“Don’t forget your headlamp” I tell Marat as we rack up in the parking lot. “If we need a headlamp after five pitches, we’re in a serious trouble” casually dismisses my partner. I shrug, after all we are just out for a day of cragging even it’s in the proper of the Rocky Mountain National Park some 9000′ above the sea level and despite the fact that we are heading out from the parking lot at 1.30 pm.
Fast forward five hours, we are hustling to clean the last pitch of the day Inside Straight, a monstrous offwidth crack that according to MountainProject.com is “in-line with Vedauwoo ratings at 5.9″, i.e. 5.veryhard. The sun is setting and we only have one headlamp between us, so I voice my concern to Marat and suggest him to clean the pitch on rappel. Turns out there is no direct anchor above the route and the nearest anchors are on Melvin’s Wheel, about 40 feet to the left. This means I have no choice but follow the pitch to retrieve the gear, and do it quickly before dark since the descent involves some low fifth class downclimbing down a sketchy gully. As soon as I hear “Off belay”, I quickly put my climbing shoes on, get my headlamp on and start climbing. Style is out of the window, speed climbing is the name of the game, i.e. yank on a gear of needed to and lieback the offwidth. I make it up to the last piece of gear just as the sun disappears over the horizon and get lowered off. By the time we are back down on the trail, it’s already 7.50pm and pitch dark – some moonlight could have been helpful. Thankfully, the trail back to the car is somewhat leveled, so forty five minutes later we are back at the car, drinking not so cold beer, relieved and hungry…
The day started pretty slow that morning. We had gone sport cragging in the Clear Creek Canyon with Paavo and Holly the day before, and while we had talked about doing something with a longer approach the next day, neither of us felt compelled to set an alarm. Plus on top of that, we are staying at my friend John’s house, whom I met last summer in Tetons. I’d called a shotgun on the guest bedroom with a queen bed, and for the first time in over a month of sleeping on thermarests and air mattresses I got to sleep on a real bed with a proper mattress, linens and a down duvet. Who knew I had these little bourgeois hangups? Here is a formula that can sum up how I felt that day: lim(x→ ∞) f(x)=0, i.e. as the comfort level of the bed approaches infinity, the motivation to climb approaches zero while the desire to curl up in the bed with a book and a cup of tea and not answer any calls (including climbing partner calls) approaches infinity. Unfortunately when you are traveling together, bailing on the partner is not an option. The forecast was calling for mid-80s, so higher elevation climbing sounded like a good idea. We were hopelessly late for anything alpine unless we wanted to bivouac, but cragging at Lumpy Ridge sounded like a good idea.
Quick shower, routine breakfast and a loooong online session of checking Mountainproject.com for the best routes to climb at Lumpy Ridge, we are finally out the door around 11.00 am. Hour and half later we are in Estes Park, a touristy town that serves as a gateway to the Rocky Mountain National Park. We got to the Lumpy Ridge parking lot a little bit before 1pm. Racked up, had lunch and set on a hike. The heat is oppressive and having spent over a week around 5000-6000 feet in the Boulder/Denver area, we are feeling the elevation in our steps.
Our first objective for the day is Melvin’s Wheel (5.8+), a 3-pitch 3-star hand crack classic on Bookmark, one of the crags at Lumpy. As I start up the first pitch I feel a little lightheaded and wonder if it’s the altitude, twenty feet up from the ground the adrenaline rushes in as I focus on climbing and I don’t feel the weakness for the rest of the day. First pitch goes easy – it’s a nice corner finger crack that has enough features on the face that you could stem off. The rock on Lumpy is a nice smooth, but featured with water grooves gray granite and the angle of the climb is pretty low, so I felt that pitch 1 was more like 5.7, even it was 150 feet long. Confident from the the first pitch, I decide to give the second pitch a go. The face is less featured than the first pitch, so you have to rely on the crack more for your feet. Luckily, it’s a hand crack – not as painful on the feet as a finger crack!
We skipped the third pitch which is a chimney since we had decided to avoid off-widths for the day and had left the #4 Camalot back in the car, and toproped a bolted line to the right of Melvin’s. The topo on the book has it graded at 5.11c — it starts on a very thin finger crack that vanishes away to a slabby face protected by bolts. We both felt it was way easier than 5.11, later I find out it is called Goose and Mountainproject gives it a 5.10b/c rating, which I still find soft.
After we run up Goose, the plan was to get on Fantasy Ridge (5.9), another 3-star classic, however we descended to the right of the big leaning buttress which meant we had to go around it to get to Fantasy Ridge, and since we were short on time we decided to do something right where we were. Immediately we recognized the wide crack of Inside Straight. Reading the MP.com descriptions earlier that day we had both crossed it off our ticklist, plus we had left the wide gear at the car. Marat decides to give it a go, hoping to find smaller gear placements deep inside of the chimney… Turns out, whoever said “Vedauwoo 5.9″ was right especially when the biggest gear you have is a #3 Camalot that is fired in at the first 30 feet of the crack, well before the crux. Luckily, Marat found a shifting flake inside of the upper chimney where he slotted a large nut, which in turn due to the shifting nature of the flake was a bitch to clean later on, but at least I was on a top rope…
Well, we didn’t do five pitches but did four amazing long 3-star pitches and got home just in time to catch John before bedtime and share the details of our “adventure”. I’m hoping to do more stuff at Lumpy – it’s some of amazing climbing in a spectacular setting (the entire time you have a view of snowy high peaks). I will try to take more photos next time and add them to the post.
