Things You Hear In The Pipe Dream

Kim, in no danger of hitting her head, in the Pipe Dream.

The Pipe Dream: home of 20 routes 5.13 and harder, up to 130 feet long, on many of which more than a third of the climbing involves the horizontal roof of the cave. This place attracts a lot of climbers, so many that on some days it bears a close resemblance to the gym on a busy weeknight. If you spend any time in the Pipe Dream, you’ll start to notice that you hear and see a lot of the same “Things” being said and done.

Pipe Dream Thing #1:  It’s “soft”.

This is the bane of endurance climbing In general. The lack of a defined “stopper” crux move makes it possible to climb most of the routes bolt-to-bolt and feel pretty good about it. Putting it all together, however, requires fitness and patience. Many are the climbers who have spent more time than they feel they should have on Pipe Dream routes and gone home empty-handed. Perhaps at one time the grades were “soft”, but then this crazy thing happened…consensus (and a little bit of ego) kicked in, and most of the routes have already been downgraded. Of course, most traveling climbers are unaware of this, and the “soft” reputation has perpetuated itself through Mountain Project and other Really Useful And Reliable Internet Forums (sarc).

Pipe Dream Thing #2:  Sprout is a good first 13a because it’s easy.

Hmmm. This doesn’t seem to be true. First of all, I remember it being pretty hard. Second, several solid 5.13 climbers from places like Rifle, the Red, and Smith Rocks have tried Sprout this season, and all have stated clearly that they thought it was hard for the grade. And third, I have frequently witnessed the quickly vanishing pragmatism of many a 13a hopeful when they find themselves “taking” on the 11b approach pitch, unable to lift their arms any longer (or just intimidated?) once they clip that first anchor under the roof and find themselves looking up and out at Sprout proper (and another 13 bolts’ worth of climbing). A good indication that this scenario is imminent is when a small herd of male 18 to 20-somethings comes tromping up the trail and the leader blurts out to no one in general, “Hey, which one is Sprout?”, before even setting down his pack.

Pipe Dream Thing #3:  I did Sprout last year.

Not to be picky, but “did” requires clarification. Making all the moves is not the same as “doing” the route.

Pipe Dream Thing #4:  Toxic Watermelon (5.10) is worth the hike.

It is not. However, the 10’s around the corner to the right are. You can still say you climbed at the Pipe Dream, just not in it.

Pipe Dream Thing #5:  You should wear a helmet while climbing The Great Feast.

The Pipe Dream is the first and only place I’ve ever seen people wearing helmets to climb very steep routes. Maybe I’m missing the point, but to the best of my knowledge and ends of my research, climbing helmets (with only two exceptions I could find) are designed to protect from overhead incidents (i.e. rockfall, gear being dropped from above, etc), and not for side or rear impacts. They have been known to be more useful than a bare skull in some bad slab falls, for sure, but the only thing one might protect you from on a route as steep as The Feast is bonking your head on a draw if you’re not looking where you’re going, which would be more of a hazard to the headlamp that’s still on that helmet from your last caving expedition (in addition to your atc, figure 8, daisy chain and numerous slings with locking biners that are permanently attached to your harness). A much wiser use of your helmet would be to wear it while belaying on some of Maple’s less steep terrain, lest a cobble decide to liberate itself from the sandy matrix. Curiously, we see more climbers with helmets than belayers.

Pipe Dream Thing #6:  The Great Feast must be an easy first 5.13 because I saw a girl on it last year.

Rumple has heard it all.

The Great Feast is rated 13c. Before the grade “reorganization” it took the c/d slash grade. As many female humans these days are considerably strong rock climbers, seeing one making a route look easy is not a good indication that it is. Also, you’re not allowed to climb to the 3rd or 4th bolt (out of 22), then lower from there and say, “Yeah, that seems pretty soft for 13c.” Not. Allowed. Maybe you should get on Sprout instead (I hear it’s easy).

Pipe Dream Thing #7: Yeah, I don’t really like to kneebar.


Pipe Dream Thing #8 (The Grand Myth): Old people like the Pipe Dream because it’s the only place they can send hard routes other than in the Red.

Ok, this actually isn’t a myth. It’s TRUE! Herein lies the real magic of the Pipe Dream. It’s the old folks’ home, the retirement community of crags. 40-and-over days are the best! Less chest-bumping and spray, more group excuses: longer recovery times, arthritis, the added weight of our walkers on the hike. When we’re not napping during our 4-hour rests between burns, we take our meds and talk about riveting things like our next set of doctor appointments, social security, cruises, our grandkids, and the weather. On the days the kids are there, they always tell us how “inspiring” (they really mean “expiring”) us old folks are. Seriously, though, youthful exuberance can be energizing, but it can also be exhausting.


Case in point. Old guy, hopped up on Geritol, trying hard in the Pipe Dream.

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