Friday, August 24, 2012

Finger Rock, Part Deux: Overnight SEND!

I had long thought about the best way to return to Finger Rock after our off-route debacle in February.  During the school year, everything seemed too busy; what with prom, AP tests, finals and graduation.  Summer break had arrived, but the Tucson summer heat was a serious force to be reckoned with.  It had occurred to me that the temperatures took a substantial dive after sundown, and with that an audacious plan became obvious- do it overnight!  It fit right in with my preparation for the Yosemite trip yet to come in the summer.  I reached out to friends and began probing interest.

Finger Rock, end of February (post-fiasco).

Sammi, a close friend and former teammate, was very interested, as was Sean Campbell (former teammate, close friend and Yosemite partner-to-be).  Soren’s mom was initially against the idea, but later would come around.  The date was still an unknown and plans were still liable to shift, but at least I had a willing and able (and awesome) crew to do it with.

As the beginning of June arrived, my sister decided to have a rather large sleepover for her birthday (on June 2nd).  It quickly became apparent that I would not be welcome at my house other than sitting in my room.  I checked the weather report and with it came major excitement- no risk of precipitation, relatively cool temperatures and low humidity.  It was perfect.  I quickly contacted everyone, and plans were set.  Unfortunately, being the only one with an overnight parking permit, it involved me driving all over Tucson to pick everyone up!  Post-drive, we stood in the trailhead parking lot, able to see our objective clearly in the slowly fading light of late evening.

Sammi said goodbye to her mother who had dropped her off at the trailhead (she wasn’t finished getting ready when I had shown up at her house) while everyone else readied their packs.  I laced up the brand new FiveTen Guide Tennies I had purchased the day prior; not the ideal setup, but they would certainly be broken in by the time I was finished with them.  The plan entailed bivying for a few hours after descending the Finger, and as such we were all carrying overnight gear.  The 45-50 pound packs we each carried weighed heavily on us as we left the cars and started toward Finger Rock, silhouetted on the skyline.

Team photo! (minus Sean, who volunteered to take the photo after a couple failed self-shots).

Yeah, we weren't really on our photo taking game.

Sammi had voiced concerns about rattlesnakes both on the phone and in the parking lot.  Less than 10 minutes in to the hike, we had our first encounter with a rattler- poised a safe distance off of the trail, yet still announcing its deadly presence, we continued quickly past it.  Fortunately, this was to be our only snake encounter.  A few day-trippers were returning to their vehicles, and we warned them of the snake as we met them on the trail.  The light quickly fading, we reached the large boulder roughly a mile in and used it as an obvious stopping point before the trail turns steeply up the wall of the canyon.  As the last of the sun’s rays disappeared, we switched on headlamps, sipped water, and I swallowed a Clif Shot Turbo gel packet- I knew I was going to need the energy.  We decided that Sean (the de facto line leader due to his hiking stamina) should take my phone and play music to help prevent any future snake encounters.

With A Day To Remember playing from within Sean’s pocket, we started moving.  When we reached the relentless steepness that the Finger Rock trail earns its notorious reputation from, our goal was at least 8 minutes of hiking before resting.  We did this, rested a minute or two, and then started again.  Chugging along, we unknowingly walked straight past the next landmark we had chosen for a rest, the cutoff to a small lookout over the canyon.  Realizing we were making good time, we stopped to rest at a formation we dubbed the Cougar Cave, due to its likely role as a mountain lion’s shelter.  After a decent rest, we continued, achieving the promontory marking the end of this segment of the hike in far less time than anticipated.

The lights of a city sound asleep from the promontory.

Lounging after the infamous leg burner portion of the hike, we faced a choice- do we continue on toward the upper campsite and the Finger, or do we stop here and bivy?  I wanted to climb Finger Rock at night, and with the deadline Sammi’s mom had given us before she would call search and rescue (noon the next day), we decided to push on.  If we were too tired, we would stop at the campsite on the saddle behind Finger Rock and the Guard.

Sammi provides her best stereotypical asian-face while recharging with a Clif Bar.

Sean taking a well-deserved rest after leading the way up the rugged section of the trail we dubbed the Calf Burner 3000.

We picked up and started to move again, beginning with the quick descent into the canyon we had just fought our way up the side of.  Soon at the bottom, we crossed, found the trail and started up the seemingly gentler opposite side.  The going was steady, and our only rest came when we reached the upper campsite.  We resolved not to make the same trail-finding errors that had plagued my February attempt with Soren, and with this in mind, we chose the correct trail leading out of the saddle around 11PM.  As remembered, this trail involved a little 3rd class (not so easy with large packs) that became a little trickier by headlamp.  Luckily, we stayed on target and finished the final brushy, uphill bushwack to the base of the technical route up the Finger.  We ascertained that this was, in fact, the actual route (and not another loose horrorshow as per February’s), threw down our packs and racked up.

