Saturday, December 13, 2008

Colorado Day Ten: The Final Day - OR - The poor, poor deer

It's cold in Boston as I write this. The wind is howling at 20mph sustained, and the temps are hovering at a cool 17 degrees. I don't even want to imagine what the wind chill is like. My fingers are nearly frozen, and the keyboard isn't making life easier with its stiff keys and poor response. I wish I was back in Colorado, just like on our last day of climbing when it was hot enough to split the day in half. "Jello" had two routes that he wanted me to get on. He said they were classic to Garden of the Gods, and they each offered a different kind of exposure that is difficult to find on such easy routes. One was claustrophobic, and the other wide open.

Garden of the Gods

West Point Crack (5.7+) - Three Pitches - Trad - Mixed Anchors - Greg and "Jello" led

Approach: From Parking Lot #6, walk down the dirt path across from the lot that leads down to the paved path that fades to the left. Walk past the two thin towers straight to a tall face on the left. Walk up the dirt path path to the short tower in front of the the tall cliff and take a left up the ramp / slab with a bolt on the ground. Walk to the left edge of the low cave with a bolt about teen feet above the cave.

Pitches One and Two (each 5.7+) - 60 and 130 feet respectively - Bolted Anchors - Greg led both in one pitch

We got up early to beat the afternoon sun and found the Garden buzzing with activity. It turned out that everyone had the same idea, but thankfully the climb "Jello" was anxious to stick me on was free. Apparently West Point Crack was first ascended by a few cadets who must have been eager to put up a route before the nearby Air Force cadets could get a chance. I can understand why. The second pitch in particular is anything but flying high, and one doesn't even get to see what's waiting at the start of the third pitch until the second is completed. This was a wild route for me, and I'm glad that "Jello" pushed me to lead the first two pitches.

I linked the first two pitches together, but I'll describe them somewhat separately. The first pitch follows the bolts to the start of the chimney. It's easy climbing that is somewhat sequency if you aren't very strong on slopers. There is a bolted anchor at the top of this short pitch. From there, enter the chimney and climb it to the top, exiting on the left. There are also bolted anchors at the top of the second pitch, but they are on the other side of the ledge (out of view as you top out). Be sure to extend yourself to make belaying easier and to help protect the soft rock from rope abrasion.

I'm not particularly strong at chimneys. OK, so I'm not particularly strong at any particular skill, but like a crack, a chimney just isn't something one finds in the Northeast. Sure, they exist, but they're rare and I haven't practiced my technique, well, ever. Despite the fact that I sometimes have a difficult time hand-jamming, when it works I can admit that I feel pretty damn solid. The fourth pitch of Kor's Flake (5.7+) at Lumpy Ridge in Rocky Mountain National Park is a good example of that. But jamming your entire body? Well, that's just silly, right?

It's funny because I found chimneying to be pretty easy to pick up. OK, so maybe this was an easy chimney, and maybe that made it easy, but to get up into a chimney as I did with this one and not feel completely scared out of my wits like I usually do with new techniques was impressive for me. I took my time, as I usually do, and made only the most secure moves. But once I topped out I was pretty satisfied. I had essentially climbed 130 feet of a style of climbing that was unfamilier to me, on really soft and crumbly rock, with only a couple of pieces of gear plugged in. Even when I didn't feel solid in my movements or stances, I felt as if I would get stuck in the chimney if I fell, therefore I considered myself to be my biggest piece of protection. The only downside was that I noticed later on that I had managed to shave off a few of the key buttons on my camera. Oh well, at least it looks like a climber's camera now.

Pitch Three (5.7+) - 40 feet - Gear Anchor - "Jello" led

Holy mother of sandbag scary piece of...

If you don't want to climb the third pitch, then I assume that with two 60m ropes you can rap down after the second pitch (rap on the same side as the anchors, not on the chimney side). But if you do decide to start the third pitch, just understand that it is committing and that the crux is before the first piece can be placed. And, oh yeah, to start the route you have to make an unprotected step across the chimney onto a steep face that doesn't let you know what you're about to get into. A fall here would hurt, so climber beware.

Step back across the chimney onto the face and, if you've got balls of steel, use the flakey features to traverse left to a small pod that is filled with slopers or crimps that are facing the wrong way. The pockey may look nice, but it isn't as good with body positioning as you'd expect it to be. There's a solid foot way on the other side of the arrete (to the left) that is absolutely wonderful once gained. But I have to tell you, those first few moments before "Jello" gained decent hands and feet and was in a position to clip the rope for the first time were scary. He struggled to get his hands into the pod and to trust the feet, and when he finally swung over to the left, I thought he was peeling off. I was very glad that he managed to hold himself in, and was even happier to know that the pod had decent hand holds once he got there.

But then it was my turn. I found the section getting to the pod just as difficult, and I huffed and puffed for several minutes fighting the barn-door that my body wanted to go into. I didn't like the feet, and I was even more worried about relying on the soft rock that I was supposed to use to get me to the pod. It was scary, but I finally decided to just go for it. After all, I had just seen "Jello" swing on good holds, so it seemed reasonable to expect that I'd be able to find them, too. Well, let's just say that I realized right then and there how much better he's become. I committed and reached into the pod, and I searched... and searched... and flailed... and searched... and swore... and started breathing heavily... and decided that I was out of energy and was just going to have to suck it up and swing off the holds. This scared me, though, not because of the swing but because I knew that the top only had a gear anchor and that most of the rock in the Garden was soft enough to not hold a fall. Even the bolts were somewhat scary to hang on when at belay or rappelling. Falling here quite likely meant not dangling in mid-air, but plummeting into the dark chasm below. I was just about to the point of letting go when, out of sheer desperation, I looked beyond where "Jello" had climbed, far out to the left, I spied a ledge big enough to rest my entire body weight on without requiring a solid hand hold. It was far away, and it would require a near hands-free move to get there, but if I was going to fall then I might as well have fallen while trying to save my ass. I made a lunge for the foothold, snagged it, barely, and struggled against all of Newton's gravity to push myself upright. It wasn't until I stood up that I found a nice jug to hold on to, but I was out of breath and needed a few moments to rest before continuing on. The rest of the climb was fine, and I topped out with both "Jello" and I happy that I hadn't fallen. His anchor was as solid as I could have guessed, but neither one of us was really happy about the quality of rock. Still, I climbed that third pitch with a much greater appreciation for how much he's improved since he's move to Colorado. It might have been 5.7+, but it wasn't something I wanted to lead.

Descent: The top of West Point Crack I think offers some of the best photo opportunities in the Garden, so be sure to take in the view before heading down (or see my photo at the bottom). To descend, walk off to the south, away from the climb. Find a notch in the rock on the left, and downclimb from there to the path below. Scramble down this to the base.

North Ridge of Montezuma's Tower (5.7R) - Two Pitches - Sport - Greg Led both pitches in one pitch

It was too hot at this point in the day to keep climbing, and so we went back home and chilled for the afternoon while the baking sun beat down on the dry ground outside. It was a relaxing afternoon, and I got a lot of writing and photo-uploading. It wasn't until about 6pm when we decided to go back. It was a good idea to wait until darkness was about to set in before actually climbing, as this route sits in the direct sunlight all day long.

Approach: From Parking Lot #6, walk down the dirt path across from the lot to the paved path. Walk down the path and fade right toward the second of the two thin towers (the taller one). Take a right on the path after the path with a fence.

North Ridge: This is technically a two-pitch climb, but I really don't see any reason to climb it that way. OK, so there's a little bit of rope drag at the top (why this is so I can't remember because it seemed pretty much a straight line), but it's not such a hinderance to require two pitches. Also, despite the fact that this is fairly well-bolted, and that the bolts are bomber and the rock feels bomber, too, I'm calling this an R-rated route because any fall would definitely send you to either side of the arrete, possibly swinging you out into space (or other rocks on the side faces) and dragging the rope across the edge. Sure, the rock is sandstone and very likely to be worn before it cuts the rope, but still, do you want to take that fall? The climbing is easy, but the answer to the question is definitely no.

Reading this route is as simple as, well, playing with letter blocks. Start on the right of the arrete and then follow the path of least resistance all the way up. I think I stayed on the arrete itself for about 90% of the route, with a small diversion out onto the right face about mid-way up. It's kind of a nice route as you near the top, too, because of all of the slopey steps that have been worn into the rock over the years. I imagine this was a much different and harder route when it was first climbed. The steps, due to their perfect slopey shape for feet, make this section both an easy route to walk up and heart-pumping at the same time. The feet may be nice, but the hands are less than ideal. This route sometimes feels more like a slab than it does an arrete. The hands, at times, are definitely more there for balance than for holding on to anything.

By the way, the photo below shows how thin this route is. Montezuma's Tower is the taller of the two slices in the lower right-hand section of the photo.

Descent: You definitely need two ropes to rap from the top. I'm not sure if there is a walk-off (very highly unlikely) and rapping back down the route that you just came up is not advised due to the angle of the top anchors. Rappel in one go with two 60m ropes.

