Sunday, June 16, 2013

Downtime and the Devil's Kitchen

To put it eloquently, athletic injuries fucking suck.

Over the past 3 months or so, I've been struggling with a nagging shoulder injury that flares up and dies down almost unpredictably at times.  I took a month off right after the spring semester ended, where Marina & I took a trip to the Moab area for some hiking & Canyoneering.

Southern Utah is a place that will always be special to me. I have many fond memories of the spectacularly carved canyons and fierce desert landscapes.  The Needles district of Canyonlands National Park stands out for me in particular, with it's easily accessible, but rugged and adventurous trail systems.  As far as National Parks go, the Needles are just so...non-commercial.  Unlike the tourist havens of Yellowstone or Arches, the Needles still remain a very wild and remote place where you'll see only a handful of other hikers on most days.

Enjoying lunch under the Druid Arch in the Needles

Canyons for days...
 Apart from our stay in the Needles, we stopped in to Arches (CROWDED) for a day where we did an easy technical route called U-Turn.  It consisted of four easy rappels and outstanding views of the park that get you away from the hordes of visitors.

Our last day in Utah, we did a slot canyon just outside of Arches, dubbed the Winter Camp Slot.  Though the route itself is easy, it's really off the beaten path, and the hardest part can be finding it!  Once at the start, you encounter a 190 foot rappel into complete darkness, followed by a 1 mile hike through narrow slots that eventually open up.

The initial rappel
 Our trip was made substantially easier with the aid of detailed route descriptions, maps, and photos from the "Circle of Friends" program at, well worth the annual $40 fee if you're into it.  Also, I've finally rid myself of the Sienna and bought Bryan's '99 Cherokee Classic, which may or may not be one of the best decisions of my young life.

 A few weeks and one pain-free session at the 420's later, I figured I'd be good to get back into climbing again, so I made the classic pilgrimage to Lander for a weekend of bouldering and sport climbing.  I was most excited to see the Devil's Kitchen, an extensive (almost endless) talus field of granite gneiss boulders in a breathtaking location.
I met up with David Lloyd at 8:00 a.m. sharp Friday morning, where we made the arduous journey into the Popo Agie Wilderness.  In the growing warmth of the morning sun, we arrived at the trailhead and began the hike down into the bowels of the Devil's Kitchen. You really have to visit these boulders in person to appreciate the scale of the area; the pile literally goes on for miles.  David and I chose to spend the day in the Upper Kitchen, which is the smaller pile near the waterfall.

The Upper Kitchen

After a quick tour of the established problems (such as One Shot Antelope) and some snooping around for new lines, we started the day at a boulder high up on the ridge.  I cleaned and climbed an easy V2ish warm-up deep inside the little pit, then turned my attention to the harder line that David cleaned off.  The line turned out to be a little more difficult than we originally guessed, and after some work, David pieced together most of the moves.  We left it as a project in favor of finding something more doable.

I was psyched to get on Paradise Found, an excellent and tall V5 with a high crux.  I cruised it a few times to the crux sequence, which involves a funky dead hand/foot swing move on small crimps.  After several solid efforts, I tweaked my shoulder again on the crux move, which more or less ended my day of climbing.  Frustrated, I turned my attention to photographing David's new line which climbs out of a small chasm between two boulders.  After a few burns, he cranked out Mosh Pit (V4).

The Mosh Pit
David also sent a V6 just right of the problem Black Sea (V11) and a no-name V4 traverse nearby, while I gingerly made my way up a fun V1.  

Unnamed? V6
About to call it a day, we crossed the river and explored a small area of boulders near the trail.  We found several blocks with potential, but one in particular stood out.  It was a dead horizontal roof with a line of good holds moving straight up its face.  We initially thought that it would go around V3/4, but quickly realized that the opening moves were very hard.  With immense motivation, David pieced together all of the moves and was able to pull of a last-minute FA of the Resurrection (V7).  The crux is about 3 strenuous moves on bad slopers.

The Resurection
Thoroughly satisfied with the day's happenings, we made the steep trek out.  After getting back on the two-tracks that lead into the area, David pointed out that we could take an "alternative" route out which goes straight up a steep hill to gain better views.  Figuring the jeep would hold up, I blasted towards the hill, crawling up at a steady pace.

About 20 feet from the top with the pedal to the floor, the jeep came to a dead stop.  Unsure of what to do, I put it in park and the two of us frantically jumped out.  For the next 20 minutes or so, we stared at the jeep, which was sitting at a 30 degree angle 300 feet up some hill in the middle of the Wind River mountains.  How the hell were we going to get out: a) alive? and b)alive with a working vehicle?

We eventually devised a method of backing the car down, consisting of me backing down in intervals of about 2 inches at a time while David held the door open for me to escape, just in case.  A half hour later and we were down the hill, with both our bodies and the car intact.  With the sun's light fading over the mountains, our adventure came to an end as we laughed and sighed our way home.

Not the place you want to get stuck
 Obviously, my climbing summer is somewhat jeopardized by this shoulder injury.  The next few weeks will be focused on getting to the bottom of it and healing so that I can hopefully get in some hard climbing this summer!

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