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Praying Monk (5.6), Southeast Corner

Camelback Mountain - Phoenix, Arizona

March 5, 2010


Kim had a conference in Scottsdale, Arizona so I tagged along with hopes of doing some climbing in the warm desert sun. While Kim was in her meetings I divided my time between Mariners Spring Training games and hiking some local peaks. The first morning I hiked up Squaw Peak, a steep, prominent peak just north of where we were staying. It was fun entering and leaving the Ritz-Carlton with my hiking gear and beat up pack. It reminded me of Dawn Patrols (early morning winter hikes) with Michael and Alex when I worked in Bellevue. I would come into work around 10am and get in the elevators with my climbing pack having spent the last 5 hours ice climbing, aid climbing or hiking. I would often get some strange looks from folks in their business suits and power ties. However, the valets at the hotel were great, always asking me where I was heading to and inquiring how the trip was.

While in town Kim and I met for dinner with our old college friend Kevin Harper and his wife Robyn and their adorable daughter Sedona! Over tacos and delicious burritos at "Aunt Chiladas" restaurant I offered to take them out climbing at Camelback Mountain, one of the nearby crags on Saturday. At the local Paradise Valley REI, I had picked up a copy of the Rock Climbers Guide to Camelback Mountain, so I knew there were some areas with good top roping potential. I decided to hike up to the area on Friday just to take a look around and get familiar with it. I was amazed that before 9am on a weekday morning there was a line of cars waiting for parking spaces to open up at the trailhead parking lot! It was a good sized lot so there were always people leaving. I waited in line for about 30 minutes until I finally got a spot.

I hiked up the well-used trails to an area called the Headwall where I saw a group of climbers just leading up a short pitch. I struck up a conversation with them asking which route they were on so I could get an idea of how the routes were laid out. They were climbing the Headwall Route (5.0), a shallow water chute with three bolts. There were two men and a young boy waiting at the bottom while the fourth man lead up to the anchors. While watching them climb I told them that I was visiting from Seattle and that I was scouting out the area for good top-rope routes to come back to the next day with my friends. Two routes to the left was a Class 4 gulley that I decided to explore as it seemed to be the easiest route up to the top. The rock in this area is a mixture of sand, mud, and river rock with chunks of granite mixed in. From 20 feet away it looks like if you pulled out one rock, the whole hillside would crumble away, but once on the rock it is actually pretty solid. I cautiously climbed up about 20 feet and seeing that it would go, I carefully down climbed back to the base.

I walked back over to where the others were climbing and I heard that they were planning on climbing the Praying Monk. I had heard my friend Kevin, mention this the evening before at dinner. This prominent tower is a subfeature of the main peak and I learned later that it can be seen clearly from our hotel window! Since I wasn't able to hook up to climb with the employees from the local REI store, and I really wanted to climb, I asked one of the fellows, John, if I could join them on their climb and he said, "Sure!" I was on cloud nine! I quickly put on my harness, and flaked out my rope. The three others had already climbed up, and I saw that they only had one rope and were belaying each climber individually, so I offered to have John tie in to my rope with me and we could climb up while the others hiked up to the next pitch. John agreed to this plan and soon I was leading up this fun route!

At the top of the route we unroped and scrambled up a ways to a trail which we followed up to the base of the Praying Monk tower. Here I met John's 6 year old son, Tate, and his friends Gary and Ruric. I learned that Gary is the pastor at the Seventh-Day Adventist Church where John and Ruric attend. The next pitch involved a tricky start to the first bolt about 15 feet where it meets the corner of the east face and the climbing gets easier. John lead this next pitch and carefully made his way to the top. Next he belayed Tate who unclipped the quickdraws and left them in place in the event that Gary or I wanted to lead the pitch. The first part of the climb was challenging for 6 year old Tate, but he made it up and did a great job! He had definitely climbed before. This was the first time climbing for Ruric who had done many hikes and scrambles with Gary and John but never a technical rock climb. Ruric did great as well and soon he was past the difficulties and onto the warm sunny, face.

It was a little chilly waiting in the shadows at the base of the climb, but it was fun visiting with Gary and getting to know him. He has plans to climb the Grand Teton this coming August. After each climber, John would coil the rope then toss it back down and it would often get tangled or blow into a crack so he would have to recoil and toss it again. When the time came for Gary and I to climb we decided to just have John belay us up as it would be faster than leading the pitch. So Gary climbed up next and I followed. The climbing was fun with great views in every direction.

Once on top I anchored in to one of the large rappel bolts and took some pictures of the happy summit party! What a great day! I had brought up my rope so we could do a double rappel, but looking around we decided to make a single rappel off the shorter back side of the tower to where we could see a trail heading back down and around to the base of the route. I rappeled first and provided a fireman-brake for the others. The rappel involved a free hanging 20 ft section which made things interesting! John had Tate on a back up belay just to be safe but Tate did a great job of rappeling! Ruric descended next, and once down he commented on how fun that was and he would love to do it again! John came next and then Gary last. While watching them rappel I saw a lizard and a small mouse-like rodent sunning themselves in a small crack.

Since it took a little longer than expected to climb the route and rappel, John was past due when he told his wife he would be home. He borrowed my cell phone to alleviate any worries. I told him that I certainly know how that works! We hiked together back to the top of the first pitch, found two sets of rappel anchors, and set up both ropes for rappels. John, Tate, and Gary rapped on their rope, while Ruric and I rapped on mine. At the parking lot we all agreed what a fun climb that was, exchanged e-mails and said good bye. Thanks guys for letting me join you on your climb! What a great day!