It was now dark and that ended our climbing trip together. I have to be honest, I was kind of saddened by this. I didn't want to go back to Boston. Look, I love Boston. I think it is one of the best cities to live in, and it is close to home (Maine) and most of my family. I really can't see living anywhere else in the US, and that includes Colorado with its dry air and dusty front yards. But I was sad because I really had a great time climbing over the past ten days or so, and there was so much more than I wanted to do. Part of the reason I was sad, too, was that I knew how I had grown into climbing at the 'Gunks this past summer. I started by hating all things roofs, and ended up enjoying them in the end. For me, it was a matter of getting used to the rock and me gaining confidence over time. I definitely felt that I was tentative on this trip, and that was because I was climbing something new. I really felt that by the end of the trip I was ready to start trusting myself, and I wanted to continue to advance my climbing, but it was not to be. We threw our gear in the car and settled in for the short drive back to his house. "Jello"'s girlfriend "Iowa" and her dog "Jacques" was with us all day (happily snapping pictures despite it being too dark for the Montezuma climb), and I gave her the front seat. It's funny because "Jello" has a reputation for not being the easiest person to ride shotgun with, and so her and I had taken turns sitting in the risky seat up front. I could barely see around me, and that was fine for me. I wanted to watch the fading light darken the Garden behind us as we drove off. And as we did, we discussed dinner for the evening and what the plan was for dropping me off at the airport the next day. All was calm...



"Iowa" screamed at the top of her lungs and my widened eyes looked all around me in search of all of the excitement. I couldn't see much around me, and so I focused on the first thing that came into view: a side right on the right side of the car, my side of the car (and "Iowa"'s). Upon seeing the road, I instantly thought we were about to get side swiped by a car that "Jello" hadn't seen (or that car hadn't seen us). I have visions like this from time to time, and it scares the living daylights out of me but I've always feared more than anything that those visions would come true: where a car, or any object or tragic event for that matter, would come out of nowhere and be completely unable to stop with me rendered helpless only to watch in horror as it plowed over me and, thus, ending my brief living expirement on earth. But I was confused. I could hear "Iowa" screaming, and I could sense "Jello" being startled out of his mind, but I couldn't see any cars. "There must be another road or car up ahead that I can't see," I thought to myself and I braced for the impact.


The car came to a sudden halt and I waited... and waited... and, finally, after several seconds of no impact, I lifted my head up to see what was all the clatter. We were stopped, and the road all around us was devoid of cars. There was no impact, and yet, there was no car in front of us or around us either. "What happened" I wondered. And then I saw what all the fuss was about. We had come within inches of taking out an entire family of deer. Yup, sure enough, there was mom, dad, junior, sister, and little infant Fawny all staring at us as if we were the biggest jerks on earth. Deer normally run right at the headlights, but for some reason this family just sauntered off the road and kept going their way. It was a close call, and funny threats, warnings, and defensive conversation came to a boil the rest of the way home. We then went to dinner, came home, I packed, and the next morning "Jello" dropped me off in Denver for the long flight back. I'll be making more trips out there for certain. In fact, I can't wait to get back.

Click here for all 2008 Garden of the Gods Photos - newest photos first.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Colorado Day Nine: Getting Shelved

We were supposed to go to the Black Canyon this weekend, but not all worked out as planned. We decided instead to do a couple of day trips in the area, and one of those trips was to Shelf Road, a sport climbing area with a dozen cliffs, a few dozen crags, and hundreds of bolted, sharp, limestone routes just waiting to be pulled by the two studs that "Jello" and I are.

Shelf Road - Cannon City, Colorado
Dark Side Wall

Other than climbing in Garden of the Gods this past week and at Farley Ledge in Massachusetts, I haven't done much sport this season. In fact, I haven't even made the short trek up to Rumney this year to tackle my only tick up there: Hammond Organ (5.10d). I was looking forward to clipping bolts and pushing my grades for the first time all year (well, except for my attempt on Hold the Mayo (5.9) in the 'Gunks). I'm sure most people will tell you that sport offers an opportunity to bump the grades up over the typical trad grades. This is almost exclusively because with sport all one has to do is clip the bolt, whereas with trad one must find the right gear, set it, and then clip it. Of course, all of this trad gear also weighs more than sport draws, too.

Anyway, I'm not sure where I was going with that, except that maybe I was trying to say that I just wanted to try something hard outside for once. While I've led 5.10 outside before, I've never actually flashed or onsighted a 5.10. "Jello" told me that the grades at Shelf Road were a bit soft, so this was a perfect opportunity for me to meet that goal, even if I didn't set that out as a goal this summer. I would have been happy to lead 5.10c/d today, too, and that opportunity did come later in the day. But this day was really about three different events, two of which damn near killed me (OK, so I'm being a little over dramatic about one of the events, but still, if you know me then you know why).

The drive to Canon City was uneventful, and the ride to the Shelf Road area was also without any excitement. We wanted to get to the Dark Side Wall in order to hit the shade on what we figured would be a warm day in the sun. Shelf Road is spread out a bit, with a few different parking lots for the various crags. It is possible to park in one location and walk to all the cliffs, but that is inconvenient because walking from one cliff to the next would take about 30 minutes. As you could expect, the parking lots are also spread out and closer to each cliff. This is somewhat important to note because: 1) we were using a rather crappy map in the guidebook to find the parking lot for the Dark Side Wall and; 2) I can't read a map.

We were supposed to be looking for the Bank Camping lot, and apparently we drove right past it on our way in. The road to the Bank is pretty easy and safe, but once past that point the road becomes narrow, dirt, and enclosed with a rising cliff on the left and steep 200-foot drop into a shallow canyon on the right... without a guardrail. The road is barely wide enough to allow two cars to pass by each other, and it is as winding as any famous mountain road in Italy - with the road ahead blinded out of sight by weaving turns that bend around the opaque cliff. You can't see what you're heading at nor what's heading at you. It's a scary thing to think of when you know cars are coming the other way, but thankfully we couldn't see any cars on the road ahead of us (where we could see, anyway) and it felt as if we were the only car on the road. Not a spec of dust thrust up by uncoming cars was to be seen. The low-lying air was as crystal clear as any at the break of an uncoming rain storm. I was on the passenger's side of the car, which had a much clearer view of the bottom of the canyon than the driver's side. "Jello" is known for his driving... ... ... and I'll just leave it at that.

Not seeing any cars, "Jello" barelled ahead at my direction. He wanted to see the map, but I refused. Despite the map's lack of clarity, I was certain that I could figure out where we were supposed to go. Of course, he had been there before, and so he kind of knew the area. A quick look at the map for him would have easily solved our problem. But no, he was stuck driving for the vast majority of the trip and I felt the need to hold my otherwise carried weight. Our climbing partnership is an interesting dynamic. To start, we're friends. Our sense of humor is at least understood, and when we're on there's no stopping the laugh tracks. Yet, when we're often dropping jokes we don't really laugh so much as we smile and get the joke. It's as if it isn't about the laughing but about the appreciation of the moment instead. I think we get along so well because we cope in similar fashion: it's best to get whatever is on the inside on the outside before it eats up the soul. I'm glad that we at least understand that we each have quirks, and that those don't really play a role in our character. But where we separate is in our approach. I'm an eternal optimist. I'm not sure if "Jello" is truly and optimist or pessimist at heart, but I definitely deal with my optimism by communicating my pessimism very loudly and clearly. It's how I cope. It's how I know that I'm going to be OK in the end, because I've already cleaned the bad out of me by displaying it for the world to see - almost as if I'm allowing the whole world, as an army, to tackle my pessimism at once. Call it dilution if you will, but it works. "Jello", on the other hand, is much more likely to speak honestly about his experiences and to use that openness to build the internal strength to push him onward. In short, he's a fighter who storms the beach with a plan whereas I'm the guy who is willing to wait for his heart to tell him when to shoot. I'm careful about picking my battles. He just picks them and goes. As a result, he tends to be the one who carries the heavy pack during the descent (my weakest moments). He's the one who forges ahead quickly when the rain is coming. He reads the guidebook more than me. He cooks, he drives, he takes control of the road, the seemingly empty road that - AHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!

It lasted only a mere few seconds, but it was one when nearly every memory of my childhood raced back to the forefront of my eyeballs: when I realized Dad didn't live with us anymore, getting my first pet (a rabbit named Rudolph-the-Snoopy because I didn't want to upset my two favorite cartoon characters by choosing one over the other), having my Christmas present taken away from me and sold one year due to my misbehaving, and getting the game ball in the local Farm League championship baseball game. All these memories flashed as soon as I saw the driver's side edge of the car scream around the corner. We both yelped, but as I saw us slowly moving into the other car the memories faded. "At least we aren't heading over the edge," I thought to myself while I watched "Jello" do the right thing and steer into the accident. But then, just as soon as that final word popped into my head, instinct grappled with his hands and foot and he slammed on the brake, sending us into a dirt-screaching skid all the while turning away from the car and, yup, you guessed it, toward the soft edge of the road on the canyon side. I didn't have a chance to get through my high school years with the first flashback, but within a matter of split seconds I was moving from my sophomore to junior year and was suddenly thinking of college all over again. The irony of that moment was that I had no place to go but up in high school, and now I was watching the right, front tire of "Jello"'s car for the instant it began it dangle over the edge. The braking didn't help soothe my fears. After all, it was a dirt road and he didn't have anti-lock brakes. All eyes in both cars stared widely at us. Would we go over? How many times would we flip when we did? Did I remember to change my underwear this morning?

