Saturday, May 28, 2011

Chaka Khan Update

Dane and Ken were back at the North Rim on Friday. The drive down was fairly wet and we hiked in through a few light showers. Our plan was to work on Big Science since it stays dry in all but the stormiest conditions. Upon arriving at the Tick Farm, however, we were surprised to see the rock was mostly dry. We dropped packs at Birthday Tick and did a warmup lap each on it. The larger shelves were soggy and quite slick, but everything else was dry.

After increasing the intensity with a t.r. lap each on Witness, we headed up the trail to have a look at the conditions on Chaka Khan and Shere Khan. Though their neighbor, Tiger by the Tail, was glistening wet in the black streaks, these two were in perfect condition. We climbed up onto the ledge and Dane took the sharp end and started up Chaka Khan. The opening bulge produced a significant flash pump, but Dane worked the rest at the fourth bolt for maximum effect. Then he moved up, clipped the fifth, crux bolt, climbed back down, took another minute's shakeout, headed back up and fired the crux!

Normally, this is when you let out a victory yell, but not on Chaka Khan. After the crux, you join Shere Khan and have 60% of that route above you with the endurance clock ticking. But Dane continued to work the shakeouts and soon tagged the top anchors. The first ascent of Chaka Khan was in the bag.

Ken then tied in and, surprising himself, managed to lead up and grab the second ascent.

Chaka Khan is a hard climb to grade. The crux appears improbable and blank when you come to it cold. But when you have the beta dialed and know exactly what to expect, it feels almost moderate. For now, we're proposing the grade of 5.12a. Hopefully we can get some feedback as others get on it. Note that you can easily toprope Chaka Khan when lowering after climbing Shere Khan. The two make a great combination. Plan to clip your toprope through the bolt above Chaka Khan's crux so you can get back on the rock if you come off.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Chaka Khan

Photo Dwight McCann/Chumash Casino Resort / Wikimedia Commons

Tell me something good
Tell me that you like it

Dane and Ken completed the Tiger Stripe wall's Shere Khan in May of 2010. When we first explored the route, we had plans of going from the main ledge straight up the plumb line to the anchors. But the climbing down low proved much more difficult than what we were after at the time, and we chose the current line that follows a weakness 10 feet right, then traverses back to center at the small roof at mid-height. It is our opinion that this still produced what is likely the single best pitch at the North Rim.

But that direct variant continued to beckon, and more than once we stopped while lowering to work the crux section, which lies just below the Shere Khan traverse. Dane managed to stick the hardest move during one session, only to have a key right hand hold break shortly after. The much smaller hold that remained upped the ante, and we decided to leave the climbing for a future effort.

The future arrived on Saturday when we hiked up with the drill and the goal of establishing the direct line. Five bolts and a little cleaning later and it was ready. We worked it on t.r., and were each psyched to not only climb the powerful opening, but also figure out the beta for the crux and eventually do the moves. Seems our winter of bouldering in the gym has paid off. And the direct line that always looked so promising did not disappoint.

This variation is so awesome, and so legitimate in its own right, that we've decided it warrants its own name. Even though it deviates from the wall's tiger theme, we couldn't resist the play on words of Chaka Khan.

Chaka Khan is a killer route with exceptional position, movement and rock quality. It is surely one of the best sport pitches in western Montana!

Tiger by the Tail 5.10d (green), Shere Khan 5.11c (yellow)
Chaka Khan 5.12 (orange)

Here's the beta: Start 10 feet left of the Shere Khan/Tiger by the Tail belay station. Approach the first bolt from the left using the two small corners on easy terrain. Pull the small detached flake and clip the second bolt. Climb the bulge on bullet golden rock. This section goes at mid to upper 5.11 and requires some modern techniques that will make any gym climber feel right at home. Above this you get a recovery stance. The crux is above, at the fifth bolt. It's hard to grade, but feels like a V4 boulder problem that involves a long deadpoint off a small right hand hold to a marginal sloper in the bottom of a pod. A couple more moves and you arrive at the beginning of Shere Khan's pumpy mid section. Hang on for 40 feet of endurance and you'll arrive at the anchors.

