Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Colorado Day Three: Boulder Bandits

"Jello"'s comments in italics

Let's start by saying that Boulder is not one of "Jello"'s favorite places. While I'll let him discuss his political appreciation of the town, I will go ahead and beat him to the punch regarding the camping situation and then get into what turned out to be an interesting day of climbing.

Boulder Canyon

With Greg's crack lesson being over, we decided to head to Boulder Canyon rather than stay at Turkey Rocks . It was only a short drive drive through the South Platte area to Denver, and we bypassed it on the way to Boulder in search of the rare beast known as the Boulder Campsiteratus. The Republic of Boulder as it has been called is full of interesting people: young hippies, student liberals, dingy old hippies, some bums. It’s quite the town except for a few minor details.

We figured that since we were leaving relatively early in the day (about noon), that we'd be able to grab a campsite at the only campground in Boulder. There was just one problem with this plan: that Boulder is a pretty popular place and there is only one campground in Boulder. Look, I'm not going to get into the politics behind why Boulder doesn't allow more than the one campground. I'm sure they have their reasons, but if they believe that limiting the campgrounds also limits vagrancy (as the campground office manager seemed to suggest), well, let's just say that they are wrong.

Our second mistake was also assuming that we had time to drive into the canyon and scope things out for the next day before heading to the only campground in town. Part of the reason we did this was because the sun was setting and the canyon itself was noticeably darkening by the minute. There was a part of us that knew we weren't going to get a campsite, and so we were also scouting the canyon for possible campsites just in case we had to bandit-camp for the night. Unfortunately, at the time of my write-up, the Forest Service website was down, so I couldn't verify the exact regulations on camping on Forest Service land (because the Boulder Canyon land is pretty much split between Roosevelt National Forest and the city of Boulder). But I'm nearly positive that if one travels 100 yards off the trail or away from water and roads then one can set up camp on National Forest land (If I'm wrong, please post a comment below). What is confusing about Boulder Canyon is all the signs along the side of the road stating that camping is not allowed. What these signs are saying is only partially true, that one cannot park one's car on the side of the road and sleep in it for the night (or pitch a tent). What they don't say is that it is possible to walk 100 yards away and, if one is lucky to find a flat spot, pitch a tent there for the night. Of course, due to the inherent steepness of the canyon, it is incredibly difficult finding flat spots both far enough away from the road, trails, and Boulder Creek and close enough to the car without having to hike for an hour just to find a decent spot. It was one of these flat spots on one of the lower buttresses that we were looking for specifically during the daylight hours so that we wouldn't have to do all of our scouting under the moon if the only campground in town didn't have any spots left.

So driving into town I let Greg know that there was only one campground in Boulder Canyon. Since the canyon is also in Roosevelt National Forest, I was under the impression that if we found a good spot a ways off the road it would put us in the clear of doing anything illegal. Let’s keep it straight. I don’t encourage illegal camping but there are times... times when the situation is so annoying... so odious... that you have to say no. No, I won’t pay your high prices. No, I won’t drive an extra twenty miles to climb here. I will not go quietly into your RV park; I’m setting my tent right here where everyone can see it. So we did.

I’m usually pretty good about finding camping spots that don’t go over the line into illegality. Unfortunately, driving up the canyon with our eyes glued everywhere but the road, we could not find a suitable spot to put down my tent.

As you can imagine, we had very little time before night set in to find a place, and we had even less success finding an easily approached buttress that was both somewhat hidden and legal. So after about an hour of driving up and down the canyon, we pulled into the only campground in town. As you might have guessed, at Four Mile Canyon Campground, we saw the final nail in the coffin: a "No Spaces Available" sign. Of course, they understand the camping situation in Boulder, so they had a very helpful listing of other campgrounds in the area (with the word "area" being used loosely). There were about 40 campgrounds listed, with some being well over an hour away, so "Jello" chose the closest one (about 30 minutes away) and plugged its three listed phone numbers into his cell phone. Because he didn't have reception in the campground itself, we had to drive back out onto the main road before we could call to reserve a site for the night. When his phone was showing bars, he pulled over and called the first number. This was at about 7:10pm.

- First number: We're sorry, but the number you are dialing has been temporarily disconnected. There has been no other number listed - CLICK!
- Second number: Eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh
- Third number: Thank you for calling such'n'such campground. Our normal business hours are 9am to 7pm - CLICK!

It didn't bother us so much that we couldn't get through on all three numbers so much as the one number that seemed to be reachable was busy. OK, so we understood that we were very unlikely to get a spot considering the third number suggested the campground was closed, but still, if we could get through on the second number and were given a chance to explain ourselves, then we figured we had a chance to secure a legal, paid campsite for the night. We knew our chances of success were bleak, so we decided to kill two birds with one stone's throw and hit redial over and over again while driving around in the dark as a last-gasp effort to find legal-but-free camping the canyon. Unfortunately, whoever was on the damn phone never got off and it was too dark by this time to scale the steep canyon walls to the top.

As I spun my wheels on the gravel in desperation, we started looking again until we saw a small pull-off near Frogman’s Pinnacle. It was much darker than it had been a few hours ago, but we were desperate for a place to stay and so I walked to the top and found a "flat" spot that would accommodate my small backpacking tent. What we found wasn't great, so we had a decision to make.

- There's nothing flat up here. Can you believe it? It's all sloping and rocky.
- It's also not protected. Anyone driving around that corner is going to see us up here.
- I wouldn't worry about that tonight. People's eyes won't be focused up here.
- What about tomorrow, in the morning? I guess we're beating the crowds to the cliff in the morning. That's not such a bad result.

- I guess so. But man, how is the tent going to sit up here?

We worked out the best possible spot on the small ledge we were standing on and decided to bring our stuff up before eating dinner. It was kind of funny how we did this, too. We weren't sure just how far away from the trail, road, and water we were, so we didn't want to be seen. We made sure that our headlamps were turned off each time we were on top of the buttress, and this made it slightly more difficult to pitch the tent. But the funniest part was our stealthy approach to transporting the gear from the car to the site. The scramble leading to the site was on the back side of the buttress and away from the road. We were protected from being seen by the west-bound traffic because we were on the west side of the rock. But we were in broad view of the traffic travelling east, and it was difficult to anticipate just when the east-bound traffic was going to come around the corner and flash its beams upon us. We decided to work on only one side of the car, the side between the rock and the car, thus sheltering us from both the east-bound and west-bound headlamps, by pulling all of the gear out and setting it on the ground until we were ready to move. We then hunched down behind the car and gathered as much gear as we could in our arms that would still allow us to move quickly down the 150-yard path to the back end of the buttress. And then we waited until we were sure there were no cars coming. At that precise moment, both "Jello" and I shouted, "Go! Go! Go!" and ran full-speed down the dark, rocky path with sandals and flip-flops, no headlamps, and our arms stuffed with sleeping bags, pads, sections of the tent, and night clothes. It was as if we were running through an open field expecting enemy fire at any moment. I'm not exactly sure if we made to the back end without being seen, but what also is funny is that when one gets around to the back end, the west-bound headlamps can be easily seen. Now, this doesn't mean that the headlamps are focused on us, but it does mean that we weren't sure if they could see us and thus, as we roared around the corner away from the east-bound traffic, we came to a frightful, dead stop as we saw cars coming the other way. I felt like a squirrel on a telephone pole who had been seen by casual passers-by who probably could've cared less that I was there: I was motionless in full view with the hopes that if I remained still then no one would actually see me. Of course, much of this was blown out of proportion and we were more like kids playing hide-and-don't-get-seen than we were criminals, so we hiked up and set up the tent with our sleeping pads, bags, pillows, and night clothes casually tossed in with the intent that we'd that stuff up after dinner.

Before we cooked, however, I noticed that "Jello"'s tent poles were bright orange, and so I wondered if anyone driving by would see the glimmer of the poles in his or her headlights, thus moving eyes away from the road and up toward us.

- I wouldn't worry about it. The mesh on the tent itself is black.
- Is there any reflective tape?
- Well, the zippers, yeah. But they'll be on the bottom and shouldn't be too easily seen.
- What about the fly?
- What about it?
- Is it also black?
- Nope.
- Uh, OK. What color is it then?
- Bright orange, with reflective tape.

I rolled my eyes and thought for sure we were going to have either a park ranger or local constable of some sort knocking on our tent at 3am asking us to get out so he or she could confiscate it. "Jello" agreed that my concern was a good one, and so he said that he'd set up the fly on the opposite side of the road so that it couldn't be seen, "and if it rains," he said, "I'll just get up and pull it over." His thought was that if it wasn't raining then we didn't need the fly and would be safe using the black mesh of the tent itself. But if it did rain, then the traffic wouldn't be looking up at us anyway because they'd be too concentrated on the road in front of them. Still, when we were done, I asked him to drive up the road and come back just to see what it looked like. If he couldn't see it, and he knew where it was located mind you, then we were probably OK. He drove off while I started to get dinner ready, and he returned with the good news that he could barely see the tent despite the fact that he was actually looking for it. We both felt better at this point, and sat down to eat.

Alas, but our story is not over. You see, just as we were finishing dinner, a wild gust of wind blew through the canyon, and we felt the slight droppings of water pelt our skin as a result. It didn't take long for the single gust to turn into more sustained winds. Our food and cookware bags were now starting to flop around, so we decided it was time to clean up and seek shelter. The cleanup only took about five minutes, but in that short period of time we noticed the wind picking up even more and we were lucky to not have had several of our possessions blown across the road. We hurried to secure everything in the car and then ran up to the tent so as to beat the rain before our sleeping gear got wet.

