Back in Black

My friend Matt from Cilogear Backpacks was in Colorado for a week to get some rock climbing mileage under his belt and get ready for an upcoming trip to Mount Desire, for which his team had won an American Alpine Club grant.

The day before we took off from Denver, I found out that I won a Mountain Fellowship grant from the AAC as well, which I am going to put towards a July trip onto the Juneau Icefield. With good news all around, we headed out from Denver to the sporty limestone walls of Rifle, CO.

Only about 10 minutes outside Denver, Matt realized he didn't have his wallet. He'd used it to buy Star Trek tickets the night before, and afterward we had gone only to my house, so it had to be in one of two locations. After calling the theater and hearing that nobody had turned in the wallet, we assumed it must have been left at my house and chose not to turn around and drive back. More on this as the situation develops...

We rolled over the Rockies and into Rifle by early afternoon. The limestone was steep and gymnastic, definitely unlike the lower-angle trad climbing that I am used to. However, we both had a lot of fun messing about on the sport routes at the Ruckman Cave area. After half a dozen pitches we re-embarked on the road to Colorado's famed Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

While driving we phoned my roommate to have him check on the mystery wallet's location, assuming it must be around my house. But a thorough search turned up nothing, and the mystery continued. Being 4 hours from Denver, we decided to stay and climb in the Black Canyon, rather than chase wild geese.

The Black Canyon is, like much of Colorado, fairly over-blown in terms of remoteness, scariness, or general wildness. The cracks are even halfway solid!

The setting is beautiful and unique, but the classic routes feature solid rock, easy approaches, and non-existent descents. I am sure that getting off the classics will provide more adventure than I'd know what to do wtih, but while running the risk of collapsing my soap-box from overuse, I also want to pick at two more nits about the Black Canyon.

#1 - Grades in guidebook are smaller than they appear.

Rock climbs in the USA are given a technical difficulty grade of the hardest move (such as 5.11+) and a commitment grade, describing the amount of time it would typically take a party from the base of the route to the summit of the climb.

As per the American Alpine Journal:

NCCS grades, often called 'commitment grades,' indicate the time investment in a route for an average climbing team. I and II: Half a day or less for the technical (5th class) portion of the route. III:Most of a day of roped climbing. IV: A full day of technical climbing. V: Typically requires an overnight on the route, or done fast and free in a day. VI: Two or more days of hard climbing.

Our second day in the canyon we climbed The Scenic Cruise, perhaps Colorado's best route.

There were 13 or 14 pitches, with several 5.10 pitches and the remainder was somewhat less difficult. This route has become the most popular route in the park, getting climbed in a day for 99% of its ascents. The second ascent of the route was done by Earl Wiggins, free solo, in three hours. Yet the route is given a grade V commitment designation. In reality it is more of a III+, most parties spend somewhere around ten hours on the climb.

#2: The Black Canyon is not some kind of crazy land of horrible brush and swarming ticks.

In descending two different gullies and spending 3 days in the park, we found one tick and only really observed poison ivy growing near the bottom of one gully, well off the established trail. The Black Canyon guidebook also states that in the lower 48, only Utah's Notch Peak and Yosemite's El Capitan rival the canyon walls in size, clocking in at over 2,000' tall. In addition to Montana's Mount Siyeh, the North Cascades alone has peaks such as Johanesburg, Bear, Index, Mox, Goode, and Bonanza, all of which have cliffs or faces with well in excess of 2000' of technical rock. This is not to say that the Black Canyon isn't big and impressive, but perhaps the world might not revolve around Colorado after all...

Here are some photos from Comic Relief and its variations.

-The Lightning Bolt Crack -

For the Scenic Cruise we opted to start late and get afternoon shade on route.

There is a famous quote that states "The average person thinks he isn't". This especially applies to climbers. And thinking ourselves above-average climbers, we made little effort to hurry up the route. The result was a final pitch climbed in near darkness, but an extra large smile on my face as I topped out and clipped into the overlook guard-rail to belay Matt up to the final pitch.

Matt's newly resoled climbing shoes gave him a frightening blister on his heel, preventing another day of climbing. However, upon returning to Denver, Matt snuck into the movie theater we'd been to, walked into Star Trek halfway through the film, sat down exactly where he had been 4 days prior, and used my Petzl headlamp to find his wallet sitting on the floor where it had fallen out of his pocket before our trip began. It makes you wonder how long the moldy popcorn must hang out in those theaters...


