Lord of the Flies, Radiohead, Devil’s Head

30% deet spray only deterred the swarms of flies for a bit at the crag. They noticeably kept their distance – except for the few brave souls that landed – then took off again. A few didn’t seem to even notice the spray.

‘Get away, flies! I hates you!’ i said, shaking and slapping. On Friday, I was at the Jungle with Meriel and her friend Kevin. Meriel had a go of her first outdoor leads, leading Mowgli,  the first pitch of Lost in the Jungle, and finally Welcome to the Jungle.  Meriel seemed to have all of those routes well in hand. Her friend Kevin followed in regular hiking boots.

Kevin's first outdoor climb

Kevin’s first outdoor climb

In my brief climbing experience I’ve encountered 2 different types of climbing instructors: those that are extra careful of easing you into the process of leading, with easy starter leads – and those that kind of just throw you in, asking if you want to lead what may be an easy top rope lead, but  may be your limit for lead climbing.

I don’t know what it is, a misguided belief to just throw you to the wolves, and if you survive then you are a leader? Or to make themselves feel better for you failing on what comes so easily to them?

Check out the boots!

Check out the boots!

I do not subscribe to the you-must-suffer-in-order-to-lead school of leading.  I think easing into leading is a safer approach to what can be a long learning curve. You have another level of things to account for, such as good stances to clip, proper anchor clipping, the mental game as you wander past your last clip.

I’ve run into other climbers that laugh at the suffering of others, and a healthy dose of good-natured ribbing for someone a tad over their depth is probably fine, but laughing at someone who is genuinely suffering is asshatness I do not agree with. It’s inevitable that I do not climb with that type of person again.

The heat and flies kept at it as I went in for my fourth: Jungle Love.  I read about a sort of height-dependent hold at the roof, so I slapped around at the blankness for awhile, then found it and pulled up and over.

Meriel and Kevin left for the day, and so I made way back to camp. Since I’m taking a sabbatical, I have the luxury of having Friday’s off, and found a nice camping spot for Mark and I.

Mark chillaxing

Mark, the stunt-double, chillaxing

Since the area is National Forest, most of the camp sites outside of the Devil’s Head fee-based campground, is free. Next door, our neighbors with their gigantor RV, American flag and shots fired over a cold one disturbed what would be a great camping spot: bucolic, separated from neighbors, surrounded by forests and rock formations. Apparently, in some areas it is legal to shoot in a National Forest as long as you follow certain guidelines. I just thought in an area where other people are camping would be one of those non-designated areas – but I guess I may be wrong. Well, luckily they only popped off a few, and then stopped for the afternoon.

Camping!

Camping!

Day Two

Summer joined Mark and I the next morning, and we decided to head over to Radiohead. It has some shade at the far end with little traffic. We warmed up on the first pitch of Razor Tower, a 5.7 start that was fairly straightforward.  There is a section about 3/4s of the way with these flat shelves that sound hollow and make you think they might just flip up, over and down on your belayer (although they probably won’t). I tread lightly – but be forewarned.

Summer on Razor Tower

Summer on Razor Tower

This is a route that cannot be found on Mountain Project, by the way. It is included in the Rakkup app. The app requires you to pay to download digital books of different climbing areas. For places like Devil’s Head, in order to get off the beaten path an app like this is invaluable for the information on routes not found on Mountain Project. This particular book within the app was written by Tod Anderson, who is credited by most for leading the charge for bolting and identifying the routes in the area. Personally, I’m fine with paying the $7.99 to both support the author, as well as in order to get some information on these routes.

Around the corner I was trying to determine the bolted route on this arete:

Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Flies

This is at the far end of Radio Head, and I thought it might be Right of Center in the Gully Slab. The picture in Rakkup looked close enough, so I thought this would be a 5.8 cruiser.

The first bolt looked to be a spicy high face climb, which I found to be aided by a crack to the left. I made my careful way up to the 3rd bolt on crimpy faceholds, and came to a familiar conclusion: I mis-identified the route.

It was harder than most 5.8’s I have encountered. A quick lowering and check of the photos on Rakkup on my iPhone, and realized: This is Lord of the Flies, a 5.10c (!) This is not, unfortunately, the first time I’ve made the mistake of misidentifying a route 5 grades above what I thought it was. Live and learn (again!)

I found that the crux, at least for me, was above the 3rd bolt. You are confronted by a blank face guarded by pebbles. With the prospect of gripping and standing on pebbles I called in my stunt-double Mark to have a go. After patting around, he came to the conclusion that he had to go right to make the clip. But then he had to traverse back left to the offwidth crack in order to make progress up. I thought it might have been possible to do the pebble run – as long as you were okay with a cheese-grating fall against said pebbles if a pebble-grip or pebble-foot failed.

Mark made it to the top and lowered. He described the slippery lichen, the chossy holds, and the large drum flakes he rapped on with his knuckles, echoing the hollowness of their condition. I joked that he probably did the official 2nd ascent.

‘Yeah, maybe,’ he said, in all seriousness.

On my 2nd try, I found the flakes, and tried not to place any of my weight on them. I eased my hand into a squishy moss-filled crevice and chicken-winged my way up a large crack to get to the top. I thought it was all-in-all a cool climb – as long as you didn’t have to worry all the time about killing your belayer from all the loose rock and potential 100 lb flakes breaking under your feet and hands as you go past them.

The Safety-Sally part of me wants more people to come and climb this, to break off the looseness, the chossfest, the noggin-strikers, to make it a cleaner and safer climb. But another part of me loves that this place hasn’t been super-discovered, loves how it is untrampled, unclogged, giving me the illusion of pristine rock for my hands, unviewed vistas for my eyes to behold.

After that, we were beaten back from both the heat, and the flies. Lord of the Flies was well-named. It felt like it was in the 90’s farenheit with the heat making us feel sluggish and tired. Our sweat cleared Deet-free landing zomes for the ubiquitous flies.

After a brief discussion we decided we had all had enough, and made our way back, following the cairns to the trail and back to the road.

 

 

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