A Red River Halloween Day 8: A Quick Ride at Velo Crag

Alive, atop Lightning Rod Arete

Lightning Rod Arete (5.10c): ★★★ (Although it may deserve a second chance)
(Climbs others hopped on):
Laterne Rouge (5.9+)
Dura-Ace (5.8+)
Ultegra (5.10a)

Today, we were leaving, even though we didn't want to. We were heading outside, even though we didn't want to. And we were climbing... even though we didn't want to?

Let me rewind.

Waking up this morning was difficult. Maybe we had a little bit too much whiskey, maybe we played a little too much Bang!, maybe we were a little spent from the night before. At 6:30 AM, the weather was definitely garbage: a thick blanket of fog enveloped our cabin. I always have a hard time getting up on these gray days; my body takes its cues from bright morning blue skies. No sun?

No getting out of bed.

A Typical Breakfast

Our requirements for the day were a short approach (we wanted to end up back in DC at a reasonable hour), dry conditions (fog was not good), and quality climbs (always!). I hate to admit it, but this was the first time I realized that I always want these conditions.

We selected Velo Crag. Several three/four star climbs in the 5.10 range. Less than a five minute approach... and that morning fog? Well, hopefully it would cook off.

And so, after packing up and emptying the garbage, we said our goodbyes to our humble cabin in the woods and sliced through the fog to the PMRP.

The hike up to the cliff felt harder than expected. Wet leaves and mud made for a slick uphill approach. A week of fiery energy had subdued into a bed of lukewarm embers. And when we arrived, we were somewhat let down. This was no Gallery. Or Motherlode. Climbs started in gaps between thick Rhododendrons. The prize line of the area, supposedly one of the best 5.10s at the Red, Lightning Rod Arrete? There were no arretes here.

Through some thick bushes, down a waist high rock step, through a chimney, and 100 yards to the left, I found it. It wasn't the prettiest line, but it was an arrete. Arrete climbs are the best climbs.

I offered the onsight to everybody, but had no takers. Nobody wanted to climb. It was our third day on and we fatigued. At this point, I wasn't even sure anybody was going to climb today... people looked and felt beat.

That's ok, I really wanted it.

While flaking the rope, somebody pointed out how terribly worn one end was. We did the super scientific core-bend test (pinch a byte and argue about what it means) and decided it wasn't in the best of shape. Doing some quick calculations (in retrospect, not the best calculations), I figured I should lead on this end: this way I could setup a top rope for the other end. I wasn't going to fall.

I stick clipped the first bolt (the rock quality didn't look very good and I had learned my lesson earlier), climbed through some exfoliating rock to the first and only rest ledge, and started balancing my way up both sides of the arrete.

About three quarters of the way up the wall, I got stumped paused in fear to reassess my current situation. This felt much harder than 5.10c; it turns out I was physically spent too! I was significantly above my last bolt, on the bad end of my the rope. Bolts were on both sides of the arrete; if I were to fall, I'd pendulum to the other side of the arete; as the rope dragged across the arete, it would cut, and I would fall to my death. In my mind, there was no other way this would out. So many poor choices. I climbed on.

Selfie with a view

I didn't fall. Thankfully. I also don't think this was a four star classic climb; I later learned that one of the reasons for the classic rating was the view from the top. But today gray clouds obscured a supposedly jaw dropping view into merely a good one.

Back on the ground, nobody wanted to lead it. The selfish devil on my shoulder was absurdly disappointed, it/I wanted someone (anyone!) to share my terror experience.

Abruptly, it was one and we had to leave. At the parking lot we said our good byes, split into our cars, and headed home.

The Red River Rockhouse Bear don't care.

The car ride back lacked the buzzing, anticipatory, potential energy of the drive to the Red. We discussed what we did well:
  • Spending the week together. 
  • Driving down together--even though it meant five of us in one (albeit large) car--was actually worth it and really fun.
  • We did a fantastic job not taking ourselves seriously, and keeping the trip fun. My abs were absurdly sore on November 1st from laughing so hard on Halloween. 
  • Protein packed pancakes. Greatest healthy pre-climbing fuel. Unless excessive amounts of chocolate chips make things better. 
  • Bang! The perfect post dinner climbing trip board game for five+ people. Glorious fun!
  • Renting a cabin for the week. The unemployed college student in me thought it felt very expensive at the time. But being able to shower every day, having a warm and dry shelter from the elements, having a full kitchen of utensils, having a bed to sleep in... worth so much more than the $2/night camping a Miguels. 
  • Team whiskey tasting/tour. Once again, our lack of planning did not backfire, and we had great tours, tour guides, and whiskey. 
... and a couple things we could have improved on:
  • It felt weird adding people to our crew midway through. Rus, Face, and Jen are each great people, but the dynamic changed, and it took some adjustment. And Matt and Molly climbed with us, but didn't staying with us. Three years later, I'm split about this one, because ultimately they did inject some new, fresh energy into our crew too.
  • From a climbing perspective, we didn't take enough rest days. Climbing three days in a row isn't fun by day three. You're too physically spent to enjoy yourself.  
Personally, I reflect on the drive back with more melancholy than usual. There's something about coming back from a vacation that's just a let down. You no longer get to wake up every morning and race to make pancakes for the team. Your biggest problem stops being where and what you're going to climb that day. And (unless you're super lucky) you just don't get to hang out with your friends all day either.

At the beginning of the trip I had no idea what to expect: I had never rented a cabin for climbing before. I had never spent a week just climbing. I had no idea what we would do for food. I didn't even know where we were going to stay the first night (yes, I mis-planned the dates).

And it all worked out! It was awesome. So many good times. Such good company. This trip became the climbing trip that I judge all other climbing trips by. Which is odd: most of what I remember from this climbing trip has nothing to do with actually climbing.

So this drive back was melancholy. For one week, the threads of our lives had briefly intertwined; now, they splayed apart. David and I were going to work the next day. Zach and Sevda would have a child soon. Dave was going off to put his life on the line in some sketchy location. It would be over six months before most of us were all able to meet together again, then a year, and then.... For all of us, this was a vacation, not a lifestyle, and vacations end.

Thankfully, the memories remain.

Driving to the Red


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