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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Multi-pitch on Granite Mountain

Finding money to purchase a full rack of climbing gear is difficult when you're in college. This is a problem I've been grappling with for the last year or so, ever since my Introduction to Rock Climbing class, when I got a taste of trad climbing. For those less familiar with climbing lingo, "trad" consists of placing your own protection as you climb, rather than relying on pre-drilled bolts. The benefit of learning about these things in an institutional setting like Prescott College is that you don't have to shell out tons of funds to get life experience. The same could be said for any of the areas classes are offered in, be it fire ecology or sea kayaking, but I digress. For someone that appreciates the art of climbing, and the expensive gear that makes the activity safer, our gear warehouse is a paradise. To me, standing on the second floor of the warehouse and staring at the hundreds of cams, hexes, stoppers, carabiners, and ropes lining the walls makes me feel a bit closer to achieving nirvana.

And then there's the first day of a field course, where you get to actually touch the gear and make sure it's all accounted for. A magical day, sort of like a birthday, but only if you usually have your birthday in a warehouse full of everything you ever wanted.

I may be a bit of a gear head, but hey, there are worse things I suppose.

Through my Intermediate Rock Climbing class this weekend I had my second experience lead-climbing and my first leading on Granite Mountain, arguably the most classic trad climbing in the area. We spent our day climbing on a smaller side-section of the mountain, what is referred to as the "Swamp Slabs," since the main face is hundreds of feet high and a bit of a stretch for some of our skill sets. My group started it off slow with the two-pitch climb referred to as "Beginner." The climb itself is relatively mellow, but climbs always feel like a bit more of a head-game when you know your life is possibly dependent on each piece of gear you place. I made it up the first pitch with relative ease, though one section in the middle made me feel a bit insecure, as I had trouble finding gear placement for a good twenty feet or so. Most of the climbs on the Swamp Slabs top out next to an old alligator juniper tree, who has somehow managed to nourish itself in a very limited amount of soil on an exposed rock face and still manged to grow relatively large. My partner and I made our way along the side of the face from the tree, careful not to twist any ankles, and ate some lunch back at the base of the climbs.

Our next project was a slightly more difficult climb called "Debut," which was far more vertical, and had one slightly overhanging section to deal with. I led the first pitch, and even over the wind I could hear my breathing exploding out of my chest when I exhaled. The climb itself is by no means challenging in the technical sense, there is plenty of protection on the way up, but just the feeling of being a little more vertical was enough to push my boundaries. I remember one moment during the easiest, least inclined section of the climb, when I stopped for a moment to take stock of my situation and realizing that my last piece was so far down I had a good chance of "hitting the deck (ground)," if I messed up. I don't think I've ever placed a piece as quickly or as solidly as I did after that realization. Despite the occasional fright, I have really come to enjoy the trad climbing experience through this school. I know that next week I'll be even more excited to challenge myself to do more challenging climbs, and maybe one day I'll be able to go out and do this on my own.


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