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[TR] X38 Far Side - Trad headpoint - Metaphysics (FA) 11/1/2011


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Trip: X38 Far Side - Trad headpoint: Metaphysics (FA)


Date: 11/1/2011


Trip Report:

People usually think of X38 as the land of short, bolted routes under 5.11, and for the most part it is. But there is a growing set outside those boundaries. This is a tale of two new routes that hold both mental and physical challenges for trad leaders.


At the Eastern edge of the Far Side of X38 lies a 300 foot, East-facing, diamond-shaped cliff that can be seen as you drive West on I-90. When we first walked under it, I was captivated by a striking crack/flake that leads to a roof half way up the wall.


Upon closer inspection, it became clear that a stellar two-pitch route, protected by a mix of bolts and gear, could go straight up the middle of this face. In the photo below, the second pitch starts on a ledge up and left from where I am, goes up and over the obvious flake/roof just left of center, and ends out of sight just above the highest point of rock visible in the photo.




I knew that in order to climb the route I'd have to bump up my meager abilities and become a different climber. This concept gave rise to the route's name: Metamorphosis.


In May of 2008, Michael and I did the first ascent of this adventurous two-pitch line. A number of people have repeated Metamorphosis, but it deserves more traffic than it gets. Here's an old topo that lists the gear and sections (cam = camalot).




Ever since those early days, I've been admiring a line right of Metamorphosis that follows cracks in a slanting roof feature below a blank-looking face.


We continued the "meta" theme with Metaphysics: a branch of philosophy that explores the intersections between reality and fiction, determinism and free will, and poetry and quantum mechanics. This line was obviously well-beyond my abilities in 2008, so I filed it away for "someday".


A few years passed, more FAs followed, and I gradually got a little stronger. I went up this fall to take a closer look at the line and scrub the lichen off the upper face.


Two things became clear:


1 - The line would involve excellent movement on impeccable stone (there was no loose rock to remove), and


2 - The route could be adequately protected without any bolts, although it would have a couple of spicy runouts.


I worked out the moves and gear placements, scrubbed off the lichen, and prepared to headpoint Metaphysics.


For routes at or just beyond my limits, I draw detailed maps marking every feature, foothold, and handhold. These help me memorize and visualize every detail of the sequence, like a choreographer's map of a dance routine.


I expected the weather would shut down and Metaphysics would have to wait until next year, but there was a convergence of weather, fitness, and partners on November 1st. So we went for it on a gorgeous, sunny afternoon.


It was great to share the experience with two climbers who are avid explorers and route developers. Unlike most of my first ascents, this one was captured on film.


Side note: don't be deterred by some moss you'll see in photos of the bottom of the line. You don't have to climb on or through it. The hand and foot holds are all clean. I'll do more cleaning when I can...




Preparing to commit.






Shaking out before making one last move to a protectable crack in the slanting roof.




Five feet higher, I started doing the sewing machine while holding a gaston and trying to place the protection.


A fall there would not be good.


I forced myself to relax, stay in control, place the critical protection, and make the moves to a good hold below the crux roof.




The crux requires a leap of faith. You're getting pumped and you think, "there's no way I'll be able to hold onto that", but then you do.


Fortunately, you're protected by multiple pieces of bomber gear at this point.




Thin face moves above the roof get your attention.


The foot holds I'd planned to use worked fine on TR but felt too small on lead, so I improvised a new sequence through this thin and balancy section.


At this point you're committed because the gear is below the lip of the roof.





It was only after I saw the photos that I noticed the rope was running over a protruding foothold. I don't think it's sharp enough to cut the rope, but I'm glad I didn't have to find out!


Gear under the upper roof is not obvious and must placed carefully so it won't rip out in the event of a fall. See topo.




At this point there are a few more tenuous moves left. They shouldn't be too hard, but I was mentally and physically fried from the lower parts of the route.




I set a solid heel hook and prepared for the final moves to the anchor, which is shared with Metamorphosis.


And for a few seconds I got sketched out. If the upper gear holds, a fall here would be safe. If it rips out you'd be in trouble.




Sometimes we have to rely on the force of will to carry us through when our minds and bodies are convinced we're going to fail.


Mind over matter. Metaphysics.


I think of a scene late in Finding Nemo, where Nemo's dad Marlin is scooped up and swallowed by a pelican. His amazing and improbable adventure is about to end in the belly of a lazy seabird. But something snaps in Marlin, who has been grumpy, skeptical, and negative up to this point. He stops himself in the middle of the pelican's throat and screams, "NO!!! I DID NOT COME THIS FAR TO END IT ALL HERE". Through force of will, he stops himself mid-esophagus, reverses, and escapes from the gull's gullet with Dory in tow. And that's what I had to do....without the aid of Pixar's brilliant graphics team.


I willed myself through the key heel hook/mantle and stayed focused to the end, clipping the chains with a whoop of delight that was probably heard back in Bellevue.


The most satisfying and memorable climbs for me are the ones where the outcome is in doubt. They require hard work and test the limits of both mind and body. The FA of Metaphysics is right up there for me, and that's part of why I'm telling the story here. The other reason is that I want other people to go out and experience their own adventures on it.




I'm not a purist. I've placed my share of bolts, generally believing that the quality of a route should drive decisions about how it is developed more than the ego of the first ascentionist. Another rationalization is that I don't want to create a route that kills or seriously injures someone.


I'd expected to have to bolt Metaphysics to climb it, and even when I found some gear placements I thought that I might still bolt it, otherwise no one would ever climb it.


But it felt right to leave the line in its natural state, to preserve the raw challenge presented by nature, even if it meant there is the potential for serious consequences if you make a mistake.


That's ok. Part of climbing is overcoming fear, controlling your mind, and using every skill you have to safely ascend a line without falling or hanging.


Life has consequences. Why should climbing be different?




It's hard to be objective about a route's grade when you have it wired.


Perhaps 5.10R to V2/V3 to 5.10R. So maybe 5.11R? I don't know. It is what it is.


Climb it and let us know what you think.





























you can decipher my solution from the cryptic hieroglyphics below.






Gear Notes:

Trad gear as noted in the topos


Approach Notes:

Orientation: The Far Side area of X38 has several East-facing crags in a line: Interstate Park, Eastern Block, Squishy Bell, and Headlight Point crags. There is a giant talus field East of this line of cliffs. Drop down to the talus and cross it to pass under the bottom of the large, scraggly buttress. Follow an indistinct path, pass a giant tree, and pop out onto a second, smaller talus field. Go straight up. Where the talus ends at the forest go right to the Meta amphitheater. Shangri-La is to the left. The Meta cliff pictured above is on your left as you enter the Meta amphitheater.


It's best to belay very low at a divot in the vegetation. Start climbing in tennis shoes and change to rock shoes at the bottom of the two obvious cracks where the climbing starts. I'll try to develop a less dirty, less erosion-prone approach by springtime.

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Thanks for the kind words, but let's not get carried away. There are lots of more dedicated, more driven, more talented, and more prolific route developers, including many on this board.


Thank YOU for starting up cc.com and giving us all the opportunity to share the stoke!

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