We headed up the hill with the leaves rattling restlessly in the wind, and with each gust of wind I walked even faster. I had left the fly connected on only one side so as to conceal the ten as much as possible from the headlights below, and as I walked up I worried the tent might have blown away. Of course, this now meant that we were going to have to pull the fly over, but that was a non-negotiable sacrifice at this point. I would have much rather spent the night in a jail cell than in a tent in the rain without its fly on. But despite this annoyance, we realized that when we got to the top of the buttress we were lucky to have a tent at all. We hadn't staked it out when we set it up, and if it weren't for the small, six-foot wall next to the site, the tent, with everything in it, would have blown clear across the canyon if we hadn't got there in time.

With the wind now howling even stronger than before, we tackled the tent before it was gone. If I grabbed the left side, then the right side lifted high above my head. I looked like a strongman lifting the the back end of a car high above my head by grabbing only the front end. I did my best to throw my weight on top of it while "Jello" furiously staked the ends. Of course, it was now dark enough such that we couldn't possibly work without headlamps, so every time a car drive by I just assumed it saw two sets of headlamps fighting a bright orange, wind-sail tent in a spot they probably weren't allowed be at this point in the night. If it weren't for the wrestling match I was trying to win, I swear that I would have feared nothing but doom with regards to getting caught.

With the element of stealth no longer on our side, we struggled with the bright orange, parachute-like fly. Eventually, we managed to get everything staked out and tied down... well almost everything. Having broken one stake and lost another, there was one door that continued to flap. I searched for a stick in the darkness and with the rain beginning to pelt hard enough to kick up the otherwise dry dirt. Finally, after finding a satisfactory candidate to replace the stake, it cracked while pounding it into the ground. I was now annoyed, but I was able to find a few large stones to wrap the end of the fly under.

To make matters worse, the spot where the tent was set up was sloped such that we were going to have to sleep with our head and feet going the same direction (we were using a two-person tent) - comfy! We finally settled into the tent and laughed because the wind was blowing so hard that "Jello"'s side of the tent (the windward side) was blowing straight down on top of him. He looked as if he was sleeping in one of those Japanese nap stations they have for workers during long hours with barely two inches of clearance between his nose and what should have been the upper zipper of the door. We actually noticed the next morning that two of his poles had bent that night, and this is a tent that was supposedly strong enough to handle 50mph winds.

While I'm not sure when it happened exactly, the wind and rain did die down at some point. I do remember being scared out of my mind at about that point in the evening when I saw what I thought was a headlamp or flashlight shining through the tent walls. It shone through rather brightly, and then went away. It then returned again, and went away again. At first I thought it was either someone looking at us from across the canyon with a flashlight or a couple of nut jobs doing a night-ascent in bad weather. "Jello" later told me that he saw it, too, but thought it was just the moon coming out and going behind the clouds. He said that his tent somehow made the moon brighter on occasion. When I asked him how he knew that was what it was, he said, "because no one came knocking on the tent." Hmmm, good point.

- You awake?
- Yes, but not the kind of awake where I get out of bed.
- What time is it?
- I dunno but I guess I’m just gonna get up, not getting any younger.

It was early when we both awoke (maybe 5am), and there was enough daylight such that we were concerned that the tent was going to be easily seen by the early-morning commuters (or law enforcement officials on the early shift). We reluctantly got our under-rested bodies up, packed up the tent, ate breakfast, grabbed a hot chocolate at a local gas station (as well as taking care of hygienic needs), and drove to the Bihedral area to get some climbing in that day. While I'm not sure if we felt lucky to not have been caught, we certainly felt lucky to have not lost our tent either via the weather or law enforcement. In any case, it was sunny, quiet in the early morning, and we had only good things to look forward to because our latest adventure had been hurdled cleanly, just like every other one we've ever had (yes, that's a different link for each interesting day we've spent climbing together).

But hold a minute before that because I want get another kick in Boulder's nuts: camping in Boulder sucks. The reason I’ve heard this is so is because the town wants to keep out the riff-raff. Well listen here Boulder, you’ve got a town with homeless people in it. The riff-raff is already there. Additional campgrounds would not encourage riff-raff. You think people just hang out in campgrounds illegally? The fact is it could be an added source of revenue for the city. Add as much or as little as you want. Don’t make people pay exorbitant amounts to the only campground in town and then not allow people to sleep in their cars or camp in the woods.

The Bihedral
The Riveria

Approach / Descent info for The Riveria: Park in a dirt parking lot on the creek side that is in between two bends in the road. If you pass a yellow traffic sign that reads "Slower Traffic Turnout" that is followed by another sign that says "40 MPH" with a squiggly line, then you are passing the parking lot as you read the signs. From there, head east toward the guardrail on the creek side of the road and cross the road where it is safe. You should come to a reflector post that is followed by a path with another post up high with the number "430" on it. Follow this path to the Riveria section of the Bihedral.

As for the descent, all of these routes can handle rapping on one 60m rope. In fact, I think most of the routes may even be able to handle 50m ropes, but some may be a bit too close to call on this, so I would do some research before coming with just one 50m rope.

Choutte (5.6) - 85 feet - Mixed - Bolted Anchors - Greg led

At the top of the path, find a blank face just to the right of the right-facing, slanted corner that is about 45 feet up. Climb left of the left-facing block and follow the bolts. I would still bring some small and medium-sized gear (maybe three or four pieces just in case). Angle right right at the small triangular roof and find the anchors below a bush.

So this was my first climb in Boulder Canyon. The early-morning sun was still trying to fight through the grey clouds, the crag was void of climbers bar us, and my fingers were cold. But that was OK, because "Jello" had taken all the leads the day before (at my request) and this was my first chance to climb solid rock that wasn't a crack. So off I went, with four points on all the way up, and down I came. "OK," I thought. "Nice climb, but I need more."

Splash (5.7) - 85 feet - Mixed - Bolted Anchors - Greg led

Splash is the next route to the right of Choutte, and climbs the face between a blocky bulge on the left and a right-leaning roof. Go straight up the face and then right to a thin, left-fading crack with a bolt up to the right. Head left from the bolt to the same chain anchors as Choutte. Again, there was nothing special about this route, but it was nice and fun. I just didn't find any adventure to write about.

Le Nouveau Riche (5.10b) - 85 feet - Sport - Bolted Anchors - Greg led

This pretty much starts across from the top of the path, and it is deceptive because it looks like the 5.8 that is next to it. We made this mistake, as I was looking for something a bit more challenging than the first two routes but definitely not into the 5.10 range. Climb the face about 10 feet left of a blocky bulge. The first bolt is about 25 feet off the ground and 15 feet above the blocky ledge at the start. Follow the bolts and stay right of the squiggly crack near the top in the right-facing corner. After climbing the blank slab, finish left on the chains that are up on the large face to the left.

As I sent Greg up what I thought was Topless Etiquette, a 5.8, I noticed he was having a tad bit of trouble.

Heh. Well, I thought this was a 5.8 when I started, and it sure felt like 5.8 up to the point where all the holds ran out. I rested when I got to the slab and scouted out the moves. But in fact, there weren't any 5.8 moves here. I tried the thin holds three or four times and retreated each time wondering what the hell I was on.

- Use your slab technique.
- Yeah, I can see that. This doesn't look like 5.8 though.
- Use your slab technique.
- OK, but are you sure this is 5.8?
- Yup. Use your slab technique.
- (to myself): Jesus this looks harder than 5.8.

This is one of those situations where I was wondering if the grade was specific to the climbing style of the route. As you may know, I've made this mistake before, but I just wasn't sure that this was 5.8. I went up and down several times, each time getting to about the same spot, about three feet above the bolt, where total commitment was required to move up higher. I was nearly hesitant just getting to this particular spot because of the need for sticky feet, but the next move meant lunging up for a tiny side-pull with the left hand and a need to immediately find feet before peeling off. I naturally scanned for feet in front of me before making the lunge and just couldn't find anything at all. I must have done this four or five times; each time I downclimbed afterward. Making that lunge was just stupid in my opinion. I knew there weren't going to be any feet beforehand, so why even try just to see if I could miraculously find something? It would have been about a 15-foot swinging fall had I not stuck it, with little chance to grab the side-pull enough to allow a downclimb. After several minutes up on the little ledge below the crux, I said "screw it" and headed right toward Choutte (5.6). I climbed the crux of Choutte and managed to traverse on an easy but heady section of rock that had me about 15 feet above the last bolt. I then walked over and clipped the anchors and asked to be lowered to the bolt directly above the crux. I wanted to toprope this section just to see if I was wimping out, and so I slowly traversed over and clipped the bolt above the crux. However, I stupidly clipped the wrong rope (I clipped the rope running between "Jello" and the anchor when I should have clipped between me and the anchor - oops!). This made the toprope attempt futile because the anchor was so far to the left that I was going to take a huge swing into a rather large corner if I blew the move. I decided against toproping the climb and came down.

