Railay Beach, Thailand trip report

This year, we finally made the move to experience the sport climbing paradise of Railay Beach, Thailand. After shredding 5″ of October shrub/snow hybrid on Teton Pass, we promptly embarked on three days of Xanax, wine and airplanes – JH, SLC, LA, Tokyo, Bangkok, Krabi – to ultimately be dumped off by long-tail boat 100m off the shore from East Railay Beach.

Without further ado, this Ungrounded featured video edit by Michelle Smith tells the tale best of all:

Teton Thai Warp from getungrounded on Vimeo.

Wanna go? Here are Ten Thai Tips…even radder than Herman Cain’s 999 plan.

1. How much you’ll spend: Unless you fly from LA directly, it’s probably going to cost $1,100 – $1,500.
2. Once there…$1,200 for three week trip is easy for two people living kinda large and succumbing to the occasional silly tourist splurge. You’ll eat the most epic food ever straight from the source with each dish costing all of $1.50 – $2.00. You’ll never feel the same about spending $12 for Pad Thai in the States again.
3. Railay.com is a starter one-stop shop to get some essentials and book a place for a few nights when you arrive.
4. Diseases and poisonous things? Nothing seemed too bad. There are supposed to be cobras and rad vipers in that part of Thailand, but we saw none. Bring a headlamp for nighttime walking to the bar for good measure as poisonous millipedes may be creeping around your toes.
5. It sucks but is necessary to drink bottled water. Be sure to seek out the big re-usable 5 gallon tubsof clean drinking water. Thailand is also working on recycling, which is encouraging.
6. We managed to avoid the bug, but maybe we were just lucky. If in doubt, stick to hot food boiled or stir fried right there – an easy proposition with Thai food.
7. Climbing Gear: 12 quickdraws + a few long-slings. 70 meter rope. As far as guidebooks, the new edition by King is the most current.
8. Safety check: Before going, learn about the unique way in which the seaside Thai air beats poopy out of fixed protection. Visit Thaitanium Project to get a complete read on the situation and learn how you can help.
9. Favorite climb: Maybe Monkey Love (6b+/10c) on the incomparable Thaiwand.
10. Best rest day journey: Book a self-paddle sunset sea kayak tour of the incredible caves and coves of Phang Nga.

Check out more photos from Michelle’s trip on Get Ungrounded here.

Michelle Smith is an east coast native who moved west to Jackson, Wyoming to follow her passion of snowboarding in the Tetons, and has developed a site dedicated to documenting and writing about those that make a lifestyle out of “getting after” their passions in the mountains.

Leading Classic NC Lines at Looking Glass

Thanks to Chicks alumna Tonya Graham (Chicks with Picks AND Chicks Rock!) for sharing this awesome trip report from a recent lead climb she did at Looking Glass Rock – congratulations!

Looking Glass Rock, located in Brevard, North Carolina is famous for classic Aid Climbing routes like Glass Menagerie, as well as moderate classics such as The Nose.  If you’ve never climbed there, the unique “eyebrow” features and classic slab climbing are well worth your time.

It’s also a great place for a new trad leader like me to cut my teeth.  Moderate, but challenging, multi-pitch routes with generally great gear, bolted anchors (for the most part), and clean rappel stations allow for plenty of fun, challenge, and just enough fear to feel like a significant accomplishment.

Last Saturday was my first time leading a significant objective with my new female partner, Amy Glenn.  It was also my first time leading where I am the most experienced climber and there is no Ben (my crusty trad-master fiancé) to bail me out.   Amy and I targeted Sundial Crack, a classic, 3-pitch, 5.8 line located just to the right of The Nose.  I have led The Nose with Ben, so I have some experience at Looking Glass, but I had climbed that route twice before leading it.  Sundial Crack would be an onsite (meaning I’d never climbed it before).  After a read-up on mountain project, and studying the route description in the guidebook, I felt ready to take it on.

Saturday proved to be one of our first fall days to FEEL like fall (or maybe even winter).  Amy and I awakened at the crack of dawn to get our day started, and we got to the base of Sundial by about 8:00.  At just over 40 degrees, and in the shade, the wind was howling and I was wishing I’d brought more layers.  This was to be a consistent theme for the day!

I set out to lead the opening 5.5 pitch – which requires the same move over and over again as you move up the “eyebrows.”   I felt super-confident — right up until I started climbing!  Then, suddenly, I had a little of that scared feeling in the pit of my stomach.  It felt good to get my first piece in, and I started to remember how to climb on slab (I hadn’t climbed at Looking Glass since May and it was October!).

The last section of the first pitch includes two bulges, and when I got to the ledge before the first bulge, I regretted that I hadn’t taken the opportunity to place another piece of gear right before that ledge.  I had passed up gear because I had placed a solid cam about a foot below, but after looking all over the ledge for gear before the crux move – and not finding any – I was wishing that my last piece wasn’t 8 ft below me.  I finally decided to pull the crux with the gear I had.  Using the great handholds on the bulge, I went for it.  Once I got above the first bulge, I was happy to plug a piece before pulling the second bulge.

At that point, I was about 10 ft from the anchors and it was easy “slabbing” from there.  I was happy to clove hitch into the first bolt and call down, “Off-belay!”  I quickly got on the other bolt as well, and began setting up my ATC Guide in auto-block mode to belay Amy up.  While I pulled the rope up, I looked down and counted my pieces.   I think I placed five pieces of gear on the entire pitch, but I felt like each piece was really solid.  I was feeling like I was starting to get into the “Zen” of leading, and just in time, too.

Amy joined me at the P1 belay after uneventful climbing, and she asked if I’d looked at P2 (the crux 5.8 pitch).  I laughed and said, “Hadn’t even glanced up yet!”  I got her tied in to the belay system, re-racked the gear she had cleaned (did I mention that Amy is a meticulous second, re-racking the draws as she climbs – Ben says I could learn something from her!), and began looking at P2.  I was super glad I’d kept on my Nano Puff over my expedition weight jacket, because the wind was crazy and it was COLD!

