Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Sunday - Monday, July 2-3

Seneca Rocks and Smoke Hole Canyon

We arrived at Seneca about 1:30pm.  No need to set-up camp and climbing packs were sorted before we left so we topped off water and started the walk toward the trail.  At the trailhead were two guys, one clearly in issued forest fire gear.  We said hello and asked what was happening.  A forest fire had been start the evening prior somewhere beneath the observation deck and that this trail was closed but we would be able to enter via Roy Gap Rd. and as long as we stayed on the south peak we should be fine.  Easy enough for us.  My plan for our first afternoon was to do some easy warm-up pitches of Totem (1st pitch) and Skyline Traverse (1st) before heading back to set camp and settle in.

Totem had a guide group on it, which wasn't much of a surprise and 2-3 groups were lined up under and for Candy Corner.  We made our way around to Skyline which I was then surprised to see nobody on and one couple just rapping off.  Short belay up the initial ledge and then set up our main belay.  I climbed confidently and misjudged a couple of cam choices but to be expected for the first climb of the year.  Another couple rappelled past me on the way up and I reached the bolts about 60seconds before another group appeared from Candy Corner looking to rap down themselves.

We climbed on doubles only to familiarize ourselves with the extra rope for the next days trip to the summit.  It took me more time than I'd like to set the bolt belay (ATC in guide mode) with me hanging to keep room on the ledges for the emerging groups, another camp up another route between Candy Corner and Skyline, all were looking to use the rap anchors.  Everything double checked and up Josie came, cleaning on her way.  It seemed like a speed pull on the rope for me to keep up with her, she climbs well for apparently taking 10 years off, her best then was 5.10c on top-rope.

Sorting doubles to rappel on a single again took longer than I wished, but all was safe and smooth eventually.  On the start ledge we belayed up another couple before the short 15' rappel down to the ground.  We then walked back around to the start of Totem which had now cleared and we went up the first pitch here as well.  Climbing was smooth again, this was me first time leading this pitch and I did not extend my first piece enough and dealt with some rope drag.  I also managed to permanently stick a blue 0.3 X4 cam 2/3 of the way up, a donation to the route.  My rope drag apparently caused it to rotate upwards and walked deeper in.  I attempted for 15 minutes on the rappel to dislodge it with zero success.  Back to setup camp, cook burgers and watch the north peak fires glow in the night.

Monday morning we were up and headed toward the trailhead by 8:30am.  This time a mass of 25-30 forest firefighters greeted us.  They were optimistic but had the whole mountain closed down until further review and said to check back about noon.  We went to explore around the swimming hole and the visitors center before heading back for a short nap.  Back to the rangers stationed at the Roy Gap entrance but it wasn't good, the fire had shifted towards the south peak and everything remained closed for the foreseeable future but he gave us some info about Smoke Hole Canyon, a new place a short drive away he'd heard of.  We went to the Gendarme for more info, where other climbers had gathered to utilize the wi-fi and plan.  Some went to Franklin, we opted to try Smoke Hole Canyon.

The drive was closer to 45minutes and we backtracked a couple of times to find the parking spaces (just big enough for 4 maybe 5 cars).  The rakkup app and directions were great and much better than mountainproject.  The guide for the area costs $3.99 on rakkup.  We found the 5.8 routes easily from the pictures and descriptions.  We chose/found 'Synergy' first.  I took my time but climbed it with needing to hangdog any bolts.  Definitely a new area with most holds still dirty with lots of loose dust, pebbles and some vegetation/spiderwebs.  Otherwise, the rock was solid limestone.  I set a top-rope on my draws and was lowered down.  The 5.8 slowed Josie down a slight bit but she still climbed it well and without a problem.  I then went back up on top-rope to clean and rappel.

We went back to the app and found our way to 'Pray the Gray Away' 40yds away, another 5.8 but 55' tall instead of 40'.  Much of the same but more technical with balance and body position very much needed.  I hung on a few bolts after clipping, with the move around the bulge taking 4-5 attempts, one way had hands but no feet, the other feet but no hands.  Feet but no hands was victorious.  Thankfully the top had perma-draws and I just clipped and lowered.  Josie went next and struggled at similar points but still found her way to the top.  Safely lowered to the ground we packed up for the drive back.  Swimming hole to clean up and then pizza dinner on the Front Porch with a beer.

By the time we left Tuesday morning the burned area was everything 200 yards beneath the observation deck south to the gunsight and possibly the start of Old Man's route.  Most of the ledge above the Lower Slabs was also affected from what we could tell.

The mountain isn't going anywhere anytime soon.  We'll both be back again soon.


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