Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Moab Diary: Going back is yet another battle

- "Utah": Hey dude bra, I'm in Vegas and heading to the Creek soon. Give me a call and we'll meet up to do something gnar in the desert.

After listening to the message I knew I'd go back. How could I resist? The last time was a blast, the weather was prime and I hadn't climbed with "Utah" since we worked together just south of Poke 'O Moonshine in the 'Daks. There was just one small problem, I still couldn't get my car to start. I had bought a new battery, checked the connection, scrubbed the terminals, and done everything else I could think of. It would be mighty difficult to get out there with only me to push start the damn thing every time I turned off the engine. Everything else in my life was in order to make this trip possible, so the only thing to do was work on the car - two days before I needed to leave. I'd done everything I could think of so I took it to a mechanic to have them look at it and to also change the oil since I needed that done as well. By the end of the day they had called me back. The problem was the corrosion at the terminals. The corrosion which I'd scrubbed for hours (or maybe it was just minutes, I don't really remember) that I deemed not to be part of the problem. It cost me almost $100 for the diagnostic and the oil change. Despite my wallet being a bit lighter, and me being a little embarrassed in letting a small problem slip by, I was still excited that everything was all lined up. I called "Utah" and we tried to figure out a place to meet.
We weren't sure where we wanted to climb. "Utah" wanted to hit Indian Creek and climb hard cracks. I wanted to hit remote towers that were more within my ability. After some discussion, we decided that we would climb at Castle Valley, home of Castleton Tower and an extremely famous Layton Kor route, the Kor-Ingall's. He wasn't psyched about the sandbagged, poorly protected, 5.9+ offwidth. I figured it was classic, so there had to be something good about it or else it wouldn't be such a famous route. We eventually decided to meet at Wall St. and climb a little to start the weekend off before hitting the hard stuff. It was nearly one in the morning when I went to bed with all my gear finally in the car and everything ready to go. But sometimes ready to go isn't ready to go; excitement kept me awake for another hour until I drifted into a restless sleep. It was lightly snowing outside, and a storm was brewing.
I awoke before the alarm. It was still dark out. I tiptoed around the house fixing breakfast and getting water bottles into the car so I wouldn't wake "Iowa". I let the dog out and too my dismay I discovered there was six inches of fresh snow on the ground. After letting the dog in, I kissed "Iowa" goodbye. She told me to be careful and I slipped quietly into the predawn light.
I hate driving in the snow. My tires are bald, my car is lightweight, and Colorado has all kinds of hills and twists and turns. This would not be
fun. But I had an early start, it was just barely 6:00am when I walked out the door. Cruising up the highway wasn't too bad at this point. I mean, I wasn't doing 60mph, but for the conditions 45mph was pretty respectable. As I came to Woodland Park I hit the red light in the middle of town that happens to be on a hill. After finally getting enough momentum to overcome the sliding tires, I trudged up the hill and for a while things were OK. I wasn't making great time, but I wasn't doing too bad considering the conditions. Fifty seemed a good average speed. I passed Lake George and things got worse. The line between the road and the edge of it was nearly imperceptible. Oncoming cars practically blinded me as they passed by. Making my way towards Wilkerson Pass, I started to slide a few times and was going slow enough to be able to regain control fairly easily. I remembered driving back to New York in a similar snowstorm from Boston where I came to the top of a mountain pass in Vermont and managed to make it a quarter of the way down before losing control while doing twenty five. That was a few years ago and my missing front quarter-panel is proof that the guardrail wasn't too kind. Momentum can be your friend but sometimes it can be your enemy, too. Wilkerson Pass worried me. Would it be too steep for me to control? Would I start off slow enough to control my momentum all the way down? I stopped at the pull off at the top of the pass. I needed to go to the bathroom and I wanted to feel the rode with my hands to see what the conditions were like.

