Tuesday, November 18, 2014

High Places

            As we did last Spring, Kale and I took an extended road trip for the off-season this Fall. With no place to live and both of us unemployed for all intents and purposes, we were excited to get out of town for the gloomy mud season. This time around we had everything a little more dialed in. After moving out of both of our apartments and adding up  the loose and hiding change from all of the nooks and crannies, we came up with enough cash to pay for gas for more than half of our trip. I always have to prep myself mentally for these "vacations," knowing that for an entire month I will be in a constant state of fear that will vary anywhere from slightly unsettling to now I might throw up.

            We began our trip in Wild Iris, climbing with Ben, Cosette and some new friends. We climbed fun sport routes for an entire day and woke up to six inches of snow on the ground the next morning--time to move out. Our next stop was Vedauwoo, home of the granite off-width. Ouch. The first thing Kale did was flash a 25 ft boulder problem. I decided not to climb that one since getting off the top looked more terrifying than climbing up it. Seeing fear in Kale's eyes is unnerving because it doesn't happen very often. The next day we climbed a few different off-width cracks/chimneys. Climbing an off-width crack (a crack in the wall that will not fit any normal body parts such as hands, feet etc), requires some creativity in body positioning. In my case it additionally entails an unflattering amount of cursing, yelling and often crying in anger and pain from grating myself like cheese against a grater.  Kale decided we should climb a two-pitch 10a crack called "Progressive," on which he took his first trad fall with me as his belayer. His piece held and I easily caught him with the gri gri belay device and we both blew out a sigh of relief.  My deal with myself is that I will belay Kale up any route he wants to climb, and since I am for the most part decently safe on top rope, I will follow him up anything he climbs.

                                           Here I am struggling up the last part of a chimney route.  Chimneys and off-widths do not show-off the most attractive attributes of my personality but they do make me feel super-human when they are over. Off-widths feel very similar to getting in a fight with a rock wall.  

                After leaving Vedauwoo we headed towards Colorado where we  bouldered outside of Fort Collins at Rotary Park for a day before climbing a few routes in Poudre Canyon on the Palace Wall. We then took a climbing rest day and hiked Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park. With about 8 of the 16 miles covered in snow, it was an interesting and somewhat terrifying 10 hour endeavor with tennis sneakers, one snow piton, and trekking poles to keep us from sliding down the snowy couloir. With very wet and cold feet we fell asleep at about 6pm after returning to camp. After this adventure we decided to take a real rest day and lounge around Estes park.  After a few hours of coffee and sitting we discovered we really hate rest days and were both rather bored and cranky,  so we saw a movie and ate way too much popcorn which became a rest day trend for the rest of the trip. I think we ended up seeing 5 movies last month and we almost completed our goal of going to every self-serve yogurt place we saw.


                                                Kale on the boulders in Rotary Park
On the approach to the keyhole on Long's Peak

                                            Halfway through the approach to Long's Peak

         Before heading out to Boulder to meet up with Danny and Alex we decided to finish off Rocky Mountain National Park with a multi-pitch route up on Lumpy's Ridge. Unfortunately my route finding skills are a little rusty and we bushwacked uphill for about an hour and a half instead of taking the much more leisurely trail. I'm pretty sure it was a shortcut though. Five pitches on The Book Formation with a 100ft crack!
                                                         Topping out on Lumpy's Ridge

            After a truly lovely visit with Danny and Alex who very gently forced us into showering before sleeping on their floor, we decided it was time to climb without our Winter puffys on and we began to head South towards Moab. We made it out of Colorado but only after climbing "Gambit," a fun 4 pitch, 5.8 in Eldorado Canyon that Danny recommended to us. From there we were on our way to Moab.

            It is always fun to go back to places you have climbed before and see how much stronger, both physically and mentally, you have gotten since the last time you were there. We spent a day and a half cragging on Wallstreet where Kale led a couple of challenging and really fun routes that we had wanted to climb on our last trip. My glory moment was leading a 5.8 slab route. I didn't cry this time but I certainly didn't make it look pretty. The easy routes tend to be greasy and slabby and terrifying since they get so much traffic!

It was time to accomplish one of our trip goals which was to climb Castleton Tower via the North Chimney route! Last Spring we climbed Ancient Art which was probably the most terrifying climbing experience I've ever had due to the high winds that day and the exposed traverse and gap hopping involved. Castleton, while a harder route, was much more enjoyable. All of the pitches on the route were exciting and different from the last. We topped out just as the sun went down and had a beautiful sunset summit all to ourselves. We were able to rappel just before the dark set in and descended to our camp by the light of our headlamps.
                                                             Staring up at Castleton

                                               New friend Becca working her way up the first pitch

Traversing on the last pitch

Beautiful summit

A beautiful everything 


The day after we climbed the North Chimney we drove through Arches National Park and completed the West Fins adventure route, a two hour long hike reaching the highest point in the Park that included a series of short scrambles and two rappels. 


Kale on the free rappel

Before leaving the Moab area we had the luck of meeting up with a few of Kale's old friends from Iowa down in Indian Creek. We were able to climb with them for a day and a half before heading to Red Rocks which was exciting because the endless cracks in the Creek require a ridiculous amount of gear and we would not have been able to climb there on our own. The Iowans were the nicest group of bad-ass climbers I've ever met! Kale led a 5.11 off-width crack and we top roped another 4 or 5 cracks that day. The cracks in Indian Creek blew our minds! The climbs are so long and clean and sustained. I had done very little crack climbing up until then and found that I loved it when my hand fit the crack right and I could get a good hand jam or finger lock, but I felt truly helpless in places where my hands were too small to get a grip and were swimming in the wide parts. Kale is a crack wizard, and I really enjoyed the climbing as well but the sustained motions exhausted me halfway up the routes. Note to self--get stronger!!

          It was time to head to Red Rocks NV and pick up Dade at the airport! I was excited to meet Dade and a little bit weary of climbing as a group of three since it was pretty new to all of us. We had a pretty awesome week getting Dade scared on some multi-pitch trad routes and off-widths with chimneys. We ate a lot of treats and drank a lot of booze and climbed a lot of pitches. At first I had a hard time climbing with a third person because it meant that Kale had to belay both of us up the pitch behind him. Essentially it meant that his focus was divided by the two of our ropes so often times there was quite a bit of slack in my rope. This was fine on easy routes but had me pretty scared on some trickier, steeper routes. In the end Dade's company while we took turns belaying Kale up outweighed the difficulty of climbing with three and I really missed his presence after he flew home!
The first climb we did was Frogland, and by the end of the week we ended on Dreamin of Wild Turkeys, a 10a that gave all three of us Elvis legs!
                                                        Kale and Dade on Frogland!

By the time Dade headed home we were tired, my fingers were all breaking through at the tips and leaving trails of blood up the rocks and all over the climbing gear. We had survived Halloween night in Las Vegas (possibly the scariest of our adventures) and had climbed a lot of fun routes in Red Rocks. Kale and I spent a few more days there before heading to Zion. We had a successful rest day in Chinatown eating Chinese food and getting foot reflexology massages followed by yet another movie night. We found a hidden gem movie theater with 6 dollar movie tickets and free refills on popcorn and soda. uuuuuff. I led my first trad route that week! Two pitches of 5.6 climbing on Johnny Vegas and then another on Armatron a few days later. This was my biggest goal for our trip, to lead a trad route on my own. I was very nervous and being new to placing gear had some pretty poor placements especially on the first pitch I led. I ended up a little lost at the top of that first pitch and had to downclimb a steep section and transverse over to the correct dihedral. Trad climbing is such an amazing, addicting, mind body experience. Kale likes to call it "cerebral" which I would agree with. Not only are you leading a route, but you are dealing with gear placement, as well as route finding. It is like being an explorer completely in charge of your own destiny. For me it felt like free-soloing. I really didn't trust my gear to fall on it at that point which actually made me take on a pretty calm and thoughtful air. Falling was not a choice, so I simply didn't. Thankfully I was on a 5.6 so the climbing was easy and I was able to concentrate on learning how to place my gear.
                                                          My first trad lead!

Racking up for my first lead on Johnny Vegas 

That week we also climbed a tougher sport route called Unimpeacheable Groping which was 7 pitches of 10b and had a start that required climbing a tree, as well as plentiful hanging belays. The climbing was amazing and it was fun for us to climb a sport route and not worry too much about the gear. The climbing was steep for me, especially since I was carrying a backpack with our water, jackets and sneakers and both Kale and I were pretty exhausted by the end of it. 

Type II fun
Pre joy

Our last climb in Red Rocks was a fun 5 pitch 5.9 route. We started late because we had plans to camp out later that night and climb Epinephrine, a 12 pitch 5.9 route the next day. It is not uncommon for folks to descend this route in the dark, or even have to sleep on the rock. After climbing Armatron, we descended via a walk-off exposed hike and ended up heading back to the car in the dark. The washes coming down the canyon had us a little confused and we ended up off the trail. It took us twice as long as it should have to descend back to the baja and we were frustrated and tired by the end of it. We made the call at that point that pushing for Epinephrine the next day, while we knew we could do it, might just not be that fun. My fingers were raw and bleeding again, and Kale was tired of leading every pitch. Epinephrine would almost surely require a night descent at the pace we'd been climbing and we really didn't want to do that again. We were ready to move on from Red Rocks and the smog from Las Vegas that covered all of the stars at night! We drove to Zion National Park the next morning. 
We wanted to do some climbing in Zion but again the gear necessary was extensive and we were happy to do a few short hikes and lounge in the sun. We did one climb in Kolob Canyon that was a pretty amazing 5.10 sport route on a huge overhanging wall filled with huecos. 

                We had already decided before heading out to the desert that we were going to run the West to East rim in Zion National Park. We originally planned to run the 48 miles in one day, but neither of us had run since the start of our trip and it would have been an "off the couch" attempt. We decided to take a more enjoyable and scenic approach to the route by doing it as a "jike" over two days and carrying the top of our tent, sleeping bags, and a small stove with us. Crossing the miles in two days meant bringing a lot more water as well as more food. We went back and forth on how to set up a shuttle so that we would have a car at the end of our run, but at this point in the trip we really didn't want to spend any money and a shuttle to the trailhead was going to cost 50 big ones. After a lot of thinking we decided to wing it. We drove to Lee's Pass the night before and slept in the back of the baja, the stars were out and it was maybe the best sleep I got on the entire trip. When we awoke at our designated take off time (6:00 am) it was still very dark out and very cold. We went back to sleep. At 6:50 am we left the trailhead jogging and we were on our way! The first day was mostly rolling terrain with one long section through Hop Valley, where we had to do a whole bunch of very low flowing creek crossings. This section took a very long time and we were a little worried we wouldn't make it to our camp by dark. We made it to our camp 2 hours early and made a killer dinner of ramen noodles with instant potatoes (Kale's backpacking specialty). Falafel powder for dessert! We had made it nearly 30 miles, which meant we had fewer miles to go the next day, so we slept in until 7:50 am (we slept a lovely 14 hours or so that night). The next day we headed down the West rim, taking somewhat of a detour to scramble up Angel's Landing before descending into Zion Canyon. Then it was up to the East Rim! The last 10 miles of our excursion. We finally finished around 4:00am at the East Entrance trail head and began adventure round 2: hitchhiking back to our car. We made it the 15 or so miles back to Springdale and knew we couldn't get to our car that night so we found a campsite and walked into town for dinner. The next day we woke up early and started hitching the hour or so drive back to Lee's Pass. The first person to pick us up in Springdale was the nicest elderly man from Denmark on his way home from delivering newspapers in Zion. He left us off in La Verkin. The second person to pick us up was a young construction worker on his way to work. He drove by and then turned around to come back and pick us up. Unfortunately the nice guy could only take us to the highway. Kale and I stood on the little corner and watched people drive by getting on the interstate and highway. I ate some some cold chicken out of a to-go-box with my fingers. It was about to rain. We felt pretty helpless. After about 25 minutes a Camaro zoomed by us and stopped. A guy got out, leaving his door open and called us over, introducing himself to us as Tom, and shaking our hands. He immediately agreed to take us all the way to Lee's Pass, helped us get our things into his car, and then forced Kale to drink a Pepsi. It immediately started raining. Somehow between the time we got in his car and the time we pulled up next to the Baja on Lee's Pass, Tom had convinced us to help him lay sod all day in the rain for pay. 
Long story short, it stopped raining and we helped Tom and his crew lay a whole lawn of sod and each made $100.00 in 5 hours. I had some qualms with the guy and was very ready to leave when we did, but he was a harmless dude and instead of paying 50 bucks for a shuttle we made 200 that day!

Our trip was almost over but first Kale drove through the night (and a lot of snow). We rolled into the driveway of our new cozy apartment right on time to move in at 4am! 

Zion Traverse
Rations left for day 2

          These past two road trips have made me do a lot of thinking about the appeal of type II fun. The kind of fun that is often times not that much fun while you are posed on a hanging belay and your feet hurt so badly all cramped up in your climbing shoes you feel like screaming and tensions are high because the rope isn't feeding and you are short-roping your partner as they try to clip in to safety. The times that you are squeezing up a chimney and each inch of movement takes sustained yell-worthy effort from every muscle in your body and your fingers are bleeding and it's freezing out even though it's the desert. You are trying to rappel so you can finally get off that god-damn rock and the ropes are all caught up in the cracks and they not coming loose and for real you need to take off those climbing shoes.  Oh and the best part? You're terrified! You're traversing on tiny finger crimps and your legs aren't long enough to reach the next foot holds and because you are horizontally traversing, a fall on top rope would be much less than an enjoyable little swing. There have been times, I must admit, that I kind of wished we were on a romantic vacation lying on a beach with a fruity drink. This is what Dade would refer to as feelings of Pre-joy. The activity you are taking part in, well frankly it sucks, but you know how joyous and ecstatic it will make you feel later. When you are on the ground. And eating a box of 50 pretty cheap cookies. Which you later finish. And fall asleep at 6pm with a sugar crash. 
One would think that hey, maybe I should find another pastime...you know...one I like! Yet I cannot stop thinking about climbing and being excited about climbing and watching videos about climbing and yearning to climb. Kale left for Iowa today and I miss him a lot but I also really miss his computer that had all of his climbing videos on it! 
                   So why do we do it? I'm not really sure, but I know that I truly love it.  I love the way it makes me use my mind and my body in unison. I love that it is a new adventure every single time, no matter how easy or hard the route is. I really love how it challenges my body, and more than that, my emotions. Even more I love the way it challenges relationships. You have to trust your climbing partner with your life. You have to trust them to belay you safely, whether you are leading or following, and that they can make sound decisions, but more than anything else you gosh darn better be positive that they really care about you an awful lot. I cry while I'm climbing, quite often in fact. I really hate it when people see me cry, but I'm over that now. It is very easy to lose your patience in frustrating or compromised circumstances and it is likewise very easy to take your frustration, anger, or fear out on your climbing partner. Climbing challenges your relationships, it pushes buttons, it exposes weaknesses, and it forces you to trust another person to see you through all of that and still willingly sleep in a tent with you when you are finally off the mountain.