Sunday, November 22, 2009

solar musings

My mom and stepdad were on their way back to WA from southern UT, so Jascha and I agreed to meet them for dinner in Vegas. We used the opportunity to spend the day checking out another of Dow’s fine recommended link-ups, Beulah’s Book to Sunflower (5.9). The route proper ascends ~1400 ft over 8 pitches on Solar Slab Wall, a perfect November destination with its sunny southern exposure. My only reservation was that much of the route was on the softer white sandstone, not exactly my ideal rock with its slopey eroded holds.

With the dwindling daylight hours I woke us up at 5:30 am. I did not want to have to deal with stuck ropes on the rappel in the dark. We arrived at the Oak Creek parking lot around 7ish and were on the trail by 7:30. We had a
small shrubby detour getting to the base of Beulah’s Book, but it gave the party in front time to get up to the second belay.

My plan was to take the arĂȘte variation on pitch 2 to avoid both the bomb bay chimney and having to haul up a #4 cam. The first pitch was uneventful, a 5.6 dihedral to face. As I got closer to the belay I could see my first major obstacle above the arete, the slanting, lieback dihedral from which the route gets its name. It looked strenuous, off-balance and very parallel. As usual I had skimped on the gear to save weight, ignoring the recommendation for 2 sets of cams in the 0.4” to 3” range. I belayed Jascha up.

The bolted arĂȘte variation started off with fun thin face holds then turned onto the arĂȘte before rejoining the main route at the top of the chimney. I paused below the dihedral for a while trying to figure out my best strategy with my limited gear supply. Fortunately, there were decent face holds and I was able to sling a horn before moving left toward the crack. After 2 cams (and some grunting) I was through the first 5.9 crux. Jascha cruised the lieback and we were soon on to pitch 3, which was run out but easy.

Before long we were at the base of upper Solar Slab wall. The party ahead of us was two pitches up Solar Slab. We took a snack break and I tried to get psyched about leading 5.9 trad on crappy white sandstone. We scrambled up the fourth class slabs to the varnished corner that marks the start of Sunflower. The varnished section was slick, but fortunately there were plenty of other holds available. I arrived at the first belay ledge that is shared with Solar Slab and belayed Jascha up.

The crux pitch looked innocuous from below, but I knew better. I headed up the curving hand crack which soon turned into tenuous hand jams with seemingly insecure friction holds for feet (I admit that the friction was far better than I anticipated). I was happy that secure gear placements popped up just when I needed them. The scary part behind me, I soon arrived at the belay ledge and waited for Jascha to join me.

Dow’s description was right on for pitch 6. I followed the 5.8 corner to
face, then angled up and left to the bolted belay. Pitch 7 was a bolted slab pitch on somewhat hollow holds. To stay in the 5.9 range the route meandered right and then left of the bolt line. I had a difficult time recognizing “the pod” mentioned in the climbing descriptions so I ended up running out the rope, which I figured would work out to our advantage on the long final pitch.

After Jascha arrived I started up pitch 8 which heads up toward a roof then traverses up and left before reaching it. From here the route diagonals significantly leftward to join up with the top of Solar
Slab. Because it’s low angle you have to guess the exact trajectory, but because it’s easy terrain you don’t have to worry too much about route finding errors. With the low angled slab, the rope drag was significant and I was glad we were almost done with the technical part. Jascha was happy to be off the hanging belay and was soon at the final anchor.

It was a little after 3 pm and we contemplated our descent options. I had read that the quickest option was to rap Solar Slab (4 double rope raps), then downclimb (or rap, 6 single rope raps) Solar Slab Gully. With the rope eating cracks and clingy edges typical of Red Rocks I found it hard to believe that this was a faster option that the 2 single raps required for the Black Orpheus descent even though I knew
we had several hundred feet of elevation gain to access the rap stations plus a longish walk-off. The Black Orpheus descent it was.

We had climbed Black Orpheus earlier in the year, and I posted an annotated descent description on summitpost, so the details were still fresh in my mind. The Solar Slab walk-off heads right initially then left to gain the huge ledge system below the summit. We found the cairns that lead left down the gully and to the first rap station. We didn’t bother with the second rope, but instead angled climber’s left to the intermediate ledge and rap station. One more rap and we were in Painted Bowl. We cruised down the slabs and finally down the slick slab into the canyon floor. I had forgotten about the huge boulders that line the canyon floor for quite some time. We passed the party that we had seen on Solar Slab and finally reached the trail. Darkness fell as we were approaching the parking lot. It had taken us 2:20 to descend. Showers and Japanese food awaited us.

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