Sunday, June 15, 2014

Mother's Day Weekend on Mountain Momma

Living at 9,000 feet sometimes you are feel desperate to escape the snow and go in search of a climate that more resembles the season it is supposed to be.  That is why I decided to bail on the impending storm that was projected to dump two feet in Colorado's high country in the middle of May.  My car is always packed for a quick dash out for the weekend.  The work day ticked by and the tapping of my foot steadily became more rapid.  I couldn't take it anymore and burst out the door.  I jumped in the car, turned the wheel south, and depressed the accelerator.  In a few hours I pulled into one of Santa Fe's distinct adobe neighborhoods and met up with my friends Brandon and Nicole who were hosting me for the evening.  Brandon and I gathered our thoughts for the next morning and turned in early.

A gentle knock woke me up and some black coffee helped to pry my eyelids open.  We hoped into our expedition vehicle, a Jeep Rubicon, and off we headed towards the Sandia Mountains.  As usual driving through New Mexico was enchanting.  My eyes searched through vast lands and past small towns to the stunning mountains in the background that show their character best in the morning and at sunset.  I have been nowhere else where a landscape becomes painted so vibrantly during the rise and fall of the sun and the mountains absorb each day in remarkable hues of purple and red.

A winding mountain road and a cracked bottle of blue raspberry Mountain Dew is not always the best combination.  We reached the summit and after I had staggered around speaking gently to my angry stomach the immense feeling of nausea began to fade.  As soon as it was clear that my body would retain the blue liquid we began jogging down the La Luz trail.  Fueled by excitement (And Mountain Dew) I was soon hopping over rocks with a fervor intent on cruising a day of climbing.  We broke from the main La Luz trail and scrambled down talus to the old La Luz trail and then back up a gully steering towards our formation.  The gully ended up at a cliff and we began scrambling.  Fifteen feet below Brandon and 30 feet off the deck I heard him say, “Whoops this is definitely not it.  We need to be lower.”  Thus began our first rappel to get back to the base of the difficult and loose scramble we had just surmounted.

In the days preceding our climb Brandon and I discussed an approach that was more direct than either the guidebook or Mountain Project outlined.  Since he had climbed a route below the Torreon called Mexican Breakfast and had the approach dialed I decided this was a wise choice.

Down we hiked past thorny brush that drove straight through our clothes and into our flesh.  We regained the old La Luz and met a gentleman on a day hike.  Brandon asked him about the approach to the Torreon and I heard him mumble something incoherent, “Mmm, blahumph, five mile.”  I anxiously glanced over my shoulder trying to decipher his communication with Brandon but he was already 50 feet down the trail and so I followed.  We ran into the La Luz again and then veered sharp right up what looked like a heinously thorny gully.  Observation from below proved to accurately define this stretch of our approach.  Thick cat claw thorns were easy to avoid but it seemed that any plant that sported lush green also had thorns attached to stalk and stem.  A machete would have been valuable but according to Brandon if you bring a machete on the approach you must carry it in your teeth on the climb.  That seemed reasonable.  By crawling, swiping, and straddling thorn brush we eventually topped out the gully at another cliff band.  Whoops!  We had just spent another hour wallowing upwards only to realize we had again climbed the wrong gully.  When we turned around and headed downhill we both broke out in laughter as we found a brush free descent near the cliff that was merely a few feet from us the whole time.

We reached the trail again it was clear to both of us that we would have to hike back up to get a better view of our approach.  Switchback after switchback we climbed until we had a perfect view of three gullies.  We had climbed the highest and the lowest but the one in the middle gleamed like the yellow brick road leading us to the Torreon and our climb Mountain Momma!  We bee lined the approach from here and in no time were racking at the base of the climb and shaking our heads for our hasty decision to dive into the woods without accounting for our surroundings.

Soon I was headed up the first pitch sinking my fingers into the frigid granite and quickly losing all sense of touch.  Beads of sweat froze to my forehead and I continued clipping buttonheads and running the rope between placements.  Fantastic horizontal edges were juxtaposed between vertical cracks and the climbing felt adventurous.

I brought Brandon up to the first belay and he must have been wanting to maintain his core temp because he swooped the rack and ran up pitch two towards the sunny ledge above.  A thin seam led away from the belay and then wider constricting cracks reached upwards to a dihedral capped by a bulge.  Brandon crushed up to the bulge where he spent the most time sewing up the next moves with a small cam and two tricams.  He then hollered down, “I’m done screwing with this gear,” and then made what was likely the most fluid move of the pitch as he rocked over on his left leg and bypassed the bulge.  I followed his lead but the first “jug” I grabbed pulled out of the wall and followed the tug of gravity to the boulders below.  Two other monstrous blocks shifted in a horrifying fashion before I met with Brandon at the belay.

A bit shaken by the rock quality I looked at what looked appeared a relentless pitch of bulging rock above.  I took solace in knowing that this pitch would have a perfect hand crack splittling somewhere between bulges.  Good exposure led away from the belay as the route lead up and to the right.  A #0.5 Camalot protected the first bulge as I pulled on my fingers to reach a sloping jug and my heel was thrown over the lip.  True to form a 20 foot long splitter hand crack met my face as I balanced on a small ledge over the bulge.  This crack was worth the lower 300 feet of climbing for the few moves with secure and perfect hand jams.  Up next was the second bulge that widened a little before the lip and I threw my hand into a bat crap filled pocket to turn over the top.  I set up the belay and turned the iPhone to the one song I had in my music library, Three Six Mafia's "Stay Fly."

When Brandon met me at this belay we both raised our eyebrows and crained our necks looking for where to go on the traverse pitch.  It turns out the traverse was directly horizontal (Oh... a traverse...) but involved some thin 5.9 moves with no protection and dizzying exposure.  Brandon worked his way through the difficult traverse with a dearth of explicatives.  In short time we were making our way up the final pitch.  Other than it being a crumbling pile of choss it was fun and straight forward and we were soon high fiving and searching the ridge for a suitable location to anchor and find our way off the top.  We rappelled 80 feet to the notch and then found our way up a gully to the top of another fin of Sandia rock.  We were soon back in the Jeep and twisting down the road in the golden afternoon discussing our next objective.  One thing is for sure, with Brandon their is no telling what sort of epic our next adventure will hold.

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