Tieton May 16-17 2009
We started out the day at Royal Columns, on some relatively easy trad routes. The first few we did were pretty uneventful, but the last climb ruined my day. The climb itself was sort of challenging for me, but that wasn’t the problem. Several of the routes at Royal Columns, including this one, don’t have bolted anchors at the top (incidentally, these are very easy to identify because the guidebook marks anchor bolts when they are there). I only had one cam left, which was not ideal, but I had only placed one hex on the route so I had plenty of options for a gear anchor, and the belay stance was mellow enough that I could sit there as long as I needed to fuss with them. I topped out on one of the pillars and started looking around.
Unfortunately, my belayer didn’t trust me to build an anchor to bring him up. He yelled up to find the chains and belay from there.
Belaying from the chains would have been a terrible idea (which my partner reluctantly admitted to me later). The closest bolted anchor was on a 5.11 face climb to the right and below where I topped out. The intended rap anchor was a few columns over, maybe 30 feet in a straight line, but the easiest obvious way there involved climbing up to the top, wandering around some possibly loose blocks, gravel, and trees, then climbing down. And then once I got there, the rope would be running over the column tops and between cracks. Even if it didn’t get stuck or wrapped around anything, it wouldn’t be easy to pull. So obviously the normal way of getting off this thing was to belay the second up and then scramble over to the rap anchor. I tried to tell my belayer what I was doing, but every time I told him something he just repeated his commands to belay from the chains. After all that yelling, I was certainly doubting and second guessing myself. I looked at the 5.11 downclimb/traverse. I considered pulling the rope up and rappelling from the anchor (leaving all the gear on the route, which would mean that someone would have to lead it again to retrieve it and then do exactly what I was being told not to do). I even thought of letting the rope back down so he would have to lead up to where I was. Fortunately another climber was on the pillar top, noticed that there was an epic going on, and helped me set up a belay anchor with two solid big hexes and the remaining cam.
Now, I could understand why someone would not trust me to build an anchor. I’ve only been leading trad for about a year, and I took several months off climbing completely when I broke my ankle, (which was climbing related, but it was indoor bouldering, so not at all related to rock, or ropes, or gear or anything like that). But you’d think that the time to tell me this would be before we tied in, not when I’m at the top of a pitch and needing to get down.
Needless to say my partner was quite pissed when he got up there, and that was definitely my last climb of the day.