As before, the lead fell to me.  I grabbed a couple cams and slings and started up the 4th class V-slot that attains the first ledge.  I opted to forgo protection to allow Sean, Soren and Sammi to follow the clean face directly below the belay-tree.  When I arrived, I was a little uncomfortable with the size of the tree I was to belay from (and dismayed when I realized how loose the lip was).  I tried to back it up with a tight #4 Camalot, but it was useless as it would have just launched a rock down toward the base.  I pulled up and then tossed the rope down to get it out of the brush-filled gully.  Soren quickly climbed, thankfully following my instructions to avoid pulling on the death blocks poised on the edge of the belay ledge.  Sean did the same, while Sammi (climbing last) opted to climb the V-slot gully I had initially led. 

Sean can be seen scrambling around atop the main belay ledge.  I joined him and eventually we found what would have been the top out of my off-route adventure in February.

With all of us present on the belay ledge (forming the fist of the Finger as viewed from the city), we were ready to climb the final pitch and stand atop the wildy exposed spire in the darkness of night.  I tied back in, Soren put me on belay, and I started up, placing a #2 Camalot soon after leaving the ledge to prevent us both from falling off should I slip.  The bolt-protected “5.8 crux” came soon after.  This was an utter joke- the only change was that I had to stand on actual edges as opposed to large ledge features, with juggy quartz hands to boot.  Gripped with excitement, I clipped the chains and pulled onto the summit at 1:15AM.  In an instant, the beautiful lights of a sleeping Tucson came into view, along with a astonishingly bright moon illuminating the contours of the rugged Finger Rock Canyon.  After taking in the view (and a couple of self-shots), I downclimbed to the anchors and lowered back to the belay ledge so the others could experience the beauty I had just beheld.  Soren was next, then Sean, then Sammi.  Soren tried to “do the FA of the 5.11 sit start” and utterly failed in this endeavor, though providing much laughter in the process.  After Sean climbed and lowered back to the ledge, he announced that he had urinated from the top and Soren and I re-climbed after Sammi had visited the top to repeat this feat.  As Soren put it, it was the "best urination of my young life!"

Horrendous summit self-shot #1

Horrendous summit self-shot #2

Unfortunately, as with all great things, this had to come to an end.  We rappelled off, ate some food and packed up our bags with a new realization- we didn’t have time to sleep if we wanted to make it down before the sun commenced its brutal thermal assault on the canyon.  Around 3:30AM we started the hike down, reversing the still-tricky 3rd class and eventually returning to the saddle.  We didn’t stop for long there; indeed, there would be no rest until returning to the canyon bottom, miles ahead.  Still charging along much faster than anticipated, we hiked the final uphill section to the promontory on the other side of the canyon and took a brief rest.  Here, the sky was beginning to turn from black to the deep blue of early morning, signaling the inevitable sunrise.  Still protected by the canyon, we continued on, able to turn off our headlamps just a short time later.  Along with Sean, I decided to run a portion of the trail, which was fun despite the likely destruction of the soft tissue in our knees.  We waited a short while later for the others to catch up, and we continued the long hike out.

Sean taking a rest just prior to our knee-destroying trail run.

Soren and Sammi, just behind Sean and I

Myself and Soren, circa 5:00AM on June 3rd.

Arriving at the conclusion of the miles of downhill hiking, we started the slow, mostly flat hike back to the car.  This section of the trail always seems far longer on the way out than at the start of the hike, seeming to go on forever.  It might as well, as I wished to cherish every second of the amazing night.  We reached the car at 6:08AM, marking the end of a stellar adventure.  We all piled in, exhausted.  I drove Sean and Sammi home, but while dropping Soren off his mother offered to buy us breakfast!  I gratefully accepted, and soon after we proceeded to eat delicious breakfast bagels prepared by the pros at Brueger’s Bagels.  We finished our meals and went our separate ways.  I returned to my home, recounted some stories to my eager parents, and very quickly passed out on the couch.  In the seconds before I drifted off to sleep, I couldn’t help but think one thing- that this summer was going to be the greatest ever.

We were pretty wiped at the end, despite the numerous energy products consumed throughout the night.  This is demonstrated here by this glorious photo I took of myself near the end of the hike.
More (bad) photos:

Soren chilling during our break at the promontory.

Myself enjoying the view of the city lights while recovering.
Soren taking a quick break at the campsite on the saddle behind Finger Rock and the Finger Rock Guard.
Sean and Soren at the saddle campsite.
Sammi - guess where - at the saddle campsite!

How do I self shot in poor lighting?  Clearly, paint with headlamp held overhead!  Also, we were sweaty.  Very sweaty.

Really cool window feature on the main belay ledge.
The lights of Tucson around 4:00AM on the descent.

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