P2 traverses up and right at a 45-degree angle until you reach the bolted anchors.  It looked like pretty tame climbing leading off the anchor, so I clipped into one of the anchor bolts as my first piece on the route and headed up and right.  I felt like I was moving efficiently, placing good gear, and ignoring the wind.   At about the halfway point, I made a couple heady moves up with no hands, and placed two bomber tri-cams.  I called down to Amy to tell her she’d need her nut tool for them.

Finally, I reached the crux, a point about 20 ft below and slightly to the left of the anchors.  My last gear placement was about 5 feet below me and to the left.  I could see the next spot for good gear, but, unfortunately, I had to make some hard moves through blank slab with little feet and no hands to get to the next gear.   I made the first hard move and stepped up to a decent stance.  I was still too far from the eyebrow crack I needed to reach to place my next piece of gear.  I had to step up one more time.

I studied the options carefully, and then moved to step up on my right foot.  I had really no hands to speak of to hold on with – just some slabby slopers for balance.  I got my weight up on my right foot and realized that I had put myself in “no man’s land”.  I looked down and left at my last piece of gear, and assessed the fall potential.  If I took a fall, I would swing about 10 ft down and left to below my last piece – not pretty.  I could feel that process starting in my mind where you start panicking, and I told myself to pull it together.  I managed to step back down and left back to my stance.  I studied the moves a while longer, stepping my weight up a couple different ways and backing down again.  I finally made a waist-high step up with my left foot, using my left hand to grip a side-pull and pushing down with my right hand on a high sloper.  I felt my right foot smoothly drag behind me and got it up even with my left foot on the ledge.  Yes!!!  I had made it!  I placed my gear, and was super relieved to clip into it!

Looking up, I had two easy moves to the anchors.  I made the moves and quickly got clove-hitched into the bolts.  Whew!  I yelled out a “Whoopee!” as I called down to tell Amy I was off-belay.

I set up the belay for Amy close to the bolts, and gave myself enough length on my rope that I could sit sideways and get my weight off my feet, which were killing me!  Slab climbing is super hard on your feet, and with the cold everything was stiff and my heels and toes needed a break.  I huddled into the rock wall while I belayed Amy up the pitch.

Amy was slow going up P2, but made it pretty efficiently to the crux move before the anchors.  She spent some time studying the moves after making the initial hard step up to the first stance.  Finally, she made the moves and joined me at the anchors!  Two pitches down, one to go!

P3 of Sundial Crack starts out with a 20ft crack just to the left of the P2 anchors.  What’s cool about this route vs. The Nose is that you totally switch gears on P3.  You move from slabbing up eyebrows to a full crack climb (unless you cheat and just climb the face to the left like Ben does).

I clipped the anchor bolt as my first piece, and easily traversed left into the base of the crack.  Like many cracks, getting into it was a little challenging.  The crack was about my fist width (I have small hands) and took yellow and red cams beautifully.  I felt really confident making the crack moves, as I always was able to get gear placements above me before making the next step up.  At one point, I hung off a fist jam to move both my feet up, and once I got higher, I walked my last cam up the crack.  I even pulled a piece out below me once I had good gear placed above to conserve gear for the belay I had to build at the top of the pitch.

To me, the crux of the P3 was at the top of the crack – as the crack ended, the slab blanked out and you had to make two steps up with no hands.  I did place a bomber little offset cam in the eyebrow above and to the right of the end of the crack.  I did the first hard step up, felt my foot slip, and weighted my piece as I stepped back to my last solid feet – also known as “an aggressive down climb”.  Finally, I made the two steps up, starting with a high right foot and a little mantle move.  Then I was finally moving back in the eyebrows.

The top of P3 is a gear belay in an awesome horizontal crack that sits on top of a bowl.  I kept looking for it as I moved up and up the eyebrows, placing sparse pieces as my gear dwindled and I knew I needed at least 3 solid pieces for the anchor.  Finally, I saw the spot just 10 ft above me and I carefully made my way there.  I plugged my red, green, and yellow cams in the crack (for some reason the color coding works better for me than the sizes – maybe it’s a girl thing?).  I felt like I got three bomber placements, ran a cordelette through each piece’s carabiner, pulled the loops between down to equalize, tied them off in a knot, and clipped into the power point with my locking biner.  I called down “Off-belay” and felt super psyched to have made it all this way.  Just one more half pitch to the parking lot where the rappel anchors sit between The Nose and Sundial, and we begin the descent.

I got to work pulling the rope, setting up the belay using the “shelf” above the knot in my cordelette, being sure to clip into a strand going to each piece of protection, and called down to Amy to begin climbing.  Each time I set up the auto-block, I made sure to test that the line running to the climbing would correctly auto-lock if pulled down.  This is a critical step for a new leader – as setting up the auto-block wrong can be really dangerous if the climber takes a significant fall.

Amy took a little fall on the crack, barely weighting the rope, but I felt good knowing I was hanging on the anchor I had built with full confidence and that it had easily held her weight as well.  I watched my pieces as she climbed up and they stayed solidly engaged in the rock.

Amy finished the pitch in good style, and joined me at the belay.  I got set up to lead off toward the rappel anchors, and took off to the left.  I placed a piece in the crack to the left of the anchor, so if I fell I wouldn’t put my entire weight on the anchor, and moved left.  I chose to go left and climb up the crack toward the rappel anchors.  I was super tired of slabbing up eyebrows with no hands, and even though the crack might have required some harder moves, there was a great layback flake to hold onto all the way up!

Before I knew it, I was at the rappel anchors – meeting up with another party that was there, too.  I clipped directly into the bolts, leaving the rappel rings free for them to rappel down first.

