Monday, April 30, 2012

The Sienna Rides Again

The past two weeks have been pretty busy for me.  The looming shadow of finals week was cast heavily over Laramie, and I spent most of my time navigating the stormy seas of everyday life.  Despite the metaphorical misery, I was able to get in two productive days.  The first weekend, Seth and I returned to Vedauwoo for a classic 12 hour day of crack climbing.  We started off at Lower Blair so that I could lead the first pitch of Le Petit Arbre, which is as good as 5.6 crack climbing gets.  I was able to cruise it, and left feeling confident.

Atop the Classic Pitch

We then went on to the Plumbline crag where Seth led the namesake climb, which is a perfect 5.9 splitter hand crack ascending a 40' boulder.  As usual, I grunted my way up it and took copious rests.  The rest of the afternoon was spent at Reynolds hill, where Seth led both Crime and Punishment (5.9+) and Pooh Corner (5.9).  I led Maiden (5.6), and had a bit of what Seth calls "a moment" on my first go.  You see, a "moment" is a period of distress and internal conflict set on by by a variety of factors, and this particular "moment" happened to be set on by unnecessary panic.  I ran out of proper pieces around the crux sequence of the climb, and proceeded to rant about how all of my previous pieces were horribly placed and would never catch me in the unlikely event of a fall.  I lowered off my last cam and Seth ran up the route, laughing at how good all the placements actually were.  So with one extra #3 C4, I nervously went back up and finished it.  Just shows how you really get in your own head sometimes.  Thoroughly satisfied and beat up, we hiked out from Reynolds Hill in near darkness, talking about the possibilities for next time.
Climb and Punishment in all its glory
 Pre-moment on Maiden
 Pooh Corner in the evening light
A week later, it was time for another day at Neverland.  Nick was the only other person willing to go out on the Saturday before finals, even bailing on a lot of fraternity business to go climb some rocks.
The first order of business was returning to the Chunks to rescue Davin's "no Wal-Mart piece of junk" crowbar, which Seth and I left under Vanity after using it to pull a monstrous loose block from the top.  The mission was successfully completed, and the second order of business was finishing off Nick's project from last time.  What at first seemed really awkward and unpleasant actually turned out to be a pretty good line.  The climb goes up a series of unique sidepulls and crimps with tricky footwork, ending on a fun dynamic bump to a sloped edge.  The style is definitely unique, and somewhat hard to grade- we guessed V4ish.  Nick named it Airstream Abduction, after the mega creepy Airstream camper parked by a pond just downhill from the boulder.
  Nick pulling hard on the final moves of Airstream Abduction
With AA off the tick list, we drove deeper into the dreamscape of Neverland to the Grove in search of new rock.  It was a fairly peculiar day; heavy rainstorms and thick fog covered the nearby higher mountains while we had sunshine with a random 10 minutes of snow.  We also saw more wildlife than I've ever seen out there, including a herd of 50+ elk, a wild turkey, and a brilliantly bright mountain blue bird.
  Neverland elk
 Just another monster roof, no big deal
Delicious gneiss...

After a while of wandering around the potential, we found a really nice slightly overhung boulder with plentiful features on excellent stone.  I put up a line going up the center of the main face, called The Sienna Rides Again (V2), which is probably the best problem I've ever put up at that grade.  Every move is pretty much perfect, from a super bomb gaston at the beginning to the heel-hook topout.  I couldn't help but run several laps on it, super fun.  I also did an alternate start that bypasses the gaston in favor of a dyno to the good edge out left.  On the far left side of the face, Nick put up a short, but fun roof problem that he named Shark Tank (V3).  It has a single awkward crux move at the beginning, followed by cruiser laybacking up a great seam system.  The finish traverses left on a rail system to the walkoff, and I cleaned a traverse to the right that should yield a really good crimpy alternative finish and linkup with The Sienna Rides Again.

