Monday, December 29, 2014

Anti-trending part II: Red Rocks, week 15-20.

Red Rocks, Las Vegas.  Beautiful sandstone cliffs, some over 2000 ft. high.  It's been my favorite place to climb since the 90s.  You rarely saw other climbers once you walked back into a canyon for an hour.

But it's changed. A lot.  It's trending now.  Today you walk past a wilderness sign to get to an outdoor climbing gym.  Climbers are everywhere.  We hiked a couple of hours in to one route that has a reputation of not being popular.  There were nine people on it. 

There is trash everywhere.  One person brought in a poop bag, used it and just left it there on a rock.  Along with a coffee cup.  Nice touch.  This kind of thing was everywhere.  We need to anti-trend.  ASAP.

It took some time to get over the nostalgia of what a great place it used to be and find climbs we could enjoy in the present.  We took the "connoisseurs of the obscure" to the next level - long hikes to obscure routes and got in some fun climbs.

Here is Sensuous Mortician.  Pretty sensuous.

Brenda on the 6th pitch of Purblind Pillar in the pic below.  A beautiful route close to "Group Therapy".  We're looking for groupless therapy.

 For a change of pace and climate, we even got in some rainy day mountain biking. 

Here's Brenda on her new bike "Gonzo".  The name seems to please her.

This "connoisseurs of the obscure approach" was working out fairly well, but we wanted more.  Even better experiences without any crowding. Zero. We determined to approach routes that were beyond mere hiking, but required suffering to get there.  Or, at least we thought we did.  Inspired by a 16th century Titian painting, such as the one below, we decided to go bigger for a chance at climbing salvation.

While you can't see it in this picture, the one that toured the National Gallery shows the victim having his skin, or outer self, being flayed, or stripped away. The suffering reveals his true nature.  On his face is a blissful look of " I get it now"

Inspired by this notion, we saddled up for a climb called Eagle Dance.  4 1/2 hours up Oak Creek Canyon.  Then 1000 ft of steep slabs to the beginning of the roped climbing.   That gets you to the base of this wall:

Note the eagle image in right lower portion of this pic.  The eagle is outlined by dark varnish and is flying left.  You can make out the beak, eye, neck and wings.   The climb goes through the neck.

To get there, we started hiking in across the desert at 4:30 by moonlight and by headlamp when the trail got rougher. 

In the canyon, it got a lot rougher, scrambling up room-sized, water polished boulders for hours.    Hours of boulder thrashing with climbing packs became our suffering.   But wait - some of the boulders were works of art. The eons of water polishing by Oak Creek has revealed detailed patterns in the stone.  We called this one the Saturn boulder:
 And this one, the hieroglyphic boulder:

We got to the base of the climb a bit flayed.  And proceeded to give it what we had left.

What we had left just wasn't enough to finish the route.  Maybe next time, or maybe I'll just  relax and enjoy the natural beauty of my partner in nature.  Who could ask for more?

 Of course, there's always the hike out by headlamp.  Not to worry - boulder thrashing is easier on the way down.  There was only one casualty - the pants Brenda is wearing in this pic.  She wore the ass out of her britches butt-scooting down the rocks.  She reported that it made for a drafty hike out.  It was just one step at a time for me.


Having not given up on salvation yet, we shifted into Winter mode and headed to Montana with a few days skiing along the way at Alta (near Salt Lake).

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Moab Weeks 10 - 14: Shifting Gears

Moab.  We made it.  Didn't get profiled.  One month here should be plenty for climbing the pure cracks of Indian Creek and exploring the mountain biking.  Only one problem - one month is not enough.  Not even close.  So much to do, so little time.

Moab is experiencing a mountain biking renaissance - 300 + miles of beautifully designed single track trails.  The trails are designed by an active volunteer group - Trail Mix.  They seem to have a good relationship with the BLM and other agencies.  One of the facilities, Dead Horse State Park, was about to close due to lack of visitors.  Trail Mix and state park employees built 30 or so miles of single track trails there and now you can barely find a place to park.  The trails are IMBA designed and goofy fun. 

Massive amounts of beautiful, sandstone and vast, silent, open space.  They call it slick rock here.  The rock is not actually slick - it's sandstone.  The traction is surprisingly good, which is critical since sections of the trails are steeeeep!   
The rock formations are unusual.  