Upon coming down, we were greeted by a couple of older women who had come by for a bit of cragging. One of the women was rather pregnant (she had even jokingly asked to use our harnesses instead because her harness was too small - wait a minute, was that an insult?) and still belaying, climbing, and falling the entire time we were there. The other woman, we'll call "SuperCool" for reasons to be noted later, told us when I came down that I was on the ten and not the eight. We asked her about five times if she was sure and she remained steadfast stating that she'd show us the 5.8 later. Well, someone had to go back up to get the gear, so "Jello" decided to toprope it just to in case she was right. He managed to do the climb cleanly, but I'll tell you that he struggled through the crux mightily, and even had to climb past the top bolt in order to clean it. This relieved me for two reasons: 1) "Jello" is a fairly good slab climber and if he struggled then I was going to struggle and; 2) if he was having such a difficult time finding good position to clean the bolt (it wasn't the cleaning he was having trouble with, but positioning in order to clean), then I was going to really struggle placing the draw on lead. This helped me to understand that I had not backed off an easy route, but one that was out of my range at that particular moment. When he came down he agreed that it was, indeed, a 5.10b.

I realized when I toproped it that is was certainly not the climb I was thinking of, and was in fact a hard 5.10. Guess I should be more careful about what climbs I get on. Oops. Sorry Greg, but not really. Suck it up next time!

Devil's Dihedral (5.9+R) - 60 feet - Mixed - Bolted Anchors - "Jello" led

We were going to jump on Topless Etiquette (5.8) after the 10b, but I wanted to grab some food before continuing on. By the time we were ready, the two women had already jumped on it and were showing us where to climb. We thanked them and decided to see what was around the corner to the left.

Devil's Dihedral is to the left from the top of the path. Go a few feet past the large tree at the base and look up to your right to find the long, right-fading, left-facing corner. Climb the corner, fading right and staying in the corner as you go, to the chained anchors just under a small roof above (you can't see the anchors from the start).

This was also a fun route, and probably a bit easier than 5.9 in my opinion. I don't know, maybe that was because I seconded it and felt more able to make aggressive and committing moves. "Jello" did just fine leading it, and I felt that the crux, while committing and friction-like, had solid stems and a decent lieback where you needed it. I recommend this, but one should have a good head going in, because the first bolt is a bit high and there aren't great gear placements below it. "Jello" did manage one cam placement in a crack to the left, but if he had fallen on that placement then he would have swung way out left due to the route continuing off to the right. If you're going to place this piece then you'll need a long sling to prevent rope drag.

Topless Etiquette (5.8) - 75 feet - Sport - Bolted Anchors - Greg led

Ah, finally! It was my turn to jump on the 5.8. Fun climb. Not much else to say about it except that it starts on the second set of bolts to the right from the top of the path. The first bolt is about two feet right of a thin, horizontal pancake flake / boulder. From there, fade left at the bulge toward the anchors that are down and left of the two other anchors that are on the large right-facing face above (the upper anchors are for Le Nouveau Riche). I did this route clean, had fun on it, and actually managed a few good pics of "Jello" on the way up (see the photo link at the bottom). We climbed, we conquered, and we now had one more climb to get in before lunch.

Au Natural (5.7)- 60 feet - Trad - Bolted Anchors - "Jello" led

From the path, head left past the large tree and find the wide dihedral / chimney that leads to a small buttress. Fade right up the ramp to the bolted anchors.

This was another nice route that I recommend. In fact, all of the routes here are nice. Just haven't said more than that because without some sort of adventure, there isn't much to say about easy single-pitch sport routes. Still, if you're looking for some nice moderate climbs with a couple of harder routes mixed in, this is not a bad place to spend the morning or afternoon.

Probably the biggest thing to note of this climb is that, while "Jello" was climbing, and while I was talking with a group of folks who had just arrived at the crag, I noted that we had bandit-camped that previous evening due to not finding any place to stay otherwise. The conversation with the three younger folks turned from jovial to rather, well, how shall we say this?, awkward. They immediately looked at me as if I was some sort of immoral criminal (not a petty criminal, mind you, but immoral) who they had just lost all respect for and didn't want to continue the conversation with. It was as if I had walked into a party being held by religious teenagers and said, "hey, who wants a beer?" with everyone slowly moving into the kitchen and the last person quietly closing the swinging door followed by awkward laughter from the other side (OK, maybe drugs would have been a better example, but I wanted it sound as if there was a significantly lesser offense being drawn here). Look, I've tried "drugs" only once in my life. I was at a party and a friend offered me a hit from his joint. I took one hit (yes, I inhaled), felt that it did absolutely nothing for me and said, "this is stupid," and never did it again. Even so, I saw for the very first time (with the same people in the room, as a matter of fact) cocaine spread out on a table just a few days later. I left that particular party because I just didn't want to go where it was heading, but I still went to lunch with most of the same folks the next day. Do I think that they're bad people for doing drugs? No. Do I think they could make better choices? Sure, but seriously who shouldn't make better choices? Despite my disagreement with their choice of pleasure, we all remained good friends mainly because we were all good people (well, you can make your own judgement of me separately). I guess what I'm trying to say is this - IT WAS FUCKING CAMPING PEOPLE!!!! WE WEREN'T STEALING OUT OF PEOPLE'S CARS!!! GET OVER IT!!! Moving on...

One good thing did come from this, however. Also overhearing our camping problem were the two women who had helped us with route-finding earlier in the day. Once the awkward conversation had ceased, and the group of teenagecrybabies had walked off (they weren't teenagers by the way. They were probably in their mid-to-early twenties), "SuperCool" came up and said:

- "SuperCool": You know, if you guys can't find a spot to stay, you're more than welcome to crash at my place.
- Me (feeling kind of weird): Really?
- "SuperCool": Yeah, I've got a buddy coming over for Sunday Night Football tonight, so you'll have to root for the Packers if you do.
- Me: Um, OK. Let me talk to "Jello" first.
- "SuperCool": Sure thing. I totally understand the camping situation here. It's a real pain in the ass and I sympathize. It's tough to find a spot.
- Me: Yeah, we had an interesting night last night.
- "SuperCool": I'll bet, and I'd hate to see that happen again.

Well, that was weird, but cool at the same time. I told "Jello" the news when he came down and he was immediately skeptical, but seemed somewhat open to the idea. I told "SuperCool" that we were going to head back to the car for lunch and then off to another area, but we might stop by that night if we couldn't find a place to stay. She gave us her number, we thanked her and walked back to the car. I asked "Jello" on the way back what he thought and this is what he had to say:

- Did she know about our situation or did she just offer?
- Oh, she heard me say it. Sorry if that wasn't the right thing to do.
- No, that's fine, I just didn't want to get roped into unwanted favors, if you know what I mean.
- (laughing): No, that doesn't seem to be her intent.
- Which is really good for you because if it come to that then, well, you're the single guy.
- (not laughing so much now): Er, yeah, well, she seems super cool about this, but let's see what our options are.

That’s the funny thing about the climbing community. It’s got a few morons but there are a lot of very cool people. One of the first times I went to Rumney someone offered up the cabin in their yard and then this woman offered us a bed and showers. The thing is, though, that I always feel like I’m imposing and a little hesitant to accept such offers. What if they’re organ harvesters... or rapists... or just creepy? That’s never happened, thankfully. Even though the first people who offered up their home were nothing but nice, I slept with a knife under my pillow; you know, just in case they came in the middle of the night to bash in my skull and skin me alive. I’ve come to trust people more even though society at large tends to teach the opposite. I’ve picked up a few dirty hitchhikers, and accepted food and lodging from strangers. This furthers my feeling that society is not as evil and sycophantic as I used to believe. Too bad the media and our lack of trust in each other pushes us into an ever individually isolated cocoon where we try as little as possible to interact with each other. So next time somebody has there thumb out pick them up if you can. You never know when that favor might be returned.

It turns out that "Jello"'s guiding career has landed him a few good connections with some legendary climbers from back in the day. His guiding company also employs these guys, and I have to admit to being a bit impressed with his new-found partners. All three have written popular guidebooks all over the world (one of whom wrote the Falcon Guide for Europe - that's right, the whole damn continent!), have scary and tough first ascents under their belt throughout the country, and one in particular is well-known for putting up R and X-rated routes as well as tough free solos. They're all older guys now, but these connections are good to have. He did think to call one of them, who happens to live in Boulder, to see if we could pitch a tent in his yard. It was unforunate to learn, however, that it was his anniversary and no such luck could be had. "Bummer," we thought, but we were fine with staying at "SuperCool"'s place if we couldn't find a campsite between lunch and evening.
The Bihedral

Bihedral (5.8+R) - Two pitches - Trad - Bolted Anchors - Greg and "Jello" led

Approach: While we could have gone directly from the Riveria section of the general Bihedral area to the Bihedral itself, we didn't want to walk back up to that crag after lunch (so there is a way to get there from the Riveria; I just don't know how to do it). From the parking lot, head east toward the guardrail. Directly across from where it starts is a faint and steep trail (this trail is before the trail heading up to the Riveria). Take this trail up to about 15 feet below the base of the lower cliff and take a right toward the pine trees. From there, take the path of least resistance through 3rd, 4th, and sometimes easy 5th-class wandering until you get to the upper level. Start in the obvious left-facing corner to the right.

I want to be clear with regards to this approach. It is easy and relatively safe, but you will need to watch your step every now and again. Also, if it appears too hard to climb a section on the approach, walk around several feet either to the left or the right. There should be an easier way just around the corner if you look. The idea isn't to climb this straight up, but to wander until you get to the climb itself.

Pitch One (5.7) - 90 feet - Trad - Bolted Anchors - Greg led

This was a very nice climb from top to finish, and the first pitch has good gear all the way up. There is a mix of stemming, liebacking, chimneying, and face climbing with a thirty-foot traverse at the top of the first pitch. You'll probably need some big cams (3.5 Camalot) for the crux, but otherwise medium and small stuff will work, too. Climb the corner until the good holds run out (about 20 feet from the top). From there, traverse left past the first set of bolted anchors to the second set. This is key because you'll be able to see the leader much better on the second pitch from the second set of bolts. The traverse has some scary and loose flakes on it, but the climbing is not difficult at all, even if it is kind of difficult to protect without using those loose flakes.