The Sienna Rides Again
 Nick enjoying the excellent holds
 The really hard way of doing things...
 ...about a minute after figuring out better beta.  
Twas another long and productive day at Neverland, producing new problems and further incentive to get out there and find the next great boulder.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Never-Ending Weekend and Death of a Sienna

The past two weeks have been a bit of a change.  Most major crags in the area are free of snow, and its been warm enough to rope up and climb some routes.  On Easter weekend, we got in a solid four straight days of climbing.  Shane and I started off the weekend at the lesser-known local crag of Rogers Canyon.  Rogers is a small canyon that can be reached via North 9th street (which turns into Rogers Canyon Road), less than 10 minutes out of Laramie.  The rock is rather sharp, but good limestone with a variety of routes, mostly in the 5.10-5.12 range and 30-45 feet long.

Shane on top of one of the cliffs

 At the top of an easy lead

We did three easy leads- all of which were of good quality and pretty fun.  I onsighted all except for the last one we did, called The Negative Creep (5.10 variation), due to the fact that I bitched out of the move to the last clip.  When it comes to heights, I'm a complete gumby and I'm not afraid to admit it.  Its always been a big problem for me, but I've been gradually developing a better lead head and getting more comfortable doing harder moves high off the deck.  I've been super motivated to translate my bouldering strength to my route climbing, so naturally, sport climbing has been taking high priority lately.

The next day, Shane and I were joined by Nick Turner on another afternoon session to Pilot Hill, an even more obscure local limestone crag.  What we found was mostly top rope anchors and a handful of bolted, really hard looking routes (I later found out we weren't in the best area of the crag, which is surprisingly long).  Unsure of the routes, we ended up setting up some TR's on a few of the anchors and winging it.  The rock was super sharp and definitely needs some cleaning; we all lost a good bit of skin and I broke of a pretty significant hold on one route.  Like Rogers, the walls are pretty short, however I found Pilot Hill to be more aesthetically pleasing.  The cliff band sits up on a small ridge, overlooking an archaic Eastern Wyoming landscape that our paleolithic ancestors once roamed.

 The beginning of the cliff band

 View from the base of the cliffs

On Saturday, Nick and I went to the Sport Climbing Center in Colorado Springs for our final regional CCS competition.  It was good fun, and all the routes were well set.  Neither of us won anything, but we were just happy to go compete and rep UW.  Afterwards, Nick called up the local chapter of his fraternity, SAE, and they let us crash at their house for the night.  It turned out that half of them were climbers too; one even mentioned looking around the Laramie area for a mythical place called the "boulder lands," which I found pretty amusing.

After a recovering from a pretty wild night, we stopped by Clear Creek Canyon near Golden, CO, for some quick cragging.  Since he was pretty hungover, Nick made me lead everything, which I had no complaints about- I was in route mode!  We only did two climbs: Poker Face (5.9) and Deuces High (5.10a), and I didn't let fear get the best of me that time.  The only off-putting thing was climbing with crowds again.

A few of the many Clear Creek Canyon crags

 Classic shoes-looking-down-the-route shot

Sadly, like all things, the Never-ending weekend had to pass, and life moved on.

After a week of normal life, it was time for more adventure.  Davin, Nick, and Seth Sivinski drove out to Neverland on Saturday to attempt to boulder.  With a terrible weather forecast, we weren't sure if we would climb at all.  At the Snowflake sector, good conditions turned into hell on earth, which turned into GREAT conditions, all in less than an hour.  The Mountain West is truly a meteorologist's dream come true.

The group split up and 13 new problems went down that day.  Davin and Seth stayed low on some egg-like boulders with flat landings, while Nick and I did some work higher on the nearby hill.  I put up two problems: Derailed (V2) and Vanity (V3).  Derailed works up a system of angled crimps and edges to an easy 5th class topout, while Vanity shoots straight up a beautiful overhanging face.

Nick working out his beta on Derailed

 Seth working on Vanity

Since the weather turned out to be really nice, we decided to drive into the Grove sector, which led to some misfortune for my van.  I believe it was Socrates who once said "shit happens."

