My body stiffened the instant I woke up, and I held my breath. I would have been less unsettled had I not heard the thumping of feet on the other side of the wall. An uneasy tightness gripped my jaw, and I struggled to remain quiet while my lungs pleaded for air. Not wanting to move an inch, I let my eyes do the inspection: a naked desk sat in front of a set of partially closed blinds that barely prevented the daylight from seeping in. The small closet door was half open, and I could see a computer box resting sloppily against an ironing board with what appeared to be dirty rags on the floor. I was alone in the room, and I felt OK to roll over over onto my back and take a better look around. The room was white all over except for the jammed brown door near my feet. I felt a real pillow, one that you'd find on a bed and not one you'd take with you on a climbing trip. It's lack of give where my neck rested against it ensured an early-morning stiffness. I was happy to recognize the dark blue of my sleeping bag, but I couldn't tell for the life of me what I had slept on. "Where the hell am I?"
The footsteps were heavy and walking throughout the house. I could tell that there were three levels at least, with the one I was on being the highest up. THUMP, THUMP, THUMP. They went downstairs. Thump, thump, thump; and then they went down the next level. It was clear to me that the floor on the other side was covered in carpet because, as the footsteps came back up, there was a muted presence that didn't allow me to tell exactly where they were... until they were right on top of me.
KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK.
I paused for just a brief moment, but then I garnered the courage to sit up just enough to see a shadow darkening the gap between the floor and bottom of the door.
KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK.
Despite the fact that the person on the other side of the door wasn't moving, I could hear his weight shifting on the soft strands of the carpet. My body must have rubbed against my sleeping bag too loudly because then I heard a voice speak to me from the other side:
- You awake?
- (I didn't know what to say, and so I just muttered) Huh?
- You up yet?
- Uh, sure.
- OK, so "SuperCool" is getting ready to head off to work. I'm going to jump in the shower. See in you in a couple of minutes.
- ("SUPERCOOL"!! That's right. Holy cow, I forgot about her) Yeah, sure. I'll get right up.
What a fool I was for forgetting where I was. It was Monday morning and "Jello" and I had found a place to crash due to "SuperCool"'s offer over bandit camping in Boulder Canyon another night. It didn't take me long to get up and get dressed. I rolled the thin, spare mattress I had slept on and stuffed it back in its spot in the closet. By the time I opened the door, "SuperCool" was dressed and ready to leave. A few moments later and a partially wet "Jello", with beads of shower water rolling down his hair, stepped into the living room to offer me a hand with bringing my bags out to the car.
We had hit a patch of weather that never should have been ours to experience. With temps floating in the high 70s nearly my entire stay in Colorado, this late September burst of sun and crisp air made for well-oiled joints and bones. My problems with my extremities in cold weather are documented well, and when we pulled onto the dirt road that leads into the canyon, I was a bit disappointed in the change of temps. I'm not sure why this was, but it was much colder in the canyon itself, and so we sat in the car for an extra 30 minutes, taking our time eating breakfast, before daring to venture into the cool and blustery air.
When we finally did step outside, it was for two reasons only: to pay for parking and to hit the crapper before climbing. The parking was the less adventurous task, as it only required slotting a few dollar bills into a self-pay envelope and throwing the stub on the car's dashboard. The crapper? Well, let's just say that one gets a very odd feeling of an unexpected upward rush of wind once one settles one's ass down. It was as if I was both pissing and crapping into the wind all at the same time. Jim Croce would have found this difficult to get over, and the odd thing is that, when dropping the toilet paper into the dark pit below, the paper got sucked down as if it were flushed on the same mid-flight dump I took between Boston and Dallas a week earlier.
