Sunday, June 23, 2013

New Problems and Projects at the Rock Shop

Alex started developing a new sector at the Rock Shop, and he gave us a tour of it before he left on a trip to Europe.  We've spent four more sessions up there during the last two weeks.  We still have some projects to finish up, but many new problems have been climbed already.

Alex offering a spot below a project we're calling "To the Pain."    
 Alex's perfect warm up "Hard Rock Syndrome" V2.
 We watched Alex get the first ascent of "My Mind's Eye Traverse" V6.  Ashley repeated it later that day.  I got the third ascent during our next session.
 Alex on "The Boulder of Montana" V5.
 Ashley getting the second ascent Alex's "Just Getting Started" V5.  This challenging line packs six difficult moves into seven feet of climbing!  Ashley also added a V4 traverse that climbs in from the left called "Ready to Go."

I noticed in a blog post that Bryan had worked the moves on the great line shown below last year.  I cleaned the top a little more thoroughly on rappel, and did the line from a sit start on Father's Day.

"Touch of Grey" V5/6.

Roo and Willow enjoying the ambiance.
 "Stone Country" V3/4.  The start.

 Roo relaxing under the Touch of Grey wall.
 Flowers we saw while driving to the Rock Shop one day.
Thanks to Alex for showing us the sector, and the new lines that he found. Hopefully we'll have some more new lines to share soon!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Our Time in Tensleep, and a Devil's Kitchen Story

The majority of our week long first summer trip was spent at Tensleep.  After not going far for spring break, we were excited to see new places and get on some new stone.  The climbing at Tensleep reminds me of both Sinks Canyon and Wild Iris at once.  It combines many of the best qualities of the two areas.  Routes that are long and well featured like those found at Sinks Canyon with the stone texture and solidity that I associate with Wild Iris.  My new favorite pitch is "The Great White Behemoth" 5.12b on the Superratic.  Sierra took this picture of me two moves before my foot slipped, messing up my redpoint attempt.  I was going for a really good jug rail, and the climb eases up quite a bit after that.  I was a lot closer to finishing the route than it might appear in the photo below.   
I was pumped, but a big part of that was due to freezing fingers.  I put up my draws bolt to bolt and the moves felt fine.  Ashley had already flashed the line on top rope a couple days before, but she was nice enough to visit the climb for a second day.  On this morning she got back on the route for a work out lap, and fell off screaming due to cold fingers.  It wasn't a good sign, but I usually don't get cold fingers as easily.  I was still confident.  So I went for a redpoint run and fell off screaming, with crazy cold fingers.  It hurts so much more when it's your fingers.  Anyway, Ashley tried again, and the route went better the second time.  So I jumped on again and did better, got somewhat pumped, but also just unlucky, my foot slipping before the route eases up somewhat.  It felt like I could probably send the route if I could just have another good try.  The problem was that another good try would mean forty five minutes of resting in order to get the lactic acid out of my forearms.  Ashley didn't feel like a fifth run on toprope, and the girls weren't into waiting around when we had promised them ice cream at Dirty Sally's.  The possibility of a project redpoint, or keeping my family happy?  I decided to keep my family happy.
You can get a sense of how cold it was based on Ashley's layers.  We used more hand warmers during the three climbing days at Tensleep than we did at Sinks Canyon all last winter.

A view from Dreamland.
The old road was closed for elk calving, so we camped miles above the canyon.
It even snowed on us one night, but our dogs loved playing around our unregulated site.
Despite the cold, we had a good trip.  We did some high quality 5.10 and 5.11 climbs and did a lot of tent bound reading.  I love to read for extended periods, but I never manage to do it unless I'm stuck in a tent without other things to do.

We got back to Lander and I had one day to rest up before a trip into Devil's Kitchen with Brian.  He had posted a photo of his newly acquired Jeep on Facebook.  I immediately commented that I'd pay gas money if he'd take me into Devil's Kitchen with it.  The Jeep did amazingly well on the trip in.  I've never gotten in there so fast.  Brian was quite impressed with his first views of Devil's Kitchen.  Despite having seen many photos, and having some sense of the area, he hadn't quite realized the scale of the place.
Directions are in the guidebook, but it doesn't look like the area is getting too much traffic.  The road in was lined with wildflowers.
We also saw a herd of 48 elk.
And had amazingly clear weather.
The stream crossing was high.  I brought water socks this time, and they helped a lot.  Brian crossed barefoot.