The skid lasted a few feet, and the tire I had so steadily watched finally came to a halt only a few inches from the edge. We all stopped, breathed a few deep breaths, looked at each other, smiled, laughed, and carefully went on our way. A hundred yards later we hit a small rut in the road that sent us into another skid, but because "Jello" had learned the hard way how to drive in snow (which is similar to dirt in how you react to it), he was able to turn out of it. Unfortunately, at this point, we were well beyond where we were supposed to be and "Jello" demanded that I give him the map. I sheepishly handed it over to him and he confidently said, "It's back there." He tossed the book in my lap, turned the car around, spied the car we almost hit several hundred yards away and declared with an evil grin, "Wouldn't it be funny if we caught up to them?" I gulped, and he spun off back to our intended destination. (count: two near death experiences, thus far)

Approach / Descent Info: Park in the parking lot for the Bank area camping. In between the two day use parking lots is a road that heads down into the canyon. Follow this road to the first path on your right, and then take the next path again on your right toward Dark Side. Once on this path, you will cross through a thin cave and you should see the path continue down the hill. It is ill-advised to go down the hill if you want to climb at Dark Wall. I suggest that you look closely to the rock pile that is to your right and search for a faint trail that goes through the rocks and meets another dirt path on the other side. This path will lead you to all the climbs on the wall. Taking the main path downhill will only send you well below the cliff and make getting back up not only difficult but dangerous (Rattlesnakes do live here and I've got the picture to prove it). It is also important to note that this path leads you to the higher-numbered climbs in the guidebook, and that the lower-numbered climbs are about 15 minutes down the path.

As for descending, all the routes listed below could be lowered or rapped off the chained anchors with a 50m rope if needed. We had a 60m rope, so please be aware that I may be a bit off on my estimates regarding lowering or rapping (but I'm pretty sure it's all good).

I don't have much to say about each of these climbs. They were all fun and we got to the top of them all (me with several hangs on one climb in particular), but there wasn't anything peticular about each climb to have a story. Most of the below text will be guide-like info, but there will be one story mixed in that nearly ended my life a second time, so be on the lookout for it. And by the way, my apologies if the beta photos don't like up as well as they usually do. That is a direct result of there not being enough text. It is important to note that we walked from the main path all the down to the end, and then worked our way back toward the path.

Beginner's Outing (5.8) - six bolts

We got a little lost due to us not finding the path to the wall, but eventually we found this route. It was nearly all the way down at the end of path. It tooks us about 20 minutes to get there, so I imagine it would have been closer to 15 minutes if you took the proper path and knew where you were going. Essentially, though, walk all the way down until you see a dirty descent gully / trail up to the right. The route has a black, right-facing corner with a flake at the top. There is a rounded, white prow at the left. Climb the face to the corner, and then follow the corner to the flake at the top (crux). This felt more like 5.6 than 5.8.

Black and Dicey (5.10a) - six bolts

I enjoyed this route, even though it was a one-star route in the book. In fact, I thought it was better than the three-star next to it (next climb below). It was thin and technical, with a gutsy traverse just below the mid-way point. Head right from Beginner's Outing. Climb the black face between a large right-facing corner with a squarish / triangular roof midway up to the left and a black arrete with a triangular roof about the same height up as the left-side roof. Sorry, I thought I had a photo for this, but I guess I don't.

27 Tons (5.10a) - eight bolts

Again, head right from Black and Dicey and find the black and white face below a right-facing corner that is high up. It is between a right-arching, overhanging corner high up to the left and a chimney and large roof up to the right. Again, sorry for the lack of photo.

This was supposedly a three-star route, but it wasn't as fun as the Black and Dicey, which is right next to it to the left.

Shelf Road Virgin (5.10a) - three bolts

Find the shelf / ledge about 10 feet off the ground and just right from where the path goes steeply up to the left. Belay just above a square boulder-step in the path and climb the pockets on the left of this particular cliff face. We both found this to be sequency and fun despite it being so short.

It was at this point in the day where I had my second adventure. I really had to drop a load, but there didn't seem to be a good place to go because of the way the path around where we were was shaped (or, to put it a better way, the way the cliff was shaped). I won't describe it much, but let's just say that anyone walking from either direction would have easily been able to see me squatting and bearing my ass to the world. But I just couldn't let it go, and so I had to walk off the trail to find a nice quite spot. However, I'm afraid of snakes. I've had my days at the 'Gunks where snakes were by far and away the biggest mental obstacle of the day. The guidebook to Shelf Road says that rattlesnake bites are not that uncommon here, and that most of the bites happen on the back of the leg as one steps over a log or boulder. "Great," I thought, "not only are they aggressive, but you don't see them coming." We had been lucky, in my estimation, earlier in the day because of the bushwhacking we had to do to get back to the main path (ever hear that before? Yup, every time I climb with this guy there is definitely a bushwhacking adventure. Just click here, and here, and here for proof). I feel that we were lucky because rattlesnakes are apparently not that dissimilar in color from brown dirt and brush. But no strikes happened, and so I was a little more confident walking down what appeared to be a normal animal path. In other words, I wouldn't be stepping over any logs or boulders, but down an easy-to-read path instead. And so I stepped on to the path when - AHHHHHHHHHH!!!!

There it was, no more than three feet in front of me. I damn near stepped on it. "Jello" ran over to see what had startled me and, without hesitation, sent a few more shivers up my spine when he said, "Yup, that's a rattler." I froze and stared at its coiled state. It was docile, for the moment, but I didn't want to move anywhere out of the fear that another one would be nearby. "Jello" warned me to back away, though, as he had heard that they can strike at twice their length in distance. I did as I was told, but the sad thing was that now I desperately needed to lighten my load and I had no where to go but around this snake, and over the logs and boulders that surrounded it. I backed up and walked about 10 feet away. There was only one place I could go, and that was toward a large boulder that would shield me from public view. The problem was that there was no path anymore in this area. I couldn't walk down the main path in either direction either due to other parties being nearby in both directions. I had to bushwhack to the large boulder, and I was nearly as afraid as I've ever been in my entire life. It took me about 20 minutes to walk 15 feet. I'm not kidding. I would take one step and look around me to see if there were any snakes. And then, before taking another other steps, I double checked just to make sure I didn't miss something. I would then take another step and repeat the sequence. "Jello" thought this was hilarious. I was not only worrying about getting to the boulder safely but about dropping by pants and not seeing the rattler that was about to bite me in the ass. Everything turned out OK (we didn't see another reptile the entire day), and "Jello" was happy in the end because, and I will quote his great sympathy, "I didn't want to get stuck carrying your ass out of here." Once the load was dropped, climbing subsequently became much easier. (count: three near death experiences)

Puddle of Holes (5.10a R)- three bolts

This route is on the other side of the tree on the same cliff face as Shelf Road Virgin (see above). Climb the route right of the tree. I'm saying this is R-rated because of the fall potential at one particular spot. Despite the fact that this is a sport route, it isn't bolted well. Any fall between the first and second bolts will result in a swing into a small tree and down to a ledge below the first bolt. Despite this climb being well within our limits, we both felt the stress of this particular section. It wasn't hard, but any screw up here is going to hurt.

Lou Raven's Nest (5.10c/d) - nine bolts

Find a large, right-facing corner with a tree on a ledge about 30 feet up. Walk left, past another tree at the base to a ledge about six feet above the path. Climb the shallow right-facing corner to its top, then step left and climb the upper, right-facing corner, and then head left on very thin and slopey holds to the chains.

One of my goals for this year was to lead 5.10d clean. This grade is really pushing my limits outside, and I had a particular route set aside for this potential accomplishment: Hammond Organ (5.10d) at Rumney. I chose Hammond Organ because after toproping it a few years ago I felt as if it was within my grade range and definitely within the style of climbing that I prefer: thin and slabby. As noted above, our goal was to start at the far end of the cliff and work back toward the path and claim all the 5.10s that we could get on, and it had been a successful day thus far. Unfortunately, this route shut me down.

I took several times at the crux, and even fell at the same spot on TR. There was just one move that had no feet and required a bit of a lunge for me that I couldn't get. I tried it several times on lead before I decided to come down. Falling at the same spot on TR confirmed my thoughts that this was less of a fear issue than it was a physical obstacle. I was even more glad that I hadn't managed to get through this section on lead when I finally got to the top on TR. It was very slopey and that is absolutely against my preferred style.

