Friday, July 6, 2018

The Best Stone in America

Here we are.  Sharing words and photos across the internet of things that can't actually be adequately conveyed through words and pictures.  Occasionally an author, an article, or a photograph will encapsulate a place that you've been to before and you'll think "They nailed it! That's just what it's like there."  But when I read about places in advance, I'm always surprised when I actually arrive at how much wasn't or maybe can't be conveyed.  We've been traveling a lot recently, and after more than twenty years of bouldering and searching, I was surprised to climb on two types of stone that surpassed anything I've ever encountered before.   And I think one of them might actually be the best type of stone to boulder on in America.

Joe's Valley, UT
After seeing "Vertical Ice" V6 on Instagram we decided to check it out.  I'd always thought of Joe's Valley as desert bouldering, but just a few miles up the road the cacti and juniper switch to aspen, Douglas Fir, and bright green grasses.  I climbed "Vertical Ice" and we spent most of the day on the Lactation Station where Ashley and I climbed "Baldwin Bash" V7.   
We ended our day climbing various moderates on the Cow Patty boulder.
It was such an engaging day, that I forgot to take photos until we were leaving.  But even if I took twenty great shots that day, you wouldn't know what it's really like up there until you check it out for yourself.  The area has great stone, it's really fun to climb on, but it's not the best stone in the country.

Unaweep Canyon, CO

Unaweep Canyon continues to impress me with its quality problems.  We visited the Rock Garden for Mother's Day.

"Knife Wrench!" is one of the best V3s I've ever climbed!
Ashley climbing another fun problem called "Burnt Orange" V2.
We spent a lot of the session on a steep and surprisingly difficult project.  We'd almost unlocked it.  I was pulling really hard when the crucial hold snapped and bloodied my knuckles.  Unaweep doesn't have the best rock.

It was an all-around good day at Unaweep except for the ridiculous amount of trash that we found on the east side of the American Graffiti boulder.  It's difficult to even imagine what was going on here.  Broken electronics, rotting food, journals and clothes strewn everywhere gave clues but no coherent answer.  Unfortunately, we run into this type of thing quite regularly in Unaweep.

Mill Creek, UT
Sierra and I spent a day at Mill Creek, a surprisingly verdant canyon not too far from Moab.  I'd seen photos of Mill Creek for years, but it was different than I expected.  We got rained out early, but Sierra and I were both happy to redpoint "Going the Distance" 5.11c just before heavy rains came in.
Great stone, but it felt like the smallest crimps on the walls could snap occasionally.  It isn't perfect.

New River Gorge, WV
I'd heard that the southeast had really good sandstone.  I'd seen photos of the bouldering.  But nothing could have prepared me for forests full of blossoming mountain laurel and pink rhododendron.
Boulders right next to an old dam releasing a raging river's worth of water.
Or sandstone that could be so solid and sticky.  The grains aren't too big or too small and they never seem to break out of their matrix.  Crimps, pockets, and slopers all feel like they are grabbing you back. It's amazing!

The most difficult line we climbed on during our first day was "Mortal Combat" V6.  It felt like quite an accomplishment on a high humidity day with temps in the 80s.  We had to try hard.
A small rainstorm passed and we sat under a boulder.  On the hike out we needed to navigate around a large tree that fell during the storm.  I'm glad we weren't hiking out when this came down.

The next day we went to Meadow Top.  Rain in the forecast convinced us to skip our rest day.

"Circle of Life" is an exciting V4.
"Uncle Dave's Porno Bin" was Ashley's favorite V5.  A fun roof leads to a perfect sloper top out.

"Crimpin' Ain't Easy" from the crimps was my favorite V5.  Over and over again lines that I expected to be scary or difficult turned out to feel really secure because the rock is so solid and the texture is so grippy.  We even climbed a V7 called "Bro-ner" as some clouds began to sprinkle on us.  The rock still has good texture even in a little rain.  And unlike desert sandstone, it's still solid when wet.

"Crimpin' Ain't Easy"
The stone at New River Gorge is solid, and the texture is always good.  The blocks at Meadow Top were well featured with varied hold types.  Based on experiences all over the country, I think it's the best stone I've ever climbed on.  New River Gorge could realistically offer the best bouldering in the country during the right time of year.  We're doing our best to figure out how we can visit in the fall one day.

