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LB-Blanca Traverse Questions

Colorado 14er peak questions and conditions should be posted here. 14er Trip Reports
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LB-Blanca Traverse Questions

Postby usfgal » Wed Sep 12, 2012 12:29 pm

My husband and I are planning to climb LB, Blanca, and Ellingwood this weekend, and I really want to do the LB-Blanca traverse. As far as the skill and fitness to complete it, I'm confident. I am concerned about the exposure (for myself). I am not inherently afraid of heights or exposure. My weakness is that when I am in a situation where I think, 'once I commit to this move, I might die if I miss, something goes wrong, etc,' I don't manage the fear (which quickly becomes terror) very well. I tend to freeze and my legs turn to jelly, which freaks me out even more. Usually, those things have only happened to me when we were off-route, and I was on some horribly loose scree slope. We climbed Longs when it was buried under snow, and I was terrified as we made our way across the narrows and ledges (and back). The snow wasn't that great, and it was not difficult to imagine a slip that would send me flying into Glacier Gorge below. So, my questions--I have read that the initial downclimb off of LB is one of the scariest parts of the traverse. Could this be used as a 'test'? I.e., if I get down that section, can I be reasonably confident that the rest isn't going to get that much worse? (I am much worse at descending than going up.) Is it true that the first 1/3 to 1/2 is the worst, after which the route becomes less exposed with the exception of a few isolated places? Is the rock up there solid enough that you don't feel like you are going to fall to your death at any minute? More generally, for those of you who can relate to my handicap of not really handling extreme fear well, what do you do to manage it? Any other suggestions would be appreciated!

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Re: LB-Blanca Traverse Questions

Postby leggaj5 » Wed Sep 12, 2012 1:20 pm

I just completed the traverse last weekend, so it's still pretty fresh in my mind. I came up the NW face, so I got to see the downclimb off of Little Bear before having to do it, which helped a lot.

I wish I had taken pics, but I'll try to explain briefly. I completed the downclimb by staying off the slabs for the most part, initially on the right side of the ridge, crossing over to the left side briefly, then crossing back over to the right side before finishing by going down the last slab section directly. I don't think any of the moves were that exposed, and the route seemed pretty apparent.

The ridge definitely gets more narrow than the slabs section, and I'd say the exposure is more intense. However, you're not really doing too much sustained down-climbing after you complete the slabs section, so balance-wise you're in a better position I think. The first half contains the more difficult sections; it is a mix of some climbing moves over and down small points and walking on the exposed ridge line. The rock is solid, and I never really felt unsafe on it - obviously you're going to want to test everything though.

You'll come to a section where you have three points left. The first, you can skirt to the right through scree, and there are cairns to follow. Once past that point, work your way back to the ridge where you will soon cross the Sidewalk in the Sky. It's pretty exposed, but again, it's just walking. It's fairly straight-forward Class 3 after that.

As for dealing with the exposure, I just get tunnel vision, turn on my blinders, and focus on nothing outside of a 10-foot radius. When I'm not moving, I look around a bit more, and I think you should just to comprehend what you're actually accomplishing.

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Re: LB-Blanca Traverse Questions

Postby Dan England » Wed Sep 12, 2012 1:25 pm

Hi. First of all, good on you for asking all these questions. They are good ones.
I don't want to sound discouraging in my replies. I'll try to give you some general guidelines that may help you, and then I'll try to answer your questions more specifically.
This may all be moot anyway if it's snowing up there, but you could keep my response and have others chime in. I'd welcome other comments on this, as long as they aren't "this guy has no idea what he's talking about." Keep in mind this is based on my experiences alone. But just so you know, I completed many traverses before I attempted this one, and many 4th-class routes, and since then I've climbed all the 14ers and more than 150 mountains, at least a third more than once.
Here's some general guidelines:
1. I would not say exposure on previous climbs is a requirement, but it does help so you can get "used" to it and also know what you're going to do on something like a long ridge like this traverse.
2. How are your scrambling and climbing skills? There are a few towers on this climb that reach 5.2.
3. It worries me that you seem to "overthink" exposure rather than trust your skills. I tend to relax after some initial fear, which I thought was crucial in this one because it was so long.

Here goes: I thought the traverse was one of the best climbs I'd ever done. I thought it was magical and really fun. I also thought it was the most terrifying, and I doubt I'd do it again. I've heard that terrifying comment from others as well. And there are many, many times when one slip would probably mean death (though I did take a tumble on this route and survived, and that could be coloring my thoughts on this as well). The exposure is tremendous and it just goes and goes and goes on, one after another.