We left after I got to the top and the thunder claps that were coming over the mountains behind us pushed their early light rain upon our bodies and tired souls. We thought about continuing to climb after the rain passed, but it ended up dropping buckets, and we had a long drive home anyway. Still, it was a good day despite our adventures. I will definitely buy cowboy boots for the next time I go back there, though. I'm damn sure not getting bit by one of those things. No. Eff'n. Way.

Click here for all 2008 Shelf Road Pics

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Colorado Day Eight: Rain, rain go away...

With the near miss that we had the day before, and with the rain that dumped brief buckets down upon the region's sandstone, we decided to head out for a small hike around one of the newly developed climbing areas in Colorado Springs: Red Rocks (not the concert venue, just to be clear).

This was an unintended day off. In fact, when "Jello" and I first planned this trip we had no days off planned. We knew then, of course, that there would likely be a few days off here and there due to his work schedule, but we honestly hoped there wouldn't be any days where the weather kept us from climbing. Unfortunately, this day was going to be the second out of three that we didn't climb, and on the day we did climb, we only managed one route. So after climbing pretty steadily for five straight days, we were in our official lull of the trip.

Still, it wasn't without some fun. We had a lazy morning and, after mid-afternoon refreshments, we decided to head out to take a look at the new outdoor gym-like climbing locale in the Springs. We hiked around Red Rocks for about an hour, never really getting lost but also not managing to hike or walk where we wanted to at the same time. "Jello" explained that Red Rocks was closed to climbers for a bit while route development was in progress. The decision to develop it before allowing most climbers in was to avoid the bolting nightmare at Garden of the Gods. The result was a well-planned recreation area with a bunch of single or two-pitch climbs. But I have to say, despite its occasional aesthetics, it really wasn't that interesting of a place. I certainly wasn't inspired, but that didn't mean I wouldn't climb there either. I don't know, maybe it's just the desert in general. I've tried to give various desert locations the benefit of the doubt, and I've made efforts to see the beauty, but I just can't find where it touches my heart. Sure, I've seen spots in the desert where I've really enjoyed what I was looking at, but there hasn't been anything captivating and endless like the sea. Even the desolation isn't that pretty, at least for me after seeing Scotland. I don't know, there's just something about the colors blue and green, even if they have no distinct features dramatically rising out of the ground like mountains in the desert do. Endless blue and rolling green just seem more appealing to me. Now if I could only find a place like that with thousands of climbs like Colorado (and the desert) offer, then maybe I'd be in heaven. Of course, that would mean I'd be there with everyone else, so maybe that would be too bittersweet for me in the end. Oh well, life goes on.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Colorado Day Seven: Back to the Garden, Nearly the Original One

"Jello"'s comments in Italics

And so it was back to the Garden for one of our final days of the trip. Our plan was to hit New Era (5.7) in the morning, a route that "Jello" had free-soloed earlier this summer, and one of two other options that we had also planned for that afternoon or early evening. It turned out that we got ahead of ourselves.

Garden of the Gods
Grey Wall or Kindergarten Rock

New Era (5.7) - Three Pitches - Trad - Bolted Anchors - Greg and "Jello" led

Approach: From the South Main Lot (#10), walk up the path near the info signs until you get to the top of the hill. Move to the road where the path and road meet, and follow it downhill to the second path on the left (first one is marked and the second is not). Take the path up until you're at the large boulder across from the path. Look up and you should see a right-facing crack /flake / chimney and a wide open book up and to the right.

Making our way up to one of my favorite climbs in the Garden of the Gods, I was happy. It had been good climbing for the past couple of days and for me this climb would be relaxing because I do it all the time and, as Greg mentioned, I had done this particular climb without a rope. The sun shining brightly above us would make it a somewhat sweatier ascent, but it was going to be a great day of climbing.

Pitch One (5.7) - 80 feet - Greg led: Climb the face or short crack to the right of the flake / chimney into the dihedral. Climb up to the bolted anchor. I combined the first and second pitch, so the story starts below.

Pitch Two (5.7) - 75 feet - Greg led: Stay in the dihedral to the ledge with bolted anchors.

Climbing at Red Rocks in Vegas was totally different than at the Garden. Sure, when I first got to Red Rocks I was pounding every hold in sight to ensure the rock's stability. But when I got to the Garden, I quickly learned that doing anything to the rock, even to test it, was potentially detrimental to the ascent. So when "Jello" told me that he wanted me to not only link the first two pitches, but that just below the anchors at the top of the second pitch, where I'd be most tired without a proper warm up on an easier to climb beforehand, was a lieback on slick and sketchy feet without great gear, well, let's just say that I was more than a bit nervous. He had already been up this without a rope, so I couldn't back down, not on a 5.7 that should have been well within my range. But I've never liked climbs with slick feet, and I was just as nervous about the rock holding my gear as I was about not falling. Still, "Jello" has frequently lectured me on being a better climber than I let on, to myself in particular, and so I trusted his confidence in me and I headed up.

I wanted Greg to combine the first two pitches for several reasons. The first being that I wanted him to have the crux pitch. The other reason was speed. If he combined the pitches we'd probably have time to do another climb nearby before it got too hot. As Greg made his way up he asked about gear and looked at me several times, inquiring if he should really combine the pitches. Continuing to look at me for reassurance, I encouraged him further. I knew exactly what was in front of him and that he really wanted to know where the crux was. As climbers we have that dichotomy where we want to know where the crux is and what it's like, but we also don't want to know. We want to push through it gloriously because it makes us feel like it wasn't so bad, as if we're a better climber for having done so.

I have to say that I found this to be a rather fun route, even though the crux had me scared out of my wits for a few brief moments. The initial face was fun (and run out) and full of large, cavernous pockets leading the way up to the book. Some of the pockets were actually pods, and I felt the urge to grab a sitting rest in a couple of them, but that would have been foolish fun on what I needed to treat as a serious climb.

It wasn't long until I came to the book, and I found the climbing to be a little more challenging than before. But there was nothing up to that point that made me feel as if I was getting myself into trouble. As I worked up the book, and as my forearms began to tire from the over-stressing (out of a slight fear that I was going to run into the crux at any moment and not realize it), I yelled down that the route wasn't so bad after all. Don't worry, you aren't at the crux yet, "Jello" shouted back up at me. I pressed on and wondered where the first set of anchors were.

As he made his way past the first pitch belay, I let him know he was getting close. The crux is interesting. It's not extremely hard but it requires a lot of reliance on feet in a somewhat insecure position. It's a layback, so placing gear is difficult although there are places to do it. I just never think of them as existing since I tend to burn through the crux to the anchors.

When I finally got to the first pitch anchor, I clipped the bolt and took a few deep breaths before checking out the moves above. I could see where the feet blanked out as "Jello" had told me, but he made the sequence sound as if it was several moves long. All I could see was a brief section of about four or five feet; that was maybe one move on slick feet and that was it. If the rock could hold my weight on a lieback, then I'd be OK. But the other thing that was worrying me was that he had also mentioned that the gear was sparse, and that I should save my #1 and #2 Camalots to build a small anchor below the crux. It wasn't so much the possible runout that he was describing that scared me, but more to the fact that I could see possible gear placements most of the way up. What scared me was that I would think I was at the crux too soon and not have enough gear once I actually got there. I seriously thought for a few good moments that I should split the pitches in two just so I could have the extra gear that he would've brought up to the anchor, but I told myself that I was going to put aside my fears this time and go for it. "He'd never put me in a spot he didn't think I could handle," I told myself, and off I went.

I found decent gear for the first 10 feet or so. The climbing wasn't so difficult, and I knew that I was going strong due to "Jello"'s shouts of encouragement from below. He certainly knew where the crux was, too, as he kept encouraging me to stay calm just as I approached the blank section. I was happy with this because it meant two things: 1) that I was looking at the correct blank face from below and; 2) there really was more gear than he suggested. I plugged two quick cams, stuck my foot out, breathed a couple quick breaths, complained a bit, listened to "Jello" cheer me on, counted "one, two, three," and went. Boom...boom...boom - I planted my foot and bumped each hand over the other. Before I knew it, I was at the anchor and bringing my partner up.

Greg moved through the crux like it wasn't even there and as he called off belay I was glad to see him confident in his climbing. Greg is a climber of greater ability than I, but where I lack his ability I surpass him in confidence, so it's a decent match for pushing ourselves. Since we were on a relaxing climb, I decided I would try to climb it fast. I reached Greg's belay pretty quickly, and I started up the last pitch. It's a fun pitch - pretty relaxing - so I cruised up it and belayed off the large boulder at the top.

Pitch Three (5.6) - 75 feet - Greg led: Climb the steep crack to the face. Then follow the ridge as it fades left to the top. Either sling the pancake boulder to belay (preferred) or continue left and down to the bolted anchor (not preferred due to potential rope damage to the rock and rope drag). This pitch is a bit run out at the top, so be fairly competent climbing 5.6 without gear, particularly considering how brittle this rock is. "Jello" sailed right up and I had a fun time bringing up the rear. It was the end of a good climb, and I was ready for more.

