Monday, April 21, 2008

Welcome to the Wild West

"It should not be denied... that being footloose has always exhilarated us. It is associated in our minds with escape from history and oppression and law and irksome obligations, with absolute freedom, and the road has always led West." -Wallace Stegner

So I have headed west with a new job and a new set of adventures to go on. Wait, let's back up a minute. For the past eight months I was employed by Pok-O-Macready. It wasn't a horrible place to work. Food and housing were provided. It had a great location near climbing and backpacking. Their were problems though. The pay was sub-par. The work to time off ratio was ridiculous. Mostly though it was just the constant bumbling and disrespect I felt from the management. So during a week off I scheduled an interview with a climbing company and also did quite a bit of climbing. My first time on the rock in several months.
Despite a lot of back and forth calling I wasn't sure what exactly was going to happen when I flew into Colorado Springs that March day. Fortunately, the day before I left things sort of fell into place. I was offered a place to stay and rides from place to place which made everything easier and cheaper. So on the day I flew in I met my future employer outside the airport and we drove to his house. He apologized in advance for kind of throwing me into the thick of things as there was a little party going on at his house. About fifteen minutes after walking in the door and introducing myself I'm offered a shot and then copious amounts of alcohol. Luckily I didn't make an ass out of myself and went to bed with promises of climbing the next day.

So after waking up the next day at an ungodly hour, especially after the drinking, flying, and staying up late, I kind of organized my stuff and got ready for some climbing. I also tried to fall asleep again since I figured if I slept from 3 till 9 then I would have accumulated an adequate amount of sleep. It didn't work. So I mulled around, watched some TV and when my gracious host awoke and made some breakfast we were off to sample some of the local fair.

First we made our way to Garden of the Gods, locally referred to as The Garden. Having climbed at The Garden quite a bit I now have some familiarity with the area and the climbs. Garden rock has a lot of variance. Kindergarten, or Grey rock is fantastic hard sandstone and has some of the best rock in The Garden. Technique wise it seems to have less smearing which is good because my shoes are blown out anyways. North Gateway rock is a little bit sandier and a little more fragile. I've pulled on some things that disinegrated under my weight. This is quite unnerving while leading.

The Garden is definately an old school area as well. Most routes were put up from the ground and can be sparsely protected. It's adventure sport climbing for the most part. I have yet to see a bolt that wasn't at least fifteen feet or more off the ground and many have runouts that will ruin your day if you aren't careful. I've also never seen so much old, homemade hardware. So many quarter-inch coffin nails and old iron angle hangers. For the most part though protection is old soft iron pitons pounded into drill holes. I've gotten used to it, but at first it scared the shit out of me. For a place with well over two hundred routes rarely do more than fifty of them get climbed on a regular basis.

My big intro to Garden climbing was the Lower Finger Traverse on North Gateway Rock. It's graded at 5.7 but is undeniably much harder than that. I've climbed 5.10's that required less fancy footwork. The first time I followed it and fell which was a little scary since it's a traverse and most falls will give you a big swing. I've since followed it again and did not fall so I'll have to go and lead it. Besides that their are many classics with spires and cracks and many technical face climbs it's a really nice area once you get used to it.

The next stop though was Red Rocks Canyon Open Space, or RRCOS. The recently aquired land had been through a flood of development and most of that development had been done by the company I was going to work for. Apparently the city did not want another Garden of the Gods and so the hardware is all bomber new bolts and everything is well protected. The rock is similar to The Garden in it's fragility and so the grades are always changing as holds break off and the sandstone is weathered. We showed up and I got to climb with some new people. One of them the guidebook author for the area as well as the Falcon Guide for the Northeast and I also met the owner of a company called Climbaxe. So we climbed around on a few 5.10's and I flailed a bit on a 5.11 but felt overall impressed that I was still in pretty good shape since the only thing I'd been climbing recently was ice.

The day thus ended we headed back and made plans for the next leg of the trip was to Colorado National Monument, Tusher Canyon Utah, and around Moab Utah. So I prepacked some things and headed to bed.

This time I slept pretty good and we were packing up the cars to be leaving by noon. After sorting gear and supplies we were on the road with another car headed for Grand Junction, CO which is where Colorado National Monument is located. After a long drive we made it to Fruita, CO where we met another member of our trip and made it the rest of the way to the proposed campsite, near the top of the canyon. It was around sunset and so everything was looking rather spectacular. Unfortunately, my camera wasn't capable of capturing this. After finding out that their were no fire rings at this campground we made our way to the local state campground and sat around the fire getting to know each other a bit better. The next day we packed up the gear so we were ready to make our way to Utah and headed to the trailhead that would take us to Independence Monument. After a somewhat long, but not unpleasant, and very scenic, route we were standing near the base of the tower. I really like towers. Maybe someone would psycho-analyze that and say it has something to do with some sort of phallic fascination but I think it has more to do with the fact that climbing up is generally the only way to get there. Most routes you climb and you get to the top of a cliff face in which you could have easily taken the easier albeit longer route around the side of the cliff. You can't do that with a tower. You have to climb to the top, you have to have some skill and maybe a little bit of craziness. Even more is that your at the very top of something, literally the pinnacle. Exposure is almost always there and it's climbing which is always fun.

