June 27, 2010

Climbing Road Trip - Part I

Ava and I just finished the first part of our summer road trip. The next phase will entail me teaching a Backcountry Rock Climbing Course in the Wyoming's Wind River Range while Ava heads to southern Colorado to work on a farm for a month. After that, we plan to resume our summer climbing road trip.

Phase I consisted of a day of climbing in the Flatirons of Boulder, Colorado, two days of climbing in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), and two days of climbing at Wild Iris, about 30 minutes southwest of Lander, Wyoming. To kick things off, and since we didn't have a car as mine was still in the shop, we started with the Direct East Face of the First Flatiron. This is a 7 to 10 pitch classic moderate line in the Boulder area, with the added benefit of being able to walk to it from Keith's place in South Boulder. At a grade of 5.6, it wasn't particularly challenging but provided a great warm up since I hadn't climbed in a while. The weather was beautiful and we made it from house to house in just under 8 hours.

After getting Quatra back (that's what I'm calling my car these days), we made our way to RMNP to climb a couple of classic lines that I never managed to climb when I lived in Colorado. We got an early start on our first day and made our way from the Glacier Gorge Trailhead to the base of Sharkstooth. We spent the next several hours climbing the Northeast Ridge of Sharkstooth, a beautiful Grade II, 5.6 alpine rock climb. It was great fun, and in addition to being a wonderful climb in itself, also served as a great warm up for the following day's objective, the South Face of Petit Grepon.

Our first view of the Sharkstooth early on our first day

Looking up from the base of the climb

Ava climbing the ledge systems fit for marmots

The inset a couple pitches up the Northeast Ridge

Ava eating (typical) after climbing the Sharkstooth

We spent the night at Sky Lake, which is dramatically situated at the base of the climb we intended to do the next day.

The South Face of Le Petit Grepon (fun to say with an outrageous French accent) is a super classic (read "super crowded") climb on an intensely impressive feature.  At Grade III, 5.8, the climbing difficulty was pushing my mental and physical limits.  Knowing this in advance, we decided to begin the climb, and see how things went.  We could have easily bailed at pretty much any point if we decided we were in over our heads.

Petit Grepon from the base

The climb started out easy with two long 5.4 pitches, followed by a 5.7+ pitch which sets the tone for the rest of the climb.  Moving in to the awkward 5.7 portion of this pitch, I needed to remove my pack, which I clipped to a piece of gear and made Ava bring up when she followed.  Without the pack, I moved steadily to the next anchor.  Ava seemed to do just fine carrying both of our packs, so I "let" her continue doing this for the next few pitches.  The fourth pitch was the crux 5.8 pitch which had some steep, pumpy moves followed by about 8 feet of finger crack leading to easier ground.  I had to sit on a piece of gear just before reaching the finger crack, and in doing this noticed a fantastic foot hold that I hadn't seen before.  Using this helped me easily pass the section I had been struggling on, only to reach the dubious finger crack.  I moved quickly as my arms were already tired.  The fact that I was able to clip two stuck cams on my way up and avoid placing my own gear greatly increased my speed.  Before I knew it, I was through the crux and confident I could finish the climb.  The fifth pitch proved to be the most mentally demanding, primarily due to route finding difficulties.  Sufficient wandering eventually brought me to an adequate but less than ideal anchor.  At this point I was wishing the route was over, but the slightly easier and very fun and exposed climbing over the final two pitches left me wanting more when I reached the top.

Ava at one of our less ledgy belays

A party in front of us finishing the climb

Ava and me on top of Petit Grepon

We joined ropes with two other guys at the top to do a series of double rope rappels to reach the ground near our starting point.  Five rappels brought us to the ground, which we were quite happy to be standing on once again.  After breaking camp, we hiked back to the car, arriving shortly after dark.  This turned out to be the best two-day climbing trip I have ever been on!

We spent the next day driving to Lander, where we spent the night before driving to Wild Iris to sport climb for the next two days.  Wild Iris is a limestone crag in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.  There are quite a few climbs here, but most are beyond either of our ability levels.  In two days we were able to climb most of the routes within our range.  Highlights included Ava leading a couple of 5.9's, which she had never done before, and I put up a 5.10a, which matches the hardest sport climbs I have ever led.

In 5 days of climbing, we managed to climb conglomerate (Flatirons), gneiss and granite (RMNP), and limestone (Wild Iris) in a Colorado/Wyoming tour.  I now feel good and ready to teach my backcountry rock course.

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