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Long’s Peak Summit via Stettner’s Ledges to Upper Kiener’s, Descending the Keyhole -At 4 am on August 22, 2018, under a black sky full of stars Mihail Krumov and me, Rich Weston, headed back up the trail for a second attempt to summit Long’s Peak via a 5th class rock route. We had turned back the previous morning just an hour into the approach facing rising rain and wind. At 14,255 feet the summit of Long’s Peak is the highest point in Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s steep, nearly 1,700-foot-tall east face, were most of the harder climbing is located, is divided into upper and lower sections by Broadway, the long ledge cutting across the face about half way up. The sheer 900-foot-tall upper east face, the famous Diamond, was visible from the UIUC Climbing Club group camp some five miles away. Our working plan was to ascend Long’s lower east face via the 800-foot-tall Alexander’s Chimney (Grade III, 5.2-5.6) to Broadway. A short traverse along Broadway would connect us to Upper Kiener’s (II, 5.2-5.4). Upper Kiener’s continues for about 1,000 feet from Broadway to the summit of Long’s while avoiding the nearly vertical Diamond by climbing along its lower angle edge. Mihail and me would descend the popular Keyhole route (II, 3rd class). It was our “working plan” because we had experienced significant rain since the Climbing Club arrived in RMNP and more was possible during our climb. The prospect of being trapped in a massive funnel like Alexander’s Chimney during heavy rain obliged us to consider other options. It took about 2.5 to 3 hours of moderate, steady hiking under approximately 35 pound packs to reach Chasm Lake at the base of Long’s where we rested briefly and replenished our water. The steep east face of Long’s Peak, crowned by the Diamond, dominates this quintessential alpine cirque. After a break of 20-30 minutes we resumed picking our way over and around the jumble of granite boulders that fill the space between the frigid lake and the orange, grey, and black walls from which they fell. The obvious changes in the morning sky told us that the pre-dawn stars were not harbingers of drier weather. We were racing the rain clock already. When Mihail and me reached the steep snowfield blocking easy access to our planned route, we stopped to examine and discuss our options one final time. To our far left was Lamb’s Slide, the moderate snow slope ascending right to left for 1,000 feet to join Broadway. During a previous Climbing Club trip to RMNP I watched a climber on Lamb’s Slide lose his footing, slide and tumble down out of control, crash into the boulders at the base, break his hip, and earn a helicopter ride. Lamb’s Slide was out of the question as we had neither axe nor crampons and we wanted a more challenging route. To our near left was Alexander’s Chimney. We could not see all the way in to it, but what was visible appeared wet, claustrophobic, and depressing, not to mention truly dangerous if rainwater runoff collected there. Alexander’s is a popular mixed route (III, WI4, M4) so the risk of significant water flow was real. Straight in front of us was the 1927 classic, Stettner’s Ledge’s (III, 5.8+ via Hornsby’s direct variation), a route I climbed about 10 years ago, although then we did not continue to the summit. I was torn. Having climbed both Alexander’s and Stettner’s previously I knew the climbing would be easier and faster on Alexander’s and time was becoming a bigger factor as the clouds continued to build. But the wet, dark setting was unappealing and the risk of hypothermia worried me. Stettner’s offered drier rock and a more aesthetic and exposed climb. But it would be a slower, more involved undertaking. The route finding is trickier, the grade is higher, and the amount of climbing at the grade is greater. Finally, we had a skimpy rack we had selected for Alexander’s, an “easy” route we did not anticipate would require a lot of protecting. We had failed to bring more protection should we decide to switch to a more gear intensive route. Mihail jumped at the challenge of Stettner’s and we began a sketchy, crab-like, ascending traverse across hard, sun cupped, steepening snow that left us about 150-200 feet above the boulders. It would have been a nasty scraping, tumbling fall. But, without incident we reached and crossed the small bergschrund, soloed some easy rock, and eventually identified a reasonable place to build an initial anchor. It had taken about 3.5 to 4 hours to reach this point. We spent the next several hours, sometimes confident and sometimes confused, swapping leads on the nearly 900-foot-long system of ledges, cracks, and flakes that is Stettner’s. Our route information consisted of a brief written description torn from Gerry Roach’s Guide to the Colorado 14ers that we consulted only once or twice. We stopped using it after we went astray early in the route. Instead we tried to read the route, the terrain, the tat, and other “climber sign”. Predictably we got slightly off route a couple times resulting in more challenging climbing and slowed progress. Mihail led the more difficult Hornsby Direct variation onto Broadway, an impressive pitch at 13,000 feet with a pack on after an already tiring day. As I pulled onto Broadway happy for the toprope it started to rain, going from a sprinkle to a soaking rain in about 10 minutes. Though we were relieved to be done with the steepest and most technically challenging terrain before the rain hit, we had about 1,000 feet of wet 3rd, 4th, and 5th class rock to cover before we could summit and begin the hours-long descent of the Keyhole route. Not cool. We stayed roped as we hastily traversed about 150 feet across Broadway and the base of the Notch Couloir to the start of Upper Kiener’s. We made the well-known move around the boulder blocking Broadway that forced us to low-crawl inches from an 800-foot-drop off our right side. That was a particularly focused moment given Broadway’s nightmarish history of climbers dying in huge falls from it. After this last bit of roped climbing the gear, rope, and climbing shoes went into our packs for the duration and rain gear came out. The wind and rain intensified, but never got severe. Mihail and I each donned our floppy hiking boots and turned toward Upper Kiener’s as the lowering clouds reached our heads and rolled into the chasm below. For much of the length of Upper Kiener’s the climber is exposed to the