02 August, 2010

Getting vertically lost and found

A few weeks ago I went looking for a climb in the Linville Gorge called the Mummy. Its nothing to brag about at 5.5, but its in a remote, beautiful location and offers great positioning and exposure. We were relatively successful in our recon trip. The trails were easy to follow, if only a little grown in. The fire 10 years ago has yielded a bunch of 9 year old pine trees that like to scratch and threaten to push you off the cliff. We found our access trail off the MTS, followed the trail that skirts (just barely) the rim of the amphitheater, and then slid down the first loose decent gully to the Reggae wall.

After some scrambling around, getting cliffed out and retracing our steps we found the entrance to the decent gully behind the Mummy Buttress. Wanting to leave nothing to chance, I rapped in to take a look at the wall. I scrambled around in the talus, went way too far climber left, and continued to get lost and scramble around through burned debris and scrubby undergrowth. I finally found myself back at the cliff, saw a few anchor bolts above, and figured I was in the vicinity. Satisfied we'd be able to pinpoint the climb on our actual attempt, I made a groveling rope ascent out of the gully in a near downpour.

This past Saturday offered what looked to be a short break from the daily rain we've had over the past week. Friday was 10% chance, so the rock would have time to dry, and the humidity broke Thursday night as well, making everything, granite included, feel less clammy. There wasn't new precip called for until Saturday PM.
We got a little later start than I wanted to on Saturday morning, but with just 3 pitches of easy climbing, didn't feel any pressure. We repeated our approach from a few weeks ago under thin grey clouds covering the whole region. From the rim trail we were able to scout the upper half of the route.Jay and I rapped down the decent gully, and I welcomed him to the wonderful world of the Mummy Buttress. We stayed close to the wall this time and looked for a well tread area that would signal the start of a popular climb. We were also looking for a short slab to a crack that would start the first pitch.SPOILER ALERT: Not knowing how to write this up, whether from a "how we perceived our day" angle or the "in review of our day" angle, I'll point out this interesting facet of the human mind. When you read climbing topos and route descriptions (or maybe just when I read them) you get fixated on the description. We walked along the cliff until we found something 5.5 ish that looked like a slab that led to a crack, and found such a thing and roped up. This comes into play later.

The first two pitches we pretty easy. 5.5 climbing tends to involve a lot of broken cracks and ledges, and that's what we were getting. Climbed about 140 feet and found a nice ledge to set up on. The route description said that the crack would end and there'd be a stance. Well, my crack had ended, and I had a stance. A luxurious stance, but I thought the guide book used stance and luxurious ledge for 6 people as synonyms. As the route was kind of ledgy and right trending, I wanted to stay close enough to keep in touch with Jay, whom I had had to review a figure eight knot with.

Pitch 2 was supposed to be about 70 feet up to a ledge. And that's about what I did. 70 feet up to a tree that was just shy of a larger ledge, but the tree itself was a ledge, and it made for better rope management, and communication with my second. Jay came up and joined me, noting that that pitch hadn't felt like 5.3. I can't really tell the difference between 5.3 and 5.5 as long as the pro is there. We did a quick simu pitch up to the larger ledge above just to make it easier to belay from a convenient spot for the next true pitch.This is where things started to feel a little off. The topo we were looking at for The Mummy said that we'd go straight up off our belay. I walked around, looking upward for a weakness, a 5.3 weakness mind you, and couldn't find anything. The ledge we were on cliffed out to climber right, and at climber left there was a big pile of blocks. The blocks looked like the entrance to something, but we were supposed to go straight up according to our topo, so straight up I went.

I anchored Jay to a small tree, and about 6 feet right of it found a bulgy/roof with some horizontals that would take gear. I don't mind the unknown, but I like there to be pro there. As soon as I got around the bulge, and continued another 10 feet to a good stance I realized we were not on route. There was 100 feet of lichen ahead of me on near vertical and bulging wall. My last piece of gear was below the apex of the roof, and a misstep on the downclimb would mean a groundfall. So up it was. Slowly, and trusting some lichen covered feet on relatively easy 5.6ish climbing I made my way up. The wall was a series of small shallow horizontals, and a few of them took marginal tricams and aliens, but these were far and few between. At one point I had left my last piece of gear far below and moved up easy ground, but ground that wouldn't take gear. Every few feet I thought I'd find something, but there really wasn't anything worth putting in. Above there was a diagonal hand crack, that trended up at 45 degrees and would surely take gear. Getting too it was a little thin, and the lichen wasn't helping the confidence issue. Few people if anyone had been up here recently. Another 10 feet of delicate moves gained the hand crack and a textbook 2" piece. Relieved, I continued up the hand swallowing scar in the rock, moved around a very scary flake with loose rocks tucked behind it, and made an anchor in the first spot that made sense and had a good stance to bring Jay into. I looked down on 140 feet of rope with 5 pieces of gear in.
Jay came up, on his first multipitch climb, and got to experience his first semi hanging gear belay. I was worried about him repeating the roof moves 140 feet below, but he had moved through well enough and followed my lost lead in no time and joined me on the sloping stance. It took some negotiation to get him to let go with both hands and start helping me re stack the rope and exchange some gear.

I set off, moved through a bulgy crack with two lumps of vegetation and gained some very easy broken rock on an arete. i moved left to peak around the arete and found a beautifully clean, crack and corner system that looked oddly familiar. It had started to drizzle, and the thought of being on wet lichen didn't sound good for the leader, and not much better for the second, so I hastily made my way up, mantled over the summit ledge, avoiding a lot of loose rock, and built an anchor to bring Jay up on.

It rained for most of the way out, making the over grown trail feel like a sadistic car wash. We sat in the rain for a few minutes at camp and enjoyed some beer and humidity soaked chips. A quick tear down and stroll to the car, and we were saying good bye to the gorge again. Somewhere on 221 Jay had had enough time looking through the books to realize that we had just climbed at least the first 2-3 pitches of The Daddy, not The Mummy, and still didn't know what we had done after that.

Over a slice of beefalo pizza and a few beers in town we figured out we had climbed something right of the last few pitches of the Mummy. Nothing was mentioned in the Kelly or Lambert/Shull guide, which explained the lichen. Some web research finally turned up a 5.8 variation to the 3rd pitch, but i can't tell if they linked it to the dihedral crack pitch, or took it to the top.
Whatever, we got lost at a remote, "adventure crag" and made the summit. Sure its been done with less success there plenty of times. With all the book reading and internet photo looking, it still felt pioneering to walk along the base, find a weakness, and go up.

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