Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

While on the road for so long it's easy to lose track of time, especially when camping in the middle of nowhere, like we have been recently. It's often a struggle to remember exactly what day it is, and pretty easy to forget about upcoming special occasions. That hasn't been the case with Halloween though. Kristal has been obsessed with carving pumpkins for as long as she can remember. She has been planning her pumpkin for weeks, and has been paying special attention to our schedule to ensure we could be somewhere to get pumpkins in time.

We were able to find a couple of good pumpkins as we were leaving Joe's Valley, and yesterday we hosted our own pumpkin carving night after bouldering at Triassic.

Here I am making quick work of my simple, yet effective, design.

And another shot of us hard at work.

Kristal's plans were elaborate as always and a quick storm forced her to finish in the car. Thankfully the storm passed in a couple of hours and it turned out to be a clear night.

Here is the result of our efforts. I don't think I need to point out whos is whos.

And here they are outside of our tent.

We're currently headed to the Moab area and look forward to setting them up at our new campsite tonight. We hope everyone has a happy and safe Halloween!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

All Good Things

All good things must come to an end. We just didn't expect it to happen so soon.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. We've been in Joe's Valley, in central Utah, for a week now.

On the first day here we came across this roadsign covered with climbing stickers, right next to one of the areas. Here I am making our own contribution, adding a Spoken ( and IMBoulderer ( stickers. Ottawa represent!

Joe's Valley is actually a pretty awesome bouldering area, with numberous collections of sandstone blocks, containing many awesome boulder problems. Unfortunately the weather situation has left a little to be desired. Since we've arrived it's been cold, and pretty much constantly overcast, with rain and/or snow on the verge of falling at any given moment.

One night it started raining pretty hard and we noticed that there was a nice stream running under the tent. Here I am digging a moat around the tent to divert the runoff.

One morning we woke up to this. This is not how it's supposed to be.

Thankfully the amount of actual precipitation hasn't been that much, and we were able to boulder 3 of the first 4 days. It doesn't make for very pleasant sessions though, when it's cold, dark and intermittently spitting rain. We weren't really in the mood for standing around taking pictures.

At one point the forecast looked pretty grim, but we were actually in need of a couple of rest days anyway. We decided to go into the big city of Price, get a motel for the night, and enjoy the glorious world of the inside. A hot shower never felt so good. The next day we took our time getting back and stopped in to check out another nearby destination, called Triassic, that I had just found out about while online at the motel. We didn't seriously try any problems, but sussed out a few of them. Here is Kristal contemplating the first moves of one cool arete.

We saw a lot of problems that looked really cool, so we will be back to check it out.

During our little 'vacation' it became obvious what the problem with the weather was. Joe's Valley is on the eastern edge of a range of mountains. Unfortunately not eastern enough to be in the rain shadow. This is the view of the mountain range from Triassic, where it was nice and dry and sunny.

You can see the solid band of clouds hovering over it, dumping rain and snow, before breaking up as they came east. As we were driving back to Joe's we lamented leaving the nice sunshine and going back into the clouds. As we pulled up to our site, to find our tent destroyed from the the previous night's wind, it started to snow.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Salt Lake City

Our first climbing stop in Utah was at a local bouldering crag just outside of the city of Ogden, which is about a half hour north of Salt Lake City. It is made up of Quartzite boulders spread along the foothills of the mountains just outside of the city. Here is a picture of the city from one of the boulders.

We got on a few fun problems but put the camera away for most of the day. The real excitment of the afternoon came as we were leaving and saw two rattlesnakes at the base of one of the boulders we had just been climbing on half an hour before.

From Ogden we headed down to Salt Lake City, and figured we would spend quite a bit of time bouldering and climbing in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Unfortunately it turned out that all the public campgrounds in Salt Lake county, including the one conveniently located in the canyon, were already closed for the season. There weren't really any other nearby camping options either, and we ended up in a private RV park litterally 100 yards from the I-15. Needless to say, with the sweet, lulling sound of freeway traffic, the sprinkler system waking us up at 5am, and a half hour drive each way through the city to get to the canyon, we were pretty annoyed. Granted there are some advantages to urban camping, including showers, laundry and wi-fi, but in the end we could only spend two days climbing before hitting the road again.

The first day we spent bouldering, and climbed quite a few fun problems. Here I am on Fat Albert Gang V4, a really awesome arete climb.

The next day we decided we would climb the Indecent Exposure route up The Thumb, which is the peak just left of center in this picture.

