Spent a pleasant day climbing old and new routes at the Recovery Wall, Devil’s Head, South Platte.
Here are some pics:
The first time we visited the Giant Dihedral in the Radiohead crag at Devil’s Head, I knew I wanted to eventually lead it. My friend Mark lead it the first time, and I followed.
By following, I got a sense of the type of placements, gear needed and how far the pro needed to be run out, as well as the quality of the placement stances.
I knew I could lead it, it was well within my abilities, but knew also I was still suffering from a tad of PTSD from my trad mis-adventure on the Solar Slab at Red Rock Canyon in Nevada.
The path to Radiohead, like most of the approaches at Devil’s Head, is nice wooded trail.
This is probably my 4th trip to Radiohead, and this time we were pretty solid about getting to the crag, just a couple double-takes where we went ‘Isn’t it this way?’
Luckily, we could say to our crag dog Sophie, “Where’s the trail girl? Find the trail!” This sometimes worked, but really this time we didn’t need a dog assist.
Trad is another level of climbing. Placing your own protection takes knowledge that is earned through experience, and hopefully a good tutor. Mark had been tradding it up at Eldo for years, so it was nice going up with him. He could check my pro placements and give me pointers as I climbed.
Starting up the 4th class ramp to the start of the route, and finally placing my first pro, I remarked, “Man, this feels like my first lead!”
It had been at least a year since I last did any trad, mostly just doing sport climbing. It easy to just find yourself doing sport climbing. It’s just so convenient. Bolts are already placed and reasonable secure. Sure, clipping in has it’s skills, but sinking your draw into a bolt is a couple levels lower than trad: eyeing a likely crack in the rock, selecting an appropriate sized piece, and securing it before your forearms gas out is another level (or two!) of difficulty.
I felt nerves going onto the 2nd and 3rd pro placements, but by the 4th I was feeling my way into it, running it out a bit when necessary, but trying to be aware enough to place pro at least once every 15 feet at least.
Mark followed and critiqued my pro placement: “They were mostly good, but there was that first one at the base of the pillar where the cam was between the pillar and a thin flake. You would probably have blown the cam because of the flake wouldn’t hold it.” He looked off at the clouds gathering overhead, covering the once blue skies. “So, what do you do? Place a sketchy cam, which may be better than nothing, it may hold, or maybe at least slow your fall a little, or keep climbing and try to find a better placement?” I nodded.
“Yeah, I thought of that when I placed that one. But I thought I was as far as I wanted to be above my last piece, so I placed it even though it might have been a little marginal,” I said.
That’s the thing: in trad, every cam you place is one less cam you can’t place when you rise above it. So, conservation of cams and nuts comes into play – but running it out can have it’s (increasingly) heinous consequences: you double the fall distance for the length you go above your last placement. Run it out 20′ – set yourself up for a 40′ fall.
But in this, much like sport climbing, there’s a point where my mind shut off and I just climbed. My situational awareness was heightened, and I knew when I should place pro, and when I could keep going higher.
The Giant Dihedral, though, is a sort of mixed sport/trad route. It has about 2-3 sport bolts leading up to the pillar, a couple as you rise up that can be used as well. The second pitch is a good crack for easy cam placements too, with a couple bolts at the start that can be used if absolutely necessary.
The stances for pro placement are at regular intervals, so I rarely was at a spot where I had bad feet, weight only held by my arms. The stances were mostly solid, and many times could even use both hands if the sinking it in wasn’t cooperating. Some spicy sections where I had to cross a short crux to get to the next good stance – but never felt overly stressed out.
We stopped after the first pitch so I could get the cams I used back. While the 2 pitches can be stitched together into one pitch I wasn’t sure I had enough cams and slings to make it the full distance without some severe runouts.
We did the gear exchange, and Mark clipped the cams he had gathered while following to the rope to my clove-hitched safety line.
“Hey, they just taught us that in the multipitch course at EarthTreks!” I said. “Never hand someone gear on a multipitch – too easy to drop, if you can just clip it on the rope.”
Mark gave me a look like ‘Yeah, of course you do it this way.’ I retrieved the cams and reattached them to my harness and placed the slings around my neck and shoulder.
