Sunday, December 19, 2010

Home for the Holidays

Our Fall trip has sadly come to an end. We hit the road right after climbing our last day at Stone Fort, and drove straight back to southern Ontario. We will spend a few weeks over the holidays visiting friends and family, enjoying the comforts of living on the inside, and recharging our batteries for the next leg of the trip.

Although low temperatures make for great friction, the inescapable cold does tend to wear you down. Especially when you spend most of the day dressed like this.

It was nice to be back home, and Kristal took advantage of a quick stop at my Parent's to learn some of my Mom's Christmas cookie recipes. If only we could easily make these while on the road!

The trip was once again incredible, highlighted by the many awesome climbs we did in southern Utah. In just over 3 months we traveled 19356 km, visited 30 destinations in 12 different provinces and states, and spent 60 days climbing.

Due to the prevelence of chilly weather we spent quite a bit more time bouldering this time around. For those interested in the stats, this is how it broke down...

We spent 20 days trad climbing, during which we climbed 40 routes with a combined total of 84 pitches. The longest route was 10 pitches and over 1000 feet. The hardest was in the 5.11 range (although grades at Indian Creek don't really mean the same as they do elsewhere).

We spent 39 days bouldering, during which I sent 511 problems, maxing out at V7.

We spent a whopping 1 day sport climbing, in which we climbed 16 routes ranging in difficulty from 5.1 (yes, we actually found, and bothered to climb, a 5.1 sport route) to 5.10c.

In the new year we will hit the road once again, heading south and then back west. A large contingent of Ottawa climbers is heading to Bishop, California in February, and we look forward to meeting up with them there. In the meantime we probably wont be updating the blog. Check back in early January to see what we're up to.

As the sun has set on another leg of our awesome adventure, we wish you all the best for the festive season. Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 13, 2010


Our return to Chattanooga would be greeted with mostly clear skies, and a chill in the air. With highs hovering just above freezing, it would make for some cold days, but unrivaled friction on the rock.

We spent 3 days bouldering at Stone Fort (aka Little Rock City), taking advantage of the perfect conditions to go on a sending spree. Here I am Storming the Castle V1.

Perhaps no climbing hold benefits more from crisp, chilly conditions than the sandstone sloper. Here I am riding The Wave V6, a problem that felt impossible in the relative heat when we visited in April, but went with ease this trip.

Kristal is always looking for cracks to climb, to hone her already considerable crack climbing skill. Here she is executing a bomber, even if completely unnecessary, fist jam to throw for the lip on an unnamed V3.

Here she is again on the fun Dragon Traverse V0.

And on the insecure feeling Fire Crack Flake V1.

Here I am going for broke on Block and Tackle V2, by far the tallest face I've climbed without a rope.

Kristal also sent her first V6, named Fortune. Go Kristal! Unfortunately I didn't get a picture of her on it, but here I am rocking onto its slabby topout.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

North Carolina

We had planned to hang around Chattanooga for a few days and take in some of the excellent nearby climbing. Unfortunately both of the areas we planned to visit just happened to be closed! Tennessee Wall due to a hunting closure, and Stone Fort in order to prepare for the upcoming Triple Crown competition. We weren't in the mood to sit around idly and wait for them to re-open, so we headed east into North Carolina. We would be back.

While we were in Horse Pens we heard a lot of talk about Rumbling Bald, so we went to check it out first. There was plenty to climb - trad, sport and bouldering - but with the recent rain and chilly temps we decided to stay off any roped cimbs. We spent 2 days sampling some of the bouldering. Having climbed exclusively on sandstone for almost the last 2 months it was quite a change to be pulling on granite again.

Here is Kristal on a nice warm-up slab.

And again on The Basetball Mantle V3.

We had a great time climbing with Brian and Keeling from Illinois, and had a blast with some ridiculous vines hanging from the trees. Here is Brian in mid-swing about 12 feet off the deck.

Next stop was Looking Glass Rock, which is a cool granite dome litterally covered with these crazy 'eyebrow' features.

We decided to jump on a nice looking 4 pitch moderate called The Sundial Crack 5.8. The cold and wind almost had us abondoning after the first pitch, but we pushed on and made it to the top. The climbing itself was incredibly fun, and it would have been a stellar day had it been a little warmer.

Here is Kristal leading up the second pitch.

And again belaying me up the last pitch.

And at the top, trying to conserve some warmth before heading back down.