Pitch Two (5.8+R) - 90 feet - Trad - Bolted Anchors - "Jello" led

From the anchor, fade right up the runout ramp and enter the corner. Climb the first crux unprotected to a point where you can finally get some gear in. This is likely about 30 feet above and to the right of the belay. If you fall here, well, you'll probably be OK and land on the low-angle ramp that leads from the belay to the corner. If you skid off the ramp, however, then you're going for a nasty ride down and to the left, maybe undercutting your belayors legs with the rope in the process.

I started up the second pitch. After about twenty feet of walking up and easy ramp, I came to the main event as the dihedral steepened. After a few jams and some hard stemming I came to a nice no hands rest. The rock spread out ahead of me and it looked as if I had a little ways to go. As the muscles in my arms tightened I pulled around the roof to see... the anchors. It was a nice surprise to get to the anchors before I thought I would.

"Jello" did a nice job with this. It had two cruxes, one just before the first piece of gear was placed (about 30 feet above the anchor), and one just below the second set of anchors (well protected). The second crux is definitely harder and the first is more mental due to the gear, but except for the very top, as he was pulling through the slick lieback, I felt he was in total control. I'll admit that I thought he was going for a ride for a few moments near the top, but he managed to get through OK. I also struggled a bit through the upper crux, but if you just commit then you'll find some good jugs to haul yourself up on. In all, this was a very nice climb.

Descent: We rapped in two goes off two rap anchors with one 60m rope. As for getting back to the car, apparently there is a rap station that is at the bottom of the climb and all the way to the left if facing the cliff. We didn't use that, so I can't speak of its validity, but it is supposedly there if you'd rather rap down than descend on the same ascent trail. Once we were down, we sucked down the last bit of water and brought our heavy breathing under control. We decided it was definitely time to call it a day.

At this point, we wanted to grab some grub and see if we could find a place to stay instead of crashing a total stranger's house. We went back to the only campground in Boulder to see if they had any spaces open (no - of course not. What did we expect on a Sunday evening in late September?), and to get the phone numbers of a few campgrounds in Estes Park for when we drove up to Rocky Mountain National Park in a couple of days. We also peered up at where we camped the night before on our way out of Boulder Canyon just to see how visible our tent was in normal daylight (because we were worried about being seen that morning). As we turned the corner, we both practically shat ourselves when we saw that the particular spot where we had pitched our tent was not just visible to east-bound traffic, but very likely within the drivers' line of vision as the cars rounded the bend. We looked at each other and both breathed a sigh of relief for not getting caught and laughed at our recklessness despite being as careful as we thought we were being.

Anyway, we made a few phone calls to find a place to crash and were unable to score. "Jello"'s girlfriend ("Iowa") was staying at a friend's place in Denver and wanted to grab dinner. Our hope was that we would be able to crash on the floor in Denver, but that apartment was too small. So we stayed at "SuperCool"'s house and that was just fine with us. We arrived after the game had ended, and she was kind enough to stay up until we arrived, despite having to be at work the next day. I gave "Jello" the bed in the spare bedroom and I took the rolled up mattress in the office. It was a good night's sleep, and we were fresh and ready to take on Eldorado Canyon the next day. I just want to finish off by saying "Thanks!" to "SuperCool" for giving a good night's sleep to a couple of strangers. May you be rewarded for this someday, and may you also not run into strangers who you shouldn't have be so kind to. Your generosity was well-admired.

We awoke the next morning, and with the bags tossed into the back seat, I slumped into the driver’s seat. Off to Eldorado Canyon for more fun climbing.

Click here for all 2008 Boulder Canyon photos.

Colorado Day Two: Turkey Rocks (the education of Greg continues)

Jello's comments in italics

"Jello" has never been shy about ragging me for not being a very strong crack climber. Whenever we've done anything resembling a crack on the east coast, he has always felt the need to yell at me for searching for holds out on the face. "Stay in the crack you wimp!" (or other variations thereof) was a common taunt that neither of us could avoid: he wanted to make sure that I learned to climb crack, and I wanted to make sure that I never needed to.

Since Greg is not from an area known for it’s crack, I decided he needed a little schooling. Truth be told, cracks seem to be the most significant lines of ascent for climbs in the West.

I'll be honest, I was a bit nervous during the planning stages of this trip. From the moment we set out the dates and started planning where we were going to go, I began to suspect that my earlier failures in Yosemite were about to pack up and move to Colorado. I imagine them having a yard sale before the move. They'd have a sign in the front yard reading, "All face holds must go: Crimps 75% off, Side Pulls 80% off, Jugs 95% off. And what we don't see today will be given away free tomorrow!" I just knew this was going to happen, and I was trying my best to remain in denial about the whole thing. That was until "Jello" and I spoke on the phone one evening, and the conversation went something like this:

- Me: So what do I need to bring for gear? I assume we can use your nuts and draws, right?
- "Jello": No, my draws are mostly gone. I've only got a few left Bring your long slings. Eight should do.
- Me: OK, no nuts though, right?
- "Jello": Yeah, I've got enough.
- Me: Anything else?
- "Jello": Bring your cams.
- Me: OK, I thought you bought some finally.
- "Jello": I've got some, but it's best to have doubles of most sizes.
- Me: Really, the rock is that flared, huh?
- "Jello": Well, the crack can be, and there's a lot of cracks that are the same size where you need the same size cam over and over again.
- Me: Uh-huh.
- "Jello": So yeah, bring your long slings and cams.
- Me: OK. Uh. Soooo, is it all crack out there?
- "Jello": No, but there is a lot, and many of the climbs have a mix of face, crack, and slab climbing. You really need to have a good base in all techniques.
- Me: Uh-huh. Soooo, how about we stay away from a lot of the cracks then?
- "Jello": Not going to happen. The cracks out here, when you find them, they aren't like the cracks back east. You can't just use the parts of the crack that are convenient and balance out on the edges on the face to get you up. You really need to commit to the crack or else the grade is going to go up a few ticks.
- Me: Uh-huh. Soooo, uhhh, how about we stay away from those routes then? Say, stay on the routes without a lot of crack on them.
- "Jello": That would severely limit our options, and besides, there's some good routes with a couple of pitches of crack on them that I really want to try. They're classic routes, too, so I think you'll enjoy them.
- Me: OoooK. Soooo, uh, that's fine. I guess you'll be doing a lot of leading then.
- "Jello" (sigh): Listen you little pansy, I'm going to teach you how to crack climb when you get out here whether you like it or not!
- Me: Gulp!

Turkey Rocks: Turkey Perch

The South Platte is one of my favorite place to climb. The higher altitude makes it a little cooler than other areas. There are bountiful trees for shade and there is a wonderful smell of pine throughout the area. The granite is bomber and the cracks varied.

So there we were, sitting in his dining room and plowing salmon steaks into our system after a day at Garden of the Gods, when he revealed that Turkey Rocks was a great place to learn how to crack climb. Most of it was single pitch, but there were a few multi-pitch routes that he thought would be good routes for me to get on. I warned him that if it was all crack climbing then I was likely to get tired and pumped very easily. I really didn't want pump myself out before the trip even started, but he was adamant that everything was going to be OK. "You're going to learn how to crack climb," he said, "and you're going to be OK with it." This really hit home when, later that evening, we sat in his driveway sorting out all the gear we were going to need over the next several days. We had our food, tent, sleeping bags and pads, cookware, harnesses, helmets, and clothes sorted and packed nicely for easy access. And we also had the climbing gear: cams, nuts, cams, nut tool, more cams, draws, cams, belay devices, just a few more cams, cordalette and, you guessed, even more frigging cams. Now don't get me wrong, I'm a cam lover. I love most cams, particularly the single-stem ones that are easy to grab and even easier to plug in high-stress situations. But I'd much rather plug them into a horizontal crack or a vertical crack that is somewhat off to the side of the actual route. That was most certainly not what "Jello" had in mind.

So, despite his reservations, on the night of his arrival we sat in the driveway and organized the gear for the first long leg of our trip, and the next day we drove up Highway 24 to begin our week-long adventure.


We eventually came to the dirt road that marks Westcreek, and drove towards the always fun Forest Service road that heads to Turkey Rocks. The road isn’t so bad, but my lack of high clearance kept things interesting. Mostly it was lucky that I got my car all the way up the road without ripping my oil pan off, although it was close a few times.

I'm not even going to give you the drive in. Just trust me on this one, you don't want to go here unless you've either got really good directions or you're going with someone who knows the way. While we made the trek with "Jello"'s old, beat up, low-to-the-ground-because-it-had-too-much-weight-in-it (camping gear, climbing gear, food, us, and it being generally low already) Hyundai Accent, I would be hesitant to drive on this dirt road without an SUV of some sort. The road is apparently treacherously varied from year to year, with "Jello" knowing a guy who has climbing in this area before and never been able to drive all the way to the trail head. There are no signs past a certain point, and there is a definite left-hand turn that you've just got to know to take that specific left. Again, trust me, you really should go with someone who knows what they are doing.

This area is split into several smaller areas with our destination being the single pitch area of Turkey Perch. I figured if I was going to put Greg on cracks he might not be interested in getting stuck on the third pitch of something too hard for him, losing skin, and not going anywhere except to batshit city.

