Rod and I headed out to Darrington to climb on what was one of the hottest days of the year so far. Not always a good idea for slab climbing, but it usually means Darrington will be dry.
The drive up was pleasant, and soon we were gearing up in the cool valley floor for a hike to the rock. This was Rod's first time at Three O' Clock Rock, and we were debating the routes to try and get on. I really wanted a second crack at Revolver after trying to climb it wet back in September. But I was also interested in climbing Big Tree One again to get some gear placement "practice" in since I hadn't been on rock in over a month. The harder rating of Revolver had Rod suggesting we start on Big Tree One. This made sense, as it is on the South Buttress, and would be sunnier in the afternoon. And Revolver was on the North Buttress and perhaps wouldn't be as hot during the hottest time of day.
We got to the base and geared up for Big Tree. Rod led it and took a while completing the pitch. I had to run off into the woods before following. I joined him at the top of pitch one. We swapped the rack and I headed off on pitch two. Perhaps it is coming off the couch after a month of not climbing, but I didn't remember this pitch to be as run out. I got to the top and brought Rod over and he prepared for the next lead.
Rod headed up the third (and best) pitch of the route. I had told him where I thought the crux was and he made good time heading up to it. At the crux he balked. He tried a higher gear placement and then even added a second cam. He down climbed a few steps and yo-yo'd a bit. He inspected holds and tried different options. After a long while, he confessed to me he did not have the moves in him. I lowered him down to the anchor and I switched to the sharp end to tackle the moves. The crux of the route in my opinion is a move where the lie backing ends and you have a few friction moves before picking up the lie backing again. I'm not sure it is the technical crux of the route, but it is the mental crux as you leave hand holds and counter pressure for some straight smearing.
I climbed up the crux on top rope and then rearranged the gear Rod had placed so I could have more gear above the crux. I tried the moves and was attempting to remember how I did it last time, but I was not being successful. I couldn't commit to my right foot. I down climbed a few times to a ledge to rest my feet. Was I no longer capable of doing the moves? I had tried low, I had tried midway. What if I tried high? I started back up and instead of forcing my moves rightward I just followed the natural rhythm of the rock and found myself going up a bit more before rightward moves commenced. It felt good. The small tree that I had previously slung appeared bigger, but not as lively. I slung it again and headed off to finish the pitch.
Rod joined me and commented that he still didn't like the moves, even on top rope. I presented him with an option to lead the final pitch as I wanted to move onto other things. He didn't feel the need to, so we started rapping the route.
Once back at the packs we huddled in the shade and ate lunch. With my need to be back in Seattle by 5pm, it was too late to start a 6+ pitch route like Revolver. We had to come up with other options. I suggested Dirt Circus, a route I had not previously done. The first pitch was bolted 5.9 and the second was a bolted 5.9+. I offered the easier first pitch to Rod and we hiked over to the base.
There must be a good reason for this route to be called dirt circus. The first 10' of stone were filthy. We joked about how we should have power washed it before climbing in the morning and that it would have been ready to go by the afternoon. Rod tied in and made several attempts to place a cam so he could continue. After a period of time he said it wasn't going to happen and I offered another route for us to climb.
Rod got the lead on Under the Bored Walk. A route I suggest to anyone who is climbing at Darrington for the first time. I had him lead it to the top in one pitch. I followed, experimenting with my approach shoes. This was quite scary at first, but as the difficulty eased and I got used to the feeling of chicken heads under my feet, it was not too bad. Afterward, Rod said the route was a good one to bring people new to rock climbing as it was fun and easy.
I love Three O' Clock Rock for the ease of approach and so many good climbs in a range that I can climb. It was great being out on the rock. I feel I needed this to prep me for Squamish in two weeks. We'll see how things go.
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