This is where I made my first serious mistake of the day.  I should have clipped in, and just waited to bring Amy up after the other party had rappelled down.  Instead, I set up my belay feeling pressure from the other team to hurry.  As a result, I forgot to clip the locking biner into the auto-block slot on my ATC Guide, and as Amy starting climbing I felt the rope flowing a little too freely.  I quickly grabbed a locking biner and fixed the problem, but I think I would have avoided the mistake altogether had I simply been patient and waited.

The other team rappelled down, Amy joined me at the belay, and we clipped in on slings (me) and using a personal anchor system (Amy) so I could untie from the rope, tie the rope to the extra 60 meter rope Amy had carried up the climb using two overhand knots side-by-side with a long tail, and run the rope through the rappel rings.  I rappelled down first, feeling good about finally being on the ground soon and out of the cold and wind.

I got to the 2nd rappel anchor, clipped in to the bolts, and took myself off rappel.  Here is where I made my second mistake of the day.  I should have held on to the ends of the ropes, pulled them up and stacked them, running the yellow rope (which I’d already noted was the end to pull) through the rappel rings.  Instead I just hung out there, freezing, while I waited for Amy.  Had I done those things, we wouldn’t have had the consequences we were about to experience.

Amy joined me at the second rappel anchors, clipped in, and took herself off rappel, then proceeded to undo her prussik … and we both watched in slow motion as the wind whipped both ends of the rope away about 20 ft to the right.  We were hanging out at the anchors with no rope.  And, with no rope, you have very few options.

Luckily, Looking Glass, and particularly The Nose Area, is a high traffic area.  There was a guy to the left of us starting to rappel down the first pitch of The Nose, and a party of two at the top of P3 of The Nose getting ready to rappel down the anchors we came from.  We sent up a message asking the party of two to rappel down our rope, bringing the ends back to us.  They did so, we were careful to secure it, and the last rappel was uneventful.

I made it to the ground, feeling a sense of accomplishment for what I had done well, and grateful for an opportunity to learn a couple crucial lessons in a situation where the consequences only meant hanging out while freezing a few more minutes.

On Sunday, I came back with Ben, Wes, (the Tattooed Teddy Bear) and Barry (aka the Nature Boy) – my regular climbing crew – and I led the single, 200 ft 5.8 pitch of Gemini Crack.  The crux was much more strenuous than Sundial, but I was very proud to also bag that classic.  I placed a bomber Tri-Cam on the top of the crux that the team left for each climber to observe – and Barry took a picture.  They were so proud.

And so it goes in the life of a new trad leader.

Do you have a cool trip report you’d like to share with some Chicks? Let us know by sending an email to chicksclimbing[at]gmail.com! :) 

The Bite of the “Tarantula” – Linville Gorge

General view of Linville Gorge

Thanks to Chicks alumna Tonya Graham (Chicks with Picks AND Chicks Rock!) for sharing this awesome trip report from a recent climb she did up in Linville Gorge!

We set out this Saturday morning, August 27, 2001, for what we knew would be an extended adventure in Linville Gorge, North Carolina.

We met in the Table Rock parking lot at 9:30 am … an eclectic group of six climbers:

  • – Me (Tonya) the newbie of the bunch and the only girl,
  • – Ben – my fiancé and regular Onthesharpend.com star,
  • – Wesley – our tattooed teddy bear,
  • – Barry – aka the Nature Boy
  • – Buddy – Old-time hard man who has put up many lines around North Carolina, and
  • – Les – world-traveler, originally from Canada, and Buddy’s trusty partner for over 10 years.

Our target was a beautiful, but little climbed line in the North Carolina Wall of Linville Gorge called Tarantula.  The 3-4 pitch route was downgraded to a 5.9 in the newest guidebook, but the original 5.10a grade seemed much more appropriate (I’ll explain that later).

If you’ve ever climbed one of the moderate routes in the Amphitheater like the Mummy, the Daddy, or the Prow, you are familiar with at least the start of the descent into North Carolina Wall.  I knew I was in for a long day, because Wesley and Buddy kept asking me if I was “up for it.”  Plus, they all let me lead the pack as we headed out from the Table Rock parking lot.  (I am the shortest and tend to struggle to keep up on the approaches.)  Since they were letting me set the pace, I knew they were concerned I wouldn’t be able to make it!

Now, I’ve been climbing 2 and ½ years, and I’ve been lucky to climb very frequently and have been exposed to more multi-pitch traditional climbing than many climbers ever experience.  I’ve been following trad consistently, and am pretty confident up to grades in the 5.9, 5.10a range.  However, if you’ve ever climbed multi-pitch in North Carolina, many of the routes are sandbagged since they were originally years ago when 5.10 was the hardest grade possible.  So, I’ve learned that ratings can be deceiving …

We took the trail out of Table Rock toward Shortoff Mountain, but then we turned right at the 2nd turnoff point, and followed the trail down.  The descent gully is steep, has a few scary unroped down climbs, but was familiar to me as I’ve been down it several times.  However, when we reached the point where we stood under Bumblebee Buttress, we moved left and began bushwhacking through barbed brambles and ivy trees, and tromping through waist-high brush as we moved left along the bottom edge of the rock face.  Eventually, we came to a 50-60 ft rock face that we had to climb up, again unroped.  It was easy climbing, but we were already high up on the side of the Gorge and it felt very exposed.   The views from that remote point across the Gorge to the Gold Coast and the Linville River are breathtaking.

Once we reached the top of the rock face, we hit another section of bushwhacking through briars. (I was glad I wore pants and I still don’t understand why Buddy insisted on shorts – you should have seen the bloody scratches on his legs – you’d think he’d learn after doing this for 30+  years!)  Then, suddenly we came into a little clearing and found ourselves in front of the route.

So, the intention was to lead off in teams of two climbers – Wes and Barry, Buddy and Les, and Ben and me.

