A Red River Halloween Day 2: A Cold Muir Valley

It was snowing. Literally.

We were in the car, driving from the luxurious Comfort Inn to Muir Valley, for our first day of climbing. With the exception of lunch, dinner, and a quick stop at a Halloween costume shop, we had spent all of the previous day in the car, our excitement overflowing: we were going climbing for a week.

Last night, we smuggled the five of us into a far too small, two-queen-bed hotel room. Zach and Sevda got a bed; David, Dave-O, and I got a bed. Actually, David took one for the team, claiming that with a pad, the hotel floor was actually more comfortable than many of his past accommodations. I believed him, but I also really wanted a bed.

Easy Choice

This morning, we stuffed ourselves with Comfort Inn’s [Continental] Breakfast of Champions: seasonal hotel pumpkin spice waffles (yum!), paper-thin strips of real plastic bacon (nope), reconstituted mash labelled scrambled eggs (nope), something like fruit (yes) and actual oatmeal (you can’t ruin oatmeal).

Now, it was snowing. Not a lot—but enough to make us question our plan to climb from the end of Rocktober to the beginning of No-send-ember. Fall was supposed to be the perfect time: cold, sunny, and dry. Today was cold, cloudy and damp.

We decided upon Muir Valley. I had spent much of the previous day’s car ride extolling the virtues of Banshee (5.11c): the movement is top notch (you get perfect amounts of everything), the cliff is beautiful (a brilliant orange, interspersed with perfect horizontal pockets with a huge hueco rest), and the last three bolts are glorious. This climb is one of the best climbs I’ve ever been on; when I dream about perfect lines, I dream about Banshee. Since we didn’t get a chance to hop on it last trip, we were going there first this trip. Not everyone was as stoked about the climb as I was—but that was why we choose Muir Valley: there would also be some five star moderates just around the corner.

We stopped at a Kroger and bought supplies for lunch (snack food), dinner (cheese, bacon and potatoes?! "Trust us," Zach said), and breakfast (including an impulse purchase of protein-packed pancakes). By the time we left the Kroger, the light snow had stopped. We paid the $10 to get into Muir Valley, we parked, we repacked, we layered up, and we hiked to the Hideout.

In spite of the cold weather, we were stoked. By the time we reached the Hideout, we were warm. Dave-O had been to the area and was eager to share it with us. He was going to convince us that the Hideout was more than the slopey sufferfests we inflicted upon ourselves the last time we were in the area, telling us to go try the five-start 100’ Boltergeist (5.10a) while he put his harness to put up the three star 40’ Moots Madness (5.10a). We should have smelled the trap.

Zach was stoked. He shed some layers, put on his harness, loaded up with fourteen quickdraws, tied in, put his shoes on, stick clipped the first bolt, and set off on Boltergeist.

It was epic. But not in a good way. The damp conditions added a thin slimy layer to the incorrectly sloping footholds that opened the climb (easily bumping it up a letter grade). The cold rock quickly numbed Zach’s fingers, robbing his proprioception of his most important input (bump it another letter!). Once past the first bolt, the first outdoor climb of the day—really, the trip—jitters kicked in (bump it another letter), and the battle was on. If you account for the fact that he was also hanging the draws on his onsight attempt, Zach was warming up a climb that was pretty much an 5.11a. And he let us know with choice verbs echoing across the valley, interspersed with gasps of relief at clipping stances.

In the mean time, O’Brien convinced David to put up the Moots Madness, the 5.10a a couple climbs to the left of Boltergiest. Dave-O, Sevda, and I were quickly serenaded with suffering in stereo.
We were undaunted by their wails of warning and also tried the climbs, Sevda hopping on Boltergiest, and Dave-O hopping on Moots Madness. The tones and octaves changed, the content didn't.

When it was my turn, I boldly stupidly declined the stick clip, promptly blew the first move off the ground, and nearly ate it. As I nervously, yet very delicately clipped the first bolt on my second go, I realized that I was an idiot. Sport climbing is supposed to be fun, not dangerous: there’s no reason to injure yourself with a ground-fall before the first bolt. For the rest of the trip, I would use a stick clip.
By the second bolt, the cold got to me too and I joined the symphony.

