Matt and Joanne’s Page

August 24, 2008

A Couple Nights in the Wind River Range

Filed under: Climbing, Roadtrip — Tags: , , , — Matt Stamplis @ 7:25 pm

Our first stop in Wyoming was to spend a few days in the remote Wind River Range. This is definitely one of the most remote trailheads I’ve ever been to: from the town of Boulder, Wyoming, you drive East 30-some miles, the last 20 of which are dirt road. The dirt road was mostly decent but there were a few spots that were a little sketchy in our Civic: the last 10 miles of the drive took well over an hour to negotiate!

The weirdest thing is that after driving all this time into this remote wilderness, you suddenly emerge in this parking lot that is filled with cars. I counted over 100 cars while we were sitting! Hard to imagine so many people visit this place but I saw license plates from at least a dozen states. This is apparently grizzly bear country but we didn’t see any evidence of bears: I don’t know how badly they would want to hang out some place with so much human traffic.

To get even further away from civilization, we hiked 9 miles from the trailhead to reach the Cirque of the Towers, a beautiful alpine valley surrounded by steep granite faces. This is a very popular area: it’s easy to spread out in the cirque but if you start walking around you’ll probably stumble upon tents in every direction. Our plan was just to stay 2 nights and climb the classic routes Wolf’s Head and Pingora; most people hike in and stay at least a week. The long ridge directly above Joanne’s head is Wolf’s Head and to it’s right is Pingora.

When we get to our camp site, we were scouting for the NE Buttress route and from our angle, Matt said none of the routes look like it. We didn’t have any guide book on the area and our beta was pretty minimum. So instead of doing Pingora on the first day, we decided to do the Wolf’s Head first and scout the Pingora later.

As usual we woke up early and hiked in to get to the base at 5.30am. However, half way during the approach, Joanne realized she forgot her Ipod (our only beta information was loaded in it) so I had to turn around to get it. Even with this delay, we managed to start around 6.15am. Wolf’s Head is a really cool classic climb where you mostly traversing the ridge (lots of feet traverse and mostly easy low fifth class). This is a definite must do route. Unfortunately we forgot the camera so we have no pictures at all which is really too bad because there are many picture perfect moments, oh well….The descent for this route however is not that enjoyable with lots of loose rock section; small price to pay for such a fine climb.

The next day we did the NE Buttress route. Getting to the general area of the climb is pretty easy but finding the first pitch to get to the real fun stuff is pretty tricky. We ended up too high on the route and Joanne had to downclimb a few times to finally get to the 5.8 slab section (this is pretty wild because leader is looking at a pretty wild pendulum swing if fall, but once the move is made, there’s a sling to clip to protect the second). (Joanne comment) I think I took a while making the moves here, no hand, no feet, purely smearing, with scary pendulum potential. I was pretty relieved when I clipped that sling. The rest of the climbs are pretty easy and enjoyable, following obvious crack (even though we were not 100% sure we were on route until when we completed the crux pitch :)). The descent for this route is very easy and quick.

Joanne leading the crux pitch on the Northeast Buttress, Pingora.

Hooray! Posing on the summit of Pingora, after climbing the Northeast Buttress.

The Wind River Range is one of the most beautiful areas we’ve visited and certainly one of the most unique mountain ranges in the United States. I can’t think of any other similar range in the United States that is NOT a National Park. I think it might be a bad thing, though, to change this: making the Wind Rivers a National Park would increase visitation in an area that probably doesn’t need anymore abuse. We packed our waste out and would encourage other visitors to do the same to try to keep this area as pristine as possible.

One more thought: the mosquitoes here can be a nuisance. They weren’t out of control but I was sleeping in a bivy sack that doesn’t close completely so they kept flying into my nose while I tried to fall asleep: I would definitely bring a mosquito net next time!

August 12, 2008

A Sampling of RMNP (Part 3)

Filed under: Climbing, Roadtrip — Tags: , , , — Matt Stamplis @ 10:52 am

So we finally got a visitor on this portion of our trip: Our buddy Jeff from Oregon flew down and met us for 5 days of madness in the Rockies! Read on to hear about factor 2 falls, rabid pikas, and nightmare rappels! We picked Jeff up at Safeway in Estes Park, grabbed a few groceries and headed off to the Glacier Gorge trailhead. From there we hiked in and made camp at Skypond, below the famous Petit Grepon and the Cathedral Spires.

The Cathedral Spires…ooooooo

As usual for big routes, we were up EARLY and hiking before dawn. Our first climb is the Petit Grepon. Our timing was perfect, arriving at the base of the climb just as it was getting bright enough to turn off our headlamps. The first few leads were uneventful and we were soon a few hundred feet above the talus field. Then something interesting happened! It was Jeff’s turn to lead and there were two possible options for this pitch, a 5.9 move directly above the belay or a slabby 5.7 section that moves out right. He chose to take the 5.9 variation. About 8 feet up and before placing any protection, he got himself into an insecure position and was about to make a final reach for a good hold when his foot popped off! Fortunately, I had moved off to the right and he skidded down the wall past me hitting a ledge or two before I caught his fall. Whoah! A factor 2 fall onto the belay! Fortunately, the anchor was solid and Jeff was shaken up with a bruised hip but otherwise OK.

Joanne headed for the tiny summit of Petit Grepon.

Here’s a view of the side profile of the summit: how is this thing not falling over?

The rest of the climb was less eventful and we enjoyed a quick snack on the summit before beginning the rappels. There are apparently other possibilities for descent but we found the bolted rappel stations easy to find and they dropped us right back to our packs. It was when we were rappelling that we noticed a party that was just beginning up the route. I said “Well, there’s our entertainment for the afternoon”. They had started the climb around 9 or 10AM and not long after this, clouds were already starting to form. At first we thought they must be really strong climbers – who else would start so late on a day with rainclouds starting to gather? But as we watched them from the lake, they were moving agonizingly slow up the face, we realized we were witnessing an epic.

Sure enough, it started raining when they were on pitch 3 (out of 8). The rain slowed down and a couple hours(!) later they had made it to pitch 4. Another round of rain came through and we watched them traversing out onto the face, probably looking for bail anchors. Eventually they made the decision to continue upward. I think it was around 6PM when they had finished only half the route (with the hardest climbing still above them) when they started rappeling down. We cheered because we were starting to get a little nervous after watching them for 8 hours or so. Luckily there was no lightning that day…

The next day we had our own little fun on Saber, the huge tower to the right of Petit Grepon. This was definitely a more adventurous route with plenty of route-finding issues and some scary loose rock on the last couple pitches. I think we ended up climbing somewhere around 9 pitches on this route, even though the guidebook said just 7. The descent was a bit spooky too – we rappelled down The Gash, the deep gully between the Petit and Saber. A couple of the anchors seemed pretty questionable to me but we managed to eventually work our way down and out to safety.

Fooling around on the summit of Saber!

From the summit of Saber we could see it was a busy day on the summit of Petit Grepon.

After these climbs we took a day off to relax before heading in to do one last climb in RMNP: the Casual Route on the Diamond. Joanne and I had been up the Diamond just the week before so we felt pretty confident about route-finding and the climb in general. But there were a few differences in this climb: we were going to be in a party of 3 this time, instead of going car-to-car we were going to camp at Chasm Lake, and instead of tagging the summit and walking off we would rappel The Diamond. So I guess this would be nothing at all like our last climb!