Brian and I started by hiking uphill of the Upper Kitchen to look for undone lines.  Surprisingly most of the lines up there were already brushed and chalked.  A few days later I saw a post on Davin's blog about the same boulders.

So we went back down to our gear, but on the way back I noticed an untouched overhanging arete that looked fun.  I thought it might be V6, but the top out looked good to warm up on.  We took the pads up the talus to give it a go.  Brian brushed and climbed out using a rail to the right at V2.  I began trying the V6 line.  It didn't take long to realize that it wasn't V6.  The first move is probably V7, and eventually I got it.  The second move is probably V8.  I could hit the crimp, but couldn't keep it.  Brian gave up on the line, the temps just kept going up, and bouldering down by the river began to seem more inviting.  We decided to leave the arete undone and head down to "Paradise Found."

Almost snatching the crimp on the V8 move above a pad placed for practice.  The problem starts sitting below my left foot with the big pad moved back so that dabbing isn't an issue.  A slippery open project that will be much better in cool conditions.

Brian began working on "Paradise Found" and I began looking for a new line to do between his attempts.  He was making quick progress, and so I was looking for something not too hard, and quick to clean.  I noticed a few crimps leading out of a pit under the down climb for "Paradise Found."  It cleaned up really quick.  But it ended up being a somewhat intimidating problem.  

I walked back around the boulder to spot what I expected to be Brian's send of "Paradise Found."  He got up to the crux easily.  He got the small diagonal crimp, he released his left heel and swung his body right.  And then he yelled and dropped off.  He had re-injured his shoulder.  He was done trying anything hard for the rest of the day, and worried that he might need to take off the whole summer.  He was still excited to try some easy lines and take photos though.  So we walked back to my project.  The line requires swing control so you don't dab on the back boulder.  At the top your elbow is over a wedged block to the left.  If you fall off unexpectedly, you will get banged up, and you need to commit while using a left foot that could cut.  With control, focus, and commitment the line goes at V4.  It climbs really nice features though, and is an interesting line, so I'd give it one star.

We went up to the "Black Sea" area and did a couple lines each.  I did a line that felt V6 just right of Black Sea, but I don't know the name of it yet.  We also did some traversing that lead to a very dirty top out nearby.  With that, we both felt worked and decided to call it a day.  We crossed the creek, and decided to check out the boulders just above us on the north side.  That's when we found this gorgeous piece of stone.  The line out the roof looked classic.  The holds all looked good.  We had to at least give it a shot.  We broke out the brushes, and it didn't take long to clean it up.  I sat down pulled onto the first holds, and the entire flake I was grabbing flexed.  We applied a bit of pressure to it, and the entire feature fell off leaving nothing in it's place.  It wasn't going to have a sit start.
So we started trying from the lowest underclings at the lip of the roof.  It ended up being much harder and climbing quite differently than we first envisioned.  We couldn't just follow the crack with our feet under the roof.  Brian's shoulder was still bothering him, and he decided to stop making attempts.  I was close to giving up, but then I found a sequence that just might work.  A sloper compression move that just barely let me set a poor heel hook and then shoot past all the small crack holds to a good hold with my right hand.  
The moves felt really hard, but I decided to put everything I had left into one last try.  Somehow I sent it.  Each move just barely happened in succession and I found myself topping out, quivering from the extreme exertion.  I'm calling it V7 for now.  The moves felt nails hard, and required both technique and tension that were far from straight forward.  But I did send it at the end of a climbing day, and I usually don't send V7s when I'm tired, so maybe it isn't quite as hard as it felt.  I'll have to see what other people think.  Anyone seeing the boulder, would refer to it as the boulder with the big cross on it.  Based on the cross, and how my strength returned for the final send attempt, I named the line "Resurrection."