Despite the cold temps we were planning to suck it up and spend another day at Looking Glass, but some rain in the forecast changed our minds. Instead we headed up to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. After waiting out the rain for a day we decided to go for a hike along the Appalachian Trail. The weather once again changed our plans, as enough snow had fallen in the mountains to close the road to the trail head. Thankfully The Great Smoky Mountains are full of hiking trails, so we easily found a nice one we could get to. The freshly fallen snow in the forest made for a beautiful hike.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Old and New Friends

Horse Pens 40 would be only our second repeat destination since we left in April. Despite all of the places we've been, nearly 50 destinations and counting, I still rank Horse Pens as one of the best. So many classic problems. So much diverse climbing. So many ridiculous topouts.

Our return would bring the downfall of several projects from the spring. Grooverider, Millipede and Orca to name a few. And add new projects for our next visit. So close on Trick or Treat! For most of you those names won't mean a thing. For me they are synonymous with pure climbing joy.

We made many new friends this trip: Jim, Eric, Katelyn, Katherine, Jorge and a fellow Canadian from Calgary, Alex, who is also on an extended climbing road trip. We also had a hilarious run-in with an old friend from our previous visit.

In April we met Wes, who rolled in around 11:00 pm one night, cooked himself some dinner, and headed into the woods to work on his project, Skywalker, by lamplight. Having nothing better to do, we joined him of course, and eventually left him in the wee hours of the morning to continue his work. The next day, as we were finishing up our session he was still there, toiling away, and would chill out with us on whatever problems we happened to be working on.

Fast forward to this visit, as we were wrapping up one day near the Skywalker problem, Kristal turns to me and says 'I think I just saw Wes!'. And lo and behold there he was, come back to work on Skywalker once again. Neither he nor we had been to Horse Pens since April, and yet here we met again, in the exact same spot, 7 months later! It was awesome catching up with him, and I only hope we get to meet up again someday.

Here he is taking a break from Skywalker to give Trick or Treat a go.

We put the camera away while we were climbing. I think we did a decent job in the first Horse Pens post of capturing the place in pictures. Aside from the picture of Wes above I only took one other shot, of one random sunset.

We got 3 days of awesome climbing conditions before the weather decided to rain on our parade. We once again moved on, and just like with all my previous visits to Horse Pens, all I could think about after leaving was when I would be back.

With the rain coming down, we decided to play tourist once again, and went for a tour of Ruby Falls, a 145 ft underground waterfall, in Chattanooga. The tour itself wasn't all that exciting, but the cave leading to the falls was full your typical cool underground cave formations.

The waterfall itself is pretty awesome, and is only somewhat marred by the crazy light show and music that they play while you are there.

At least it was a nice distraction from the pouring rain outside.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Goblins, Canyons and Cannonballs

Driving across the middle of the continent is never something you really look forward to. Although I'm a big fan of the wide open expanses of the prairies, it still kind of sucks when they stand between you and your next climbing destination. Whenever we make the journey, we try to find interesting things to see or do on the way to break up the long driving days. Getting from Saint George, Utah to Horse Pens 40 in Alabama took us a leisurely 4 days.

Our first stop was Goblin Valley state park in Utah.

It's a really cool valley full of crazy rock formations.

We spent a morning feeling like little kids running around and climbing them.

We also made our first foray into canyoneering that day. When I first suggested hiking a slot canyon to Kristal she looked at me a little skeptically. It probably didn't help that my description went something like: 'It's like going for a hike and doing some rappelling'. You see, hiking is something we do to get to a climb and rappelling is something we do to get off of a climb. Why we would do the former and latter without actually doing any climbing seemed a little silly. But after some discussion and internet searching it looked like hiking through a slot canyon might be pretty fun.

We hiked the Little Wild Horse Canyon trail, conveniently located Just outside of Gobling Valley. Thankfully Little Wild Horse Canyon is about as technically easy as slot canyons come, rated a mere 1A II on the Canyon Rating System, which means no rappelling and very little in the way of technical obstacles. It's amazing how enjoyable a hike can be when you aren't hauling a full pack of climbing gear and gaining 1500 ft of elevation. It was a super cool hike, the canyon becoming barely wide enough to pass in some sections, weaving through crazy water worn sandstone in others, and involving some fun easy scrambling. Unfortunately my camera battery died so we didn't get any pictures, but there are plenty online.

In Kansas we took a short detour off the interstate to visit what is probably the only climbing 'destination' in the state. Rock City is a collection of unique sandstone balls in a landscape that is otherwise barren of any climbable rock.

Though there isn't really much in the way of hard problems, there are some really fun easy ones, making it a great place to stretch your legs during a long drive. We only spent an hour bouldering there, but could have easily stayed longer it not been so cold.

The rest of the drive was largely uneventful, though I was excited to get a glimpse of the St. Louis arch as we drove past.