Descent: But then there was the descent. Ah yes, the descent. Well, let's just say what is supposed to happen first: one can rap down from the top anchors on two 60m ropes. It is also possible to rap with one 60m rope at least twice (there's enough anchors for three raps if that is what you need), or one can walk off on a long, fourth-class scramble off to the left. But this isn't what happened.

One of my personal rules when climbing is that no one gets hurt because of me. If somone wants to do something crazy then I'm not going to stop them, but I don't like the idea that I helped in the process of someone coming to injury or worse.

We decided to trail a static rope that "Jello" had purchased at a recent AMGA course behind us so that we could rap down in one go.

I didn't remember it's length, just that I had bought the cheapest and lightest one.

All that was fine and dandy, so we tied the two together near the ends and sent them down. The blue rope (static) went down straight and easy, while the red rope (dynamic) got hung up on a couple of chicken heads on the way down. That was OK because I knew that I would be able to free it as I rapped down. This happens a lot when rapping, even if it is not desirable. It is particularly problematic on sandstone, though, so folks don't even tie knots on the ends out of the fear of not getting the rope back when at the bottom. It turned out that the rope was caught in a couple of different places, and on one of the occasions I merely picked the rope up off the chicken head and the entire chunk of rock (about as long as my forearm) fell off.

As Greg rappelled away I didn't think anything out of the ordinary. I watched him slide down the thin, fibrous life lines. He yelled "rock," and I watched a large chunk of the cliff fall away to the ground. Again, nothing out of the ordinary here.

Seriously, I didn't even tap the rock and it snapped off as if I shot it with laser beams from my eyes. Considering how nervous I was about the loose rock going up, and how easily that chunk of rock had fallen off, I was worried about the anchors. "Jello" had assured me that the rock was solid at the top. He had even told me that he would take a trad fall in this particular section of the Garden, so putting weight on the bolts was not something to worry about. Still, as I noted above, I kept my eyes both above and below me, worrying about the anchors, the rope running over sharp edges, and how quickly the ground was coming up below me. I was also continuing free the rope from being caught on the chicken heads as I made my way down. On the final attempt of freeing the rope, I looked and saw that the red rope had finally hit the ground after being cleared and that the blue rope was hanging solidly below me, which I expected because it wasn't hung up on anything. With both ropes clear of the chicken heads, I refocused my attention to ensuring the rope wasn't running over any sharp edges. My mind also wandered toward what would happen if the bolts did, indeed, pop. Why I had this stuck in my head, I don't know, but I just felt that - ZZZZIP!!! A blue flash flew past my eyes and I noticed myself dropping faster than before.

As Greg slid closer to the ground I heard/felt/saw the blue static rope ping and go loose.

"Friction, FRICTION!" I pulled the ropes down to arrest my fall and felt them running through my hands faster and faster. I expected to feel my hands burn, but it turned out that it was a minor miracle that I had decided to use my new rap gloves for the first time.

Instinctively I grabbed both ropes below the rappel anchor and muttered an expletive to myself.

Thankfully, I didn't have to worry about burning my hands because of the gloves, but that didn't stop the fact that the ground was approaching at a much faster pace than I wanted. As I zipped lower I pulled tighter on the ropes and it was then that I realized I was only pulling on the red rope.

"What the fuck?" I thought to myself. I looked up and saw the yellow tip of the blue rope shooting up above me, bouncing back into shape after the static had reclaimed its dominance over the stretch. My weight was now completely on the red rope and it was stretching such that I thought the blue rope was now running through the anchors above. My fear was no longer about the anchors popping, but about me plummeting 40 feet to the deck as I watched the blue rope rapidly fly upward beyond my reach. I tried reaching for it, as if by some miracle I could snag it and somehow reattach it to my rappel device for a safe attempt at bumping myself back up to what I hoped would be anchors nearby and above me. For some reason, however, I wasn't falling as fast as I expected. I mean, I was moving much more quickly, but I wasn't dropping like a sack of stones, which is what should have happened if I had rapped through my ends.

The rope wasn't moving but I held it anyway. What happened? Was Greg OK? I asked what was going on but I didn't hear anything. I noticed the knot was cinched tight against the rap rings keeping the ropes from pulling through.

Thankfully, the knot at the top was on the blue rope's side, and so when I rapped off the blue end the knot at the top snugged against the anchor and didn't slip through. That meant that I was able to put my weight entirely on the red rope without having it run down on me. I didn't take any chances, though, that I was correct in my assessment that the knot was holding steady. I've never been confident in rapping, just because the guy who introduced me to climbing died as a result of a rapping accident (well, that and I just don't feel as if there is any recourse if the anchors pop or if the rope severs over a sharp edge, etc), so I got down as quickly as I could. Unfortunately, the carabiner that I've been using to belay and rap with (the DMM Belay Master) gets really hot very easily when rappelling. So when I finally made it to the ground, I had to wait a few minutes for it to cool off. I wanted to shout up to "Jello" to let him know that he had to make two raps, but I couldn't see him and couldn't walk to where I would be able to see him without taking myself off rappel. I was also out of breath.

Eventually the rope went slack and I hooked into the rappel.

When the biner cooled down, I took myself off and walked uphill so that I could see him. When I looked up, he was about two feet down on his own rappel. I was worried that he was going to make the same mistake. I knew he wasn't going to fall, because the knot had stopped me, but I also knew that there was no way for us to get the rope back down if he did rap all the to the ground without hiking back up.

- "Jello", you have to make two raps!
- Why?
- Let's just say the knot saved my ass.
- They're both supposed to be 60m!
- Well, the blue one isn't.
- What the fuck? Holy shit!

Slightly horrified at my mistake and dissapointed that I had not remembered the actual length of the rope, I made my way down to an intermediate rap station: an old Garden anchor with rusty hardware hanging halfway out of the rock - not recommended.

He rapped down to the next anchor and made the transition to a second rap within a few minutes. He was soon down and the ground and immediately apologized for not knowing that the static rope was only 46m long.

I apologized profusely and looked at the blue rope as I pulled it down. The small plastic tag held the unfavorable answer that the rope was in fact 46m and not 60m long. Despite Greg taking responsibility I still feel the situation could have been avoided had I simply double checked the length of the unfamiliar rope.

He really felt badly and couldn't believe that he had nearly broken his first rule of "no one gets hurt." However, I have to say that while knowing the rope wasn't 60m would have helped save a potentially dangerous situation, the blame absolutely falls onto me. Simply put, I wasn't paying attention as I was rapping down. Even without knowing the length of the static rope, I could have prevented this completely by paying attention. In any case, it was a lesson learned, and a funny one, too, because I've had the Warrant song Heaven Isn't Too Far Away stuck in my head all week long.

Despite it being fairly early in a nice day we decided to call it a day for now. I was a little shaken but Greg was surprisingly pretty calm. We went back to the house and decided that relaxation was in order.

Is it needless to say that we decided this was the end of our day? Yeah, we didn't climb for the rest of the day after that, and it's kind of weird as to why we didn't. What is odd is that I've had some scary falls before that should have completely taken me out of the game mentally, but I've always felt fine after those incidents. Sure, I've been sketched out, but after the damage is done, after the fall is over, my confidence typically goes up and not down. "Jello", on the other hand, is full of confidence on the way up and has been haunted more than me, despite the falls happening to me, after the fact each time (though I have to admit that I can't remember the other time when this bothered him - it may have been on Paralysis in the Adirondacks, but I didn't document it on the blog). I've never understood this about me. I think his reaction is totally reasonable, but mine? No way. But for some reason, at the moment of stress, just as the shit is hitting the fan, for as long as I've remembered and regardless of the activity or situation, time has always slowed down for me and I've always been able to focus and see things clearly as if I have a super-human ability to pick apart the landscape and see everything happening at once. It's a weird feeling that I honestly wished I had before I started to rap down.

Click here for all 2008 Garden of the Gods photos (newest are first)

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Colorado Day Six

And on the sixth day, we rested. But here's some photos from the week anyway. Enjoy...

The Gods following "Jello"

Greg learns about sandstone

"Jello" on New Era

Our mascot "Jacque"

The warm sun

A storm brewing at Shelf Road


Saturday, December 06, 2008

Colorado Day Five: Taking our Lumps




Thud, thud, thud EEEEYOOOOOONNNKKK!!!


