Thursday, 6 December 2012

El Fin de una Vida - a new project for the season

My favourite route of the Petzl Roctrip

I was inspired by all the steep and hard multipitch lines I saw on the Petzl Roctrip (see my previous post for more on that) and all the time I was there they captivated me. I knew trying them would probably be fruitless judging by the grades on offer so I concentrated on routes that were more reasonable. I did become a little fixated by the idea of projecting a hard multipitch though and still had all my nice new toys from the lovely people at Lyon Outdoor to play with.

I was excited to return to my winter home at the Olive Branch El Chorro, with a wealth of quality multipitches on offer going from very easy to far too hard,  and take on a project beyond my onsight abilities.

With the whole season ahead of us, it seems like anything might be possible, so I want to see what we can do with that!

Emilio looking bitching on the Half Dollar
on Salathe Wall, El Cap
Emilio Bachini was my partner on El Cap last year and a great choice for any big project like this. We are pretty well matched on climbing ability, good with our multipitch systems, and great friends so working together is easy.

My initial pokes through the book led to a rarely considered line in between two of the more popular sectors, Poema de Roca and Momia. The line, ominously named ‘El Fin de una Vida’ or ‘The End of a Life’, comprises four hard pitches leading to six easier ones above and a top-out finish over 200m up Frontales crag. We had jokingly considered this route before and decided it too hard, but that’s what a good project should be right?

The first four go at 7b, 7a+, 7b+, 7c. The last of those is the second hardest pitch of climbing I have ever seriously attempted and the hardest for Emilio.  Those pitches all put together in succession will easily be the hardest section of rock we have ever taken on.

After that will be six more easier pitches, with the second to last going at 6c, no doubt a stout test after all that climbing. We are confident we can onsight the last five pitches, so on the day we finally send that 7c, we will carry straight on to the top and walk down enjoying the view and basking in our own glory! (at least that’s what we hope will happen…)

This has all created a number of logistical difficulties, most of which will apply when we are going for the clean ascent of the fourth pitch. Firstly, and most importantly, conservation of energy. I am quite a lazy climber and if were to climb three pitches of those grades at the crag I would probably just put that down as a good day, crack open a beer and head home.

To combat that problem, there are two obvious options – one is to fix lines up to the hard pitch and just ascend them to work on it, and the other is to climb the first three early in the day so there is time to rest and recuperate between attempts. We do not really want to fix lines, and since an ascent in a single push is clearly what we want, any amount of practice on the first three has to be beneficial. This leaves us with the second option, which unfortunately creates a few more issues.

Working on something difficult is hard on the body and the mind. Having enough water will undoubtedly help with that. Taking all the tries we can with all the rests in between will add time too, so a bit of lunch will probably be needed. It will also mean sitting on belay for long periods, so comfort will be an issue. All this adds up to needing more stuff with us up there than we would usually take, so we will need to decide whether to climb with a pack, losing more strength on the way up, or haul, losing time instead. It may even be worth stocking that station with some bottles of water to save having to deal with it every time.

Daylight is a key issue to consider also. The walk-off is long and potentially dangerous, so doing it in the dark is not ideal. If we make it past the hard pitch, we need to know we have time to move up the following six and get at least halfway down before dark, and this will certainly add pressure when making those last few tries each time.

An important decision for us the style in which we want to climb it. We obviously cannot do it all onsight, and ground up could take a little too long as well, so with those two ‘pure’ styles out we have to decide how many compromises we are prepared to make. I think it would be nice if we could each lead all the hard pitches, then swap leads on the easier ground, all in a single push. This would keep it a stiff challenge for both of us, whilst still allowing swift movement higher up where we will need to be fast and efficient. I am not too sure how we will deal with the belaying for this approach, and if one of us gets really stuck then it may not be possible, but I like the idea. When it comes down to it if we just share leads all the way that will be fine by me!

The last problem is kit. We have plans to leave draws in on some of the hard bits, endure lengthy belays, and possibly do some hauling and the odd bit of ascending up the rope if we fall on the rope. We also want a little bit of luxury if we’re gonna be up there all day, maybe even some music. This all adds a few items to the list of stuff to take. Thanks to Lyon Outdoor, I have a lovely new Petzl Meteor III helmet, a Petzl Sama harness, a Petzl Reverso 4 and a perfect rope for the occasion – the Beal Diablo 9.8mm 80m with the awesome Unicore bonding process they use which keeps it safe and handling well for longer and minimises the effects of rope damage. All top quality products distributed in the UK by Lyon.

There has been some talk of trying to film this route too, so I’m sure that will add a whole load more complications……

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The route starts just to the right of the big cave at the bottom on the black tufas

We headed over to check out the route today. The plan was just to climb the first pitch and see how it felt, and also try to see whether the rock was of good enough quality to put all this effort in. There has been a bit of seepage here recently too so we were keen to find out whether it would be dry.

I met a good friend last year called Felix who was a much stronger climber than me and had great results from redpointing. He told me that when he comes to a route he knows he is going to project, he starts by making some deliberate act, such as starting with the last moves or going bolt to bolt straight away. He said this relieves the pressure of trying to get the route first go, since you have removed the possibility of getting an onsight already, and it makes it easier to break the route down and start working on each part more quickly with faster results overall.

I like this idea, and have knowingly used it only once but it worked out well that time. So I decided since we can’t reasonably hope to do it all in one let’s just get straight down to the individual holds on each pitch and see how we can use them best.

Emilio starting the crux section

An unfortunate Jamon slicing
incident left a nasty flapper
on Emilio's knuckle!
The initial pitch is pretty solid 7b. The climbing is interesting and fun, with a long easy start leading to a powerful steep section through tufas and a delicate fingery finish with tricky footwork. Emilio made the brave first step and tied in, but got a little stuck working out how to start the powerful section near the top. I took over the lead and found a way to continue but got stuck at the end of the tufas. Emilio then found a better sequence through the powerful moves but was stopped by an existing finger injury which made a crucial pocket unusable.

On the second try I got up to the end of the tufas in one go and (after giving myself a bit of a talking to) worked out the delicate moves above. It seemed like it was all a lot more straightforward second time around so I think it will probably go next try. With that in mind I looked up at the next pitch (7a+) and decided to carry on up. This pitch went easily, the difficulties being slabby moves that suit me better. I had a look at the 7b+ that would greet us next time round and it looked pretty amazing – clean, virtually untouched hanging tufas and a long wall of small pockets above. Well worth the approach. I think the camera will have to come up with us when we return!

We won’t get to see the fourth pitch until we complete the third. The topo is vague and it is not obvious which line it follows so that will have to be a surprise. I’m not too sure when we will get back there as there is a bit of rain coming, but I will post our progress when we do.

If anyone else has a project on the go that they want to share, I would love to hear about it! Leave a comment or send me an email and I will try to get back to you as soon as I can.

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