Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Stuck at the Fins

Since we almost moved to Idaho, we thought it would be cool to visit the Fins,and see what might have been.

Rumors of rough roads and needing 4 wheel drive made me nervous about taking my tiny Honda to this area but I forced all this to the back of my mind as we turn off the interstate and started up a dirt road. 

Leah on the phone with AAA.
At first, everything was fine.  No huge rocks, giant potholes, or ridiculous obstacles.  In fact, the road stayed very reasonable, it just got progressively steeper until my car didn't have the power to keep going.  So, instead of backing up for two miles, I decided to reverse into a small pullout and turn around.    

Poor Barry :(
This was a fatal mistake!  Shifting into first, I tried to pull forward and instead of moving, the front tires dug into the loose grave.  My heart sunk.  We were stuck.  With no good options, I thought that pulling onto the bank behind us might give us some gravity to work with.  Unfortunately, this caused Barry(my car) to go up on two wheels.  Checkmate, we were officially stuck.

Barry getting some help.
 Luckily, Leah had cell service and was able to call AAA.  We quickly learned that they only cover tows if you are on a "paved and maintained road" and they estimated the tow would cost a minimum of $250.  So we ordered a tow, and waited. 

Two hours later, the tow truck finally arrive.  He decided to tow Barry downhill, over a small bank.  This plan required some digging so the undercarriage wouldn't get damaged by large rocks and debris.  So after Leah and I helped him move dirt and rocks for a half hour, he finally pulled my car free.  

A few minutes later, he gave me a bill for $490!  I was completely shocked.  What happened to $250?  So I haggled with him until he dropped the total to $407.  It was the most painful check I have ever written.

Luckily, Barry was fine.  As we drove away, we joked that if we knew it was going to cost $400, we would have pulled out our folding chairs, poured some wine, and sat in the shade watching him do all the work.  Although I hope there is no next time, that is exactly what I will do.

So, we never made it to the Fin and the superstitious part of me can't help but feel like it's a sign that our destinies were never bound for Idaho.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

First Stop- Lander, Wyoming

The day after returning from Maine, I continued moving our stuff into my garage.  Every trip lowered my stress level and brought Leah and I closer to being able to start our month long climbing trip.

The loose plan was to head up to Lander, then go to Yellowstone for a few days, drive down to the Fins, and then check out Logan.  At the end of August, Leah would fly out of Salt Lake to Knoxville to attend a manditory orientation for school.  I would hang out for five days, and then Leah would fly back to Salt Lake and we would drive home together.

So with the car packed with climbing gear, clothes, food, and camping gear we shot up to Wyoming for the first leg of our trip.  Our friend Jill offered to let us stay at her house, which seemed like a gentle way to acclimatize to living out of a tiny Honda Civic.  When we arrived, we learned that Jill's house was under construction(about 90% finished).  Luckily, her friends offered to let us crash at their cozy, western style condo.

 A few days into our stay at the condo, the owners arrived, and we set up camp in Jill's enclosed patio.  We literally slept in a tent on the patio, and woke up to workers arriving at 8am.  Since her place was still under construction, we cooked outside too.  It felt a little awkward to lay in the tent, cook breakfast and sip coffee while people were working but it was super fun to hangout with Jill.

Camping in Jill's patio.
Although Lander is at 8000 feet, temperatures still hit the 90's.  This is a problem since the majority of Lander's rock faces South.  We solved this problem by climbing at North facing areas like North Country, The Remuda, and The Erratic.

The Belly Ache.  10 scoops of ice cream, 10 toppings, whipped cream and cherry on every scoop.  Never seen anything like this before.
If you complete the challenge, you get a t-shirt, and your picture on the wall.  One guy ate the whole thing in 14 minutes!

I have climbed at Wild Iris a few times and am always surprised by the tweaky and savage style.  Fortunately, I had been training mono and two-finger pocket strength for a month so my tendons were up to the task.  However, a few days of trying 5.13 left my fingers traumatized, and by the end of the week my fingers felt like they were going to explode.

As usual, Leah wanted to see some wildlife- preferably a bear or mountain lion.  Unfortunately, we didn't see either of those, but we did have a rare Maggie sighting!  We love this dog, and threaten to steal her every time we visit Lander.

Irresistibly cute.
I also visited a 7000 acre family owned ranch with some interesting stuff on their property and met their pet sheep named Elkie.