We rolled into Horse Pens late in the evening. We were thankful to have the long drive behind us and a few days of bomber climbing conditions ahead of us.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Weather Woes

We planned to spend another couple of days climbing in Zion, unfortunately the weather had other ideas. But even though the forecasted rain kept us off any longer climbs, we decided to hang around and check out the boulders until it hit. Zion would not be considered a bouldering destination by any means, but there are some established problems, and we managed to get on a few cool ones. Here I am on one of the best we found, climbing up the left arete of this boulder right off the main road.

We also toured around the park, which is incredibly beautiful. Here are some bighorn sheep we ran across.

And for the climbers reading this, here is the iconic Moonlight Buttress.

From Zion we headed to the Saint George area to boulder at Moe's Valley, a sandstone bouldering destination litterally just outside of the city. After taking a forced rest day due to the rain, during which Kristal dragged me to the latest Harry Potter movie, we were able to spend a couple of days bouldering. Kristal snapped some pics of me on a few problems.

The fun warm up, Cornered V0.

And right beside it, the cool Hermione V3.

And the short, but super fun, Anviloid Left V4.

There is a wealth of climbing around Saint George, and we were hoping to spend more time in the area. But the weather would again alter our plans. The rain had passed, but a cold front had moved in to bring daytime highs to just below freezing. Despite the potential for unrivaled friction, climbing in sub-zero temps was not our cup of tea. After much discussion we decided to start the long journey back east a little earlier then planned and spend some time in the (hopefully) warmer south east. Alabama, here we come!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Unfinished Business

After nearly three weeks in the Moab area, we were ready to move on, but first we had some unfinished business. The Kor-Ingless route on Castleton tower had been on our tick list since we first got to Moab, but poor weather had kept us off it. Castleton Tower is an impressive skyscraper that dominates the desert skyline and I couldn't bring myself to leave without attempting it.

The downside to the Kor-Ingless route is that it's one of the Fifty Classic Climbs of North America. Now, I know that sounds like it would be a good thing, but mostly it just means big crowds. We figured we'd be safe on a Wednesday in November, starting later than most reasonable climbers would be willing to start a four hundred foot climb with a hour long approach up a scree slope. Nope. There were three parties ahead of us when we staggered up to the base and then a crazy Swiss pair showed up half an hour later. I'm pretty sure you wouldn't have the tower to yourself it you decided to climb it on a new moon in a January blizzard.

The climbing itself was pretty interesting, but made much more insecure by the slick coating of calcite that covered much of the cracks. With our late start we were a bit anxious that we wouldn't finish before the sun set. The Swiss pair behind us must have been even more nervous- I've never had anyone follow quite so closely. I was terrified to slip on top-rope, sure that if I fell I'd knock their leader off the climb. At times he was less than a couple of feet below me. As Jason followed the last pitch, their leader actually beat him to the summit!

Anyways, the tailgating Swiss party got a pretty good shot of us on the summit.

And the view from the top was definitely worth the climb.

Finally finished our business in Moab, we headed to Zion National Park. Zion has been called the sandstone Yosemite and hosts some of the world's steepest and tallest sandstone walls. The fist view of the canyon is awesome, and a bit intimidating. I feel like I'd need to spend a lot more time practicing in Indian Creek before I'm willing to attempt any of these walls.

Instead, we opted to climb a chill, slabby route called Led By Sheep up Aries Butte.

The approach itself was pretty cool. After passing a wall of petroglyphs, the trail led up steep slickrock to a saddle between two buttes.

The route climbs a gentle, but runnout slab. Here I am on the first pitch after clipping one of the few bolts.

With 13 bolts (and one marginal cam placement) in 600 feet, we were pretty glad the climbing was easy. It was a pretty nice change from all the steep crack climbing we've been on recently. Here I am, leaving our mark on the summit.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Mesa Verde

While at Indian Creek we took a rest day and popped into Colorado to check out the cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde National Park. Despite many of the areas being closed for the winter there was still much to do, and we went on a tour of Spruce Tree House.

It was fascinating to learn how these people lived, and even more so to see how well some of these dwellings are preserved after 700 odd years.

Below you can see a pictograph on the wall of one of the living quaters.

In the courtyard you can see the tops of the ladders leading down into underground meeting rooms, called Kivas.

And here is Kristal in one of the Kivas we were allowed to go into.

After the tour we went for a hike to check some of the local petroglyphs.

And then drove one of the scenic loops to see some of the other ruins. Here is the largest of the dwellings, Cliff Palace.

There are signs of ancient peoples all over the desert, and Indian Creek itself was no exception. Petroglyphs can be found near many of the climbing walls, and one wall in particular, called Newspaper Rock, was the most impressive collection we have ever seen.