Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Fighter Jets and Fire Ants

There's nothing quite like being 5 pitches up a climb and having a fighter jet come screaming past a few hundred feet from the cliff.  The sound is absolutely deafening, the vibration is unnerving and the adrenaline rush takes a little while to wear off.  Welcome to climbing at The Needles.

Every day we were there the jets buzzed us, often flying beneath us, sometimes flying by upside down (perhaps to get a better view of the climbers?).  I imagine they have more important things to focus on, but I can imagine them radioing back to base telling their pilot buddies where the climbers are to give them a good fly by.  I tried to get a photo, but with only a few seconds notice it was pretty hard to get a decent shot.

Along with jets, The Needles seems to be home to an inordinate number of fire ants.  Be careful where you drop your pack, because a few seconds later it could be crawling with the little buggers.  Finding them on route while climbing can also be quite a bit unpleasant, and a good motivator to climb faster.  Aside from the ant dangers, the climbing here is phenomenal.  Everything we jumped on was incredible.

Here is Kristal at the top of the second pitch of Anti-Jello 5.10a, after climbing this excellent finger crack.

And following up the thin layback crux on pitch 3.

The views were spectacular.

Pretty much every climb at The Needles looks stunning.  While we were climbing Igor Unchained 5.9++ on The Witch, we saw these two other climbers climbing The Don Yuan Wall 5.11b on The Sorcerer.

Here we are at the top of The Witch.

Here is Kristal leading the somewhat protected 5th pitch of White Punks on Dope 5.8+.

And again at the top of the Voodoo Dome.

After coming back down to the base of the Voodoo Dome, we noticed two other climbers a couple of pitches up on White Punks on Dope and it turned out to be our friends Faith and Dirk again!  I guess we are on the same circuit as them.  It was great to camp with them for a night, but it was time for us to move on.  Apparently it was a wise choice.  The next day we got a text from Faith saying they woke up to 2 inches of snow.

Monday, May 28, 2012


Our first major trad climbing stop on this trip was Tahquitz, a spectacular thousand foot granite spire in the San Jacinto mountains of Southern California.

Interesting trivia note of the day: Tahquitz is where the Yosemite decimal system started.

Anyways, on day one we chose a route on the west face called Traitor Horn, which promised “ a wild and exposed crux”. It lived up to the promise. After two pitches of moderate crack climbing the route traversed under a head wall and forced you to mount up onto a narrow horn of rock that dangles two hundred feet above the ground. It was ridiculous and way too scary for us to think of taking pictures. Sorry.  However, here’s a picture of it from the top of the second pitch.

As we returned to the base of the climb to pick up our packs, we started chatting with Kevin and Ben, two climbers from Idaho and Arizona. Here they are rapping down Open Book.

Five minutes later, our old friend Faith, who we had met two years ago while climbing in Joshua tree, came around the corner with her boyfriend Dirk. It was great to see her again!

Later, we hiked back down to the parking lot, set our packs down, and ran back up to get the car from where we had it parked. We were still super stoked about the awesome climb, meeting Faith again and hung out in the shady parking lot for half an hour chatting. Then, of all the stupid things, we entirely forgot to put our packs back in the car. I’m certain we wouldn’t have remembered until the next day, but Kevin and Ben saved our butts and returned them an hour later. Thanks guys!

On our second day, we decided we were ready to commit to Whodunit, a super classic 5.9 that follows a crack system through the tallest part of the spire.

It was long, awesome, and somewhat exhausting. After nine hours of hiking, climbing, and scrambling, we decided a couple of rest days were in order.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Phoenix Heat

Before leaving Arizona we visited our friend Carol and her family in Phoenix.  It was great to relax for a couple of days and experience life in the baking heat of the desert.  I'm not sure how people live there, as the highs were over 40 degrees Celsius!  I guess you get used to it.  The pool definitedly helped.

Here I am playing with their dog Beau.

It was really cool to pick delicious grapefruit right off the tree in their backyard, and oranges from the trees growing beside the road.

There was also some cool wildlife to see. Some burrowing owls lived nearby.

And we hunted for scorpions in the back yard at night. They glow when you shine a black light on them. Perhaps not the most comforting things to find crawling around at night, but still cool.

