Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Back East

It was a bit sad leaving Colorado, despite the crappy weather.  We had planned to spend a good month or so climbing there, enjoying the wide variety of climbing the state had to offer.  I guess springtime just isn't the time to do it.  We hit the road, hoping for some better luck with the weather back east.

First stop was Elephant Rocks State Park, a small area of granite boulders in southern Missouri.  With visions of hanging out with a buch of people who were afraid to go outside, we headed to the nearest camping area - Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park.  Imagine my dissappointment when I discovered that a Shut-In was just a fancy name for a type of river rapids.

Kristal enjoying the Shut-Ins

Unfortunately for us the weather continued to be uncooperative.  Since we hadn't planned to stay long, and knowing there would be a chance of rain, we had decided to sleep in the car.  Thank goodness for us!  What had originally been forecasted as scattered thunderstorms turned into a full blown storm of epic proportions, complete with tornado warnings right where we were camping.  We couldn't get to sleep all that easily with the constant lightning, torrential rain and thoughts of tornadoes carrying us away.  When Kristal decided to visit the little girl's room in the middle of the night she discovered 3 inches of water outside the car.

About half an hour later the water had risen to 6 inches.  Good thing we weren't sleeping in the tent!  It turned out there was a small creek about 50 feet behind our site that decided to flood its banks.  We quickly moved to higher ground.

As the storm continued to rage the next day, doing any kind of climbing anywhere in Missouri or Southern Illinois was obviously out of the question.  We decided to head to Chattanooga, which appeared to be far enough south of the epic storm system to be largely unnaffected.

First stop was Tennessee Wall, an excellent trad crag that we had somehow never made it to on our many previous visits through the area.  We enjoyed two excellent days of climbing, despite not having a guidebook and running into no other people at the wall.  We just decided to jump on whatever looked good, and looked easy enough for us to climb.  As it turned out we managed to jump on quite a few of the classic moderates. Here I am on Puppy Ride, 5.9.

The views from the top, overlooking the Tennessee River, were pretty awesome.

It's been a while since we've been in the land of dense deciduous forest.  The sheer volume of bugs will take a few days to get used to again.  At least there are also a lot of pretty flowers about.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The End of Colorado

For the last week, the weather in Colorado has been, well, subideal. With nothing but more rain and wind in the forecast, we reluctantly decided it might be time to start heading east. However, I refused to go without first climbing one of the Flatirons, these awesome looking sandstone slabs that tower over Boulder, Co. (For the record this stubborn behaviour is completely uncharacteristic, I swear). Despite his better judgment and the rather questionable weather forecast, I coerced Jason into going out. From the parking lot, the sky looked clear and the climbing inviting.

The first couple of pitches offered easy, but pretty runnout slab climbing.

But at the top of the second pitch, we started to get a bit nervous. The wind picked up, there was thunder in the distance, the sky didn't look too good and I began to think that maybe Jason had been right after all.

We passed the slower party ahead of us and made a run for the summit. Here's Nick and Tara at the top of the fourth pitch.

Thankfully, the storm passed us by and the view from the summit was well worth the anxiety.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Spring is in the Air

After Great Sand Dune National Park we started working our way up central Colorado.  At our first stop, Shelf Road, we continued our recent foray into sport climbing.

Me on John Cruiser Melloncrimp, 5.10a

It would be short lived.  After climbing only two routes, and on an otherwise beautifully clear and reasonably warm day, we bailed due to the wind.

It was pretty frustrating, especially when the conditions were otherwise so nice.  But the wind out here is relentless, and when you are 100 feet off the ground at the end of a rope it's hard not to feel like a human kite. It doesn't take long before the climbing ceases to become fun.

The forecast for the next few days wasn't much better, but we decided to suck it up.  Apparently wind is par for the course during spring in the mountains.  It's not like we had anything better to do, and the thought of sitting around trying to wait it out wasn't appealing either.

The next day we went to Turkey Rocks, supposedly one of Colorado's best crack climbing areas.

Kristal on the first pitch of Gobblers Grunt, 5.9

The climbing was good, but having just come from Indian Creek we couldn't help but feel a bit let down.  At least we were back on the trad!  After all the recent sport climbing it felt good to get on some multipitch routes that actually took us to the top of something.

The next day we headed to a cool park just outside of Colorado Springs called Garden of the Gods, which contains some really cool sandstone formations.

It is also a popular park for people to visit, and we were there on a Sunday.  It felt like were were back at the Needles in South Dakota with all the tourists milling around.  While we were warming up on a short easy route a cute little girl provided running commentary.  Here is Kristal at the top, with the little girl on her own little boulder summit.

From the top we spied this crazy looking fin, second from the right in the picture below, which we just had to climb.

You can't beat the approach, 5 minute hike on mostly flat paved pathways.

It's called Montezuma's Tower, and the north ridge goes at a nice leisurly, though ridiculously exposed and a bit run out, 2 pitch 5.7. Below you can just barely see Kristal at the top of the first pitch.

Despite the gusts, which had me literally hugging the narrow ridge for minutes at a time, the climb was fantastic.  A super cool easy route in a spectacular location.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Great Sand Dunes

During the last week we've been on a whirlwind tour of Colorado, somewhat literally.  The wind has been a force to be reckoned with.  But that will all come in the next post.  After leaving Penitente Canyon we decided to stop in the nearby Great Sand Dunes National Park, boasting the tallest dunes in North America.

