Back in the middle of October we had been asked by one of our AMC instructors (Eric) if we would like to make a trip up The Praying Monk on Camelback. It's considered to be a "classic" climb and has been rated the Best Valley Climb in AZ from the New Times for a couple of years. We settled on Veteran's Day and began working out the details.
I do think it's important to add that we had doubts about our ability levels and if it was a good idea for us-- were we all ready for the challenge? We met early in hopes of avoiding other climbers on the same route. We spent about 15 minutes waiting for a parking space and began to sort and unload our gear. Tracy won for being the most color coordinated...again! We arrived at the head wall where a couple of other early birds were on the first little climb so we just opted for a route that was a few yards away and that worked fine. This was an easy route, probably very similar to many of the scrambles we have done hiking but we geared up to get as much practice on the rope as possible. We got belaying practice and more practice doing our calls without seeing each other. Good clear communication is critical and serious stuff. This was a great spot for that sort of practice. Just as Eric, our lead climber, was stepping on the rock a massive group of helmeted people came walking in our direction. It was like a bus load of tourists being dropped off at West Fork during fall color. It was a group of firemen in some sort of rescue training course......and they planned to climb the Monk............ALL OF THEM. Eric and Tracy zipped up the route quickly. Just before Ambika and I could get moving one of the firemen casually mentioned the location of a nearby rattlesnake. We hurried along at that point......probably a little quicker than we would have before hearing about the rattlesnake. However we did have to pass back by that area on the way down so that tidbit of information was sticking in my mind the rest of the day.
Turns out that when we reached the base of the Monk there were two firemen that zipped ahead of their group to sort of "save" the climb for their large group. It seemed a little rude since we were there first but we went to Plan B at that point....climb up the multi-pitch Hart Route (knowing that this has been a bad bee area in the past) and we would rappel down Pedrick's Chimmey. The mutli-pitch Hart Route thing was great practice for us, too. The climb wasn't scary until we traversed on a hand line into bee territory. We could see the bees buzzing above the place we were anchored in at. I did have my first nail casualty here during this part of the day. I got a silly little pebble stuck in the buckle of my pack and couldn't clip my waist belt. My pack wasn't heavy but it was stuffed full and the rock was like kitty litter here so I really wanted that pebble out of the waist clip....so I had to sacrifice a nail to get the silly pebble unstuck. At some point I "pocket called" a friend on my cell phone that works as a photo journalist for a local news station that happened to be having breakfast with some other photographers. I guess he figured out that I was climbing --based on the noise and conversation and quickly sent me a text. Later I wondered if he had clued his friends in on where we were at for a photo opt. That was kind of funny. I'll have to keep my cell phone in a better place in the future.
We took a nice short stroll over to Pedrick's Chimney where we found ANOTHER fireman. Thankfully this one held the group at the bottom so we could do this rappel and press on with our day. We had Tracy rap down first...because that's what we do! She's good at going first into the unknown and seems not to mind the extra challenges that go along with that duty. This time she was told the ropes might be uneven at the end and to try to even them out while on rappel......not sure if that is really possible. The unexpected bonus she got was being first of our group to rappel into the middle of a group of about 15 hunky firemen all watching attentively. I suspect we could go an entire lifetime and never really have that chance again.....I know I enjoyed it, that's for sure! The poor guys hadn't really had more than a couple hours of rope training before being thrown out on the rocks and ropes so they were curious about all of our gear, very inquisitive and a pile of fun. They even posed for a picture or two with Tracy
After packing up our gear from the rap we finally headed over to the Monk........yep, more firemen there. This group was about the same size as the last, 15+. They still had about 6 more guys lined up to climb and rap so we sat and waited and waited. We watched them climb in there chunky boots.....heard them say a few bad words and noticed a few just opted out of this part of their day completely. It is a very exposed little piece of rock. My first thought after looking at the climb was.....oh, well uhm.........do we really need to do this?
Nah.................I've had enough fun. Tracy and Ambika were still up for it so I needed to join in the fun, too. Eric did the lead climb---taking up the rope and clipping it into the bolts. I was belaying him while Tracy was gearing up. Ambika was on camera duty at this point. Tracy opted to take the more challenging route at the start and also got the harder job of unclipping all the quick draws that Eric just put up. Ambika flew up the rock quickly even taking a few breaks along the way. I think she might have been the fastest of all of us here. The first step was the hardest on this climb. I even heard Ambika say a few things I have never heard her say before. There was a lot of exposure to be stepping into right at the get go. I felt exactly the same way when it was my turn. I was finding my throat got really dry, guess I was breathing hard. Thankfully we all made it to the top without any real issues. It felt really good to get on the top, lock in and sit down. Tracy was an amazing belayer!! She's smooth and steady....also quick....in fact, she was soo good I think I kissed her when I got there. Tracy, did I kiss you? We snapped a few pictures but needed to hurry along because our Anchors class was starting at 6pm and it was looking like we might be late to the first night of class. The sun was setting quickly. Tracy did the rap first, as usual. Just as I started to get on the rope a news helicopter started to buzz us. The sun was setting, the sky was amazing and we were in a hurry. Just as I started to rappel the news helicopter started filming.......I looked around trying to figure out what they were shooting....thinking maybe it was the large group of firemen on the Chimney.....but nope, it was ME! A few of the firemen yelled up to confirm the camera's location. Geez, how fun....too bad I missed the news. Turns out they did use the footage a few days later calling us "studly, healthy women with a lot of nerve.". Ambika had a little extra adventure on this rappel but I didn't see it so she can tell you more.
It was dark or nearly dark when we got off the Monk but had the light of the full moon to help a little. We still had one more rappel to do in the dark....and that rattlesnake to walk past. We did that quickly and smoothly. I tried to get a few of the firemen to escort us past the rattlesnake but they really wanted nothing to do with it either. We made it to class at 7:20....just 1 hour and 20 minutes late. Thankfully our instructor wasn't upset because we had a climbing excuse!
Ambika, Tracy and Eric---- You guys ROCK! So glad we got to do this together.