Meeting Bob's family for the first time was great, except for the severe laryngitis, and flu symptoms I'd had all week. I felt weak, wasted, and miserable...but by-golly, this climb was going on. The weather was against us from the start. Cloudy, and threatening storms, as we spread out gear in the garage to pick the rack to take. Bob's kids took a little interest, as they played a handheld Nintendo, glancing up to see what we were chatting about. "how about the Hexes?", 'Nah', "better bring all the red/yellow Aliens", 'yellow/orange Metolious too from the beta'. The rack grew, shrank from a once over, and grew again slightly, as we added our personal gear. In the end, all the equipment fit neatly into one Radix bag (just got it for Bob), and a chest harness racked with our pro pieces. Our lightest set-up to date! We were very happy the systems are getting compressed and more efficient.
With the family already turning in or turned in by 11pm, Yvonne and I slept on the sofa bed 'til our wake-up at 4AM, which came waaaay too early. Hacking, coughing up what looked like Nudibranchs or some other large invertebrate, and still not able to talk beyond a whisper (which hurt) I had to write down my comments on a spiral notebook (a clever idea from last night). We had decided to check the weather one last time, and it looked OK...not good...just OK. We rolled the dice, and headed for Zion in the new van.
The van is sweet to say the least. After totaling the little red 'Ru, I was bummed to see it'd cost over 20k to get a new Subaru wagon, so bought a used van instead. With the rear seats removed, there was enough room for gear, Bob in the middle seats, and while camping, Yvonne could still stretch out and sleep in the cargo area. I could set the cruise, and kick back in the comfy captain's seat. Two and a half hours, and we were in Zion as the sun was coming up and country music played on the radio.
Checking in at the ranger desk, the weather reports still looked poor, but do-able. I kept a firm, positive outlook since we didn't drive all this way to go camping. Not to mention it'd be the last Big Wall for the year. Five dollars for a wilderness pass, and some cool poop bags (beats the heck out of ziplocks!) and we were off and eager to scope the route and get started.
From the initial looks, only one team was at the base, nobody actually on the route. We shuttled the gear, braving the freezing cold water crossing, thankful not to have to cross it again...except for Yvonne, who was helping us schlep gear to the base, and would have to re-cross the river. Mind you, this is November, and the water was about 35 degrees, she's a real trooper!
Dropping the haulbag and gear at the haulzone for the first pitch, we said 'Hi' to the other group of 3 guys from Santa Barbara. Their ropes were out, planning to free the first pitch. A couple of Brits showed up with shiny new gear..uh,oh..and chatted a bit. They then walked past us and started flaking out their rope, and prepping to climb. I said loudly, a confrontation would occur if they thought they were going to jump the route without asking us. They headed up the free-blast anyway, as I thought of turding a hot steamer into their shiny haulbag, or at least punching holes in the water bottles. Bob looked at me like I was a crazed man.
Bewildered and pissed by the Brits boldness, I was glad to see it start raining. Slowly, a drop here and there, the kind of rain you try to pretend isn't happening. Goretex came out, as we huddled a bit, the rain a steady drizzle now. Watching as the first group leader and second bailed from the belay. The third guy at the base said it'd be the teams first Big Wall, so with the rain, it'd be best to call the climb. No kiddin'. The Brit's followed suit, and we didn't say a peep to each other as I passed them heading up the free section.
Happy to be off the deck, the rock seemed friendly, slipperly, and not prone to taking gear, but secure enough to move up on. It reminded me of early winter conditions in the alpine setting, with a glaze of ice...just enough to keep you on your toes, but not enough to cause great alarm. Very nice focus, 5-6 pieces of pro and the route was ours, ALL ours!
The first pitch flew, so fast, that I overshot the belay, and found a different set of anchors. Looking around for the next pitch start, nothing appeared like on the topo, then the roof/flake came into view. About 15 feet below and 30 feet to the right there it was, and although I couldn't see the belay, I knew it was below me. I hoarsly croaked to Bob to come on up. When he got within sight, I asked him to check to his right for the step over, and belay bolts. He found them without trouble, and we were back on route! The rain had stopped, although clouds overhead still had a heavy, grey look.
The first haul is odd in the way you bring up the bag from a different location from where you started. Yvonne was still below watching the start, so I took the opportunity to rap down the haulline to secure the bag, and while dangling, asked her to marry me :) She said yes, after a quizzical look on her face, that served notice to me that this was no ordinary proposal...and a big rock better be in order...no NOT a BIG Wall...a BIG ROCK! :) We kissed, and away I jugged, happy as a lark. This would be a good climb.
Bob took the next pitch, and a fine one it is. A thin placement roof section to a nicer crack above. He finished the pitch, and due to the location of the next belay, we'd lower the bag off on a tagline. My BIG mistake! Instead of hooking a biner to the bag and running the tag through it, I saved time by running through the main locker. As soon as the bag rolled away from the edge, the swivel loaded up, and sucked the tagline into it, creating a pinecone of a knot. Frustrated with the flu, and delay, I wrestled the bag, and couldn't get it to untwirl. Finally, as Yvonne radio'd up, I replied 'we're ----ed' and asked Bob how the hang was so I could just toss the line out. A clean haul, so be it!
Cleaning the pitch, I felt better, and was impressed by how Bob had added some pro pieces to take care of his second. Nice LoweBall, nice .5, popped tricam (oh well), the rest looked quite nice. With a couple hours left of light, we could do the next pitch, and still consider fixing lines to sleep on the deck, or in the Watchman campground where we'd met another friend, Bill, earlier in the day.
There's a few pitches that are to-do on this climb, this next one (3), pitch 5 up the Grand Dihedral, and the last pitch for the free section. Heck, the entire route is fantastic, but those tend to stand out as fun and exposed.
