Monday, August 20, 2012

A Day in Devil's Kitchen

School has started again, and most of my spare time has been spent working on the bouldering guidebook.  It's up to 250 problems, but geographically I've only covered most of Sinks Canyon.  From the Dolomite Band through the Cabin Boulders, so far.  There are many more areas to write up, and the full guide will easily surpass 500 problems.  It's looking incredible, thanks to a ton of design help from Ben Sears!  We're aiming for a release this Spring.

So due to time constraints, and the other project, I'm not going to do a complete write up on my trip with Jesse to the Devil's Kitchen over a week ago.  I must say it was a fun and adventurous way to end my Summer break.  Thanks for the tour Jesse!

Here is some information:

The hike into the canyon isn't bad at all.  Much easier than I expected.  The 4WD part on the other hand was longer and worse than expected.  You need 4WD!   You want high clearance.  And you can only hope that a tire doesn't pop on the sharp dolomite blocks.

Jesse about to drop into the steep part.        
 A portion of Devil's Kitchen from above.
 The first problem I put up.  "Welcome to the Kitchen" V2.
 Jesse showed me so many beautiful blocks! Many with established problems already.  Here's a taste.

 The deep river canyon has it's own micro-climate.  Warmer and wetter than most local mountain areas, the plant life along the river is thick.  Some plant species didn't even look familiar to me.

As soon as I saw the rock below I thought, "That's the famous rock from B3 bouldering."  Check out B3 for a couple longer posts about the Devil's Kitchen.  Combined, they explain the area, and it's potential very well.

Of course I took my own picture of the famous rock.
 I spent most of my day cleaning and climbing on this rising fingertip traverse that curves up to a good top out.  Ashley would love this thing if she ever commits to the trip down here!  While I worked on this, Jesse worked on a couple projects across the river.  He sent one of the high problems just before we hiked out.
 The traverse from the other direction.
 The traverse is probably around V8, and I wasn't able to send it in a day.  I wanted to complete something other than a warm up though, and managed to clean and climb this new problem to the right of "Tall Cool Granite One."

"Small Cool Granite Crimp" V5.
 My favorite scenic shot of the day.
 The hike out is steep, but doable.  The scenery is great the whole way.
Since they are both major destinations accessed from the same general area, it's impossible for me not to compare the Devil's Kitchen and the Falcon's Lair.  Like the Falcon' Lair, the Devil's Kitchen requires a full day commitment and a Reservation Fishing Permit.  The hike is easier to Devil's Kitchen, but still pretty rough, the drive is much more difficult than I'd like it to be for my Honda Ridgeline.  Devil's Kitchen is warmer, and the boulders need more cleaning than those at the Falcon's Lair.  But Devil's Kitchen has a many more boulders, often with very interesting features, and an incredible ambiance all it's own. With it's current access, the Devil's Kitchen won't eclipse the other places, but it definitely gets added to the "short list" of incredible bouldering areas near Lander.  We're going to be busy for a long, long time.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

A Long Post About a Trip, Some First Ascents, and a Rediscovered Boulder

Ashley on a traverse variation into the topout of "Undercling Roof."
 Our summer break is almost over, but we've been taking good advantage of the time off.  We spent a week in Estes Park on a family vacation with two days of bouldering.  The first bouldering day was at Moraine Park.  My favorite new ascent of the day was "Hanging Arete."  An exciting V6 with big moves and a bad landing.

We repeated some lines we hadn't done in many years, and Ashley did this nice problem north of the trail, that isn't listed in the guide.  It has a sloping landing, but Ashley committed to it.

 Our second day of bouldering was spent at Emerald Lake.  We have many fond memories of bouldering at this beautiful area during our years in Colorado.

Ashley warming up on "Warm Up."
 I thought we had some fresh lines to do west of the Kind boulder.  A lot of problems are listed in the guide, and I was excited to check them out.  It turned out that all the new lines looked familiar once we were standing in front of them again.  We just didn't know the names and grades when we had climbed on them years ago.

Part of my excitement in getting back to RMNP was getting to climb on some established, graded problems again.  We've been climbing first ascents for so long now, I worried my ratings might be getting off base.  While working on the guide, I'm coming up with a lot of ratings, and re-rating some established problems that feel incorrect to me.  When I  give a higher rating than is published, I worry that I'm making things soft.  When I rate a first ascent, I'm very aware that I don't want to overrate problems, but then wonder if I'm sandbagging people.