awesome, steep drop down the east face of Long’s to the Mill’s Glacier a thousand feet or more below. The first two pitches are listed at 5.2-5.4. At that moment with my soaked gloves and Mihail’s cold, bare hands, our loaded packs, wet, sometimes smooth granite, and less-than-ideal footwear, it felt harder. The knowledge that a slip could result in a monster fall down the east face kept us mentally locked in. In challenging conditions, on worn legs, Mihail and me quickly soloed up the opening technical pitches of Upper Kiener’s, through the 4th class staircase, and around the open-book dihedral that appears to block access to the summit. The time and deteriorating conditions dictated that we move as quickly as possible but the thick cloud we were in made it difficult to identify major features on the route. At times I could only be certain of the correctness of my position by returning to the very edge of the route bordering the Diamond and peering down into the kaleidoscopic mix of rock, cloud, and space. I felt that in my gut. After the dihedral it was just a few hundred feet of 3rd class staggering over boulders to reach the expansive, flat summit of Long’s. We were alone on top of the most frequently attempted 14er in Colorado, it was socked in with clouds, the wind was blowing, and it was alternating between rain and sleet. I’m guessing temperatures were in the lower 40s, although, with wind chill, I really don’t know. With all my layers on I got cold fast once I stopped moving. My fingers were going numb inside my extra pair of dry, insulated gloves. We had seen snow on the summit for several hours a day or two before, so we knew it could get colder still. We checked the clock for the first time since leaving the car. We were concerned when we saw it was almost 5pm. It was later than we had hoped. Mihail and me had been going steadily for 13 hours and we wanted to rest. But we still had more than seven miles and 5,000 vertical feet of wet, sometimes difficult terrain to descend, and we had less than 3 hours of daylight remaining. We were in clear violation of the mountaineering rule of “get on top early”. It was important that we begin descending as soon and as rapidly as possible. After less than 15 minutes on top Mihail and me started down the Keyhole. This circuitous route involves hiking, boulder hoping, and easy scrambling along ledges and in gullies. Under good conditions it is a tiring, moderately dangerous, but technically easy route. A fall is not likely, but the drops are big. Only about half the people who attempt the Keyhole succeed and, of the 60 folks who have died on Long’s, most were on the Keyhole. For us, at that moment, it was indeed a moderately dangerous, frustrating, and tiring slog made worse by rain, thick clouds, and our growing fatigue. We slipped and slide down the Homestretch. We staggered along the narrow, wet ledges on uncertain legs. We cursed and complained, but mostly we retreated into ourselves and suffered quietly. We felt considerable relief as we passed through the odd and amazing Keyhole feature and onto the broad expanse of the Boulderfield. Technical difficulty, weather, daylight, and route finding were no longer serious concerns. Now fatigue and injury were the biggest threats to reaching the car that day. We endured a final 2 to 2.5 hours of monotonous, painful, and exhausting boulder hoping and hiking before we wobbled to the car by headlamp at 9pm, 17 hours after we started, beaten down but intact. One final crux for me was getting in my old Subaru 9 hours after flogging ourselves on Long’s and driving solo for 17 hours back to Champaign-Urbana with no cruise control, no AC, and just AM/FM radio. That was some serious suffering.
April of 2017, I came up with the idea of doing a Sufferfest, inspired by that of Alex Honnold and Cedar Wright where basically we come up with a big climbing challenge and throw ourselves at it. Taking reference from 24 Hour Horseshoe Hell, and the fact it was UIUC's 150th anniversary, our challenge was for a team to complete 150 climbs in Jackson over a weekend. People were on board with this idea, and several people expressed interest. I made it my responsibility to ensure this event got off the ground.
Fast forward a semester, we got several teams interested. The weather was not cooperative, people's schedules got busy, many bailed and things fell through. We postponed it another semester and again after planning for several weekends, we got rained out time after time (though a team of Mina, Dylan Walsh, Logan and Khory did attempt it but got rained out on their second day, solid attempt nonetheless).
Eventually we were left with literally the last weekend of school during finals week. Everyone else had given up on this, and honestly I felt really defeated. But a brave/foolish three warriors took up the call of the challenge. And so a team of four was born; Mihail-Iceman-Krumov, Logan-Dangercan-Dodd, Eric-Eric-Connelly and myself, Shao-Sketchyman-Hao. It was finals week, the weather was looking like trash yet again, and our window was looking slim. But I said fuck it, let's do this cause I needed to get this stone off my chest and finish what I started. With barely 5 hours sleep and a take-home final yet to be completed, we left on Saturday morning for Jackson with our objective; 150 climbs among the four of us, within 24 hours.
We stopped by Arby's for lunch and our last proper restroom break. Mihail packed on the calories with the double fisted Gyros, while I dealt with my slight panic attack of realizing I left my approach shoes on the side of the road in Urbana. But it was too late to turn back, so I could only pray that my $2 flip flops from a Mexican grocery store from Potrero Chico would protect my feet from the battering that was approaching. It is also worth mentioning that most of the drive down was learning more about Logan and acknowledging that we know so little about the man himself (like how he's a master morel mushroom hunter).
2pm, we arrived at Jackson main lot, geared up, started the timer and headed for Railroad Rock. Conditions were looking poor; there was no rain, but humidity was high, and there was a ton of groundwater seeping into the canyon from the past days of thunderstorms. Free standing boulders were still wet, and many walls were soaked. But we powered on nonetheless. Mihail and Eric started with a bang on Wild at Heart (5.11a), while Logan and I took it easy with Electrocutioner (5.8).