Elkie eating dog food.
Bottle feeding Elkie.

Of course we got off the beaten path.  One day after climbing, Jill took us to Atlantic City for a quick beer.  This little coal mining town is about 5 miles down a dirt road in the middle of nowhere.  They claim a population of "about 57".  However, they have a quirky bar with some friendly folks and lots of interesting stuff inside the bar.

With wrecked tendons and sore skin we rolled out of Lander towards Yellowstone National Park.  It was time to let our fingers heal and be tourists. 

Me taming a huge Jackalope.

Leah breaking in another Jackalope.


Lobstah boat and traps.
Life is crazy right now.  Despite quitting our jobs in mid-July, Leah and I both feel busier than ever!  However, we put aside our stress and went to Maine for a week to hangout with Leah's family.

This was my first time in Maine.  The state conjures up childhood memories of a wooden jigsaw puzzle of the United States that I used to play with.  I remember plunking the Maine piece into the puzzle and thinking "Wow!  Maine is so far away.  I wonder what it's like..."

The house.
Leah and Janet staring at the ocean.
Leah and Tucker playing fetch the rock.
Window propped open by driftwood.
Well, I finally made it, and it didn't disappoint.  We stayed on the coast near St. George, and spent most our time staring at the ocean, looking for wildlife, taking walks, kayaking, playing with the dog, and eating too much.  Leah and I also managed to sneak away and climb at Shagg Crag, and Camden Hills.

I've heard New England climbers gush about Shagg's steep, impeccable granite for years but never thought I would have a chance to visit.  The 2.5 hour drive from the coast offered us a chance to see the heart of Maine.  Since there are no large westbound highways we happily took small back roads across the state, which brought us through some cute towns, and gorgeous countryside.

At the base of Shagg Crag.
Towards the end of the drive, we got lost(as usual), took some wrong turns, and drove the Mini Cooper down a few bumpy, dead end, dirt roads, but eventually we found the parking area.  After a very steep, sweaty hike, we finally arrived at the crag and were immediately struck by it's beauty.  In fact, the wall was so inspiring, that we struggled to choose what routes to try.  Ultimately, we chose to stick to the classics, like The Great Escape, Shaggin' Wagon, Shagg It, Short Bob, Gensing, and Meltdown.  Besides the bugs, it was a perfect day, and we went home happy and absolutely exhausted!

Me at the end of a huge day at Shagg.
We also climb at Camden Hills State Park for a day.  Leah's sister and her boyfriend joined us, so we lead some moderate routes for them to toprope.  It was super fun to watch them try new things, and teach them some basic climbing techniques.  Both of them did amazing!  Jon didn't have rock shoes, so I decided to lead a 5.8 in my hiking shoes, which gave me even more respect for his efforts.

Susie toproping a 5.7.
After they were worn out, we got to try a few harder routes.  Leah onsighted a 12b that she down rated to 11d, and I managed to do a 13a second go- after mercilessly working the moves.  Afterwards, we drove home and dined on crab cakes, shrimp, and too much beer.

Tucker on the couch.
Besides gaining two pounds, I also took a Jiu-Jitsu class, learned a few nautical terms(sloop vs, slip), discussed architecture, and discovered that Leah is stronger than me(in Jiu-Jitsu class).  It was great spending time with the Frazers, relaxing by the Ocean, and exploring a new state.

Susie, Me, and the Lobster.
I always knew I would be good at retirement!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Breaking up with Boulder

It's not you, It's me...
I am moving and it feels kind of like breaking up.  Boulder is beautiful, treats me well, gives me everything I need, and is perfect in every way.  Although I still love Boulder, things have changed.

In September, Leah and I will be leaving the perfect weather, convenient climbing and hundreds of amazing friends to explore a new phase of life in Knoxville, TN.  Leah got into a Physicians Assistant program at South College in Knoxville, TN and I have decided to follow her out there.  Although I haven't found a job, and we don't know where we will live, it feels like the right decision.  In a strange way, it feels like I am going home.  My mom and dad grew up in Memphis, and some of my extended family still lives in Tennessee.  It seems fitting to return to my roots, and learn about where I am from. 