Once you're at the trail head, getting to the crag is pretty easy. You should be able to see the back side of Turkey Rocks to your right. We didn't go to Turkey Rocks itself (we went to Turkey Perch, which is apparently another crag within the Turkey Rocks area, and Turkey Rock is also another crag in the Turkey Rocks area), but the path should be about the same to the front side of Turkey Rock if that's where you want to go. To get to Turkey Perch, head up the switch-back trail to the top, then turn left at the first trail that allows you go in that direction. Follow this trail to the base of Turkey Perch. The entire approach took about 15-20 minutes.

As we headed up the hill I could tell the altitude was having a bit of an affect on Greg (we were both huffing and puffing). He’d already said he had a hard time with the altitude in Tahoe so I was worried the day might be cut short as a result (I think we were at 8,000 feet). However, it wasn’t the altitude that ended the day early.

Descent: I'm putting the descent here because all of these have essentially the same descent: either rap, lower with a 70m rope as a top rope, or walk off left to the easy scramble that puts you on the left edge of the crag if facing the cliff. The walk off will also take you back to the path that led up to the crag. I strongly recommend not rapping or lowering. These cracks are rope-eaters, and that's an understatement. There are multiple lost-forever ropes buried deep inside of all of the cracks that we got on, and there's no reason to believe they won't continue their hungry ways. The walk off took less than two minutes, so there is no reason to not save your gear.

Ragger Bagger (5.8) - Trad - Gear Anchor - "Jello" led

To climb this route, find the small plaque about three feet off the ground that is somewhat right of a large tree. This crack is about mid-way in between the plaque and the large, right-facing corner.

Our first climb was something that I thought was pretty moderate despite the fact that my feet were skittering out of the crack the whole way up. Greg had less of an easy time than I did, as he cried and complained his way through the torturous crack. Nothing like the feel of quartz crystals burrowing into your hands to wake you up in the morning.

This was my first true crack climb. I've climbed cracks before, but never before where I had to stay in the crack entirely to get up most sections of it. While I passed on leading today (I wanted to focus on technique and not on my head), I still felt as if I was pushing my physical self beyond what I normally do when climbing. Climbing 5.8 should not be an issue for me, and yet I found myself three times taking because I just couldn't keep my body in a linear formation with one hand above the other, and one foot above the other. Before this climb, I was just too used to using my side-to-side balance to build upward momentum. "Jello" kept telling me to let the jam take hold so that I could sit back on my feet. Part of my struggle was switching hands and feet, or moving from side to side and shifting my weight all the while standing straight up. His point was that if I let the constriction in my hands hold me in, then I would be able to maneuver my body so that my knees could cross each other enough for me remove my bottom foot and put it above my top foot. But this was a learning experience for me, and I just wasn't getting it on this climb. I must have hung at least three times. It was my first climb of the day, so I wasn't deflated, but it was frustrating to not feel the jams work the way they worked for everyone else.

I gave some tips on jamming when he made it to the top, and generally told him to suck it up. Since crack was not Greg’s forte it was decided that I would be leading for the day, which was fine with me. I was mostly warming up for Steppenwolf (5.9). The climb had shut me down earlier this summer, as I greased out of the crack at the beginning of the crux section near the top. Despite my struggles on Ragger Bagger, I wasn't going to fall on Steppenwolf this time.

Honky Ass Jam Crack (5.7) - Trad - Gear Anchor - "Jello" led

This crack follows a line directly below a large boulder at the top, and it is to the right of a large, right-facing corner. The start is also right of a low boulder and finishes just right of the large boulder at the top.

After my struggles on Ragger Bagger, "Jello" asked if I wanted to lead Honky Ass Jam Crack. I tossed the idea around in my head for about a half of a split second. I told him that I just didn't think I was ready, and that I needed him to take all the leads today because I needed to work in a relatively safe environment on my jams and body position. I just didn't want to factor in the thought of falling when all I really needed to do was focus on movement. But I'll be a bit more honest and say that it wasn't all about improving my technique. Much of what I was concerned about was how cracks are graded at Indian Creek (despite the fact that this was no where near Indian Creek in geography, status, or grading style). The grades at Indian Creek aren't based on the typical Yosemite Decimal System. Instead, they are based on the size of the crack. For example, if the crack is a perfect hand crack, then it is graded at 5.9. If the crack is more of a finger crack then it is graded closer to 5.11. You can see how this goes; the thinner or more awkward the route is the harder it is graded. The idea is based on the notion that there is a typical hand size for the average climber, and that the easier grades should be easy for most people with average hands. Of course, there is a flip side to this, and that is if you have the right size hands or fingers then you're going to excel on the routes where your hands and fingers fit. This means that if you have small fingers then you may be able to get up a 5.11 crack in the Creek, even if you're barely a 5.10 climber elsewhere.

I guess what I'm saying is that I was worried that despite the grade, my hands just weren't going to fit. It didn't matter that 5.7 should have been well within my grade. What mattered was that I just wasn't confident enough to tackle a skill that I knew I had for years been neglecting. So I passed the lead and regretted it afterward. This crack was well within my abilities, and I don't know how that could be so. Do I have such average-sized hands that would make every 5.7 doable for me? Every jam on this route was solid and easy, and even lieback section wasn't so pumpy that I felt exhausted afterward. I didn't run up the route by any means, but I got up it without resting and in a reasonable amount of time. While I wasn't sold on the idea yet, maybe my hands are about the same size as everyone else's, and maybe that meant that with a little bit of work I could get my crack climbing up to the same grade as my face climbing.

Steppenwolf (5.9) - Trad - Gear Anchor - "Jello" led

This is the crack that is directly around the corner to the left of the large, right-facing corner.

And then I came across Steppenwolf. Holy of mother of God was this a hard crack.

Full of determination, and chalk, I made my way into the crack. I made sure to fully rest when I was just below the crux this time, despite the numbness of my torqued feet. This hateful crack was like a vice like grip on my hands and toes. It hurt like hell, but I was determined to not fall this time despite the pain. Feeling ready after the rest, I delicately made my way to the small hold that juts out slightly after the crack ends. I shuffled my feet, leaned into the hold, stood up, and I was finally able to move high enough to get out of the crack completely. I could no longer feel my feet at this point, but I didn't care because I had conquered the climb.

I was impressed with the fact that he had blasted through what I thought was the crux (the transition from the thick, right-hand crack to the thin, left-hand crack) only to still have the strength and ability to get up through the real crux above that (the balancy, near-featureless, hands-free step out of the crack and onto the face). I managed the face OK, but that was probably because I rested (OK, fell) about a dozen times around the bottom of the thin crack. I guess the good thing in this route was that I was still able to jam more confidently than before. The bad thing was that it became apparent that I needed to learn more than just the typical hand, fist, and finger jams.

Stiff Little Fingers (5.11 c/d) - Gear Anchor - "Jello" top-roped

This is the bolted face between Ragger Bagger and Steppenwolf. It's a little run out if you're leading it, so be prepared to practice your slab technique before the first bolt, which is about 25 feet up.

Giggle, giggle. Can we all say the word "revenge?" It was getting closer to lunch time, and we had forgot our food back in the car. I was pumped, but "Jello" decided to jump on this empty face as a top rope just to get to the top of the cliff with one more climb. The funny part? Well, all those times when he called me a wimp for searching for holds out of the crack came back to haunt him on this crackless climb. I had several people chuckling as I taunted "Jello" with my own version of the same taunt, "Get out of the crack you pansy!" Heh. It was funny because every time he felt the need to get up the route a little bit more he either pulled on the rope (which I didn't really care about. I mean, it was a hard 5.11 after all), or he went left toward Ragger Bagger or right toward Steppenwolf. He just couldn't stay out of the crack, and that was mightily amusing to me.

I actually had someone from recognize me from the site (I believe his user name was Tedman). This made me smile a bit. I'm not sure if being recognized from a website in a completely different part of the country constitutes being a celebrity, but it sure felt like that for a few moments (I resisted on giving an autograph. I'm just not that comfortable giving up my private life yet - hehe).

It was now time for lunch. Unfortunately, we had forgotten the snacks, so it was decided (undemocratically, I might add) that I would go to the car and fetch them. The weather did not seem out of the ordinary when I headed down the hill. The sky was slightly cloudy but there was nothing that looked threatening. When I made my way back up the hill, however, a different story developed; the clouds were darker and bigger. Although I had not seen rain in the forecast, Colorado has very local weather patterns and so I knew it was a possibility. I felt some sprinkles when I finally got to the top of the hill, and I told Greg to grab the bags so we could eat under a rock and remain dry. While it was somewhat dry under the rock, it was also not the most comfortable of spots. My tough leathery hands still can’t handle the brambles that are abounding in the area. In short, thorns suck.

We shared a few laughs while waiting for the rain to pass, including one moment when I decided to emerge from behind the rock in order to heave my mostly-eaten apple into the woods, only to find a pair of climbers coming around the corner just in time to catch my body and arm cocked and ready to launch the green projectile into space. I never heard them coming, and seeing them at that particular moment caused me to jump such that even "Jello" knew what had happened despite not seeing the guys until after they walked by. I guess my body language gave away the whole episode without a word being spoken. But it didn't matter. At this point, our day at Turkey Rocks was over, and as soon as the rain stopped we packed up and headed off.