Two down at Railroad and we headed for Beaver Wall and Jimmy's. Knocked out most of the easy stuff there and slowly we raised the count, and a highlight for me was finally sending Spiders from Mars (5.10b). We also had a quick dinner there, which was where I realized unlike my other teammates, who came ready for this 24 hour ordeal with caffeine pills and energy drinks and real food, I was severely under prepared, with my god awful plan for food prep being 5 granola bars and a box of 12 butter croissants from Walmart. I should be a nutritionist.
As we clocked about 10 climbs each, the sun began to set and thus began our night climbing saga. I was pretty proud of sending Flinging Hog (5.10d) in the dark, but I was unsurprisingly going to be one-upped by Eric-FlashYourProject-Connelly later on. By about 10pm, we each bagged 13 climbs, a third our way through the objective.
We moved to Battle Axe Tower after, where we all got on The Sophomore (5.9) that was still dripping and that sucked. But honestly none of that mattered cause we got to see Eric do Viking Blood (5.12c) in the dark with only one take. How? Cause he's Eric. Why? Cause he's Eric.
The Gallery was up next, and honestly up to this point, the whole thing has felt pretty manageable so far. It felt like just another day in Jackson, having a good old time with friends out, climbing way past dark and having a blast. That crisp cool air that set in as we passed midnight, the light from the climbers' headlamps barely illuminating the crag, the starry sky barely visible behind the foliage of the forest. What a perfect scene. We felt great, and at about 10 hours in for 15 climbs, our pace was on schedule. It was going pretty well.
Haha if only
The Gallery for me was the turning point. I pumped myself out with the string of bulgy 5.10 climbs in that area; Group Therapy, Psychotherapy, Earthbound Misfits, Cut Throat, The Walrus, and that shitty 5.9 climb that I still dislike at the left end. By the end of the Gallery, my stoke tank was drained. I had a bunch of takes and a few whippers, I only sent one climb there, my skin was shredded from the grippy sandstone and flaking and pulling through probably half a mile of rope by then. I was hungry but I didn't want to eat another fucking butter croissant at 3am. I was sick of slapping slopers and pulling myself over those god damn bulges , I was tired of trying to look for footholds in the dark.
Boy the fun was just beginning.
We took a quick break at the main falls (which was raging, never seen so much water flow before) before arriving at Spleef's Peak. It was 3am and we were 21 climbs in. Our plan was to do Spleef's in the dark cause they were relatively easy climbs on slab which would give us time to recover from the pumpfest at the Gallery.
But honestly Spleef's broke me. The fatigue, the lack of light, my toes screaming from so much smearing and edging, my aching shoulders and dried fingertips, the increasing humidity, all of that accumulated and I basically fell on every climb at Spleef's, even the ones I onsighted in my very first year of climbing back as a freshman. I was just so frustrated and tired and in a whole lot of discomfort. And this is probably where my Sufferfest really began.
At about 5.30am, we only just finished our 4 climbs each at Spleef's. The sun began to rise and we tucked our headlamps away. We proceeded to Lovely Tower where I barely managed to send the notorious Fine Nine (5.9) which was soaked along the right side, so the final bolt was extra spicy and quite a challenge. Who Let the Snakes Out (5.10b) was also wet but we made it work, though back cleaning that was a pain.
With 27 climbs in, we were about 10 climbs away from our goal. But at this stage we were all feeling it (maybe except Mihail). We barely pulled through two easy 5.9s at Rainy Day Roof, and at that point Eric kinda just crashed and so Logan and I went ahead to Hidden Peaks while he caught some shuteye.
While Logan took his morning dump, Mihail got on the runout Monument (5.9) and I did Stubborn Swede (5.8). When it came to Logan to do Stubborn Swede, he was struggling. Mind you this is the guy who sets the 12s at the ARC and I have never seen him fight so hard pulling on jugs. Eric made the call that he felt it was too unsafe for him to continue climbing, and judging by the state we were in, it was clear that the rest of us were on the same page. The risk of us getting injured at this juncture was relatively high and so we bailed in the end. On the way out we met a couple of familiar faces and eventually clocked back in at 20 hours since the start. We proceeded to Marion for lunch of which I only remember about 3 minutes of a car ride. Given how exhausted we all were, Mihail did the smart thing to catch some sleep (on the grass in a Cracker Barrel parking lot) before heroically driving us all the way back home.
I always tell people - You never have a bad day in Jackson. I think this still stands: Sufferfest was not a bad day at all. Would I ever do this again? No. Was it a painful experience? Yes. Incredibly exhausting? For sure. But at the end of the day, I still had a kick ass time full of Type II fun with a bunch of great friends who were mad enough to join me on this, raising money for a cause we believe in, and pushing ourselves to the limit because we relish in the suffering. We gave it our all, and we left Jackson with stronger friendships, a whole lot of pain, and one heck of a story to tell.
I'd call that a pretty good day.
Buckle up kid's I'm back from Mexico and it's TRIP REPORT TIME. As usual there's a TL:DR section at the bottom.
EL POTRERO CHICO (THE LITTLE CORAL)
I first heard of EPC two years ago when a bunch of people from the club went during winter, and I sorta had my eyes on this place for a while now. Feels so surreal to have finally gone there and matched the places from those pictures to my own eyes being there in person. Anyway a group of us went to EPC this winter at different times, and for the most parts I'll be talking about my part of the trip.
