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.