Ascent date: 10/22/2011
When you’re pulling the cruxes high on Cloud Tower in Red Rocks, your yells echo throughout the canyon, off of rose-colored walls and into the city of sin beyond. As a woman, sometimes, a good scream is what you need to let ‘em know you’re finishing. Our goal is that those screams motivate you to get out there and pull hard!
We awoke at 5am, and were at the gate a few minutes before 6. For some reason, it was already open and we drove in, the first car at the trailhead! The level of stoke was high. Leah didn’t need coffee because she was amped to get the hike out of the way. Angelina didn’t want coffee because it doesn’t take much for her to go to the bathroom, and … well, Cloud Tower is a big route… After taking care of some business, we threw on our packs and jaunted off, noticing a glow on the horizon. Was it sunrise already? No, just the shimmer of Vegas lights…
An hour fifteen later (a quick hike because Leah had done it a month before) we arrived at the base of the route, shocked to hear voices–how had someone beaten us here! Luckily, it was just two dudes getting on Crimson Crysalis next door. Cloud Tower? We had it all to ourselves. And that’s how we wanted it…2 ladies and 800 feet of classic, hard Red Rocks crack climbing.
Angelina led up the first two 5.8 pitches, which we linked with a little simul climbing on our 60m rope. Not bad, plenty of gear left! Angelina got the next lead as well, the gorgeous 5.10 hands pitch. Felt pretty easy for 5.10 and not too consistent with the 5.8 rating of the previous pitches. We were making good time and the temp was perfect. We were in the shade but it wasn’t cold, maybe occasionally felt a slight chill while belaying.
Leah switched from her crack shoes into her sport shoes for the next pitch, the crux, to adequately negotiate the small edges on the dihedral. The only drawback was the left toe was blown out, although not at a super critical location (bottom of sole). But Honey Badger doesn’t care, he doesn’t even wear shoes.
So we were at the money pitch, 11d/12a. This would be one of a handful of hardest gear routes Leah has led yet. She had attempted this pitch a month ago just passed the crux with one fall, when a storm was rolling in. Thus, she and her partner retreated leaving some gear. Now, she’s back to complete the route, with an unexpected second chance to get it clean from the start. The first few moves are tricky 5.10+, and then comes the crux. A high step, pulling hard on a nothing crimp and the tips crack. Leah cranked and yelled out loudly. It echoed across to Rainbow wall and toward Sin City beyond. The moves went.
Now, with a foot on a solid rest, Leah thought “you’ve just pulled the crux. Focus. Don’t mess this up now.” The pitch still had a lot more climbing to go. A few more moves to a stance, repeat. Finally, the crack was widening to accept fingers. But Leah was exhausted. One more long reach between locks with marginal feet before it eases out. Leah had trained years for this climb, no way a little fatigue was gonna stop her. She cranked through–and belted out an extended hollar and got through it! Now with the pump factor the only issue, she carefully worked up the rest of the pitch, chimney style.
Belaying below, Angelina heard a third shout. She hoped but also though it could be from any other party—it wasn’t until Leah called herself off belay that she knew the celebration cry was Leah’s. Angelina followed with slight variations. She tried stemming on the featureless left wall and was surprised to find that it takes less energy. She took twice; one before figuring out the crux move which she did slightly differently than Leah due to reach. And the second time due to the pump factor. Plus, a third moment to wiggle out a piece. Having decided to stay in crack shoes the whole way, Angelina agrees with Leah that sport shoes are helpful to milk the small edges.
Now it was Angelina’s lead again: 5.10 wide pitch. But as a crack master, this was cake for Angelina. Having only one no. 4 and a couple 3s, she walked most of the gear. We have decided to go through the tunnel instead of finishing the pitch through the 10+ wide section. She almost forgot to stop before the tunnel and down climbed a few feet to set a belay. After bringing Leah to the belay, Angelina set off for a short 40’ through the tunnel. The choice is to stay high or low and she opted for staying high. There’s no gear but it’s not difficult.
