surapanani advised that he would never climb with me again. Such are the travails of old, bad rock climbers.

The crack required all types of crack climbing techniques, but particularly hand jamming, or using your hands in various shapes as a hold in the crack. For me, the lay backs (holding an edge while climbing the wall with your feet up under you) were a preferable way up. I am not searching for purity in my climbing efforts any more; I am simply trying to complete what I try to climb.

After finishing the crack and the long climb down a narrow steep but well-maintained trail, we sat on a small wall to remove our climbing shoes and harnesses. We could see as many as six teams and solo climbers climbing without aid or protection of any kind on the walls before and around us. As I watched, a climber peeled off the wall near the top of the cliff face, and fell almost 15 feet before being caught by his belayer. Hanging from the belay rope, he studied the wall before him before remounting to finish his climb.

Solo climbing is a dangerous indulgence, and should not be pursued, but it is.

The following day, we climbed the mile-long, gently sloping trail up and through the pine-forested base of the First Flatiron to the beginning of the 1,000-foot Direct Ascent route. Surapanani started up the wall in a long sustained friction climb. Friction climbing for some, myself included, can be nerve-wracking. It is done on steeply angled but not vertical surfaces, where often there are few if any hand holds. You climb standing as erect as possible above your climbing shoes. It is counter-intuitive, as you naturally want to hug the wall the higher you climb. Attempting to lean in closer to the wall, however, makes you slip and fall.

Due to the places where no protection is possible, falls by the lead climbers can have dangerous consequences. Once on top, we threaded our way up and down the jagged edge, until we reached the fixed rappel/belay point. There you tie into a fixed ring with your rope and descend in an almost 200-foot free rappel. It is a fitting end to the enjoyable climb.

After a great dinner, we flew home to Oklahoma City the next morning.