For now, we'll just call it 5.12. We invite everyone to get on it and give it a go. Leave a comment if you do, and what you think the rating should be. We'll be going for the redpoint soon, but until then, Chaka Khan awaits its first ascent!

Shere Khan, Tick Man Updates

Jesse (in orange, middle right) below the loose block

Shere Khan Crux Changed, Now 11c
Saturday we removed a large, very loose hold on Shere Khan in the crux section beneath the small roof. The hold was the loaf-sized block that was used to initiate the traverse to the left from under the roof. You could clip off this block as well as reach a good edge with your left hand.

The block had to go --one strike of the hammer and it was off! The crux is now a slash grade harder, but it definitely still goes. Instead of leaning left off the block, there's a small but positive side pull for the right hand. Then some thin feet and a long reach. Unfortunately, you can no longer clip the bolt before moving left. Now you have to do a move or two first to establish yourself in front of the bolt.

We'll be looking at moving the bolt closer to the roof so it can be clipped before the traverse. But this is not a given since there are some hairline cracks that caused us to put it to the left in the first place. We'll see what we can do. Until then, the spice factor has gone up. Given this and the harder crux sequence, we feel it's reasonable to raise Shere Khan's grade from 5.11b to 5.11c.

Tick Man Bolt Added
Down on the Tick Farm, Dane added a bolt to Tick Man, finishing drilling out a hole Michael started last fall only to run out of battery with 1/2 inch to go. This was the last bolted route on the Tick Farm that had an optional piece of gear: a large piece for the wide crack above the funky shelf move. There's now a bolt protecting the wide crack, which brings the experience of climbing Tick Man in line with the other routes on the wall. As in, 'draws only.

We want to give a shout out to Bill and Leslie of the Bitterroot. They've been putting in full days at the North Rim each of the last three times we've been there. The pair is steadily working their way through all of the North Rim routes, including, last Saturday, putting in several burns to dial in the area's second-hardest, Proof of Concept. Thanks to Bill for alerting us a couple of weeks ago to Shere Khan's dangerously loose block and chalking on some warning X's until we could get up there and remove it.

Tick Report
So far this year, the tick count --the creepy crawly variety, as opposed to route sends-- has been quite low. We've pulled off maybe 10 during each full day. Don't know if this means it will be a low tick year, or if the hoards are waiting until warmer conditions. But for now, it's looking really good.

Have fun everyone!!

Ken and Dane

Thursday, May 19, 2011

New Trad Route Dihedrals

Cole Lawrence got in touch with us with news that he and his climbing partner, Peter, climbed an excellent 6-pitch trad route near Dihedrals East in the main part of the canyon. The pair added belay/rap anchors at the top of each pitch, with all the climbing protected by gear. They spent time cleaning the worst of the dirt and loose rock out of the crack systems, but report that the route can definitely benefit from some more traffic.

It is unclear whether this is a new route, a re-discovery of an old line, or an extension of a known climb. Here's what Cole had to say,
It seems like in Mill Creek, if it's a crack it's been climbed. We are not concerned with or worried about the first ascent but it would be cool to know if anyone else has gone the same way as us. The whole climb goes very safely on gear. The gear on pitch 5 is super tricky. This pitch would be an impressive free. The route does look abandoned especially after pitch 4. We found new gear and old gear from old ratty hexes to new Astro nuts and brassies.

If anyone knows the history of this route, please leave a comment here or send an email to millcreekreport at gmail. And be sure and let us know if you go climb it. Sounds like a great addition to the routes in the canyon. All it needs now is some traffic to help clean it up.

Thanks to Cole and Peter for the climbing, cleaning and bolting, as well as taking the time to document and report the route.