At 9 pitches, and over 1000 feet of climbing, it would be one of the longest routes we had ever done, but it was graded relatively easy, so we figured it wouldn't be too bad. It turned out to be one of the most grueling days of climbing we have ever had. The 9.5 hour round trip from the parking lot, with 6.5 hours of climbing, weren't particularly atypical for one of our long climbing days. But the nature of the route, the two days of bouldering beforehand, and the long, steep and dirty gully descent all contributed to us being completely exhausted by the time we returned to the base of the cliff. Man, were we thankful for the hot showers at the campground that night!

In the end we climbed it in 10 pitches, skipping 2 of the pitches described in the guidebook and adding 3 of our own. Stuff like that sometimes happens. There were probably only 4 pitches that had what we would consider quality climbing, and some of that wasn't really all that fun. The rest was chossy, scrambly, and really not that great.

Here is Kristal on the wide and comfortable lunch ledge, 4 pitches up, when we still had some energy left.

Here I am heading out on the 5th pitch, which started with some really nice layback climbing and turned into some fun, but awkward climbing up a deep water groove.

Here is Kristal just after climbing the gruelling 6th pitch chimney. I think the look on her face says it all. The 5th and 6th pitches really took a lot out of us.

Here is Kristal just about to depart on the 9th pitch, much happier with the end in sight!

Even though The Thumb is only half way up the canyon wall, the views of the canyon and the city were pretty incredible. Pictures do not do them justice.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

City of Rocks

There was one more stop on our way south to Utah, and it would be our first repeat destination from the summer trip. City of Rocks, Idaho.

There were still a couple of routes on our tick list that we didn't get to in the summer, and it was a convenient stop. We only stayed for two days, but got on some really nice climbs.

On day one we climbed to the top of The Lost Arrow. It was only two pitches, but it was an awesome looking spire. Here is Kristal on the first pitch, getting ready to commit to some incredibly exposed face climbing.

On the west side it was only a single rappel (barely, with a 70m rope) to get to the ground, so I was able to go down ahead and get this picture of her standing on the top.

On the second day, despite the threat of rain, we climbed some really good single pitch routes on Elephant Rock. Unfortunately we didn't get any pictures.

From City of Rocks we headed to Salt Lake City, and our first stop would be the REI. They were having one of their periodic '20% off a single item' sales, so we took the opportunity to replace some aging equipment. Our climbing rope had seen better days and our big tent was on its last legs.

Yup, we finally retired our big tent. Although we will miss the nice screen room, it was finally at the end of it's life. With a few more rips from this trip and the onset of colder weather, we didn't think we would ever set it up again. We picked up a smaller 4 person tent, which was still roomy enough to be comfortable, but would definitely handle the elements better.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Wedge

The guidebook to Whiskey Gulch also described some of the roped climbing around Butte, so Kristal looked through it and found an awesome looking and sounding moderate trad route which we decided to check out. It was the Southwest Face route, a 5 pitch 5.8 on The Wedge, one of the rock formations at a place called the Humbug Spires.

We knew it was going to be another long day, the approach for Humbug Spires is about 6 kilometers, with 1300 feet of elevation gain, so we set our alarm and actually got out of bed when it went off this time. We would not make the same mistake as with Outer Space.

It was mighty cold that morning, and as we were eating breakfast in the car, with the engine running and heat on full, the thermometer read -3 degrees. We wondered what the hell we were doing in Montana in the middle of October, and briefly entertained the idea of immediately packing up and heading south. The thought of breaking down the frost covered tent did not appeal too much either though, and we knew it would warm up. The high would be around 12 degrees and we would be climbing in the sun. The climbing conditions would actually be pretty much ideal. We sucked it up and headed out.

Even though it was the longest approach we've done it didn't actually feel too bad. Here I am with about a kilometer left to go, and our first view of The Wedge. 600 feet doesn't look so high from this distance.

The route was fantastic, with an excellent variety of climbing, and some awesome views of the surroundings. For a change we also had the climb entirely to ourselves. It was the first time in a long time that we weren't stuck behind another party. Here I am coming up to the top of the 3rd pitch.

And here is Kristal leading the 5th pitch to the top, which was an unprotected, but thankfully fairly short and easy, slab.

We were delighted to find a summit register at the top, and Kristal went to work adding our entry.

It turned out getting to the rappel anchors would involve some incredibly exposed ridge traversing, which I'm sure you can imagine I enjoyed immensely. Here I am safely at the rappel anchors, after the harrowing (at least in my mind) experience. Kristal of course had no problem with it.

And here's another shot of Kristal on the summit.

We actually made short work of the climb, making it to the top in 3 hours and 45 minutes, which is pretty fast by our standards. In all it was a 9 hour round trip back to camp, and we returned with daylight to spare. It was going to be another sub-zero night though, so we decided to pack up and hit the road. We stayed in a motel that night, and continued due south in the morning, in search of warmer climes.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Whiskey Gulch

After Riggins we weren't really sure where to go next. I had heard about a bouldering destination called Whiskey Gulch, outside of Butte, Montana, but we had no information about it. I knew a guidebook existed, but I hand't gotten around to ordering it before we left in the spring. We could have easily started heading south, to more quickly get to Utah, but we decided to take the exploratory approach and see what we could find in Montana.