The first pitch is definitely 10a in my book, but it’s a very short pitch.  It’s a traverse left under a roof, and it’s easier if you stay low.  It’s about 3 strenuous moves in a row, then eases off and you’re suddenly on the belay ledge.  It didn’t seem too bad on 2nd (although I did weight the rope once on those first strenuous moves), but on lead it is heady.  Part of the intimidation factor is that the strenuous section has some very loose rocks above you, and you have to be VERY careful where you pull.

Barry was the first to lead off, and he placed a piece of gear, proceeded to climb above it, reached for a hold that turned out to be no good, and took an immediate leader fall.  Wesley made a great catch, as Barry’s piece held and luckily Barry didn’t come smashing into Wesley who was standing on top of a huge boulder at the start.

Then Buddy decided to do the harder, more direct start to the left of Barry – and he struggled, made an aggressive down climb, and we all decided we’d follow Barry on his rope!

The 2nd pitch is some of the best crack climbing you’ll ever see in North Carolina.  It’s definitely a stemming problem, but there are two distinct sections where you absolutely have to fist jam and hand jam, as there are NO other holds.  Wes led this pitch for his team while I brought Ben, Buddy, and Les up to the belay ledge for the first pitch.  Les did climb the direct start on 2nd, and he sailed through it.

Wes moved efficiently, but definitely stopped to take a long rest at the top section where you get a great “butt” rest.  He even stopped to drink water!  As Barry followed after him, the Tarantula ate the first piece of gear of the day – a nut that was the first piece Wes placed (which, of course, belonged to Barry).  Barry, Buddy, and Ben all tried to get it out.

So, the belay at the top of pitch 2 is a small hanging belay, so the plan was for Wes and Barry to already be leading off the 3rd pitch by the time Les arrived at the belay.  Les led off on Pitch 2 once Barry was out of site, and he moved efficiently.  Pretty soon, Ben, Buddy, and I were left at the top of the first pitch – and we could hear Les at the belay talking to Wes and Barry, who seemed way closer to the belay than they should have been by that time.  However, we couldn’t understand what they were saying, so we weren’t sure what the problem was.  Ben walked off left and could see that Barry hadn’t gotten very far on the first pitch, which was rumored to be a 5.7, but we couldn’t see what the problem was.  Buddy followed Les, trailing our rope and then put me on belay.

I headed up the 2nd pitch, supposedly 5.9+ (the infamous +), and it was super hard and super fun!  At one point I had to get a fist jam in all the way to my wrist and hang my entire body off it while I moved my feet up.  It was hand over fist over ring-lock, and I definitely hung on the rope a couple times.  But I made all the moves and got out of the crack and over the roof – and then made the awkward traverse right and up to join Buddy and Les at the hanging belay where I would spend the next 3 hrs! (Yes, I did say 3 hours.)

I belayed Ben up, and while he definitely stopped frequently, he never weighted the rope and joined us at the belay.  (He’ll probably want me to confess that he arrived parched with thirst and when he asked for a drink from the water I was carrying for us, I had drunk it all.  I am atoning for this by publishing my shame to the climbing community – so HA!)

By this time Buddy had led off – sort of.

Now, I need to explain a few things.  First, Buddy has been leading trad for over 30 years.  Second, Buddy is typically the one in our group who will lead something that someone else has backed off of.  I have seen him lead 5.11a/b trad.  Buddy is a very solid leader.  However, part of why Buddy has survived so long is that he is very good at mitigating risk.  As an example, when Buddy gets up to a gear anchor, it’s not uncommon for him to add 5 other pieces to the anchor.  In fact, the belay at the top of Pitch 2 must have had 12 pieces of gear in it.  Additionally, Buddy is very good at finding and placing gear – even in tricky situations.

This pitch, which was supposedly 5.7, had Buddy stumped.  And, he had climbed it before.  Buddy climbed straight up, placed a piece, and down-climbed.  Then, he went around right, climbed up, placed a piece, and down-climbed.  Then climbed up again, got past the initial piece, and down-climbed.  He came back to the belay.  He finally led up straight, and very, very slowly, with much down-climbing, moving left, then right, then finally going straight again, he got moving.  Ben, Les, and I stood at the hanging belay for hours watching this delicate dance.

Finally, Ben decided to lead off behind Buddy on our rope – he decided he would clip our rope into the gear that Buddy’s left-running rope (they were using double-rope technique – another Buddy stand-by) was running through.  At this point, Buddy was so far above that gear as to make it no longer needed.  Les and I determined that I would belay Ben, tie into Buddy’s left rope and our rope, and climb on both, cleaning the anchor and all gear on Buddy’s/our rope.  Les would climb Buddy’s right-hand rope, as he needed to traverse waaay right in places to get gear Buddy had placed as he had searched for the path of least resistance (which was not to be found!).  Ben moved quickly, pink-pointing the route and adding gear where he could, and soon Les and I were alone.

Long story short – too late I know – I found myself alone at the belay, unable to communicate, with my kind belayers repeatedly pulling both ropes tightly on me while I took down the monstrosity of an anchor.  I finally started climbing.  The route had significantly overhung sections, most of which had good feet, but not always great handholds.  I came to one gear placement where Buddy had placed two TCU’s side-by-side in a horizontal crack.  The left-hand piece came out easily, but the blue one stubbornly refused to budge no matter what I did.  I hung on the rope, and beat on it with my nut tool.  As by now I was keenly aware of the sun getting closer to the other ridgeline, I finally left the piece.  Tarantula had taken another bite!

I kept climbing and reached a section where you had to make a huge step up to a shelf, but there were no real hands to pull up on, and it was extremely awkward.  I finally made the move, but I pretty much just flung myself up there.  When the pitch finally eased up as I hit this left, upward moving ramp, I found myself at an entry to what looked like a bush tunnel. This was the end of the route?  I had so much gear on me at this point that I could hardly drag myself through all the bushes.  Somehow, Buddy and Ben together had found plenty of gear on the pitch, as I cleaned about 15 pieces.  As I fought gear and slings hooking on branches left and right, I reached my climbing partners and stated that obvious, “That was no 5.7.”  It had to be at least 5.9.

