Monday, June 25, 2012

Coopers Rock on the semi-beaten path

On Saturday morning my mom and I headed out for one of the most perfect June days possible at Coopers Rock... temperatures never really clearing the low 80s and not a hint of rain.  The woods were filled with flowers, some seeming to sprout impossibly from the rock itself.

We also saw a bizarre fungus growing from a fallen tree, which I'm told is possibly a delicious "chicken of the woods."  Although my love of mushrooms has led many to believe I'm at least half Hobbit, I think I'll play it safe and leave this one alone.

We started the day, like so many before, at the Mad Butcher Block in the Roadside Area.  Wanting to stay low until I knew how my back would handle bouldering after a 3 hour car ride, we started off on our favorite Mad Butcher Traverse, as well as a few of the short vertical lines and a few traverse variations.  Since I didn't manage to get out my camera at the time, mostly because my mom appreciated spotting more than documentation, I'll have to resort to stock footage.  Here's a shot of her on the traverse three years ago, on her very first trip to Coopers at the young age of 60.

That same year, I found myself looking for a change of pace one day, and decided to walk down to Lower Rock City.  That's another story for another day, but there's a ton of fun bouldering down that way if you've never made the trip.  Anyway, as I walked back up the Rattlesnake Trail toward Upper Rock City, I passed by a gorgeous slab that has been on my mind ever since.  With a huge right arete for hands, and few obvious feet, I'd have climbed it right then if I weren't worried about breaking an ankle on the pointy rocks below.  Not that it's all that tall, or even difficult, but the thought of falling at all sideways from it was enough to make me hold off until I could more adequately protect it.  The next summer I passed by it again, but again didn't feel comfortable getting on it.

                                                               Photo: Pennie Close
If I may deviate slightly for a moment, I just need to say that big aretes and small feet make some of the best climbing.  Or any sort of feature climbing for that matter.  I love finding my way up lines that leave no doubt where your hands will go, but require attention to the tiniest deviations in the rock for feet, making you realize in the process how little we really need to keep us attached to the rock.  This is combined with the fact that I love the scariness of slab, the excitement of that moment when you realize the only safe way out is to keep moving up, and the feeling of psychological victory waiting at the top.

Although I haven't climbed it in a couple years, one of my favorite easy problems at Coopers is Exercise One, uphill and a little down the trail from the well known Moby's Dick.  Following a left sloping arete on friction feet until within reach of the right arete for the topout, it's not slabby enough to be scary, but does have a nasty little ledge protruding from the base directly below the topout.  Often passed by, but well worth checking out if you're in the area!

                                                              Photo: Pennie Close
But back to the Rattlesnake Trail...

Finding myself much better set on crash pads than the other two times, I decided to give it a shot. Using my smaller pad to fill in a gap and laying my highball pad over top, I felt confident that straight down falls at least would now be safe.  My only big hesitation remained the idea of taking a lateral fall while topping out, but that would be a problem for later.  At the moment, all I wanted to see was whether the initial moves were doable.

As it turned out, there was a high left crimp that was just big enough to help smear my feet up the slab, and would also be high enough to stand on for the topout if I could get my foot to it.  After experimenting with a few different sequences, I found one that worked.  Now it was just a matter of convincing myself to commit to the top.  Despite knowing there was a solid arete and lip to grab up there, visions of pitching off down the rocky hill persisted, and I'll admit I was nervous enough that I almost packed up to return when I had an extra spotter for the downhill side.  Then I took a deep breath, and it was over almost before it started, with the topout actually being mild compared to many others in the forest!

Am I embarrassed to have been so nervous over a problem that most likely is no harder than V1?  Not at all. In fact, many of the climbs that have scared me the most at the time have turned out to be some of the easiest, and in hindsight have been some of the most memorable.

After taking a quick break to let my feet breathe, I realized I could do the problem from a sit start, thinking it would be a fun way to add a few extra feet.  That turned out to be a pretty stupid idea.  The couple extra moves didn't really add anything to the climb, and if anything only interrupted the rhythm.
I guess more isn't always better!  Still, here it is...

If anyone has more information or history on this boulder I'd love to hear it.

Edit 8/2/15- Found a reference to this being an old Adam Polinski climb called The Axe Head.  Hooray for actual names!

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