Bob had enough of leading, and asked me if I'd care to blast the rest of the climb, since I was moving much quicker. Those who know me, already know my answer ;) Never offer me all the leads...cause you won't get them back easily. The topo looked like pitch 3 was a cake walk, NO! There's a super fun committed section with a small ledge that provides enough height to clip a bolt that's a stretch for someone 6 feet tall. Being 5'10", it reminded me of the long clips on the Muir traverse...I had to hop up for this one too. Clipped first time, thank goodness, as a 20' pendulum would be the price for missing it.
The sun started to set, racing a dark, cold shadow up the Wall across from us like a black tidal wave. Bob cleaned the pitch, and we radio'd to Yvonne that the climb was afoot. We'd portaledge where we were at, and start early the next day if the weather remained stable. Yvonne wished us luck, and a good night's rest. This hanging belay station was awesome, and our vertical campsite was up and organized in a half-hour flat! Out came the canned ravioli, Top Ramen (dry of course), and Bob's Soup bowls. It was already cold enough to see your breath, making the cold water that much harder to drink, as you felt the shivers with every sip. The radio got a RAD ROCK station 94.5FM or near abouts, a far cry from the LDS and Country stations that tortured us on Space Shot earlier in the year. We cranked it, and settled in for the night, cold breezes sneaking into the bags where the tethers ran out. Stars were out, and it got very bright with a half moon reflecting off all that was damp.
Bob was up first in the morning, still dark out. He'd been up listening and shushin' a rodent attacking our foodbags, while I slept like a baby. Amazing furry creatures when you think about where the belay is, over 400' off the ground. Once again, our system was down-pat, and we were ready to move in an hours time. Yvonne contacted us at the 8 o'clock check-in, and wished us luck as she watched us ascend, flashes of blue and red from our jackets. We could see the van, a green dot far below, Yvonne planning her day of hiking.
The Grand Dihedral is truely grand indeed, but boring as a climb. It is very scenic, great straight-drop exposure, takes good gear, but a bore. The pieces were all the same 1 to 1.5 inches, perfect splitter sandstone. By 80 feet, I had Bob lower me back down so I could back-clean for more 'biners and critical size pro. I saw it as a delay of time, clouds overhead still a major threat, but couldn't run the last 100' with the pro I had on me. Jugging back up to the high point, it wasn't long before the chains for the next belay came into view. Bob had a blast cleaning, enjoying the view, as I had one of the easiest hauls (with the WallHauler...I lost the fav Pro-Traxion in JT the week before, and was certainly missing it's better efficiency). We 'high-fived' at the belay.
The next pitches were fun in a distorted sense. If you like squeezing into a chimney, getting sucked into weird dihedrals, placing gear that has an orientation of straight-out instead of down, and toss in a goofy, albeit secure, Talon move...you'll love the pitches. Placing the Splitter 2CAM and Orange Metolious TCU soooo many times, backcleaning, I'm surprised they didn't wear out. Even put in the pink tri-cam to regain the confidence to move on it, as it was the piece that blew in conjunction with an inverted BD Camatot on El Cap that sent me for a 25 foot air-ride...the tourist bus below echoing gasps!
Top of the 6th pitch, a shortened climbing day due to the season, and clouds rolling in AGAIN! A couple minor drops felt, nothing too bad, certainly not enough to bail the climb. Bob inquired about the potential for bailing...my head felt great so I didn't think a low pressure system was moving in fast, we'd bivy here tonight. The Brit's were back below us, and heading for the 3rd pitch belay. Both Bob and pee'd, and I drank more water to reload the bladder.
Happy as can be, we knew the climb would go tommorrow. If it rained, anytime during the night or tommorrow, we'd be in a fine spot to jet for the top. Stars came out again! This is weird weather, cloudy and damp all day, then crisp, clear and frigid at night. A cold spell had come in, as temps dropped to 25 degrees. Bob's DOT's candies had frozen, and while chomping down on one, his crown got pulled off...OH,NO! Holding it in his hand carefully like an archealogical find, he cried over how it cost $600.00 to have it put in. I tried to cheer him up, by recalling how a crown of mine had fallen out long time ago, and the dentist Bondo'd or glued or stapled it back in for little more than a climbing story and song. He didn't look impressed, in fact, he looked depressed. At least Bob could finish is cold soup bowl and can of fruit. He offered the remaining box of DOT's to me, which I reluctantly but happily took. Putting a few in the cheeks to warm them up a few minutes, the DOT's softened enough to chew..then I would think of Bob, and just swallow them whole.
Linking the next pitches made quick work of the climb, the sweet part being an odd first move from the 6th belay stance, and the final free section. Clawing about an edge, and pulling over, I was ecstatic to see the belay trees and anchor ropes. People were on the rim trail 100' across from the top, cheering and waving. The haul was set up below the edge, and as I dropped down to body haul, Bob cleaned the pitch..all smiles, as he peeked over the last mini-chimney section coming into view. Yvonne radio'd a congratulations. We took time to eat, radio Yvonne, leave some goodies for later parties, and sort gear. The sky was roiled now, and weather was certainly closing in, my head felt tighter. We laughed, and waddled our way down the trail, meeting Yvonne halfway up (she had an empty haulbag to help us schlep gear again).
Less than 4 hours later, the storm hit, and rain poured mercilessly cold and soaking. The Brit's had bailed at pitch 3...that'll teach them to flirt with Karma, and try jumping a route. Bob and I were the only team to complete a route on Angel's Landing this Thanksgiving holiday, a wonderful way to celebrate my 40th b-day (on T-Day), the proposal to Yvonne, and Bob's 4th Wall this year.
All this, we chatted of climbs and hikes, turkey's and deer, warm inside
of Oscar's with hot coffee and sandwiches, as the rain pummelled Zion.