Thursday, December 15, 2011

Montezuma's Tower

Montezuma's Tower:
Garden of the Gods
Colorado Springs, Colorado

Throughout the summer I'd wanted to do a multipitch rock climb. But most multipitch climbs require trad gear and trad experience, neither of which I had. Brendan and I had been climbing together since late June and we'd become pretty darn good climbing partners. Brendan flipped through the Colorado guidebook I'd bought and came across a climb called Montezuma's Tower. It was a two pitch sport route in Garden of the Gods. Rated at only 5.7, the entire climb was only two pitches, but I'd never climbed higher than about 100 ft. I'd done a 150 foot rappel when I was 11 years old, but I'd never climbed an actual tower of rock. So Brendan and I decided that it would be a great first multipitch lead for the both of us. Something well within our climbing ability although a little more exposed and run out than what we were used to.

So one Friday night in early August, we drove to Colorado Springs and sat out a storm. It looked as if we weren't going to get to take a crack at Montezuma's Tower, but finally the weather cleared. It was going on 8:00, but we felt we could climb the route fast enough that we wouldn't be caught in the pitch black of night.

We found the tower which according to our guidebook rarely saw a day without an ascent. We quickly prepared and Brendan took the first lead. Even though the climbing was relatively easy, the first bolt was still a nerve racking 25 ft up. It also didn't help that one of Brendan's shoes had a hole right at the big toe, and our shoes were covered in sand and didn't find a whole lot of purchase on the gritty red sandstone.

Brendan made the first clip and continued his way up to a pocket that he threaded with a length of webbing and then used a locking carabiner to clip the rope. This served as an extra point of potection...j in case. The bolts weren't top notch quality and neither of us really trusted taking a fall on them.

Brendan made it to the belay ledge and set up the master point and belayed me up. Brendan had clipped the first four bolts, which left me the final pitch to the top. Although this second pitch was not very technically demanding rated at only 5.5, the feeling of exposure really threw me for a loop.

I ran the rope through the master point that Brendan had set up and then began to climb. It was a long run out, probably in the 20-25 foot range. Fortunately there was little danger of me falling because the rock was covered in enormous pockets and ledges. I eventually clipped a quickdraw through the eye of the bolt and clipped my rope to it as well. In my head I was thinking, "holy shit, I'd hate to take a fall on this". I continued up the spine of the tower. Pretty soon I was practically straddling the spine as if I were climbing the crest of some giant prehistoric sea creature. Suddenly I was at the top. I had one foot on either side and the feeling of openness blew me away. It was nerve racking and exciting all at the same time. Now the only issue was finding the anchors. Unfortunately it was now too dark for Brendan to be much help about 50 or so feet below me.

I ran my hands all over the rock desperately wanting to find the bolts. Where were they? I had no idea and neither did Brendan. The top of Montezuma's Tower is a thin knife edge so I figured that the bolts must be further along the knife edge. So with one foot on either side of the knife blade I inched my way forward feeling my way until finally my hands came in contact with the chains. I breathed a sigh of relief. I anchored in and reached for my ATC to belay Brendan up, but came up empty. Quietly cursing to myself I realized that I must have left the ATC at the base when Brendan belayed me up, even though I could have sworn I'd clipped it back to its locker. Fortunately though, Brendan was wearing my crag bag in which I had an extra ATCDDS I wrigged up a body belay which I'd learned to do on Mt Hood for just such an occasion. I would have rather done a munter belay but I didn't want to accidently mess up the knot.

I safely belayed Brendan up and he clipped into the anchor. I fished out my extra ATC and we flaked out the second rope we'd brought up for the rappel. Brendan tied the ropes together and fed one through the bolts of the anchor. We set up the rappel and made it down safely. It was awesome getting to rappell 145-150 feet. Unfortunately, it was too dark to get much video or pictorial footage, but we had an awesome time.

It took us a while to pull the ropes, untangle and unknot and then finally coil them. Then we had to find our way out and back to the road and finally to Brendan's car. We drove back to Woodland Park and celebrated with a meal of double bacon cheese burgers and chocolate milk shakes from Sonic. We knew that we'd taken way longer on an easy multipitch climb than was necessary, but it being our first one we realized that speed would come with practice and time and we couldn't wait for the next one.

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