Saturday, October 29, 2011

-throwback- Greenland 2007: Chapter Three- Climbing

Now to the climbing! I'll try and give details about the climbing without too much of the boring lingo and statistics that climbers really geek out on. Jed leading on our first climb.

For the uninitiated, here's a rundown of the mechanics of rock climbing like we did and the most basic lingo. We climbed the rock as much as we could using only our hands and feet. The rope and gear are there on the way up only if we fall. We call this "free" climbing. On one climb, on only one occasion, did we use the equipment for upward progress. This is "aid" climbing. The first person up, the leader, ties into one end of our 60 meter rope and heads off. As soon as he or she can she places an anchor point in the rock, usually a really strong piece of metal stuck in a really strong crack in the rock. The right use of the gear results in an anchor that could hold a truck. The rope is clipped into this piece of "protection" so that it can run freely through and the leader can keep going. The leader, as he or she goes, periodically places more protection. Meanwhile, the climber left below, the "belayer" is paying out the rope through a friction device so that it feeds freely as the leader climbs, but can be locked off tight if the leader falls. If the leader falls, for some reason or another- difficult moves, poor balance, a hand or foothold breaks- he or she won't go very far because the rope is attached through intermediate protection points. When the rope runs out or a ledge is reached or the leader runs out of gear, the leader stops and builds an even stronger anchor, ties into it, and the belayer's job changes. Now, the belayer climbs the "pitch" that the leader has already done, removing the gear, kept safe from above by the leader. The team regroups and the process starts over. We count the length of our routes in pitches- our shortest route was 6 pitches, the longest 16. At the top, we celebrate, and try and get down. The easiest way to get down is to walk off the easier side of the mountain. None of the mountains in Greenland had easier sides. So, we "rappelled". Using the same ropes and equipment, we'd build an anchor run the rope through it, slide down the rope in a controlled fashion, build an anchor when the rope runs out, tie into that, pull the rope through the top anchor, and repeat. Yes, we leave the anchor each time we rappel. An expensive proposition, and really like littering. But a necessary evil.

We went to Greenland specifically to climb on a row of peaks already named the "Fox Jaw Cirque." Named so for it's resemblance to the jagged line of teeth in a fox's mouth and for the actual fox skeleton a group found near the bottom of the peaks. We ended up climbing on other peaks also.

Our first climb was on the smallest peak, one named the "Baby Molar". Nate, Annie and I climbed together on one side, and met up at the top with Josh, Kadin and Darcy. We all rappelled together, on this peak getting down was by far the most eventful and involved part. We scrambled down some, then made a few rappels through loose cliffs, rocks raining down as we passed, and into the top of a snow filled gully. We tied all 4 of our ropes together (over 600 feet of rope) and 5 of us rappelled down that one big rope. Darcy let the ropes go and then down climbed the snow. 18 hours after leaving camp we returned. This would be our easiest climb and the shortest day!

Rappelling from the Baby Molar.

The second climb we did, a few peaks up the ridge from the Baby Molar, was on what we named the Rabbit Ears. Kadin, Annie and I made one try at the Left Rabbit ear, rappelling before we reached the top, but having scouted the way. On that failed attempt we still were 24 hours on the move. A few days later Nate, Kadin and I went up and completed the route in 26 hours.

Climb number 3 was a scrambling affair, meaning Kadin and I went out without the ropes and equipment hoping our route would prove easy enough. As it turned out, it was just easy enough, and with weather approaching, being literally untethered proved to be key. We moved quickly and smoothly up and down Peak 1490 , returning to dinner at camp just as it rained on us. This rain, almost 2 weeks into our trip, was the first foul weather we had.

Climb number 4 was our hardest, proudest and most involved. Annie, Nate and I worked for about 5 days on a new route on a feature already named "the Incisor." We actually set out to do the existing route, playing it conservatively on the biggest mountain face in the Fox Jaw. However, we couldn't find exactly where the guy before us had gone, so we wandered up the first half, leaving our ropes hanging anchored to the rock once while we rested up in the valley. Annie and Nate basically led the first part as I helped out, carrying the gear up. We came back to our fixed ropes two days later but didn't make any new ground as it rained on us. More rest, more strategizing, and we went back up psyched. We climbed up our ropes and immediately found anchors left in place on the original route. We followed this route for just a few pitches and then forged our own path to the very top. Actually, we got lost and luckily found a way up. On the top, in approaching clouds, it started to rain. We rappelled 6 hours, soaking ropes, shoes, clothes, everything. But we made it back to the valley floor and our basecamp 24 hours after we had left.

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