“I’m going to cross the slings across my chest. You know, so I look like an alien warrior,” I joked.
The second pitch is the most dramatic: you can see a clear “v” rise into the sky for another 100′, and by this time the afternoon clouds gathered, giving it a more ominous perspective:
Some of the climbing was a tad awkward, as I found myself doing a few sidepulls, and also had the urge to place some chickenwing arm placements to hold me in place. But most of the 2nd pitch was relatively chill. I made it to the top and savored the view.
That’s the one thing you can always count on at Devil’s Head: stellar views all the way to the horizon, with Pike’s Peak in the distance. This time we could see the drama of rain falling through the clouds, illuminated by the afternoon light:
Since rapelled to the base, setting up a toprope for the first pitch, and played on the nearby 5.11d and 5.12a next to the first pitch of the Giant Dihedral for the remainder of the afternoon, before making our way back.
It was a good day.
This is the first time I’ve been back to the Recovery Wall in 2016. But first – I got us lost. Again, I got off path and found myself at this unknown (to me) crag.
Funny, I’ve figured out that this unknown wall is below the main Recovery Wall crag, and as far as I can tell is unlisted in the Rakkup app for Devil’s Head (Note: I’ve since found out from Michael Carrington that this wall is called “The Weeping Wall” – and yes, it’s not listed ;-)). In any case, we climbed some sort of route (I think may be a 5.9), and a 2nd one next to it, before heading up the hill and to the left (as you face the crag) to get to the Recovery Wall proper.
The 1st unknown route was cool: crimpy face with a smear here and there, sidepulls to an arete also using sidepulls, feet flat against the wall for counter pressure to make you way up the final tippy top:
Thumbing through the Rakkup app, I have no idea what the area is below the main Recovery Wall. But it’s a pretty massive wall with a ton of slabby climbing – just no idea what, or even if it’s named. There is a warning in the app that many of the climbs are unlisted as the bolters at Devil’s Head often wait till an area is ready prior to releasing it on the app.
As I’ve said before, the Rakkup app lists 24 climbs, whereas Mountain Project only lists 3 climbs for the Recovery Wall area. Thinking that there are only 3 routes (vs 24) might be a reason why there are no other climbers around (that, and the sort of mysterious directions on how to get here). I recommend getting someone who has been here before to give you an intro. This is like the 5th time I’ve been up there – and I still got lost.
This is the 2nd time I’ve been to this particular unnamed wall, always encountering it when I go off the cairn path, following a false trail of cairns as it leads more off to the right (as you face the initial campground). The proper route is basically straight up and just to the right of the campground that marks the start of the trail. Start just to the left of a large boulder and you’ll hit the first cairn.
Miss it, and you might find yourself here:
Now, as you can tell from the pics, this is a lovely climbing area – in the pines, clean rock, with not another soul in sight.
But it is slabby, and I might have mentioned that I really fucking hate dislike slab climbing. I don’t really enjoy the challenge, and despite knowing the technique (feet smearing, no more than shoulder-width apart, butt out…) I just feel like I’m about to peel off the wall at any second.
After playing around on this unnamed route, one of our party realized he had left his keys on his truck’s hood – not a great thing to do with the scooter guys around.
While Mark returned to his truck, we decided to climb an easier route just to the left, which starts out vertical, continues to a low angled slab, and ends more vertical for the last third. It looks like this may connect with a second pitch – still no idea what this 2nd route is.
After that second climb we bushwacked our way up and to the left in search of the Recovery Wall.
I could tell from the faint impressions of moved earth that previous parties had also come off-track and made their meandering way back to the main wall. Once there, the climbing was magnificent:
If you’re using the Rakkup app, this is the Devil’s Head Climbing book> Devil’s Head Rock Sector > Recovery Wall.
The first route we did is called, originality aside ” Recovery Wall #4″
From what I could tell you climb to the left of the arete, clipping right along the right wall. I thought of going at the arete straight, but it seemed awkward to clip below and to the left of the arete.
