Archive for March, 2011

With just a half day left in the Tucson area Pete and I decided to visit Saguaro National Park, which would be a new National Park for both of us. If we’d had more time available, I’d have loved to do a backpacking trip up into the pine forests of the Rincon Mountains. Instead, we hiked a few short trails around the north side of the Cactus Forest Drive.

Warming up with the quarter-mile Desert Ecology Trail we enjoyed the still cool air and snapped a few photos while quickly reading the informative signs.

A quick drive brought us to the Cactus Forest Trail’s northern trailhead and we headed south towards the Lime Kilns and Lime Falls.

On the return journey a jack rabbit checked us out before running off.

Back at the car we continued on to the Loma Verde trailhead and set off on the park’s recommended 3 mile loop consisting of the Loma Verde, Pink Hill and Squeeze Pen trails. That last trail name recalled my all-time favorite trail name, Great Smoky Mountain’s “Sweat Heifer trail”.

By the time we started the return portion of the loop the day had warmed up beyond what either of us Colorado boys were comfortable with and the scenery mostly passed as we just though of returning to the car.

Had the park been blooming (like it should in another month) our hikes might have been delayed by additional photo opportunities and we may have only covered half the miles.

Complete photo album


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After sleeping off our climb of Baboquivari, Pete and I drove back through Tucson and up to the Mount Lemmon highway. Stopping at Windy Point we investigated the Hitchcock Pinnacle, but decided it was a little too cold to climb just yet.

In a possibly foolish move, we continued up the highway and hiked in to the Matterhorn formation. A near circumnavigation of the rock located the start of the Standard Route (5.4), a chimney with a chockstone.

Unfortunately, the route was still shaded, but being only 5.4 I figured we could climb it with numb hands. After going up the chimney, traversing right past a bolt I kept going right until I decided the terrain was going to get harder than 5.4 above and went back left. After setting up an anchor in a perfect crack, I spotted two bolts just feet away (but one had an old Leeper hanger, so I trusted my cams more anyway). I was now in the sun and would have been warming up if the wind hadn’t also picked up.

Pete had chilled quite a bit while belaying so tried to warm up and then follow the route. My wandering path didn’t help much, but he eventually reached the belay and I set off up the second pitch, which had limited protection beyond the chickenheads I could sling, but was an easier jugfest of a pitch.

Pete enjoyed this pitch much more than the first and likened it to the Flatirons.

From the summit we scrambled off towards a tree and rappelled a short distance back to walking terrain. Our next diversion (after lunch) was a short stroll to the top of Mount Lemmon, just outside the fenced radar installations.

On our way back down the highway we briefly pulled over at Windy Point, but climbers were on Hitchcock Pinnacle so we left it for another day. Instead we continued to the warm and sunny Green Slabs and found the 5.6/7 route Monkey Business open for climbing.

After a lap on that route we picked out a campsite a little lower down, then drove into Tucson for dinner at the Nimbus Brewery.

Complete photo album

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Our travel goes smoothly and Pete and I land in Tucson with all our luggage and quickly do a little shopping before fleeing town for the Tohono O’odham Nation, on whose land lies Baboquivari Peak.

The permit costs us nothing, and the camping is the same – a great deal for the easy access this provides. We scout out the beginning of the hiking trail to the peak, cook dinner and sort gear for tomorrow’s climb.

Shortly after sunset we retire expecting to wake before 5am.

Alarms wake us as planned and we have a quick breakfast and begin hiking by headlamp and appreciate the cool morning temperatures. The sun is soon rising, but we’re on the shady side of the peak and enjoying the delayed onset of direct sun.

Two and a half hours takes us to the Great Ramp/Lion’s Ledge split. We cache some water here and start scrambling along the brushy Lion’s Ledge south of the peak. Another half-hour deposits us at the base of the Southeast Arete, a 6-pitch 5.6 climb that we hope to complete to the summit. After gearing up and making one final bushy traverse to a little alcove we flake out the rope and I start up pitch one.

The climbing is fairly easy and the protection adequate. At about the 30 meter mark I reach a large horn and small saddle and recognize pitch 2 on the steep wall directly ahead. Slinging the horn I build a quick belay and let Pete know he can start climbing.

