“Rock, paper, scissors”
Erik wins. I always loose at this simple game. Most of the time, I’m extremely upset but this is not the case. Though still a little jealous, P1 looks pretty terrifying. That would be the case for the rest of the day.
“Walking the Line” is an obscure line on the Ribbon Buttress. Since doing Bird Brain Boulevard, I’ve wanted something a little more challenging, adventurous, and bigger. This was the first major climb and second day I climbed with Erik Wellborn. We had come in contact on Facebook (imagine that) and I really respect the guy and what he has done. He told me that he also wanted something big. Perfect! Idea’s spread. I wanted to have a go at Steve House’s and Hayden Kennedy’s route they put up last season. I also spied a sweet line that is unclimbed. All very ambitious goals.
I got in contact with Steve House and he told me that the anchors on the last pitch of Desperado were useless. We didn’t have the gear (or perhaps balls) to attempt that other unclimbed line, so Walk the Line it was. Plus, avalanche danger was pretty horrible and Walk the Line starts in the trees.
Actually, were not even sure we were on Walk the Line. It sure gave us a ride. The route as marked in JR’s new guidebook is not correct. The actual Walk the Line is 100 meters left of it.
As Erik got ready for the lead, I got ready to belay. Rocks fly down out of the gully as he works his way up the vertical choss crack that goes overhanging for a quick couple of moves. It’s the real deal. I follow as I hook my way up, sometimes hammering my tool into the dirt. The feet are slim and it’s strenous and at many times weird. A pretty featureless traverse to a smear of ice ends the pitch. I arrive at the belay pretty happy with that pitch. Now if Bird Brain is M6, that must of been M7+. Pretty dang solid M6 if you ask me but with okay gear.
My exact comments on the next pitch. The ice was almost unnattached from the rock and vertical. No rock gear on the sides, and no screws.
“I’ll take the lead if you don’t want it man” Erik states to me.
I grap the gear after convincing myself a stubbie ice screw would be “bomber.” I head up placing a spectre in a dirt filled corner. I nail it in. “Bomber.” As I continue farther and farther up, I do not like the ice and the way it feels. It’s making weird unstable sounds like the whole thing could just pop off. The conditions were just good enough for me to feel comfortable going up though I still was pretty scared. After finishing the hard part, I belayed Erik up after a slog in horrible snow.
Erik conitnues on lead up a vertical kind of gully that turned into a chimney. Again, progress was slow. Protection was marginal. He nailed in many pitons and belayed me up. The climbing stayed difficult. I felt I was slow following. Progress was technical and slow.
My turn to lead. I place a good knifeblade after a few feet and make some memorable run out moves to finally a bomber .75. Then a traverse is made for a few feet to a rotten hanging dagger of ice that I almost have to campus up a little far from that cam.
Erik takes the next short pitch, that looks easy, but was actually pretty challenging. I join him at the belay, mentally exhausted, looking at the next pitch.
It looked featurless, vertical to slightly overhanging in one part, and no good gear. Erik agreed that this was pretty memorable. We both were pretty mentally tired, at least I was. He took the next pitch just to “check” out. We both were seeming to think things might be getting a little too dangerous. He ended up nailing a few pitons and weaved his way up occasionaly cursing and saying what in the world is he getting himself into. It looked scary but one of the pieces of gear would have held. I followed soon after and joined him. I seemed to be done. I told him I’d take the next lead if he really didn’t want to, or wanted a break. He said he would take it if I really didn’t want to. I didn’t argue. I just was not having a ton of fun right then. I felt like I wasn’t contributing now. We were only one pitch from the top of the technical stuff. Erik took it and nailed a knifeblade in. Soon 5 feet above it, a hold came off sending Erik down.
The knifeblade held. Erik started laughing and I soon joined him. What in the world are we doing here? He continued on to the last 15 feet.
A hanging dagger was all that was left, that though appeared connected, was not. I was getting nailed by rocks, and big stuff barely missing my head at the belay. I was kind of scared something big would come down and really do some damage. I was also not liking how solid and how run out it would be for Erik climbing that pillar. The last thing I wanted was for one of us to get seriously injured. I had a vision, that with one hit, the whole dagger would come down and nail me into another world. Erik got up to it, a bit above any protection. With one closer look admitted he was going to make an anchor to rappel.
I felt like saying I’ll give it a go. We were so close. I knew if Erik thought it was not good, then why would it be safe for me. We were both done. We had our fun for the day. Though 15 feet away, it just was not safe.
“Live to climb another day.” Safety always needs to be number 1. Upon basically emptying our whole piton rack rappeling down, we discussed what we had done. I was happy with our effort but we were both upset we didn’t top out.
It just didn’t feel right, we both had bad thoughts about that last piece of ice. Sometimes, you have to trust the inner judgement and this was the time. The alpine world is no place to tempt risk over the edge, especially 7 pitches above the ground and ground that no one really knows about.
Upon returning, I began to think more about the experience. You are suppose to rappel the route, it says in the guidebook, at least the FA party did. We found absolutely nothing for anchors, nothing on route, except a fixed anchor on P1. We had to rig everything for rappeling above. I still don’t know if this was the actual route. It seems like it had to be.
We were 15 feet away from having the rumored second complete ascent. The memories and partnership we had on it, I would not trade for anything. A great partner I was more then pleased to share this experience with. One I look forward to sharing more climbs with in the future. Thanks to Erik for making this trip happen and helping out a young poor lad out as far as lodging goes.
Quite a bit more serious, sustained, and more difficult then Bird Brain. To put into one word about the experience would be “memorable.”
Here’s to more adventure and exploring!