Greg’s crack education was not over, however. Despite the fact that he felt a little more comfortable it was obvious he did not feel comfortable with the suffering that is inherent in cracks. You are literally getting your hands and feet stuck in the cracks, and to do so requires some pain. The pain usually occurs on the most sensitive part of the hand, the back. If it hurts then you probably aren’t going to fall out. It’s something you just get used to, and eventually relish. All things told, Greg seemed to be getting better at the cracks, but if you ask me, he’s still a bit of a baby about it.

Before we left, "Jello" decided to take a self-portrait of himself under the boulder during the rain:

For all of the other 2008 Turkey Rocks Photos, click here.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Colorado Day One: Garden of the Gods (an introduction to soft sandstone)

"Jello"'s comments in italics

Everyone needs a break every now and again. While I'm not disadvantaged in any realistic manner, I certainly have felt under the gun the past year or so. Life changes do make things interesting and challenging, especially against the pressures of expectations. And I've worked hard to maintain some semblance of progress in my life. Despite some important setbacks, I've really tried to ensure that I haven't taken any other steps backward. Of course, that doesn't mean I've moved forward all of the time, because I haven't, but when keeping my head above water is the best I can do, well, all I can hope for is to do the best that I can do and that maybe, just maybe if I've done a good job and worked hard and focused on doing good, then I will be rewarded, even if that reward comes out of the blue and carries the risk of having to work harder, doing a better job, and doing more good as a result. I consider this trip to be that reward, and because I'm not sure what will come to me as a result of taking this trip, I'm going to enjoy it.

Many of you who read this blog back when I first started writing it full-time last year will remember my adventures with "Jello". We went everywhere the northeast the has to offer, driving from two different locations to meet up only to climb that weekend's agenda. And if that agenda wasn't possible, then we formed Plan B, or Plan C, D, or E; whatever it was, we had the opportunity to climb, we climbed it, and it was a good experience, even if it seemed that we had more epics per days climbing than any other climbing tandem in history (epic-to-route ratio was 1:1). Of course, like anyone living life, he had professional goals (to be a climbing guide) and that took him to Colorado this spring. Since that time, we've been talking about me coming out to visit and climb for a few days. Unfortunately, I haven't had the money to go on my own, but that all changed when I decided to go to a conference in Dallas. Seeing an opportunity to save my company some money by flying on off-peak days and by not staying at the expensive hotel where the conference was offered, I proposed that I fly through Denver on the way back, with the difference of me returning to work ten days later than expected. The offer was happily accepted, and I landed in Denver early Friday morning.

Going to Denver International Airport (DIA) is a pain. It’s on the outskirts of Denver and it’s far from Colorado Springs but I was happy to drive up there and pick up Greg because I knew it meant fun and adventure were in the future. So as I weaved my way through traffic on my way to pick him up I did what I always do when I don’t have anything to think about, I think about where I want to go climbing. Even though I have been living in Colorado for a little over six months there are still many places I haven’t been and climbs I haven’t done. This was an opportunity to do some of those undone things. First I had to deal with the airport. DIA is confusing for pretty much everyone so finding Greg was a challenge, first he was upstairs, then downstairs but I just couldn’t find him. After looking around for half an hour we finally were cruising down I-25 to Colorado Springs. I already had big plans.

When "Jello" picked me up he relayed me our newest agenda:

- Friday: Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs
- Saturday: Turkey Rocks somewhere in the South Platte region
- Sunday: Boulder Canyon in Boulder
- Monday: Eldorado Canyon
- Tuesday: Lumpy Ridge in Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park
- Wednesday: Garden of the Gods
- Thursday: Red Rocks in Colorado Springs
- Friday: Either Garden of the Gods or Red Rocks
- Sat / Sun: The Black Canyon (I'm not sure where this is exactly)

An hour later we were in the main parking lot of Garden of the Gods for my first sandstone experience since attacking Red Rocks in Vegas last November.

Potholes (5.7) - 65 feet - Sport - Chained Anchors - Greg led

Approach: Take the path from the main parking lot and look for the large "Garden of the Gods" plaque on the right. When facing the plaque, turn left to the small pillar(s) (there are two, but you may not see them both from this angle) that is in between the two larger cliffs. Potholes starts just right of the sign that says "A priceless gift."

Potholes is a really fun intro to the Garden. The climbing is gym-like although not nearly as safe. The carnival-like atmosphere is very much a detraction, but since I’ve had to deal with it since getting here I really don’t notice anymore. For the most part, if you don’t like people watching you climb then don’t go to the Garden. I have fantasies of climbing Potholes naked while hundreds of tourists take pictures and yell in disgust.

This place is surreal. It's an interesting mix of glorious towers, easy access, and somehow the feeling that this little park that tries to be so grand is just a cheap trick on the tourists that come here. I've never been to a climbing area where the cliffs are both imposing and not so much at the same time. They are certainly tall, the rock is soft, and the slabs are slick to the untrained sandstone climber. But when you're belaying from the walking path with kids who have never seen climbers before pointing up at you and asking their parents what you're doing, well, it kind of takes away from the adventurous feeling this sport can have. There's something to be said about solitude when climbing, and I'm not just talking about getting away from climbing crowds (because certainly that is ideal as well). This is a city park, no different than Boston Common in atmosphere. Sure, Boston Common doesn't have stark red towers jutting out from its paths, but it does have the same touristy feel, except instead of taking pictures of the swan boats, the tourists are taking pictures of me instead.

Potholes: Climb the bolts to the right-facing flake with the pods on the right. The chained anchors are directly on top of this spire.

As I noted above, the last time I climbed sandstone was with "Tattoo" at Red Rocks in Las Vegas. My first experience on sandstone was interesting, but without any fear that related to the rock specifically. I was told to tap every hold before committing, and I did that for a good while until I started assuming the holds were strong. In fact, two climbers who were climbing the same route that "Tattoo" and I were on noted that I'd stop tapping the holds after a while because it really was a useless activity. The rock in Vegas is, well, fairly strong and solid when it hasn't rained. The sandstone at GOTG, however, is a little bit different.

The first thing that "Jello" told me about this place was that the rock was soft, and that he wouldn't take a trad lead fall on most of the towers in the park. He would take a sport fall on the bolts, but even then it would be hard for him to do so without thinking about his underpants afterward. In short, he believed that falling was simply not something I wanted to risk, but that shouldn't stop me from pushing myself anyway. He also noted that when pulling on the hand holds I should only pull downward and not outward, as the rock was more settled in this direction. I cautiously took his advice and jumped on my first route, a 5.7 that "Jello" felt was a good intro to climbing in the Garden.

Because I was not only climbing on a somewhat foreign surface for me but also in a new area, too, I asked him how the grades in the Garden compared to the 'Gunks, which is supposedly notoriously sandbagged (I'm still not convinced of this, by the way). He noted that he felt the grades were comparable (this further proves my skepticism that the 'Gunks are sandbagged), and so I started up thinking that if there were no roofs on this 5.7 then the route itself would be technically challenging in some other way. It turned out not to be the case. While I felt there were a couple of 5.7 moves, they seemed to be more like gym grades than 'Gunks grades and so my initial feeling that the 'Gunks aren't sandbagged came into question. I flew up this route with relative ease; the only thing that kept me back was my uncertainty with the soft rock. I also had a chuckle on the way up. Maybe this was just my inexperience with this type of rock, but for a sport route I was expecting only bolts on this route, not pitons. Well, to be a bit more clear, if I did see a piton then I expected to see it hammered into a crack. That is not always the case in GOTG. Of all of the fixed pieces that I saw that day, about 10% of them were pitons hammered right into a blank face. I'm not so sure why this seems unusual to me. After all, the piton is long and sharp and could easily be pounded into the soft rock just like a normal bolt could be, but it just looked funny.

Potholes is a route that I take clients on all the time. Its gym-like appeal makes it easier for most people. While Greg took his time I did notice he seemed a little perturbed by the rock and the protection. Potholes is not a well-protected route. The newest bolt is about ten feet off the ground, certainly a fall resulting in a broken ankle if taken. The first time I climbed the route, though, that bolt had not been placed and the pin was the first piece of gear, a twenty foot fall that has resulted in broken legs. From there the pins are usually eight to ten feet apart. Not a horrible fall but certainly unpleasant and possibly painful. Add to the fact that Garden rock is notoriously rotten and hollow, and I could see why Greg was taking his sweet time. His estimate of soft iron pitons pounded into drilled holes is a little off. There are over two hundred routes in the Garden. Rarely do more than twenty of them get climbed, and some have never been repeated. While the trad routes tend to be run out, a lot of them have good bolts. Most of the Garden is nasty old pitons. I have yet to see one fail but I have seen a lot that used to be in the rock and now reside in people’s personal museums of Garden artifacts.

Anyway, after we both got back down, "Jello" asked me if I wanted to get on something harder. I replied that I thought that would be a good idea, since this route seemed kind of soft. He then pointed out a nice 5.9 not too far away. It was a corner with a bit of stemming and I thought to myself, "a 5.9 corner with good feet? This has to be as soft as the 5.7 I just did."

I would hesitate to call the Garden sandbagged, same for the Gunks. I think for the most part that you get used to a certain style of climbing and it feels right on or even soft. Crescent Corner is not one of those routes. It’s very smeary and pumpy so in my mind it is certainly 5.9+. It is also one of the routes that relies a lot on your hands which can be scary given the Garden rock.

Descent: Rap with a 50m rope.

Crescent Corner (5.9+) - 90 feet - Sport - Chained Anchors - Greg led

Approach: Find the plaque noted above and turn around so that the plaque is behind you. Find the path heading to the crag on the opposite side of the path. Take that path and walk up to the right a few feet until you're below a left-facing corner that arches left at the top.