I noticed that what was attached to the road was more akin to rime ice than anything like snow or ice. It was crunchy and had good friction. After draining the main vein, I hopped in the car and gave the car a few brake tests in the parking lot before heading down the hill. Slowly creeping down the hill, I tried to be one with the car. I watched the speedometer slowly rise...fifteen...twenty. I tapped the brakes. Things were going smoothly as I came around the first sharp curve. A few more curves and I came to the downhill straightaway and eased the car into fifth gear. I was home free now. I kept cruising along at about fifty. On the curvier parts of the road I was more cautious and would slow down below thirty. I passed through the small towns one by one: Hartsel, Buena Vista, and then Leadville - Oh Leadville with your healthy living at ten thousand feet. I cautiously cruised through town slower than the posted speed limit. Between my house in Colorado Springs and Moab there are more than a hundred speed limit signs and the speed limit changes about half as much. Between Leadville and the interstate, a tiny portion of the total distance, the speed limit changes approximately ten times. As I pulled out of town I accelerated, not noticing the speed limit. I was more concerned with the road itself. I came upon a straight and flat portion of road and accelerated slightly more. I noticed a car hidden on a side road and took my foot off the gas, but then I realized it was in fact a cop. Looking down at the speedometer it read near sixty. The speed limit was sixty five wasn't it? I decided to not concern myself with it too much. Chances are they weren't going to bother to pull me over. How little I underestimated the underdressed police force of Leadville. Fifteen minutes later after averaging about forty I noticed the red and blue lights and looked for a spot to pull over. After one curve and before another I found the only reasonable spot I could and pulled over as far as I dared to avoid getting stuck in the snow.
The officer came to the window, "Do you know why I pulled you over?" I did not in fact know why he had pulled me over. "Well I clocked you going 69, do you know what the speed limit is sir?" he spat at me. I asked if the speed limit was not in fact sixty five, believing that it was since coming down from Wilkerson Pass I remembered seeing a sign stating as much. I had been paying more attention to the road than the speed limit signs so he "kindly" informed me that the actual speed limit was fifty-five. "Can you explain why you were going that fast, in the snow?” "Well officer, it was flat and straight and I've been going below the speed limit everywhere else." After explaining that I don't carry my registration because I don't want anyone who would break into my car to know the address of the "nice" stuff I keep at home, he took my license and insurance and walked back to his nice 4wd Durango. I was furious. Here I was paying more attention to my driving than I do on any other day where I am speeding on purpose and a cop pulls me over, in the snow, on a blind corner, in the freaking snow! After what seems like an hour, he ambled back to the car to explain how to pay the ticket. I ask to see the radar and he informed me I cannot see it until the court date, if I wished to go there. "See you in court," I muttered under my breath as he walked back to his more snow-worthy vehicle. After spinning my tires, I slid back onto the road and continued on my way. I intermittently looked at the ticket: "Speeding and Careless Driving, $215 fine and 8 points" to my license. It gets cut in half if I pay the fine without going to court; how nice of them. I pull onto I-70 and I am finally able to accelerate to the speed limit. The road is practically dry and the farther west I go the less snow there is.
The ticket faded from my mind. I'm finally getting better at letting things go.
Maybe that comes with age. Who knows? I cruised through Glenwood Canyon and finally end up on the western slope, the Colorado plateau, freedom and adventure. I only made one stop past the Dewey Bridge so that I could let out the whopping demon that had built up inside my bowels. After this I drove through the rest of the river valley, passing River Tower on the way, the memories still fresh in my head. Was I honestly here to get beat up by some mud tower again? I put the thought out of my head as Castleton Tower came into view. There was no way this was going to be like River Tower. This is one of the most famous desert towers in the whole country. I pulled off on the La Sal Loop Road and eventually found the camping area below Castleton. The tower is humbling and after a few pictures and unloading my camp gear, I hopped back in the car and headed on toward Moab. I turned right onto 191 and then left on Potash. I was excited and going climbing again. I hadn't been on a climbing spree like this since Greg was out in September. I drove down the road fairly slowly and after passing masses of off-road vehicles which couldn't seem to handle being on-road, I saw Alan's car right next to Skeletonic, Greg's first aid climb that was also right next to my first 5.11 trad lead. I got out of the car, "Utah" was flailing at the section that moves from the crack to the face. After he fell, I said hi and introduced myself to his Aussie belayer. As I watched him struggle and eventually succeed on the somewhat run-out finish, I wondered if he was actually climbing 5.11's or if he was pumping himself up for his Rock Instructor Course.

I top-roped the line clean for the second time in as many weeks and sent it like it was my job,further enforcing the feeling that I should sack up and lead it since I hadn't even warmed up at all to climb. After everyone had climbed it we went down a little further until I saw an interesting finger crack. Everyone decided I should have at it and so I racked up and started up. After an awkward move at a pod for the start, I got into the finger crack with two pieces in, my feet on one wall, and my back on the other. As I moved to get my feet on both walls to better utilize the finger crack, I struggled, almost had it, and then I fell almost kicking "Utah" in the head. After I half aided and half free climbed it for about an hour, "Utah" climbed it cleanly first try. I decided to give it another go on top rope. I was able to climb it cleanly all the way up until the end where the fingers widened a little below the anchor. Humbled, I decided to call it a day, as did "Utah" and his Aussie friend who chose to not try the route. I explained to them how to get to the campsite and left.
Once at the campsite, I decided to take a little walk and maybe see what the approach was like. I'd heard unpleasant things about the approach; that it was hell, so I figured it'd be nice to prepare myself in advance. The trail starts from the camping area and follows the most obvious wash towards the tower and a small canyon. After going through the canyon for a little while it spits you out on top of a ridge. At this point there is a road that goes both ways and I wasn't sure where to go, so I just looked up at that gigantic prism of red rock standing enormously over me. I wasn't sure how long the approach was and I didn't care. No matter what we climbed to get there, this was going to be awesome. I headed back to the campsite to cook some dinner and wait for "Utah".
I started up the stove and got out my Crazy Creek chair to relaxed
while the water came to a boil. Leaning back, I enjoyed silence but for the occasional passing of a car and then one of the chair clips broke and I fell over into the dirt. So much for the calmness and relaxation before the storm. Shortly thereafter a truck pulled up and a gentleman stepped out. "Is this a campsite?" I explained that it was more of a climbing campsite for people climbing the tower. He asked if anyone would notice him sleeping in his truck. I looked around. There was nobody in the sight but me, him, and a tent absent of its owner for the day that was not yet over. I told him that it probably wouldn't be a big deal and he pulled around on a flat area below my car. After this it seemed that the closer it got to dark the more people would stop by asking me if it was OK if they stayed there. I'm not the camp host. This was my first time there. How the hell was I to know who could stay? When an RV tried to negotiate the rocky terrain into the camping area I decided my answer from now on would be "no" unless they made it obvious they were a climber. Luckily for me and the RV the drivers decided to back out and find somewhere else to stay. The desert is this wonderful place and one needn't go far to escape the crowds, but campgrounds are not the place to find that solitude. After dinner I got tired of waiting for "Utah" and headed to bed. At some point during the night I needed to expel fluids, so I awoke and, after going to the bathroom, I stopped by the car for some more water and who should I see lying in the dirt next to their own car but "Utah". I kicked him, "there's space in the tent if you want it, but we'll probably get going in a few hours anyway. Way to be a true dirt bag." Slightly groggy all he muttered was, "I'm cool, thanks asshole." I sauntered off to get a little more sleep before our day started.

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