As always, it was great to live on the inside for a while. Thanks so much for the hospitality Carol!

From there we headed to California. Our first stop was a couple of days of bouldering at Black Mountain.  It was nice to be in some cooler temperatures again, with some wonderful scenery and great free camping.

Here is one of the craziest looking boulders we've seen.

Some wacky mushrooms (we think).

We also hiked up to the nearby fire tower to enjoy the views.

And the drive up even came with a gift wrapped boulder!

Monday, May 14, 2012


Our first real stop in Arizona was at The Overlook, which is a short cliff of basalt columns overlooking the spectacular Oak Creek Canyon. 

It's also a common stop for tourists, who come by to check out the views. Thankfully the tourists seldom venture from the actual overlook, so, despite being only a couple of hundred meters away, it still felt reasonably isolated, and we didn't have to endure the usual tourist questions. We only spent one day there, but got on a few really nice (and pretty burly!) climbs.

Our next stop was Groom Creek, just outside of Prescott, where we enjoyed a few days of quality granite bouldering. One of the highlights was when a group of 5th graders, who were on an overnight field trip at a nearby camp, came by and hung out with us for about half an hour. They were super excited to meet 'real rock climbers', and were amazed that we were on a 4 month camping trip.  It was pretty cool to answer all their questions and pretty entertaining to hear them talk about their trip.

Here I am on The Bolt, V0+.

Kristal on The Bolt Arete, V0.

Me on the excellent, and committing, Space Lord, V2.

Kristal on some fun easy unnamed slabs.

And some token scenery shots...

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Rest Stop Bouldering

When we arrived in Sugarite Canyon it was 30 degrees Celsius.  When we left two days later it was 4 degrees and snowing.  The weather has definitely been a little weird.  We had hoped to check out the climbing in El Rito, New Mexico, but with the unfavorable weather we decided to keep driving.

We ended up stopping at a small local crag outside of Gallup, New Mexico.  It really isn't much of a climbing destination, with most routes being only 30 to 40 feet high, and a lot of broken glass and trash lying around from the locals partying it up.  But you can't beat the convenience, as it is a 5 minute drive from the interstate, has no approach and boasts free camping right at the base of the cliff.  There isn't much like getting on the rock within 5 minutes of finishing breakfast, and despite the short cliffs we did manage to climb some good routes.

On to Arizona, where we broke up the drive with a visit to Petrified Forest National Park, which had quite a lot to see.

Cool badland terrain.

Pueblo ruins.


Pretty flowers.

Cute wildlife.

And of course a lot of petrified trees.

The most random climbing ever occurred as we stopped at a rest stop on the I-40 to make dinner. Lo and behold there were some small sandstone formations just begging to be bouldered. We even managed to find a handful of decent problems!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Sugarite Canyon

Most of the last few days has been a blur of driving, highlighted by record breaking temperatures (36 degrees Celcius!) while going through Kansas. I still get mildly excited by the vast expanses of nothing in the great plains, much to Kristal's ammusement.  Here's a token sunset shot from somewhere in Kansas.

We made it to our first destination, Sugarite Canyon State Park in New Mexico, in two and a half days, and were pretty excited at the prospect of climbing when we arrived.  Unfortunately the tail end of the heat wave was still in full effect, and the idea of baking in the sun on the cliff was not at all appealing.  Instead, we headed to the nearby Capulin Volcano National Monument to do some sightseeing.  It was a pretty cool trip, and the fact that there is a road all the way up to the caldera of the volcano was a definite plus!  I didn't take an pictures of the actual volcano, but here are some from the hike.

Kristal freaking out over the number of moths flying about.  She doesn't like moths, and there are a LOT around here.

You can still see evidence of the lava flows in the surrounding plains.

Some cool nearby volcano features.

Some pretty flowers in the path.

Way in the distance is the Rocky Montains!

The next day we were itching to go climbing. The temperatures were more reasonable and despite the threat of wind and rain it turned into a beautiful day.  The cliff here is pretty short, maybe on average only about 70 feet high. It's all single pitch trad, climbing the cracks between these cool volcanic columns.

Here is Kristal leading Salt Mother 5.8.

And me dancing for the camera, with the canyon in the background.