I have climbed a bit of choss since that day, and become more acquainted with its peculiarities. I like the creative process of trying to protect a pitch where the rock is barely solid enough to allow upward movement - it brings together all the things I have learnt about trad and wraps them in up in one complex, ugly, but undeniably alluring bow.
The second route we climbed in the Ennedi was like the sea stack on steroids!
Here is my partner in crimes eye witness account of the adventure. Take it away Mark!
Today was a day that I will never forget. A few hours ago James and I stood on the summit of the Wine Bottle, one of the coolest towers I’ve ever climbed. The summit was tiny, about the size of two dinner tables, but what made it especially sweet was how deep we had to dig to get up there.
Two days ago we were randomly questing across the desert, trying to find our next objective. It was actually kind of hard, not because we couldn’t find anything, but rather because there was so much to choose from. We came around a corner and there was the Wine Bottle. Just as the name implies, it’s shaped like a bottle: fat down low, then it abruptly narrows down into a slender 100 foot “neck,” topped with a bulging spout.
There was pretty much no discussion – it was such a stunning objective that everyone took it for granted that we had to climb it. There was one little problem, namely that the neck looked super sketchy: steep, loose, chossy and distinctly lacking in cracks or any obvious lines. I circumnavigated the tower, studying it from every angle, and finally decided on what I thought would be a good line.
Honnold was not inspired by the choss factor, so James and I geared up. James took the first pitch up to the base of the stalk. It looked short and easy but ended up being a 60m rope stretcher on bad rock with very little in the way of good gear. When I joined James on the ledge, we shared a look, and it went without saying that I was fully in for it.
There was a line of holds, but as I soon found out, the rock was dangerously loose and virtually every hand and foothold was removable. After ten feet of free climbing I resorted to aid. Thirty feet above the ledge I slung a “chicken head” and gently eased my weight onto it. As I was placing my next piece, the chicken head blew, but miraculously the sling still hung onto some barely adhered left over chunk of sandstone. Scared silly, I drilled a bolt, only to discover that the rock was so loose I couldn’t get it to tighten down. After it fell out, I pounded a piton into the hole, then decided I’d had enough.
Now it was James’ turn and I was interested to see what this master trad climber could make of the pitch. He free climbed to my highpoint and made a few tentative moves above, then decided to take a hang on the manky pin and think things over. For a brief moment it looked like he would bail too, but then James dug deep and set off again. He pulled some hard moves above the bad bolt and I knew that he was committed – it was too hard to downclimb.
Ten feet higher he set a couple shaky pieces, hung off them, and placed another sketchy drilled piton. After equalizing the pin with the bad gear, James free climbed out around a corner into a shallow groove. As he worked his way upwards, a steady stream of loose rocks rined down onto the ledge. More bad gear and hard climbing followed, but James somehow kept his cool and eventually reached a solid crack, which he jammed to the summit. When he topped out, his yell of triumph reverberated across the desert.
I managed to follow James lead, barely, and soon we were sharing a high five and gawking at our surreal surroundings. The Ennedi Desert stretched as far as the eye could see in every direction, and it really sunk in just how far in the middle of nowhere we were. Unclimbed spires stretched to the distant horizon, and we could only marvel at how many other classic first ascents like this one still lay out there waiting… (The Wine Bottle 5.11+, A0 R/X 90m)