This was the first outing of the 1999 Boealps Intermediate Class, and the objective of the trip was to review knots, belaying, rappelling, placing pro, aiding and leading. Horsetheif Butte is a great location for this kind of a review weekend - lots of room to spread out, and lots and lots of lines up short (20'-30') columns of basalt that go at 5.0-5.3. There were probably some more challenging lines around, but I never had any free time to go looking!
We drove down Friday night in torrential rains - there were eight of us carpooling in a van, and we had agreed that if the weather kept up like this all the way to the Dalles, we were going to skip bivying at the camp site and get hotel rooms instead. Magically, just a few miles west of our overnighting spot (Spearfish Campground), the rains let up, and left us dry all weekend - still not quite sure what to attribute that to!
As the instructors warned, we were woken up several times during the night by trains moving up and down the Columbia gorge - the tracks are only a few hundred yards away from the camp site, and the noise of the engines was enough to rouse me from my sleep.
Saturday morning started with breaking down camp and tossing everything back in the van. Then we headed back across the bridge over the Columbia to the Lone Pine restaurant for a quick breakfast, and then on to the Butte. From the road, it's about a ten minute hike to get into the heart of the Butte, and our path went by some faint petroglyphs on the rock columns - neat!
After dividing the students up into small groups and assigning a couple of instructors to each group, we started going over our review items. Our group started out demonstrating we were competent at tying the basic mountaineering knots, then the instructors taught us a few tricks, like tying both the Munter hitch and the clove hitch one handed - could be handy coming up to a tricky belay spot! After going through all the knots (and reviewing rope coiling), we scrambled up to the top of the butte, and built a few anchors to practice rappeling from. We did a standard device rappel, but we also tried a 'biner brake rappel, using a clove hitch, and using a diaper seat - all increasing our bag of tricks. We also had a chance to practice rappeling past a knot before it was time for a lunch break (amazing how quickly the time goes by!). After lunch we demonstrated our belaying techniques, and then worked on tying off a fallen climber and hanging belays. That took up all of the afternoon, and then it was time to head back to the campground for a pot luck meal.
Any worried that there might not be enough to eat for dinner were quickly dispelled, as appetizers (and desserts) came out, and main courses started cooking. I think there was as much food left over at the end of the evening as we had actually eaten - anyone who went to bed not completely stuffed did so by their own choice! As we finished eating, and settled back into our camp chairs or straddled a cooler, the clouds cleared away, and the stars came out. Venus and Mars were still bright on the western horizon, and the temperature started dropping noticeably. A few down jackets came out, and hats were pulled down tighter, but most everyone stayed up for a while listening to the war stories and antics of previous class outings, and student and instructor climbing tales - a great chance to start to get to know the other students and instructors that we maybe only knew by name up until now. I'll certainly always remember never to climb and drive! (Thanks, Bingle!)
Sunday morning started out the same as Saturday - a quick breakdown of camp, zoom over to the Lone Pine for coffee and breakfast, and then back to the Butte for more practice. This morning started out with a great demonstration of aiding techniques, and then the students were once again split up and assigned instructors to practice with. I got paired up with Heather Naughton, and we got to start with aiding practice - what a blast! We aided up the small column we'd rapped the previous day, and each got our turn at aiding, belaying, and then jugging the line. After the aid station, we went to the pack hauling station, and learned about 1:1, 2:1 and 3:1 pack hauling systems. This was the only station of the weekend that was exposed to the wind, and it was brutal! It must have been continuous at 30 mph, and I was quite glad when we were done with those exercises, and could head back down into the heart of the Butte. Next up was a review of leading skills, and I led up a funky little block system that was barely fifth class, but it served to let the instructors make sure I knew what I was doing, critique my technique, and offer advice for improving and becoming more efficient. We moved over to a different arete system for Heather to lead while I belayed, and then followed. That chewed up all of Sunday - all that was left was coiling ropes, retrieving gear, and loading everything in the van for the drive back home.