Sunday, August 11, 2013

Monkey Face via West Face Variation: Continuing Education on Smith's Moderate Multis

When I first started climbing at Smith the one climb I really wanted to do was the West Face Variation to the Pioneers Route. This is supposedly the best route to the summit of Monkey Face that doesn't involve climbing sandbagged 5.11 or harder. For those who don't know, the Monkey is the most iconic spire at Smith. It towers over the Crooked River and is overhanging on all sides, which makes for a spectacular piece of rock.

Monkey Face and the Crooked River. West Face Variation comes up the back side to the notch.
Over the last 18 months, Monkey Face never lost its appeal, but for some reason I never climbed it. I quickly added many more routes to my ticklist, most of which came from the Alan Watts guide book. (There is a list of the 2-5 best trad and sport climbs at each grade. I wrote down every route on that list that is a multi-pitch and/or a trad climb for every grade up to 5.12a.) After climbing all the routes up to 5.10, the West Face Variation on Monkey Face was still undone. In fact, it was the last route on my list under 5.10. Obviously the time had come.

The West Face of the Monkey. You can see the face with its mouth cave at the top. A climber in red is on Bohn Street.
On Saturday my friend John was passing through town and we met at Smith for some cragging. I haven't been rock climbing much since Squamish and wanted to get in some mileage on moderate terrain. We eventually decided to do Monkey Face and found the route free and open, which is truly amazing for a summer Saturday at Smith.

John's van in his personal parking space at Smith... Yeah, he is that cool.
We cruised up the trad pitches and then, while I was belaying John up to Bohn Street it started to rain. Luckily the ledge was sheltered by the overhanging face above. We assessed and decided we might as well climb the bolt ladder to the mouth cave and see how it was. We had opted to climb the bolts old school ghetto style and had not brought etriers or daisies. John led off, yarding on quickdraws and taking between bolts. He reached the top quickly but in the distance we could hear thunder. We decided it would be better to have me clean the bolt ladder and then try make it to the main rap rings before the storm really opened up. I headed up and got myself into a muddle standing on slings and loops of cord. Juggling too many pieces and not sticking to a straightforward strategy, I mis-clipped a draw and it fell to the ledge below. Frustrated with myself I tried to focus and pulled awkwardly into the cave.

Looking up the West Face of the Monkey.
The best rap rings were directly above us through the cave roof and I would have to lead the short but exposed 5.7 pitch to get to it. Between the weather and the dropped draw I let myself get unnecessarily nervous and muscled my way up the pitch with some really ugly climbing. As I reached the belay ledge with beautiful, huge rap rings, the sun came out. John followed and we figured we should just belay the short scramble to the summit. Minutes later we were on top, hollering at hikers and relieved that the weather had cooperated.

John on the summit.
We got back to the rap rings and prepared for the two rope, overhanging rappel. We extended our belay devices for prusik back-ups and then I made my second mistake, which was to clip my belay biner to my harness to get it out of the way. Maybe I automatically thought it was just like a PAS and didn't consider the ATC on the end, but before I knew it my rappel device went tink... tink... gone into air. Now I'm several hundred feet up a free-standing rock pillar that is overhanging on all sides without the one piece of gear I need to get down. Sure, I could Munter, but on a rap this long with two different rope diameters things could get ugly. John, ever the scholar and gentleman, gave me the cool stare and said, "dude, you need to stop dropping shit." He then rapped, tied his ATC to the rope, I hauled it back up, and rappelled on his device. Thanks John!

"Dude, you need to stop dropping shit."
We pulled the ropes, walked back to our stashed packs and ate lunch. Given that I've wanted to do this climb for a while, and that it was the last one under 5.10 on my ticklist, I wish it had gone more smoothly. I felt like I should fly up it with style and ease, and not drop shit. Instead I learned that I'm still just a beginner and rock climbing is challenging no matter the grade. I have a lot to learn and I definitely learned some stuff on Monkey Face. I guess the important thing is that I survived and learned from my mistakes. From that perspective it was a pretty good experience. John, I owe you a beer and a quick draw when you get back to Smith. Thanks for being a great partner and being stoked to climb awesome routes!

Monkey Face after the rappel.

My Smith Rock Tick List (up to 5.9)
Western Chimney, Mesa Verde Wall, Smith Rock (5.5R, 1 pitch)
West Face, Brogan Spire (Marsupials), Smith Rock (5.5X, 3 pitches) Solo
South Buttress, Brogan Spire (Marsupials), Smith Rock (5.5X, 3 pitches) Solo
Super Slab, Red Wall, Smith Rock (5.6, 3 pitches) Solo*
Moscow, Red Wall, Smith Rock (5.6, 3 pitches) Solo*
Bookworm, Dihedrals, Smith Rock (5.7, 2 pitches)
Spiderman, Spiderman Buttress, Smith Rock (5.7, 2 pitches)
Living Blindly, Opossum (Marsupials), Smith Rock (5.7, 3 pitches) Solo
Sky Chimney, Smith Rock Group (R of White Satin), Smith Rock (5.7, 3 pitches)
Birds in a Rut, Wombat (Marsupials), Smith Rock (5.7, 6 pitches) Solo*
Out of Harm's Way, Spiderman Buttress, Smith Rock (5.8, 1 pitch)
Lion's Jaw, Morning Glory Wall (L side), Smith Rock (5.8, 1 pitch)
Round River Direct, Koala (Marsupials), Smith Rock (5.8, 3 pitches) Solo*
Sky Ridge, Smith Rock Group, Smith Rock (5.8R, 3 pitches)
West Face Variation, Monkey Face, Smith Rock (5.8 A0, 5 pitches)
Marsupial Traverse, Marsupials, Smith Rock (5.8, 10 pitches)
Moonshine Dihedral, Dihedrals, Smith Rock (5.9, 1 pitch)
Sundown Dihedral, Mesa Verde Wall, Smith Rock (5.9, 1 pitch)
Peking, Red Wall, Smith Rock (5.9, 3 pitches)
White Satin, Smith Rock Group, Smith Rock (5.9, 3 pitches)
Wherever I May Roam, Smith Rock Group, Smith Rock (5.9, 5 pitches)
*climbed with a partner first

Another thank you to all the awesome partners who have gone out with me and taught me the basics over the past 18 months. It has been a blast climbing with you all!

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