Saturday, June 23, 2012

climbing colorado - stepping up our game

Since Shelf Road, a lot has happened in the climbing sector. We've ramped up our game, climbed on new rock, and have both improved our technical and physical climbing abilities. Here's a quick summary of what we've done thus far:

Clear Creek Canyon, Golden, Colorado - This steep rugged canyon, carved through the front range right outside of Denver, features gneiss and schist - two sharp, crystal-studded metamorphic rocks. The holds are incut, but some flakes can be loose and break off if pulled hard upon. We went here with our new buddy Karen in the evening (we've been in Colorado during one of the hottest record-setting heatwaves ever) and got the send train running. Eric onsighted several routes as usual, and I had my first ever lead onsight of a 5.9+ route that featured some pretty tricky moves. For those who aren't familiar with climbing jargon, an onsight means you climbed the route without resting on the rope or falling on your gear - the rope serves only as backup protection. So technically, you could climb the route free without any protection and make it safely to the top. The second part of the onsight means that you sent the route clean, first time, without any beta (tips or tricks about the route) to help you. So any time you approach a new route, you have only one chance to onsight it. If you come back after working the route and then send it clean, that goes in the record books as a red point climb. I was extremely stoked to finally onsight a route, it's an incredible feeling I've been working towards for a while. I hadn't led any climbs since the Red in Kentucky, so to step right up on new rock in an exposed canyon was a big deal for me. We also helped some asshole get his rope down when he tried to pull it through the anchors with a stopper knot tied in the end. The dude didn't even say thank you after Eric climbed to the top and had to do a sketchy traverse over to get the rope out.

Golden Cliffs, Golden, Colorado - The short, single pitch climbs on Golden Cliffs offer technical climbing on smooth, slippery basalt - a volcanic rock that forms when lava flows harden. The cliff band sits high atop a mesa over looking the Coors Brewery, downtown Golden, and the distant Denver skyline. The smell of mash and hops constantly drift up to the nostrils atop the hot summer winds. Eric and I each led a handful of climbs and got stumped by the polished, slopey holds. Not to mention it was over 100 degrees, again. We climbed into the evening and ended up doing a route in the dark which I cleaned wearing my headlamp. We lowered down and were resting, prepared to do a nice route called New River Gorge Homesick Blues (an homage to our stomping grounds) when a rattlesnake decided to slither out of the very crack we had just climbed and head under our rope bag. We each freaked out, decided to get the hell out, and packed up our gear quickly. We had a good mile hike down the mesa's mountain side, which we did shouting noises and banging on our water jugs in the hopes of scaring other rattlesnakes away. We must have looked like two bumbling idiots to the people who live right below the mesa.

Boulder Canyon, Boulder, Colorado - We had to get away from the hustle and bustle of Denver and its suburbs, so north we headed to the crunchy, extremely fit, hippy college town of Boulder. Right up from endless stores, bars and good looking people is Boulder Canyon - a 20 mile-long gash in the front range featuring endless multi-pitch sport and trad climbing on bombproof granite. Boulder Canyon features the crag castle rock, which Royal Robbins had some of his classic ascents, including the route Coffin Crack, the hardest climb in the world at the time. Boulder was home to the free climbing revolution of the 70's while Yosemite served as the far western hub of the same style. We spent four days climbing here, testing ourselves on yet another new rock. The first evening endeavor included my lead climb of a 120 foot, 5.8+ in the dark. It was an intense climb, but ended up being really fun using the headlamp to find my next holds. The one mental advantage of headlamp climbing is that your only focus on your next move - your height and exposure don't adversely affect you, because, well, you can't see shit. The next day, Eric onsighted an 5.11c, his hardest grade yet, then two days later onsighed a 5.11d at the end of a long day. Eric has progressed extremely fast, his mental and physicaly abilities show how he does it. I had several onsights as well, including the route Animation, a four star (the highest rating a climb in the Canyon can get) 5.8+ that most consider the best 5.8 in the canyon. Two days later I onsighted a creepy 5.8+ slab route with a huge runout (long distance between protection) to the anchors. Our last day in the canyon, we tried to find the crag called Avalon. To get to the routes on the western side of Boulder Creek, one must Tyrolean Traverse across the white water and jagged rocks of the creek. A Tyrolean Traverse is accomplished by clipping your harness to a fixed rope or cable across the gulley and, hanging from the rope, facing backwards, pulling yourself across to the other side. We approached two different crags before finding our target - the first had a traverse leading to some 5th class scrambling up some dirty rock. Eric climbed higher, with his pack on, pretty much free soloing a moderate pitch. He knocked a big rock while doing so, and I pressed my back against the wall as the watermelon-sized chunk went sailing over my head. The second fail involved another traverse, and some choice words against the info presented by our guide book. After the 5th traverse, which can be pretty exhausting, we finally made it to Avalon. Here we had our last onsights, referenced above, and ran out of water, deciding to call it a day.

Since arriving in Boulder, we've camped at the top of the canyon, outside of a super crunchy hippy town called Nederland situated above a large reservoir with views of the snow-capped Rockies. It's been a great time in the front range, and now we're gearing up to head to Rocky Mountain National Park with the single goal of doing a multi-pitch climb for Eric's birthday on the 25th.

dylan on the tyrolean traverse in boulder canyon - after we crossed, we had to climb that pile of boulders on the right, without ropes and carrying our packs - photo by eric fizer

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