The fun began when we selected our bivy site, a perfectly sheltered cave at the far end of Chasm Lake – we all agreed that the site would be a great place to wait out any bad weather. And this is probably true but we failed to realize that there might be other occupants of the cave that appreciated its shelter!

The ultimate bivy cave…..or nightmare??

I was the only one sleeping in the cave and I dozed off for an hour or so when I suddenly felt something running over the top of my head and I jerked up. “That’s it!”, I said. “I’m not sleeping in here anymore” and grabbed my sleeping bag and moved a short distance outside of the cave. Within 10 minutes I heard something chewing on our gear and I grabbed Joanne’s headlamp and shined it over towards my gear. There was a pika, not more than 3 feet away, chewing on my rock climbing shoes! I yelled and grabbed my things and started hanging them from a spot we had setup to keep our food out of reach from mice and marmots. I also decided that I was going to move far from the cave: I don’t need this little critter chewing on my ears.

So I found a level spot that was far from the cave, with both Jeff and Joanne between me and the cave. And I dozed off to sleep…until I felt something chewing on my pillow! (a stuff sack with nothing edible in it). I quickly turned over and saw something running off into the darkness. Aaaaaarrrrrggggghhhhhh! This animal (or perhaps 2 different animals!) just wouldn’t leave me alone – Jeff and Joanne seemed to get a great nights sleep! So I spent the rest of the night sleeping sitting up, resting against a sheer rock wall where I didn’t have to worry about mice chewing on my face. Despite this, I was jumpy all night and got pretty much no real sleep.

The alarm went off at 3AM and we ate a quick breakfast before heading off towards the North Chimney: despite getting such an early start we were passed in the chimney by a few parties that soloed the whole thing. It ended up being a busy day on the Diamond: a couple parties on Pervertical Sanctuary, a party on D-7, one on Eroica, and FIVE parties on our route, the Casual Route! Sheesh! We were first in line for the route but one party simulclimbed past us. This ended up being a bit annoying: they were a party of 2 and probably figured that they would be much faster than us but we ended up waiting for them to finish every pitch. They definitely violated an unspoken rule of climbing: if you pass, you better be FAST!

So our 2nd ascent of the Diamond ended up being a bit of a social experience and more than a little nerve-racking: I don’t like climbing big, serious routes with parties in front and behind me. Fortunately, the weather was pretty much perfect: no clouds and not even a hint of rain so the delays ended up being OK.

Jeff grunting up the crux pitch of the Casual Route.

After finishing the climb, it was time to start our rappels down the face. Last time we had scrambled up to the summit, signed the summit register, rappelled the North Face cables route and scrambled down to the bathroom in the boulderfield in much less than 2 hours. I didn’t time it but I would guess it took us at around 3-4 hair-raising hours to rappel down the Diamond. If you don’t know exactly where to look for each rappel station, there’s a good chance you might miss them. And that’s what happened to us, as we ended up following a different rappel route during which the party on D-7 knocked a couple big rocks down in our general direction.

Then, once we finally got to Broadway we couldn’t find the rappel station below the D-1 pillar so we ended up rappeling down the North Chimney which was as stressful as you might imagine. In any case, this whole rappeling experience was a bit of a nightmare – we were all quite happy to make it down in one piece. If we ever end up climbing the Diamond again, I will certainly NOT be rappelling down the face!

So after all this we all agreed that we would spend one more night in our cave (shudder) before hiking out in the morning. I really didn’t want to do this but Joanne said I could squeeze into her 1-person tent so I’d be safe from the other occupants of the cave. And so we cuddled up and managed to get a decent nights rest…that is, until I heard Jeff yelling! Something had bitten his hand and he was bleeding! We had been eating sausage that evening and maybe the pika smelled it and started gnawing on his hand. In the morning, he showed us his hand and there was a big chunk taken out of it – ewwwwww! I was certainly thankful to be in the tent that night!

Route Info + Beta!
Climbing Quality: There’s something in RMNP for all climbers. The rock is fantastic. The scenery splendid. The marmots rabid. The only downside? It’s in Colorado! That means painful bivouac regulations and a terrible camping scene.

Camping: I hate camping anywhere near Estes Park. In summer time it’s a pain to get a camping spot within RMNP (plus there’s a 7-night limit) and in town, you’re forced to pay $28/night. The alternative (which we chose) was to drive way the hell out of town to National Forest land (The Monastary).

The South Face (5.8) of Petit Grepon is outstanding but tends to be crowded. We were fortunate to climb it on a day with no traffic but expect company. Get an early start! Not much to say here except the route is a great cruiser. Bring two ropes and the rappels should be mostly obvious (ALL should be from solid anchors). I remember scrambling along a ledge to reach the 3rd station.

For a more adventurous outing in the Cathedral Spires try the Kor Route (5.8) on Saber. Despite the same grade rating on it’s neighbor on the Petit Grepon, there’s a definite agreement among climbers that this one is bigger and badder. While I didn’t find the climbing to be sandbagged, finding the easiest way wasn’t always straightforward.

Rap North (1 rope for this rappel should be OK) from the summit then figure out how you want to get down. We chose to scramble over to the deep and narrow (and scary) gully between Petit Grepon and Saber. This allowed us to descend back to our camp but is not an experience I would care to repeat. There are anchors to rappel from but there was at least one of them that scared me (a slung boulder that wasn’t big enough to make me happy). After a couple rappels you can breathe a sigh of relief as you rejoin the bolted Petit Grepon descent. Maybe there’s a BETTER way to do this?

The Casual Route (5.10a) on the Diamond of Longs Peak is great if you enjoy a social alpine experience. Personally, it was a bit of a nightmare for me (and that’s not including the rabid nocturnal critters that menace the bivy sites). That being said, the climbing really is top-notch and didn’t seem a harder than 5.9 to me (though I had just spent a month climbing nothing but long alpine routes so you might want a chunk of salt with that opinion). But sheesh, way too much traffic!

You can read my comments about descent options at the bottom of this page under Pervertical Sanctuary. In short, rappelling big alpine faces sucks! Unless you’re threatened by immediate death by lightning, don’t be such a lazy ass, bring your shoes, and do the “walk off” (North Face Cables Route).

So that’s it for Colorado – we’ve spent more than a month in this state and climbed more big routes than I ever would have imagined could be possible. I have to admit I’m starting to look forward to relaxing a bit in Malaysia. But first: the Wind River Range and Tetons of Wyoming!

August 2, 2008

A Sampling of RMNP (Part 2)

Filed under: Climbing, Roadtrip — Tags: , , , — Matt Stamplis @ 9:00 pm

After the climb, we decided to take it easy for the next few days. We spent 1 day at the Monastery which is pretty cool. The climbing is mostly low angle with lots of crimping and smearing on small feet hole. The only thing missing from the climb was a selection of good 5.10 climbs – lots of easier and much harder things. This area reminds us a lot of Smith Rock.

Matt taking a big fall at the Monastary!…..or just fooling around?

Eldorado Canyon, just outside of Boulder.

After a few days cragging at Lumpy Ridge, I suggested a crazy idea to Matt. We were having fun at Lumpy but you can never climb more than 2 routes in a day due to the frequent thunderstorms. And I wanted something that can keep me busy for the whole day so I told Matt we should do another big climb. So I suggested going to climb the Diamond car-to-car – “Why don’t we do Pervertical Sanctuary car-to-car?”. Well, knowing Matt, he was definitely intrigued and so that was our next climb.