There are still some lines to be done in the sector.
Under the roof of "Resurrection" I found a well preserved soda can that appears to be from the 1950's.  I do find litter in the Kitchen occasionally, but it always looks really old.  It seems that not many have visited the Kitchen between the 50's and now.
The arete to the right of "Resurrection" will be a nice problem as well.  I gave it a few attempts but was too tired to finish it.
And we were beginning to lose light.
It was time to head home.  We hiked out quick.  We were cruising up the road, and I let Brian know that there was an alternate road out, with better views, that Jesse showed me on my last trip.
"It's committing though." I said.

Brian said "Let's do it."  He put the Jeep in 4WD and hit the gas to climb the hill.  Everything was going fine, and then 20 feet below the top the Jeep stopped moving and Brian had the peddle to the floor.  We sat there not knowing what to do for a few moments.  Brian put the Jeep into park, pulled the parking brake, and we both jumped out.  Luckily the jeep didn't go anywhere, but there we were standing on the huge 30 degree hill, twenty feet from the top, and three hundred feet from the bottom, just looking at the Jeep.  The sun was setting, and we were surrounded by so much space.  The Jeep looked quite precarious, sitting on the steepest part of the hill, and it's hard to convey how epic the moment felt in both senses of the word.  A scary situation in a dramatic environment.

We began discussing options.  We could make phone calls home and have someone rescue us, leaving the Jeep to take care of later.  I wasn't sure how a tow truck could reach the place, but maybe a 4WD enthusiast could winch it out somehow. We could hike 15 miles out through the reservation and hitchhike back to Lander.  Brian didn't like that idea.  We could look for Allen's Ranch, I had a vague notion of where it was.

But what I really wanted to do was to try to get ourselves out of the situation.  We still had exactly two options.  We could try to get the Jeep up, or we could try to get the Jeep down.  Up would get us out of our situation faster, so I thought we should try that first.  I said, "Let's get everything out of the Jeep so it's lighter and maybe then it will make it."

But Brian feared that just taking the Jeep out of park and releasing the brake without having his foot on the gas could cause the Jeep to start rolling backwards, picking up speed, maybe tumbling with him inside, until the Jeep hit the woods igniting the gas tank, leading to a terrifying fiery death for the Jeep, and himself.

"Well, let's stack rocks behind the back tires so it can't roll down as easy." I suggested.

"Do you think that will work?" asked Brian.


So we stacked up rocks behind the back tires, and then carefully removed everything we could from the Jeep, including the spare tire.  "Alright, it's lighter now.  Try to drive it up the hill.  We'll leave the rocks behind the back tires."  It took a while for Brian to commit to an attempt.  I offered to hold open the door so he could jump out if the Jeep started rolling back.  I almost offered to try myself, but then I remembered my family, and how much trouble I'd be in with Ashley if I died.

Eventually, Brian prepared himself to commit.  I held open the door.  He held down the brakes, put the Jeep into gear, took out the parking brake and gunned the engine.  The engine didn't exactly roar, but it got pretty loud.  The Jeep went forward two inches, and wouldn't go any farther.  Brian put the Jeep back into park, pulled the parking brake and jumped out of the door that I was holding open.  The jeep rolled back two inches into the rock piles and stopped.

"Alright we can't go up.  We should try going down.  It will be slow and scary, but if we take it slow we should be to reverse down the entire hill."  I said.

"But what if the brakes give out?" asked Brian.

"I don't think the brakes will give out.  Trucks don't just go up this hill, they go down it too, and their brakes don't give out.  Brakes work just as well backwards as forwards don't they?"  I asked.

I imagined the squeezing disks, and recalled all that I knew about friction, and hoped I wasn't overlooking anything important.

We moved the rocks from behind the back tires, and the Jeep didn't move.  Brian got in the Jeep.  Held down the brakes, did the terrifying step of putting the Jeep into reverse, and decided to leave the parking brake on.  I was holding open the door, just in case things got out of control.

"Alright, slowly, slowly let off the brake." I said.

Brian did.  The jeep tires started to roll.  Brian hit the brakes hard, the Jeep slid a few inches and came to a stop.