Eldorado Canyon is a great climbing area and reminds me a great deal of the Gunks. The climbing has a lot of history of bold trad ascents. It's also the spot for a lot of free soloists due to a large portion of fantastically solid rock. Not only this but almost every route is a classic and there are plenty of easy routes to get on that will keep your attention. So with that in mind we spent our second day in Boulder at Eldorado Canyon. Greg seemed pretty excited as he had heard there were some really classic routes that we planned to get on. Heading into the canyon the walls enclose around you claustrophobically. I started pointing out the different features and as we ate breakfast we looked through the guide book to pick out some routes that interested us. My goal for our visit was the famous/infamous Bastille Crack. The route had the unfortunate reputation for maiming and killing people. In fact someone had just died on the formation, albeit a few routes over, weeks earlier.
I hadn't climbed particularly well since I had arrived, and I chalked most of that up to the fact that I was learning to climb on a new style of rock. I'll admit that I've become way too used to the quartz conglomerate in the 'Gunks, and the sandstone and granodiorite of the Garden and Boulder Canyon (respectively) didn't make me feel at home, though I probably should have been OK on the granite-like surface in Boulder. When "Jello" told me that the rock in Eldorado Canyon was sandstone, I was instantly nervous. But still, these were classics, right?
Calypso (5.6) - Two Pitches - Trad - Mixed Anchors - Greg and "Jello" led
Approach: We parked in one of the first lots after entering the canyon. From there, we walked into the canyon toward the "15mph" sign and took the path down to the right. Cross the bridge and head straight up the climber's path on the other side. The path will fade right and become a stone staircase shortly after the beginning, and you should follow these up right to the obvious, large boulder resting against the cliff.
Heading to Calypso, I enjoyed the warm sun as the wind died down. We sat at the base of the climb waiting for a couple of mid-week, before-work climbers to finish up as they climbed where I'd been once before. As we waited I noticed something occurring that seems to also happen at the Gunks...crowds. We were already one party deep and a guide had come up behind us with his two clients. He inquired as to whether we were doing Calypso. I responded in the positive to let him know that we weren't going anywhere despite his weak complaining about us and the party ahead of us not moving quickly enough. He seemingly tried to kill time by showing his clients what gear looks like and how to use / remove it. He seemed to be taking a long time himself to get ready.
Pitch One (5.6) - 75 feet - Bolted Anchors - Greg led
There are three starts to this route: 1) the 5.6 in the area next to the boulder; 2) the 5.8 on the blank face to the left of the boulder and; 3) the 5.5 (regular start) on the flake further to the left. We did the standard start and climbed the right-facing corner as it fades right to a two-bolt anchor.
After the couple already on the route were finally getting ready to come down, Greg started up the featured slab before the initial corner. The moves are not protected but they also aren't that difficult. Nonetheless, Greg took his time and made short work of the initial moves leading to the crack.
I was a bit nervous getting on this route because of my recent experience at Garden of the Gods and the fact that the guidebook noted Calypso as one of the most accident-prone climbs in all of Eldorado Canyon. I looked up and noticed how slick the rock was in spite of the huge hand holds that lined the entire pitch. But it was easy going, and I have to admit that I had a lot of fun on the juggy and slick traverse that pulls past the roof near the top. That crack is just fun. Having climbed Reggae before, which shares the first pitch, I waited in anticipation for Greg to set up the belay. Moving through the awkward step across to the anchors he called "off belay" and I got ready to go. For some reason I really felt like cranking the route out quickly. Something made me go fast. As Greg called on belay I was already ten feet off the ground feeling the rock move beneath me. By the time I got to the top, Greg was exhausted from having to pull the rope so quickly.
Pitch Two (5.6) - 75 feet - Gear Anchors - "Jello" led
From the anchor, climb up the steep notch on the left (crux), and follow the crack to the top. Because of the nature of the rock, rope signals will help tremendously here.
