Saturday, September 29, 2012

Vanishing Point: Reflections on an Onsight Effort

The mighty north face of Mt. Baring, home of Vanishing Point (VI 5.12b)

I still remember reading the Hot Flash. It was a small blurb in the lower left hand corner of the magazine. Bryan Burdo had completed his mega project on Mt. Baring. Vanishing Point (VI 5.12b) was a jutting prow loaded with 18 sustained pitches of wild face climbing. That same summer I had been putting all of my 16 year old energy into another of his routes, a one pitch line called Rainy Day Woman at Little Si, a steep crag an hour east of Seattle. I could barely comprehend Bryan's accomplishment as I screamed my way to the anchors of Rainy Day with my dad nervously belaying. It was my first 5.12 and another phase in the journey that eventually led to my own effort on Vanishing Point only days ago.

Last week Ben Gilkison and Blake Herrington climbed Vanishing Point in great style, lifting a curious veil of obscurity that has clouded the route for many years. Everyone I know in the Washington climbing community has talked about Vanishing Point, but so few have been on the face or even seen it. Hell, when I stepped out of the car at the Barcley Lake trailhead a few days ago, I had never laid eyes on the wall!

Not only had Ben and Blake inspired me to check out Vanishing Point, they had given me a road map of beta through photos and advice. I hoped their chalk would still dot the wall, increasing my chances at a flash of this challenging route. I was fortunate to have a great friend, Shaun Johnson, who was willing to let me lead every pitch and jumar/follow with the pack. All week I looked foward to giving my best effort on such a magnificant wall.

Our ascent began in the first light of a hazy morning. We cruised the complex approach using good beta and Shaun's knowledge from a scoping mission the previous day. Scampering up gullies, yarding up fixed lines through 70 degree timber slopes, and smearing up 5.8 slabs brought us to the "true" base of Vanishing Point. We snacked for fifteen minutes and then I began climbing.

I knew the day was going to be hard for me. The past few years have seen me focusing on alpine climbing and it has been quite some time since I have tried a long, difficult (for me!)  free route, on sight, and leading every pitch. I tried to make my grip light and to swallow my initimidation as I linked the first two 5.10 pitches. Truth be told, I found the nature of the rock and wall to be pretty scary! Shaun may not have been able to tell, but I was nervous all day. Thankfully, I live for facing my fears and overcoming their limiting grip!

After a few more pitches I arrived at the base of an arete that had been the crux for Ben and Blake. I groped my way up 25 feet of odd angled holds before entering the difficult crux. I stood there for what seemed like forever trying to figure out what was going on. Finally, I started moving my aching feet, highstepping a ripple while pulling on a two finger crimp. I eeked towards the jug I saw completed the sequence. I felt my shoe rolling on the foothold. My core sagged. I fell onto the rope.

"Damn it!". Dissapointment flooded in, but only for a second. This was hard and I was trying my best! What more could I do? I climbed through the sequence to the anchor and brought Shaun up. I thought about trying again, but kept leading ahead. Many difficult pitches remained and I realized my new goal was to suss the climb so I could soon return to try again. Pulling the rope might work in July, but I had to get us off this monstrosity before the short, September day ended.

The rest of the route was so, so, so very exposed and suprisingly difficult. I pulled over the top of Dolomite Tower as the sun sunk low in the west. I relflected on the day. Despite not freeing the route I felt good about my effort, but also recognized my mistakes. I hadn't eaten enough, hadn't changed into my tight shoes (out of laziness) when I should have, and hadn't been able to relax my mind enough to avoid overgripping on nearly every pitch.

A few days later I find myself yearing to return and if the fall weather cooperates it might be possible. Most importantly, I aspire to be the be able to walk up to walls of this magnitude and on sight free climb the most awesome features. I'm a long way off that level, but am inspired to work hard and grow as a climber so that I can have that freedom.

A big thanks goes out to Bryan Burdo, an early hero of mine, and Blake and Ben. You guys lit the fire!

I highly recommend Vanishing Point. I believe it to be one of the top free climbs in the state. Get some!!

Make sure to check out Blake and Ben's reports!


Sol Wertkin said...

Nice effort Jens! I'm psyched to give this one a burn!

JW said...

Nice effort Jens! I enjoyed reading this. Ballsy to just walk up to a known difficult alpine route and just start climbing. Inspiring audacity!