So it would be nice to see what graded problems felt like again.  But "Beginner's Luck" V3 didn't feel any harder to me than "Warm Up" V1.  The three star "V6" on the cube boulder felt easier than the two star V5 just to the right, and much easier than the one star V6 just around the corner.  And how do you compare a one move wonder like "Kneebar" to a tall, consistently difficult, somewhat dangerous line like "Hanging Arete?"  They both get the same number, but feel quite different.  So I wasn't able to recalibrate my sense of the grading scale as much as I had hoped to.  I'll just need to do my best to have Lander bouldering be as internally consistent as possible.  Boulder problems will always fit people differently anyway.

A three star V6 on the Cube boulder that feels pretty easy for the grade.  It's a really fun line though!          
RMNP bouldering is great, the scenery unmatched, and the hikes feel short when you're used to the Falcon's Lair.  It's some of America's best bouldering!

Now that we're back in Wyoming, we've been spending more time at the Rock Shop.  I took a day, and hiked around the area with a specific type of problem in mind.  My goal was to find a nice long traverse for Ashley to visit on our wedding anniversary.  As I hiked, I found a few nice lines that Jesse will like, and a few more that I'll need to show Chris.  I can't believe how good a few of the lines looked!  But, no traverse stood out until I took a second look at a boulder I first hiked past a couple months ago.  As I took a closer look at the moves, it just kept looking better and better.  It was time to start brushing!  An hour later, I thought the line was ready to go.  Then I remembered that Ashley likes her boulders really clean, so I spent another forty minutes on it.  Then I decided I better try out some moves.  It turned out that I needed to clean a few more foot holds and slopers at the start of the line.  Then I set up a rope and cleaned a highball up the center of the face.  Three hours of exploratory hiking, and over three hours of brushing.  Everything was ready for a wedding anniversary spent bouldering.

The next day we warmed up on a juggy, gymnastic V2 that I named "Doom Doom."  It's named after the sound the huge flake makes when you hit it twice.  If it breaks while you're climbing it, you would be smashed dead.  But the Rock Shop stone is so good, we decided to trust the wedged flake with our lives.

Ashley grabbing the "Doom Doom" flake.
Ashley about to fully commit by heel hooking on the flake.
Topping out.
Once we had warmed up, I took Ashley around the boulder to her anniversary gift.  A fully cleaned, forty five foot traverse, awaiting a first ascent.  I know what my wife likes!
Ashley worked out the beta in three sections, and then attempted the line from the start.  The crux is at the end, Ashley was pumped, but she pulled through on her first full attempt.  She thought the line might be V6.  I think it's a hard line to rate.  The crux fifteen feet, at the end, probably goes at V5.  When Ashley gets there she's just somewhat pumped.  When I get there, I'm too pumped to do it.  No part is harder than V5, but I couldn't send it in a session.  Does that mean it's V7 or over?  In RMNP I did three V6 problems in one session.  Whatever it's rated, it's a very high quality endurance testpiece.  As good as any traverse I've been on!  Ashley decided to name it "L'anniversaire."  I got uncut video of Ashley's ascent, but it's over four minutes long, so I'm not planning to post it.

A few photos of Ashley towards the end of "L'anniversaire."

We toproped the highball line up the center of the face.  It's high quality, but insecure, and the top out will need a more thorough lichen brushing before it's ready to be bouldered.  A proud highball that reminded me of "Hard Rock Cafe" at Flaming Gorge.  The height, angle, difficulty and quality are similar, though the movement is really different up widely spaced rails with angled feet.  It's just one of three quality highballs boulder problems to be done on this face.

This is becoming a long post, but I still have a couple more things to share.  I've spent a few recent evenings climbing things for guide research.  Jeremy shared an old topo with me to the granite on Fairfield hill that included some boulders I'd never heard of.  The Slug boulder just uphill northeast of the parking area on the Fairfield 4WD road was a pleasant surprise.  It isn't a tall boulder, but it has a lot of nice problems on perfect stone.  Uncontrived lines top out at V4, but traverses or eliminates could offer some difficult problems.  It will be in the guide, and I'm looking forward to taking the family back there on a cool evening.

The Slug boulder.

A final thing that felt like a discovery is the book Desert Towers by Steve "Crusher" Bartlett.  I knew the book existed for a while, but didn't feel like spending fifty dollars on a book I'd never seen.  Neptune Mountaineering had a copy, and after looking at it, I decided that I needed it.  It's been an inspiration!  Obviously a labor of love, Steve has assembled the most enjoyable climbing history book that I've ever read.  If you enjoy climbing in the desert, climbing history, or colorful stories about the activities, attitudes, and motivations of people who dedicated themselves to desert climbing, you will enjoy this book.  It's been a powerful reminder of all the things I love about climbing, the things I hope to avoid, and a push towards adventure and discovery.

The world will always be full of things to discover, or rediscover.