The second one we did was to the left called, you guessed it: “Recovery Wall #3”. It’s the 1st pitch of a 2 pitch multipitch. Next time I’m with fewer people I might make a go at the second pitch. It’s rated 3 stars in Rakkup, so I’d like to try the full route.
The Recovery Wall has varied climbing, from slabs, to dihedrals, aretes, cracks, offwidths and crimpy face climbing. Pretty much anything you could ask for – even multipitch! Beautiful views, undiscovered, with not a soul in sight on a Saturday afternoon.
It’s so good, I almost wrote another snarky don’t-go-here-whatever-you-do! post, but…you’ll probably not find it anyway, and while ‘not all who wander are lost’…some are!
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
‘I don’t know, I think the guy on Mountain Project intentionally gave obscure directions to Radiohead so no one will know how to actually get there,’ I said, after going down a second false path. For instance, the mileage is not .7 miles from the junction of the road to the Devil’s Head trail on Rampart Road, it’s more like 1 mile. Trying to find the area for the first time, .3 miles is a huge gulf of confusion.
But, since we actually did find the area – I guess the directions are good enough.
I like the tad bit of obscurity, though. The more I climb, the more I dislike going to places with crowds of climbers. The appeal of a fairly close by crag (1.5 hrs from Denver, or Golden) with no crowds on a sunny Sunday morning is a revelation to me.
Turning the corner from the trail of cairns the Giant Dihedral blooms into view. The route description lists it as 2 pitches and 190′ total. I kinda wish the length of routes corresponded to rope lengths and vice versa. I did the calculation in my head: 60M is roughly 197′, so with a standard rope length you could do both pitches with 7′ to spare. But you’d also probably be out of voice range of your partner, having to communicate by a series of rope tugs, or walkie-talkie.
Except for a group of hikers that swung by we had the crag entirely to ourselves. I was trying to fathom why that was. I guess the combination of obscure directions, a tad more travel time than say Table or Clear Creek, a slight emphasis on trad (versus sport everywhere else in DH), and a higher level of difficulty (most routes in the 5.10-12 range) keeps the madding crowds away.
But, oh so glorious! The view is, as always, breathtaking at DH. The one thing I can say about climbing: it has taken me to places and views I would never have discovered otherwise. The hike to the Dihedral was fairly mild (15-20 minutes) with rock that compares favorably to Eldo, Clear Creek and Shelf (depending on which DH route you climb) without the lines of climbers waiting in line for the “classic” climbs. I remember hiking 45 minutes to the Cadillac crag to a similar Dihedral (V3). V3 is 140′ long – and we still had 4 other groups of climbers up there! And, at 190′, the Giant Dihedral is 50′ longer, a short 15 minute approach – with zero crowds. We felt like we had ascended to climber’s Nirvana, we were that amazed.
The start goes up a low ramp that has some bolts for protecting the start.
It then quickly goes vertical at a large rectangular block. That’s pretty much where the trad portion of the program begins. The thing I found interesting about Radiohead is that there seemed to be a good amount of mixed routes that combined sport and trad. For a beginning trad leader it’s comforting to know that if you can’t quite get any of your cams to fit, that there exists a bolt to clip onto if the pump demands it. The Giant Dihedral, even though it is listed as just trad, had some bolting, or even a nearby route that was bolted that could work in a pinch.
The first pitch ends in a good ledge. There are two other rappel anchors to the left of the Giant Dihedral that provide 5.11 top rope setups which we took advantage of after this climb.
I thought the first pitch was easier than the second. Mark thought the opposite – so go figure. Since he was leading, I’ll defer to his judgement – next time I’ll lead this and compare notes.
The view from the top was worth the climb, so take a moment and revel in it. Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture to share – sometimes the best photos are in your head – go climb it yourself, and then you’ll know!
For me, Libertine was a fight to the top. There’s a crucial dyno to a just good enough horn edge to get past the rest. High steps and strong fingers are your friend.
Refiner I found more appropriate to my skills. An angular traverse with sidepulls on an angled ridge was more confidence inspiring to me than Libertine. I had the feeling that I could lead it – a difficult lead for me, but doable.