Crescent Corner: Follow the corner, clipping the bolts on the left roofs for the first few pieces of pro. Climb to the chained anchors and only continue if you're confident in your climbing. The rock above the chains is supposedly weak and not worth continuing the climb for.

Well, so much for the grades being soft. One thing that GOTG does is test your mental fortitude. Three things stood out on this climb: the spacing of the bolts (not really that unusual, but certainly scary considering the soft rock), the hollow-sounding nature of the rock itself (I was tapping on the thickest part of the crag itself and still heard the deep thudding sound of emptiness on the other side), and the requirement of liebacking the crux. Now, all three of these go in tandem with "Jello"'s advice from above: that one should pull down and not out on the holds. Add in a bit of slick and crumbly feet, and you've got yourself a full-on basket-case route. Seriously, I tapped the rock (not a flake mind you, but the actual cliff. You know, the rock where all the holds are molded to?) and heard the hollowness on the other side. The reason you don’t tap the rock is because you don’t want to know that the most solid looking pieces are hollow and fragile. You don’t want to know. As far as Garden routes go this one is pretty well protected. The first bolt is a little high but it’s easy ground and the rest of the route is decently protected. Even so I think the funkiness of the Garden was getting to Greg.

- Me (to myself): This cliff is 30 feet thick. How can it be hollow? OK, so that makes the rock a bit more sketchy, so let's make sure I pull down instead of out. Hmmm...nothing to pull down on....
- "Jello": You have to layback.
- Me: Um, doesn't that take away from your advice of pulling down?
- "Jello": Uh, yeah, but that's how the route is done. It's a lieback.
- Me: OK, but the rock is hollow.
- "Jello": It's always like that.
- Me: Um, OK, so I'm supposed to pull out on sketchy rock that I'm otherwise not supposed to pull out on.
- "Jello": That's correct.
- Me: And where's the first bolt?
- "Jello" (pointing upward): That's it, about 20 feet above your head.
- Me: And the next one after that?
- "Jello": Can't you see it? it's about 10 feet above that. And so is the third, and fourth, and so on.
- Me: Gulp!

Well, my head couldn't convince me to just go for it, so I hung a few times at the crux (between the second and third bolt). The bolts were spaced apart appropriately (and placed appropriately, too), but it sure felt like I was destined to go for a ride each time I pulled on the holds. I eventually made it, but this was a lesson in climbing sandstone for me: never trust the holds completely, but just understand that they're probably OK.

Descent: Rap with one 60m rope.

Silver Spoon (5.5) - 65 feet - Sport - Chained Anchors - Greg Led

Approach: This is in the same section as Crescent Corner, except instead of taking a right where the path meets the cliff, take a left. Walk along the base until you see another path on the left that leads to a fence where that meets the paved path. Walk a little farther over (about 10 feet) until you see a fair amount of names carved into the rock. I particularly remembered the name "Aurthur" for some reason.

Silver Spoon: Climb up to the first bolt and then smear left over what appears to be blank rock to a large right-facing corner that arches left into a roof. Follow the corner up to where it meets the gully. To find the anchors, peer into the gully (you may have to look below you) and find them on the other side of the arrete. It is best to set your anchor long so that you don't belay inside the gully but on the face below the corner instead (i.e. - left of the arrete). This will protect the rock from the rope scarring the arrete itself. If there is one thing that bothers me it’s when people do stupid things. While climbing Crescent Corner, the person on Silver Spoon asked if I would carry up a rope to set up a toprope for him. Figuring they were done and it wouldn’t take that long, I said sure because I’m a damn nice guy. After waiting around a few minutes I decided to see what was going on. He was just finishing the climb and was preparing to rappel...down the wrong side of the face. There are two directions you can rappel off Silver spoon. Down the gully or down the face you climbed up. Because of the placement of the anchors it is a much smarter idea to rap down the gully. You save your rope, you save the rock, and it’s just nicer that way. When I explained this to the gentleman he simply said, “this is the way I always do it.” People used to also always not take showers and we know how well that worked out. So while the rock-grooving pile of monkey spunk struggled to pull his rope over a sandstone edge, I wandered back and told Greg what was going on (because he was waiting at the top to bring me up for about, what, 10 minutes? When they finally came over I quickly put their rope up and moved on trying not to be a jerk, which was hard because I’m really good at it.

This was a very nice route that got me back into my smearing and slab technique. I found that I had a lot of confidence in my feet on the rock after this climb. "Jello" wanted me to do this climb first because it is a good introduction to GOTG. However, we did it third due to it being taken when we first arrived. Silver Spoon went well for Greg which I expected given the grade and rappelling down the gully went fine as well. Don’t damage the rock when you rappel and don’t toprope through the anchors, you didn’t pay for them.

Descent: Rap down the gully with one 60m rope. Do not rap down the route itself. Again, this will help save the rock from scarring. The rap should put you back down to the path that leads to the fence. Despite the route being so short, it is advisable to rap with a 60m rope because the gully route is actually longer than Silver Spoon is.

Finger Ramp (5.7) - 75 feet - Sport - Chained Anchors - Greg Led

Approach: When looking at the plaque noted above, head left up the paved path and find a climber's path on the right. The climber's path will lead back toward the same cliff that the plaque is on, but this climb is on the face that is around the corner to the left from the plaque itself. Start where this path meets the cliff.

Finger Ramp: Fade up left, following the bolts to the large and wide, left-fading diagonal crack. From there, either climb up so that your feet are in the crack and you're using the upper holds to walk up the crack and around the corner, or stay low, keeping your hands in the crack and using the thin but solid foot jibs below.

My first inclination was to stay very low below the crack so that I wasn't even using it, and there are some solid crimps that could lead straight up to the anchors. However, this is definitely not a 5.7 section of rock and it is difficult to retreat from. I then decided to keep my hands low in the crack and was able to stem with good feet through this crux. "Jello" took the high holds, but this is because he did this once before and fell, which, if you look at where the last bolt was, means he took about a 15-foot swinging whipper on sandstone that you'd never want to fall intentionally on. He wanted to conquer that demon, and did so with relative ease. Finger Ramp is a fun climb but it had me a bit shaken after my last fall off it. Luckily I had my trusty new shoes to see me through the smeary section. Despite this I still hesitated. I don’t like hesitation. Ninety-nine percent of the time I don’t hesitate and everything is fine but that small percentage is what usually ends up with nasty falls and scariness. Thankfully, today nothing significant happened.

This was a fun route, maybe the best route of the day. I do recommend this as a good single-pitch climb if you've only got a limited amount of time to climb. It is also nice because the anchors are perfectly placed to tackle on top rope the hard 5.10 route directly below.

Descent: Rap straight down and end up at the top of the hill that is up left of the start of Finger Ramp. A 50m rope would suffice here.

Lower Finger Direct (5.10+ X) - 65 feet - Sport - Chained Anchors - Greg Topropped

Approach: I topropped this after leading Finger Ramp, and this is advised due to this route not having good pro (or any for that matter). So, if you lead Finger Ramp, then the rope will automatically be in the proper spot for this climb. But if you're bold enough to lead it, then walk up the hill from the start of Finger Ramp and start in a small, shallow, left-facing corner (its more like a series of ridges that fade and get smaller to the left than an actual corner) that is just below the top of the path. This is right of another and very similar looking section of rock. The left-hand corner is much harder and doesn't follow the thin crack seam as well as the right-hand start does.

Lower Finger Direct: Follow the thin seam / crack up left to a pin, and then step immediately right (crux) to what will appear to be blank rock, but once you do manage to step right and you are able to smear up one move, then the climbing is essentially over as it gets very easy to the anchors.

I was happy to have climbed this clean after struggling so much on the 5.9 earlier. It was my kind of climb, though, with thin crimps and static-but-balancy moves throughout. It was a good way to end the day, though I wish it was bolted or had better pro because I would have loved to have led it. Isn't this always the case? I find this happens a lot to me; the solid, hard climbs that I could lead are never leadable without serious risk of injury. It's a bummer for sure. I hope this isn't always the case.

Descent: Rap off the chained anchors with a 50m rope.

I think the most impressive part of climbing here is that "Jello" only lives 15 minutes away. That allowed us to climb until some heavy winds came in and it was time for dinner. A few minutes later and I was unpacking after my flight and cooking salmon just as I had never left home.

There's a few good pictures in the 2008 Garden of the Gods Album. Click here and enjoy.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Black Void

My throat is dry as I thrash up the gully, branches dismissively smacking me in the face. I look up with the sun at my back and focus ahead at a wearying task, only a few hundred feet to the rim. We hiked into the Black Canyon at nine this morning, cruising down the SOB Gully. From the position of the sun it appears to be almost four. We must have been climbing for about five hours even though we simul-climbed the last four hundred feet. I ran out of water right before I led the crux pitch a technical stemming corner with sparse gear in some sections, rated 5.10-, one of my hardest leads on gear. Sparse protection, loose rock, and the feeling of solitude define the Black.

"Hey, did you get my message yesterday."
"No, Why?"
"Well, do you wanna go to the Black after we're done with the trip?"
"'s kind of short notice..."
"We can just check it out and decide once we get there, we aren't picking you up for a few hours." "Ok, what should I bring?"
"Let's just bring our individual stuff and we'll figure it out more on our way."