As you can see, we're on hardtail bikes - no rear suspension.  As a result, I'm now three inches shorter.  Brenda got smarter (OK, she's always smarter), and bought a new bike.  New to her anyway.  Full carbon, full suspension.  His name is Gonzo.


We can't forget the crack climbing, although there were days when we wanted to.  Maybe as many as three thousand cracks to climb and us with weak crack skills.  But that's what we came for- to learn to climb pure cracks with no or few holds outside the crack.    We got schooled by Indian Creek.
We also got schooled by the crowds.  It's amazing how people like to group up in the vast open space of the desert.  Certain climbs were so popular you had to wait in line.  They were "trending".  Other areas, such as the one above, have, according to the guide book "fallen out of favor" and no one was there.  Ah, solitude.  So we endeavored to "anti-trend" and became connoisseurs of the obscure.  That worked pretty well towards the end of the month.  We'll be back.

Unlike at the New River Gorge, there are a few holds outside the cracks, but very few.  It's all in the technique and every different crack size, angle and adjacent rock requires a different technique.

 You have to stick your hands and feet in the cracks.  This can be a painful part of the schooling.

We called these "mangkles".
On some cracks, you only get the tip of your toes in it.  Pretty exacting and interesting.
Now we're off to Vegas for controlled risk taking - climbing at Red Rocks.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Estes Park, Weeks 7-9: Drugs of choice

We wanted to try Notchtop again, but first we wanted to go here:

A chance to climb with my son, Chris and his family: Andra, Catriona and Gavin.  At one point we had 3 generations climbing together.  There is something about climbing that makes the bond stronger.  We had fun climbing one day and hiking with Cat on another day.  Good stuff.

Devils Tower is unrelenting and hard for the grade.

 Back to Colorado.  Marijuana is a big deal there now.  You can actually go in a pot store and buy it.  All kinds  – 50 or so varieties of weed and 25 or so of edibles.  It’s legal.  As I recall, it was against the law to even dream of it being legal back in the 60s.  The names of the stores are entertaining: Up in Smoke, Canary Song, High Street Growers, Strawberry Fields and Bud Depot, just to name a few.  The town of Lyons (population of 5000) has 3 stores.

We want to get high too, but on chemicals produced by our bodies.  Adrenaline, endorphine (climbing drugs) and oxytocin (the snuggle drug).  Nothing like a 14 hr day in the mountains followed by 2 evenings of snuggling.  Or maybe 5 evenings of snuggling.  Toke it up!

All this is to say we went back to Notchtop.  Spent two nights at the Ritz and got back on the climb.  Brenda was sick again, but was determined to persevere.  And she did, sick as a dog, growling and cussing her way up it for 14 hrs, including the gully approach, climb, rappel and gully descent in the dark.  Gully thrashes are not trivial here, about 1 – 2 hours each way.

The climbing was spectacular.  A couple of roofs and lots of air around you as you get higher.

Throw in a bit of traversing and you can get a Rocky Mountain High.  Wow man!  Can you dig it?

At 1:30 we were over ½ way up and I said “We’ve got this”.  Arrogance.  May the mountains slap me goofy if I ever say that again.  6 hrs later we agreed this was a serious route.  We got back to the ground just as it got dark.  That just left the gully descent.  Then the bivy.  Ah, the bivy.

It seems that Brenda’s illness was carbon dioxide poisoning from burrowing too deep into her bivy sack because she was cold.  That girl needs a new sleeping bag. 

The next morning we hiked out.  She waltzes down the trail with a big pack and a smile on her face while I struggle to put one foot in front of the other.  The next day she hiked 11 miles at 13,000 ft with Andrea and Brad.  Check that girl’s DNA.  I think there’s some mountain goat in there somewhere.
Now we’re on the way to Moab.  Hopefully, we won’t get profiled at the Utah border.  After all, we are coming from Colorado driving a Subaru…

Friday, September 19, 2014

Estes Park Weeks 3-7: Rules of the road

Like those New Rules?  We discovered a few during these past four weeks:

Rule 1: The more you  climb, the less you blog. 