Thud, thump, THUD

"Jello's" comments in italics

We arrived in Estes Park late, and had little idea as to where we were going. I remember arriving in town and thinking two completely opposite things: 1) that Estes Park was a quaint little town, not unlike the one I grew up in and; 2) the causeway (North Saint Vrain Ave) that cuts across Estes Lake seemed to be one of the most wasteful public project I had seen in quite some time, and I live in Boston. Seriously, the lake isn't so large that it needed to be split by a causeway in order to get from one side to the other. My first impression of driving over the land bridge was one of skepticism - it seemed so unnecessary, but I tempered my thoughts because we were driving in the dead of the night and I couldn't see the edges of the lake very well. It wasn't until we left later the next day with enough sunlight that I started giggling at the road. Seriously, they couldn't have found a way to make Fish Creek Road and Brodie Ave a little more traffic friendly in order to avoid dumping dirt into what appears to be a rather pretty lake? I can understand not connecting Route 36 to Big Thompson Ave because that's on the other side of the lake. But still, it's not like this is a big town (that was rant #1 of three). Anyway...

We made a few wrong turns downtown in Estes Park in search for the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park (and Moraine Park, where we were going to camp), and I'm kind of glad that we did. I really liked what I saw downtown. It seemed loaded with life and character of the small town sort: with independently owned businesses lining the street and catering to the outdoor playground that sat to its west. I could have envisioned myself living here, and I asked "Jello" why he guided out of Colorado Springs when he could be guiding up here, in Rocky Mountain National Park, year-round.

- Can't. Only one company is allowed to guide in the park and I don't work for them.
- Huh?
- What do mean, huh?
- I'm confused.
- What is there to be confused about?
- One company?
- One company.
- As in, less than anything two and above?
- One company
- What the hell is up with that?
- Don't know, but that's the way it is

You know what, I'm calling bullshit on this. Hey, I don't want to slander the company that is benefiting from such an outrageous agreement (Colorado Mountain School - I'm not linking it, so find it yourself!), as I'm sure that they offer a very high quality product and do their utmost to respect the park. But let's face it, they are able to exclusively use a public park, a resource intended for all the public to enjoy, without so much as a blink of any other private company's resources. Let's not fool ourselves here, because we know that no other company is even remotely capable off offering such a high quality service as CMS is (editor's note: the past sentence was written with rolling eyes), but let's put this into perspective: I grew up in Bar Harbor, Maine and my hometown is spooned by Acadia National Park. It's so close that, well, I could've mistaken Estes Park with Bar Harbor (in fact, this is what I liked so much about Estes Park), and one can walk from the Village Green at the center of downtown to the Park Loop Road (the road that drives around the bulk of Acadia) in about 10 minutes. Bar Harbor, along with the town of Mt Desert (Northeast Harbor), Southwest Harbor, and Tremont, make up the outer edges of what is the third largest island on the east coast of the United States (sixth largest in the US - OK, OK, I'm bragging, but there is a point en route). Nearly the entire center of the island, along with the famed Ocean Drive from Sand Beach to Seal Harbor, is home to Acadia: just shy of 46,000 acres, and one of the smallest national parks in the system. In comparison, Rocky Mountain National Park weighs in at just under 266,000 acres... ... ...and Acadia is big enough to have TWO climbing guide companies. And climbing in Acadia is an afterthought in relation to all the other activities (unlike, I presume, RMNP where climbing is very likely an important activity). This is simply insane! And for those who think that the park is better able to manage one company then my comment is that you're lazy. Yes, that's right, you're a fat-ass sitting on the couch with a bag potato chips in one hand, a two-liter bottle of Coke in the other and the remote control between your thighs. At least I put the bag of chips on the coffee table in front of me when I'm not chowing down! If I ever become a mega millionaire, then I'm going to contest this monopoly out of spite. A monopoly in our national parks? Shoot, I could probably sell the National Park Service logo on the street and not get sued. Look, I'm not foolish enough to think that this doesn't exist in other parks, but there should be at least a bidding process (e.g. - how concessions are managed) and a contract that expires every so many years (three years sounds fair to me). By allowing one company to dominate the industry, well, that's just plain un-American, and while there's a great many more serious things to get under my skin out there, this one still boils my blood.

After finding our way to Moraine Park, we nestled into our cool sleeping bags with the hope that we'd be up and out of the tent early enough to head over to Lumpy Ridge before the crowds showed up. Little did we know at the time that Lumpy doesn't get crowds like Eldorado and Boulder Canyons do.







- What the hell is that?
- I guess we know what elk sounds like now.
- Where the heck is this thing? It sounds like it's right on top of us.
- Why don't you stick your head out and find out?
- What, and discover that it's actually a mountain lion instead? No thanks.
- Wimp.
- Jerk.
- Weak.
- Ass munch.
- Coward.
- Shit stain.
- Your mother's leg.

I kicked "Jello" in the head and we both tried to get a few more winks in before we realized that the on-coming daylight was proving to be too strong of a force against sleeping. The only thing keeping us in our sleeping bags then was the cool, late-September mountain air. We tried to guess how many feet the elk were from our tent. I guessed 10 feet to "Jello"'s 100. To our amazement, the elk turned out to be several hundred yards away, and so we wandered over to the bathrooms to both relieve ourselves and join the crowd of tourists already snapping photos of the worriless animals.

After taking care of some daily business we packed up and tried to decide what to do about our camping fees. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a fee skimper but we honestly slept there overnight on the ground, and if we paid the fees we were supposed to it would cost us about $30 - not too much considering it was a national park, but we weren't planning on visiting the rest of it and so I didn't want to pay to have my car in the park when I wasn't going to be there, and I wasn't really to keen on paying just to sleep there, either. Ok, I'm lying; it really pisses me off to pay park fees in a national park. What the hell, the tax payers put money into it, why only do people with the extra cash get to enjoy it? People wonder why certain parks are so crowded and why they cost so much. My answer: infrastructure. If Yosemite didn't have a highway through it, if RMNP didn't have RV dump stations then there would be a lot fewer people there. Want to decrease the costs of parks? Don't build so much crap in them and fewer people will be interested in going as opposed to it being out of price range. I would rather a park be inaccessible to those without 4WD (that includes me) or working body parts than overrun with hotels and RV's. All that ease of access only means more maintenance and more personnel. Not necessary, it's the backcountry; leave it the way it was.

In any case, I was excited, with butterflies in my stomach. Lumpy has some of the longest climbs in Colorado outside of the Black Canyon, and I wanted to climb it all. So while we drove - at a high rate of speed of course (my personal modus operandi when on the free road), we discussed the climbs we wanted to do. We decided to be optimistic in what we actually could do. Kor's Flake was a must - a classic of historical proportions. But what else? We decided to keep it 5.8 and below with that many pitches, the longer the better. The folly; how could we know what lay ahead?

We left after paying and headed to the other side of town, toward MacGregor Ranch and the new parking lot built for Lumpy Ridge just a bit up the road from the ranch. We were a little disappointed that the ranch was no longer the parking area for access to Lumpy, mainly because we were heading to Sundance Buttress, the western-most section of Lumpy Ridge. The new parking lot is closer to the eastern-most section and the ranch is right in the middle of the two. But that was fine. Neither one of us have any beefs with property owners protecting themselves against the government. In fact, I was kind of happy to see that they had won some sort of concession against what will likely be a long-term eminent domain battle over their land.

Lumpy Ridge: Rocky Mountain National Park
Sundance Buttress: Guillotine Wall

Kor's Flake (5.7+) - Five Pitches - Trad - Gear Anchors - Greg and "Jello" led

Approach: We realized quickly that, despite our early arrival, crowds were not going to be an issue. I might even go as far as saying that maybe the parking lot is a bit too big for the area, but hey, I don't know what the traffic is like on any other day, and so I'll stop digressing and get to the point: the hike took us about two hours from the car to the start of the first pitch, with half of that time on the shortest section at the end where all the switchbacks lead up to the buttress. It could probably be done in half the time if you were in strong hiking shape, which I am only marginally so, but it is a long walk despite the easy nature of it. I would say the first two-thirds are fairly flat on a well-groomed trail with the final third being on equally groomed ground but much steeper.

From the car at the Gem Lake Trailhead, follow the signs to either Sundance or Black Canyon (not the same Black Canyon with the long climbs "Jello" notes above) until the final approach trail (will say "Sundance"). Follow the switchbacks until near the base and then begin to fade up left when you see a massive boulder leaning against the cliff. Look for two arching flakes that converge into a roof about 25 feet up with a wide chimney up to the left from there. By looking even further to the left you'll see a left-arching flake / roof. Kor's Flake goes over this, and starts to the left of the wide chimney noted above. Hike up and around to the left, past the wide chimney, to a narrow chimney that is right of a fir tree and a right-facing corner.

We walked out of the parking lot at a high rate of speed. What can I say? I want to get things done. I was there to climb, not walk around all day. We knew it was a bit of a hike to Sundance Buttress. A little over two miles according to the map. So we walked...and we walked, and walked, and then we took a break. Then we walked some more and some more, and after walking for more than an hour we came to the fence that signals the uphill portion of the hike to Sundance Buttress. So we took a little break and after catching our breath we began the long, slow, switchback progression up the hill. It's always kind of a kick in the pants when you are walking towards something large. You never seem to be getting any closer. Kind of like the time Greg thought it was OK to walk from the Brooklyn Bridge to the Empire State Building in New York City. The stupid shit even did it with boat shoes on. He told me later that he could barely walk the entire next week as a result. After walking for another hour or so we were finally able to see the bottom of the buttress. A good two and a half hours or more after we left the car and we were finally at the bottom of Kor's Flake.