O’Brien later revealed that he disagreed with Boltergiest’s five star rating, stating that the route was a little too wandering and cryptic for his tastes (it turns out that part of the book’s five star rating probably came from the view at the top of the cliff—a view that none of us noticed this cold gray morning).

Zach on Moots Madness and Marek on Boltergeist

We continued to make each other suffer rotate through the rest of the climbs at the cliff; challenging each other to keep climbing through the light hail that periodically interrupted us. I also put up Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’ (5.10d), a short, but enjoyable climb with a small, bouldery roof. O’Brien had tried the route before, and wasn’t really feeling it. But with our encouragement, he gunned for the redpoint, only to both impressively and tragically fall after spending five minutes holding the crux position trying to remember his previous beta.

We cleaned the route and moved on to the Solarium, hoping to give Banshee & Air-Ride Equipped (5.11a) a shot. Given the name “the Solarium", it would be sunny, warmer and dry.
Sunny and warmer it was not. But both Air-Ride, and Banshee were open. We put down our gear, and watched as David started climbing Air-Ride, one of his goal routes from our previous trip to the Red. He campused through the opening sequence and made quick work of the next three clips, muscling from ledge to ledge. Strong man beta.

He didn’t show any signs of fatigue until about halfway up. We hadn’t given him any beta (we didn’t want to ruin his onsight), so he hadn’t found any of the rests (and there are a lot). Air-Ride climbs out a massive overhanging wall, with several mini-roofs separated by huge ledges… so you need all the rests you can get. If you don’t find them, you’re in for an extra-challenging pumpfest. David was all in on the pumpfest.

People started noticing. A few feet above his last bolt, 60 feet off the ground, David got stuck: he couldn’t figure out how to get to the next stand-up ledge. The 50 feet of pull-ups he did to get to this point had left him wiped. And he had one more massive throw to go.

He tried a pull-up, but he was still about a foot short. We could tell from the ground that he was going to have to throw for the move. We could also tell that he wasn’t sure if he could. He tried another pull-up. He didn’t make it, and returned to his hanging position, strength slowly draining.

“Come on!”

“Venga, David!"

The crowd at the crag had joined in. Everybody was now watching. One more huge throw. He shuffled his hands, trying find a rest that wasn't there, but nothing was coming back. He went for it one final time...

...

But missed it. He fell a few feet before the rope caught him. He rested a bit, and then finished the climb off, no problem.

O’Brien gave me a belay on Banshee. I honestly didn’t end up enjoying the climb half as much as I had enjoyed it the first time. Part of that might have been the battle I had getting to the second heuco—I stayed left instead of traversing right a little. Part of it may have been the cold—climbing when you can’t feel your fingers isn’t always fun. The movement and rock were still great, but I wasn’t mentally there this time. But there was no way we could leave without Zach, David, and O’Brien trying the climb.

David on Banshee at The Solarium
Zach went first (on lead!) and gave put in a solid effort. But he was spent from the day, and bailed before reaching the top. We couldn’t convince O’Brien to try—he claimed he was saving it for the flash—but David went for it. He also got stuck at the pre-second heuco crux, and after larger and larger whippers, bailed. I fully blame myself for his failure: the climber who cleaned the route after us traversed one move the to the right, meat hooked a ridge, and then casually threw to a jug in the heuco. Much easier than the dyno off mono-crimp beta I was feeding David.

In the middle of waiting for David to finish the climb, we noticed that Sevda’s lips had turned purple. She was freezing. She had actually been freezing all day, but had someone managed to not complain at all. But the cold wind was starting to pick up, and we didn’t want to get caught in the icy rain that had been sputtering through the afternoon (thankfully, the overhanging wall completely sheltered us). I have never been more glad to have a cabin to go back home too.

I gave Air-Ride a flash attempt (I sent!), and we headed out.

We made it to the cabin before dark, unpacked the car, and then inspected our 8 person cabin. We had three bedrooms (Queen, Queen, and two twin bunk beds), three bathrooms, a combined kitchen/dining room living room, porch with a grill, and a hot tub. There was even a cliff with a little view nearby. Most importantly, we had heating.

Find the Bacon... Or else..
I don’t know the name of what Zach and Sevda made for dinner that night, but the combination of potatoes, cheese and bacon was divine. We finished the evening with a game of Dixit, and went to bed stoked, stuffed and ready for more.

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