Sunday, February 12, 2012

Climbs Ablaze

Shouldering our climbing packs and adjusting our headlamps, a group of determined PATC-MS climbers embarked on the dark Buzzard Rocks trail. Instead of daylight, the black trail was filled with laughter, stories of friendship, and eager anticipation of moonlight rock climbing on the ridgeline. We reached the fish hatchery overlook, a popular stopping place for hikers and a signaling point for climbers that the climbs are near. A haze blanketed the air, followed by an acidic smoke reaching my nostrils. Perhaps someone was burning trash in the valley? It seemed awfully late for that. 

Descending towards the climb base, I snapped a glow-stick so my second could track my progress. I wanted to lead the slab by the gentle assuring glow of a full moon rather than by the harsh and starkness of a headlamp. Roping up, my eyes adjusted to the subtleties of the environment in the dark.

I pressed my feet into the rough slab, a gleam catching my eye. A bolt! Trailing my rope, I clipped it and continued my vertical journey in the dark. The smoke thickened, gradually diminishing the full moon to a glimmer. Upon building an anchor at the top of cliff, we looked out and saw the orange blaze of a forest fire.

Little did I know this would be my last time to climb Buzzard Rock moving out West.
Nor did I know this 50-100 foot crag would be good practice for slab climbing the 800-foot Colorado Flatirons in the next (almost) full moon.

Colorado Flatirons
A month later, once again I found myself roping up at the bottom of a slab. Only this time, there were no bolts and the cliff was thirteen times higher! Ash and I were on a mission to retrieve a stuck rope at the cliff-top, a direct result of epic KanKan and I experienced that afternoon. With KanKan in the final lead, we had reached the top of the cliff, only to be chased down quickly by an impeding thunderstorm. In the rush, we could not find the rap bolts so we improvised a rap anchor with my cordellette. However, with the anchor set too far back for the rappel, the rope got stuck. We hiked off the mountain with half a double rope in hopes to avoid a rash of lighting usually associated with Colorado summer storms. 
K2 and C2 climbing the Flatirons!
The storm passed, but our rope was still dangling. Not wanting to just leave it as booty gear (it was still somewhat new!), Ash and I proceeded to climb the giant slab by moonlight with the rope’s other half... a lonely strand of yellow seeking its green.

Once again I found myself pressing my feet into dark slab, trusting my feet not to slip into the black abyss surrounding me. An orange moon peeked out from the clouds. For a brief moment, I was back in the Appalachia foothills gazing at the orange blaze of a forest fire, my night-vision clouded by the acidic haze. The sky cleared and I was in Boulder, Colorado once again.

Upon reaching the dark summit, Ash traversed in search of the abandoned rope. The wind hurled cold insults as I crouched and shivered. The minutes dragged slowly with the rope feeding out of my belay device, our life-line being tossed like a child’s jumprope in the midnight gales. After what felt like an eternity, Ash’s head reappeared with not one, but two ropes! Bonus!

Hands shaking under triumphant smiles, we rigged the rappel. My headlamp flickered to a soft demise as I descended into a pitch black abyss, completing trusting the feeling of rope in my hands while surrounded by dark and empty air before my feet gingerly touched the solid ground.

An hour later, I was finally reunited with my Therm-a-rest camp bed, only to wake in a few short hours for another rock adventure with KanKan…. Bastille Crack in Eldorado Canyon!

El Dorado Canyon, Colorado

1 comment:

  1. rock on climb high the best way to live! And moon light climbing is epic!We will climb together soon the more the better!

    fellow Deaf climber, CA