Let me try to answer your questions more specifically now.
1. I would be far more terrified of the snow situation you described on Longs, so the fact you managed to do that should give you confidence that you could handle the mental challenges of this traverse. The route is generally on solid rock that is fun to climb. I don't remember much scree or loose rock, though it does exist on that route. It's understandable that your fear comes from off-route crap or scree or snow, since the stability is much worse on those surfaces. Me too. The route is solid, and I never thought stability was much of an issue.
2. The downclimb is indeed one of the scariest parts. So yes I think your assumption that if you can do that, you can do anything is probably mostly accurate. I have always thought that there is a danger in thinking that way because your mental strength can erode after a couple hours of constant exposure. But I like your test idea, and downclimbing always scares me more too. I think many would agree.
3. I disagree with you that the first half is the worst, though that's mostly true. The reason I say that is the very worst section, in my mind, came at the very end, after the exposure had indeed relented; it's the final tiny part, and after you do it, you're done with the ridge. That section was incredibly exposed, and I remember almost peeing my pants.
4. OK. So I tend to manage my fear by:
b) Making sure I have four points of contact before I make my next move, leaving me with three points at all times.
c) focusing on my breathing
d) looking ahead at the route, not straight down, and thinking about my next few moves before I make them, i.e. if I go here, it will lead me here, and then...
Finally, I tell myself fear is a good thing. It focuses you and keeps you focused and sharp. I LIKE fear because it prevents me from getting cocky, and when you get cocky, you make mistakes. So embrace the fear and have fun. I think you're ready. Good luck.

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Re: LB-Blanca Traverse Questions

Postby joelsteidl » Wed Sep 12, 2012 1:46 pm

usfgal,

A friend and I are planning route on Saturday. On a different topic, I hope the snow that falls today & tomorrow melts off quickly!

On long traverses, I try to relax and really focus on each move I'm making, rather than the exposure. My goal is to be methodical as I move. I did Capitol Peak a few weeks ago (not really sure how it compares), and this worked pretty well.

If you ever have the opportunity to go rock climbing (roped up), that may help calm your fears as well.

Good luck!

Joel

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Re: LB-Blanca Traverse Questions

Postby MtHurd » Wed Sep 12, 2012 1:53 pm

If you went by the California rating system, the traverse would be class 4. There is nothing really difficult on the route. There was one occasion where I was doing an undercling with my butt hanging out over a 400 ft. cliff to go around a rock fin, but I was able to guide my partner over this fin with him NOT having to do the same move. Airiest unroped moment of my life.

If you are used to exposure, you should do fine. Just make sure you have bluebird skies. We got caught in a storm and my partners watch started buzzing. We had to sit tight about 30 ft. off the ridge with no exit points until the storm passed. Approach shoes will probably give you more confidence on the route rather than wearing boots. It is a great route, my favorite on any 14er.

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Re: LB-Blanca Traverse Questions

Postby mtndude3737 » Wed Sep 12, 2012 2:27 pm

We are going to be up there Friday and climb it Saturday.... hope the weather holds! Look for 3 guys on 2 ATV's and a motorcycle going up the road Friday at about 4 pm. I have already hiked that road before, and always wanted to do an ATV/motorcycle approach....so please excuse the noise and exhaust.

We figured that we would climb Little Bear early and then make our decision from there based on snow, weather conditions, etc.

Thanks for posting and for everyone's advice! Sounds like an intense place!

+1 on focus. I find that is why I love to climb: everything becomes black and white, and your focus is solely on surviving.
What is there, beyond the mountain, if not the man? - Walter Bonatti

The simpler you make things, the richer the experience becomes. - Steve House

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Re: LB-Blanca Traverse Questions

Postby jdorje » Wed Sep 12, 2012 2:45 pm

Significant snowfall there today and more forecast tomorrow. Maybe it'll melt off Friday but I wouldn't bet on it.
-Jason Dorje Short

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Re: LB-Blanca Traverse Questions

Postby mtndude3737 » Wed Sep 12, 2012 2:48 pm

jdorje wrote:Significant snowfall there today and more forecast tomorrow. Maybe it'll melt off Friday but I wouldn't bet on it.

Wow, thanks. I see you are from Crestone, so you must be looking right at the peaks. Do you mind posting an update on Friday morning as to what they look like?
What is there, beyond the mountain, if not the man? - Walter Bonatti

The simpler you make things, the richer the experience becomes. - Steve House

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Re: LB-Blanca Traverse Questions

Postby jdorje » Wed Sep 12, 2012 2:56 pm

Less than I expected; perhaps someone else can judge it better than me though. Left is 13546 and right is Challenger/Kit Carson.

Image
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Re: LB-Blanca Traverse Questions

Postby mtndude3737 » Wed Sep 12, 2012 3:00 pm

Nice! Thanks for the photo! Looks almost identical to when we climbed Challenger last year at this time.
What is there, beyond the mountain, if not the man? - Walter Bonatti

The simpler you make things, the richer the experience becomes. - Steve House

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Re: LB-Blanca Traverse Questions

Postby steelfrog » Wed Sep 12, 2012 3:03 pm

Barry Raven wrote:There was one occasion where I was doing an undercling with my butt hanging out over a 400 ft. cliff to go around a rock fin,


Wow. That must have been a significantly large overhang. To accomodate your butt, that is...

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Re: LB-Blanca Traverse Questions

Postby MtHurd » Wed Sep 12, 2012 3:05 pm

steelfrog wrote:
Barry Raven wrote:There was one occasion where I was doing an undercling with my butt hanging out over a 400 ft. cliff to go around a rock fin,


Wow. That must have been a significantly large overhang. To accomodate your butt, that is...


That's what she told me.

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