Monday, February 06, 2006

The Titan: Day Two

We knew it was going to take us all day to finish off the Titan, and fortunately the weather had improved dramatically. We left the car just as it got light around 7:30, reached the base at 8:30, and started up the fixed lines a few minutes later. Steve Levin was first on the sharp end again, and after a few aid moves he entered the dark chimney of the third pitch. "Into the mud zone," he said, smiling grimly. In Alpinist 8, Crusher Bartlett described these next two pitches, the Sundevil chimney, as "what appears to be a large—and leaky—rectum. Once inside this, two pitches of dirty maneuvers—the climbing that dares not speak its name." Actually, they were among the best pitches of the route, combining moderately tricky aid with indescribable free climbing. Steve moved quickly for the first half of the third pitch, manteling and stemming on the curtains of petrified mud that line the center of the chimney. But after he disappeared from sight he slowed dramatically, and soon I heard the ping, ping—or rather, on the Titan's soft rock, the thok, thok—of a piton being driven. We had aspired to climb hammerless, but the days are very short in early February, and we wanted even more to get to the top. In the end we placed three pitons on the route, gently tapping sawed-off angles into existing holes.

Pitch four began with 20 feet of sketchy aid (one pin), leading to 80 feet of extremely weird and enjoyable canyoneering. The climbing consisted of stemming on relatively clean smears on either side of the chimney, while grasping the sides and backs of columns of dried mud for handholds. It was almost like climbing limestone tufas, except I dared not pull very hard or big globs of mud would just shear off in my hands. The pro was ancient bolts, as much as 25 feet apart. (Later I was told that there were probably more bolts buried under mud.) It was only about 5.7 or 5.8, but a fall was unthinkable and yet all too likely.

The fifth pitch looked like real climbing again, with a relatively clean crack up to a roof, crossing a river of frozen mud midstream. Steve found some excitement above the roof, burying a big hook and tying off a mud curtain to pass one tricky section. From the beautiful bivy ledge atop the fifth pitch, it should have been smooth sailing to the top. It was just after 3 p.m., and we felt like we had plenty of time to get to the summit and down before dark. But we had neglected to bring a topo or route description. I remembered a "tension traverse," and it seemed obvious from the belay ledge that this must go right, into another chimney that seemed to lead to the big ledge system just below the summit. When I got to the chimney, I found that, despite two old fixed pins, this line obviously had seen very little traffic. Cakes of mud guarded the holds, and the bulging wide crack threw me off balance. I hung from the upper pin, about 25 feet below an obvious crack that would gain the ledge. I whined and moaned a bit, and below me Steve silently pondered a bivy on the ledge he was standing upon. Finding no alternatives, I started free climbing, burying my hands in the dry mud for purchase and trying to wedge as much of my body as I could into the shallow chimney. Commitment yielded success, and soon I was up on the good ledge below the final easy chimney. (The real route goes left on good rock—5.8 A1. Oh well.) Steve came up and quickly led through to the summit, and minutes later I joined him. I added our names to the register, which is poorly protected and a bit soggy in an open container under a few rocks. (A pity, because it's obviously jammed with history—at least 30 or 40 pages of names.) The view was stunning in the gloaming, but we were not inclined to linger.

With the sun disappearing below the horizon, we started down immediately. Fortunately, rapping the route went extremely smoothly. The sky glowed bright red in the west as we set up the final rappels, and we didn't need the headlamps until we were coiling the ropes on the ground. The walk out, while painful, was infinitely more enjoyable than a night up on the tower would have been if I had to retreat from my off-route excursion on the sixth pitch or if we had hung up a rope during the rappels.

What a route! The Sundevil is not technically extreme, but it requires a full repertoire of desert climbing skills and it offers up just the right level of spice. I'm grateful to Steve for being such a good partner—our first big route together, and one to remember!

1 comment:

George Bell said...

Great job on the Sundevil, Dougald and Steve!

You should have taken down the register, copied it, and then done World's End next weekend to put it back!

-George