That's right, we have been climbing a lot, or at least trying to climb a lot.  The last few weeks of August were rainy and colder than usual.  We tried Notchtop, but the rain and wind were so cold it made it too hard to function.  This led to another rule -

Rule 2: When your hands are so cold and stiff that you can't pull your weiner out to pee, it's time to turn back.  We'll be back.

It seemed like a good idea to try shorter routes, so we climbed in Jurassic Park with Andrea (Brenda's daughter) and Brad (Andrea's BF).  Nice, single pitch routes with bolted belays making it easy to get down in case of storms.  Of course, it never rained there, but we had fun.  Here's Brenda leading Index Toe on the Dinosaur's Foot.

The next week, my oldest daughter, Lindsay came out from Boston.  Back to Jurassic Park for more fun.  Lindsay on top of the Fin and climbing one of the other formations:

After throwing in some kayaking with my friend Bob and mountain biking around Nederland to restore our psyche, we saddled up for Spearhead at the upper end of the spectacular Glacier Gorge.  Did I mention that my girl likes to carry a heavy pack?

A little searching around revealed a nice bivy. somewhat protected from the wind.  We called this the Pica Princess Hotel.  They were kind enough to share their cave with us and chirp us to sleep.

The next morning found us on the North Ridge of Spearhead.  Not a hard climb, but long, cold and very windy.  Which leads to another rule -

Rule 3:  The colder it is, the fewer pictures you take. 

So we don't have any of this route, but we do have an inspiration from it - one of the climbers in the team above us was 84 years old.  That's right, 84.  Tom Hornbein of Everest West Ridge fame.  "Act boldly and unseen forces will come to your aid."  Really nice guy.  He worried about us because it took us so long to finish the route.

That climb went pretty well, even though we shivered the whole way up the thing.  The setting was so spectacular, I didn't want to leave.  Hiking out is blissful.  You're just the right amount of tired, you feel closer to nature, like an animal and you're getting more oxygen as you descend.  Did I mention the scenery?

After more mountain biking, kayaking and the essential psyche up, we headed back to Notchtop during a golden September weather window.

Notchtop in all its glory:
The Direct South Ridge takes the left skyline 1000 ft to the summit:
We want to catch some sleep first.  We dubbed this place the Ritz Carlton of bivy sites.  It was Marriott-quality.  Perfectly clean with a flat space for two.  Under a room-size boulder with a view of the stars and protected from the wind by artistic rock walls.
Perhaps a thousand years from now, anthropologists may investigate these sites.  What ancient peoples built these shelters under large boulders and left no trash or sign of their passage, unlike their cousins in the valley.

The next morning, we headed up to the South Ridge.  We weren't just here for the climbing.  We were also here for Science.  That's right - the effects of Cougar piss on the voracious behavior of the Chubby Marmot.  Remember, they don't always eat your gear, but when they do, they prefer the salty portions.  We salted an old leather glove, laid the tempting morsel on a ground near the most interesting subjects in the world and carefully sprinkled said remedy around the glove.  Stay hungry, my friends.  Eat Responsibily.

Feeling strong and with the experiment established, we started up the South Ridge.  Well one of us was feeling strong.  There was another experiment going on. 

Experiment 2: Just how far could she climb with a severe attack of giardia.  Yes, we both picked it up somewhere even though we carefully sterilized our water.  She had it worse, was gurgling, getting increasingly weak and cramping.  Giardia had struck hard.  She climbed anyway, giving it her best.  We got half-way up - about 500 ft, until we had to conclude that a tiny parasite was more powerful than a tall, strong girl.  We fully experienced the next rule -
Rule 4: When your partner, who is tough-minded, says she (or he) is too sick to climb, translate that  as "she (or he) may or may not make it back down to camp if you head down right now". 
We carefully left gear and rapped back down to the approach gully.  She stumbled, slid and cussed her way back down an hour and a half's worth of loose scree, steep gully and sketchy down climbing to camp.  Then slept 14 hrs. 


 Oh, yeah, soon after we started down, it started to rain and hail.  That's the mountains.  Giadia may have saved out asses, although it certainly challenged the poop bags.  And Science was satisfied - Chubby and his friends never ate the glove.

Once again - we'll be back.  As they say in fishing - leave 'em bitin'.