Thursday, July 29, 2010

Rock Climbing at Kachemak Crack

The view from Left Beach in Halibut Cove, Kachemak Bay, looking across to Homer (we live about in the middle of the pictured area) with umiak in foreground.

A month ago Aurora went across Kachemak Bay with a group of kids on a HoWL (Homer Wilderness Leadership) rock climbing camp. When I saw the pictures it was with a mixture of awe and excitement that I gazed at the size of the cliffs she climbed. Last week Aurora's climbing instructor from Homer Community Schools called us up to see if we were interested in heading over to Kachemak Crack for 3 days of camping and rock climbing. Heck, yes, we were! He finagled a boat ride over for us and at 6:30 a.m. on Monday we were on our way across the bay, a quick 30-minute, 6-mile hop to Left Beach.

While HoWL was fun for Aurora, most of the climbers were neophytes and not at her level of climbing, and when climbing with a group a lot of time is spent waiting for others to finish their climbs. Fuzzy, Aurora's climbing instructor, challenges her more and gave her some awesome climbing experiences. Meanwhile, Denver and I got in our share of climbs and we were both proud of our showing.

The first morning was a heavily overcast rainy day with rain in the forecast for the next 5 days. We got to our drop-off point on Left Beach in Halibut Cove and were glad to see Fuzzy come down to the shore to help us offload the boat. He had kayaked over the day before since the weather was good. He had a fire going under a rock overhang so we set up our camp chairs and hunkered down to wait out the rain. By noon it had stopped and by midafternoon the rocks were dry enough to climb so he and Aurora got started setting up the ropes for the classic Kachemak Crack climb--the easiest of the 4 climbs.

Setting up was easy, with Aurora playing out rope as Fuzzy freeclimbed to the chain at the top. Then Aurora climbed as Fuzzy top belayed her. Denver and I each took our turns on this climb. It is a really fun one because the holds are large and there are many of them--seeming almost to be wherever you need one by your hands or feet. The rock is a very slight lean away from the climber so it is easy to maneuver.

Day 2 was a long, grueling day for Aurora and Fuzzy, as it took 3 hours to set up the Salty Dawg using a 2 stage setup, with Aurora doing a climbing belay for Fuzzy from mid-way. This was a more dangerous climb because while there were bolts to anchor the rope as you climbed up, they were spaced far enough apart that if the lead climber were to fall they would hit the rocks before the bolt would catch them. Aurora was on belay at the bottom to hold the rope should Fuzzy fall and also to play out the rope as Fuzzy climbed and needed more. The climbing belay halfway was a new experience for Aurora. When it was over they each got to rappel down, which can be as exciting as one wants to make it. Denver got maybe a third of the way up the Salty Dawg before he got stuck by one particularly challenging spot, and I got stymied at the same place.

Day 3 Denver was fresh and he made it to the top of the Salty Dawg, a 120 foot climb. It was awesome to watch him. I made it maybe 5 feet higher than I had the day before but that one spot got me and my arms and hands were so tired I didn't think I could make that one unless I was fresh. Then we moved the rope over to the crackhead jam, a challenging climb with an overhang. Aurora didn't make it her first time up, fell a bunch of times (the belayer catches the fall, but with an overhang it can be a pain to get back onto the rock face and much energy is spent climbing a previously climbed spot), and finally took a break, totally spent. I played on the classic Kachemak Crack and Denver attempted the crackhead jam, making it up as high as Fuzzy had, about halfway.

Come evening we got Aurora to give the crackhead jam a second try. She was very tired, but all Fuzzy had to say was, "It's your call," and she pulled on her harness and shoes. The previous climb she had discovered the move she needed to make to get over the overhang, and as she put it, "It's all mental. I had to stick my fingers in the crack and get over the fear that I wouldn't be able to get them out. Once I did that it was easy." Ha. It was a nail-biter for me, sitting on the ground. I was cheering Aurora on as much as I would at any championship basketball game. It was incredible to see her make moves on what appear to be no holds. When she made it over crucial spots I had tears in my eyes. It was an unbeatable experience.

Besides the climbing, there was plenty of other entertainment. We were camping right next to 20 Alaskan Natives (girls) from all over the state, and the next beach over there were 20 Natives (boys). The groups had built authentic umiaks, the type of boats Natives used to hunt whales in up along the Bering Sea, and each morning they would paddle off, returning in the evening.

Denver would search for mussels on the rocks during low tide and cooked them up for each meal, relishing every bite and generously sharing with Fuzzy and the rest of us.

One evening while out walking during low tide a plane took off nearly over our heads right on the beach, then swooped around and nearly touched the ground in a show-off stunt. We also encountered a dead sea otter on the beach.

Fuzzy has kayaked from Homer all the way around the Kenai Peninsula to Seward, Valdez and Cordova (you might need to look at a map to realize how far that is!) and regaled us with stories of meeting whales, storms and all sorts of adventures kayaking, as well as his many other adrenaline-pumping activities.

And a highlight for me was finding ripe berries: blueberries, salmonberries, as well as red and black currants. I hadn't expected the berries to be ripe yet, so that was a nice surprise. We even picked some to take home.

This had to be one of my favorite trips we've taken since being in Alaska. Since we came over in a boat we didn't have to skimp too much on the supplies, so we had a good campstove, tarps to shelter us from the rain, camp chairs for all and plenty of food. It felt like car camping without the car & road. It was nervewracking waiting for our boat ride back, which ended up being a couple hours late, but it worked out in the end. While I was pretty wiped out, sunburned, bruised and sore upon arriving home, the glow of a good trip made it all well worth it.


Ana said...

This sounds awesome! Just moved back to Homer after making a new hobby of rock climbing in Seattle. Does Fuzzy still teach? I'm itching to get climbing again!

Michelle Waclawski said...

Yep, Fuzzy still teaches at the high school through Community Recreation during the school year. To connect with climbers try the Bay Club or HoWL.