S-Wall

The “S” in S-Wall

“S” is for serious.

“S” is for SMEAR.

“S” is for slip.

“S” is for slide.

“S” is for scrape.

“S” is for skin-graft.

“S” is for smack.

“S” is for stitches.

The “S” in S-Wall can mean all of this and much more. For those of you unfamiliar with S-Wall it’s a two pitch route with a total of four bolts, two of which are for the belay at the base of the “S.” With some simple arithmetic you will discover that leaves one (1) bolt per pitch as protection, hence the “R” notation after the 5.9 rating. Just a quick, yet important note: if you are unfamiliar with the “R” then you have no business leading this route, at least not right now. Here is where I go off on a tangent about a friend of mine who attempted (note the word attempted) to lead S-Wall.

Pete’s previous climbing experience consisted of climbing in indoor home gyms on Friday nights and going on the occasional day trip to Mount Scott to TR some of the easier lines. He’d been climbing all of 6 months, weekdays excluded, and he felt his skills were up to par with 5.9.  Never had he experienced the thrill of being roped into the end of a lead line. Granted, in those days we called S-Wall, 5.8 (many still think it is), but whatever you want to rate it, it still has that dreaded runout rating after it, that’s what you really have to pay attention to. Just because you can lead 5.8 or 5.9 or even 5.10, doesn’t mean that you can lead S-Wall.

After following the first pitch, Pete was ready to swap leads and scramble up the second pitch. His partner, Mike, hung at the anchor at the base of the S, then a one-bolt (1/4″) anchor, and watched as Pete tip-toed past the lone bolt, past the top of the S, and over the blanket of granite into the void.  As Pete smeared higher the distance from the lone bolt grew until it disappeared from his immediate sight and he had to strain his neck downward and sideways to see it. At this point, the rope through the carabiner, attached to the sling, attached to another carabiner that was attached to an old bolt didn’t look like protection at all. Mike recognized the exact moment when all of this occurred to Pete because Pete’s breathing changing and his left leg began to shake. Pete was nearly 25 feet above his only bolt and the moves were not getting any easier. Every move took extra effort.  If a foot had to be lifted, he stared at his foot, then at the place he wanted to put it, then at his foot again and it was only when he was sure that he wouldn’t let go with his hands that he would remove his shoe from the wall.  The more Pete concentrated the more he over-gripped and the more he tried to hang on the closer his body got to the wall and the closer he got to the wall the less friction he had on his toes. Mike clinched the break-end of the rope tighter when he noticed Pete having trouble. Then he thought about it: if Pete were to fall at the height he was above his bolt he would go skidding down the slab, past the belay point. He would be looking at a 50-60 foot fall! Mike unclipped his daisy chain from the belay bolt and left the rope running through the single-bolt anchor.  Pete continued his quarrel with the rock, nearly succumbing to gravity on several occasion, somehow he continued to hang on. Mike’s words of encouragement, moreover, his pleads to “NOT FALL,” did little to keep Pete climbing. Instantly, Pete became an object in motion; a physics example of Newton’s Laws of motion. Pete slid, hands out, toes on the wall, like a little boy going backwards down a slide. It was perfect slab-falling technique until………until his speed increased, he lost his balance, and spun sideways, then backways, then head-first using his forearms like the runners of a sled. As Pete continued his fall Mike leaped from the belay station and ran backwards down the wall.  This took up all the excess slack in the rope and stopped Pete just below his one and only bolt.  The two came two an equally abrupt stop staring each other in the face.

Most people spend ample time following Quartz routes before tackling one on lead. Just because you lead 5.11 in the gym doesn’t mean you should lead a 5.9 Quartz slab, it’s a different kind of climbing up there, one which punishes the inexperienced.  But don’t let all of this deter you from following a more experienced (or more daring) climber up S-Wall….or set up a double-rope top-rope and try the entire route safely.

Location: S-Wall can be found at Quartz Mountain State Park in southwest Oklahoma.  You can see S-Wall from the parking lot.  Head left in the first boulder field beyond the parking area and scramble up scattered boulders to the base of the route. The first pitch starts in the middle of the wall, pick and good edges. When the wall begins to reach vertical you’ll find the bolt.  There’s a mini-crux just before the belay station.  The technical area is near the bolt on the second pitch…after that it’s a cruise to the top…..just keep moving until you reach easy ground.

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