While he climbs I examine the next pitch, which has been described as sandbagged 5.6. It certainly intimidates with the immediate and large exposure off to the left. Pete soon arrives and I re-rack to attempt this pitch which has shutdown other parties.

I find the climbing to be a little thoughtful, carefully thinking out my moves given the small-sizes of cracks and the exposure. However, the difficulties really don’t last too long and I’m shortly on a large ledge sinking #2-#3 cams for an anchor and belaying Pete up.

The next pitch is easier, but climbs right through a tree, then a little bulge to another broken ledge where I decide to belay again.

The forth pitch proves to be a little delicate for the limited gear I’m able to place, but quickly eases off and I hit the narrow ledge that is traversed to two bolts and the base of our fifth pitch.

Pete handles the traverse well, and I begin to realize how so many parties get benighted on this route. The scenery and exposure is just stunning and we’re constantly stopping to take photos.

I’m even pausing on lead to take photos at the climbing below and Pete dutifully belaying.

The pitch five layback is a blast, but the rock quality deteriorates towards the top and rather than place cams in loose rock cracks, I end up running it out a bit to a large ledge.

We coil the rope and scramble to the false summit, work out the down climb into the notch between the two and then rope up for one final pitch (again, a little runout on thin gear, but technically easy climbing).

More scrambling until we can’t go any higher. We obey the tradition of leaving gifts for I’itoi, eat some lunch and leaf through the summit register.

Following some detailed descriptions, we find work our way down the Forbes route and locate the rappel anchors. A little more wandering puts us on the Great Ramp right back to our water cache.

The still-cool water tastes wonderful and powers us back down the trail to camp, for a nearly 12 hour round trip. Even the cacti seem to be dancing with us.

Dinner is started with a few beers and only hampered by the lack of a can opener.

I do love adventure climbs, and the length, difficulty, route finding, exposure and views on the Southeast Arete added up to one of my favorite days in the mountains.

Much more of our climb and descent are captured in the following video:

Adam’s photo album
Pete’s photo album

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An early start assured us that we were the first party at Wind Tower, however the morning wind and only-just-now-getting-sun rock had be glad I’d stuffed a hand warmer into my chalk bag and that I hadn’t picked a climb harder than 5.6 to start on.

Calypso, our route for the morning, has a reputation as being slick, insecure and awkward, especially for the easy grade. It has held a spot on my to-do list for a couple years but usually has a line at its base. Between the reputation (a few fatal leader falls have occurred) and the temperatures, I placed a lot more pro than I might normally for the grade. At least the sun was out and I was pretty warmed up by the time I reached the anchor bolts. Planning for a few pitches, we were carrying some water, snacks and extra layers. The added weight of a pack probably didn’t help Pete as he tried to work out the starting moves to gain the dihedral.

Still, he was climbing fairly well given the nature of the pitch and he tackled the roof moves just fine.

It was the slick layback moves above the roof that sent him for a short fall before he regrouped and worked through the sequence.

As he finished up the moves another group showed up at the base to climb the route. They watched what we were going to do next and since Pete was a little unnerved at the small-ish belay stance we decided to skip any extra pitches on this formation and rappel back down.

Hiking to the formation next door, we reached Whale’s Tail as a couple groups converged on the west side of that formation. A group was finishing up with a climb of West Crack and the two other new groups were looking at that line and West Dihedral. That left Clementine, a 5.5, for Pete and I.

Everyone was being friendly and accommodating, so it wasn’t hard to support 3 parties at once at the same set of anchors. Pete found Clementine much more to his liking and began to get his rock climbing head back.

Once we rappelled back to the large ledge at the base of all 3 climbs, we found West Crack (5.2) open, so up that I ran.

Pete cruised the pitch and was already feeling much better about the day.

Only one small error marred our time on Whales Tail, while pulling the rappel rope an end got stuck in West Crack and I had to re-lead the climb on the other end to free the rope. Not too much of a chore really, since the climb is a lot of fun for the easy grade, something I’d almost be willing to solo.

West Dihedral was the last of the three climbs and now open so I led up to the very familiar anchor cable then watched Pete follow the pitch.

One of the other parties was also leading up West Crack, so I decided to take photos of someone other than Pete.

