A blog about climbing full time on the road.

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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Our first week of Penitence.

Penitente-Virgin Mary Painting
By Cassie:

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.

Penitente Camp

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.

Cassie on Lovesnake 10b/c


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.

Cassie on Whipping Post 11a

Whipping Post

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The first week of the trip is underway.


Friday May 13th - Saturday May 14th
For our first weekend of the trip we drove to Bozeman from SLC to watch my climbing team compete. They did amazing with probably the best results we've ever had. Watt got third by only the smallest of margins behind second and Clara tied for first place. Conner and McKinley also did very well. Hopefully this year we will have more than one climber go to Nationals. We left with many hugs after everyone was finished competing but we didn't stay for the awards ceremony. Instead we headed back to our previous night's campsite along the Gallatin river. When you are trying to camp for free it's best to give a lot of time to find a site. Luckily our spot was unoccupied and we were happy to setup camp again. It was significantly colder that night at we decided to lay in bed and watch a movie (thanks Chris!!!)



Sunday May 15th
The next day we decided to drive through Yellowstone NP. It was a good choice as there were very few other tourists and the scenery was outstanding. Buffalo grazing along the road in front of steamy thermal vents provided a scenic vista to behold. We hiked along the boardwalks to Fountain Paint Pot and enjoyed the unique pools of hot liquids which varied from clear blue water to thick muddy bubbling cauldrons. Each pullout had something different and the wind carried the steam quickly along the ground. In some of the pictures you can see how windy it is by how far along the ground the steam is carried. In a few places we were totally enveloped in the sulfuric aroma of the warm and wet venting. The colors ranged from vibrant blue to brilliant oranges with all other shades of the rainbow in between. Bison droppings were all around the vents probably because of the warmth they give off during the winter which helps melt the snow. Given that we have Mojo (our dog) with us hiking around wasn't really an option so we just did the short walks. I must say we would've loved spending more time but we needed to keep moving.

Sunset Lake

bison and steam

rainbow steam

it was THIS much snow!!

We crossed the Continental Divide 3 times that day. Last winter that area received over 600 inches where thy normally get about 400. We were blown away to see snow on the side of the road taller than the van. Many of the lakes were still completely frozen over. Leaving Yellowstone to the South took us directly past the Tetons. The views were incredible and we might have stayed there for the night if the campgrounds had been open and hadn't cost $20! We kept driving and passed Jackson, WY around dinner time. We took highway 191 towards Daniel and were discouraged to see a sign along the road posted by the Forest Service saying camping was only allowed in designated areas after May 1st. Luckily the Hoback river was almost flooding and the weather has been so poor that the campgrounds weren't open. We figured that meant we could camp anywhere we like and found a suitable spot high enough that any overnight rain wouldn't be a risk. After a bit of nervousness with the wind, threatening clouds and the roaring river we fell asleep.

The Grand Teton (i think)

Monday May 16th.
We awoke, brewed a quick cup of espresso and got on the road. The goal for the day was to get to Vernal in time to try and renew my Utah drivers license which happens expire while we will be in Europe. We got to Vernal by early afternoon, got our paperwork in order and renewed the license. Shopping was next on the list and we picked up a few greens and fruits to supply us for the week. Cassie and I are friends with a few people in Vernal and it was excellent of them to invite us to camp in their driveway and make dinner for us. Don, Trina, and Matt showed us a great time of fish tacos, beer and a great game of ladder golf. Much laughter was had by all watching all the cats and dogs interact. Trina and Don's roommate Shawn has a german shorthaired pointer named Ace who made Cassie and I very happy by proving that Mojo isn't the only dog who whines. In fact the whining was so similar to Mojo that it was pretty hard to tell who was doing it. We also unloaded a few items deemed to be superfluous. The van is slowly getting more streamlined... Thanks much to everyone for such a fantastic time and your hospitality! Hope you can kill a few minutes at work reading this :)

Tueday May 17th
We just left Vernal Utah and are headed East towards Colorado and Penitente. The weather for the week looks quite terrible for pretty much the entire West until next week. Given the conditions we have low expectations for the week of the trip where we'll be climbing. Our hope is that the area we are going will be drier than most and will allow us to do at least a few routes in between the raindrops. Can't say I'd rather be at work though even if the weather is less than favorable. We drove through a Douglas pass on route 139 on the way to Grand Junction and it snowed on us around 11am. It didn't stick which is pretty lucky given how treacherous that road had tons of dropoffs and switchbacks. We are now leaving Grand Junction and are headed toward Monte Vista, CO via US 50. We should be there later this evening, and if the weather holds climbing our first rock tomorrow!

Friday, May 13, 2011

we're off!!

Even mojo's early wakeup call wasn't quite enough to get us out the door by our goal of 9:00 this morning. But with last minute rearranging and packing by Matt and me cleaning the apartment we made it out the door and hit the road for Bozeman by 10:30. We now have both crashpads on top of the van and stuff crammed into every nook and cranny. Mojo can only hope there is no need for quick stops as he'll have a pile of gear landing on his head. With a few last minute panics of how it would all fit we are now comfortably leaving slc listening to a great mix from Elyse. Our goal for tonight is a campsite not too fat south of Bozeman along the Gelatin river. We'll post pics of the fully loaded van soon.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The junk glacier moveth.

