Saturday, December 26, 2009

Week 24 Old Rag in the Rain Dec 12

The snow of last weekend has subsided and a cold rain has taken its place. Nate Eliza and I have plans to hike up Old Rag and maybe do some climbing as well. The forecast is calling for 33 and raining at the town near the base of Old Rag, and looking outside our bedroom it is absolutely pouring.

Eliza decides to bag the day and work, and the whole ride down Nate and I are down-sizing our planned adventure. And yet upon arrival at the parking lot, in a veritable downpour, we decide to bring our climbing gear anyway. I mean how often do you get to hike up a mountain with gear that you cant possibly use?

We has hoped that if the weather was forecast to be 33 at the base maybe we things would change to snow higher up on the mountain. No such luck. Instead we encounter that most Mid-Atlantic of weather patterns... ice. The air is warm enough to keep the actual precipitation liquid, but as we get up higher everything freezes to the rocks.

Old Rag is not really a dangerous mountain. It is just the closest we have in the Mid Atlantic. But with icy conditions over rocky ground, it is pretty exciting.

We get up to the 2nd of 3 false summits, and head down into the woods to find Nates offwidth project. 15 minutes of sliding down wet snow, we get under the roof.

For rock climbers who climb cracks, offwidths are the scariest of the scary. Crack climbing is basically filling the void of space between two rock faces. Thus size is the most critical factor in determining difficulty as well as technique. There are hand cracks (the easiest) down to fingers, or even finger tips. On the bigger sides things go through fists to chimney where you put your whole body in the crack. Between fist and a squeeze chimney is the offwidth... and few climbers venture near its dangerous grounds.

Upward progress is made via such moves as arm bars, chicken wings, or the mystical Leavittation. All of them are grueling full body affairs. Your ankles get torn to shreds, you need a new pair of jeans for every climb, and your hands turn to hamburger. But as with everything hard... there is an enticement to the difficult. Bernt Arnold, the brilliant east German climber and solo-ist at 65 has said he loves to make even the difficult things easy. I cant put it better.

Nates project though offers no easy solutions. Given the weather, we cant try and climb today, but just visualizing the moves is hard enough. 20 feet out a roof via a 6 inch crack, then the apparent crux turning the lip to gain the wider squeeze chimney. A shout out to all the strong people who want to come try this... Definitely worthy.

Nate and I move further down and away from the trail down to the Wall that Dreams are made Of. Last time i was here it was bloody hot, and i was without water... after climbing I had a harrowing descent until it rained and i finally got some water. This time the weather couldnt be more different. Nate gets started aiding and the sun miraculously breaks through. It becomes downright pleasant. Still we have pushed the boat out rather far, and relish the quick opportunity to dry our wet things. Surviving in this weather for days on end would take quite the diligence to maintain dry and capable equipment.

We finish our climb and take a peak at nearby tempting rock snacks, but the sun is already descending and its time to head down. We have descended further down the side of the mountain than i remember and it takes 45 minutes to gain the ridge, and the trail down. It is maybe 30 minutes from dark, and its really time to head down.

However the strange weather has left us with one of the most brilliant moments I have ever experienced in the hills. What is left of the rain and clouds have sunk down to the ground. Settling in the valleys and between the hills like molasses. And just as think. The tops of the clouds appear opaque. From our viewpoint above all this only a few tops of mountains peak out above the clouds. We cant help but take a few minutes and relish the view as it really is breathtaking.

It gets dark, and my head lamp as usual sits nicely on my office desk. I know the mountain too well though and even in the dark with no moon, its no problem. I even take a minutes to do my scramble that I usually use to pass the crowds at the chimney portion.

Having reserves at the end of day like this feels like maybe I am in better shape than I would appear.

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