Taken for Granite

With longer days and the approach of summer, I always get excited to train for Alpine season and fit a lot into my day. Luckily my friend Kelly enjoys marathon climbing days as well, so we met up in Estes Park, where he lives, for 20something pitches on the granite of Lumpy Ridge.

It was somewhat hard to link a ton of pitches at this climbing area, because most of the routes are 3-4 pitches up various "lumps" on the ridges, and then some 3rd class terrain before scramble/rappel/walk back down. While we didn't come close to matching either of our personal biggest days (in terms of number of pitches) we both had a good time.

Kelly emerging from the cold darkness.

Sometimes runouts at Lumpy Ridge are mandatory

Other times they are for expediency.

"Romulan Territory" on the Bookmark formation. Only 3 more pitches to go...

The most memorable pitch of the day was called Pineapple Juice, a 5.11 arete with bolts and occasional flakes for gear. In 35 meters of climbing its got something like 5 bolts and 2 places for gear, with 4 of the bolts being completely rusty star-drives. After slipping and sliding all over the first crux in my overs-sized crack-climbing slippers, Kelly loaned me his bright-yellow Miuras, (stiff edging shoes) for another shot. These must have been endowed with special sending powers by their previous owner, before Kelly had won them from him in a drunken, snowbound, late-night-Estes Park game of strip-poker. I was able to work the moves and finish off the route on the next go with the magical slippers, proving once again that climbing is half mental, half footwork, and the rest pure luck. The route might not have been as hard as freeing The Nose on El Capitan, but I like to think that I added my own chapter (or at least sweat and toe-lint) to this famous pair of Miuras.

After this I headed down to the South Platte area for some granite cracks and road biking with a much better looking climbing partner.

We had a great camp spot and 2 days climbing at the Turkey Rocks, with a day of cycling in between. The bike ride ended with a 1,600' hill climb, and I was definitely feeling the lung workout at 8,000'.

If I look upset its just because my lower extremities are being so badly burned.

The Turkey Tail crag hosts what is maybe Colorado's best concentration of good crack climbs, and I was happy to end the day on the best of the bunch, Whimsical Dreams, a 100' finger crack to a body-length roof at the top.

On the way back we stopped at Safeway. The checker refused to give us a 5-cent reusable bag credit for our 5 or 6 items, because we were just going to carry them out to the car rather than put them in a re-usable bag or pack. If I had gone out to the car to get a backpack, come back into Safeway, and put our items in the pack, then left the store, we would have scored that 5-cents! The moral of this story? Safeway has a stupid policy and I am a cheapskate.


Things that don't make sense

There are a lot of things in life that just don't make sense. Today I climbed some routes in Clear Creek Canyon with my friend Kurt, who is in Colorado for a Mountain Guide training class. He lead a really fun bolted route... without clipping any of the bolts. I think it might be just barely protectable on gear.

Other things that don't make sense:

Stuffsacks made of eVent

I think eVent is a great material because it is waterproof and breathable, even more breathable than Gore-Tex. However, my sleeping bag, snickers bars, and other items stored in a stuff sack do not get damp, clammy, or inundated with perspiration. I don't want to pay $30 extra for a breathable-fabric sack in which to store innanimate objects, when a lightweight silnylon or plastic bag will work just as well.

Something else that makes almost no sense? The daily ramblings of Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann from Minnesota.

A quick browse of her Wikipedia page is like a rundown through crazy-town, and she's only been around for 3 years! This woman actually votes on laws! Last fall, on national TV, she called for the media to do an "in-depth investigation" to determine which other members of congress were secretly anti-American. And just the other day, she claimed that elevated levels of atmospheric CO2 could never be harmful, based on the fact that CO2 is natural. Well, actually she said it was "a natural byproduct of nature". This logic implies that other "natural byproducts of nature" such as arsenic, lead, and sulfuric acid are also harmless in any concentration.

To be fair I should probably list out all the insightful and intelligent things Ms. Bachmann has said as well, but I unfortunately misplaced the matchbook upon which I had written them.

Why don't people have to be smarter than this to be elected to congress?