Gotta dig the pink helmet!

After finishing West Dihedral, we rappelled for the final time and headed off to the parking lot. There I was hoping to repack and hike up to West Ridge and meet Jenn and Jeremy for a few more routes, but both had to bail. Hope you two feel better soon! Still, I was well satisfied with the day, having climbed 5 pitches, one a first lead for me (Clementine) and one entirely new (Calypso). I also can’t complain about climbing in a t-shirt by the end of the day, just as spring arrives.

Complete photo album

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Byers Peak

I’d reached very few summits in the last three months and with calendar winter ending shortly it seemed like a perfect weekend to tackle Byers Peak. By Colorado standards, it’s not particularly lofty at only 12,804 feet, but as a winter climb it was considered classic enough by Dave Cooper to be included in his “Colorado Snow Climbs” book. Gary’s schedule and mine came together with the near-full moon for a Friday night ski approach, mostly in the dark.

Since we wouldn’t break out of treeline tonight, and a few thin clouds rested in the east we didn’t derive much benefit from the well-waxed moon.

Gary was on tent erecting duties, as the internally-poled Bibler was his.

For a few hours we ran the stove to rehydrate and settled in for sleep around midnight. 6:30 am was about when we both woke up and prepared breakfast and geared up (sans skis) for the climb ahead.

The slopes above us were steep enough and thick with enough trees that neither of us would have felt comfortable trying to ski back down. So we’d brought snowshoes and used those above camp, breaking a 6-12 inch trail to treeline.

Our tracks were nowhere near as dramatic or as beautiful as a bird’s wing beats.

Cooper’s book recommended stashing snowshoes near treeline, but there was enough snow to convince us to keep them on until much further along the ridge.

The morning had rapidly warmed but as we hiked higher the winds picked up. Still, it was a very pleasant day for technically still being winter.

We noticed a few goat tracks in the snow and then Gary spotted movement ahead, a whole herd of mountain goats!

Still trading off leading and trail breaking duties we continued up the ridge.

Eventually we decided it was safe to cache the snowshoes. At that point I also decided the winds had increased enough that it was time for another layer of clothing.

A few short soft snow patches remained, but mostly we had some hard packed snow or rocks to negotiate.

After identifying several of the peaks in the northern Gore Range, Indian Peaks and Rocky Mountain National Park we decided it was best to head down and reach a calmer spot to take a break.

We returned to our snowshoe cache, ate a leisurely lunch and then made great time following our morning’s track back to camp.

After packing everything away we skied down the low-angled road, poling and kicking our way on the frustratingly flat portion near the trailhead. Most of my descent and skiing photos were captured with a helmet cam, so you’re going to have to watch the video below to see those shots.

Three plus minute video of our trip to Byers Peak:

Complete photo album

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Fortified by a burrito and Hefe in Moab I continue south then exit the highway for UT 211 and Indian Creek. I always feel I have to stop at Newspaper Rock (plus, it’s one of the few bathrooms in the canyon).

Driving past Bridger Jacks and Davis Canyon I go a little further down than road than I’d been before and pull into the Pasture Creek campground. I find an open spot and setup camp. Later I drive partway back out to Highway 191 to text some friends and see who is coming. Back at camp I run into Fred, Pete and Mike, who I knew to expect, but had never met before.

In the morning Piper arrives and we join forces (and climbing racks) with Pete and Mike and head to Scarface Wall.

A long-ish approach (by Indian Creek standards) and we finally reach the base of Wavy Gravy. I think it’s one of the most beautiful sandstone cracks I’ve ever seen.

After standing around, looking at each other, at the crack, then back at each other I figure if you have to ask who the rope gun is, it just might be you. I’d started up the excuse generator the night before and keep it humming since (“I haven’t climbed rock in a month”, “whew, that was a long approach hike”, “boy, it’s hot out”), but I’m the one person in our group who has climbed at the Creek before. Taking all our #1-#3 cams (minus those hidden in the blue bag – you mean I carried Jenn & Jeremy’s rack here and didn’t even realize it!) I shutdown the excuse generator.

The first half of the climb goes well, good sizes for my hands, hidden holds and a few rests. Then I hit the second roof. It’s prefect sized hands for me, but the lack of feet (okay, maybe I left the generator humming) shortly has me resting on the rope before I regain the energy to layback the wider section before it pinches down into perfect jams again.

