Friday, June 12, 2015

The Emperor: The Emotional Roller Coaster - Pitch 9 Goes!

When I started up the first pitch of what later became The Emperor, I had no idea what I was signing up for. After multiple days of challenging climbing, countless miles hiked, many different partners and sleepless nights, the route topped out. With so much energy put into the ascent I felt like crying, but my original goal was to establish a ground up First Ascent that would hopefully go free. Ambitious goal knowing that the wall is approximately 2,000 feet tall with four established routes, two of which went free at 5.12. On the last day of the season I managed to free climb the first 8 pitches of the route in a day. These eight pitches contain two of the crux pitches and none of the eight were easier than 5.11-, in my opinion. The traverse on the 9th pitch seemed improbable. After trying it multiple times I could not figure out a way to link the moves. Knowing that my friend Luke followed it clean when we worked on the route together gave me hope, along with the hope I had increased motivation to train harder during the winter - a well deserved break from the wall.
The Emperor. 
Hello again!
Richard on pitch 2
The familiar sunset
Salamander up in Danland
The concept of working a sustained route eight miles deep in the High Sierra may seem a little nuts to some. However, to me the wall is one of the most striking in the range, the climbing is awesome and the basecamp setting so pristine that I feel like it is my second home. After about thirty days I spent there, I guess it is. One thing that drives me crazy is the passed up opportunities to explore other parts of our giant mountain range, but since so much work has been put into this project, I feel like giving it 100% is the only way I could be satisfied with the effort. If I can't physically do some of the moves because the wall is too blank, or I did not reach my full potential as a climber, that's ok, but I have to try. This is not the time to half ass. As far as my rock climbing goals go, not much would make me happier if the line went free and other climbers had a good time exploring the wall for themselves. The Sensei, Ronin and The Emperor, if goes, would make an epic road trip for anyone looking for long, hard and free.
Alaina on one of the variations to pitch 8
View from Charlotte Dome
Alaina about to start the 6th pitch
Bubbs Creek mermaid

After an eventful off season I was excited to go back and apply my hopefully improved technique and strength on the route. To my surprise, my first trip resulted in much frustration and decreased hope. After the sending the first eight pitches in the end of the 2014, I barely followed the first on top rope, fell in multiple spots on the third, fourth, fell on the 7th, and couldn't figure out a way to make progress on the 9th without pulling on the bolts. In addition I fell in the end of the 9th pitch, fell following the 10th and stepped on the bolt on the 11th - pitch I freed onsight on the first ascent. Serious doubts entered my mind. Not only was it a big step back, I saw no way in hell I could free the 9th pitch, even if I had a great day and got the other stuff to go. Since I would love to have other people enjoying the route ASAP I thought maybe one of my stronger face climbing partners could do it on some sort of a team FFA effort. The following weekend I hiked out to the wall with Alaina - crusher who has been pushing me to work harder in the gym as of late. A day prior to hiking in, we climbed at Danland and she sent an awesome 5.12a fingercrack in perfect style, no biggie.

Birthday treat day after climbing on the Emperor
Birthday girl!
Sending the crux :)
Cool clouds in the distance, viewed from the summit of Charlotte Dome. Time to get out!
I took some of the beta intensive pitches on which my height could mean an advantage, and unlike a week prior sent everything up to pitch 9. Alaina got an impressive onsight of the 5th pitch - awesome layback - one of my favorites. When we got up to the 9th I was excited to see if she can figure it out, but she told me to harden the f*** up and get on it. She was right, I was doing good on that particular day, aside from fear of failure there was no reason to stop. I tried again and again. I even tried to undercling below the roof to avoid the blank traverse. Nothing seemed to work. It was frustrating, but she encouraged me to continue flailing. At one point a few things worked out. A two finger knob with a 2mm edge seemed like my best hand hold. It was up to my core tension and footwork to do the trick. I noticed a smear that worked as an intermediate foot hold. It felt better than it looked. After working out the precise moves I lowered to the belay station and executed the moves on lead. As I got to the last bolt on the pitch, the climbing got hard again and I pulled as hard as possible on a credit card sized edge to allow a difficult traversing move to a pair of jugs. My nails and tips of my fingers were screaming in pain. As my body was about to lose balance I grabbed the better holds and gained the belay. Pitch nine went free!
Richard going over an overhang on pitch 10
Richard on pitch 11
Richard on the beginning of pitch 9
There were a few pitches that I was psyched to send in my life. Pitch four on Castle Rock Spire's Direct East Face, third pitch on Tokopah Reality and Red Zinger come to mind, none of those give me as much happiness as this 40 foot traverse on The Emperor. Not sure how to rate it as it is some balancy granite VOODOO! There are much better climbers who know more than me about ratings, so maybe there will be some consensus in the future, but 5.11-5.12- seems appropriate for an onsight attempt, me thinks. I do fall off on v4s in the gym so who knows. I care about the rating of the pitch as much as I care about last year's news, I would be ok with it being downgraded to 5.3! The important thing is that IT FUCKING GOES! On the first ascent my partner Brian, a much better face climber, said he does not think it will ever go free due to lack of holds. After multiple attempts over the last year, it was hard to argue. Nothing to pull on and maybe barely less than vertical. Thank god we were wrong! We lost much time on this pitch and since it was Alaina's birthday weekend we still had Charlotte Dome to climb on the following day. Instead of going to the top we top roped the amazing corner on pitch 8 and rappelled to the ground - another great day in the books. The roller coaster continues. Hopefully there is not much downfall for the future!

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