John geared up to lead, and the day started. After a while of confusion on the first pitch, John decided to bail. Flight of the Phoenix looked like an obvious line. The first pitch is described as follows:
"45m (18) Up jamcrack (trickier than appears) for 12m, then step L onto nose. Up for a few moves then do an intricate (dicky?) traverse R across slab and tricky step onto nose below chains. Nice moves lead up nose to chain, step slightly L and up corner to small belay stance at small tree/bush ~8m above chain (PR, wire, small cams)." From The Crag
There were a few cracks to choose from and the slab wasn't so obvious. I'm sure my lack of confidence leading trad weighed on John. Oh well, he bailed and we decided to do a nearby climb. Neither of us wanted to bush bash home again!
A few meters left on Bastion Buttress, I felt confident that I would be able to lead some. Regardless, John started off the climb. Both of us were a little shaken from his retreat, but still wanted to climb.
John got up the first pitch easily. As I followed, each piece of gear felt tentative and the rock felt loose. I hate hearing that hollow sound when you tap on a flake that you're about to use to hold all your weight. John is a really great leader. He has pulled my butt up so many climbs. I trust him completely. I don't always trust the rock.
The first pitch was odd. It was a slab with diagonal crack systems running down. I felt off balance the entire time. Each piece of gear I cleaned, freaked me out just a bit more. I got to the anchor, surprised that a grade 13 was causing such trepidation. John reassured me that everything was fine and, Hey!, we're having fun. There were four pieces of gear equalized to make our anchor. We moved smoothly through our routine of swapping the rope and gear. John began to climb and BAM! A cam from the anchor flew out! I absolutely flipped. In hindsight, everything was fine. There were three bomber pieces still keeping the anchor together. We were safe, no one fell. However, at the time, that didn't matter. I wanted to go down and it had to be immediate. John came back to the anchor, he lowered me to the ground and then followed. This resulted in leaving more gear in the rock, on a grade 13!
I've never had a piece of gear pull out of the rock at an anchor. If it's a piece along the route, no big deal. Something clicked when I saw a cam fly at my face having been behind a flake moments before. In that moment, I realized I didn't know if that rock was going to pull off the wall. I didn't know if our gear was solid. Yes, I trust John to take care of us. However, we're both responsible for checking the others gear placements. I'm an idiot!
We ended up bushwhacking back to our campsite. John was calm and listened to my worries. We talked through the situation. You see, he had known there were three awesome pieces and one marginal anchor point. He considered taking it out before belaying me up to him, but decided against it. He didn't communicate that to me when I reached him and I freaked out when it pulled out of the rock. Perhaps more importantly, I should have checked his anchor. I always trust that he knows better than me. This is a habit I need to break. It's better to check your partner rather than take a chance on it being the one time they slip up. John didn't slip up. Everything was so safe, but my freak out stemmed from a feeling of insecurity that I wasn't confident to approve or question his gear choices.
The last days of our trip was forecast to be stormy. We hiked out on day 4 and just missed a massive rain storm. It sucked that we didn't get to climb more on this trip. I guess we will have to come back another day. The Bungles are a beautiful place. Even the non-climbers should come visit!