|Penitente-Virgin Mary Painting|
We made it to Penitente Canyon in the San Luis Valley of Colorado after leaving Vernal. The drive was beautiful – over multiple mountain passes with snow and all kinds of crazy weather and scenery. We made a stop at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison which is a climbing area well known for scary multi pitch climbs – I got nervous enough just looking down from the overlooks. In some places there were no guard rails on the road and the drop was about 2000 feet. Not somewhere we are quite ready for or are interested in climbing just yet (if ever) but quite spectacular. We drove more in the first 5 days than we plan to make a habit of and were quite happy to arrive at Penitente Canyon. The canyon is really beautiful. In the early 1900's it was a bit of a hideout for a sect of catholic monks who painted a picture of Mary on one of the main walls. The walls are fairly short (under 100 ft) and made up of volcanic welded tuft which makes for slabby or vertical walls with some good pockets, so mostly technical climbs (technical climbing means delicate footwork instead of requiring strong upper body strength). There's a cheap campground ($5 a night for now, they are raising the rates soon to $11) right at the entrance to the climbing area and you can walk to the climbing easily. We are planning to stay until after Memorial Day.
|Colorado Rainstorm (by Cassie)|
|Black Canyon of the Gunnison|
Before coming here we had worried that mid May in southern Colorado may be a bit too hot for good climbing. We were wrong to be too concerned. It's been between 55 and 70 every day. The daily routine here has been wake up – talk about how great the weather looks, make espresso and breakfast, look at the clouds building, get on a couple climbs – roast in the sun, hope for and enjoy the clouds, watch the clouds build to the point of threatening to rain, head back to the van for lunch, then watch thick snow, huge hail, or pounding rain come down for a few hours to most of the day. That's what you get in the springtime at 8000ft. It's been dry enough to get some climbing in every day, but the storms have kept things interesting. We've been keeping ourselves entertained through the bad weather with movies and trying to figure out where to put stuff and what to get rid of so that we can sit comfortably inside the van while keeping everything dry. Mojo is enjoying sleeping in the sun, or chasing the chipmunks who try to steal our food.
Before getting here we had only been bouldering for the last year – the last time we've led any routes was probably last summer. You can get really strong and do a few really hard moves while bouldering but leading is a completely different mental game. Since we've been out of it for so long, we quickly found we had to take things down a few steps to regain our lead heads and learn how the rock here feels. We thought a reasonable place to start would be a 5.9+ called “What the Hey” that the book said had 7 bolts. In reality it only had 4 and was very awkward and runout, so, we bailed and took it down a couple more notches. We found a few easier climbs such as “How the West was Won” 5.8+ which was a great hueco jughaul and some other slab climbs which were fun and great for remembering how to lead and how to climb slabs.
Slabs are less than vertical rock where often the handholds are pretty poor and the feet are what is called smeary, to define smeary feet: feet in which there is no sharp edge or good horizontal surface to stand upon. These footholds are sloping downward and generally do not elicit a feeling of confidence. Often your feet on these holds feel like they are constantly slipping off.
Each day we've been climbing harder climbs and getting a bit more confident. This was our fifth day of straight climbing and we are worn out. The rock here forms great corners and since Matt loves stemming he is in heaven here. Stemming is when you are in a corner with a foot on each side of the wall (see picture above). We've both redpointed our first 11a's of the trip (“Mysterious Blonde” and “Whipping Post”) and are getting excited to keep pushing ourselves (while trying to remember it's only the first week) Today we tried an 11d called “Forbidden Fruits” which looked like it was well bolted and fun. I took a good lead fall which was quite exciting since my feet stayed on longer than my hands resulting in my body flipping upside down and spinning sideways. I was not expecting to fall like that and was happy I was wearing my helmet as it banged across the wall. But just a couple small scrapes and everything is fine. We might try it again after a much needed rest day tomorrow.