Reaching the belay at the top of the first pitch, I quickly grabbed the gear and after a quick picture I was into the second pitch. The first ten feet gave me some hesitation. With little gear yet placed I hesitated to take a chance so close to the belay. Carefully picking my way up the vertical finger crack, I came to the lower angle portion of the wall. Then I practically ran till I found the exit ledge where I fiddled in a unique belay that consisted of tricams and cams in pockets and a nice rock tunnel that I slung. Fortuitously, I had only placed about four pieces of gear for the whole pitch.
Traverse left on easy but exposed fourth and sometimes fifth class climbing. This is a wild top out that is almost as exciting as the route itself. The traverse lasts about 100 yards or so before meeting up with the stone staircase that will eventually lead back down to the start of the pitch. We chatted and took care of our gear at the belay, and then Greg decided to stay roped up for the exit ledge. While a fall from here would be fatal, the climbing is easy. Greg has maintained good consistency in his attention to detail and safety, though, whereas I've noticed myself taking far more risks since coming to the state of Colorado. Unfortunately, Greg had the nut tool on him and I was having a difficult time cleaning a cam that I had used in the anchor. I had go all the way to the end of the ledge to grab the nut tool from him and then go back for the cam. He asked me to let him know when I was returning so that he could give me a hip belay, but he didn't hear me and so I took up the rope as I ran along the ledge.
Wind Ridge (5.8) - Three Pitches - Trad - Gear Anchors - Greg and "Jello" led
Approach: The approach to Wind Ridge is nearly the same as the one to Calypso. However, instead of fading right toward the large boulder at Calypso, walk nearly to the boulder and then look up left to a pair of pine trees just up the slope a bit. This is the starting ledge, and the way to get to the trees is to walk up the stairs past them and then back down again once you find an easy way to down.
Pitch One (5.8) - 60 feet - "Jello" led
Climb up left to the left side of the the arrete on a steep, left-facing corner. Step right, using the right-facing flake to gain the other side of the arrete. From there, climb straight up to the ledge. The easier (5.6?) variation climbs more to the left and avoids the flake for the most part until it is easier to step right onto the face.
The next route on our list, Wind Ridge, was right on the path of our descent and, as we strolled down the path, who should we see having not even started but the guide and his two clients. Not really having any particular plans, we decided to wait for them to start up. The guide commented that we had been fairly fast, which made me pretty happy since my climbing skill is a point of pride for me. He then went up and set up the belay for his clients. We talked with the newbies about where they were from and then talked them through the first hard moves of the pitch. After they were gone, I grabbed the gear from Greg and started up through the intimidating roof. The moves are not that difficult, but, as you get to the point where you pull through the roof, you are searching blindly with your hand for the jug you need to in order to get out of the awkward, scrunched up position that roofs often produce...another trait of the Gunks. I moved quickly again, and I was at the belay before the guide had left. I built an alternative belay station to bring Greg up and scoped out the next pitch.
Pitch Two (5.6) - 75 feet - Greg led
"Jello" had sworn before I left Boston that when I arrived in Colorado he was going to teach me how to climb crack. I wasn't so sure that I was going to learn, but I was certain that he was going to try to teach and if I didn't learn then I was going to suffer as a result. Well, this was my first test at a good crack after my painful day at Turkey Rocks, and I think I passed the test well. This pitch is pretty easy, as all one has to do is step right into the crack and climb to the big ledge. I took my time, though, because of the guide and his two clients above, and I felt fine about that. Easing into a climbing skill that I'm not particularly strong at is a sign of maturity, I think.
