Becoming Enchanted?

At the end of August I headed back to the Enchantments with friends Sol, Jens, Max Hasson, and Ben Gilkison. Ben climbs ridiculously well, and was a strong contender to do the First Free Ascent of The Tempest, a IV 5.10 C2 route established the prior summer by Sol Wertkin and I on the peak Colchuck Balanced Rock.

This route has a 25' roof crack which had thus far thwarted efforts to be freed. Upon arriving at the cirque, we were surprised to see a pair of climbers on the route, working the roof with pre-placed gear and using a couple of strange belay spots, featuring newly retro-bolted cracks to facilitate working this pitch.

Ben and I headed up to the start of the route that afternoon, and hollered up to the climbers at the 1st belay to ask if we could climb the route. Evidentally they'd been working this pitch all day. Max and Jens had just done the second ascent of a nearby route called The Scoop (III+ 5.11c) and they were planning to rappel down and shoot some photos.

The projecting climbers insisted we could pass them and climb on, but when we arrived atop the first pitch, we were met with a surprise. Rather than wishing us well or just keeping to themselves, they implored Ben to fall or hang intentionally on the route, such that he would not freely climb the pitch. I couldn't believe that they wouldn't want someone to give any less than their best effort. We weren't stealing their sport project at the crag, we were on a mountain climb (of which I'd been 1/2 the FA team) and they'd already made numerous trips to the route, adding 4 bolts next to cracks on a climb established ground-up without any bolting.

One of the two climbers wanted to keep trying it and be first to cleanly climb the pitch, as he had put so many hours into practicing thsi section. Ben eventually relented to their wishes, and hung on purpose early on the pitch.

We were still able to meet Jens and Max above this point on the route, and Jens lead part of the headwall in the evening light, but our goal of the First Free Ascent was not to be, and Ben headed down to the car and back across the mountains the next morning. In subsequent days the climber was able to pinkpoint this pitch, climbing the section of rock cleanly by using pre-placed gear in the crack for protection. I hope he'll be satisfied with his prodigious efforts.

Ben enjoys the long 5.9 corner.

Jens and Max, relaxing in the glow.

The headwall!

That night Sol arrived at Colchuck Balanced Rock, and we got up early to try and and link-up all three existing climbs on this peak. It would have been 3 different grade III+/IV routes, featuring one pitch of aid, and almost 20 pitches of 5.10 and 5.11 climbing, plus a some easier scrambling and 3 laps up the V1 boulder problem on the summit.
The day began with The Tempest, and I lead the whole route (III+ 5.11- C1 for us) and back to the base in 5.5 hours.

From there, Sol took point for "The Scoop". The first two pitches went quickly, with cruiser climbing separated by short 5.10 section. Soon we were on to the route's namesake pitch. Sol hung a few times on his onsight-attempt at the enduro-overhung layback corner, and I was barely able to follow cleanly, an amazing pitch! The final two pitches mixed strenuous laybacking and very delicate, thought-provoking movement on knobs and smearing corners. These pitches are classic and require a cool head on lead. From there it was back up several hundred feet of 5.6 climbing, where I led the V1 boulder problem to the peak's summit once more.

After another descent, neither one of us could rally the excitement to climb the peak's West Face again, so the trifecta ended at two routes. We joined friends for the alpine potluck in progress at the peak's base.

Amazing and delicate stemming on pith 4, and where the crack becomes a seam, there are just enough knobs.


The next morning Sol and I headed down to Colchuck Lake, where I met Jeff Haley, from my old job, and Sol met his wife and some high-schoolers whom she had taken for a hike. After some swimming, Jeff and I trudged the 2000' up to Asgard Pass and across the beautiful Enchantments Plateau. The first night we climbed a couple pitches on a granite wall and I taught Jeff about placing gear and building anchors.

The following morning we headed up the West Ridge of Prusik Peak, which is a classic 5.7 on perfect granite, following the left skyline.

I got us lost to start off the day, which sets the tone pretty well for any time someone climbs with me. Jeff was a good sport about my "approach pitch" and was having so much fun, he volunteered to take his first lead!

Here are the overhanging finger cracks atop the route "Prayer for a Friend".

I finished up the climb in classic Blake style as well, getting lost and following a wonderful 5.9 corner to a shiny new mystery bolt and squeeze-chimney topout.

Jeff and I had a blast, and I think Jeff is hooked.

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