The wind was blowing hard and cool but the sky was blue and although the clouds raced over the mountains from the west they were still small. We knew bad weather was coming and if we were going to make it into the Pine Creek Canyon to climb it would have to be today.
7 miles from the highway, past an old homestead and a lone stone chimney, between Mt. Tom and Wheeler’s Crest, we turned onto a rough trail. It took us toward the jagged walls and the slot of Pratt’s Gully. We stopped and parked at a clearing near four other trucks and a suburu — more climbers had decided to brave the winds and the steep granite.
Pine Creek is a few thousand feet above Owen’s Valley and although it’s short hike from the car, it felt like we were heading into the alpine. It must have been the wind. And the cold. And the unexpected smoothness of the granite patina — footholds felt tenuous and sport climbs felt like something more.
We stopped briefly to say hi to some climbers who were heading out. They told us about their favourite climbs and gave us some suggestions on where to go. Seeing my camera, one guy asked if I was here with Peter. A little confused, I said no. I soon understood — a little further up the trail, we met Peter Croft, a legend among rock climbers, a man responsible for some of the boldest and most inspiring ascents in the world. He was alone, heading out. I could only guess that he had been soloing some bold line or putting up a new route. This is his area. Not only had he put up a lot of these routes, he wrote the guidebook. All the same, he stopped for a chat, told us a bit about the area, warned us about the weather and was gone.
Our warm-up climb was a tricky 10c called Never Believe. It took all my attention to trust my feet on the slippery edges. I belayed Sonja from above so I could film her climb, which was really hard for me. We’ll post the video when we find a firewire cable but it’s full of me gasping and grunting as I leaned out from the wall, trying to hold the camera steady and take up rope. Sonja, by comparison, made things look easy. She climbed smooth and delicately, figuring out the tricky balances and laybacks. After that, I climbed New World Order, a sustained 11d. I didn’t send it clean, but I had a scared kind of fun — I’m coming back for another try in a few days. Sonja then went to work on a combo of Pratt’s crack (5.9 off-width) and the 11c to the left of it (photo below).