Trad Climbing Granite Mountain

It has been a couple of hectic weeks, what with the new semester starting and all, but we managed to get away from the hustle and bustle in order to do some camping and climbing this Labor Day weekend.

We left late afternoon on Saturday with a car full of people and gear. You wouldn’t expect a one-day trip to require so much stuff, but we’re experts at choosing activities that require tons of gear. I can be a minimalist, living off of the few items I can haul across countries on my bicycle for months at a time, but that’s not how we live here in the States. ‘Round here we choose activities that dictate frequent trips to REI. And once you have the stuff, you gotta use it, right? Right. So, with four passengers and a day’s worth of gear, Mike declared we were bordering our vehicle’s posted weight limit of 850 lbs. My poor little Pontiac Vibe didn’t have the same pick up ‘n’ go she usually does. Maybe that’s why the air-con went offline for a while Sunday morning…I’m getting ahead of myself, though.

We arrived at our very commercial campsite right around dusk, so we had just enough time to set up our tents and collect some wood for our campfire before darkness fell. We got the fire roaring so Mike and I could cook our hot dogs and Josh and Amy could boil water for their Mountain House lasagna dinner. I won’t disgust you with a recap of our campfire conversation, but it started with the question “What would you have your followers do if you were to start a cult?” Luckily campfire-roasted marshmallows go good with just about any topic of conversation, no matter how gruesome.

Our campfire for roasting dogs and ‘mallows.

Mike’s fire art.

We took our time waking up and packing up the next morning, so we didn’t head get out to the trailhead until 9:30 or so. It turns out that the 2-mile hike in was a brutally hot, uphill death march. Well, maybe it wasn’t that bad. Still, Mike thought he was suffering from heat exhaustion, and it took us a good long while to go those 2 miles. By the time we got to Pine Tree Ledge, the base of our multi-pitch climb, we were ready for lunch. We ate, recovered from our hike, and prepped for the route.

A delightfully scraggly tree.

A field of wild daisies with Granite Mountain in the background.

I never bothered to stop and take a good photo of Granite Mountain — this is Josh’s.

Lunch on Pine Tree Ledge. We had summer sausage with cheese and crackers. Again, Josh’s picture.

For those of you who don’t know much about climbing, this paragraph will attempt to initiate you. Trad(itional) climbing is the type of climbing that does not rely on bolts or man-made additions to the rock face. Instead, trad climbers use different types of gear that include hexes, nuts, and cams, which look different, but essentially do the same thing: jam in cracks. A trad climber, then, places this gear in the rock and sets the climbing route as he goes. He’s unprotected until he successfully places the first piece of gear and clips in. The more gear, the safer the climb for the person leading the climb. If he falls, the gear (and the rope) will catch the climber, assuming everything was placed well. When he gets to the top, he places several pieces of gear to anchor the rope. Then the second climber ascends the route. This is safer, since the rope is anchored at the top of the route, rather than being placed as you go. The person seconding has the job of removing all the gear from the cracks. In a multi-pitch climb, once both climbers are at “the top” (meaning a ledge or stopping place at the top of the first pitch), they start the process over for the next pitch. Lesson 1 over.

So, Josh started leading our climbing route for the day, which was an easy (5.6), 3-pitch climb called “Debut,” according to our book. Amy seconded his lead, cleaning the gear from the route so that Mike could also lead the route with his own gear. I seconded Mike’s climb, cleaning his gear on my way up. The route had a lot of overhanging rocks, so I couldn’t see the end of the first pitch from the bottom. When I finished climbing the first pitch I was informed that we had actually climbed pitches 1 and 2 in our first go, so we only had one more pitch to climb. This time we could see the top from our belay ledge (the person feeding and securing the rope is the belayer). By the time I finished my first pitch, Josh was almost to the top of the route, so I watched him finish, then watched Amy second his route and Mike lead ours. By the time I got to the top, it was time to pack up and head out for our long hike back. It takes an incredible amount of time to analyze the rock and set gear in trad climbing, so it’s easy to burn daylight.

Josh leading “Debut.”

Amy belaying Josh.

Amy seconding Josh’s climb.

Mike’s trad rack (a trad rack is a collection of nuts, hexes, cams, etc.)

One of those overhangs that makes it hard to see the full route.

Both Mike and Amy on the first pitch.

Mike leading the first pitch.

A view of the second pitch from the top of the first.

“Rawr!” — Josh’s picture of me at the top of the second pitch.

This is the best summit shot I got. We were in a bit of a hurry to start our hike back since it was getting late.

The hike out wasn’t as grueling as the hike in, but it was still dark by the time we got back to our car. We stopped at Red Robin on the way home and slept quite well that night.

Our next adventure is coming up very soon: we will be canyoneering “the Jug” this Saturday. The wait shouldn’t be too long for photos and a new blog post this time around!

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