Pitch One (5.6) - 130 feet - "Jello" led

We had decided that "Jello" would take the odd pitches and I would take the even ones, and I have to say that this was a difficult decision for me. Neither combination set me up to climb what I wanted to climb. While the odd pitches had a beautiful roof on the fifth pitch that I knew could easily handle, the first pitch was an awkward chimney and I just wasn't ready to lead something that seemed so unprotectable that was not within my bag of skills. On the other hand, the even pitches had not only the hardest pitch grade-wise (pitch two) but also a hand crack on the fourth pitch. The decision came down to whether or not we would take the pack with us. I swear that the pack was easily 50 lbs, but "Jello" insists it was no more than 20. Still, I didn't want to lug the bag after the last time we had decided to take a bag up a route with us (and for good reason). On that occasion, "Jello" had to have the other end of the rope tossed down to him so that he could get over the crux without the weight on his back. I didn't want a repeat of that, especially if I was going to take the even pitches and leave the crack to him near the top. But he had concerns about where the walk-off took us, and whether we'd have to hike a distance back in the wrong direction to retrieve it at the end of the day.

The line seemed enjoyable. Nothing too intimidating. A nice enjoyable five pitch climb. How foolish we were. While Greg stretched, I looked at the guidebook again to further memorize the route description and to check out the descent. The more I looked at the picture the more I got the feeling that the descent would put us on the other side of the ridge at the top, and far from our bag. After convincing Greg that it would be a huge pain in the ass to hike back up to the bag from the other side, he agreed that taking the bag would probably be less work (to be clear, it was not easy to convince him of this). So we split up the pitches that gave me the squeeze chimneys and Greg the more hand size cracks. With neither of us playing to our strengths, we decided to get started. After racking up, I waited for Greg to finish stretching (I really should stretch more).

Climb the chimney and escape out to the right at the top. Then climb up to the base of the long, left-leaning ramp that is the second pitch.

Looking up, I couldn't quite see how to attack the chimney. The more featured looking face to the left looked like a more enjoyable path but I wasn't here for enjoyment. This is rock climbing, leave your whining at the door ya big baby. So I started into the chimney. A few easy moves and I was standing inside the base of the chimney. It was nice and cool and I looked around. The unpleasantness was yet to come, so I thought that I might as well get it over with and squeezed and thrutched, bitched and moaned. After a while I looked for a gear placement and found an old sling on a chockstone. I decided to clip it and not fall. Not like falling out of a chimney is easy anyway, despite the fact that in two pitches I was to learn just how easy it could be. Noticing that I had only moved about ten feet from the ledge at the base of the chimney, I wondered how much longer I could hang on before claustrophobia set in and so I dove from the maw of that hateful menace. As the chimney pinched down I started to search around for something else to grab. Do I jam the crack? Are there face holds? Where do I go? After searching for a few minutes, I found the jug I needed to pull around the corner. The rest of the pitch was barely fifth class and as the belay ledge surrounded me rather comfortably I thought to myself, what's Greg going to do with that stupid pack?

I really had mixed emotions about this. I mean, I watched and heard "Jello" struggle up through the chimney and was glad that I wasn't leading it. However, all the while I watched him press his back and feet against the opposing walls with little or no protection most of the way up, I kept wondering how I was going to squeeze my way up this narrow space with a pack attached to me. It was obvious that I couldn't wear it on my back, and "Jello" didn't want to haul it because, well, he's poor and didn't want to destroy what was likely one of his better bags (I can't say as though I blame him). So I had to attach it to my belay loop via a sling, allowing it to swing between my legs, and I made one key mistake that turned out to be a major pain in the ass: the sling wasn't long enough and, thus, the bag was always at such a height in relation to my body that it always got in the way of whichever foot I was trying to bring up to the next foot hold. This was great. Seriously, it made for a fantastic first pitch. Not only did I struggle on the chimney itself (I swear to God that I was this close to having my entire, stiff body break into shards over the unnatural tension I was placing on it), but I also battled a 50 pound bag dangling beneath my crotch that had a great knack for continually getting in the way of my feet (I put in on my shoulders after exiting the chimney, and all that did was make my arms that much more tired from having to keep the pack from pulling me backward). This sucker was heavy, and it took all my strength to climb that first pitch. It was to the point that I was genuinely worried about my stamina for the remaining pitches. Still, I'd say that without the pack, this probably wouldn't be a bad pitch to climb. Looking back, I think I could have led it easily.

- Whose idea was it to take this heavy pack?
- I believe that was your idea.
- Bullshit.

Pitch Two (5.7+) - 80 feet - Greg led

Finally, I took the damn thing off and started up the short second pitch. I kind of wanted to link the second and third pitches together, but we didn't have a long enough rope (we were using a single rope) and the two combined did curve enough to make us think that maybe linking the two together would be troublesome. Still, I think you could link the first two pitches together, particularly with two ropes taking up the rope drag despite the total distance being 210 feet between them. There are plenty of belay options leading up to the highest belay point on the second pitch, and belaying lower than expected on the second pitch isn't such a bad idea. By the way, I don't think this pitch is 5.7+, but hey, maybe I was feeling stronger than I realized after lifting that bag over the first 130 feet.

Climb the ramp about 80 feet, and stop before the belay options run out. I stopped just as the ramp turned into the flake at a blue sling that was attached to the final set of blocks just below where it becomes wide. Make sure you stop here. Just trust me, you don't want to go any higher than this without bringing up your second first.

The ramp/flake looked pretty straight forward, and I felt a slight bit of envy that I would have to second with the damned pack. Seemingly refreshed, Greg made his way away from our comfortable ledge into the unknown granite above. Lucky bastard. Watching him make his way along the ramp I looked ahead of him. From my vantage point the rest of the ramp/flake didn't look like anything to worry about. Another miscalculation on my part. Greg called off belay and I quickly worked to get ready to climb. A few moments later and I was off. What can I say? The pitch was pure fun. Even with the pack and fiddling with gear it was highly enjoyable. If it would have been a single pitch near my home I would solo it ten times a day. Despite the weight of the pack, I quickly met Greg at a much less substantial belay spot than the last one. The wideness of the crack was fully evident now I wondered, "Why hadn't we brought the #6?"

Pitch Three (5.7) - 120 feet - "Jello" led

I think I can safely call this the "swearing pitch." Good ol' Layton Kor never heard his name used in vain as it was on this day. First off, this is a long pitch that is terribly run out without a #5 or #6 Camalot (which we did not have). Secondly, we were both tired after having hiked in for two hours and each getting a shot at climbing with the stupid pack on our backs. Thirdly, well, I'll just let "Jello" tell you about this pitch, but I have to get the essentials out first: follow the wide lieback / chimney to the top and set up the anchor right of the face that leads to the right-facing corner that is the start of the fourth pitch.

Still feeling good about the last pitch, I quickly exchanged gear with Greg and made my way higher. The first ten feet were relatively easy and I plugged in a few easy cam placements. As I came to the wide portion of the crack I saw a mess of slings and tat that looked to be twenty feet long. I wondered, "How did they get that in there?" Slipping into the slot, I looked for a gear placement. With nothing available I squeezed inside the chimney and slowly inched my way upward. I squirmed and squeezed with my inner caterpillar calling forth. Now a good twenty feet above my last gear, I looked for something, anything to sling, give me a twig, a crystal, just something. I couldn't fall out; gravity prevented me from tumbling out of the crack. Instead, I was worried I might tumble down inside and the great heaves of the mountain would swallow me whole, never to be seen again. Anyway, how would Greg get down if most of the rope remained tied to my crushed, battered body? I continued anyway, cursing Layton Kor all the way. Maybe if I could get out of the damned squeeze then the plunge wouldn't be so bad. Better the quick, painful breaking of skull and bones as opposed to the battering, bruising, and slow starvation of being stuck in that dark hole below.

After a few more moves, I could almost see the end of it. It pinched down and finally I was able to clip something. Beforehand a fall would have been at least eighty feet. Who knows how deep that would be? I put a nut into a small dirty seam and made my way out of those malicious granite jaws. From here I climbed quickly, plugging #1 and #2 cams the rest of the way. The hard climbing was done, and as I came to the end of the crack I looked around at my options. I knew we followed a crack and somewhere there was a roof. So my choices were the leftmost roof, crack system, and a right-hand crack that seemed rather small and difficult. After messing around with them and asking Greg for some route finding help I realized I was supposed to stop climbing and belay him up. So after fixing an anchor I waited, hoping that he'd be able to manage the pack on what I considered to be a longer and much more technical chimney - all with that pack strapped between his legs.

