An adventure! Emily’s virgin climb at Natural Bridge


The photo is of AJ’s dyno on lead, which he stuck, on the last route of the day, a 5.11b.  AJ, Emily, and I had a little bit of everything to deal with on our climbing trip to Natural Bridge yesterday.  It was truly an adventure!!!  Let’s get to the details, shall we?

The approach.  I always lag behind on the approach because I’m out of shape, but that’s fine.  I’m getting in better shape going on climbing adventures with my good buddies AJ and Emily every weekend.  We took a different approach than last time, though.  Instead of going up and around to the top and scooting over the huge chockstone horse-back riding style (yes, that’s dangerous), we followed the trail up and then took the switchbacks down the very steep slope to the bottom of the bowl where the river comes blasting out of the cave, and then scrambled up a very steep section of talus and rock to the floor of The Foyer, where the routes we intended to climb are located.  I scooted down the dirt slope like a slide on my butt for one portion of the descent into the bowl (it was that steep).  You have to remember we were carrying all of our sport climbing gear.  It may have looked ridiculous, but it worked.  We then walked across the low area for a short distance, then rested at the base of the steep talus/rock scrambling section of the approach.  With a little help from AJ, I managed to get up it.  There was a couple in The Foyer with a small child and they were just packing up to leave.  I made it!!!  And I was EXHAUSTED!!!  I sat down on a rock where we were setting up our gear stash and rested for quite some time before I even took my pack off.  AJ gave me a fist bump for making it through the approach section.  I felt it was well-earned, haha!  AJ also said, “Thank goodness for these Scarpa shoes, huh?”  Yes!  He was speaking of our matching Scarpa shoes.  They did a swell job of getting me through the approach!!!

Emily learned to use a GriGri 2 on this trip.  I gave her pointers as she lead-belayed AJ on a 5.6 named “Chocolate Muffin Warm-Up” after AJ had instructed her on how to use it while I recovered and got my harness on.  She did very well for her first time using it.  She thought it a bit awkward, but I told her that once she got used to it, she’d love it.  And she did, by the end of the climbing day.  AJ set the anchor up on top of the route.

I had never cleaned a route before and wanted to learn how.  I went after Emily on toprope because I was to clean the route.  AJ gave me instructions on how to clean the route before I began climbing.  I got one move farther on the route than I had the first time I tried it back in May (I believe it was May?), and then I couldn’t hold on any longer.  AJ had me on toprope belay and I rested on belay several times.  The flash pump refused to leave my forearms and my grip strength was near non-existent.  I had to get up that route, though, because I had to clean the route, which meant the anchor, too!  Finally, with a lot of encouragement and a lot of help from AJ belaying me up foot-by-foot as I trusted my feet and used anything I could for handholds, I reached the anchor and clipped directly into the left anchor bolt with my personal anchor system.  I locked the carabiner and fixed the figure-8 knot before sitting back in my harness to rest.  I had pulled my figure-8 knot through the anchor point, so I quickly pulled it back through the anchor point so that it was back on my side of the anchor point and wouldn’t cause any problems.  I rested and rested, but could NOT get the pump out of my arms enough to be able to do what I knew I must do to clean the anchor.  I did manage to pull up some slack and tie a backup knot in the rope, then clipped it to the quickdraw on my harness so that I wouldn’t lose the rope if it slipped out of my hands.  That’s all the farther I could get.  The sun was beating down on the rubber of my Solutions and they were getting red hot on my feet.  I didn’t notice my feet falling asleep, either…

AJ came up to assist me (actually, it was more like a guided self-rescue of sorts, AJ being the actual rescuer).  Emily lead-belayed him again and he clipped in with his personal anchor system to the right anchor bolt.  He stepped over my personal anchor system and the rope in order to avoid the mess being any more tangled than it already was.  I unclipped the rope from the main anchor point and unclipped the left anchor carabiner from the anchor bolt and clipped it to the right anchor point carabiner.  The next step was to unclip the right anchor point carabiner and clip the entire anchor sling onto my harness, which I did.  I then untied my figure-8 knot and passed it through the links of the anchor chains, retying the figure-8 knot exactly as I had tied it on the ground.  The rope was wrapped around my personal anchor system.  I looked at AJ.  “Well, um, what do you think you should do next?”  I told him I should untie the figure-8 knot, pass the rope through the chain links the other direction so that the rope wasn’t wrapped around my personal anchor system, then retie my figure-8.  “I think that would be the best thing to do.  Good!  Go ahead.”  I completed these actions and then AJ put me on belay with his GriGri.  “I’m going to be lowering you.  Emily is going to be backing me up.”  Okay.  The last thing left to do was to unclip my personal anchor system and let AJ take up the remaining slack so that I could lean fully on the rope.  As he lowered me, I unclipped the quickdraws and put them on my harness.  Once I was on the ground, AJ came down.  “Okay, second-to-last step.  You get to pull the rope because you cleaned the route.”  I pulled the rope after I had gotten my comfy flip-flops on.  “Rope!” I yelled, right before the rope came down.  I flaked it into the rope bag and AJ said, “Okay, last step.  Double high-five!!!”  Double high-five!!!  I cleaned my first route!!!  I had to rest and hydrate.  I sat down on the rock near our gear and did so while AJ and Emily went to have Emily attempt the 5.10a “Labors of Lust” that I wasn’t going to get to until another day.