The climbing at EPC is right outside town. If you see the photo above, past the "Potrero Chico" sign along the road you will reach the crag. Most of the campsites are right along the road leading into the crag, and town is about a 5 min drive from the crag along this road.
EPC is just outside the town of Hidalgo, about an hour away from the nearest big city of Monterrey. To get to Monterrey you have a few options
From Monterrey, you can either take a bus into town. I heard it's rather cheap but I didn't get details on that. The more common option is take a taxi service (in our case, Sean) who will be able to pick you up and drop you at your accommodations accordingly. This costs about $35-50. There's a Facebook Group where people post about accommodation options and also ask about sharing a cab or something, probably worth checking out and just asking questions if you have any.
Generally as pretty economical (or broke) climbers, many people at EPC opt for camping out. There's a variety of options to camp, and most of these campgrounds have better accommodation options such as a hostel room or even a house for rent (albeit more expensive). All campgrounds have a communal kitchen where you can use boxes and refrigerators to keep your food and booze, toilets and showers, and usually a restaurant as well.
The following are the main campgrounds that we know of/have stayed at. There are more options that you can research on.
Mexico isn't exactly in good light when it comes to safety, and the city of Monterrey has seen an increase in crime rates recently. That said, it is unlikely you are a victim as long as you take decent safety precautions. Also it is possible to avoid the city almost entirely during your visit to EPC. As for Hidalgo, it is much safer, and the climber-centric community is really friendly there. The locals are also super awesome friendly people. You can probably hitch-hike in and out of town for the most parts (we got a ride from a nice local driving along the main road, and two years ago Amanda hitch-hiked THE POLICE). During our stay there, we walked out on the streets at night as a group and never felt like we were in any sort of danger per say, and we didn't really frequent town all that much. So anyway, at least from what I know, you would go into town for 4 main reasons:
You can get most of your essentials from the grocery store (marked on map). Selection is limited but I doubt you'll really need much more. There's a bigger supermarket further North but you'd probably require a car to get there. Groceries are pretty cheap and probably about half that of what you would pay in the States. Essentials from the store are mainly
There are a bunch of convenience/booze stores throughout town (there's like 5 that you pass by before even reaching the grocery store). You can get snacks and stuff there but there isn't really much. Only thing I can remember is that some stores will charge you a little more for beer and that's cause you have to return the glass bottle for recycling for them to refund you that extra bit. Also there are a couple of roadside stores selling food (in houses or in food trucks) but we never really tried any of it.
However the one day that we did try the food in town was essentially their version of a farmers market, which happens Tuesdays and Fridays. The one on Tuesday is along a street about 2 blocks south of the grocery store. I did not go to the Friday one but I heard it is at a different location and is much bigger. The Tuesday market was just a row of stores that were set up on the street, selling things from produce to local foods to clothes and even had a bingo table you could sit and play. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND taking a rest day of sorts to go visit this market and try the street food, and also shop for groceries if you need, it took us no more than an hour to see everything so think of it as going to town for lunch. It reminds me a lot of night markets that you see in Taiwan or equivalents around Asia.
On of the few things I remember having were Sopes, where they had like flour tortilla dough discs about the size of your palm and they toast it then deep fry it and cut it open and toss a bunch of amazing toppings inside. IT IS SO GOOD and it's like a dollar each WHATTTTTT damn it now I'm hungry but totally try that it's so good. We also had freshly squeezed orange juice which was so tasty and also Walking Tacos which were basically nachos made inside a chips bag (usually Doritos). There's probably a lot more you can get but I also already bought like 3 large pieces of fried chicken so I was forced to stop eating.
When Mexico decide to start 2018 with some god damn snow you know that no one is going to be climbing, so everyone chills at the local cafe of El Búho Cafe. It's run by a bunch of climbers who are staying here for the long run (I believe it closes in summer when the climbing season is over though). The cafe's profits if I recall correctly go towards building a church for the local community. Pretty cool to see the climbing community and the locals having this symbiotic relationship. El Búho is where climbers go to chill and they have board games and books and pretty good food that is decently affordable (eggs, waffles, french toast, coffee are generally priced ~$1, stuff like a latte or hot chocolate ~$2). They sell coffee beans by the ounce, as well as merchandise such as stickers and t-shirts and also the latest guidebook (more on that later). This is a really nice place to hangout and the community is super friendly and cozy. There's free Wi-Fi but it's pretty much non-existent when there's a bunch of people. El Búho also hosts weekly barbecues every Tuesday night where they get a fire going and you can bring your food to grill and share and have a dope ass time with everyone. Highly recommend going too.
This is the last reason I can imagine you going into town, but basically if you need pesos you can withdraw from the Santander ATM in town. It's a little far away but if you go in the day time it shouldn't be a problem (I followed Kyle during the day and it was fine). At this point I'd like to mention to never change money at the US airport. The conversion rate was ~1 USD : 19 pesos and Las Vegas airport was only $1 : 16 pesos, plus a $10 service fee which was fucking bullshit. I basically paid like $50 more than I needed. If you have the time, you can go to a bank to request for a certain amount of foreign currency but that needs a few days of notice. I would suggest flying into Monterrey (or if you're driving, into any city), use the ATM to withdraw some cash using your US debit/credit card. The rate you get should be pretty decent based on the rate set by the bank. If you are unsure if the rate is good, you can always withdraw just enough to get you to Hidalgo then draw more money after.