After Refiner, we sat watching the line of clouds on the horizon drag rain towards us. We could predict that it would be on us in the next 30-40 minutes. Maybe that was the other reason for no one on the crag: afternoon Colorado monsoon season.
The place seemed like a climber’s paradise: no one but ourselves, the the sky and the climbing. We’ll definitely come back to explore further.
‘When you’re stuck, take a break, breathe in, and try to have good feelings. Good feelings are more important than good thoughts,’ I said to Meriel, my friend from Scotland who is currently studying at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden. She had stopped right before the crux of Passing the Baton, a 5.8- route with a thin section before a slight roof.
But sometimes positive self-talk is meaningless in the face of fatigue, and or illness. No amount of technique, skill or physical strength can overcome sheer tiredness to the point of sickness. Meriel, after a string of days of climbing, hiking, running and more climbing – was spent.
I’ve been there before – we’ve all been there before. If you live a life of adventure you will one day hit a wall that’s named No Further. She had reached her limit.
The story I was told about Passing the Baton is that the route setter set the route for his son for his son’s first lead. That’s the reason there are so many closely set bolts (12 for 50′). They are set so close that this is one of the few times I’ve z-clipped while climbing outdoors. Typically, z-clipping only happens when someone is indoors, climbing routes that are more closely spaced.
Well, luckily she was able to at least finish Beginner’s Luck, and most of Passing the Baton before she stopped.
In my opinion, I think this is the best route on the face: solid holds, good movement, challenging overhang ramp, and a roof with hidden holds just out of sight – leap of faith time! Mountain Project lists this as 5.9-, and I think on a first ascent that’s about right. But, like anything, it gets easier the more times you climb it. This was probably the 5th time I have climbed this particular route in as many years, and had a cool familiarity with it. My other friend Marissa was able to get past the roof fairly easily – not bad for only climbing outside for like the third time!
At that point, we decided to disembark and make our way down to the Jungle. Be careful of following the correct trail marker – I have found myself mistakenly at Chickenhead Ranch by missing the signage! The signs are at foot level, with wooden arrows pointing right for the jungle and left for CHR (Chickenhead Ranch).
While we were about halfway to the Jungle, Meriel decided her body had had enough, and was ready to make the hike back to the car. I handed her my keys, and back she went to recover.
Marissa and I decided to go ahead and check out the Jungle. Storm clouds started darkening the sky, but there was still no rain. In Colorado, sometimes the darkening clouds mean nothing – just have to wait and see. They could pass in ten minutes, or start pouring down any minute.
Since I was with a relative beginner, I looked for Mowgli, the long (100′) but easy 5.6 on the far right of the Jungle.
Then we felt the first sprinklings of rain.
‘Well, it’s just sprinkling. It could continue and get heavier…or it could just disappear…what do you think?’ I asked Marissa.
‘I don’t know. Whatever you think,’ Marissa replied.
I looked up at the sky, and saw dark clouds, but also patches of blue.
‘Let’s wait a little bit, and then decide,’ I said, and looked at Pike’s Peak in the distance.
Well, that didn’t last long. Rain started coming down in earnest, and a slight rumble was heard. That was enough for me – time to get off this lightning conductive granite! I quickly packed the rope and started humping back the trail to the car.
The rain quickly became a monsoon, with rain mixed with hail, drenching us completely. I watched for the flash, and then counted the seconds before the thunderclap…4 seconds. I knew that about every 5 seconds between the flash and the thunder was a mile – so the lightning was under a mile away. Still okay.
I could feel the weight of my harness, which I still had on in my haste to leave, and it pressed down against my hips as I made each step. It was cold and I put my hands in my armpits to warm them on the descent. About a third of the way we found a boulder with a slight roof that we could duck under for a bit.
‘Good decision to leave immediately, Marissa,’ I joked. I took a picture of us – but accidentally deleted it. Marissa was making a Hang-ten hand sign and smiling.
‘We’re making memories! she said, irrepressible.
‘Yeah,’ I said, ‘Remember that time when you asked if we should go back now, and I said, no, let’s just wait and see how the weather goes? Yeah, that was great!’