By this time, a troupe of “climbers” from Bozeman had shown up.  They learned how to climb watching YouTube videos.  One fellow had brand new climbing shoes, not even 24 hours old and therefore not broken in one bit, loosely tied on his feet and already baggy in the toes.  These were at least two sizes too big for his feet.  He decided he was going to make his first climb a lead climb.  As the fellow that learned to belay watching YouTube videos belayed that first-timer with the shoes that didn’t fit using an ATC, I noticed that whoever had gone before him on the route had clipped all of the quickdraws in backwards, with the gates facing toward the direction of the climber.  This fellow on lead could literally fall all the way down and deck!!!  The belayer, a noisy and annoying fellow, told the lead climber to use his toes.  Well, he couldn’t use his toes because his shoes were two sizes too big for his feet!  What a circus!!!  I didn’t watch.  I didn’t want to know what was going on.

AJ and Emily returned and Emily had made short work of that 5.10a.  I congratulated her as the sky turned dark and heavy rain began falling from the heavens, accompanied by lightning and thunder.  The three of us sat under the protection of the overhang that we had stashed our gear under.  AJ played some tunes on his iPad.  The other climbers were huddled against the wall that was not being rained on around the corner and far enough away that I was comfortable again.  They made me extremely anxious and it was stressful to be near them.

I belayed AJ while he set up a toprope for Emily to try a harder problem near the chute between storm waves.  I went back to guard the gear while AJ belayed Emily on the route once he was down again.  I began packing up my things and AJ and Emily were soon by my side doing the same.  We decided it would be a good time to get out of there before the next wave of rain hit.

Canyoneering 101 in the chute.  Before it collapsed, the chute was the best and safest way down to The Foyer.  Now it was a steep and treacherous exit if you had a rope and an anchor set up with someone to counterbalance it.  AJ went ahead to set up the anchor and use himself as a counterbalance.  I set my GriGri up on the rope when he said it was ready and used the GriGri to self-belay up the chute as a back-up in case I fell while climbing up it.  I managed to get to the top.  Just before I had reached the top, I glanced at the anchor and AJ, with a laugh, said, “Don’t look at my anchor.”  I took his advice.  A man and a woman came up alongside me, evidently trail-hiking, and the woman slipped and grabbed the anchor.  NOT IMPRESSED!!!  NOT COOL!!!  Once I was at the top and Emily was on her way up with her GriGri backing her up the same way, AJ said I could look at his anchor.  It was a bright neon yellow nylon sling wrapped around a large rock and protected from sharp edges by AJ’s flip-flops, stuff sack, and sweater.  A carabiner allowed the rope to slide through and connect to AJ’s figure-8 knot on his harness.  “You’ve just canyoneered!” exclaimed AJ.  It was a true adventure!!!  AJ asked, “Can you see now why I was pretty frustrated last time when you came up before I could set up the anchor?  If you slipped, you would’ve fallen all the way down there and then down the rest of the way we came up earlier.  So that’s why I was pretty frustrated.  It was a confidence vs. safety thing.  Always err on the side of safety.”  Emily made her way up and AJ had to go back down to unstick the knot in the rope that kept him from simply pulling the rope bag up.  All three of us eventually ended up standing at the top of the chute.

We made our way back on the trail, resting underneath a tree briefly while another torrential rain came down.  Finally, packed up and in the truck, we headed for the Thirsty Turtle, a burger and BBQ bar/restaurant in Big Timber.  I had the Shroom Burger and some cold, unsweetened ice tea.  It was soooo good!!!  Once everyone was safely home, I went home myself, took a much-needed shower because I was covered head-to-toe in dirt and mud, and fell into bed, barely getting my BiPAP on before going to sleep.  It was a great adventure!!!

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