 Not my finest hour

That made me feel pretty shitty.  But we climbed anyways.  Climbing with a bit of frustration is good sometimes, I nabbed the third ascent of This Will Destroy You (V4), Seth's project on the Evening Wall that he finished moments earlier, and almost onsighted an unnamed V5 of Davin's just to the left.  A pleasant ending to a day with extreme ups and downs.

One day and one Sienna rescue mission later, Seth and I went out to Vedauwoo to get our crack on.  We started by working on the Beer Crack, which is a steeply overhanging hand crack boulder problem.  Seth, having significantly more crack climbing experience than me, cruised it up to the crux.  After about a half hour of work, I was able to work my way through the first 4 or 5 moves, which reassured me that I don't suck too terribly.  

  The Beer Crack

In the last hours of daylight, we hiked to Reynold's Hill to get on Pooh Corner, which has a very popular first pitch of 5.9 jamming in an interesting corner.  Seth made easy work of the route on lead, despite loss of blood that got everywhere, and rigged a TR for me to try it out on.  My performance was nothing short of pitiful: desperately hanging on one good jam and trying to work out foot beta while weighting the rope every 30 seconds or so.  Seth is a fun and motivating climbing partner though, and only made fun of me about 80% the time I was climbing.  Crack climbing is yet another one of my weaknesses, which I also plan to work super hard in the near future.  With bloody and numb hands, the two of us left Reynold's excited to climb some more cracks, and formulated plans for an all day crack marathon next Saturday.  Can we survive "100 points" at the Voo?  

 We shall soon find out...


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Double Dose of Neverland

It has been bizarrely warm in Southeastern Wyoming for the past two weeks, which has seemingly marked the opening of the spring climbing season.  Naturally, the entirety of both of my weekends were spent bouldering at the hidden climbing paradise of Neverland.  

The first weekend, Shane Williams and I drove out to explore mostly new territory near the Snowflake and Old Neverland sectors. It had been a while since we had last been able to access the crags, and I was rightfully worried about getting in and out with my lovely Toyota Sienna, but we made it with only a few dings and nicks.  We started off near the Snowflake sector, walking the entire length of the small mountain that overshadows it.  In the first rocky outcropping, we stumbled upon a fairly disturbing and ominous "shrine" of sorts, consisting of decorative paper, a feather, and a deer bone.  It was rather unnerving, yet we decided to press on in hopes that it would not be a sign of horrible things to come.

The Shrine

After hours of walking around, we didn't find much high quality rock.  We ended up near a place already explored, called the Chunks due to the rock's abundance of large feldspar crystals.  Its pretty wild looking.

 Shane Checking out a line in the Chunks

Having not gotten much done, we decided to drive to Old Neverland to try to find some good lines.  We arrived around 5:00 pm, so we spent most of the evening walking around the established areas and scrambling up the cliffs, saving the climbing for the next day.  
  Panorama of Old Neverland
Feeling refreshed after a night of somewhat ghetto fire-side conversation and car camping, we arose and hit the boulders. The goal was to put up some new lines, so we went past the developed stuff in search of some good boulders.  Highlights included a V1 highball by Shane called Big Baby and a short, strenuous problem by me called Wild Turkey (V5), which featured nice slopers and some good ol' boulder humping.

Wrestling the Wild Turkey
Our best find of the day was a boulder high up in the trees on the far right side of Old Neverland.  We dubbed it the 99 Problems boulder, due to the gentle roof that holds dozens of lines on it, the best ones being super fun V1 jug hauls.  We did 5 different climbs on that section before turning to the rest of it.  The far side of the boulder yielded two more moderates, A Bitch (V4) and Girl Problems (V2).
Shane trying to sort out his problems
The 99 Problems boulder in its entirety

