A Grand Adventure
Story and Photos by Chris Van Leuven
It turns out I'd descended to the start of the Southwest Defile Variation (5.8 A2), established by desert hardmen Harvey T. Carter, Fred Beckey and others in 1966. This variation (likely) climbs this chimney, with which I now had to battle while dragging a pack full of hardware. Mike lowered a line and I struggled for 100 nauseating feet back to the start of our route. Next, Vijay came down the line and we got in position.
Not to let the discouraging start extinguish our confidence, I charged into the lead only to resort to aid 20 feet later when the finger crack, in rock the consistency of Styrofoam, blanked out at a bolt ladder. The bolts were original Star-Dryvin spinners, left on the first ascent 50 years prior. Normally I wouldn’t trust these bolts to hold my climbing pack, but was forced to gingerly aid up them until the next crack, a deeply piton-scarred fingertip crack. Feeling more the coward than bold free climber, I aided every move of the crack to the anchors. Pro was thin, mainly Lowe-Balls and micro nuts in taupe, powdery rock. When I reached the belay stance, a gust of wind almost threw me off the ledge. Once secured to the belay bolts -- at least these were new! -- I firmly straddled the ledge and braced against the wind.
Mike soon arrived and headed into the next pitch, a short 5.8 traverse. To finish, a 20-foot offwidth guarded the summit. Spurred on by Mike’s encouragement, I laybacked the wide crack, making it up only a few feet before once again resorting to aid. We reached the summit, fixed a line for Vijay (still waiting at the notch) and waited for him to ascend. Utilizing our free time, Mike and I searched for the summit register. A few moments later we uncovered it, skimming through its pages (we noticed Harvey T. Carter and Fred Beckey’s names). We penciled in our three names – it would now only be minutes before Vijay would meet us – and set up the Tyrolean.
Vijay popped his head onto the summit and asked for a hand surmounting the final lip. We came over and he took our hands; soon all three of us were on top.
We kept the Tyrolean slack to make it easier to cross. One by one each of us rappelled off the spire, then engaged our ascenders and climbed up and across to the rim. Though the winds howled loudly, we crossed the line with ease. Vijay, Mike and I are still searching for our next objective. If you hear of any roadside spires that await a disabled ascent or FFA, please let us know.