You would think at this point that we were done, but we had one more little pitch to get through.  By the time I followed up an easy scramble of rock, and bushwhacked to the base of the final section of vertical rock, Ben had already let the section and Les was getting ready to follow.  This section was supposed to be 5.4 – but as I watched Buddy make the move around the big jutting flake, smearing with his feet on no footholds, I decided Tarantula had once again sandbagged.  Buddy left me two pieces of gear, but before I started to climb the first of those two popped out and slid down the rope – not exactly making me feel confident.  I calmly cleaned the piece and started up.  I decided NOT to make the move Buddy made, and instead climbed the mossy face.  There were tiny feet and tiny hands, and before I knew it I was up and back to bushwhacking and scrambling, and then, voila! I had topped out on the ridge.

We changed out of our climbing shoes and started the work of getting home.  Dusk had fallen and we needed to get back to the main trail before real dark.  We headed left, scrambling over deadfall and bushwhacking through the brush.  Ben led, then Les, then me, and then Buddy.  Wes and Barry were long gone by this point.  After about 10-15 minutes of moving steadily up and left, we hit the main ridgeline trail.  We followed that trail all the back to the main descent trail, and found our backpacks just in time to put our headlamps on.  Just about 10 more minutes uphill and we turned left onto the main trail back to Table Rock.  I checked my phone, as I heard it ringing (yes, Verizon works out there), and had a missed call from Wes.  It was 9:00 pm – so I called and left the message that we were back at the main trail.

Finally, we trudged into Table Rock parking lot and met up with Wes and Barry about 9:30.  I will say that it could have been a longer day – we did not get lost finding the climb or hiking out, and that is a definite possibility for anyone attempting that climb.

Tarantula makes for a very fun adventure – with varied climbing.  Pitch 1 is very short, but is a strenuous, left-moving traverse.  Pitch 2 is an awesome crack that never lets up (think Triple S at Seneca, but with less feet and longer).   Pitch 3 is hard to protect and overhung, with much stiffer climbing than the rating suggests.  And the little Pitch 4 is worth protecting and roping up for.  If you’re up for an adventure, Tarantula will deliver.  Just beware of the bite!!

Do you have a cool trip report you’d like to share with some Chicks? Let us know by sending an email to chicksclimbing[at]gmail.com! 🙂

Aiguille du Moine

When you stand at the top station of the Montenvers train in Chamonix, France, you see two peaks standing out to the east: The Drus and the Aiguille du Moine, a little further south. The Aiguille du Moine is a little smaller at 3412m and a little less steep than its neighbour, but offers just as good a quality of rock in a setting that is very spectacular. The Aiguille du Moine is surrounded by famous peaks like the Grandes Jorasses, the Verte, the Drus, etc., located in the center of cirque called the “Talefre Bassin”. It is quite remote and therefore doesn’t get too busy.

Because it’s not too high in elevation and south facing, the south ridge of the Moine (read Monk) is quickly in condition. After a very wet month of June in the Alps, this seemed like a great option. Also, after celebrating a wedding until 3.30 a.m. the previous night (well, that morning), I was happy to “only” have to hike to the hut on the first day. I met Silke and Floriane at the Montenvers train and we rode the train to the top. The hike starts from the train station and climbs up the world famous “Mer de Glace” (read sea of ice), to some crappy moraine, up very steep ladders and then onward to the hut up a beautiful trail bordered by falshy pink rhododendrons. We arrived at the hut after 4 hours of hiking and quickly downed a nice slice of pie to recover from the effort.

I had done this climb twice before and hadn’t been back to this area. It’s funny how you forget approaches – how long they are – the route itinerary, the gear you need to take, etc. It makes it even more of a pleasure to return to places, because it often feels like it’s the first time. We woke up at 4 a.m. and headed up to the base of the climb. I was shocked to how small the pocket glacier has become. That was quite a striking difference from when I was there last. That, I remembered!

We climbed up the steep snowfield to the center of the south face of the Aiguille du Moine, where both the normal route and the classic south ridge start from. We left our crampons and ice axes there and headed up the very wet – almost riverlike – ledge system that climbs up the left hand side of the face to the south ridge proper. We were greeted by the sun, but only briefly as most of the route climbs up the the westerly side of the ridge. The climbing is up perfect granite and steep wide cracks, which are often polished from traffic. Yet today, we were all alone on the route, which added to the experience. The difficulties aren’t too sustained, but there are a few sections of 5.9 that we climbed in big boots. We enjoyed the summit to ourselves with Mont Blanc in the background, no wind and beautiful sunshine and blue skies.

But the climb isn’t over until you are at the hut. The descent route is quite tricky to find. There is lots of route finding and zigzagging through the maze of the south face. It was 2 p.m. when we reached the bottom of the face and our last train was a 5.30 p.m. There was no way I was going to miss it, so I told the girls that we had to make a run for it. We quickly had a snack and some water and ran back down to the hut, repacked the bags and kept running down the trail, down the ladders, down the moraine, down the glacier, where we saw lots of people. I thought to myself: “what are these people doing? they should be running down to the train too?”, but I didn’t want to stop and ask, so we just kept going, until we reached the bottom of the ladders that take you up to the train. There, Silke and Floriane told me that they wanted to take a break. It was only 4.20 p.m. and we had plenty of time ahead of us. Relieved, we took our time and slowly climbed back up to the ladders to the train, which took us down to Chamonix, saving us another 2-hour descent!

Check out the entire gallery of photos from Caroline’s climb on her blog here.

Keep up with IFMGA/UIAGM Guide Caroline George’s alpine adventures on her website Into The MountainsInto The Mountains is also her guiding site where she and her husband, Adam George, share their passion for climbing with others by offering guided trips and instruction on rock, ice, and alpine climbing in the European Alps and North America. Check it out!

