Thursday, May 29, 2008


To many people Memorial Day means a weekend of BBQ's, beer, hanging out with the family, and pool openings. BUT, to a climber, Memorial Day means a lengthy ROAD TRIP. So, off i was to Colorado with my friend and climbing partner, Steve. Some things you need to know about Steve up front: He is 50 years old. Works as a Dentist for the Air Force (i'm sure glad you're not putting your gnarled hands in my mouth buddy :) . Eats more for breakfast than most. I'm talking 2 big bagels with heaping amounts of Peanut Butter, 2 Protein bars, a few handfuls of Peanut M&Ms, and a banana, all washed down by his homemade "toilet coffee" prepped the night before. All this before 6am and consumed in a matter of mere mintues. Damn impressive if you ask me. Oh, and one other thing about old Stever, he can CRUSH! Technical face climbs, desperate slabs, overhanging cracks of all sizes, you name it, he can climb it. SOLID 5.12 like I've never seen before. The rest of you know me, pysched as always, and constantly pysched on climbing. Oh and one more thing about Steve. He's as pysched as me, if not more, about climbing. The past few months we have been doing local weekend trips to Seneca and Old Rag together and he has been walking out to the crag on crutches and climbing with a foot that he can barely weight. He's such a nut about climbing that he can't not climb while waiting for his foot to heal completely. I'm the same exact way and if you're reading this Steve, i mean no disrespect above, only admiration. You are inspiring. Some day my hands might even look like yours. Ok, enough worshipping on my part for god's sake. Off to the story. So the plan was fly into Denver, rent a car, drive west into the desert to climb at Colorado Monument and try this route Medicine Man, and then off to Black Canyon for a go at Scenic Cruise and Atlantis. The latter two routes are roughly 2000 feet long, dead vertical, and contain enough hard and scary climbing to make anyone thank the good man above for allowing him passage back to solid ground on the rim above the climb. Going into the trip the weather looked real iffy. Rain, thunderstorms, and even snow were all high possbilities throughout Colorado. We kept out fingers crossed and took it day to day. The first night we drove like hell out of Denver, finally stopping a few hours outside of Grand Junction to spend a cold night in a dirt lot just off of the highway. Awaking at 5am we headed out, got provisions, and sped off to Colorado Monument with the enthusiasm of two high school graduates on there way to meet up with friends for a week long hoo rah at the beach with no parents, no rules, and way too much beer, liquor, and herb. We were pysched. Driving to the Colorado Monument Steve turned me onto a band from the late 60s, early 70s who evidently still put out albums today called the Kinks. I was instantly hooked. Think Beatles, hopped up on speed, with darker, deeper,and much more polticallyl oriented lyrics. If you get a chance check em out. Colorado Monument is a huge wilderness area that one could backpack into, set up base camp, and then spend the next week, hiking, bouldering, climbing single pitches, or doing a few big routes a day and still have a million other walls, boulders and aroyos left to explore. We decided on a route called Medicine Man. Its a 500 foot free standing pinnacle laced with laser cut cracks and corners. The money pitch is a 100 foot 12b thin hands crack that looks like Zeus himself had weilded with one thunderous lighting bolt. I managed to link pitch 2 and 3 into one long pitch to set up Steve for pitch 4 the ''Zeus Crack". Upon first seeing it i thought it looked easy. Matter of fact, watching Steve stroll up it, I was sure it was going to be a cake walk. But damn that thing sure was ass-kicking hard. i took two falls seconding it before I even got to the crux and at the crux i had to pull on gear to reach the anchor. I was so spent desperately trying to get a jam to fit that i didn't even want to try to figure out moves when it began to overhang at the the crux. A thorough ass kicking it was. Humbling experience to say the least. We topped out after i lead one long 5.10 pitch. The view was awesome above. As i peered into the vast sandstone desert thoughts of mythical anasazi shamans on peyote fueled pyschadelic voyages wandering around in the same terrain as i was presently immersed in raced through my mind (I swear Dean Potter didn't say that). After Medicine Man, we climbed two single pitches on a wall heading out. Both were quality and tough. I'll definitely be back to that magical place. Next time i plan on setting up camp in the backcounty,doing a whole lot more routes, exploring tons more, and watching the sun rise and set in Desert Solitaire land. Next stop was Black Canyon. Black Canyon is one of those places that it only takes one experience there to get you hooked and change you forever. Its a place of another world. On the rim of the canyon, life is good. Camp, ranger station, bathrooms, running water, friends, car, food, beer, etc. are all there. But as you descend the ruthlessly steep and loose gullies into the "Black" you enter another world. A world with walls that loom 2000 plus feet overhead. A world filled with the roar of raging white water that wants nothing but to churn you a million times over. A world where once dragons indeed ruled over. A world where huge suffocating walls with Jackson Pollack esque pegmatite bands would surely set the mind a flame of any acid-head and then proceed to induce a fear so real that one very well could lose their mind imagining the canyon closing up on you forever. The Black is a world where rock climbers are not welcome. Loose rock, dangerous runouts, big walls, freezing belays, and the constant fear of getting lost on that wall all add to the paranoia. However, if you are lucky by chance and the great beast allows you passage from the depths of its belly, THEN you are rewarded deeply. This was our fate. We managed to climb a route called Scenic Cruise and after numerous pitches of linking up crack systems, corners, and pegamatite traverses we managed to top out to a perfect blue sky. I felt a sense of greater maturity, heightened clarity, and a sense of vitality like I've felt on only a few occasions before. After the climb we raced