These dunes are massive, with the tallest hovering around 750 feet.  We decided to hike up to the second tallest, High Dune, distance about 1 mile, height around 650 feet.  Hiking up a 650 feet of sand is not all that easy, so we decided to take a mountaineering strategy and approach via what we dubbed the 'Southeast Ridge'.  This would make the approach longer but less steep, and a bit easier hiking as it turned out.  The sand along the ridges is harder packed that on the steep hills.

Here is Kristal, still pretty much at the base of the dunes, as we were making our way to the base of the ridge.

And here she is starting up the lower sections of the ridge.

Here she is at the top of one of the lesser dunes on the way.  We thought this was the top of High Dune for a while as we were approaching, but it turned out to be a false summit.

After an hour of hiking we finally made it to the top, which boasted some impressive views.


Coming down was much easier, and much more fun of course, with us mostly running down the steep hills in a flurry of sand.

As we were descending the wind picked up something fierce, a harbinger for the days to come.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Los Hermanos Penitente

It was sad leaving the Creek, and all the friends we had met there, but after two weeks we were starting to feel the effects of continuous crack climbing. Gobies, Creek Toe and muscle fatigue were all taking their toll. It was time to move on.

While we were at the Creek we had heard talk of the Crackhouse, a small bouldering cave outside of Moab with the sickest set of roof cracks you've ever seen.  As we were leaving we decided to go in search of it with our friend Sarah. After a couple of hours of driving around in the middle of nowhere, and just as we were about to give up, we finally found it. It's definitely worth the hype. There are several completely horizontal splitter roof cracks, the longest running about 50 feet.  Despite it being a rest day I couldn't leave without at least pulling on.  Here I am at the start of one of the shorter cracks.

From there we headed to Colorado, with our first stop being some bouldering in Unaweep Canyon.  We had stopped there last fall during a rest day to check it out, and decided it was worth a return trip to climb some of the boulders.  Unfortunately mother nature conspired against us.

Despite how nice it might look, what the picture above does not capture is the 100 km/h gusts of wind that made the thought of bouldering laughable.  We reluctantly moved on.  We could use another rest day anyway.

Next stop, Penitente Canyon, a small sport climbing area nestled in the foothills of the San Juan Mountains, and bordering the impressively flat San Luis Valley.

Yup that's right, despite our normal aversion to clipping bolts we decided to suck it up and go sport climbing. The owner of the climbing gym back home mentioned this place to me when I was visiting over the holidays, and everyone we met who had been there had nothing but good things to say.  It's a small canyon lined with short cliffs of volcanic tuff, with a variety of pockets and edges making for some incredibly fun climbing.

It also has some unique history.  In the early 20th century a Catholic sect of hispanic men called Los Hermanos Penitente (the Penitent Brothers) lived and practiced their religion in the canyon.  On one of the prominent walls of the canyon they created a painting of the Virgin Mary.

With the combination of beautiful scenery, convenient camping, easy approach and fun climbing, we ended up spending quite a few days climbing and hiking.  I can see why Los Hermanos Penitente chose it as their place of worship.

Thursday, April 7, 2011


April 5th marked a couple of important milestones.  The first was that it was Kristal's birthday.

Which we celebrated by, well, going climbing of course.

The second was that it marked exactly 1 year since we started this grand adventure.  Over the last few weeks I've been contemplating what to write about in the 'year in review' post. We have all manner of statistics that I could spray about. Number of days climbing, number of routes/problems ticked, longest routes climbed, hardest problems sent, distance traveled, destinations visited, etc, etc. At the end of the day though these numbers are really for our own amusement, and in my view are largely meaningless.

When we left a year ago, it started out as a year of climbing. Looking back it has turned into so much more. For me the climbing has become secondary to all of the experiences that surround it. The joys of living on the road. The wonders of traveling to so many new and beautiful places.

The sheer number of hours of every day just being outside. The countless beautiful sunsets and clear nights spent stargazing.

The incredible company of friends, both old and new, at the crag and around the campfire. The amazing stories of all the people we've met.

The long days of solitude on epic multipitch routes. The generosity and helping hands of strangers. The sheer beauty of the world around us.

Of course it hasn't all been sunshine and roses. There are a lot of people back home, family and friends, who I miss seeing. We have certainly missed living on the inside on occasion. Especially when the cold, wind or rain has forced us to retreat to the tent or car for extended periods. But otherwise life has been pretty awesome.

And yeah, I guess all the climbing has been pretty good as well...

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Status Quo

There's really not much to report since our last post.  We are still at Indian Creek, the weather has been great, and we have been climbing pretty much every day.

There has been some excitement, which luckily didn't amount to anything serious. One day our friend Cameron took a pretty scary ground fall, but he thankfully walked away from it with nothing more than a sore back. Another day our friend Sarah got a flat tire on the way to the crag and didn't have a spare.  Kristal drove her into Moab while me and the boys continued on to the Way Rambo wall.

Here is Cameron chilling out on a cool rock at the base of the wall.

The Way Rambo wall is stacked with great climbs.  Here is the cool looking roof with Serrator Crack 5.11- on the left and Layaway Plan 5.11+ on the right.

Matt did most of the climbing that day, as the rest of us were in various states of rest and recovery.  Here he is climbing Serrator Crack, just as it was getting into the sun.

And again on The Monk, 5.10.

Later in the afternoon Sarah and Kristal returned from their mission in town, and Sarah proceeded to warm up on the incredible Slice and Dice 5.12.

It was amazing to try such an awesome climb on top rope.  Thanks Sarah!

The weather is looking a bit more unpredictable for the next little while, but hopefully we'll get a few more good climbing days in before we decide to move on.