The East Face of Longs Peak, known as The Diamond. It gets it’s name from the shape of the upper half of the face. This might be the largest high altitude cliff (it’s over 13,000 feet in elevation!) in the lower 48 states.

We woke up at 11.30pm and drove to Longs Peak trailhead. After hiking the 4+ miles in the dark, we got to the base of the base of North Chimney around 4am and found a party was already in front of us. We decided to wait until they were up on Broadway before we get started because we heard of horror stories of loose rocks being knocked down. Just when I thought I was safe, I heard this loud scream of “ROCK!!” and Matt darted to his right taking cover and I wasn’t sure where to go so I just step a little right and cover up. The next thing I heard is this loud rock coming down and from the corner of my eyes I saw this thing roll down a few feet to my left. That was a real close call so we went further right and waited there. When those guys got to the top of chimney we started up behind them and got onto Broadway (a big ledge below The Diamond) around 7am. This is when the real fun begins!

Matt follows a tricky section of 5.9 climbing on the 2nd pitch

The first pitch was a bit junky but the rest of the climbing was great and the crux pitch is one of the most memorable I’ve ever climbed. At 13,500 feet you’re just gasping for air while trying to keep hanging on to make it to the next pitch. It’s hard to imagine what state of mind you would need to be in to free solo this! We were so focused on the climbing that we only took a handful of pictures!

Tada! The summit of Longs Peak. Hail started coming down while we were up top so we figured we should get out of there as soon as possible. We found the North Face rappels without any trouble and shortly after we were using the pit toilet in the Boulderfield. When we got back to the car we checked the time: 16 and a half hours after we had started! Not too shabby for hiking 12 miles and climbing such a big wall.

Continue reading here for our whackiest adventures in the Rockies yet!

More Route Info + Beta
If you get tired of climbing in the high peaks, there are plenty of crags to keep you entertained. If camping way up in the National Forest land like we were, it makes sense to make a stop at The Monastary. The approach is maybe a 45 minutes hike from the popular campground. You’ll be rewarded with great technical sport climbing with lots of fun knobs and crimps. The only downside is the lack of quality routes in the 5.10-5.11 range. You’ll find lots of great 5.7-5.9 climbs and lots of 5.hard, though!

Closer to Boulder you’ll find a number of crags. We thought Boulder Canyon was kind of boring and only climbed a few routes there. But Eldorado Canyon and The Flatirons were great fun. Easy access to long multipitch gear routes without the same commitment found in the high peaks.

Finally, inside RMNP there is Lumpy Ridge. In many ways (long approaches, somewhat high altitude, lightning storms) it’s not exactly cragging but at least it’s less committing than the big peaks. The climbing here is characterized by balancy, insecure moves with crack systems that tend to be flared and sometimes a little funky to protect.

But among all the routes we climbed on our roadtrip, the one that strikes me as our biggest achievement was Pervertical Sanctuary 5.10c on Longs Peak. I don’t usually try to brag but I’ll take the opportunity to do it here 🙂 I thought it was a pretty “pure” way to do the Diamond: Car-to-car in 17 hours with packs and two ropes (and ice axes!), gasping for breathe at 13,500 feet but still getting the onsight, summiting with the masses, then walking off. The climb as a whole might not be as solid as the Casual Route but the two crux pitches are better than anything on that route. Jaw-dropping!

For the approach to the Diamond, hike to Chasm Lake and climb the North Chimney to Broadway. You could hike through the Boulderfield to Chasm View and then rappel to Broadway but that would be stupid.

Everyone will give you a different opinion about the descent so I’ll share mine. Having done both the North Face Cables walkoff (while climbing this route) and the rappels (from the Casual Route) I can say that I wholeheartedly endorse the Cables descent. Perhaps Diamond veterans can cruise the rappels but I don’t see the advantage. Why the hell would anyone want to do 8 or 9 rappels down one of the biggest alpine faces in the lower 48 when a mellow alternative is available? Maybe if you enjoy facing rock fall from climbers on D-7, hitting said climbers with your own rope, or looking for strangely placed bolts as you get closer to the end of your rope.

Screw that. The Cables descent is impossible to miss if you follow cairns North from the summit. Plus you’ll actually reach the summit, which SHOULD count as something.

July 31, 2008

A Sampling of RMNP (Part 1)

Filed under: Climbing, Roadtrip — Tags: , , — Matt Stamplis @ 8:39 am

So after hanging around RMNP for a couple weeks, it’s probably time to put a post up! Our base camp has been up in the Monastary, a 45 minute drive from the town of Estes Park – this is a bit of a hassle but it beats the $28/night camping in town. Estes Park is a very touristy town with all the amenities you could want, including more than a half dozen ice cream shops. Although, we haven’t been able to find a place that has showers yet!

The big thing to keep in mind when climbing here is the weather. Almost every day, when noon rolls around, thunderclouds menacingly gather above the high peaks. Most days you want to be headed DOWN at this point, though on particularly nice days you may be safe until 2-3PM. We haven’t had any real close calls yet (other than a hailstorm atop Longs Peak) but we’ve tried our best to get early starts: it’s not uncommon for us to begin hiking around 3AM, or as early as midnight for bigger routes.

The first route we bagged in the park was the South Ridge of Notchtop Mountain. The approach was somewhere around 3.5 miles and mostly easy except the last bit of scrambling up a steep 3rd class gully. You have to scramble a long ways up this gully before stepping right onto the ridge and the route. We quickly discovered that route finding was a bit of a problem for us here. The ridge was quite “climbable” with many options available on each pitch. We thought we were mostly on the route except when I reached the top of the “last” pitch and discovered we still had 2 pitches left!

Notchtop is pretty easy to identify on the approach with it’s distinct notch near the summit. The South Ridge follows the steep lefthand skyline.

By this time some clouds were starting to form around the peak so we were understandably nervous. We figured at this point it was easier to go for the summit than try to bail so I told Matt to take all the leads and run to the top. Eventually after a couple strenuous pitches (easy but we were really running up it) we made it to the top. By this time, the clouds seem to fade a little giving us hope to get off before any storms. Lucky for us there was another party that made it to the top when we get there and informed us that despite the guidebook not specifying, two ropes are needed for a safer descent (we only brought one). Fortunately they were happy to let us team up with them on the descent, and we quickly made the 4 double-rope rappel down the west face. Our first success was sweet but made us realize that weather here is really fickle.

Hanging out on one of the bolted rappel stations on the West Face of Notchtop.

A couple days after Notchtop we went and climbed the Culp-Bossier route on Hallet Peak. The approach is the shortest in the park for any of the high peaks, around 2.5 miles although the last half mile is pretty slow, with some scrambling up a steep, loose talus field. After finishing the first pitch we looked down and saw several fat marmots running around the boulders, heading for our packs….uh oh! Thank God we had nothing edible in it because they just ignored our bags. They made me really nervous though because I heard horror stories of the marmot chewing through bags and boots. The climb ended up being one of my favorite peaks because the climb was pretty easy and the descent is easy too.

Sunrise on the approach to Hallett Peak.

Here’s the “North” Face of Hallet Peak – it catches way too much sun to really be a North Face, it seems. Our route is marked in blue.