back into Crawford, the local town, to eat a dinner fit for kings at a local cowboy Steakhouse. They must of seen the ravenous look in our eyes because when our food appeared it was stacked so high on the plate that we both spent the next 15 minutes in silence swapping between chow and suds until every last morsel was consumed. That night we decided that Atlantis was out of the question for the next day. Two Grade V's back to back take dedication (4am wake up call, pain enduring, possible freezing night on the wall, etc.) and although we have plenty of it, we realized that with Steve's ankle swelling (it's still not completely healed), the late hour we would get to bed, and the shear thought of starting up another monster route was more than we wanted to chew off. So instead of Atlantis the next day we opted for a shorter route called Escape Artist. This route was located in the SOB Gully and is roughly 1000 feet long with quality pitches. We decided to link up the choice pitches from another climb called Comic Relief so that our actual route would consist of sustained 5.10 climbing, and even one 5.11 pitch to end it. We climbed quick and efficiently with Steve taking the 2nd pitch Pegmatite traverse with its tricky facey moves and I took the 3rd pitch with its enduro jamathon. We then did a traverse pitch and one short corner pitch to reach the "lighting bolt" pitch. This pitch was 5.11 and it was my turn to lead. I went for the onsight but was so worked that I botched the crux taking a small fall. Soon after, I made my way to a ledge and set an anchor and brought Steve up. I was ready to get off of this thing. My hands hurt after 3 consecutive days of hard crack climbing, I had open cuts on all of my knuckles. My feet felt as if they were on fire and being crushed in a vice grip. And my throat was as dry as the chalk and blood caked on my fiflthy hands. The last 400 feet of the climb we decided to simul climb. The climbing was never any harder than 5.5 but in places the rock was very loose. Although I was extremely careful i pulled a block the size of a small backpack off the cliff sending it 1000 feet to the deck. I screamed the obligatory "rock", hoping that no one was under us. An hour and 1 rappel later saw us heading out another gully back to the rim. That was the last of the Black for us. We left that night heading towards Colorado Springs to spend the night at Jeff and Amy's house who live a mere 1000 feet from some of the best single pitch crack craggin I've ever seen. Although we had already consumed the rest of the beer we had in our car on our way out of the Black, and we had already devoured foot-long subs paired with chips and cookies, we were still hungry and in need of ICE CREAM. Just as we lost all hope of finding an ice cream store in the deserted backwoods of Colorado, out of the horizon like a beacon of hope, we saw a 10 foot ice cream cone mounted on top of a big gas station sign. YESSSSSS! i ordered a scoop of Rocky Road, a scoop of Coffee, and a scoop of Cookies and Cream in a sugar cone. Steve got a hot fudge sundae. And just like that we were heading into the setting Colorado sun with smirks on our face as if we just got the courage to ask a girl we liked and she said yes. A few hours later we had reached the small town near Jeff and Amy's house. We purchased a sixer, and hit the dirt road that led to "Casa de Turkey Rocks". Steve had told me that their house was nice but holy shit this place was amazing. Jeff and Amy's original house had burned down in forest fire a few years back and when they had the chance to build their dream house they did it. It was perfect. Beautiful arched doorways, great upper porch, beautiful tiles, and wooden decor. About as perfect as a house can get. They even built a garage with an upstairs workout room complete with a climbing woody, workout equipment, weights, and wrestling mats. Jeff and Amy are Judo instructors and although climbing and other outdoor sports are interests, Judo is their real passion. We didn't get to spend too much time hanging out with them but the little time we did spend together was great. Amy can make a great salsa (with soy sauce as a special ingriedient), Jeff can make a mean burger, both can whip the snot out of just about anyone, and they dig punk rawk. What's not to like. Seriously though, they are really great people who make you realize that in this society of impersonalization and insincerity, that there are still good folks out there. After a much needed good night's sleep we awoke early( 5am) to head up to the cliff that Steve had told me so much about. He assured me that this was The Place for honing crack skills. So after coffee and cliff bars we scrambled up the scruffy hill side through boulders, yucca, and sage to reach the cliff line. I wondered why places like Indian Creek get so much attention in the climbing media and places like Turkey Rocks don't get much. Well, I guess i kind of like it that way. Its always nice to have a place that is kind of a secret (although people have been climbing there for years: Jimmy Dunn, Dean Potter, Pete Takeda, and even John Bachar have spent time up there) and not as popular as the "crag du jour". Steve and Jeff had told me about this one line called Drumstick Direct. They said I should go and try to onsight it. I was skeptical but I sure was gonna give it a go. I figured if I could manage one last pitch it would be a hell of a way to end the trip. I roped up and fought throught the straight in hand jamming, grovelled my way through the wide fists section, eventually making my way through the roof all the while trying to manage an ever increasing ruthless pump. With screams of desparation i managed to pull out of the akward roof and establish on the face. With only about 10 feet left of crack climbing to the anchor i knew i had it in the bag. 130 feet later and sitting at the anchor, I pulled slack while Steve climbed up and watched a group of hawks soar back and forth from ledge to crack on the very cliff that i was perched on. I thought to myself what a life. It doesn't get much better than this. That's what climbing is all about for me. That feeling after 4 days of great climbing where body and mind are completely exhausted but pysche, vitality, and clarity are just begining to awaken again and soar like the birds around me.