Eiger: One Day Ascent

I first climbed the north face in 2003 with friends from Chamonix. The idea had sprung when I crossed ice axes with a friend on a classic Chamonix ice gully and I mentioned that conditions on the Eiger must be stunning. We had just had a spell of 6 weeks of blue bird weather and I knew that the climb had seen lots of traffic. The next day, we were driving there to climb the mighty north face.

In my family, the north face of the Eiger could almost be condsidered an heirloom. My dad had always talked about it and wanted to climb it but deemed that having kids and climbing the Eiger weren’t compatible. I therefore felt that I should climb it before I had kids. I climb so much because I always have this perspective in sight. Although, realistically, I don’t think this would change much for me. But it’s a good excuse.

The whole drive there though, I thought that I would say that I was going to bail right once we got to the parking lot, then on the train, then at the hotel at the base of the Eiger (the Eigergletscher Hotel), then at the base of the climb… but suddenly, I have 400m up the face and there was no turning back. I was overwhelmed in some way and the whole climb felt unreal. But it was a landmark in my career as alpinist.

Last Fall, Adam was looking for a partner to climb the north face of the Eiger. I had already done it and had no desire to ever get back on the face. But he really couldn’t find anyone motivated, so I said I would go. At the last minute though, Tim Connelly motivated to go and I then realized that I had really wanted to get back on it, especially with my husband. The whole next day that Adam was on the route, I so regretted not sharing that experience with him. View his video here. So I went and climb the north face of the Drus instead, one of the most beautiful alpine route I have never done.

Yet, the Eiger loomed in the back my mind. I suddenly had the desire to climb it in a day. I figured I would train all winter for it, but training really isn’t something I ever do. I climb all the time, go ski touring a lot, but I never had the perspective of training for an objective. I don’t really know how to I guess. Plus, I traveled so much this winter that there was never any time for specific training. I thought about the Eiger on and off but it was no longer a big goal of mine. I climbed routes like the Supercouloir, Pinocchio on the Tacul, etc. Yet, a week before going on the climb, I tried to do a route on the north face of the Droites with my friend Tania. It had just snowed and the accumulation at the base worried me. We were sinking in to our waists and making slow progess so we pulled the plug and decided to go ski touring instead. In a day, we toured to the base of the Droites from the Argentiere glacier, skied to the Col d’Argentiere and then to the Col du Tour Noir, making for around 2,500m elevation gain. It isn’t that much, but I thought that if I could do that easily, then I was fit enough to climb 1,800m on the Eiger. I felt good. With a window of great weather ahead and Adam and I looking for an objective for the week, we decided to give the “Eiger in a day” a go. Upon arriving there, we heard the record had been broken down to 2 hours 30 minutes! So there was no longer any excuse for us not to be able to do it in a day. With that in mind, we headed for the north face, with no bivy gear or stoves, committing to being back down by dusk.

The climb went really smoothly, with a perfect track the whole way. The climbing felt a lot easier than the first time I did. I never felt tired or wishing the climb would be over already!!, a feeling I often get on long routes. We both knew the routes and I felt that knowing what was ahead was made it less stressful. What was stressful however was having the helicopter about 100m away from us for most of the day, dropping off the new record holder, Dani Arnold, on sections of the face, just to take footage of him. Definitely ruined the wilderness experience for us.

We topped on on the Mitteleggi in the afternoon. And then came the crux: the knife-edge ridge that leads to the top. Quite unnerving. We hung out on the summit for a quite a while, enjoying the fact that we had just shared one of the best climbs of our lives together. Eventually, we descended the west face back to the Eigergletscher, where comfortable Swiss beds awaited us.

View the gallery on my facebook page by clicking here.

Keep up with IFMGA/UIAGM Guide Caroline George’s alpine adventures on her website Into The Mountains. Into The Mountains is also her guiding site where she and her husband, Adam George, share their passion for climbing with others by offering guided trips and instruction on rock, ice, and alpine climbing in the European Alps and North America. Check it out!

Caroline George climbs the Supercouloir

Tania and Caroline climbing the Supercouloir

With a month spent rock climbing in the middle of winter (Thailand/Jordan), I feel like winter has eluded me. So, despite summer like temperatures in Chamonix this past week, I was excited to swing my tools a little more into some sweet alpine ice.

A week earlier, my partner Tania and I had tried to climb the Supercouloir but it had just snowed and huge snow mushrooms were looming high above us, making the route impossible to climb. We resorted to climbing the nearby “Goulotte Lafaille”, a 400m long ice route on the Mont Blanc du Tacul (4248m). We made quick work of it, simul-climbing most of the route. The next day, I left on a Haute Route, guiding 4 amazing British lads from Chamonix to Zermatt. Upon returning, the weather proved to be – yet again – beautiful and we decided to get back on the Supercouloir.

The Supercouloir was first climbed in 1975 (before I was born!). This rock/ice line is the most striking feature on the east face of Mont Blanc du Tacul. It is nestled between two beautiful pillars, one of which is the worldclass Gervasutti pillar. I had climbed this route in 2003, via the direct start, which is no longer in condition at this time of year. It was my partner’s dream to climb this route and I was excited to do it with her. Tania is full time doctor and was on the guide course with me in Switzerland. We have climbed extensively together in the past, but since my departure to the States, we were lucky if got to do one outing a year together. Recently though, we have made up for lost time.

