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.

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