Our approximate route can be seen in the picture above: towards the top, we went a little off-route and end up with a pitch of roof traverse which had some fixed gear. We soon found out that this is pretty common because the party below us did the same thing and one guy I talked to later also claimed he did the roof traverse. The roof traverse is actually quite fun except I got so much rope drag near the top and end up doing a hanging belay on 1 good cam and 1 so so nut placement. I think the actual route goes somewhere to the right of where we climbed at the top but who knows? In any case, we had a good time!

Our next endeavor was to climb Spearhead in Glacier Gorge. Our original plan was to hike in and camp and do the route the next day. However, when we went to the ranger station to apply for permits, we decided that it was too costly and so I suggested a car-to-car attempt. We woke up at 1am and started hiking around 3am. Actually that wasn’t the real plan but Matt woke me up when he went to pee and the guys near our campground was so noisy (they left 30 beer cans around their campfire the next day). I couldn’t fall back asleep so I woke Matt up and told him to just get going.

Spearhead sits right in the middle of Glacier Basin, a beautiful alpine meadow.

The hike in to the peak is 6 miles and fortunately, mostly on flat ground until the last mile when you climb out of the Black Lake Basin. We both agreed this is one of the coolest looking formations anywhere. We climbed the easy 5.6 North Ridge route which is mostly 5.5s and 1 crux pitch. We simul-climbed all the way till the base of the crux pitch (at the Barb Flake). And to get to the real summit, you have to do some easy climbing and stand on top of this exposed small rock (very airy).

Mmmm, beautiful granite. Here’s Joanne heading up into the crux of the North Ridge. At this point, to the climber’s left the wall drops away for 600 feet making for some wild climbing.

The summit is one of the more unique that we’ve seen anywhere. It made me a little nervous the way the “spearhead” is balanced right over the edge of the face. Alright Joanne, get off of there…

The descent is kinda scary: I think we took the wrong descent gully which kept ending in cliffs until we were able to backtrack and traverse over to an easier way down. Eventually we were on safe ground: I think the descent took 1 hour from the summit back to the base of the peak. At this point, we were so tired and exhausted from all the climbing but we still had 6 miles to hike. The whole climb took us 12 hour car-to-car. It was a sweet successful climb but nonetheless painful and lots of hard work.

Route Info + Beta
The South Ridge of Notchtop (5.8) was our introduction to the park and ended up being a little more than expected. The approach is mostly obvious until you end up hiking the 2nd/3rd class gully to the start of the route. But the route finding difficulties started here for us. There are a number of grassy terraces that slash their way across the face: we tried traversing out right on one of these but we ended up too low on the face and ended walking back up the gully. In short, you need to walk farther up the gully than you might expect. Having a route photo and finding your route before hiking up the gully wouldn’t hurt.

Once on route, though, route-finding becomes a serious issue. In some ways it doesn’t matter, since the rock is very climbable though we felt we were off route the entire time. I don’t know what the pitch lengths in Gillett’s guidebook are (they aren’t mentioned) but I would advise stretching your pitches. Otherwise you might end up trying to traverse a pitch (or two!) earlier than you should, while forbidding clouds are starting to build up on the horizon. In general stay near the ridge until an obvious overhang forces you right (on the “4th” pitch).

Some people advise not tagging the “summit” proper because of loose crap. Joanne didn’t knock anything down but I was happy just taking her picture. But even from the top of the route it’s not clear where the true summit of Notchtop lies, although my money is on the eastern summit which would be nasty to reach from this route.

The descent: From the end of the route look down and to the left (North?) of the “summit”. You should see a loose looking pile of boulders: there’s some webbing wrapped around it: that’s your anchor – hooray! From here you make 4 (or 5, I forget) double-rope rappells down the West Face. BRING TWO ROPES! This is forgotten in the Gillett guidebook but unless you bring two ropes, I guarantee you’ll be rappelling from some terrifying anchors. Thankfully we met up with a party who finished The Spiral Route and joined them to get off. Keep an eye out for nice looking bolts: We found most with no problems though one of our anchors was a flake with slings. When you reach the starting grassy terrace, downclimb the gully and feel the relief of being back on solid ground!

The Culp-Bossier (5.8) on Hallett Peak lives up to its name as a true classic in the range. People and guidebooks consistently mention this is the shortest approach in the park: it’s “only 2 miles” from the trailhead. True, it’s a quick 1.8 miles on the trail to Emerald Lake but they fail to mention the tedious talus-hopping required to get from the lake to the base of the face.

The start of the route was a little tricky for us to locate: it helps to look for the rockfall scar from what’s left of the first pitch of the Northcutt-Carter route. Then use a guide and start looking left to find your route. Once you begin, expect route finding to remain interesting. With few crack systems and a featured face you can literally climb anywhere. I think we more or less followed the correct line until the last few pitches where we might have veered onto a “variation”, with a long pitch on a beautiful 5.8 finger crack, then a leftward traverse under a big roof, and a finish on a runout loose + wet section No advice here: you’ll probably have fun no matter which way you take!

Spearhead’s North Ridge (5.6) might be the perfect introductory route to RMNP. Easily one of the most aesthetic peaks in the region, with a straightforward (though long) approach and easy route-finding this one should put a smile on your face. We did the route in 3 pitches, beginning with one ridiculously fun simulclimb from the start to the belay behind the Barb Flake (end of pitch 5?). Solid rock throughout this climb completes the experience!

For the descent, don’t drop down the gully immediate below the summit (just West of the North Ridge). There’s lots of trails that indicate this might be the way down but it’s a false descent: you’ll end up cliffed out like hundreds of suckers before you. So instead, avoid that first gully and walk further west before dropping down towards Frozen Lake.

Next time in the Rockies: Car-to-Car on The Diamond, cragging around Estes Park, and the Cathedral Spires.

July 13, 2008

Epic on Ellingwood

Filed under: Climbing, Roadtrip — Matt Stamplis @ 6:59 am

So on our way from the Black Canyon to Boulder, we decided to take a little detour to climb the Ellingwood Ledges on Crestone Needle. This would be our first 14,000 foot peak so we weren’t sure how elevation might affect us. Our plan was to hike in Thursday evening, sleep for a few hours, then climb the peak on Friday. Well, things got off to a bad start when we took longer to finish our rest day chores (Laundry, Internet, Driving) and we arrived at the parking lot around 8 PM, just as the sun was beginning to set.

Crestone Needle (or is it Crestone Peak – I have no idea!) – anyway, our route, more or less, follows the right skyline up to the summit.

Now most people who climb this peak come with a high clearance, 4WD vehicle in order to negotiate the last five miles from the parking lot to the trailhead; unfortunately, our Honda Civic is not an all-terrain vehicle. And this is supposedly one of the worst roads in Colorado: I don’t know if that’s true or not but the road involves several deep stream crossings and steep grades with loose boulders all over the road.

So instead of having the luxury of driving up this “road”, we got to hike an additional 5 miles just to get to the trailhead. Fortunately, when we were starting to hike up the road, a group came by in their pickup truck and offered to carry our bags up to the trailhead for us. We were more than happy to take them up on the offer. So although we had to hike up the road in the dark, at least we didn’t
have to carry much weight and we reached the South Colony Lakes Trailhead around 10:20 PM and went to sleep about 20 minutes later.

