Despite the predictions for early morning rain, I met up with Christian Weaver at 6am this morning and headed to the Dogwood Crag in Big Cottonwood Canyon to take another swing at Little Creatures (5.11b/c). Little Creatures is a consistently overhung flake on the inside of a very large slab of rock that leans up against the main cliff face. The route requires it all: lie-backing, finger jamming, hand jamming, stemming, slopey jug pulling, and a whole lot of pumping out. Since the angle of the route never lets up, trying to shake out the pump almost makes you more pumped. The coolest thing about this route is the pleasant top-out that requires you to climb through the “hole in the roof” to access the chain-anchors.
In this photo, you can see me dangling from the rope as I rappel the route from the anchors. Hopefully this helps put into perspective the steep and consistent angle of this 60-foot route.
I believe that this was the first time on a trad route where I really paid attention to what gear I racked, making sure it was racked in order of when I’d use it. Over a year a go, when I first hopped on this route, I just racked up with a double-set of cams and a single-set of stoppers because I had no idea what this route likes to eat. Just last week, I hopped back on this route for a third time, again racking up with a double set since I forgot what I used last time. My partner kindly cleaned the route, keeping all the pieces I used in order of when they were placed. This allowed me to take a photo of what I used and in what order.
As I racked up this morning for Little Creatures, I pulled up that photo on my phone and racked accordingly. I must say, I really enjoyed having exactly the right gear in the right order on my harness. It boosted my confidence and helped me struggle less each time I stopped and plugged in a piece. Even though I didn’t have the whole route dialed down and certainly didn’t memorized where I would place each piece of gear, I could easily look down at my harness, see what piece was to be used next, and then climb to a spot where I gauged that piece would fit the best. I think this experience has sold me on this sort of gear-racking-tactic.
The whole time I climbed, it was still dark and I was dependent on my headlamp. Trying to locate the footholds for my right foot proved to be tricky since the light had a hard time shining round the right side of the flake. However, I ended up enjoying the tunnel vision that the headlamp created as it allowed me to focus on the present and disregard the past and future.
My biggest struggle on this route, surprisingly, is not the crux. Every time I climb Little Creatures, I struggle climbing the easier upper section with pumped out hands and forearms. On today’s lap, I climbed past the crux, giving it a good clean fight. Once I reached the last real “resting” spot, I felt too pumped to continue on, knowing that I’d have to stop and futz around with gear. I climbed up, felt weak, climbed back down to the “rest”. I did that about two other times. Then I decided to use this horrible resting spot a little differently by snugging the right side of my body up against the wall and using my feet and back to hold most of my weight as I shook out one hand at a time. I sat there, all wedged up against the overhanging flake, focusing on my breathing…my last ditch effort to lower my heart rate and deliver more oxygen to my extremities before committing to the rest of the route. Still fighting the fatigue, I clambered my way up to the “hole in the roof.” I slotted my hand into the last real hand jam, then I replaced that hand jam with a #2 Camalot. With that in place, I knew I was golden. At the mouth of the hole, I stood there stemming across the opening while breathing heavily with a bad case of cottonmouth. The chains were in site and the final two moves awaited my efforts. I clipped into the chains, released a victory yelp, and then instantly slumped over to relax my body.
By redpointing Little Creatures, I gave myself a personal confirmation that I have the physical and mental stamina needed to struggle through something and eventually succeed. The daily grind of life is always chalk-full of problems and obstacles like the ones encountered on Little Creatures. In order to get through the tough moments in life, we need to be strategic in how we endure and always be ready to mix things up when the original plan doesn’t work.