The house is starting to feel pretty empty. We're down to two pieces of real furniture which consists of our bed, and our couch. The bed will be gone Wednesday evening and the couch should be gone by then as well. We did our first test pack yesterday and realized that we must eliminate a few things.
Filling up the largest box top Yakima makes was pretty easy. We were able to fit three 12 gallon bins, and our solar oven. Packed alongside of those boxes were long skinny items such as the tent and sleeping bags. Unfortunately two items that will be sacrificed are our large backpacks. We intended to bring 4 large backpacks, 2 for hauling climbing gear around and 2 for backpack trips. That's not going to happen since we just don't have the space.

the remains of our apartment

Shoes were the next thing to go. After packing all the shoes we realized we had about three 12 gallon bins full of climbing shoes, approach shoes, hiking shoes, running shoes, sandals, and our Sorrel winter boots. That's kind of a ridiculous amount of shoes. I suppose if we have a weakness it's for all the different styles and shapes of shoes. Having the right pair of shoes is critical, but where there isn't space there's only so much you can do about it. We opted for a single pair of running shoes instead of trail running and road running shoes, ditched the Sorrels, and eliminated a pair of approach shoes (yeah I had two pairs). We knew this was going to happen we just hadn't done the test pack yet. With the test pack completed that sliver of hope vanished and took the extra shoes with it. (we still have probably close to 20 pairs of just rock climbing shoes). Our hope is to just wear them out and throw them away when we're done with them.

Some things did make the cut however and we're happy to report that the pressure cooker, and the solar oven will make it. Most of the tools I wanted are going to be able to come as are a bunch of extra kitchen items like two large cutting boards and an assortment of other cooking items. We fully expect that we've over packed and that we'll be getting rid of some items along the way.

It's really tough to just get rid of things that are in perfect working shape. We have a bunch of nice blankets that we use at home, and there isn't anything wrong with them but we don't have the space. So, when the conversations happen for each item it usually goes like this "well here's this really nice item","yeah it's super nice but where will it fit","we probably don't have the space for it", "should we store it", "do we really need to store blankets?","no I guess that isn't necessary, it's not like we can't buy blankets when we get back","okay then it goes in the donate pile". Shortly thereafter a trip to Goodwill is undertaken with multiple garbage bags of stuff. The truly remarkable thing is that many of the items we're getting rid of are things we rarely (if ever) even use. In a lot of ways this has helped me see how many things can be owned but unused and may help me regulate my impulse to buy things we "really need" when we get back from the trip.

Here's a picture of the spare bedroom with just items we are taking. Some things have already been put in the van. Will it all fit? Only the van knows...

the trip gear room

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Climbing Trip Preparations

Now that we are getting read to start our trip there are a few things that need to be done. We've sold our Honda, the BMW Motorcycle, and have kept the Subaru for driving until a few days before we leave.
Our apartment is getting progressively more empty with loads going to goodwill (in Utah they are called Deseret Industries which are run by the Mormon church). Our friends have spoken up for the last few pieces of furniture left such as our bed, some tables and such. It looks kind of like a junk glacier in the house as items slowly but steadily move toward the front door to be donated or sold.
Last weekend we got rid of both dressers in about an hour with almost 20 phone calls shortly after posting. We even had a guy claim he was picking up the dresser for another person who had already said they were coming to get it! Apparently good deals attract all kinds of people.

Yesterday we made really good progress getting our major VW camper projects finished. The first was a pretty intense install of some hydraulics for helping us lift the pop-top when it's loaded down with gear (this is made by a company called GoWesty it's called the lift assist kit, and we give it a big thumbs up). Considering that the Yakima box on top is literally the largest box Yakima makes it will definitely be needed. Last summer we had a significantly smaller box on top and Cassie was unable to raise the pop-top and I could only after putting in so much time that an analogy to Sisyphus seemed reasonable. So, we're happy to report that after significant amounts of cussing, griping, complaining, swearing (yeah I put that in twice), drilling, wrestling, and worrying it was installed and does indeed provide a significant amount of assistance. I can now put the top up using the tips of my two index fingers. While the top is unloaded however pulling the top back down is now incredibly difficult. Cassie can literally hang from the bar used to raise/lower the top and it goes nowhere. After the box is loaded things should get better.

GoWesty Pop-Top Hydraulic Lift Assist 
We also waterproofed the canvas, and installed a GoWesty Wasser-Stopper rainfly. It's like an additional tent that wraps around the existing pop-top tent. In the Pacific-Northwest we're hoping it will help us be nice and dry in the van even if the weather is nasty. It has the added benefit of wrapping around the top of the van where there is storage area, creating a vestibule for storing gear and keeping it dry. Hopefully many soggy nights will be avoided. It was super easy to install and should be pretty simple to put up in the event of a rainstorm. Given that we cannot just abandon the trip and head "home" we're thinking that these kinds of features will make us much more comfortable.

GoWesty Wasser-Stopper Rainfly
That's all for the last minute preparations. Only 7 days and counting till we leave for Bozeman and my USA climbing team's regional competition. The drive to Bozeman begins Friday May 13th. At that point we will officially consider our world climbing trip underway.