We left feeling pretty good about ourselves and a little sunburned.  A good weekend.  The subsequent week remained pleasant, and I went to get my crack on at Vedauwoo with Mr. Josh Fog, a former trip leader from the UW Outdoor Program, on a particularly windy Monday afternoon.  When I say particularly windy, bear in mind that I live in Wyoming. 
 We had ourselves a bit of an epic trying to reach the routes we wanted, and the wind was admittedly mentally taxing.  I backed out of the lead on Captain Nemo (5.8) opting to second Josh up it, and was still a little freaked out by the 45 mph winds that blasted us.  It had been a while since I plugged gear on the sharp end too, so I only ended up leading a generic 5.6 line later on.  Regardless, I was happy with that and committed myself to leading every worthwhile 5.6 in the area, followed by every 5.7, and so forth...I have a good sized tick list so it'll be easy to keep track of.
The next weekend soon arrived, and it was another two days at Neverland.  The first day, Jamie Emerson, Brian Capps, Justin Jaeger, and Collin Horvat all came up from various parts of Northern Colorado to check out the area.  Because of a seemingly universal rough Friday night, Davin and I were the only ones to make it out from Laramie, however, Bryan Vansickle did manage to get out of work in Douglas to come down for the weekend.  It was a great crew, and unfortunately I forgot my camera that day...but Jamie   and Davin   didn't, and both have great blogs (and photography skills).   
All of the Colorado guys were really psyched to get on some of the harder problems, particularly Crazy in the Ocean (V10) in Old Neverland and the brand new Power of Contentment (V9), on the huge roadside roof mentioned a couple of posts ago.  Crazy in the Ocean saw 3 more ascents that day, bringing the total to 6, and The Power of Contentment  saw its second ascent and the first ascent of a new variation.  Being the one younger and weaker climber in a group of 7 guys that climb double digit boulder problems was pretty interesting- discouraging and motivating at the same time.  Luckily, like most other truly good climbers, they're all super good people who are just stoked on doing what they do.  Feeling strong from the energy and encouragement of the group, I managed to send my first V6, called Maybe Baby.  This was a big step for me since V6 was my goal for the entire spring season, and yet another taste of the fact that anything is possible if you want it enough.

  The remainder of the daylight was consumed by racing against dusk to show off some of the other Neverland sectors, the most pleasant of which was a stop by the Frontiers wall.  The Frontiers wall is a rocky outcropping that boasts outstanding rock and scenery, which in the low light of the sunset and jovial atmosphere of the group, really captured the essence of what the whole Neverland area is all about: long quiet days on world-class rock with good people.  Later on, everyone departed, and plans were set for the next day.
Just like my first day there, it was the good old crew consisting of Davin, Bryan, and myself.  Without much hesitation, we decided to check out a completely new mountain which had already been known to hold some excellent rock. What we found was much more than expected.  Within no more than 200 meters from the car, we found steep boulder after steep boulder, with many features reminiscent of Hueco Tanks.  Problems and projects started going up fast.
 Taking a breather on a new 5.12a traverse
 Working out the beta on a potential cave problem

I only put up one new line that day, but I was super happy with it.  Hailed as "the best climb of any of the new kids,"  Negative Jugs (V4/5) has a little bit of everything, from crimps to basketball-sized slopers.  Its also quite an aesthetically pleasing line, with interesting features and brightly colored lichens.  Maybe one day, it will be a local classic.
Negative Jugs- can you see them?

After tiring ourselves out, we walked back to the car in a manner that allowed us to see some boulders that we hadn't seen earlier.  We were excited by what we were seeing, especially since we hadn't even really gotten onto mountain itself at all that day.  Just before leaving the area, I caught a glimpse of a large roof in the distance, and casually said "Hey, did you guys see that?"  What ensued was a barrage of "Oh my gods!" and "What the fucks!?" worthy of an Alien stomach-explosion moment.  It appeared as though we had discovered one of the largest roofs in the country, nay, the world!
 A true gem hidden amongst the pines

 What a kid in a candy store looks like

And yes, it has been deemed climbable, and its going down.  This gave us even more insight into what this new area holds.  The sector we worked on today, now called the Aspen Grove, is only a tiny part of what the rest of the mountain has to offer.  Its overwhelming just to think about.  Even if we developed every line on this one peak, there are still dozens of others that are just the same- completely unexplored.  At the end of the day, no matter how much we've accomplished, there will always be far more left undone.
 A parting shot of the Aspen Grove