We then fast-hiked the downhill portion back to the car where Meriel was waiting for us. We already were making plans for next week.
Next up: trad at Radiohead!
When local climbers talk about Devil’s Head, the three most often heard crags are Wipeyur Buttress, The Training Grounds and The Jungle. Some mentions of Radiohead and Chickenhead Ranch. There’s much more to DH than that, but those are the most common.
DH has been discovered, but if you don’t know where to stop on the road (“…Mile Marker 10” – wtf?) to take the trail to Wipeyur then you’ll be out of luck. The location listed on Mountain Project is the crag, not the point where you depart from the road to take the trail. So, unless you consider yourself handy with a map and compass, it’s likely that you would not get there unless led there by someone else. Word of mouth, and some approach beta should be appreciated.
I recently took a beginner climber friend to the crag and we tried out a few of the routes:
I really can’t recommend Silent but Deadly. Too run out on ankle-breaker ledges. Some might think the run outs make it spicy, but I just think the ankle-spraining, and cheese-grating possibilities on the crux moves were a bit much.
Tailwinds, though, I found right in my sweet spot: good holds, nice movement.
Same with Mr. Hanky. Yet, the grab for the jutting block that defines Mr. Hanky is a tad nerve-wracking if you take into account the number of folks grabbing this rock horn over time. I held lightly and clicked the draw above quickly to pass.
Devil’s Head is one of my favorite crags to go to. It’s relatively close (1.5 hours), has tons of climbing (over 400 routes), and is still being developed, so if there are areas that get over-run then you can always go to some of the newer areas.
You could even visit some of the fresh routes that are not findable anywhere (not MountainProject, not even Rakkup) and just – GO! Forget ratings, but bring a bail quicklink (or 2!), pick a likely, and waste that sucker!
It’s kind of refreshing|exciting|dangerous|bewildering|blessed|fill-in-the-blank to be exploring a freshly bolted sport crag where you don’t really know what
the hell grade you’re climbing. Neither Mountain Project nor Rakkup has much on the Recovery Wall, a new moderate sport climbing crag in Devil’s Head, and I’ve heard for good reason. My secondhand sources tell me it’s because the DH crew like to make sure that the crag is cleaned up – loose rocks removed, unsecure flakes pulled off, some trailwork and cairns placed. THEN the routes are marked in the Rakkup guidebook for the area, and secondarily in Mountain Project.
In MP, there are 2 routes listed: AF, and Man in the Woods. After climbing there a couple weekends, I can tell you that there are many more climbs than that. In the description of the area in MP, it says:
There are about 30 new climbs on this wall with about half of them being 2 pitches.
The first time I went there with a group of 6. Greg and Jeff were a couple of grey-haired climbers with a ton of experience. Greg in particular was willing to lead any of the routes. He had been to the area numerous times, and was working on his own topo of the area with what he thought the grades of the routes were.
There was also a couple (Brenda and Thomas) climbing with us. And then there was my friend Cheryl and I.
Greg pointed out a couple climbs for the couple and Cheryl and I to give a go. He thought the one we were looking at was “…a 5.7 or 8.”
I checked my draws, anchors, tied up, did the safety check and went up.
On brand new rock, especially when you don’t really know what grade you’re climbing, was oddly freeing. I just had to trust Greg’s assessment, and just trust in my ability to get up it. The climb was that Devil’s Head pebbly granite, where you just kind of had to figure out a way to either palm the pebbly surface, or single out a single larger pebble and grip the heck out of it. The feet were the same. Since the rock is so new (Greg thought he might be the second ascensionist on a couple climbs) , it was super clean, super grippy. Once I topped out and lowered, Cheryl asked me what I thought of the grade? ‘Mmmh, I think maybe 5.8.,’ I said, looking up at the wall. Cheryl then top-roped it. I gave the route a second go, because I wanted to transfer the anchors to a harder looking route to the left.
Swapping anchors can sometimes be a pain, depending on the location of the anchors. The second set I was looking at was a tad lower, and crossed a seam in the rock. After some Cirque du Soleil style maneuvers, I was able to attach the second set.
The second route was a bit harder, I estimated a 5.9 maybe.