A quick search online at least pointed us to an outdoor sports store in Missoula, called Trail Head, which was on our way, and, in addition to an awesome strawberry smoothie from the coffee shop downstairs, we were also able to pick up the guide book. Kristal also spied the Montana Hot Springs guide, and we got the information for one that looked promising near the bouldering.

Whiskey Gulch turned out to be a pretty good destination, with quite a variety of climbing on granite boulders that have mostly flat landings. Free primitive camping is also allowed, which we took advantage of. The ranchers also use the land as pasture, so the local herd of cattle would often stop by in the mornings.

The grades were a little all over the map, but we got on some really fun problems. Here I am on Fear of Friction, a super cool and easy high face climb.

Not all of the problems are documented in the guide book, so we would often jump on stuff we thought looked cool. Here I am again on some unknown face climb, with an awesome view of the mountains.

As we were leaving we decided to check out the nearby hot spring. You can never be too sure what you are in for when you go to natural hot spring. They could be tepid, mungy, shallow, or all of the above. We were trying not to get our hopes up, but man, after two solid days of bouldering were we ever looking forward to it. It turned out to be an awesome find. The water was clean and hot, and it was right on the bank of the Jefferson River, so we could just jump in the river to cool down, and eventually bathe when we were finished.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Eastward Bound

From Leavenworth we headed to a place called Frenchman Coulee, a cool little climbing destination only about two hours east. It is known for its unique basalt column formations, which reminded us very much of Devils Tower. Unfortunately it's all on pretty short cliff bands, none of it being more than a single pitch.

We spent two days there, on the first of which we did some trad climbing. Here is Kristal on Party in your Pants 5.8, a fun little double crack climb.

The second day we decided to climb at the Feathers area, which is made up primarily of moderate sport routes on some cool, mostly freestanding, columns.

We ended up climbing 16 routes that day, which is a lot by our standards. Interestingly enough, at an average of 35-40 feet high each, it was still less climbing than we often do on just one of the many long multipitch routes we get on.

Frenchman Coulee is in an honest to goodness desert, with very little in the way of moisture. Here is our setup at the free camping area.

Fortunately there is a huge reservoir just down the road which made for some excellent swimming and bathing.

Next we headed further east, across the Columbia Basin and back into the mountains of the Rockies, to check out the bouldering around Riggins, Idaho.

Its really not a huge destination, with small pockets of boulders scattered along 6 miles of the Salmon River, but made for a pretty fun little stop. Many of the boulders are right on the shore of the river, with nice sandy landings. Some go right into the water, which makes for some interesting climbing.

Here I am on Butterfly Traverse, which traverses the lip of the boulder well into the river.

And here is Kristal figuring out how to get on an unknown face problem without getting wet.

Some of the faces on the river boulders are so incredibly polished that they offer no friction whatsoever. We found one low angle slab that normally wouldn't have even been worth trying, but because it was so polished it proved to be impossible to climb up the center. It did make for an interesting slide though.

Leavenworth Bouldering Video

While we were in Leavenworth we found some time to do some filming. Here is the result...

Monday, October 11, 2010

Leaving Leavenworth

We didn't take any pictures of actually climbing Outer Space, or even the cliff itself, which is why I didn't include any in the last post. But we did get a few incidental photos.

Here is the friendly mountain goat who hung out with us at the bottom. We named him Gaston.

Here I am at 10:30pm, when we finally made it back to the base of the cliff to get our stuff.

And me the next day, showing off our brand new free Metolius Master Cams, complete with mini biners!

We spent a couple of more days around Leavenworth bouldering.

Here is Kristal on Sunny and Steep V2.

And again on The Hesitator V2, a very aptly named problem. Here she is about 12 feet off the deck, at the comfortable rest just before the crux. Needless to say most people hang out there for a while before mustering up the nerve to finish.

We spent 8 awesome days in Leavenworth, 6 of them bouldering or climbing. We could have easily stayed longer, but, as always, other destinations awaited. Before we left we decided to go downtown once more to enjoy the festivities.

And of course one more stop at the Friends of the Library book sale. The selection had become pretty grim, but they were practically giving them away. We picked up another 7 books, some of highly dubious quality, for a whopping 1 dollar.

We also wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving! Last night we celebrated as best we could. Even though we've been camping out in the woods, in middle of nowhere Montana, for a couple of days, Kristal still managed to cook us a Turkey dinner. Delicious!