August 07, 2013

Walking the Margin

Margin Walker - the Arcane Crag, Idaho
Why is volcanic choss so fun? It's dangerous, dirty, and often undesirable for a number of various other reasons. With a growing concentration of high quality routes on world class limestone at a nearby crag known as the Fins and the even more amazing and obscure granitic stone in Teton Canyon, why would I even consider devoting so much time, effort, and money to miles upon miles of endless basalt in the upper Snake River Valley? For me, that answer is simple... variety of angle and STEEP, unique climbing.

For many years I've plugged away at various basalt sectors along with Matt TeNgiao and Tom Smartt near my home along the South Fork of the Snake River and further south in Meadow Creek and the Blackfoot River Canyon. These areas now offer several sectors each, host a multitude of routes from 5.6 to 5.13, and provide our local upper valley climbing community with it's own basalt climbing scene - if there is such a thing as a scene around here!

The Arcane Crag

My most recent focus has been a small and remote overhanging section of rim-rock basalt deep in the South Fork Canyon of the Snake River. The climbing is outrageously steep with enjoyable movement. The stone however, has sections of the most suspect stone I've equipped; an experimental crag if you will. And if any crag needs the disclaimer of "CLIMB AT YOUR OWN RISK", it would be the Arcane. It is quite scenic though!

The routes are quite unique and steep with the majority of them being moderately hard to hard. I've refrained from assigning grades to the routes as I don't want the crag to be about numbers.

Margin Walker

Known in the most elite of climbing circles, Ty Mack maintains a low-key and somewhat under the radar status. He is, without out a doubt, one of the strongest climbers living in Eastern Idaho and his 5.14 traditional route, The Almighty, in Teton Canyon has seen some recent publicity from visiting climber, Jonathan Siegrist. Ty has taken a liking to some of my basalt efforts; enjoying the steeper sectors, which is the missing style at some of the other, high quality crags in our area.

Margin Walker - the Arcane Crag, Idaho
Ty and I spent the afternoon at the Arcane Crag where he easily flashed Proboscis, Naiad, and Esoteric. With the excitement of a little kid, Ty let out a "Weeee, that was soooo fun! I got really pumped." as I lowered him from the anchors of Esoteric!

His excitement put to rest any doubts in my head that he might not be psyched on the new crag. Esoteric is the king line at the crag, overhanging the entire route, with a long section of steep headwall at the top. The flash is a highly prized effort in my opinion.

We moved onto the upper ledge where my last remaining unsent project started. Margin Walker is the steepest line at the crag, with some near-horizontal climbing at the start to a bouldery section mid route, followed by big moves and big pump to the anchors. I squeaked out a one-hang attempt before leaving for the Outdoor Retailer show in SLC. I felt ill-prepared for the send after a long week of sitting around the OR Show, no climbing, followed by a focused cragging session just 24 hours earlier.

Knowing there was a chance Ty could send the route during our session, I fought like hell on my attempt, pushing the high point closer to the anchors before falling off. Big cheers and a noticeable increase of psych filled the cave. I was super excited too about the progress, despite not feeling super fresh.

Now, this is where you get a glimpse of Ty's stalwart nature. As he tied in, he looked me in the eyes and said:

"I know this is your project and if by some chance I get to the anchors, I'll fall off."

This sort of respect is somewhat fading amongst climbers nowadays. I told Ty when you get to the anchors... you better clip 'em!

Ty walked the lower half of the route but got crossed up at the crux and wasn't able to correct the sequence before dropping into space. It was a good fight and again bumped up the level of psych to try and send the route.

We both rested and watched Heather, Joe, and Chelsea fight on Proboscis and Naiad. Heather made good progress getting Naiad down to just one hang. Ty and I talked about climbing, traveling, friends and the excitement of this new choss sector. Yet in the back of my mind I was desperately trying to suppress the reality of tender and raw fingertips and a wicked pump that wasn't going away.

After a long rest, I grabbed my climbing shoes and sheepishly admitted to Ty that I'll give it a go, but I didn't have the skin or the power to make it happen, so he should feel good about getting the FA on his go. Tying into the rope left my hands stinging from the pressure of just pulling the knot tight and the first few moves were more awkward and desperate feeling than ever. I managed the big moves across the roof and set up for the start of the bouldery crux. With no anticipation of actually hanging on to any of the holds and having red lined the power reserves just getting off the ground, I found myself climbing in the moment, screaming, breathing, screaming, moving, and more screaming; disconnected from the pain of tender skin and a pump as I desperately wrestled with each move.

"COME ON... JUST GET THE ROPE INTO ONE OF THE ANCHOR BINERS...." I screamed to myself inside my head as my left hand was slowly and uncontrollably opening up on the biggest jug of the entire route while pulling up rope to clip the anchors. The rope dropped in at the exact same time the remaining strength disappeared from my left arm...... SAFE! The fight was ugly, but I got it done!

Next up, Ty passed his high point, stuck the final moves on the bouldery section mid route and then powered out on the long move right after the crux, dropping off the route. He boinked his way back to the high point, worked out some beta for the next few bolts, adding a sweet knee-bar, and getting some other foot sequences dialed. I'm confident it'll go easily for him next time!

Choss is, and always will be choss. Whether you're projecting 5.14 or 5.9, climbing on stone carved by heavenly angles, or wrestling with the chossy leftovers; at the end of the day, climbing is, and always will be climbing.

Climb on!
Heather warming up on Bitty