Friday. 4:15AM. Alarm going off. Time to get up. Eat a pop tart and start hiking. I’m carrying most of the weight: the rope, the rack, 3 liters of water. But Joanne keeps falling behind. I’m walking as slow as I can and she still is falling behind. After about a mile, we decide to turn around: she’s not feeling well after hiking the night before and from climbing the Scenic Cruise 36 hours earlier. So we hike back to the trailhead and decide to just sit around for the day and try again on Saturday morning.

But there’s just one problem: we brought only enough food to do the climb on Friday and then hike out. The only food that we have left is a couple pop tarts, a Clif Bar, and an orange. So I decide to hike back down the road, get a stove and food, and then hike back (10.5 miles roundtrip). By the time I get back to the car I’m feeling the beginning of blisters so I change from boots to tennis shoes. I start packing food – ramen noodles, instant meals, a bottle of root beer, a can of coke, a bag of pretzels, and some oranges. But no matter where I look I can’t find the stove. And I’m looking everywhere – I tear the car apart looking for it, without any luck. I know Joanne will be more than a bit upset if I come back without a stove and tell her she can eat pop tarts for the next 24 hours. In fact, I’m pretty certain there would be plenty of yelling and we wouldn’t be climbing. So I do the only thing I can think of – I take our big Coleman camping stove and throw that in my backpack with a small bottle of propane.

The hike back is painful – not so much on my muscles but my feet are just plain sore. Eventually, about 5 hours after originally leaving, I stumble back to camp. I proudly display all the food and the giant stove that I’ve hauled all the way up to our “basecamp”. Joanne points out that I’ve brought “just enough” food. But at least we’re both laughing about the stove.

That night it rains a little bit and I curl into my bivy sack to keep the rain out. I envy Joanne who has borrowed (from my Dad) one of those fancy bivy sacks with poles and mosquito netting. Fortunately it’s just a passing storm and when the alarm goes off at 3:00AM we are staring up into the star-lit sky. A bite of Oatmeal (for me) and Ramen (for her) and by 3:45AM, we’re hiking up the trail. We don’t hike very fast and 2 guys who happen to be climbing our route fly past us shortly after this. Oh well, we figure, if they’re that fast at least they won’t get in our way.

We hike past the beautiful South Colony Lakes and begin to wind our way up the base of the face. We start hiking up the talus and before we know it, we’ve hiked a little TOO high and need to walk down and far to our left to get to the start of our route. We find a steep patch of snow between us and the start of our route; fortunately, we’ve brought ice axes and are able to cross without trouble.

The South Colony Lakes provide fantastic alpine scenery to this climb.

The first 1000 feet is mostly easy scrambling and we quickly dispatch this without bothering to tie into the rope. Finally, we reach the “Red Tower”, a convenient place to rope up. It’s at this point that we notice how quickly the clouds are starting to move in on us. The valleys below us are covered in a dense fog and clouds are moving up over the summit. It’s only 7AM and usually thunderstorms don’t start until afternoon around here but the clouds have us a bit worried. We discuss the option of going down but Joanne thinks it might be faster if we just climb up rather than try to negotiate the tedious downclimb back to the lakes.

Hmm, looking pretty foggy down there.

With this in mind we start climbing as fast as we can: before we know it we look down and see the guys that passed us on the hike in. They join me on the ledge where I’m belaying Joanne. We chat for a few minutes and then I’m gone – we didn’t see them for the rest of the climb. We don’t hike particularly fast, but when we need to climb, we can move! Fortunately the weather held out and even improved by the time we got to the summit. The view was hazy from wildfires but still a beautiful place to be. I can feel the elevation up here – my lungs are working harder and after a few moments on the summit we head back towards camp. On the way we passed by 2 large herds of bighorn sheep. They were so close and I got some great pictures of them. A couple hours later we collapse at our campsite – 9 hours after hiking in.

A bit hazy but still some great views from the summit.

A herd of bighorn sheep. They kept staring at us which was a little intimidating so we just slowly walked around them.

The final interesting section of the climb, coming down Broken Hand Pass. The snow was pretty soft by the time we were coming down so it was straightforward.

Now we discuss the best way to go down. Neither of us are thrilled about the prospect of hiking the 5 miles back down to our car – fortunately, our luck had turned and we were able to catch a ride with a couple of guys who were driving down. Our knees were very thankful for this favor and once back at our car, we celebrated by driving into town and gorging ourselves on a 14″ sausage and green pepper pizza.

July 10, 2008

Black Canyon NP

Filed under: Climbing, Roadtrip — Tags: , , — Matt Stamplis @ 10:30 am

So our last post was somewhat lacking in detail since we didn’t have a whole lot of time. This time, I promise a somewhat more detailed and more interesting account of our goings-on!

The Gunnison River has carved deep to form the Black Canyon – a fisherman’s paradise and also home to the biggest cliffs in Colorado. This place has a reputation for scary climbing, loose rock, poor protection, poison-ivy choked gullies, and tick-infested bushwacks. After hearing this, Joanne was not thrilled about the prospect of climbing here. But I managed to convince her that it was a must-visit place in Colorado.

The Black Canyon – the Painted Wall, shown here, is about 2200 feet and is supposedly the tallest cliff in the state. But while we were staying in the park, this wall was closed to climbing for raptor nesting so no-go – fortunately, there are plenty of other BIG cliffs in the canyon that were open to climbing.

We decided to avoid getting in over our heads so we started with some of the more mellow routes in the Canyon. Shown above is the Casual Route. It involved plenty of wandering over a bushy face following crack systems every now and then. We didn’t feel it was very enjoyable – fortunately, the other routes we did were much better!

Here’s Joanne heading up into a short offwidth on the 2nd pitch of Maiden Voyage – we felt this route made a better introduction to climbing in the Black than the Casual Route.

Stemming up into the “crux” of Escape Artist. I can’t say this pitch was any harder than the others – seemed like 5.9 climbing on every pitch. Joanne thinks the crux is at the Vector Traverse instead which is a very unique traverse pitch with lots of undercling and staying in balance.

Enjoying the views of the Canyon somewhere near the top of Escape Artist.

Here’s a hungry squirrel hanging out in a tree. The chipmunks in the campground were very bold, running right up to you or trying to grab food off your picnic table. Everyday in the campground we also had a hummingbird buzz around us. Speaking of the campground, this is the most laid-back National Park campground (North Rim) I’ve ever seen. There’s only 13 campsites, first-come first-serve and even during the 4th of July weekend it was quiet – as soon as it got dark all you can hear in the campground are whispers.

As an additional bonus, the Rangers here must be among the friendliest in the Park system. Brent, the head climbing ranger, came up and chatted with us a few times and talked about climbs. All the other rangers seemed to know we were climbers and were quick to say hello. Apparently July is not one of their peak climbing months – we were the only climbers in the entire park most days! While it was a little hot in the sun, many of the routes stay shaded for part of the day. Even though there is no fancy YOSAR here, from our chats with the locals, the rangers definitely keep their eyes out on climbers (possibly spying with a binocular??).

Jeremy, a local that approached us when we were in Ponia (20 miles away) because he knew Brent and he recognized us from his description, an asian girl with a Oregon license plate :). Anyway, he told us story on a rescue mission on a party that did Scenic cruise. The rangers were watching the party everyday and they were moving really slow on it. On the 4th day, the climbers were barely moving and curled up into a ball, triggering the rescue mission.