Emerging from the Tunnel, views of the valley below were overwhelmingly beautiful. She spotted a ledge 15’ below with a visible anchor and thought that was the start of the next pitch. She was wondering how to get down there. Down climb or rappel? How about the rope drag? Then Angelina looked back and noticed a gorgeous Indian Creek style splitter going straight up behind her head. THAT was the route! Off belay, she shouted!
Now, we both wanted to lead this pitch. Leah wanted to get everything on the route clean so she doesn’t have to go back. Angelina was psyched about the pitch because it’s her style of climbing, all crack. Leah went first, 5.11c on tired arms. This pitch is a perfect splitter going through 3 bulges, but varies in size, so you have to manage gear properly. And save a no. 1 for the crux move right before the chains. It was going well, she had the red Camalot and placed it well until the crux roof. Then, she pulled up and into the crux.
Then, Leah wanted to bump her red Camalot higher at the crux but missed the good placement. Fiddling with the piece she even dropped it once (though it was still on the rope) before she finally got it in well. Relax, she told herself. A fall here would have her hitting a ledge below, 800′ up on the wall. Not good. Breath, calm, relax. She still had to clip the piece. Pumping out quickly, she pulled up the rope to clip, but her thumb had no strength to clip. She dropped the rope. Still totally unprotected from the ledge below.
Focus. Keep calm. Leah recentered and pulled the rope up again to clip. Again, her fingers were too weak from this burly route. She dropped the rope again. Curses! But Leah knew this was going to have to be all right. You are stronger than you think you are. Muscles are nothing, mind is everything. Hand shaking, she recentered mentally again as she continued to pump out, hanging by one hand at the crux. Leah was exhausted but channeled her energy as she pulled the rope up the third time. This time, she got the clip. Relief–but she still needed to pull the last 11c crux, and was pumping out by the second!
Leah regrouped and reached up–but it was hard. And far! She retreated back to the stance, disheartened and exhausted. But there was only one move left. She had worked so hard to this point, and being weak now would mean doing everything over again for the clean ascent next time. The mental and physical exhaustion were not stronger than her desire to get the move clean. She went for it, letting out an animalistic yell greater than any of the yells so far–and because we were so high up on the wall, it echoed farther than any of the previous ones. And it worked– she stuck it! One more move to the chains, and it was complete–Cloud Tower sent!.
And because of the chains, it meant Leah could clean the route while being lowered and have Angelina also give it a go on lead. And being the crackmaster, Angelina also got the pitch clean, without even needing to summon the guteral power of the scream!
Angelina lowered from the chains at 3:30, right on schedule to be back before the gate closes at 7pm. The first two raps went great, Hallelujah, but on the third, not so lucky—a stuck rope! We even stupidly re-set the rope even worse by pulling it harder without assessing the jam first. Leah had to climb up and free the rope, up a lichen-filled and unclimbed no. 0.5-0.75 crack with occassional feet. The rope was jammed good. Even if we had to cut the rope, we couldn’t because we didn’t bring a knife (lesson learned). Fortunately after a few thugs, Leah jiggled it free. Lowering back to the ledge while cleaning the gear was a bit complicated. At some point, she had to be lowered and re-climbed and down led part of the bottom. An solid hour wasted, now behind schedule…
The final rappel also got stuck, but we shook it free. Now back to the packs at 6:30, we had to hustle or risk getting a ticket. A $200 ticket would put a damper on a perfect day …but zooming back to the car, even though we arrived an hour late, no ticket was in place! A brief celebration whoop, and one last goal, to get out of the preserve while the gate was open.
Then, as we motored out of the preserve, and were sure there was no gate to lock us inside, it was indeed complete—Leah let out the loudest shout yet—victory over The Man’s regulations, and a victory of will over the feeble mind and even feebler body! Her shout was from inside the car, but it echoed even louder throughout the canyon that all of the other shouts combined… A friend had jokingly named us the Viking girls for reasons you can guess…
Editors Note: This post was written by Ben H. and then edited and posted by Leah and Angelina.