A few hours later I picked up Busterman, we switched cars and headed for Grand Junction for a work trip. Despite it being fairly cool for August there's not much you can do when you're in the blazing sun of the desert. Fifty teenagers from the island of Cyprus mull around seeking shade while I belay for six hours in the blazing sun. I managed to completely ruin a rope. It had four core shots! That'll happen running over sandstone for hours with kids hanging all over the place. We're finally finished though and we carry out several hundred pounds of gear to the truck. Luckily, we had stayed at the house of Senor Verde's son so after the trip me and Busterman headed back to his house and took a shower and rested for a bit and then off we went to the Black.
Cruising down the highway we eventually came to the town of Hotchkiss where we stocked up on some supplies and cruised the rest of the way into the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. As we drove in I expected to see I gigantic canyon opening before me but as we pulled into the ranger station I still only saw the slightest hint of the canyon. As we came to the campsite it finally opened up before me or so I thought. Giddy with the thought of the next days climbing we ran to the rim and were simply awe struck. I had only been seeing perhaps the top third of the canyon. As the full depth of two thousand feet opened below me I felt a shot of adrenaline and smiled. This was going to be awesome.

As Wallace Hansen says, "Several western canyons exceed the Black Canyon in overall size.... some are longer, some are deeper, some are narrower, and a few have walls as steep. But no other canyon in North America combines the depth, narrowness, sheerness, and somber countenance of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison."

So we awoke the next day and headed down into the Black. The previous night we had decided to do something with a minimum of commitment and shorter in length. The route that fit this description was either the Casual Route II 5.8 or Casually Off-Route II 5.9. As we headed down the gully I agreed we should go for Casually Off-Route. Not only clean but a route that is easy to find. So I combined the first two pitches a short 5.6 slab into a short 5.8 fingercrack corner. This ends at a ledge where one can go right into the Casual Route or do as we did and head left for Casually Off-Route. After some moving of the belay we ended up at a right facing flake. This was just fun, good hands and good feet, lots of good movement and it went by pretty quickly. From here I led up a short offwidth pitch leading to good hands and short bulge ending in a ledge. At this point we could head right for the 5.8 variation but we headed left into a 5.9 undercling traverse. Wild exposure through this pitch leads to a ledge and from here easy climbing to the top. This is not the end. Then you must contend with the gullies.

The thing that is unique about the Black are the approaches. You hike down a gully to get to the bottom. You climb out and away from the scary possibility of a cold bivy, but unless you do a route that ends at the rim (usually fourteen or more pitches) you still have to use another gully to get out. The gullies range in difficulty from second class to easy fifth class. So after hiking in, and climbing out, you must hike the rest of the way to the rim. Easily an all day event. But since we started out at around seven in the morning and were done before noon we decided to do another climb. First we had to go and pay for our camping. A little info about camping in the Black. It's a national park and you're probably going to stay more than a day which means it's cheaper to buy an annual pass for thirty dollars. Then you also have to pay for the camping which is currently twelve dollars a night. The ranger informed us that it's important to pay for camping before going climbing because apparently some jerks would say they'd pay after their climb and then simply leave. Don't skimp on the fees, it makes the rest of us look bad.
After paying our fees and chatting with the ranger we decided we would do another climb. One of the other classics of moderate difficulty is Maiden Voyage III 5.9. Around six pitches with a few hundred feet of low fifth class. Maiden Voyage is located on the Checkerboard Wall so to get there we needed to go down the Cruise Gully. This gully is a little faster since you rappel down two double rope rappels. A little easier on the knees. Finding the first pitch is a little difficult since there aren't a lot of obvious places to start but you know you're in the right area when you're to the right of a large overhanging corner on the southwest side of the wall.
After some difficult routefinding Busterman found the fingercrack he was looking for and combined the first two pitches. I proceeded up the next pitch a wide 5.7 with an akward move around a roof that felt closer to 5.9 than 5.7. We proceeded to simul-climb the rest of the easy fifth class up a right facing dihedral. Getting down is not that fun. We were rather tired and warm since the climb is in the sun most of the time. We had to traverse to the gully that would take us to the rim. After wandering up the gully pulling some hard moves around some boulders we eventually made the rim and then had to traverse the rim until we hit the Cruise Gully trail again. After walking for a while we hit the trail and shortly were back at camp where I proceeded to make myself some some rice and lentils with hot sauce and chicken.
We made no solid plans for the next day. We weren't even sure we would want to climb the next day. So we talked about some possible things to climb but decided to just sleep in tomorrow and see what we felt like doing. When we woke we decided to have a good breakfast of bacon, eggs, and pancakes and then headed down the SOB Gully again. We were headed for Escape Artist III 5.10-. As we headed down I thought about what I was doing. I have a hard time on 5.9 as it is, so for some reason I wanted to lead 5.10 in the Black Canyon? I must be crazy, but I felt good, today was one of those low gravity days.
About three quarters of the way down the gully the wall came into view and soon I could make out the Vector Traverse, a wild and exposed pitch that we would be climbing shortly. Getting to the climb itself requires some routefinding. You come almost to the bottom of the gully and you see a faint path heading through the scree onto a ledge system. Unfortunately, this ledge system ends and you have to pull a few third class moves to get to another ledge. This is where I thought the pitch started so I roped up and got started. When I realized that the pitch actually started about fifty feet higher than where I started Busterman had already been simul-climbing with me for those fifty feet and I was in the midst of a runout. The guidebook says take the rightmost of the left leaning cracks. In my adrenalized and confused mind I got this mixed up and took the leftmost of the left leaning cracks, a nice hand crack that eventually pinches down to fingers and then nothing. When I came to the nothing I was already a good ten feet above my last nut and stretching on my tiptoes to try and reach something, anything. At this point I decided to traverse to the other crack. So instead of choosing the correct crack at 5.9 I chose the other crack and did a nice 5.10R traverse between the two. Busterman was just as relieved as I was once I made it across. After a few more moves I was at the beginning of the Vector Traverse.
After trading gear and changing over the belay Busterman was off. A few easy moves and I could no longer see him around the corner. Resting in the nice cool belay I looked at the Gunnison River below. The dull roar of the river below and the cool lay down belay spot had me at ease as the rope slowly ran through. A few sharp tugs on the rope and I knew I would be climbing soon. A few moves off the belay and you find yourself hanging above five hundred feet of air. Right past the crux is a fixed blue camalot and a knee bar of all things. I've recently had great pleasure in finding knee bars in places.
As I got to the belay I looked ahead to my pitch a two hundred foot 5.10- dihedral. The Black is not really the place to test yourself but I felt ready, so after racking up and a little pep talk from Busterman I started up. The first moves were nothing special, easy stemming with big holds. I conserved gear and after the belay I didn't place another piece for about fifteen feet. Then some more technical moves. Difficult stemming on small holds, the climbing suited my style and I felt ready to send, this pitch was mine. After about forty more feet of increasingly difficult stemming I came to a no hands rest in which to fiddle some gear. A few more difficult moves and I started to realize gear was becoming more sparse and more difficult to put in. I put in a small nut and pulled myself into the corner. Only about thirty more feet before good, easily placed protection, fifteen feet, calfs burning, five more feet, almost there, finally I hang off the hand jam and shake my feet one at a time, then my hands. A few more fairly easy moves and I'm at the belay feeling elated. Busterman comes up and congratulates me. The pitch didn't quite feel 5.10 but he confirms that some of the moves were tenish.
Unfortunately for him the next pitch is not as asthetic. Composed of crumbly pegmatite he carefully stems up the five seven corner till he can exit right. I come up and we're presented with three options: more crumbly 5.7, a nice looking 5.9 corner, and The Lighning Bolt Crack that comes in at a whopping 5.11. Busterman goes to look at the 5.11 crack and decides he's going for it. A day of pushing limits for both of us. He climbs up and places a piece then downclimbs to rest a bit. He heads up again and places another piece and after trying to move up again asks me to take. Fiddling with gear he makes his way up and eventually gets past the crux eventually moving over into the 5.9 corner. Out of sight he calls off belay and I get ready to crank. Starting off the first moves are bouldery, the feet are barely their and after pulling out the first piece I try to move up but fall. From fingerlock to hand jam I try several times before finally pulling the moves and having to hang once again. After a good rest I move to the section that traverses into the 5.9 corner. From the belay we simul-climb to the top but once again the adventure isn't over.
The summit is full of exposure and we snap a few pictures. Moving along the fourth class ridge to the rap station We look down. The description says to head up the west facing gully. The sun is near setting so the west facing gully should be in the sun, but the sun is sort of in the southern part of the sky. Where do we go. I argue that the gully in the sun must be facing west while Busterman argues that the other gully is the one we want. We rap down and after heading up my way it seems to difficult and we traverse to the other gully. We decide that it doesn't much matter because all the gullies here suck, we're in gully hell where loose scree and poison ivy are the norm. Having shared the last of his water with me we're both getting very parched. As we get to the rim it looks vaguely familiar. Busterman is farther ahead and yells back, "you're not gonna believe this." I wonder if we're getting ready for more gully hell but as I come higher up the hill I see a fence, the fence which is right behind our campsite. We've hiked right into the back of our campsite which is of great relief and I go to fill my water.

Our trip is over. We could leave, it's early enough to get home by a reasonable hour but I'm too tired and the Black has me under it's spell. I don't want to leave. This is climbing with a whole different tone to it. You don't come for the climbing you come for the experience that defines the Black. Both a mental and physical feat you need to have skills to escape the Black. Once their you find your self drawn to go back. It visits you in your dreams, that steep foreboding void.