We spent a couple days with relatives in Richmond, Virginia and took walk on Belle Isle one day.  I was shocked to see artificial holds leading up multiple routes on the granite cliffs there.  A day camp had brought a load of campers to climb there. I'd heard about artificial holds bolted to cliffs in Europe, but didn't think this practice existed in America. Belle Isle was once a granite quarry a long time ago, and people's ethics seem to slip when an areas' rock has already been modified, but I'm still not in favor of artificial holds bolted to outdoor cliffs.  It sends the wrong message to the kids.  This isn't rock climbing.

When we got back to Colorado, Fruita's highs were in the high nineties and the mountains were calling.  We got started with a weekend trip to the San Juan mountains above Telluride.
Luckily the campsites were still empty.  That's our truck and tent by the pond.
We needed an extra large pad for the Darkside boulder.  It's a great block near Ophir that Christian showed us last summer.  So I asked Autumn to carry a large pad instead of her standard one.  She didn't realize that it would affect her balance across the water pipe approach, and she got really scared on the high parts.  Autumn wasn't happy, but she faced her fears and made it.
I'm so glad that she didn't slip off!  Sometimes climbing and parenting mix in strange ways.

We had a great session, trying really hard in good conditions on the very solid crimps of the Darkside Boulder.  We tried a lot of lines, and both ended up sending "Sheryl's Void Stand" V8 by the end of the session. 

It's great stone too, but it's not as good as the best.

Father's Day was coming up and a little cool front was coming through.  So despite the fact that the guidebook says "Nosos is not a summer area." I decided that I wanted to see what Nosos, NM was like in the summer time for myself.  It was quite a bit cooler than Fruita, and it's just too hard for me to take big trips in the fall, or to wait that long when I see an opportunity.

Cholla flowers seen at Nosos.
The stone there is amazing.  Bullet solid, with amazing stripes.  It usually has a really nice texture, but it can be slippery in spots.  Amazing to look at, I'd find myself almost mesmerized by it. But it comes in second place behind New River Gorge as the best type of climbing stone in the country.  I completely agree with Owen that it's the best climbing stone found in New Mexico, but West Virginia is even better.

An example of the stripes.
The stone on "Too Good to Be American" V3.
Here's a too sunny shot of the problem "Too Good to Be American" V3.  Luckily it had just come into the sun, and the rock wasn't too warm to climb.
We decided to head up to the ridge top where we could find some shade, nice views, and a breeze.
But we didn't have difficult problems to work on up there that were in the shade.  So Ashley figured out and climbed a V5 traverse from "Montana" into "Butt Hurt."
Later "Dirty Quandry" V3 came into the shade, so I climbed that too.
On our next climbing day, we spent a morning session on the Lonesome George boulder.
Sierra climbing "Super Hands" V1.
During our rest day, we explored a bit of Ortega West.
It's another place that I'd like to spend more time.

Since then I've been getting up early to look at unclimbed boulders close to home.

And I got up to the mountains for a day of projecting and exploring with Jamie in the Holy Cross Wilderness.

The area has solid gneiss with cool stripes.  It's a great stone to climb on, and a lot of qualities from the surrounding scenery, to the company you're with, go into creating the best bouldering days.  But if I limit myself to just the stone, and ask "What stone feels the best to climb on?  What stone gives me the most confidence, allowing me to try really, really hard without fear of hurting it, or hurting myself?"  

Then the best stone I've ever climbed on so far is the solid Nuttall sandstone found in the New River Gorge.

But don't take my words or photos as the answer.  The truth is out there, and there's no substitute.  To really know the truth, you'll have to experience it for yourself.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Boulders Ahoy!

It seems like the other side of the river always has more boulders.  It's the peaceful side, away from the highway, and it was driving me crazy not knowing what amazing lines might be in all those inaccessible boulderfields.  So I bought a boat for my birthday in order to get across rivers.   It's an AIRE Tomcat Solo inflatable kayak, and we've used it a lot this spring.  It's opened up so many possibilities!  Here's what we've been up to.

Ashley got the first ascent of "Armadillo" V4/5 on our very first trip across the river.

 It's still a project for Autumn, but she came very close.
Her climbing has been improving rapidly, and I suspect that I'll have some outdoor ascents to report for her soon.
 I went out by myself one day and put up some lines in a different sector.  This one was a good warm up on perfect stone.
I'm calling these two boulders the Valentine's Blocks.

 I put up a few lines on the right block.  The best one is the tall arete called "Heartbeats" V2.  
 The entire sector has amazing sandstone patterns and patina.

On my third trip with the boat, I inflated it and then realized that I'd forgotten to bring the paddle.  I tried paddling with my arms in the icy cold water.  I thought it could work, but Ashley and the girls didn't trust my bare arm paddling abilities. 

