Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Finding Giants at Rapid Lake

Jesse B. wanted to check out a boulderfield near Rapid Lake that he'd noticed while alpine climbing in the Winds.  He asked if I wanted to make the trip?  Of course I wanted to check it out.  I'd never been to the southwestern Winds.  On Google Earth the blocks looked a bit round and small.  I wasn't even sure that we'd find good bouldering, but at the very least I'd see some new scenery, and test whether two day bouldering expeditions into the Winds could be a good way to climb lines deep in the mountains.  Experience has taught me that Google Earth is no substitute for hiking.  To know what an area truly offers you've got to make the trip.

This is some of what we found.
To get there we hiked about 8 miles.  The first five are relatively flat easy miles to Big Sandy Lake.  Then came two miles of stream crossings, narrow trails, and steep hiking.  The last mile was across flat pleasant meadows.

Jesse at the first water crossing at Big Sandy Lake.
On my back was a large Organic Pad with a tent, sleeping bag, a long sleeve wool shirt, a small backpack filled with various granola and candy bars, a block of cheese, a half box of triscuits, one water bottle, iodine tablets, climbing shoes, chalk bag, two small steel brushes, matches, a compass, athletic tape, a tiny first aid kit, insect repellant, sunscreen, and a small toiletry kit all stuffed into the pad.  In one hand I carried my stick brush, around my neck was my camera bag where I also stored my Ipod, and I had bear spray in my pocket.  The pad felt heavy.  But I hiked as fast as I could.  We left Lander at 6 A.M and were to the boulders at noon.  We dropped our things and looked around for a while.  I saw some beautiful tall boulders up in the talus field.  Some had snow landings, some had talus.  Both types made me nervous.  With only two pads, no cell service, eight miles in, and maybe a mile from the nearest popular trail, I was very aware that getting injured up there could create a very unpleasant experience.  So I started looking at blocks in smaller fields to the south and in the meadows below.  I put up a nice slab V1 warm up on the back of the split double boulder below.  And then did a sit start from the left side of the large rail that goes straight up and tops out.

"Safety First" V4  
Jesse found a cool V5 compression line just up the hill.  This whole sector has good stone.

I'm not sure what he's naming it.  If you find Jesse's problem, a V2 I did called "Shenanigans" is just behind you.  It follows a feature out of a pit and through a gap on its way to the top of the boulder out left.

After that, both of us felt a bit tired and off.  The big hike, alpine sun, and altitude were having their effects.  We set up camp, and rested while waiting for boulders to go into the shade.  In the late afternoon we felt quite a bit better, and hiked up into the big field to a line Jesse found with a relatively nice, flat stone landing.  We worked on it until it began getting a little dark.  It's got long undercling moves to a very difficult slab top out.  I took a scary fall while working on the top out and got a bloody scrape on my leg on the way down.  Also I couldn't figure out a way to get past one long move below the top out.  Jesse worked it all out though, and came close to doing the line from the stand start.  I'd estimate the stand start to be V8 and a lower start might make it V9/10.  I have a feeling that even if this was the only line up there, Jesse might make the hike all over again, just to finish this amazing project.

Jesse's Rapid Lake Project.
We got back to camp and watched the sun leave the high peaks.
With my pad for a bed, tent keeping the hordes of mosquitoes away, and listening to an album I'd downloaded for the trip the Glow pt. 2 by the Microphones, I had a pleasant evening, and a great night's sleep.  The music fit the landscape quite well. 

The next morning, the sun came up and hit the boulders surprisingly quickly.  Only minutes after this photo was taken.
So many mosquitoes surrounded my tent and were trying to find their way in.  Jesse didn't bring a tent, and I wondered if he'd been completely drained of blood during the night.  I hadn't heard him stir since I'd woken up, had breakfast, and applied generous amounts of sunscreen and bug repellent to myself.

Their persistance would be admirable if they weren't so evil.
Finally, Jesse stirred.  Turns out it was only 7 A.M., and he claims the mosquitoes only attacked when the sun came up.  I'd still recommend bringing a tent if you visit the Winds this time of year.

Right below camp was a large aesthetic block of stone.  Thirty feet tall on every side, I wondered if we could put any problems on it?
We tried to climb the lowest angled arete to the top.  We made it up about 23 feet, but knowing that we'd have to down climb the same line kept us from committing and reaching the top.  So I doubt anyone has ever been on the top of the boulder.

On a satellite boulder just north I put up another short problem named after the terribly high mosquito population in the vicinity.

"The Gathering Hordes" V4 SDS
Jesse's project was already in the sun, so we explored the upper boulder field.  Walking talus is slow with a pad and large camera, so I put down my things and walked all over the place.  We found a strange mix of bad rock, good rock, and amazing rock.  Everything from crumbling crystals to features that seemed like Neverland gneiss.  I've never seen such a wide variety of granite quality in a single talus field.  But it's such a vast field, we ended up finding quite a few amazing boulders.  You'll just have to trust me on that, because I didn't have my camera with me.  We got excited and hiked a lot more talus, and then we noticed the sun was high and it was a bit hot, we felt really tired from the hiking and projecting the day before, and we knew we still needed to hike out of the talus and eight more miles out before the day was finished.  So we decided to leave all the amazing lines for another day.

The view as we made our way out of the main field.  
It was a very good exploratory trip!  There are so many huge boulders up there!  It seems like 90% of the best lines up there are king lines.  So climbing most of the good lines up there will require making a trip with a crew, maybe five or six pads, and someone bringing a rope, harness, and anchor gear so the cleaning can be done on rappel.  With the right group, gear, and planning Rapid Lake could yield some amazing bouldering in a knock out setting.  Maybe this post will help that happen sometime.

On the hike out, I noticed mushrooms that managed to melt snow, and found it oddly inspiring.
That mere fungi can fight through elemental adversity like that.  So tough, full of life, and humble at the same time.  I thought "Why can't we be more like that?"  Maybe the altitude and exhaustion were starting to get to me.

So I'm tired and sore, and need to get some sleep now. But thanks to Jesse for inviting me along for this adventure!  It was great to spend a bit of time in the mountains before a busy week, the International Climber's Festival starts tomorrow!  See you there.

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