mardi 24 avril 2012

Black Orpheus

Bill and I had our sights set on an 11-pitch route called Black Orpheus (5.10a) in Red Rock Canyon. We had scoped out the approach and the descent route last week as part of a reconnaissance trip. We were now ready to attempt it. The main challenge was going to be the projected new high temperature record of 99F. We decided to plan accordingly (covering our necks and arms, wearing sunscreen and bringing LOTS of water) and try for it anyway. 

Black Orpheus is a committing climb because after the 3rd pitch (aka rope length), it is not possible to rappel. Instead, the climb must be completed to the summit, 1370 feet or higher. Not many routes in Red Rock end with a summit: this one does. By incredible luck we had not just the route but the whole canyon to ourselves all day, reminiscent of the quiet days when the Uriostes first set the climb, and were grateful at being able to set our own pace and take advantage of the shade provided by the various corners and chimneys throughout the route.

I climbed with a small pack: 1.5 litres of water, food and some emergency suppplies. Bill climbed with a larger pack: an extra rope (for the rappel), 2 litres of water, food, and our shoes for the descent hike. The climbing went fairly well despite starting on the incorrect 2nd pitch (the guidebook didn't mention two belay stations) and having to set intermediary stations to retrieve gear (pitch 10 requires 4 small grey cams, not just 2 as I had with me). We reached the summit after 8 hours (including a leisurely lunch break in a shady alcove) of enjoyable, and at times challenging, climbing. Hurray! 

On the summit we finished the last of our water, ate a snack and snapped a few photos. Now the real challenge lay ahead of us: locating the anchors that would allow us to rappel. It took us about an hour of looking around and some exposed downclimbing before we located the anchors. Two double rope rappels brought us down to some 3rd class terrain where we stashed a rope in Bill's pack and coiled the other into a rope backpack which I fastened to myself. We had about an hour or so of 3rd class slab scrambling before reaching the wash. From the wash, it took an under an hour to reach our packs, where we happily gulped down the remaining litre of water we had stashed for the hike out.

If you have been following along and doing a bit of the math, you'll understand why we pulled out our headlamps just before this point. It gets dark here just before 8 pm and we had another hour or so of hiking to return to the truck. As you might know from experience, hiking with a headlamp is difficult because your field of vision is narrowed significantly. Micro route finding (looking for specific footholds) is still possible, but the big picture is difficult to see. This might explain how we missed a cairn, got off track and resorted to desert bushwacking for the last kilometer. Hiking at night is always an adventure. However, it does have its benefits because along the way, we saw creatures we don't typically see on the trail during the day - a 2-foot snake and a tiny owl.

Once back at the truck, we guzzled another litre of water we had left there and promptly drove to BJ's Brewhouse for a celebratory beer and meal. We were ecstatic...and exhausted! It had been a long day: we awoke at 4 am, started hiking at 5:30 am and got the truck by 10pm.

A fine adventure!

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