I knew the pack would be trouble. It was only about twenty pounds but the climbing wasn't so easy that it didn't make much of a difference. Besides that I didn't know how he would get in and out of the crack. As he started climbing, I worried that he might get stuck. How would SAR deal with that? Amazingly enough he was moving rather quickly and, a lot sooner than I expected, he peaked his head above the crack with the pack not dangling between his legs but strapped to his shoulders instead.

- That was pretty fast, how'd you do that with the pack on?

- I laybacked the whole thing.
- What?
- Yeah, it wasn't actually that bad.

After all the bitching I had done, and with the huge runout, I couldn't believe he just laybacked the whole thing. The crack is at least a foot away from the opposing wall for about twenty feet. It would have been ridiculously hard to do, but he did it anyway and with that stinking pack, too!

Pitch Four (5.7) - 90 feet - Greg led

I was exhausted. This day had possibly been one of the hardest days that I had ever done as a climber. Sure, "Jello" and I had two massively long days on Cannon (and I had one with "Ratherbe", too), but this was turning into more of a brute strength kind of day with little or no rest available for the taking. We were fighting the pack's weight, time, and our own ability to get up a must-do climb because there was no way down. The hike in had nearly sapped my endurance while the pack had stripped me of my strength, and now I was about to face the real unknown: how to disregard the lack of those two major physical assets and climb what is likely my weakest skill - crack. The route goes left from the anchors to the right-facing corners and then steps left to the exposed crack. Climb the crack to the small ledge below the roof.

Greg looked at me, thoroughly exhausted.

- I don't know if I can do this.

I knew he was tired. I also knew he was physically capable of finishing the climb. The question in my head was if he would push himself to do so.

- Give yourself a little break. I don't think we're going to get any other climbs in today.

We'd been climbing for about three hours, which in addition to the two-and-a-half-hour hike in, put us at around three in the afternoon. We still had another two pitches before the descent, and the sun was setting earlier these days. After a few minutes of peace, Greg decided to go ahead.

I think the first 20 feet of this route took me about 20 minutes to complete. It's not that it was hard, but I was tired and scared. The corners looked OK, and they were climbed easily enough, but the lack of strength and fear of the unknown was keeping me from committing. I kept looking back at "Jello" and telling him that I wasn't sure if I was going to get up through this pitch. He kept looking back at me both encouraging me to continue and letting me know that it was my decision in the end. I guess it came down to what was worse: climbing my weakest skill on the sharp end on exposed terrain while exhausted or climbing it as the second with a heavy pack on my back. I remembered why I chose to lead this pitch to begin with, and decided, after several minutes of catching my breath, that it was my job to do this pitch, and so I went.

Gaining the upper part of the corner was scary at first because there wasn't much gear and I wasn't sure if I was moving toward good or bad holds. Remember, a good hold in a crack isn't necessarily one that I'm going to feel comfortable on. I could tell, too, that the crack around the corner was slightly overhanging. That meant that I was going to need every bit of technique that I could muster, because I couldn't see myself holding my heavy body in with brute strength alone. So as I looked up at the top of the corner, and as I wondered what I was getting myself into, I finally said to myself, "Fuck it, Greg. Just do it. Just go. Seriously, this is part of the reason why you climb. You lack the courage to commit to the unknown, and this is a perfect opportunity to forge ahead." And so I committed. It was one hand over the other, one foot after the other, and one move at a time. I grabbed, secured, moved, scoped, and started all over again. Each time was a little more committing that the last time, and with each move a little more pressure was added to my physical constraints while a little less pressure weighed down my mind. I finally came to the moment of truth, stepping around the corner and entering the crack system, when I stopped, breathed three quick breaths and shot my left foot out onto the exposed small ledge that I needed to gain in order to pull around the corner. This left my body in a specific position that I couldn't have easily retreated from had I wanted to. I needed for there to be a specific hold in a specific spot to make this work, and so I blindly reached around the bulge in search of my saviour. It didn't take long to find the hold, because it turned out to be a massive jug. I pulled myself up straight, plugged a cam, and looked back at "Jello" as he said to me, "Nice job. I knew you could do it. Well done." He was right, and I was even more grateful for what I saw above me. The crack was just my size, and the only over-hanging section on the pitch turned out to be the bulge that I had just passed through. For the first time as far back as I can remember, I happily plugged one jam after the other all the way to the top of the pitch.

After he called me off belay, I got ready with the pack. Whose stupid idea was it to bring this thing? It must have been Greg's. A few moments later and I was climbing. The slab was not as bad as I thought it would be and getting into the corner was even a little fun but as I came to the roof I realized why Greg had paused. It's hard to see where you're going and the position feels slightly insecure. The pack throwing me around didn't really help, but I steadily moved around the corner and was soon cruising up the crack. When I reached the belay I was immediately astounded by what I saw, a huge roof. This pitch would be spectacular.

Pitch Five (5.7) - 50 feet - "Jello" led

I never felt better on my Colorado trip than I had after that last pitch, and I was both super bummed and happy that I wasn't climbing the next one. I was bummed because my confidence was sky high and I wanted to crush the roof as a symbol of how far I had come this climbing season after being so leery of roofs at the 'Gunks. I was happy, however, because "Jello" gave me a shot at the crack and I was giving him a shot at the roof. Plus, it was almost over. We'd be at the top in no time and down at the bottom in even less time than that (or so I thought). The sun was out, the wind was light, and there was no one within view of us (and we could see for miles). It was so peaceful that I actually enjoyed watching what appeared to be sparrow hawks (don't quote me on that) buzz the both of us as we neared the summit. "What the hell," I thought to myself. "I had my glory and now he can hammer home his own."

I took a moment to just look at it. It's such a beautiful pitch to see, and the climbing is everything you hope. So I started up; the moves were fairly easy. Hanging out on the roof for Greg to take a picture, I enjoyed the exposure - several hundred feet off the ground. One more move and it was easy ground. I didn't bother placing a lot of gear because the angle was less steep and the moves easy. We needed to get going anyway, and the sun was low in the sky. After a while of climbing I decided to set up a belay because I knew there wasn't much rope left. As Greg came up, he commented on how lucky I was to end up with that pitch. I felt lucky. The climb had been fantastic.

This is an easy pitch to follow. Simply climb up the right of the roof, pull out to the left of it, and finish in a gully not too far away. "Jello" hung for a great photo and then he was gone. It was then my turn, and it was difficult with the pack, but nothing that me and a few loud grunts couldn't handle. We were at the top soon enough (after scrambling through gullys for about 100 feet to the summit), and sat back and relaxed in the silent air before packing up to head down to the car.


The descent was, well, not quite what we expected. After we sat near the summit for about ten minutes we looked for the saddle (the low point between the two peaks on either side), and headed in that direction. We knew that the descent was going to go on the back side, but we figured it would be more of a walk-off with a couple of easy scrambles than anything else. It turned out to be much more difficult than that. The scrambling at the top was pretty scary for a while because we couldn't really see where we were descending to. For all we knew we were moving down in the wrong direction because we couldn't see past the boulders that were right in front of us. We moved up and down a few times, with one of us at a time scouting ahead so both didn't make the same mistake. Eventually, after scrambling down about 50 or 60 feet or so, "Jello" spied a stout tree with rap slings and rings on it to our left. We made the dicey walk over to the tree and then made the easy rap down to the small and loose descent trail that would eventually take us back to the base. The frustrating thing is that it is very easy to lose the trail once near the base, thus making it difficult to find the original approach trail that leads back toward the parking lot. But there were two good things to note: 1) while it was easy to lose the descent trail, it was easy to wander and, eventually, find the approach trail and; 2) the descent trail took us back to about 100 yards from the base of the climb. Let that sink in for a few seconds... ... ... Do you know what that means? Yeah, it means we could have left the stupid pack at the base and saved ourselves a whole hell of a lot of pain and suffering (mostly me because I'm both older and the one who had to carry it the most going up - "Jello", God bless his soul, carried it down the descent trail for my benefit).

Once we found the main trail, we stopped for a few minutes and watched the sky slowly begin to darken. We figured that we'd be getting back to the car just as daylight ended, and so we decided not to rest much on the way back. I complained about not being able to see the mountain turn purple, and "Jello" made it back to the car a few minutes before I did. But that was only because he's a good sport and always waits for me when he gets too far ahead. I suppose that's the right thing to do, just in case something bad happens to the guy bringing up the rear (always me, regardless of partner). Our timing was spot on, as we needed the headlights to pull out of the parking lot. It was nine hours car to car, and we had another several hours of driving back to Colorado Springs ahead of us. Thank God for rest days. We both needed one.

Despite the minor painfulness of the descent we were able to get back to the fence a lot quicker than we made it to the rock from the same fence. From there we were practically running. The sun was setting and I didn't want to be stuck in the dark. As I made it back to the car I could feel the twilight creeping into everything. I waited for Greg. Our long week was over and Kor's Flake was a good end. When Greg came over the hill and arrived at the car, we threw our stuff into the backseat and made our way for Colorado Springs - at a high rate of speed, of course.

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