After climbing some of the shorter routes we decided to try our luck on Journey Home, 1000+ foot route up the North Chasm View Wall. The first pitch has a reputation for being a bit…interesting. Fortunately it was not too big of a deal and the rest of the climb protected very well and involved some fantastic climbing. We did the climb in 7 hrs camp to camp so we thought we are now ready for the big stuff.

After climbing 4 days in a row we took 1 day off in preparation for the biggest climb we’ve ever done. The Scenic Cruise, touted as the best route in the Canyon, climbs steeply up the 1700 foot North Chasm View Wall in 12 pitches. We woke up at 4 AM, grabbed a quick breakfast, and started hiking down the Cruise Gully with headlamps. We wanted to get as high on the wall as possible before the sun hit us.

The first few pitches flew by and we started to get into the meat of the climb, beginning with the 5th pitch. This is the first difficult pitch – almost 60 meters long in a sustained finger and hand crack with several tricky sections. After this warms you up (or wears you out) you get to do the pegmatite traverse. Joanne didn’t want to do this climb just because of this pitch. It traverses through a band of pegmatite to reach another system of cracks. I won’t tell all the details here but just ask Joanne how much she enjoyed this pitch 😛

After the traverse comes the crux of the route, a 5.10+ dihedral – the holds were mostly positive so the climbing didn’t seem too bad but it is steep and you’ll be happy when you pull onto the belay ledge at the end of this pitch. The picture above is taken looking down from this ledge. If you look real closely you might see Joanne in the middle.

The final half of the climb wanders around with some interesting route finding and with plenty of 5.9 climbing to keep things interesting. Here’s the beginning of one of the traverses – the only bolts on the entire climb are on this pitch. And this is somewhat unusual for climbs in the Black Canyon: I think these were the only bolts that we saw anywhere while climbing. So if you want to bail from a route, expect to leave lots of your own gear!

Hooray! On the summit at last – we took about 9 hours to climb the route (10.5 hrs camp to camp), which isn’t fast by any means, but we were pretty excited to have completed such a long climb. We brought 3 liters of water and 1 liter of gatorade and finished it all. Even then, my mouth was so dry and I drank another 3 liters of root beer, gatorade, juice, and water that evening. After finishing this climb, we both agreed that we could leave the Black Canyon without any regrets!

Route Info + Beta!

When To Climb: Spring + Fall are best but you can avoid traffic with an off-season visit! We were there in early July and with highs around 85 and few climbers, conditions were perfect (we were completely ALONE in the canyon when we did The Scenic Cruise!). Winter and early spring climbing require a ski approach but the rock is supposedly still climbable!

Climbing Quality: Jaw dropping canyon with incredibly long routes and high adventure. What more could you want?

Camping: Shaded spots nestled along the rim make this campground a top choice. Quietest campground I’ve ever stayed in…stayed on the 4th of July and we didn’t deal with any fireworks or drunken campers.

Rest Day Activities: Set up a hammock and read or go fishing!

So is the Black Canyon quite as scary as it’s reputation? No, not really – if you climb the most popular routes you’ll find mostly good rock. That being said, all the routes have questionable flakes that vibrate when you touch them. Most of them appear somewhat solid but it would probably ruin your day if one of the bigger ones decided to pull off. We both agreed that in some ways, climbing in Black Canyon is quite enjoyable. You always start the day with the descent into gully and then when you are done climbing, you are already back on the rim, no more descent needed which is really nice.

And at least in July, we found no ticks. As for poison ivy I’m not sure if I’m good at identifying it so we tried to stay away from 3-leaved plants. We were looking at the so-called poison-ivy at the base of Scenic Cruise – I didn’t know poison ivy could grow so big (up to my knees)! I always thought it was just a small little plant. But we’ll find out in a couple days if that stuff really was poison ivy since I’m pretty sure I brushed through some of it. (Update: If it was poison ivy, maybe I’m no longer allergic? Seems doubtful since I got it 5 or 6 times when I was younger.)

Also, unless you’re a climber or a fisherman, there’s not much to do at the Black Canyon. To give you an idea of what things are like, the hiking “trail” down to the canyon is called the SOB Gully. But this is a pretty cool place and the canyon viewpoints force you to gulp as you look down into the yawning chasm. Hmmm, am I starting to itch?

July 8, 2008

RMNP + Black Canyon

Filed under: Climbing, Roadtrip — Matt Stamplis @ 3:08 pm

So right now we’ve been hanging out in the Black Canyon near Gunnison, CO for the last 6 days – we’re going to spend 2 more nights here and then move on. But what else have we been up to? Read on…

Our first days in Colorado we spent hanging around Rocky Mountain National Park. Campgrounds here are expensive!! $20/night with a 7-day limit in the park and $28/night outside of the park. Needless to say, we can’t afford to spent $900/month on campgrounds. Fortunately we managed to find an out-of-the-way but free camping area with a great view.

Our campsite!

Here’s the promised picture of one of the Marmots – this guy was hanging out around 12,000 feet on Hallett Peak. He was just hanging out in a corner here eating food while watching us. Maybe they don’t look big from this picture but the biggest ones we saw must have been at least 20 lbs.

The Flatirons of Boulder, CO. We climbed here for a short day – we’ll probably be back in a couple weeks. A beautiful area with easy access.

After climbing a week around Rocky Mountain NP we decided to take a detour to the Black Canyon in Western Colorado. It has a reputation for loose + somewhat scary routes. Well, so far it doesn’t seem tooo bad. As an added bonus, the campground is very peaceful and quiet.

Here’s Joanne somewhere around halfway up a route called Journey Home. A beautiful area and we were the only climbers in the entire park that day. Kind of bizzarre!

May 9, 2008

City of Rocks

Filed under: Climbing, Roadtrip — Matt Stamplis @ 1:17 pm

The City of Rocks, nestled away in a valley in rural Idaho (there’s a redundant statement if I’ve ever heard one), provide Joshua Tree-like granite formations for climbers in the Northwest. We had planned on coming here a few times in the last couple years but plans always fell through – the long drive from Portland makes it a bit of a hassle and other locations were always more convenient. But now, on our way between Salt Lake City and Oregon, we found a great excuse to stop here for a couple weeks.

We were a little worried that we were heading North too soon when it started snowing on our first day. Thankfully the bad weather was short lived and we enjoyed great weather in our 2 weeks here. In some ways late-April, early-May might be the best time to climb here for a few reasons: (1) You won’t need to fight for a camp spot (also a good time for dirt bag climbers to “guerilla camp” – not that we condone that sort of behavior!), (2) Aside from weekends, you’ll have most of the Reserve to yourself. There was never more than 2-3 other climbing parties in the entire park on weekdays! Even on weekends we sometimes had popular walls such as Parking Lot Wall and The Breadloaves completely to ourselves. (3) Weather can be a little bit dicey – we missed a couple days of climbing because of wind/snow but but otherwise we enjoyed plenty of 60 degree days in the sun. (4) The base of east and north facing walls are still covered by snow so it makes some routes easier to clip the first bolt – and provides a natural crashpad!

The climbing is super solid granite with a huge variety of climbing routes: most of the rock is vertical to less than vertical with lots of crack systems as well as featured faces and slabs. Some cracks tend to be bottomed-out and flared making it a little trickier to find pro – especially since we spent the last month plugging cams into splitters in the desert. More than many climbing areas, this place is designed for beginner climbers with many classic sub-5.10 routes. As an added bonus, pitches are long – many routes require a 70 meter rope or 2 ropes to get off.