As I sat and waited for Greg, I enjoyed the beautiful warm day and noted the large line forming at the bottom of my goal for the day, Bastille Crack: one of those other little traits of the Gunks, long lines forming on the most popular lines when there are so many great climbs. Granted, I was part of the problem but I've not been to Eldo but one other time. I think I'm allowed to check out the classics before exploring the great unknown. Greg made it rather quickly to the ledge, I then followed, and before I knew it we had traded gear and were once again waiting for the guide and his clients. It didn't bother me so much that we had to wait for them. People have had to wait on me before as well. What I didn't quite understand was why he didn't run the first two pitches together. The crux is well above the ground for the first pitch, so a ground fall as a result of rope stretch wouldn't have been an issue. And since we had to help the clients through the crux anyway, he could have strung them together and saved himself some time, with maybe an additional climb at the end of the day as a bonus for his clients. I guess when I guide people I generally give them the beta on the ground and, depending on how they've done with easier climbs up to that point in the day, I decide whether to string pitches together. Either way he did what his judgement told him to and we weren't in a hurry, so we watched him go and then waited for the clients to go. Greg and I chatted about the climb and how great the weather was. It was a good time. All in all we were being pretty lazy climbers.
Pitch Three (5.6) - 50 feet - Greg led
I have to tell you, despite how I felt this past spring, there's been a distinctive change in my attitude toward roofs. Don't get me wrong, I still love straight up faces, but when I saw the moves on this roof, I was giddy as I could possibly be. The pic doesn't show it well, but there's a horn just above "Jello"'s head that is the roof itself. One has to pull on the horn and then get one's feet up inside the pod that separates the horn from the rest of the cliff. This makes for a good rest, as the climbing isn't necessarily that easy. After that, however, its a straight shot up to the ledge on easy ground.
I watched the guide start up the next pitch the first moves didn't seem too difficult. A little akward but nothing too bad. It was Greg's pitch, so after waiting for the guide and his clients to struggle through it, he started up. It looked like an interesting crux. Greg climbed up a little, then he climbed down, then climbed up, then down. He did this for quite a while which was pretty impressive because I would have just stepped down to the belay ledge to give it another look. But he had the endurance to hang around and figure it out, which is just a little better style in my opinion. Once he was up, it was my turn. It's a cool move with a cool rest when you pull it. You just gotta pull it to enjoy it. After "The Move" the climbing is pretty easy and so we summited the ridge in a matter of minutes.
Then came the descent. The Guide seemed to know where it was but he was busy roping up his clients for the descent which was more or less second class with some third and fourth class for good measure. Since he was busy I decided to walk around and see if I could find it. After walking all over the place I came to a conclusion, either their was not a rappel and we would have to downclimb a sketchy slab covered in pine needles or we were way off in our thinking as to where it was. Turns out we were way off. The guide told us to follow the cable that is just on the other side of and below the summit to the left. After following this for a while the cable ended, and we then trended up towards the ridge for about 20 feet where, low and behold, there was a slot with some rap anchors on the left face. It seemed an odd place for a rap anchor since it's so far away from any climb but who am I to judge? So we rapped down and decided to have some lunch. Nothing like smoked salmon with some sugar cookies. I swear to all that is holy that the sugar cookies with frosting we had taste freaking awesome after climbing all day.
Bastille Crack (5.7) - Five Pitches - Trad - Mixed Anchors - Greg and "Jello" led
Approach: What approach? You can practically belay from your car if you wish. From the parking lot near the entrance, walk toward the bridge. Once past the bridge, walk to the left side of the cliff and start on a blocky section below a left-facing flake that is about 20 feet up and a few feet left of a left-facing corner. The flake itself is also just right of the main crack, which is not gained until after climbing the flake.
Pitch One (5.7) - 60 feet - Bolted Anchors - "Jello" led
This was "Jello"'s goal for the day, and maybe even his main goal of the entire trip. The Bastille Crack is an uber-classic with a dangerous reputation. If Calypso isn't reported as being the most accident-prone route in Eldo, then Bastille Crack and Werk Supp (5.9) (to the left of Bastille Crack on the same wall) topped the list. In particular, the guidebook noted how most accidents on Bastille Crack happened very early on during the transition from the flake to the crack, and injuries were as a result of pulled gear. I was glad that I wasn't leading this first pitch, but I was worried about "Jello"'s seeming over-confidence. He's a good climber with a good lead head. I'm not going to say that he doesn't fear falling or ripped gear, because he certainly does, but instead of allowing that fear to debilitate him at the crux he uses it to forge ahead. For him, he doesn't want to fall and so he doesn't. I'll let him tell you how it went, but let me tell you where it goes first: climb the blocks up to the left-facing flake, place gear in the crack on the left before traversing over to it, and then jam and lieback to the anchors after gaining the crack.
This climb has a reputation for being fantastic. So I definately wanted to get on it even though there had been a line on it about 10 teams long when we'd been looking at it from the other side of the canyon. When we got there, people were standing around as if they were about to jump on it, but when I asked if they were just starting off I was suprised to hear all of them say no. Looked like we had the climb to ourselves, which is just what I was hoping for. The climb also has another reputation as dangerous. A lot of people had hurt themselves at the beginning of the first pitch. Even though it was well within my ability I was a little nervous. There had been a couple of accidents on the climb nearby (Werk Supp), with one of them ending in the man dying after the fall. The gear is tricky and the rock polished on both routes, so after racking up I started up slowly and cautiously. The moves are easy up to the left-facing flake where you can place plenty of good gear. From here one must traverse a few feet to the more continuous right facing flake / crack. The danger lies in trying to place gear from a bad stance on a polished cobble and having to pull out a lot of rope to clip that gear, resulting in a ledge fall if you can't hold on. As I stepped to the cobble I was the zen master of focus. I pressed my foot into it and, as I reached into the opposite flake, I felt precariously balanced like a clumsy fool on the tip of a pyramid of glass. But I was able to sink the gear that I needed and was able to pull through. It's a good thing, too, because my previous piece below me tumbled out just after I clipped the gear in the crack. Finding a sinker hand jam after that, I plugged in more gear and flew the rest of the way up to the anchor. The traverse is not a difficult move, but a fairly unnerving one. The second pitch belonged to Greg so I slid into the crack and nodded off while he proceeded up the crack, much to his chagrin.
The climb also has another reputation as dangerous. A lot of people had hurt themselves at the beginning of the first pitch. Even though it was well within my ability I was a little nervous. There had been a couple of accidents on the climb nearby (Werk Supp), with one of them ending in the man dying after the fall. The gear is tricky and the rock polished on both routes, so after racking up I started up slowly and cautiously. The moves are easy up to the left-facing flake where you can place plenty of good gear. From here one must traverse a few feet to the more continuous right facing flake / crack. The danger lies in trying to place gear from a bad stance on a polished cobble and having to pull out a lot of rope to clip that gear, resulting in a ledge fall if you can't hold on. As I stepped to the cobble I was the zen master of focus. I pressed my foot into it and, as I reached into the opposite flake, I felt precariously balanced like a clumsy fool on the tip of a pyramid of glass. But I was able to sink the gear that I needed and was able to pull through. It's a good thing, too, because my previous piece below me tumbled out just after I clipped the gear in the crack. Finding a sinker hand jam after that, I plugged in more gear and flew the rest of the way up to the anchor. The traverse is not a difficult move, but a fairly unnerving one. The second pitch belonged to Greg so I slid into the crack and nodded off while he proceeded up the crack, much to his chagrin.
Pitch Two (5.6) - 95 feet - Gear Anchors - Greg led
Hey, I have to give "Jello" credit on the previous pitch. I was afraid as the second, and found the crack to be particularly challenging. He's turned into a heck of crack climber, so I knew that he was going to be OK once he crossed the threshold of danger on the first pitch. But I was pumped after coming up, and the second pitch was a stiff chimney (for me) that narrowed into a crack where both jams and liebacks with slick feet were required. Along with all my other complaints on why I'm not a very good climber (cracks? hate 'em. roofs? disgust me. dynamic and committing moves on thin crimpers? rather stay in bed. anything pumpy enough to keep me from clipping? let me sit on a beach instead. liebacks? see Wrist (5.6)), liebacks just don't suit me well. But it was my turn, and that meant sucking it up and going. I had a group of spectators below watching me practically beach whale a chimney (seriously, don't ask how that's possible, just trust me when I say that it is) and I was really nervous about falling in front of them. I could tell by the looks on their faces that they were concerned for me. The last thing I wanted was to have their fears come true. But after struggling for some time, I finally made it through the chimney and up to the flake system above (this was, of course, before both "Jello" and I had realized that I was still wearing the pack with the water and snacks, of which I immediately removed and clipped to a piece of gear for him to carry the rest of the way). It was easier climbing at this point, but I was soon discouraged when I saw that the flake jutted out right into a long undercling without any good feet below. I didn't need this. Seriously, I was pumped and scared out of my wits, and really happy that the climbing had become much easier up to that point. To top it off, I only had one #3.5 Camalot (nothing larger) and was run-out about 15 feet because I could see that plugging my largest piece of gear down low was going to leave me with at least a 30-foot runout to the top (bumping gear up was not in my climbing technique bag of tricks yet). I wanted to save it for what appeared to be the obvious and up-coming crux. But just after I plugged the cam, and just as I started to sack up and head right, I just happened to look up left on the face above for a stabilizing hold and saw a curious line of crimps that, nervously, seemed to disappear over a bulge. I couldn't see how far these crimps went up, and I could definitely see that there wasn't any gear on the face itself, but I did notice that there were feet that would, at the very least, allow me stand up and view whatever was above the bulge. I thought for a moment, and decided that I didn't want to smear on slick rock with a runout to the top. "At least I can downclimb if the face on the left turns out to be a red herring," I thought, and off I went into the great unknown.
It's moments like this that I enjoy the most while climbing. Yes, I climb to get away from the world first and foremost, but I also climb for the unknown, too. There is an element of confidence that I take away with me when I step onto a mysterious set of holds. Yeah, I downclimb a lot and I suss out the situation probably more than most people, but the lessons that I learn from these experiences are invaluable when I apply them to my non-climbing life. Sometimes I am rewarded for my risk-taking, and other times I am punished. I remember climbing and being rewarded on Crimson Chrysalis in Red Rocks where every move seemed to be going into the unknown, as if there was a heavy polyester curtain blocking my view of each move such that I had to reach through the curtains, grab the pull-string on the other side, and pull myself upward to open the curtains so that I could see next closed set that was ready to be opened. Despite the fact that I was clearly reaching into climbing darkness, every single hold was worth the risk, and every hold after that was equal to reward of the previous one. This is what the face turned out to be. There was no need to downclimb, and certainly no need to climb the sketchy undercling to the right. Those crimps led to hand-sized ledges, and those hand-sized ledges led to the sloping belay ledge just below the double cracks that make up the third pitch.
Coming up to Greg's belay, I suddenly had a phone call from none other than my boss. It's always funny how conversations on the phone go:
- Boss: Hey, what are you doing?
- Me: I'm 200 ft. off the ground.
- Boss: Very nice....blah blah blah.
- Me: Cool, let me call you back in a bit.
Pitch Three (5.7) - 50 feet - Gear Anchors - "Jello" led
"Jello" was next up to climb the double crack above us. Essentially, climb the crack system to the next ledge. "Jello", however, didn't find it so straight forward: After annoying Greg long enough with my phone antics, I traded gear with him and made my way up. The third pitch is not really that difficult physically but route finding was more complex, as there were all kinds of chalk marks interrupting my route-finding senses. I made it up well enough, though, to my obvious belay spot with a nice big ledge. Unfortunately all the rock around the ledge was broken, so I made a lot of extra gear placements to be sure of a bomber anchor. I shivered while Greg climbed and realized that the sun was much lower in the sky. I was glad we were only two pitches from the top at this point. We'd probably make it down with some light to spare, though. Still, we were the only ones on the rock and if we took our time then that was OK, too (or so we thought). When Greg came up to my anchor, he shrugged it off. Our attitude was the same: when life gives you shit....well...don't eat shit.
Pitch Four (5.6) - 60 feet - Gear Anchors - Greg led
And then it was my turn again. I was relieved that we were almost finished. Don't get me wrong, this was a fantastic climb and, in my opinion, it offered the most fun I had the entire week. It certainly ranks as one of the best climbs I've ever done, but I was tired of climbing crack and this pitch didn't have any that I could see. It was only 5.6, and I was ready to hand the last pitch over to "Jello" so I could cruise to the top. Unfortunately, getting off the belay and around the corner to the left turned into one of the scariest and most committing moves I have ever done. I honestly felt as if I was off route and began to worry that where I was going was not a world I was physically or mentally prepared to go.
From the belay, step up left to a large, scary, loose-looking right-hand sidepull jug that would crush your belayor if it popped, and commit to an awkward traverse with a series of holds to the left that don't appear to lead anywhere good before gaining the sloping ledge around the corner with no feet leading up to it. "Jello" felt that this was pretty easy, but I was scared shitless. The gear leading up to the traverse was suspect and a fall at that point would most definitely lead to a swing that would essentially pit my cannonball body up against "Jello"'s head before the gear popped and I fell 200 feet until my unconscious belayor's knot finally jammed tight in the belay device. Oh yeah, did we mention the anchor was kind of crap?
There have been times when I've made the mistake of just going for it. But I've never stopped completely believing that one of these days I was going to be rewarded for having the courage to trust something that both my body and mind were telling was stupid. This is different from the second pitch and finding the holds out on the face. I was full of confidence taking that risk. For some reason, I just felt good about that outcome, but not this one. I could barely see around the corner and, despite the fact that the sloping ledge looked like a good place to rest, the crack above it appeared to either be deceptively easy or obviously harder than I could climb. I mentioned that the feet were crap on the committing moves leading up to the sloping ledge, and this is important because it essentially took away any opportunity to back off if I found that I had read the route incorrectly and was, indeed, on some 5.11 variation. But this is where the book said to go, and so I trusted it and again did my best beached whale onto the sloping ledge. I found the crack above to be intimidating from the ledge, but at least I was able to plug gear at this point. "Jello" couldn't really see what I had in front of me, and so he asked what it looked like. I told him that I still wasn't sure it was the right decision to go this way, but I was there and would let him know with either a silent scamper up to the next belay ledge or a wailing scream on my way back down to his level. It turned out that the crack was pretty easy and that I had chosen correctly. "Finally," I thought to myself, "I did something stupid and it turned out just the way I needed it to."
Pitch Five (5.6) - 60 feet - Gear Anchors - "Jello" led
Climb the crack above the anchor to a chimney. Then either climb the chimney to the top or step left into the steep pockets near the finish.
The last pitch. I don't do a lot of chimney climbing so I always like to test my skills. Unfortunately, I don't have any big bros, so luckily my balls are of decent size for most occasions. The chimney turned out to not be so bad, and when I came to the top of it, with my last piece being about 10 feet below me, I decided to take a more interesting/dangerous/stupid route to the left as opposed to exiting to the right up easy rock. I basically climbed through some big overhanging pockets. The climbing was easy, probably still in the 5.7 area but falling would have certainly broken me in half, so it was a little foolhardy on my part. It's one thing to climb without gear when it's not available, but I felt a little silly for screwing around on unknown territory when I didn't have to. Once again the available anchors were less than stellar and I ended up walking around the top for a good fifteen minutes fidgeting in pieces of gear good enough to bring Greg up. There was probably an easy anchor set up around the corner where the regular finish lies, but what can I say? I'm an idiot.
So Greg came up and we chatted while getting the rope and gear together. We weren't sure where we were going, as there was no obvious line of descent. We figured that we should head away from the climb toward what we figured was a hiking path on the other side of the rock that was in front of us. So Greg headed off toward the cables still roped up just in case the descent turned out to be rather sketchy. After he had taken off and was out of view, I was startled by...
The descent is pretty easy, but if you don't know where you're going then it can appear spicy. I wanted to stay roped up because the ledge I was scrambling along was exposed with a sheer drop straight down to an uncomfortable talus field below. The ledge was also not kind to anyone taller than three feet, and so I was scrunched up most of the way trying not to get too close to making a really stupid mistake near the edge. The thing is, I was expecting the ledge to last about 100 feet, but it kept going and going around blind corners with no easy way to retreat if I was heading in the wrong direction. I contemplated pulling "Jello" along if I ran out of rope, but I didn't want to get him stuck along with me, and so I kept going on my own. I finally came to a point where I had to make a decision. The ledge dropped down about 15 feet onto what would otherwise be a really cool belay ledge, and then climbed up on the other side to what appeared to be a continuation of the scrunched-up ledge I was currently on, but again, I couldn't see around the corner and so I didn't know where I was going. I scoped out the 15-foot drop and wondered aloud, "OK, so if this isn't the way then are we going to be able to get back up this thing?" I hesitated before going down, and just as I thought about committing, I decided to take a look around me to see if I was missing an obvious line heading in another direction. I turned around completely and nearly jumped out of my shoes...
After Greg proceeded towards the ledge system that would lead to a path I kept him on belay at his request. All of a sudden someone came out of the chimney below me and said "hi."
We looked at each other with completely different looks on our faces. His was of the "sorry to have scared you" variety while mine was of the "where the fuck did you come from" variety. I was startled out of words, but I managed to stutter enough to ask him if I was going in the right direction.
- Soloist: Yeah, you're doing fine.
- Me: Uhhh, you can just go around me. I'm going to bring my partner over.
- Soloist: You're fine. It's the right direction.
- Me (wanting him to move ahead of me so that I could see where the hell to go): OK, so I'm going to bring my partner over. You can go ahead if you want.
- Soloist (not understanding that I wanted him to pass me): He coming. You're OK. That's the right way to go.
- Me (realizing that I was going to have to jump down to this ledge before he moved past me): OK, thanks, dude.
A interesting difference I've noticed between climbing in the East and West is attention to safety. You hear a lot about people getting hurt out here in the West. Maybe it's the volume of climbers. I don't know, but it seems that while I climbed in the East there was a lot of attention to safety and checking your partner, which here I only see a mere glance in comparison. There seems to be almost a different mentality about climbing here than when I lived in MA and NY. Different strokes for different folks but I felt a little silly belaying Greg along a big ledge system after seeing the soloist saunter off around the corner. After he was gone, I broke down the belay I made my way over to the ledge where Greg was waiting for me, and we then proceeded down to the path. Once on the path, we took a right toward the talus field and scrambled down that until we found the knee-jarring stone staircase that would lead to the road and out to the car.
I think we were the last people out of the Canyon that night. We were hungry and wanted to eat before hitting the road to our next destination: Rocky Mountain National Park. As the light slowly left the canyon and transformed the blue sky to stars, we walked down to the water and set up dinner on top of a concrete building just below the dam. The couscous took a while to cook, but we were both happy to have an hour or so to rest before the long drive to Estes Park. We almost thought our adventures weren't over, however, when we finally hopped in the car to leave for the evening. We wondered what time the canyon closed at night and were initially worried to find a gate lowered over the road leading out near the gatehouse at the entrance / exit of the canyon. But our worries became invalid as soon as a nearby sensor detected our presence. If lifted high in the air and we were back on the road. Now our Boulder experience was complete, and it was time for us to head to Lumpy Ridge, which turned out to be more fun than a bucket of chum!
Click Here for all 2008 Eldorado Canyon pics.