Wednesday, June 06, 2007


I went trad climbing yesterday for the second time this season. I went with Walt from work. We went up Big Cottonwood Canyon to climb the moderate classic Steort's Ridge. I have climbed this route once before. It is a really fun climb. The difference between yesterday and the previous time was the wind. Storms were blowing in and it was wicked windy. Wind advisories had been issued (we didn't really know this). We decided to climb anyway. The wind was blowing constantly with very few breaks. At the beginning the gusts were somewhat strong. Walt led the first pitch without incident. As I arrived to the first belay ledge the wind started picking up a little more. It might not have actually picked up, it may have been my perception of being exposed on the cliff as opposed to being sheltered in the trees.

As I began to lead the second pitch I could really feel the wind. As wind hits a cliff face it is forced upwards. About a third of the way up the pitch, in one of the more difficult sections, I was hit with a very strong gust that lifted a sling up off my shoulder, over my head, and up my right arm as I was reaching for a hold. I happened to catch the sling just before it went over my right hand and blew away. I tried a couple times to put the sling back over my head and arm, but to no avail. I had climb about 4 moves with the sling in my hand before the wind died and I was able to put the sling back on.

While climbing the gusts became stronger. When they would first hit it felt like I was going to be lifted up and off the cliff. I knew it would take a lot stronger gust to actually do that, but it was a little unnerving the first few times it happened.

After reaching the belay ledge at the top of the second pitch I belayed Walt up. The third pitch is by far the best pitch of the climb. You can move up and onto the arete to get some fun, exposed climbing. That wasn't going to happen today. The wind was blowing so hard up and over the arete it sounded like someone was ripping very thick canvas. About fifteen feet above the belay ledge is the one bolt on the entire climb. Walt was leading the third pitch and had the joys of clipping the bolt. The bolt sits about one foot in from the arete. Everytime Walt tried to clip the rope into the draw, the wind would catch the rope and yank it around. It took him about five tries to get the rope in. The fun didn't end there. After Walt started moving away from the bolt the wind would catch the rope between me and bolt and violently whip it back and forth and eventually it would move into a circular pattern. Everytime I'd pay out slack when Walt would move, the wind would just whip it around and Walt would have to pull extra hard on the rope to get the slack up while he was moving. This was the theme of the third pitch for him.

As Walt put me on belay to bring me up the third pitch, and as I called out "climbing", the wind picked up considerably! It literally felt like I was going to be blown off the wall. I unclipped the bolt and thankfully moved away from the arete. About two moves past the bolt, the wind caught the sling on the next piece of gear that was about fifteen feet above me, and lifted it out of the rock. I looked up just in time to see the biner, sling, and stopper sliding down the rope. It was pretty crazy. I gratefully pulled over the top of the cliff to Walt saying "Woah, that was crazy".

The fun wasn't over yet. We definitely weren't going to rappel down the climb. The route is already notorious for having loose blocks that fall when throwing the rappel rope. Also the wind would swing the ropes around and it would be an extremely difficult rappel. We decided to do the walk off. The interesting thing about this walk off is it puts you semi-close to the cliff edge and you have to half-downclimb (it isn't really down climbing, it's fourth class down scrambling). We thought the wind would make it fairly difficult but it wasn't too bad. The combination of the two definitely made the walk-off the sketchiest part of the whole adventure.

We were extremely grateful to be back on the ground and in the shelter of the trees. Overall it was a good time. We weren't ever in any kind of serious danger. The wind definitely upped the danger factor but it didn't put us in any dire situations.

All in all we had a good time and it was quite an adventure!

No comments: