Monday, August 24, 2015

Searching the Winds: Possibility #3

All I wanted was some time to explore, converse, and connect with it all.  To get back into the mountains while I still had the chance, before the school year began.  And I also hoped to get a group of boulderers to come along.  More pads, more brushes, more opportunities.  I'd started planning the trip, and inviting people, before I even had a specific destination picked out.  I hoped to find a place that was even better than the Cirque of the Boulders.  Moss lake wasn't going to work, and Midsummer Valley wasn't quite what I was searching for either.  But I still had one place that I needed to check out.  Davin had mentioned an area with boulders sitting out in alpine meadows, while we were camping at Bear Valley two years ago, and the image had stuck with me.

 Mt. Lester

Dan volunteered to join me on an exploratory hike.  Our goal was to hike eleven miles in, check out the boulders, and hike back out by 4 pm.  We left the trailhead at 6:30 am, and got to Photographer's Point while the sun was still low in the sky.  We were making good time.
Mt. Lester came into view, and I knew I wanted to spend some time here.  It might look like an average mountain to an average hiker.  But as a boulderer, I noticed the nicely sized blocks and many possibilities in the trees.  A wonderland of boulders.
We hiked around the lake and up to the flanks of Mt. Lester.  The first boulder we hiked to looked pretty good.

The second one looked even better!  

The photo doesn't do this face justice.  It's about fourteen feet tall, the lower five feet are obscured by willows in this shot.
The entire area was filled with wildflowers.
The last boulder looked amazing as well, but we didn't have any more time to look at boulders.  We were already running short on time, and ended up getting back to our ride twenty minutes late.

I went on the family trip to Telluride, and two days later I was hiking into the Winds with the crew of boulderers I had recruited.

Including Jesse F.
and my sister Diane. Who actually isn't into bouldering.
It was a much smaller crew than I had anticipated.  Six other boulderers, who seemed interested in coming along earlier in the summer, had backed out due to the OR show in Salt Lake, weddings, or family trips.  And one was too busy helping National Geographic dig up ice age mammal bones from a giant pit cave in the Bighorns.  Sometimes you gotta wonder about peoples' priorities.

We hiked in on a nice, cool, cloudy day and set up camp.
We hung our food from a boulder because we couldn't find any trees that were tall enough.  It wasn't an ideal situation.  Whether a bear could have gotten to them is debatable, but we didn't see any sign of bears during the trip.  To get them back down I'd shoe up and climb a tall slab I named "Breakfast of Champions." This shot is from the sunny second evening.

We awoke to our first climbing day in the Winds, and it was gorgeous, with very few mosquitoes.

Jesse warming up on the Lester Arete V0.
We put up about eight good problems that morning, and five were on the boulder shown below.  We called it the Vonnegut boulder, and the best line traverses from the black circle on the lower left side to a top out just right of Jesse in this photo.  Jesse got the first ascent and called it "Time Quake."  I'd estimate it at V7, but the crux is reach dependent so it could be a V6 for taller climbers.  It's a stand out problem, with great movement, and incredible stone.
Then we got distracted by some boulders up the hill, and went scouting for a couple hours.

Jesse couldn't resist doing a nice approach shoe problem.
We saw some boulders that I'd be willing to hike back up from camp for.
This erratic looked amazing in the distance, but didn't have any good problems on it.
This might clean up nice.
And the boulder I'm sitting under had some lines on it.  Just average problems, but check out the view!
It's hard to communicate just how many flowers there were, and the way they seemed arranged into perfect little gardens.  The beauty of everything was somewhat overwhelming at times, and I ended up stepping from rock to rock quite a bit because I didn't want to crush flowers.
Every direction was gorgeous, and gorgeous at every scale, from the rocks, streams and flowers at our feet, to the mountains, lakes and trees in the distance.
We got back to camp in time for another bouldering session.  Jesse did two more lines on the Vonnegut boulder.  Sierra found this line, did the first ascent, and called it "Little Lake."  The sit start, and the top out are both somewhat difficult.  I'd call it V2.
I started cleaning and chalking up holds on the face obscured by willows shown in a photo earlier in this post.  The line looked great so I called Jesse down.  He climbed "Surrender" V5/6 from a stand start, and I repeated it.  But it was the SDS that really stood out.  We estimated it to be about V10.  Jesse was getting close, but it seemed wise to save it for another day.  It started to get dark, we were hungry. I didn't take the time to get any photos of the line, but I wish that I had.

A shot of our campfire that night.
It's not a good idea for me to climb two days in a row, so I'd planned to take a rest day all along.  Of course we still hiked around to look at some boulders.

We found some together.
And then we split up to cover more ground.  Jesse found a lot of blocks that he was excited about.

And I saw some blocks that looked fun too.

But I also wanted to check out Titcomb Basin with my sister and Sierra.  So most of the day was spent hiking there and back.
That afternoon we got a lot of rain, and we could only hope that the next day would be clear for climbing.  We made a few plans.  I'd warm up and make three good attempts on "Time Quake" then we'd hike to the boulders that Jesse had found.
The next morning we had some sprinkles hitting the tent.  It stopped raining, and the rock dried enough for me to retrieve our food bags.  The sun peaked through, I warmed up, and I tried "Time Quake" three times.  But I didn't quite send it.
Then it started to pour rain, then hail, and then came some thunder snow.  Jesse and I talked and drank coffee under the boulder, while the Sierra and Diane took naps in the tents.  An inch of snow covered the ground, with colorful flowers sticking out everywhere, but I couldn't get a photo without the risk of my camera getting wet.
The weather started to clear, but just as we thought we might be able to get some more bouldering in, another big rain storm came in.  It became completely obvious that we weren't going to get any more bouldering done that day.  So we had a choice to make.  Hang out in the rain, and hike out the next day like we had planned, or take down the tents and get out as soon as we could.  The second rain storm stopped for a bit, and we decided to bail on the trip.  On our hike out we got hit by more storms.  Jesse's pad would absorb water like a sponge.  So he hiked out as quickly as he could.

My last photo was of some ducks near camp.  I didn't get out the camera again, because I didn't want it to get wet.  

Different people are looking for different things, and Mt. Lester doesn't have everything.  The large boulders are quite spread out, and there isn't a ton of dramatically overhung rock.  The area does have a lot of potential in the ten to fourteen foot tall range, on vertical to slightly overhanging rock.  Most boulders there are outside of talus fields with meadow landings.  The rock quality ranges from good to amazing.  V0-V7 problems seem to be the most common, with harder lines appearing occasionally.  And it's one of the few alpine areas where you don't feel like a lot of people or pads are necessary to get the best lines done.  The ambiance of the place draws me as much as anything else. 

In conclusion, I definitely got the chance to explore, converse, and connect with it all.  We didn't boulder nearly as much as we wanted to, but I learned enough to have an even better bouldering trip next time.  Thanks to Jesse, Diane and Sierra for all of your efforts, and helping to make it a great trip!  
It was good. It was memorable.  And I'm hoping to get my whole family up there next summer... 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A Map to Many of the New Problems at the Rock Shop

It's not perfect, and it's not complete. But it's a start.  These are some of the many new lines put up at the Rock Shop since the guidebook was written.  Please buy the guide for full directions, maps, photos, and descriptions of the original 40 problems put up at the Rock Shop.  Bouldering In the Wind River Range is available at Wild Iris Mountain Sports,, and Fixed Pin Publishers.  This map was made with ScribbleMaps.  It's a pretty cool tool.  I'll update this map as I get more information, and a bit more time.  Let me know if there is a line you'd like me to add.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Telluride After Fifteen Years

Back in 1999, Colorado Bouldering by Phillip Benningfield came out.  The next summer, Ashley and I used it to take a bouldering trip through Morrison, Durango, Telluride and Marmot Rocks.  On that trip, Telluride stood out as an incredibly beautiful spot, and a very cool mountain town.
 But it was out of the way, expensive, and the Illium boulders didn't have any hard problems, so we hadn't been back since.  Then last year, Ashley's family started discussing places where we could meet up for a family trip/reunion.  One place that they hadn't seen yet was Telluride.  Plans came together, and three weeks ago we met them there.  As part of the family trip, we rode inner tubes down the river through town, hiked to multiple waterfalls, and rode the gondola based public transportation many times.  But this is the climbing blog, so I'll just report on the bouldering that we did.

To break up the long drive down there, we stopped for a night in Grand Junction.  We planned to get up early enough to beat the heat at Unaweep Canyon, but only ended up with forty good minutes before it got much to hot for bouldering.  Just enough time to do a few warm ups.
 A highlight of the short session was seeing the famous dinosaur bone imprint in the Fossil boulder.  It's crazy to think about the dinosaur being buried before this sand was even compressed into stone, and how far this shape has travelled through time, to be observed by us now.

On this trip, we also had a copy of Christian Prellwitz's A Guide to Bouldering In The Telluride & West End Areas. So on our way we used it to check out the high quality Wingate sandstone boulders in the Dolores River Canyon, and marveled at the staggering quantity of boulders around Naturita.  But it was too hot to climb at both of those areas, so we kept driving until we reached the Illium boulders.

We spent three good sessions at the Illium boulders that week.  It's a collection of a dozen or so solid Dakota sandstone boulders in a beautiful aspen and fir forest, just a few minutes from the road.  It isn't a large area, but it packs in over one hundred boulder problems.  Most are in the V0-V4 range, but it also has a handful of harder climbs. The grades are old school, so V2s are still a challenge, and V5s here would probably be rated V6 or even V7 at a newer area.

One example is "Bert's Butt" a V5 that Ashley and I couldn't send until we spent a second session on it.

 "Itsy Bitsy Spider" V7 felt a little harder, but went faster for us.  I solved it with small jumps from crimp to crimp to crimp, and a dyno to reach the top.  Ashley matched on every hold, and didn't need to jump after the first move.
 We also visited the Mine Boulders.  I remembered being somewhat intimidated by the First boulder's height on our last trip, fifteen years ago, and Ashley had refused to climb on it at all.  But this trip, with better pads and more experience, we really enjoyed climbing the many tall lines on wild cobbles and incut anti-cobbles.
Also, with a more complete guidebook, we found the Second Boulder and climbed "The Lightness of Being" V5.
The day got warm, and annoying flies came out.  So we ended the bouldering session early, and took a hike up to Bridalveil Falls.

The town of Telluride has gotten busier over the last fifteen years.  There is much more jeep traffic at the Mine Boulders, and the town doesn't feel quite as idyllic as I remember.  But the scenery was even more beautiful than I recalled, and the bouldering hasn't changed a bit.  If you ever have an opportunity to check it out, I recommend it.

We drove home from Telluride.  Unpacked.  And then it was time to start packing for another trip into the Winds.  And I'll write about that trip, next week.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Searching the Winds: Possibility #2

Three Hikes to Midsummer Valley

The Falcon's Lair has the finest granite that I've seen in the Wind River Range.  So after being disappointed by the rock quality at Moss Lake, I decided that it would be a good idea to see how far the high quality rock extended past the Falcon's Lair.  Davin, Jamie, and Ben were also interested in checking out a canyon known as Midsummer, just north of the Lair, so it jumped to the top of my list.  We made plans, and got out early.  The air was cool, with a nice breeze.  We hiked past the Falcon's Lair, and headed north across the tundra.
A large snow field dropped us right into the valley.
The approach is a mile and a half longer than the Falcon's Lair, but it was really nice not having to cross a lot talus, and the majority of the approach is on a trail.  It's a little too long for a bouldering day trip, but much easier to get to than the other expedition destinations that I've visited in the Winds.

The stone quality we found varied from good to excellent with the large boulders being a little spread out and usually found in the talus fields.  The ambiance of the area really impressed me, with multiple  canyons holding bouldering possibilities, clean walls, and even a few waterfalls.
We hiked up canyon to the west, exploring the boulders along the way, and found a twenty-five foot tall calving snow drift!
Midsummer Valley impressed me.  So much so, I immediately started making plans to get my family up there.  The only way I could make it work was to hike my large pad, packed with two tents and four sleeping bags, up there in advance.  It was a lot of work.  I stashed the gear in a small dry cave, hiked out, and repeated the hike with my family up a couple days later.  Based on the two hikes I'd made, I expected cool temps and few mosquitoes.  During the hike in with my family we had good temps, but the mosquitoes were relentless.

The girls handled it well though.
We set up camp, had dinner, and I hung the bear bag with our food just before a stunning sunset.
I slept well, awoke at sunrise, and scoped more boulders before we started climbing.  This time I explored down canyon from the camping ledge rather than to the west.  I found small, but climbable boulders, with amazing stone and good landings.  I also looked again at the large boulders within talus fields just west of the camping ledge.  Since this was a family trip, with only two pads, we stuck to the small boulders with good landings just below camp.  A constant challenge while alpine bouldering in the Winds is getting enough pads back to these areas to be able to safely climb the best lines.  Often it just isn't possible, and the best lines remain unfinished.

Despite staying on the smaller boulders, it would have been an amazing day.  The rock was incredible.  But heat and mosquitoes detracted from the experience.  Our day up there happened to be one of the hottest days of the summer, without even a hint of a breeze.  But we couldn't get anywhere else, so we climbed in the heat.

Ashley warming up on some of the perfect stone.
"Midsummer Sunshine" V2/3 was my favorite line of the day.  It starts on a good edge and virtually campuses up the arete, due to a lack of foot holds.  The arete has just enough friction to make it go.
We worked on a difficult project for a while.  I'm still not sure if this one goes or not. The bump under my right hand can barely be called a hold.
One nice line that Ashley put up is "The Columbine Traverse." She did both a shorter V2 and a longer V3 version.
To get home by sunset we stopped bouldering by 2:00 in the afternoon.  We took down the tents, and everyone helped me by packing out more gear than they carried in.  But my large pad was still excessively heavy, stuffed with so much gear.

Autumn sitting on my stuffed pad.  If only you could actually see how heavy it was.

Hiking out under all the weight, with burning shoulders and aching hip joints, I had a chance to consider the trip in it's entirety. We'd gotten full work outs, put up quite a few new problems, and spent some time in an incredibly beautiful environment, but it had been so much work to do it. Including my trip to stash gear, I'd spent a lot more time hiking than I had bouldering.  Once all the factors were considered, I decided that it's better to spend summer days at the Rock Shop with my family.  It's considerably easier to get up early to beat the heat, or camp up there, than it is to get all the necessary gear up to and out of the alpine areas.  By the last mile out of Midsummer Valley, my legs and shoulders hurt so bad that I was questioning my own sanity.  Optimism usually serves me well, but this trip was too much.

Reflecting on it now, I learned quite a bit my three trips up there.  I stopped pushing alpine bouldering on my family, and we've had really great sessions at the Rock Shop instead.  I know that Midsummer Valley really is an amazing place.  I'm sure that I'll get back there, but a couple things keep it from being ideal.  It doesn't have a concentration of big blocks with good landings, and it doesn't have the extensive views of giant peaks or walls that can significantly add to the alpine bouldering experience.  It's one of the most beautiful valleys that I've ever seen, but the view is limited by the sides of the valley.  I imagine an alpine area with big blocks of bullet hard stone, all sitting on soft tundra, surrounded in all directions by amazing scenery.  I've felt for a long time that an area like this must exist somewhere in the Winds.  Hopefully it would only take one more hike to find it...

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Searching the Winds: Possibility #1

Before summer even began, I decided that I wanted to spend the last week of my summer vacation alpine bouldering somewhere in the Wind River Mountains. The Cirque of the Boulders was a possibility, but there were other places that might be easier to get to, or have higher rock quality, or have better landings.  So before I settled on a destination, I decided I'd check out some other places to see if anywhere might beat the Cirque for a week long expedition destination.  My first trip happened in mid-June.
An Exploratory Trip to Moss Lake

It was Jamie Emerson who first brought up Moss Lake as a potential bouldering area.  After I took a look at Google Earth I was kicking myself.  How could Jamie, in Colorado, find such an amazing looking boulder field in my backyard before I did?  Part of it was that I had avoided looking for areas that were on, or accessed through, the Wind River Indian Reservation.  But this area looked so good, and it was only a six mile hike, so it jumped to the top of my exploration list!

I hiked in from Moccasin Lake, which had a disappointing amount of trash around it for a lake so high in the mountains.  A trail took me to Mary's Lake and old signs pointed to a time when this area received more governmental attention than it does today.
After Mary's Lake, the trail shown on the map doesn't exist half the time.  I was on it occasionally, but downed trees forced me off frequently, and the trail disappears for long stretches.  I got excited when I saw a bridge, but it turned out that it isn't much of a bridge anymore.
The "trail/wandering somewhat lost in the woods" took me past many boulders, but I didn't spend time exploring them.  I'd learned that the boulders in the Winds just get better as you get higher, and I had a boulder field at Moss Lake that I needed to see.  The Moss Lake Cirque came into view, and I got really excited.  My pace quickened.

Soon perfectly sized boulders came into view.
I could see the upper boulder field, which was my final destination.  Unfortunately it was at the top of a steep slab which was covered in soft deep snow.  I couldn't safely get into the boulder field to get my hands on these rocks, but I did get up to a few boulders that fell out of this zone.  Big crystals, few features, and the features I found would flex and break when I pulled on them.  This area was lacking high rock quality, a good trail, and didn't have the full alpine ambiance that I was searching for.  The most amazing place I'd seen on Google Earth, didn't turn out to be that amazing.
On the hike out I noticed that the rock was actually getting better as I descended.  Some of the best looking boulders were near the small lakes just northeast of Gaylord Lake.  The patina is slippery, but the stone is solid and featured.  This area could offer some good bouldering, but it's harder to access than Roaring Fork and isn't substantially better.  With so many other areas that I'm more excited about, I doubt that I'll ever get around to developing it.
The rocks above are a five mile hike in.  The much better rock of the Falcon's Lair (seen below) is only a 3.5 mile hike, most of it is on a good trail, and it still has many undone lines that I'm interested in climbing.  
So Moss Lake wasn't what I was looking for.  The search would continue.  Possibility #2 was Midsummer Valley.
And I'll tell you all about my two trips up there.  Sometime soon...