As endurance runs out again, huge jugs appear above and easy terrain steps up to the anchors. I’m parched and exhausted but quite pleased to have climbed the route. Once I’m lowered I collapse in the shade and guzzle water while watching Mike follow and clean the route.

Piper takes a turn, and then Pete tackles the route.

Just west of Wavy Gravy is a shorter, 5.9-rated crack. Unnamed in the guidebook, a rock lying at the base labels it “Dr. Awkward”, or maybe “Drawkward”, we’re not sure. Still, I figure I can get up 40 feet of 5.9 and tie in for another lead.

Awkward certainly describes how I find the route, with thin hands, then wide hands – never my perfect size and some messy chockstones up at the top. I definitely spend some time hang dogging on the rope, resting and actually do take a short fall (not an intentional “I’m about to fall, take in the slack” hang).

After cleaning the route while being lowered, Pete decides he wants to lead this one. Maybe a little smarter than I, I notice that he doesn’t attempt to place gear every 4-5 feet like I did, but doubles up pro where the stances are moderately better, then guns for the next rest. He too takes a fall, but overall seems to climb the route better than I’d managed and he certainly displayed a higher level of “crack mouth”. Mike and Piper both take a turn on the route and then clean the anchors.

Piper takes a last top-rope on Wavy Gravy, mock-leading it and wondering how she’d safely protect the second roof. Packing up, we walk back to the road and then on to camp.

Mike starts our fire, while I chop up an assortment of vegetables and make a few bison patties. Wrapping all that up in some foil with a few spices and setting on the grill is the extent of our food prep. Piper busts out the chips, guac and salsa for happy hour while the silver turtles sizzle.

Mike and Pete decide to take a rest day tomorrow and drive to the San Rafael Swell and Piper and I debate where to head for a short day of climbing.

Having to live up to my campground chef reputation I mix up a batch of pumpkin pancakes for breakfast and then Piper cooks most of the remaining veggies and eggs.

With the excuse generator humming along contently, we end up walking to Supercrack Buttress – probably the shortest approach in Indian Creek and jump on Twin Cracks – an easy 5.9 I lead last year. We did a couple laps each, taking the right, wider crack the second time around and then packed up to leave the creek.

Back in Moab we ran into Pete and Mike and then Piper took off for Colorado and I found a camping spot near Kane Creek and debated trading a hike for an earlier return home the next day.

Bonus content! Crack Mouth, a 7 minute video on our trip to Indian Creek:

Complete photo album

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Mixed emotions rode in the car with me across Colorado as I fled the Front Range Thursday night. I was extremely happy to be taking my first vacation days of the year and spending some time in the desert. However, I wasn’t sure how psyched to climb in Indian Creek I was and the unknowns of who was healthy enough to come had me worried. It wasn’t yet Utah, but exit 2 had space and free camping for me to throw up a bivy sack and watch the half moon and big dipper spin as I slept within ear-shot of the interstate. Coyotes howls beat my alarm by 10 minutes in waking me up and I continued on into the beehive state.

Within a couple hours I’m driving into Arches National Park and I head to the Devil’s Garden trailhead and start walking. The first arch I see on foot is Tunnel Arch.

Pine Tree Arch is it’s near neighbor, which I also visit.

Back from that side trip, I return to the main trail and head up to the impossibly-thin Landscape Arch.

I’m a little surprised I haven’t seen anyone else yet, but since the majority of visitors probably go no further than Landscape Arch I start to expect having the trails to myself. Partition, Navajo and Double O arches are all visited in turn.

I step on the side trail out to Dark Angel and wonder if I’ll come across anyone when I come back to the main and primitive trails.

The main trail had some fun sections – nothing difficult, but semi-exposed walking on rock ridges with great views. The Primitive trail promised more, and provided a few interesting slickrock scrambles, but lots of dry-wash hiking as well.

Before rejoining the main trail I had an excellent panorama view of Devil’s Garden.

After 2.5 hours of silent hiking I finally ran into people again for the short walk back to the parking lot where I then headed into Moab for lunch and on to Indian Creek.

Complete photo album

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