Food in Mexico is both fantastic and affordable (just like South East Asia which you should totally go to). If you were staying here for a while and wanted to save on expenses, you can whip up a dope ass meal for less than $3 pretty easily. If you're buying from the local grocery store, most stuff are pretty standard but here are some recommendations for groceries that we enjoyed:
However if you do wish to eat out every meal, that's super affordable here too. You almost certainly can get by with less than $10/meal and it'll most likely include a big ass margarita. Also my impressions is that a good number of climbers are vegan or vegetarian and a couple of places I saw did offer those options which is nice. I didn't try all the places but here's a few that we came across.
Leo's Restaurant: Right next to La Posada. They serve this amazing red chicken in some dope ass marinade that tastes absolutely amazing. For~$6 you get a BUFFET, I REPEAT, A BUFFET. There's salsa and chips for starters, then the main meal of the chicken, rice, some vegetables and flour tortilla, and I think drinks are $1 each. Also for winter there's a nice campfire outside where people chill, and Leo's has a digital jukebox that has a good selection of songs. Really nice place to chill and hang out with people.
Checo's: Opposite Leo's. We had one meal there which was okay (I really like the guac tho). It's an indoors restaurant which is clean and has a nice toilet at the back but other than that the food is ~$5 per dish and drinks ~$1 each. Nothing too memorable but it's a nice place if you want to be warm and cozy indoors.
La Posada: Inside La Posada campground itself. Pretty Americanized, and honestly I didn't really enjoy the food. The restaurant itself looks really fancy and nice (while us people inside are probably dirty and don't look very nice). Service time was a little long, and the food itself was mediocre in my opinion. The desserts seemed nice but were limited, though that chocolate cake was the bomb. Average price for a meal ~$6.
Rancho el Sendero: In Sendero's campsite itself, beside the main kitchen. Didn't actually try any of the food other than the one day with the buffet but there seems to be a good selection at a reasonable price ~$5/meal, and drinks probably ~$1 each. The restaurant is not the nicest looking one but it has a sofa and TV which is nice. But huge selling point is the Friday night buffet, where it's all you can eat with chicken, rice, vegetables, chips, soup, and WOOD FIRED PIZZA, all for $6. It was honestly one of the best things I've ever had. Also there's a nice big campfire outside afterwards where everyone hangs out.
Face Burger: Didn't actually try this but there was a lot of hype for it. Burgers literally the size of your face. It's not really a restaurant but rather a house of one of the locals. Turns out everything's closed on Sunday so we didn't get to go, but it's one of the best places to dine out in town. Also get there early cause the other group went but at 7pm there were like 14 orders ahead of them so they gave up.
Arturo's Tacos: Serves some seriously good tacos. Can't remember what the options were but it's basically beef or pork, and you toss a bunch of cilantro and onions onto it along with some amazing salsa. The trompo tacos are basically meat tacos that are slowly grilled on a vertical cooker that roasts the outside of the meat (which is why in a big group this option will involve a bit of waiting). But it's so damn good, and each plate (which is like 5 small tacos I believe) is only $2, and soft drinks for $1. Bring some wet wipes or something cause it seemed like there wasn't a toilet you could use or even a tap to was the oil from your fingers, but hey it's so good you'll probably lick if off. The Google Maps location was not really correct but they may have updated it. It's in a small alleyway just East of the railroad.
Taco Loco: No idea what this place was called but it's basically a hole in the wall and they set up tables and chairs outside and serve like a burrito thing for dinner BUT they also have a big ass margarita. Nice place to chill with the outdoors seating and they also have a fire to keep you warm. Dinner and margarita is ~$6
Tacos Y Mas: This is the taco stand right by the entrance of the Potrero Chico sign that opens in the evenings where they'll put out a covered shelter and set up a fire outside. Good food, about $1 for a taco I believe.
Edgardo's Pizza: This is where most of the climbers seem to hangout. Edgardo has a trailer which sells pizza, climbing gear, guidebooks, and (apparently the best) margaritas (and apparently does shoe resole too). You'll know when he opens cause he'll blast music from his van which can be heard throughout the canyon (which is kinda annoying actually cause it can start pretty early when you're still on the climb). Lots of people hang out there by the fire which is nice and it's a great place to chill after a day of climbing.
There are definitely more options for food but you'll probably have to ask the locals. This website might help too.
Personally I have a stupid mistake that I made and I think it is important to share this. On the last day after topping out on the last climb, we got ready to rappel. Mihail went down first, and in the mean time I was in-direct to the wall while standing on a ledge. At some point, I realized I mixed up the biners I used and switched them out from my PAS. For about 5 seconds, I didn't realize that I had no points of contact on the wall at any point. When I was back in-direct, I was literally quite shaken by what I had just done, and even now thinking back on it, it really scares me. It didn't even occur to me that what I was doing was dangerous because I was on a ledge and the rope was right in front of me. Doing all those multipitch routes got me complacent and negligent on my safety procedures (I should have had 2 points of contact in the wall and at the very least 1 at all times). I didn't realize what I had done could have killed me. I don't mean to blow this out of proportion but I just hope that we never have to hear of an incident where someone we know gets injured or even dies from making a silly mistake that can be avoided.
EPC is basically just a canyon formed by two mountains (El Toro on one side and the other I don't know the name). One of the best things about this canyon is short approaches. Jungle Wall is literally right beside the road, and your approach to some climbs is literally two steps from the sidewalk. Even the more committing approaches took no more than 30 minutes and are steep but relatively straightforward (less the hike up to El Bobo which was a fucking nightmare).