 So we changed plans, and went to the Big Bend boulders where Ashley climbed the 

"Basketball Diaries" V5.
 And I decided not to commit on the highball V5 "Army of Darkness.
I've remembered to bring the paddle ever since.

 Castle Valley is a beautiful place, and it's wonderful to have it just an hour away from our house.  We've started crossing the river to boulder in this area too.
 Autumn climbing "Vitamin D" a V2 on an obvious boulder across the river at the entrance to Castle Valley.
 "Venn" V3
 "Mini Comp" V4
 "Dewey" V3
Noah and Siemay vacationed out here, and I joined them for a couple sessions.  
Many lines were done!  This single boulder has 13 problems!  They call it the Baker's Dozen.
 Here's Noah repeating an incredibly good warm-up that Zun climbed first.
 I put up a V6 nearby called "Bayonet."

Over Spring Break the Lloyd family camped, explored and climbed in central Utah.
Cedar Mountain looked like it would be amazing on Google Earth so we checked it out. The view is amazing, but the boulders are pebbly choss.
So we drove down the mountain and climbed at Triassic.  It was our back up plan all along.  Two problems really stood out at the Petroglyph Area.

"Homemade Goodness" V5
and "Hammerhead" a more difficult and intimidating V5.

 We camped in the southern San Rafael Swell and then visited Capital Reef National Park.  The whole region is gorgeous, and it has boulders, but the stone we found isn't as solid as the Wingate near Moab.

 The last day of Spring Break was forecast to be really windy.  So we visited a boulder field on the downwind side of a cliff.  It's a trick that I learned while we were living in Wyoming.  The large boulders had top rope bolts already, but the smaller boulders appear to have been ignored up until this point.  This small boulder yielded two surprisingly good lines.  And we were mostly out of the wind.

"Triangle Man" SDS V4/5
 "Universe Man" V6 traverses the entire east side of the block to top out on "Triangle Man."
During another fun weekend session, I watched Andrew get the third ascent of "Sexual Chocolate" an amazing V6 highball near Gateway put up by Matt and Noah.
My favorite send of the entire spring season was "Two Sides To Every Story" V6.  Christian was the first to climb this line.  It's strenuous, delicate, and puzzling. It looks and feels impossible until you manage to do it.

Another notable line in the area is "Classic Eagle" put up by a very young climber named Bayes.  I got the second ascent, and Ashley got the third.  It's a solid V6 for me, and Ashley reported that it felt very difficult (significantly harder than V6) for her.

During the last two weekends, as the weather warmed up, we've shifted to morning sessions in Unaweep.  The stone there is featured Dakota sandstone which is much more straightforward to climb on than the Wingate sandstone.  Almost all the stone near Fruita is sandstone, but it's impressive how different the style is between Wingate sandstone, Dakota sandstone, and the Joes Valley sandstone that we visit occasionally.  Before we moved, I was a little worried that I'd get bored of bouldering on sandstone all of the time.  But it hasn't been a problem at all.
Mountain Project is the best source for bouldering info on Unaweep Canyon.  I'm really happy to have it, but I've learned to take the posted grades there with a healthy grain of salt.  So far I've found many of Nick's V4s to be very solid for the grade, and some of the higher graded lines to be quite soft.  The star ratings seem to be more reliable than the difficulty ratings.

For example "Acromian Division" felt like a solid V6 from the sit start. It's a fun tall problem, and I recommend it.  But it wasn't the V8/9 that I was expecting to find based on the Mountain Project description.  Maybe something has broken, or I just found better beta.
 But I did find another project nearby that'll probably be a V10.  There are plenty of difficult lines to be done at Unaweep if you take a little time to look around for them.
 Ashley got a couple extra grades of effort out of "Daft Punk" V4 at the Zephyr Boulders.

But really it's all about the challenge and finding fun climbing, no matter what the grades end up feeling like.

Our inflatable kayak has opened up whole new worlds of bouldering, and Unaweep has over 1400 boulder problems spread through many sectors.  And due to those facts, we've visited a sector that was new to us every weekend through the entire spring season!  It feels like we've been spending all of our time on appetizers so far, convenient lines that we can send in a single session.  I haven't spent more than a session on a problem since January.  Now that I've gotten a taste of each spot, I'll be ready to really dig in this fall!  But all these area's will probably have to wait until then.  Temperatures are rising in the desert, and I'm excited to start exploring the mountains again.