Greg then called us over to try what he thought was a 5.10. ‘Might be a 5.11,’ Greg said. I said I’d give it a go. What’s the worst that could happen? I was on top rope.
‘Well,’ said an unnamed “friend” of mine, ‘the worst that could happen is that you could DIE!’ Heh heh…yeah whatever.
This climb was what I liked to call “All the crimps you can eat.” It was razor thin edges for hands and feet, sustained, exposed, awesome. After a few moments where the thought crossed my mind to yell ‘Take!’ but I kept my composure and gutted it out till the end. Lowering, I went, ‘Greg, that was a burly lead, I am officially impressed.’
‘What did you think that was,’ Cheryl asked.
I thought about it, ‘Maybe 5.11? Had some 5.11 moves on it. Hard to say.’ Grades can be so arbitrary. They could be old-school grades with 5.7s that nowadays would be graded 5.9 or higher. Or they could be height dependent, or fit a particular climbing style that suited one type of climber over another. I tend to think of climbs as 5.fun – or not.
The second time around I met up with Sadie and a couple people she met at Movement – two guys originally from Atlanta. We planned to go climb, and then camp and leave early the next morning.
For some reason the crag this time around looked somewhat unfamiliar to me. Maybe it was the adrenaline rush of being in a new place that made me forget the areas we climbed, but I couldn’t for the life of me remember what line we picked last time. We approached from off the trail, bushwhacking most of it, so it’s possible we arrived at a slightly different side of where we were at before. In any case, the climbs didn’t make sense to me.
I looked around and thought I recognized a line. ‘Well, looks like a 5.7 to me,’ I joked. Climbing it, it was a tad harder than 5.7, maybe a 5.9 or 5.10. Sadie followed and seemed to like it.
The second one 2 lines to the left was at a similar level, topping out at this interesting short arete. It took some sidepulls to manage to get to the top. I was amazed at the route setting. The routes were varied, thoughtful placements of bolts with varied movement and interesting crux moves. I know that the route setters were taking their time to announce the area, but I appreciated that as well. All day, both times I went, the groups I was a part of saw no one else on the mountain.
The next 2 routes, the joke kept getting repeated: ‘Yup, looks like a 5.7!’ Even though, clearly, the next couple were NOT 5.7s! I just took a look at them, and then up I went. I was spanked on both of the the next 2 we had a go on. That’s the consequence on going to a place where the routes were non-marked. Sometimes you send, and sometimes you got spanked. On the second one, after struggling to get to the 3rd bolt, I asked one of the guys ‘Want to give it a go? The rope is set to the 3rd bolt.’ His response was a single word: ‘No.’
I don’t blame him after seeing me thrutch my way to a couple spinning falls.
‘Man, the next people up here are going to be going, ‘what’s up with all these bail ‘biners?’ Yuk yuk.
‘Yeah, I know, bailing on a bunch of 5.7s,’ said Sadie. Heh heh.
Ahh well, at least I gave it a go. I felt pretty good about just being open-minded enough to try. Beginner’s mind. I mean, did Layton Kor ask what the grade of a climb was before he climbed it? Hell no! I appreciated the work the setters took in putting these climbs in, and even while bolted, not knowing the grade gave every climb a sense of adventure, of not knowing exactly what I was getting myself into. And although I got in over my head on a couple, I liked my willingness for that to happen – or not. I did manage to make my way up a couple mystery climbs. I might surprise myself once I find out what the consensus grade for these climbs were.
I’m admittedly torn about telling folks about new areas that only a few people know about. Since Devil’s Head sees 100 or so new routes a year it seems that if you know the right people you can stay ahead of the crowds, and climb fresh routes on virgin rock. And sometimes stellar areas are forgotten or ignored.
I understand the feeling of keeping a “secret” place to yourself, and only telling a select group of people. On the other hand, the more people who climb then the more people get involved with the outdoors, often leading to conservation, and land preservation. I know that one day this area will be announced and discovered – it’s just too good to stay hidden. But until that time, it’s a little mysterious, and to be one of those in-the-know you might have to be willing to get a little over-your-head.