We spent the first week of our trip ticking off some of the easier classics before tackling some harder routes. One thing we noticed, in particular on some of the older routes – bolt placements were not always in a great spot. It seemed like half the routes we got on had cruxes that were 6-10 feet above the last bolt. I usually have no problem taking falls but the rock here tends to be a bit lower angle, creating a potential for skin-scrapping, ankle-breaking tumbles. So heads up on some of the routes!

If you’re not climbing or hiking or biking, there’s really not much to do in the City. This place is far from any big cities. The nearby town of Almo has basic ameneties but plan on bringing lots of food for a long trip. For those nights that you don’t want to cook, we’d highly recommend the only choice in town! The Almo Outpost has good burgers at a good price ($6 for a 1/2 pounder). For gas and groceries, go to Tracy’s General Store – Idaho’s oldest store. They don’t have a big selection but you can find enough there to make a few meals when you run out of food. Cellphone reception is mostly non-existent in the area but we were able to get a connection near the Rocky Mountain Campground. You have to drive 20 miles to Elba for more reliable service.

I wouldn’t usually plug businesses here but I have to give a thumbs up to IME in Salt Lake City – we bought a rope from them and drove up here to Idaho to climb. It was then that we realized that the rope was mislabeled: we paid for a 70-meter rope but it was only 60 meters. We called them and explained the situation. One of the guys who works there (Shingo) actually brought a new 70-meter up to us and delivered it to us at the base of Bath Rock in the middle of a windy snowstorm – now that’s customer service. So those who live around Salt Lake City, support your local climbing shop! 🙂

Climbing Quality: Mostly 1-pitch roadside cragging. A good variety of routes. See the bottom of this post for our favorites.

Camping: Awesome dispersed camping. Boulder in your campground! Stupid campground prices – you need a calculator to figure out the cost: $11.73/per night or something like that. Free camping on BLM land somewhere outside of the park.

Rest Day Activities: Go mountain biking, look for treasure near Treasure Rock, look for old wagon ruts, scramble around.

The City of Rocks!

Joanne showing an interesting way to start I Can’t Believe It (5.10a).

I’m thinking of a new route name in Joshua Tree…maybe Poodles Are Climbers Too. Yogi was able to easily climb up to the 2nd bolt on Theater of Shadows 5.7. In fact, if there weren’t a couple of steep sections, he probably could have climbed the whole route! We simulclimbed this (without Yogi!) in 1 long pitch with 40-some loose biners to clip bolts.

Matt gets ready to lasso some chickenheads on Cowgirl 5.5. Downclimb the 4th class Rebar route on the backside to get off.

The funky lichen-covered wall of Thin Slice 5.10a. An easy slab start leads to the business and fairly sustained climbing all the way to the chains.

This man-eating hueco marks the start of Firewater 5.11b. If Tribal Boundaries was too easy for you, give this face climb a try!

Joanne tiptoes towards the crux of Wheat Thin 5.7. This one is just plain fun – a big cam #5 or #6 camelot is optional but helpful for the top.

Another fun 10a gear route – Animal Cracker 5.10a. The upper section is a bit of a funky offwidth but there’s a thin crack next to it that makes things a bit more manageable. Bring a #5 camelot (new-size).

Our favorite routes at the City? We think these are all must-dos!
Cowgirl 5.5 – Get out your lasso – you can climb this with only runners as pro. This pitch would be at home in Cochise and very much like What’s My Line p1, p2
Norma’s Book 5.5 – Much more fun than it looks, this is one of the best pitches of this grade I’ve climbed. I do think this might not necessary be a 5.5 for a 5.5 climber though since it involves all sort of technique from chimney to face climbing.
Intruding Dike 5.7 – Splitter finger crack with juggy face holds, a good warmup for the nearby Bloody Fingers. This route looks harder than it is
Theater of Shadows 5.7 – 4 pitches (or a long simulclimb – bring 40+ biners) of well-protected (our dog can clip the 2nd bolt!) slab climbing.
Skyline 5.8 – A great line up to the summit of Morning Glory Spire. This has 1 interesting traverse move but everything else is easier climbing.
Rye Crisp 5.8 – A crazy looking flake with fun lieback moves. Having 2 #3 and 2 #4 camelots is nice. Joanne doesn’t like this route too much, the flake sounded really hollow.
Wheat thin 5.7 – Real cool route with easy crux and great gear, once again, I think this looks harder than it really is
Z-Cracks 5.9 – A short route that packs a punch as you work yourself up into the upper crack.
Thin Slice 5.10a – Great finger crack – looks much harder but good footholds cover the face.
Bloody Fingers 5.10a – The leader who was climbing this before me took a sliding fall at the crux and tore open his finger (irony!). As you’d expect from the name, this crack is mostly fingers but with some thought-provoking moves up high.
Tribal Boundaries 5.10b – Whoah! While climbing this route I had serious Deja Vu – the technical crimping here would be at home on the Morning Glory Wall at Smith Rock. After getting through the sustained middle section, there are some final tricky moves establishing yourself onto the final slab.
Self Abuse 5.10d – Several difficult sections and a devious crux make this a challenging mixed route. The hardest moves are well-protected with bolts but you’ll need some gear – there’s some pockets for 1 or 2 TCUs between the 1st and 2nd bolts.

April 22, 2008

Castle Valley + Fisher Towers

Filed under: Climbing, Roadtrip — Matt Stamplis @ 3:07 pm

So after cragging for a couple of weeks it’s time to climb some bigger rocks! The first stop on our mini-tour of the desert is Castle Valley. Home to Castleton Tower, one of the coolest looking + most famous sandstone towers in the desert.

Castleton Tower is pretty hard to miss!

One pretty unique feature to the sandstone found here is this mineral glaze that coats the surface of many of the faces and the cracks. It can be a bit of a mixed blessing – it sometimes provides great features for hand/footholds but more often it makes the insides of cracks slippery, like a slimy limestone. The slippery nature of this stuff makes jams less secure and cam placements much less trustworthy.

The first route we climbed in Castle Valley? Why, one of the 50 classics, the famous Kor-Ingalls route on Castleton. Here’s Joanne working her way into the crux 3rd pitch. It’s old-school 5.9 (wide!) + protected by rusty old bolts. What a joy!

Joanne getting ready to head to the summit of Castleton Tower. One last easy pitch to the top.

Enjoying ourselves on the summit of Castleton, with the Rectory and the Priest in the background. We ended up climbing this tower twice, once via the Kor-Ingalls Route and then again by the North Chimney. The North Chimney had a very fun 1st pitch but the rest of the route had lots of “death blocks” on it so I can’t say I’d recommend it as highly as the guidebook did.

The other tower we climbed while we were here was the Priest. It’s the tower furthest to the left in the above picture. If you look closely you can see someone standing on top of the tower to it’s right (one of The Nuns, I think)

The route we climbed on The Priest was called The Honeymoon Chimney (5.9 A0). Here’s Matt showing how much fun the Honeymoon is – the 1st pitch climbs 100+ feet – squeezing the ENTIRE way. We thought the 5.9 crux of Kor-Ingalls route on Castleton was strenuous – this thing was much harder. Plus it was kind of scary with some 30-40 foot runouts – next time I’m bringing Big Bros!