We slept at the Cosmiques Hut – a beautiful refuge only 15minutes away from the top of the Aiguille du Midi cable car. We reached the base of the route by dawn. The sun hadn’t touched the rock yet and it was very cold to touch and was still covered in ice in places. I had to resort to using an ice axe to make it up the iced up slab/super thin crack. I led two pitches in one and reached the now bolted anchor, greeted by the sunshine. We climbed in rock slippers, hauling a pack loaded with our ice climbing gear: crampons, ice axes, boots, ice screws, jackets, gloves, etc.). We made quick work of the remaining 3 pitches taking us to the bottom of a left slanting snow ramp, which took us to the ice. We switched to our ice climbing gear, left the rock gear and climbing slippers at the anchor and made our way to the ice. We climbed the 300m long ice climb in two pitches, simul-climbing 3-4 pitches at a time. By noon, we started rapping down the route, excited to get back to the sun. Although temperatures were nearing 80F in the valley, a cold breeze running down the climb made it feel like we were in an icebox.

We skied down the classic Vallee Blanche in order to catch the Montenvers train. This is the first time that I had to carry my skis to reach the train. Because of the incredible heat in Chamonix right now, we have lost 10cm of snow per day and the mountains look like it’s mid-June! But ice conditions up high are still good and am excited to have a late warm winter season, making ice climbing just a little more pleasant.

Photo by Caroline George. See the entire slideshow of 19 photos from Caroline’s trip up the Supercouloir on her website Into The Mountains, where she and her husband Adam George share their passion for climbing with others by offering guided trips and instruction on rock, ice, and alpine climbing in the European Alps and North America.

Caroline George climbing in Thailand (video)

Video of Girly Guide Caroline George climbing in Thailand. Thanks to our sponsor (and hers), First Ascent for sharing!

Caroline George talks about new route, “Uprising” in Jordan

Photo by Jim Surette/GraniteFilms.com

Last week we reported the news that Girly Guide andFirst Ascent athlete Caroline George had just put up a new route in Jordan. Now we have her full recap of the new line, “Uprising” rated 5.11b.  Thanks to our sponsors First Ascent for the share!

We achieved our goal here in Jordan, putting up a new route in a really remote area on more precarious rock. The route is 700 feet long, hardest pitch is 5.11b, and we named the route “Uprising”, in view of the events in the Middle East. We had a few other names in mind, since the base of the route is littered with full metal jacket bullets and the wall scared with getting hit by them. We topped out as the sun was setting down and rappelled by headlamps in the dark.

It was a full team effort: Sarah and I led all the pitches. The leader would lead with two ropes, fix one rope for Jim to jug up and film the second person following the pitch. The person would climb dragging yet another rope for Adam, who would stay at the belay and hand drill bolts for anchors, thus being respectful of the ethic here, which is of drilling without drill machines.

Uprising

Uprising: 5.11b (one section), 700-feet, 5 pitches. Named after the recent events in the Middle East.

The sun was already low on the horizon when we topped out on our new route. We looked around at the vastness of the desert below and beyond to the Saudi border. The smiles one our faces spoke for themselves: We had come to Jordan with the hope of doing a first ascent, and we were bursting with excitement for having done just that. But our elation was short lived as we still had to rappel down to the bottom of the route, 700 feet below, and darkness was setting in.

Sarah and I had scoped out the route a few days earlier. The rock looked mainly dark above – a good sign – but there were a few areas of lighter rock, which would remain an unknown until we would climb to it. We decided to come back and give the whole route a go. We left Wadi Rum around 9 a.m. and headed south, back through the desert. We planned on being there for two days, not knowing how long it would take us to do the route. We hiked through mushroom-like formations to the base of our climb and geared up for the climb.

Our highpoint was 60 meters off the ground. We – Adam, Jim, Sarah and I – all climbed to that point. While I led the next pitch, Adam started hand-drilling bolts for our anchors. The pitch followed a featured crack system, from wide to a thin-tips layback crack. I thought I would build an anchor in a sheltered alcove, but the rock was breaking instantly as I touched it, so I kept climbing into a deep cave, which offered good protection for an anchor. Jim jugged up one of the lines while Sarah climbed to me. Adam followed on the rope Sarah was dragging behind her. Sarah led the next pitch – a beautiful traverse on dark rock, which proved to be way more fragile than we had thought. The route continued up an obvious notch/chimney to a big ledge. As the sun was setting, I led up the chimney/wide crack system to the top of the climb, which topped out on the tower we could see from below.

We rappelled in the full darkness. As I sat on anchors, waiting for the rest of the team to rap to me, I reminisced about our climb. Although the climbing wasn’t always hard, you would often have to think very light thoughts while pulling on some of the loose and hollow sounding rock. You never knew if your foot hold or hand hold would bear your weight. What was even more scary was to think that the rest of the team was right below you and that they could get hit by rock if you misread the quality of the hold you were pulling on. Sarah and I had the fun part of the job, climbing the route, while Jim filmed and Adam drilled anchor. The behind-the-scenes work is often not as fun. At first, I thought we could deal with building anchors later, but while rapping in full darkness, tired from a long day on the climb, I was extremely grateful that these anchors were in place.

We reached the bottom of the route by 8:30 p.m. Getting off the climb was almost as exciting as climbing the route: We got a rope way stuck on the first rappel, rappelled in full-on darkness down a line we could barely see, and each time we kept our fingers crossed that the ropes wouldn’t get stuck. The climb is only really done when you are back down at your packs. We pitched our tents, had a quick bite of pita, babganoush and hummus and soundly fell asleep, reliving our adventure in our dreams. It feels so good to have done what you had set out to do.

Doing a first ascent in Jordan felt like coming full circle. I had returned to the roots of my passion, exploring what my parents loved to do best: adventure climbing and searching for new lines. Although this was my own experience, every step of the way was tinted with the bright and loving memories of my first trip here, without which, maybe I wouldn’t have become who I am now.

Caroline is now en route to Chamonix to strap on some crampons and skis – we will keep you updated with her latest adventures here!

Caroline George finds adventure on La Guerre Sainte in Wadi Rum

Photo by Jim Surette/GraniteFilms.com

Girly Guide and First Ascent athlete Caroline George continues to find adventure – the latest in Wadi Rum, Jordan! Read all about her latest climb from the place she credits for starting her passion for climbing. Thanks to our sponsors, First Ascent, for the share!