The Bubble has been good to me.  I moved here in 2002 with one objective- to climb.  More specifically, to climb at Rifle.  Since then, I have climbed all over Colorado, and the surrounding states.  In the last 12 years, I have climbed far more routes than I ever dreamed, and with "new" areas being developed yearly there is no end in site.  However, it's time to follow my heart instead of my obsession for climbing.

The plan is to quit our jobs in mid July, throw all our stuff into storage, and hit the road for the month of August.  Originally, we planned to chase good conditions in Squamish, but we realized that it's 44 hours round-trip from Boulder to Squamish, and another 19 hours from Boulder to Knoxville for a grand total of 63 hours of driving.  This seemed a bit stressful and expensive.  So, we decided to explore some high elevation areas in Wyoming, Idaho, and Utah instead.

Starting over is scary.  When I moved to Boulder, I had a modest savings account, no job, no place to live, a few friends in town, and a 1998 Honda Civic hatchback crammed full of stuff.  In many ways, this move feels similar.  Despite a much healthier savings account, and too much stuff to fit into my 1994 Civic, we are casting ourselves into the unknown in pursuit of a dream.

The P.A. program is two years long and will bring some major changes to our lives.  Leah will be extremely busy, and neither of us will know a soul in Knoxville.  Although I am very excited to spend an extended period of time in the Southeast, I am a bit nervous about the heat and humidity during the Summer. I guess I have gotten a bit spoiled by the perfect conditions in Colorado.  On a positive note, I may finally get a cool accent, and possibly send BOHICA.

I'm doing it y'all!
We have no idea whether we will return to Boulder.  Maybe we will miss the eternal sunshine, accessibility to rock, modern gyms, close friends, and quirky stuff that makes Boulder an amazing place to live.  What ever happens, Boulder and the friends I have made here, will always have a huge place in my heart.

Knoxville.  I will imagine the Flatirons.
Knoxville, here we come!!!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


Although Hogwarts is on state land, the access road is on an easement owned by the nearby ranch.  Please be respectful while climbing here.

View from Hogwarts.
Muggles beware!  A force has been building near Rifle.  A new crag with great rock, rope stretching lines, and short approaches.  A place where the magic of a drill and some hard work has transformed an ordinary piece of rock into a great new climbing area.

Small tufas at the start of Horny for Hermione- 13b.
Well, Leah and I had been hearing about this place since last Summer and we finally decided to check it out.  It was hard to escape the magical spell of Rifle on Sunday morning, but the promise of a new wall was enough to ignore the slightly guilty feeling I had as we left the canyon.

Hogwarts lives down East Elk Creek Road, a road I have rushed by a million times on my way to Rifle.  A short drive up this beautiful valley reveals vibrant red cliffs, a wild river, and a hidden canyon with huge limestone walls that stretch beyond sight.  Luckily, Hogwarts and the Distillery flank the parking area at the mouth of the gorge.

The Distillery
A ten minute approach brings you across a river, and up a calm hillside to the left end of Hogwarts.  The rock has a similar hue to Rifle, but the features are less 3-dimensional.  Most of the routes are 25+ meters and follow features such as flakes, cracks, and pods up slightly overhanging terrain until the wall slabs out and features change to whipped spines and scalloped pinches.  For those who hate the buttery texture found at Rifle, Hogwarts offers a chance to play on new routes before they get greased up.
The Daily Prophet- 12a.
There are a few good 10's and 11's to warmup but most of the routes are between 12a and 13a.  Although we didn't see the entire cliff, it seemed to be extensivly developed.  Expect some loose rock on these routes since they have probably only been climbed a few times each.  I might be a good idea to bring a helmet.

Leah anticipating some choss.
Another nice thing about this cliff was the fresh feel of the crag.  There is still grass and flowers at the base.  We saw snakes, butterflies, and lizards all day.  You can hear the river rushing below.  Everything is calm and quiet which is a nice change from the rush and buzz of Rifle.

Top of the Distillery.
We ended the day by trying Imperio Direct- 13a.  It follows edges, flakes and a bonus tufa up a pretty white face to a thin crux and then moves up the slab using grooves, pods and pockets.

Imperio Direct- 13a.
Imperio Direct climbs just left of the large scoop, and ends just below the bushes to the top.
So, if you are tired of trying to find parking in Rifle, or looking for a quiet wall with great routes and nice scenery, check out Hogwarts.  Thanks to Dave Pegg, Josh Gross, and everyone else who helped develop this crag.


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