I know I still owe a post about Tetons, but I hardly took any photos there, so here comes my post on climbing in Vedauwoo, Wyoming.
Vedauwoo, located in the Southeastern corner of Wyoming, is a crag known for its gritty granite and wide cracks, and supposedly sandbagged grades. The drive from Jackson to Laramie – a college town 20 minute away from Vedauwoo, is about 6 hours and encompasses an entirely different landscape from what typical tourists to Wyoming are accustomed to. The mountains of Teton and Wind River Ranges got replaced by cattle ranches and eventually by vast plains of oil and gas fields where you could see an occasional pronghorn antelope grazing. Closer to the more populated Southeast, wind farms popped up.
We arrived in Vedauwoo on Thursday night just in time for dinner. There we met up with Marat’s friend and climbing partner Paavo. Paavo, a former Gunkie who lives now in Boulder is a gourmand, so the rest of the weekend revolved around meals, wine and chocolate. Funny thing is that both men proved to be greater chocoholics than I.
On Friday, Marat went to town to run errands and Paavo and I went climbing at Nautilus – one of the crags named after Jules Verne’s book. To tell the truth, despite my ownership of a brand new #6 Camalot and a set of Big Bros, I was a bit nervous. I asked Paavo to lead a pitch so I could get a feel for the rock, so we went to climb Captain Nemo. Pitch 1 is an excellent 5.8 hand crack which is really pleasant. Pitch 2, however, was a hard 5.10d hand traverse on slopers – which I gave up on half-way and aided through.
After cruising through the handcrack pitch of Captain Nemo and flailing through the traverse, I felt encouraged enough to go lead Mother 1 – the intro test piece of Vedauwoo. Sort of like local Shockley’s Ceiling. Graded at 5.7+ it is a known sandbag. First 50 feet are terrifyingly wide and awkward – I thought I’d fall out on the first move even. I went in with my left side in and had my right foot on the face, couple of times tiny crystal holds broke under my right foot and I grabbed the rope in panic. Luckily, my body was safely tucked in the crack, so I wasn’t going anywhere. Finally, after the 50 feet the angle of the rock eases and the crack narrows to hands. To get to the rappel bolts, one of the options is to climb unprotected 5.2 face of Parabolic slab for 30 feet – way more pleasant climbing than the OW!
Next, Paavo led Finally (5.9) and I followed. At first I tried off-widthing it, but it was way too awkward, so I just laybacked and stemmed it. The dinner of linguine with scallops with wine was well deserved that night!
On Saturday, reunited with Marat, three of us went to the Central Wall area in hopes of meeting up with Paavo’s Boulder friends. We didn’t find the friends, but found Edward’s Crack (5.7) which Marat led (wide, but way easier than Mother 1). On the rappel we set a top rope on a 5.9+ top rope problem called Mantle. The climb has a stiff old school 5.9+ rating and the first 40 feet of it are unprotected (crux), hence it is only top ropped nowadays. Both Paavo and Marat thought it was at least 5.10, I thought it wasn’t that bad – I love slabby face climbing! Then it came Paavo’s turn to lead. I turned down the lead as a) I felt like I was thrown down the bus the day before; and b) Mother 1 stiff grade thoroughly spooked me. Paavo led Satterfield’s Crack (5.8), a two-pitch climb, the crux of which is entering the squeeze chimney from the face at the top of Pitch 2.
Paavo had to work on Sunday and Marat and I took a day off then – two days of harsh off-widthing was a bit too much for me! On Monday, thoroughly refreshed we decided to do Tour de Wide. I started on TTR (5.6 hard!), Marat then led TTL (5.8), then I led Upper Slot (5.7-?), we top ropped Deep Throat (5.10a chimney) and Marat led Baalbek (5.9). I thought Baalbek was the best 5.9 I’ve ever climbed! Long, sustained and very varied. It had everything – wide chimney, hard stemming, hand and finger cracks and an overhanging chockstone.
Needless to say, after Baalbek (5 pitches of wide) we were pretty trashed, plus dark clouds rolled in, so we decided to come back next day for Friday 13 (5.10a) and me leading P1 of Captain Nemo. Friday 13 Pitch 1 is this excellent long sustained finger/hand/fist crack, which I found quite tough! Marat led it in good style, which I couldn’t say about my cleaning. = After struggling through the first 20 feet of the crux, I gave up to get my hands taped. Second time was better, but I still fell at every 5 feet, but nevertheless finished the climb. The third time was much better, I was surprised that I even went for it. After trashing my hands on Friday 13, we went to Captain Nemo – I thought it was quite tough on lead, plus my right hand was about to explode from all that jamming!
Oh, and on the morning approach to the crag, Magda, one of Marat’s dogs went after a cow moose and her calf. In turn the cow went after us – I never was so scared in my life! It is not everyday you encounter an animal weighing probably a ton five feet from your face, furiously trying to defend her offspring.
By the way, Vedauwoo rock formations very much reminded me of ones at Terelj National Park in Mongolia (just outside of the capital). Check out these photos that were published last year in Rock & Ice, and say it isn’t so: http://pullphotography.blogspot.com/2010/09/mongolia-in-print.html