The rock is limestone which isn't as high-friction as sandstone, but I found that this limestone was still decently grippy and full of features, which is great for an edgy boy like me who loves to edge. The rock can be sharp so get those hands ready to be bloodied especially if you're looking to hand jam. If you never climbed limestone before, it may be good to take a day to climb easier stuff to get used to it. I recommend using the first day to get used to the rock by doing single pitch climbs, because EPC boasts some solid single pitch climbs too. Another plus point for limestone is that it's really porous - most of the climbs dried out so quick we never worried about wet rock for most of the trip. Downside about the rock however is that there is still lots of choss and even large death blocks (marked with a big X) which are loose. Always be aware of the dangers and make sure you yell "ROCK" if there are any pieces falling.
For the multipitch climbs, note that there are usually rappel rings that are separate from anchor bolts. If you are climbing, use the anchor bolts unless you are the first party up or have a bad belay position, because you don't want to be using the rap rings of a party ahead of you. There's a bunch of basic multipitch etiquette that we had to learn (such as how much space to give a party ahead, or when to give up on a climb based on the queue), so make sure to not be 'that annoying party' at the crag.
Ok on a lighter note, here are a few climbs that we did and highly recommend doing. I'm sure there are more but these were all we could squeeze into our short trip to EPC. A quick point that you'll probably find beta on linking pitches, which would involve more draws and potentially a longer rope. Highly recommend bringing 24 draws (at least a few of which are alpine draws), and a 70m rope (some routes can only be rappeled with a 70)
Here are a few cool things that happened over the 10 days I was in Mexico
Man it literally hurts just typing this cause I have a blood blister on my index finger but who cares cause my stoke tank from HCR is still full and I am excited to write about this amazing place that I have fallen in love with so buckle up kids it’s time for another trip report. Also I'm still as long winded as ever so there's a TL:DR section below.
HORSESHOE CANYON RANCH (HCR)
Some basics and admin stuff about HCR first
Now that that’s out of the way it’s time for me to unnecessarily recount everything that happened in those four days chronologically in great detail.
Sketchy van left campus around 4pm on Friday and since we’d reach HCR pretty late we figured we’d save the $25 on camping and just sleep at a Walmart in Branson. The weather was oddly warm but pretty welcomed at this time of the year. None of us really slept all that well for those few hours but this is what we get of being cheap.
At the crack of dawn we left Walmart and took the windy road into HCR. Take note that the road in isn’t all that bad but there are some sections which are quite steep and if it was muddy the drive may not be all that pleasant (I think sketchy van may have had troubles getting out if it was raining). As with Jackson there are potholes in certain areas and you may want to keep your eyes on the road if you don’t have a decent amount of clearance.
A little after sunrise we met up with the rest of the gang at the West Campground just up the hill from the Trading Post and bought our climbing passes to get ready for some climbing. We had quite a group (~20 of us) which I don’t know how it came to be but I just added a lot of people who said “I’m interested” and here we are. We were generally split in 3 groups; the big kids (Eric, Dylan, Mina and Logan) who were getting on some hard stuff, the crack boys (Peter and Mihail) who were getting crusty the whole trip and the rest who were a mix of regular and newbie climbers. I was trying to push myself and so I tried to stick with the big kids and I’m glad I did cause I pushed my limits trying to keep up with them.
Our first crag was The North Forty, which is the largest area in HCR and boasts over 100 sport climbs in the area, mostly in the easy to moderate range. I paired up with Eric and tried to knock out as many climbs as we could. Started out with Groovy (5.10b) which is just 5.8 climb with a 10a/b boulder start. We then made a bad move of immediately hopping onto Crimp Scampi (5.10d) which is supposedly one of the best climbs in the crag but personally I didn’t enjoy it all that much. Both of us pumped ourselves out more than we liked to and didn’t get the send so that was a bummer. A good thing however was that the route was popular enough to get permadraws throughout which was a pleasant surprise.
Then came the highlight of the day which was Circus Wall, a section of North Forty with a good concentration of quality climbs, and completely hung with permadraws which was fantastic. Eric convinced me to hop on Fat Hand (5.12a) which was a decently pumpy climb with ~V3 boulder problem start. The start is a little height dependant and it was quite frustrating, but checking off my second 12a was a great feeling. We then moved on to Big Top (5.11c) right to the left which I thought was much more fun and managed to clear with only one take. Also Dylan managed to rodeo the first clip of Fat Hand in one big swing and it was pretty cool.
After that we still managed to pack in a few more climbs. Some easier but quality ones were Green Goblin (5.8), First Normal Form (5.9), Season of the Storm (5.10a). We also did Sonny Jim (5.11a), a really good climb with a cool roof problem at the end of a nice slab. And perhaps the coolest route in that area was Lavender Eye (5.12a) which was very aptly named because one section had a lavender colored oval which looked like an eye and it was one heck of a roof problem. Eric managed to get it but I got shut down after a good half hour of fighting and swearing and ripping my fingers. It was so painful to get through the crux but run out of strength to make the clip right in front of my face. But nonetheless I’m glad I did try it and I’m waiting to get my revenge on it. Also Dylan finished the route but he may have left out some key details ;)
The climbing in the day was great and the night did not disappoint either. Perks of being in the middle of buttfuck nowhere is that there is minimal light pollution and the night sky is incredible. The temperature took quite a dip but we had a good fire going to keep us warm, good food to fill our tummies, and a whole bunch of shenanigans to keep us entertained. One thing about climbing in November was that sunset was ~5pm and it felt much later than it seemed, so we were out cold around 9pm and most of us slept all the way through the morning.