La Guerre Sainte (“The Holy War”) is much to Jordan what Lord of the Thai’s is to Thailand. It’s the local, 400-meter long, 5.12b multipitch (12 pitches) test piece. But unlike Lord of the Thai’s, which climbs up perfect overhanging limestone, la Guerre Sainte – also known to local Bedouins as “Jihad”  – climbs up a perfectly vertical wall that offers less than perfect sandstone and really sporty – ready sparse – protection. La Guerre Sainte proved to be both physically and mentally challenging. Quite the adventure. This route is also the first of its kind in Wadi Rum.

Route setters always look for weakness in the rock to climb up a face, which often materializes in cracks. Cracks take traditional gear – friends, camalots, nuts, etc. –  enabling the climber to progress safely up a line. Once the potential for such obvious features have been exhausted, people look at climbing straight up walls. With no cracks at hand, bolting becomes the only way to protect a climb. Although Wadi Rum has a pretty strict no-bolting ethic, an exception was made for La Guerre Sainte in 2000, when prolific route setters Arnaud Petit, Benoit Robert, Guy Abert, Philippe Batoux, Herve Bouvard and Alon Hod decided to tackle one of the biggest faces in Jordan: the east face of Nassrani. They bolted the route ground up in five days, which is an amazing feat.

Our ride dropped us off at the base of a massive, red sand dune, which encircles the bottom of the face. A quick scramble got us to the base of this massive sunbathed wall. I zipped up my Sirocco jacket to shelter me from the wind, which blasted the face throughout the duration of our climb. The first pitch climbs a right-facing layback finger corner to a huge ledge system. The climb continues up wild Hueco-like formations. The rock is red and sounds really hollow for the most part, and it feels like both foot and hand holds could break at any time – Not a great feeling when the protection is so sparse. I don’t like that much on sound rock, but it took that feeling to a whole new level. A fall here, in remote Wadi Rum, would have pretty dramatic consequences. With that in mind, the mental aspect of this climb felt overwhelming. Pitch 7 offers a 40ft runout on a sustained 5.11c pitch, so you’re looking at an 80ft fall, a couple hundred feet above the ground, with no means of communication in case of an emergency.

The crux pitches are concentrated on the headwall, where the rock turns to a whitish orange color. During the first ascent, the route setters had many doubts: “There were many light rock areas on this wall, which triggered a lot of doubts regarding the success of this undertaking, mainly in regards to the headwall which was almost fully white… It was an immense relief and one of my greatest joys as a climber when, after a few meters of the headwall, I yelled out to my partner:  ‘The rock isn’t good… it’s excellent!’” wrote Arnaud Petit.

Indeed, the headwall proved to offer the best rock on the wall. With three pitches of 5.12b, back-to-back, it was also the most committing and most difficult section of the route. Adam did an amazing job leading those pitches, which although didn’t go free, felt like some spicy French freeing (read pulling on quick draws to get through). Still, the obligatory rating felt like a solid 5.12a.

We topped out as the wall went into the shade and immediately starting rapping down. When faces are this steep, it’s a full core work out to abseil with a pack on. A local Bedouin and his family awaited us at the base. He said: “Not many climbers do this route. You must be good!” That was a very nice compliment, although I didn’t feel as such on the route. He drove us back to Wadi Rum, a 20-minute ride away, with his son steering the wheel and his 12-year-old driving his other car!

We are now moving on to another adventure: Finding a possible new line to climb. Stay tuned!

Keep up with all of Caroline’s latest adventures here on the First Ascent blog. Also check out her website Into The Mountains, where she and her husband Adam George share their passion for climbing with others by offering guided trips and instruction on rock, ice, and alpine climbing in the European Alps and North America.

Caroline George reports in from ThaiTanium Wall

Girly Guide and First Ascent athlete Caroline George has already had a busy 2011, and we’re only halfway through February! Just days after returning from Antarctica where she logged five FAs, she got on a plane to go climb in Thailand. Here’s her latest report from the far East, thanks to our sponsors First Ascent for the share!

Climbing out of a boat is the ultimate Thai climbing experience in my book. It had to be done and we did it.

We wanted to climb a multipitch route above the water that was far enough away that we would be the only ones there. ThaiTanium Wall on Ko Yawabun offered all of the above and more. A 30-minute boat ride from Tonsai took us to the island of Ki Yawabun in the middle of the Andaman Sea where the four-pitch route “For the Members” (11b, 11b, 11c, 11a) is located. It’s in the shade all day and was bolted in 2006 with titanium bolts – the new hope for lasting bolts on ocean side cliffs, hence the name of the wall.

Our boatman pulled in close to the wall at the base of the fixed ropes, which you climb up to the first belay stance to avoid the huge overhang at the start of the route. Adam – my husband and super hero rigger! –  jumared up the really beaten up fixed lines. As it says in the guidebook, “I think we can dub this fixed pitch “Squeal Like a Pig.” The ropes are so old that it seems a given that they will snap once loaded. At least the landing in the water wouldn’t hurt too much. Deep water jumaring?

Adam fixed another rope and we all jumared up, trying to stay out of the water as we swung out of the boat. The route is overhanging the whole way, and all you can see beneath you is the boat and beautiful dark green water. It climbs up tuffas and pockets that seem so big that you could almost sit in them. Sarah and I swung leads up this impressive line. Since it doesn’t see much traffic, the rock is really sharp. Unlike other climbs, the higher we got the warmer it felt.

After toping out, we still had to rappel down the overhanging face. We had to back clip some of the bolts to make it to the anchor below without being lost in space. The rappel was the coolest though as we rappelled straight into the boat! We finished the day with a welcome dive off the boat before heading back to Tonsai, driving by some of the most beautiful white sand beaches I have ever seen.

Caroline is now in Jordan, and will be reporting on her climbing adventures there as well for First Ascent, which we will make sure to post for you here on Chicks!