"It's going to work!  We'll just have to take it really slow."  I assured Brian.  For the next thirty minutes I did my best to talk Brian down.  Both ways.  If I had been in the driver, I'd have been terrified too.  It was slow going, but we made it to the bottom of the hill, in reverse the whole way.  Then we hiked back up the hill to get all our gear, including the spare tire.

A couple views of our things and the hillside.      

It got dark, but we were down, and driving out safely.  It felt good to be alive.

So I wouldn't recommend driving up to the higher road, after the experience that we had.  It worked on the last trip with Kyle, but we might have gotten lucky.  Devil's Kitchen is more adventurous than the average bouldering area, and I doubt that the approach will ever be tame.  Brian got some good photos and also did a nice write up about our day that you can check out on his blog, Mode of Passion.

Since the Devil's Kitchen day, we've been spending a lot of time at the Rock Shop.  Many new problems have gone up, and I'll write a post about them soon.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Geotourism, a Fun Alternative to Rock Climbing

There is more to life than just rock climbing.  It's so important to have a wide variety of interests, and rock climbing isn't the only thing that I do.  I'm not really as one dimensional as this blog makes me seem. Sometimes my skin and muscles are too worn out to climb, so I pursue other activities.  One of my favorite things to do outside of rock climbing is Geotourism.  It's a really fun way to spend the rest days!  My understanding of it is that geotourism has two important components.  The first thing is to travel to an area because it's geologically interesting, and the second thing is to take some time to focus on that area's abiotic factors... such as the cliffs and the boulders.

On our recent trip we toured Devils Gate.     
 And then we camped at Dome Rock near Casper.
Dome Rock is just like a Vedauwoo dome that got lost one hundred miles from its home.  And just like Vedauwoo it has a few mysterious boulders that are solid and featured,

 But the majority of the boulders lack features and are composed of sharp crystals.  The Dome itself has at least 138 trad routes with occasional bolts.  And it's a beautiful area to visit.

We also toured Fremont Canyon.  I haven't climbed there yet because it has always sounded like an intimidating place.  Rapping in, pulling ropes, and committing yourself to finishing a trad climb sounded, well, committing.  I imagined an open prairie cut by an unexpected chasm.  The area is also known as the site of a very tragic murder and, decade later, suicide story involving two men and two sisters.  So I expected the entire place to be desolate and unnerving.  I was quite surprised to get to the bridge and find a really fun and friendly looking crag instead.
 The area had a nice parking area with an outhouse, hand rails, and a NOLS climbing course in session.  My preconceptions were very wrong.  You don't need to rap, pull the ropes, and commit, if you don't want to.  You can just get lowered and climb out with a toprope from your belayer sitting above.  The bridge area looks like a perfect place to teach my daughters to trad climb, or to casually practice my crack climbing technique, or to project a difficult trad route for a rehearsed redpoint attempt.  Fun stuff!
 Of course there is more to geotourism than just looking at rocks.  The biotic factors should get some attention as well.  We focused on wildflowers and found some Indian Paintbrush that were bright yellow.
 And many Wild Irises.
 Our Geotourism activities also took us to Devils Tower.
 It looks impressive from every angle.
 You could boulder on some of the blocks beneath it.  But most of the problems would be short, the rock is slippery, the place is packed with tourists, and they don't allow dogs off of the parking lot.
 The tower climbs look like a lot more fun.  I've climbed the Durrance Route already, and it was amazing.  I'd like to try some of the others.
 On our second day of geotourism we toured Crazy Woman Canyon.  I was happy with what I saw there.
 A gorgeous canyon.
 With some amazing formations that are so beautiful, I'm glad there aren't any routes on them.
 The boulders already have some bolted routes to try.
 And some cliffs near the strange formations have potential for hard routes in the future.
 We also saw a classic looking gneiss highball boulder problem on our way out of the canyon.  If my pads hadn't been back at camp, my rest day would have been ruined.
 So if you need a rest day activity, or just want to broaden your horizons beyond rock climbing, try geotourism.  It includes everything you love about climbing.  Just without the climbing part.
Next post, Tensleep!