Route Description

Approach: Follow climbers' trail to Gray Wall and No Sweat Arete. Ledge system starts at a natural stair case on right, half way to No Sweat. Traverse right past one large dead tree and past prominent live tree on exposed ledges and nice trail. Aim for the prominent corner system of this climb left of Dihedrals East. Note the approach for Dihedrals East is not the same as this approach. The corner is surprisingly accessible with little trial and error. Keep an eye out for the two trees mentioned. (45 min to 1 hr. from car)

Pitch One (5.9): Climb diagonally to the right over small roof above single belay bolt. Pull bulge and continue up left facing corner to a bush and 2 bolts on small ledge. 105 feet. Gear to 5 in. Doubles recommended.

Pitch Two (5.9+): Continue up left facing corner and pull roof/layback hand crack to two bolt anchor on ledge. 105 feet. Gear to 5 in. Doubles recommended.

Pitch Three (5.8): Continue up left facing corner for 15 feet to a few face moves. Move left slightly and climb over small tower. Once on top of tower climb obvious off-width crack with many face holds to ledge with 2 bolt anchor. 80 feet. Gear to 5 in.

Pitch Four (5.10+): climb broken corner up and around roof laybacking and jamming (30-40 ft up) to a 5.10+ finger dihedral for 100 more feet of spectacular climbing. Finish pitch on 5.6 slab crack in corner. Anchors on awesome exposed ledge. Many route options from here. 150 feet. Gear to 4 in. Doubles recommended.

Pitch Five (C1 or 5.12): traverse to the right 30 feet into small discontinuous seam. Climb up 30 more feet to anchors on small ledge. 70 feet. Gear to 2 in. Small nuts.

Pitch Six (5.9): Climb wide crack system to top. Aim for tree. 120 feet. Gear to 5 in.

Two 60-meter ropes are required for the rappel.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

New Climbing Gym

If you've been a climber in Missoula during the last few years, then you probably felt the loss when the Missoula Rock Garden closed. The University of Montana gym has been our only alternative, and it does a great job. But as anyone who lacks a Griz card knows, hitting up a card-carying friend for a guest pass isn't the same as membership and access whenever you like.

The good news is, by late summer it appears those days will be behind us. Rumors of a new bouldering gym opening in town have been circulating for a while, and now those rumors are turning to reality in the form of the brand new Freestone Climbing Center.

Walter Hailes is the owner and force behind the new gym. We received the following update from him earlier this week,

"We are making progress. The padded floor is in the building but waiting to be assembled under the climbing walls. I will start ordering climbing holds this week, and we will soon have stacks of plywood being outfitted with t-nuts. We are currently on schedule for an August opening [with construction beginning] hopefully mid June."

You can get further details, check on the gym's progress and show your support at the Freestone Climbing Center's Facebook page.

We'll also post updates here at the Mill Creek blog as they become available.

This is great news for the Missoula climbing community and we can't wait to check out the facility once it's completed. As Dylan posted on Freestone's Facebook wall, "It needs to be August already."

Monday, May 9, 2011

Big Science Begins

Dane and Ken finally made it up to the North Rim after an absence of many months. We came armed with some rebar to shore up stances in the Tick Farm area, a re-stocking of bolts and several photos of the steepest sector in the main area. Located just right of QED-MF and about 100 feet left of Shere Khan, this new zone overhangs considerably as it rises about 100 feet to a cap formed by a huge visor. We've stood under there during rain showers and stayed dry as water dripped a good 50 feet out from the base of the rock. We've named this sector "Big Science" and have set to work on its first route.

Due to how much the rock overhangs, plus the difficulty of trying to establish an anchor beneath the visor from above, we're opening this route from the ground up. Having never done much aid climbing, we've bungled our way up the wall turning one roof after another. So far we've found enough holds to tell us the climb will definitely go, but it's far too early to tell how hard it will be. Somewhere in the 5.12 range seems a good guess. Maybe harder, and unlikely any easier. The only thing for certain right now is it's steep and long!

Stay tuned and watch for completion of the Big Science route by early summer. After that, who knows... there are plenty of other lines in the sector just waiting to be explored.