Anyways, our proposed route was Otto's Route which is 4 pitch 5.8 which was first climbed by John Otto in 1911, solo. He hand drilled holes and pounded pieces of pipe into the holes to climb all the way to the top in time to plant a flag for the Fourth of July. He also had his wife carve the beginning of the preamble to the Constitution in a huge nearby rock. For some crazy reason they got divorced, imagine that. Anyways, the route is completely manufactured but it is definately of historical value and is fairly fun. The last moves of the final pitch are classic and the views from the top are fantastic as well. It was definately a good intro to tower climbing.

After rapping down we started to head out but made a quick stop to mess around on some single pitch stuff. I lead a route called Dihedral #1 which despite the mundane name was really fun. Having developed my gear placement skills in the East as more of nuts and tricams type of guy it was a little more difficult because I didn't bring an assortment of small cams. It went fine though and their are plenty of easy stance from which to place gear.

After the hike out we got in the cars and headed for Tusher Canyon, Utah. So the offroading adventure began.

Tusher is a pretty neat place. It's very secluded and the rock formations are vary from interesting to spectacular. Getting into Tusher is an adventure in itself. One needs a high clearance vehicle with four wheel drive to be able to make it through. Even so, one of our vehicles had some trouble when they got caught up in a sand dune. That was a good time. After screwing around trying to dig them out for fifteen minutes we finally towed them out with some webbing. We made it to camp alright though and after settling in we lounged around the fire, cooked some food, and rested up for some more climbing.

Having arrived in the dark I hadn't really gotten a good view of the feature which we would be focusing most of our attention, The House of Putterman. It's kind of a tower, almost a butte. At first glance it looks cool but when you get right up underneath it takes on a whole new air of seriousness.

We weren't undertaking anything real serious, just some fun climbing. We only did single pitch, nothing harder than 5.10's. Mostly toproping with a few leads. The first climb I did was only a 5.9 and I was feeling rather confident for some reason. Unfortunately as I came to the crux offwidth section I flailed and proceeded to turn my arms and hands into hamburger meat. Funny thing about crack climbing. If you have good solid jams you won't bleed. If your jams pull out you make an obligatory flesh deposit on the rock. Offwidths are not my friend. Even so I was excited at all the unclimbed rock and aesthetic lines all around.

The rocks need for blood satiated we left to nurse our wounds, some having more wounds than others, and recuperate for some more climbing the next day. That next day found us leaving Tusher Canyon to explore the local mecca that is Moab, Utah. Funny thing about Moab is it's circus like quality. The town thrives on the outdoor industry, especially mountain biking and the gaudy signs and billboards make it well known, also slightly comical. So we decided to head over to Potash Road. Some nice big cliffs right on Potash Road. When I say right on I mean you can belay from your car, you can feel the wind from passing cars, and standing right next to the rock still puts you in easy striking distance of a car should they not be paying close enough attention.

Nevertheless, it was fun climbing, good for a quick burn. Despite the height few of the climbs went to the top of the cliff. Expressing interest in something multipitch we headed over to the Tombstone. Our intended route, The Corner Route 5.12 III, being to the left of whipper inducing Epitaph which one can find videos of climbers taking sixty footers. That was not of great interest to me. I prefer to climb the rock. Either way though the climb was a burly one, following a dihedral system all the way to the top. The first pitch is a super scary 5.8 traverse. Thankfully I did not lead it. It follows a horizontal crack for about twenty feet. The crack is filled with dirt and the fall would be into the ground simply because of the slope of the ground. After almost yellowing my pants I was to lead the next pitch an easy 5.7 flake. I should have taken more time to recover from my near death experience but I racked up and lead off, sewing it up like a seamstress on speed. After climbing to a short offwidth section I couldn't figure it out. I was scared and pumped and just couldn't think straight, so I hung on the rope till I calmed down. Finishing the pitch I brought my partner up for them to lead the next pitch a pumpy 5.1o section. Cruising the pitch no problem he brought me up and after hanging a few times I finally made it. The last pitch, the crux, is a 5.12 finger crack or easy clean aid. Since we didn't have aiders and it was late we simply rappelled off. After some discussion we decided to head home because we wouldn't feel like climbing tommorrow and so off we went.

First we decided to check out some of the sights and so we drove through arches and I got to see the Fisher Towers and Castleton Tower. They were quite the sight to end my trip on. The desert is quite the amazing place and I hope to go back soon.

Since I've moved to Colorado I've been climbing more than I ever have in my life. I've been here about two weeks and climbed about 10 out of the 14 I've been here. I'm getting used to the chossy sandstone. Now all I need to do is get some new shoes and a new rope.

1 comment:

GB said...

DAMN! I wanna go! I wanna, wanna, wanna GO!