Boy I could feel my fingers throbbing but there was climbing to be done so I sucked it up and powered through. After some tasty pancakes in the morning the main group headed towards The Far East which had a good number of routes too. Eric and I started off on Gracie’s Eight (5.8) which had a huge bivvy ledge. We then got on a classic and my favorite climb of the day – Horseshoes and Hand Grenades (5.11a), which had a nice crux section down low and pretty cool moves. Eric then proceeded to fight it out on what was allegedly the best 5.12 in the canyon, Super Soul Sure Shot (5.12c), which featured a crimpy start and a crazy gaston crux in the middle. Eric crushed it and I made a mistake of thinking I could possibly do it too but simply ended up ripping the skin on my fingers and not even being able to do it (I TR assisted the starting crimp section and couldn’t even do the crux by French Freeing).
After a terrible defeat I proceeded to repair my ego by climbing Orange Crush (5.9) which was the tallest climb on the furthest part of the canyon, and it is famous for having the best view of the canyon which I agree. It is quite a view to take in and you should definitely bring a camera when going up. This route is also over protected so you can bring 14 draws or just skip a few close ones to get up.
To end off the day we headed to Roman Wall, which featured vertical faced routes up to ~40 feet up, followed by a pretty crazy roof past the ledge for a few climbs. We were all eyeing Maximus (5.12a), a 30 foot roof overhang up to a roof for the finish. You can get to Maximus via a classic arete problem Commodus (5.10a) to the belay ledge. Dylan, Logan and Mina went first so Eric and I got on Boronocus (5.11c) which was a less intense overhang but still loads of fun on a rather long route.
Eventually I went up Maximus but my skin was absolutely bare and chalk literally would not stick on my fingertips (plus I was still feeling terrible from Super Soul Sure Shot) so I couldn't stick the crux and it was quite a bad way to end the day, but well I think I was just happy to have tried. Eric subsequently went ahead to cruise through the crux and finish up the climb.
Jared's car had to leave early so after dinner they left for Champaign, while the rest of us cuddled by the campfire cause it was getting real cold. The major highlight of the night was Logan showing us that he could totally do Danger Can in one hit and said "It's cause you guys don't commit enough" and then proceeded to smash the can on his head and not break open the can. It was probably the best thing we saw all trip. Mihail and Logan proceeded to go late night bouldering while we all got an early night.
After a day of defeat I decided to slow it down with pushing myself on the hard stuff. We warmed up at Roman Wall again where I did Sybarite (5.9) and then lead Commodus since I top roped it the day before. Mina was feeling strong and so she led and almost onsighted Boronocus which was awesome. We headed over to Middle East area where I go on Nipple Stimulation (5.10a) simply because of the name.
We then headed to Titanic Boulder on the other side of the canyon and got herded by the dog and also saw a whole bunch of goats (including one with obscenely big testicles).
While passing by campsite we saw a bunch of trash and realized that the last group to leave did not clear up and left some food stuff and a load of garbage out. Not cool. Especially since the goats were so near our campsites they could have easily raided it and attracted other animals too. Plus it's a huge no-go for simply have bad camping etiquette so we cleaned it up and gave the group a lil trash talk that night.
Now for the highlight of the trip. Eric, Dylan and Logan got on Cradle of the Deep (5.13a) which was this crazy problem up this fin on the side of the free-standing Titanic Boulder. If you're wondering why it's called that, the next picture should do a good job explaining.
Watching the big boys get on Cradle of the Deep was pretty intense. It looked like it was way out of my reach but I'd be up to try it sometime in the future once I get stronger. If you're intending to do it, bring a stick clip because the belay ledge has a 15 foot drop off and it's not gonna be fun to fall off on lead. Logan and I managed to rodeo backclip the first bolt so we gave up. Also listening to Logan climb and get angry/excited on a climb is hilarious and I highly recommend everyone to climb with him just to listen to it.
In the mean time, Mina and I also got on two easier climbs, Ship of Fools (5.10a) and Portside (5.10d). Ship of Fools was a straightforward climb with a bouldery start, while Portside was probably the coolest climb I did the entire trip.
To end off the day, we went to Prophecy Wall which is where the only 5.14a of the canyon is found (The Prophet, FA by Chris Sharma in 2005). I jumped on Taliban Soup (5.11b) and managed to bump my hardest onsight grade which really made my day. Eric did Egyptian Airbus (5.12c). Both climbs were slabby up to the roof and had some pretty big moves, but nothing too difficult. Apparently Egyptian Airbus had a huge dyno move which Eric clearly didn't do so it was rather disappointing. Mina and Dylan also got on Learning to Fly (5.10c) which was a sustained slight overhung route and we finished that climb which was a great way to end the day.
We got back to campsite for dinner, and after some convincing from Logan about the best boulder problem he ever did in his life, a bunch of us decided to join him for late night bouldering at Idaho Boulders. Logan brought us to this problem called Make You Cuss (V2) that features super cool layback smearing which is great on a high friction day like ours. He then began to describe this incredible process of sending the problem after many attempts and how it will forever be his favorite route, making a bold statement that if someone flashes it he will start walking home.
Eric then flashed the problem.
Okay so Logan stayed but still it was one of the funniest things we ever saw (the title of this trip report also came from a conversation that night). I never got up Make You Cuss cause I suck at smearing but I think I'd like to try it if my fingers are in better shape. We also tried a couple of V0s around before moving on to another area, stopping by some classics along the way such as Grand Dragon (V7) and other boulder problems that are pretty much impossible.