The Priest has a reputation for some of the wildest climbing in Castle Valley – here’s pitch 3 – you chimney between the two faces until your legs can’t take it anymore. It was soooo windy when we were climbing that it was impossible to even try to free the bolt ladder on this pitch (5.11) – we were just trying not to get blown off the wall! The scariest thing we saw: the wind was blowing so hard that the bus-sized pillar on the right side in the picture above was actually moving back and forth. Whoah!

The first pitch squeeze was so brutal to Matt this is what his rope looked like when he finished that pitch: he had worn right through the sheath on the rope!

Having had our fill of fun in Castle Valley, today we took a quick detour over to the Fisher Towers. This place has a reputation for scary rock so we weren’t going to push our luck TOO much. So we climbed one of the easier routes here – Ancient Art (5.10-ish). The route climbs in 4-5 pitches to the crazy looking summit on the left in the above picture.

Joanne looking for a way to surmount the Diving Board, one of the final obstacles to the summit. With 300 feet air on either side of you, this is intimidating. Matt was able to jump up on top of it but Joanne’s short little legs made this a little harder!

Joanne finds a sneaky way around this: by crawling on hands and knees under it!

How this thing is still standing, we don’t know! Matt stood up just long enough to take this picture then quickly got off of it! This route ended up being our favorite in the Moab area – we were expecting bad rock – instead we found pretty good protection the whole way with fun climbing and a crazy finish. What more could you want?

Route Info + Beta!

Climbing Quality: This place is a bit overrated – The towers are sweet but the rock is so-so and for the relatively few number of routes it’s way too crowded. When we finished Castleton tower, there were 2 teams of 3 and a team of 5(!) on the Kor-Ingalls route and a line for the North Chimney. At least the climbers here are lazy – every morning we were hiking before anyone else was even awake.

Camping: It’s a parking lot. Bring bags for human waste. No water. Some more secluded spots can be found off the nearby dirt roads.

Rest Day Activities: Twiddle your thumbs? Read a book? A week here might start to wear you down. You probably WON’T want to hike on your rest day!

April 15, 2008

Indian Creek (pt. 2) + Mesa Verde

Filed under: Climbing, Roadtrip — Matt Stamplis @ 10:15 am

Indian Creek has definitely been one of the most fun places we’ve climbed at on our trip so far. But all good things must come to end: and now we’re ready to check out other regions around Moab. After our last day of climbing we decided to take a detour and drive our to see the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park. Liz, I know you’ll probably be jealous – they’re really amazing and so well preserved. Scroll down for some pictures from the area.

This climb is called The Serrator (11-). Can you guess why? Fortunately, the “edge” is mercifully blunt as it gnaws on your leg…and your torso…and your arms…and your head…I placed 3 pieces of gear on this route. And 2 of them are pretty close to the ground (the crux). It gets easier at the top but it gets bigger than a #6 camelot (yikes!)

A cactus begins to bloom…

How do we get the energy to keep on moving? Here’s one of Joanne’s creations, an awesome giant-sized sandwich with tuna and cooked tomatoes, zucchinis, and eggplant.

Apparently you do climber harder in a Stoneworks T-Shirt! Here’s Matt about to redpoint Fingers In a Lightsocket (11+). Thanks to Eric Odenthal for taking the pictures here! (J) Did I mention that so far 2 photographers had taken Matt’s pictures on some of the hard climbs he did? So who knows, maybe you’ll end up seeing his face on some magazine some day 🙂

Some more evidence of previous inhabitants of Indian Creek. I think I read somewhere that the native people put handprints like this to mark the area as a sacred or significant place. They apparently put their hands on the wall and blow out some juice from their mouths that leave white mark. Pretty neato..

Matt entering the crux sequence of Annunaki (5.12-). This is one of the steepest routes at Indian Creek (it climbs the underside of a fallen pillar) and has great bouldery + pumpy moves.

This is the Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde. These buildings were all built in a relatively short span sometime around 1200 A.D. and were only inhabited for 100 years or so. When the ancestral Puebloans left (for reasons that are still unclear), they packed up and left these amazing structures behind for us to admire. This is the largest of the cliff dwellings within the park and requires a tour guide ($3/person) to see. The price is worth it (since you have no other choice) and gives you a chance to see these ruins up close.

This picture was taken looking up in one of the buildings in the Cliff Palace. The floors have long since disappeared but looking up you can see someone had painted the walls of the 3rd story with red and white patterns.

At the Spruce Tree House, you can see one of the best preserved ruins in the Park. It also requires no additional fees (thankfully) and gives you a chance to explore at your own pace. Here’s Joanne taking a peek inside a ceremonial kiva.

Sunset on the Bridger Jack Mesa (on the left) and the Six Shooter Peaks (on the right). We hope to come back here someday!

Route Info + Beta

Climbing Quality: Lives up to it’s reputation as the most aesthetic pitches anywhere in the world. A bit crowded but anyone willing to forgo climbing at the Supercrack or Cat Walls and walk more than 10 minutes will find themselves alone. Our favorite routes? No point in naming – there’s not many bad routes here! Now if I could only climb 5.11s so easily everywhere else…sorry but this place is feather bagged!

Camping: Popular camping areas (Bridger Jacks/Cottonwoods) are crowded during climbing season (Spring and Fall). Lots of no-hassle free camping. No water. Get up early to avoid a line at the toilet.

Rest Day Activities: Hike up one of the canyons (stay off private property), go for a bike ride (or hike) in the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park.

Rack Info:
OK, I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of people with 10 gold camelots climbing some never ending hand crack in Indian Creek. So, of course, we were a bit terrified that we would drive all the way and be unable to climb anything with our “skimpy” rack. But it turns out that you can get away with something like a rack of triples and climb a surprising number of routes.

Sure, you’ll need to borrow some cams if you want to climb lines like Supercrack (mostly #3 camelots) or Incredible Hand Crack (#2s) but we found a lot of routes where our rack was sufficient: The Wave, Annunuki, Fingers In a Light Socket, and Drainpipe come to mind. There’s also quite a few shorter routes in the canyon where a small rack is sane. The only climb where I might have miscalculated my own rack was Generic Crack, our first climb at Indian Creek. I ran out of gear and ended up placing 1 piece of gear in the last 40 feet or so. It seems kind of stupid to risk a 40 footer on climbs that can gobble up gear, right? If you’re not sure, most climbers are more than happy to share their cams as long as you’re willing to let them borrow yours, also.

Supercrack, Battle of the Bulge, and the Cat Walls get a disproportionate number of climbers: if you go anywhere else in the canyon you probably won’t have to wait in line. Still, if you need to climb a “classic” or want to hook up with climbers with bigger racks…then take a number.
the approach to South Six Shooter Peak is not an easy feat. We never made it all the way but I think we got close. We rode our bikes up Davis Canyon Road, vaguely making our way towards the tower. I remember skirting around some private-looking property at one point and in general just followed the dirt road until it dumped itself into a huge sandy wash.

We did a combination of walking/riding here as the sand was deep and soft. Leaving the bikes here might be a good option. From there we continued circumnavigating the huge talus cone that surrounds the peak until we gave up and went home. We never found any cairns and from talking to others we might have not walked far enough but it’s hard to say. The slog up the talus cone from where we were standing looked pretty hideous. Maybe next time?

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