Friday, August 3, 2012

Casablanca (5.9), Art's Route (5.9), and the Problem of Tunnel Vision

In mid-July, I got the chance to climb with Maryana again, for the first time since April. I had been busy, and my available days hadn't matched up well with hers. I'd been forced to turn her down so many times it was a wonder she'd still speak to me.

In one sense we were still climbers of similar capabilities; we were both wading into Gunks 5.10 climbs. But in another sense we were different. Maryana was climbing more, and actually getting somewhere on these climbs. Since I'd last seen her Maryana had led Simple Stuff, Nosedive, and Birdcage. By contrast, I'd successfully onsighted the one-move Splashtic and backed off of every other 5.10 I tried.

I was excited to see what she could do when we got together. Unfortunately our time was short, and we both struggled with our warm-ups.

We were both interested in leading Wegetables, so we hiked on down to the far end of the Trapps. Maryana decided to start with Casablanca (5.9), a climb with a short, reachy roof crux that she'd struggled with once before.

This was a climb I had sent onsight, although I had to try reaching the jug in several different ways before I finally just popped for it and easily grabbed it. Maryana was thinking she'd probably solve it immediately this time around, since she'd improved as a climber so much over the last year or so since her last attempt.

But alas, she struggled again. She wormed around the big roof flake in several different ways, trying to reach the jug, but she just couldn't get it. One of the good things about Casablanca is that you can do this over and over again and never hang on your gear, because it is easy to step down to the stance beneath the flake. Maryana did this several times, but eventually took a hang or two on her cam in the flexy flake (it holds!).

Finally she tried something different, throwing a heel and getting over the roof, delicately reaching up until she had the good hold. Afterwards she said she felt like she'd approached the climb with tunnel vision, thinking there had to be a way she could reach the hold directly, since she'd seen others do it. If she'd considered the heel hook more quickly she surely would have sent it.

I had a few inches on Maryana and I could just pop for the hold, so I didn't give much thought to what she said, although perhaps I should have paid more attention.

Safety alert: there are still slings on the tree just over the lip on Casablanca. Please do not rap from this tree. It is DEAD. Maryana could move the tree with her hands. It is not safe. There is a larger, living tree with slings about 20-30 feet higher. We used doubles, tied together, to rap from this tree. A 70 meter would likely make it, but a single 60 probably won't. You should either do the climb with doubles or do the second pitch, so you can use the Casa Emilio raps or walk off.

After we rapped down, I suggested we try the nearby Casanova (5.9-), a no-star climb that goes through the roof at a different place. I looked the roof over on rappel and it looked pretty cool. But the climb was in the full-on sun and Maryana wisely wanted to look for shade on this hot hot day.

So I suggested Art's Route (5.9), a climb that Dick Williams upgraded to two stars in his 2004 guidebook. And on Art's Route I had a little tunnel vision episode of my own.

I got through the first crux, an awkward mantel over a low roof. It wasn't pretty and I used a knee but I will take it.

Then at the second crux, which involves getting over a bigger ceiling and into a notch, I thought I had it figured out. From underneath the roof, moving to the right for a second I could see a hold I needed to reach, and I also clipped a very useful fixed nut. Then, from back under the roof, I made the big move to reach the key hold on my first try.

I now know this is the hardest move on the pitch, but after I grabbed the key hold I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to get myself over the roof and into the notch. I tried it over and over again, and every time I couldn't make it. I climbed down several times and after a while I started hanging on that fixed nut.

Finally I realized that like Maryana, I was suffering from tunnel vision. In my case it was literally true. I was looking only into the notch for holds. I was failing to try to find a hold outside the notch that I could use to pull myself up and into it. Once I realized this I got it on the first try, the climb was over, and I cursed myself for my stupidity. This could easily have been an onsight.  Maryana ran right up it as the second.

Art's Route is just a short, single pitch, but it is a very nice climb with two very different, and pretty difficult, cruxes. I highly recommend it and I will be back to send it!

(Photo:  Cowering under Wegetables, trying vainly to wait out a storm.)

Probably I will return to do it on a day in which I try Casanova and Wegetables as well. Maryana and I never got to do Wegetables. It grew overcast as we worked on Art's Route and it started pouring right as we arrived underneath Wegetables. We crouched there against the wall staying relatively dry for forty-five minutes, hoping the storm would pass without getting the climb wet. But as it continued and the rain came down harder and harder, we realized that not only was Wegetables in jeopardy, but that our whole day might be shot. Eventually the rain dripped through the roofs all over the climb and we gave up, marching out in the continuing downpour. We were thwarted after just two pitches.

While we stood there I looked over the climb and gained a renewed hunger for coming back to lead it. I remembered the tough spots and I think I still have the beta in mind to send the thing. I need to have a good autumn with lots of splitter weather so I can come back and conquer these 5.9's and 5.10's that are piling up, waiting for me.

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