Towards the end we were all pretty pooped from just climbing so much, but we all tried The Crescent (V3) which was a cool slabby problem with a huge crescent sidepull thing on the right. Eric made quick work of it and the rest of us struggled quite a bit. Logan eventually sent it but that involved saying "One Last Time" like 15 times and every attempt at a different beta was actually the same beta we were telling him. But it was still great that he finally got the send. Also throughout this Mihail was just sleeping on a root and didn't even care that he became a crash pad.
The last day was a slow one cause of the bouldering plus we had to pack up the site and that we had an 8 hour drive back. We packed up and left for Mullet Buttress near the north side of the crag where Eric and I got on Business in the Front (5.10b) for warming up and I hopped on Mixed Max (5.11c) which is pretty cool and I'd recommend Mixed Max if you're hitting up the area.
But the real highlight for the last day was Goat Cave, an area of overhung routes that due to low popularity, has been overrun by goats and since there are no plants on the ground in the cave, the sea of goat shit has been there forever. FYI this extends to free standing boulders being covered in poop it was horrible. But to make up for this, Goat Cave had some pretty amazing climbs. Huge plus points that they're all permadraws for convenience.
Mina got the ball rolling with Anal Sac Expression (5.10c) which is the easiest climb in the cave. This one starts on top of the boulder and you'd want to stick clip it to prevent some serious falls if you miss the first clip. Eric did some crazy stuff on Austrian Ass Attack (5.12a) which starts off with some serious hand jamming and leads up to a big roof, which Dylan also finished afterwards. I did Mexican Sac Pull (5.11b) that was rather straightforward overhang stuff too.
Eric's car had to run off afterwards so I belayed Dylan on what I believe was Man Junk (5.12b) and it involved a lot of climber-belayer love entanglement. The crux was definitely down low and it seemed like an intense start. Dylan then convinced me to do Ride the Short Bus (5.11d). This climb starts on the tip of a sharp boulder so stick clipping the first bolt is a yes. It was kind of frustrating because at the edge on my tip toes I barely reached the crimps before I have to campus to a jug and I was not able to do it, so I instead had to dyno for the jug, whereas Dylan kinda just reached for it. But once I got the first jug, it was pretty smooth sailing from there getting through the low crux and eventually the sweetest roof I've done so far into a nice juggy finish. Dylan hopped on after to send the route and it was dope.
With the climbing done we got some final pictures of HCR and set sail back to Champaign. Sketchy van stopped by El Sombrero in Lebanon, Missouri which I'd dare say had as good salsa and food as El Tequila in Vienna, and at almost a dollar or two cheaper. If Mexican food sounds good after 4 days of climbing, this is the place.
And that concluded my virgin trip to HCR! It was definitely an eye opening experience and I am grateful to have had great weather on some quality climbs with fantastic company. Kind of crazy looking back at my first trip report last year in the Red and realizing how much I've improved. I'm nowhere near being the strongest climber in my community (however I define that) but it's amazing to know that I have improved both physically and mentally. Thank you to everyone who made this trip possible and I can't wait to see what the next trip has in store for us.
What is up boys and girls apparently when I took up the role of tech chair and started doing trip reports to encourage people to write about adventures it actually meant I'm the only one who's actually gonna bother writing them but well here we go.
How in the damn world did I not visit this freaking amazing place for the raddest day of climbing and partying ever. Note that this trip report is gonna be about the competition (The Fifth Testament) but if you're looking for more beta on the climbing and camping etc I'm sure mountain project has more info.
So a bit on the history:
This past weekend I was down at the Holies for my very first time (but most certainly not my last) reppin the U of I with club members past and present. Along with Reuven, Lance, Conor and Paige, we loaded up sketchy van with 5 crash pads and drove down Friday night. The path in is much better paved than Jackson but take note of animals at night that like to live life on the edge by moving into the path of a 1 ton vehicle (we almost hit a hawk I say again a FLYING BIRD not some deer imagine having the ability to soar hundreds of feet in the sky and almost die on the road getting hit by a sketchy van). Note that the competition venue is not the same as the normal access so follow directions in accordingly. Had dinner along the way and got into the campsite around 11 to set up our tents. Fun fact sketchy van's rear tires got mud stuck in the threads and couldn't back out from the little slope on the grass so 7 guys had to push her back out to the straight path. Fun stuff. I hung out by the campfire to chat with a couple of people from Columbia, Missouri for a bit and went to sleep after I decided I smelled of enough burnt wood.
First thing I woke up at 7.30am and was confused why I ended up in Silent Hill but it was just a mist that was passing through. Quite the bummer for my first time at the Holy Boulders but still we didn't let that get in our way. Bagels were provided by First Ascent and coffee by Steam Shovel. After the registration admin and welcome speech, we were off to start the competition!
Some competition deets:
As per Reuven's recommendation I did Circuitmaster with him and it was awesome. Unlike the other categories, we got to try out a lot more problems (albeit easy ones) and still we barely got around half of the places we intended to do. Reuven got 24 and I got 27 total, mostly V0s and a few V1-3s. It's much less than expected but fair enough conditions were far from ideal and we ended up spending more time on easy problems than we wanted to. Highlights for me were Mollusk (V2), Lowrider (V3) and Sukha (V3, which I unfortunately could not send but will be back for). I believe Paige was doing beginner while Lance and Conor were doing intermediate/advanced on some crazier problems.
A cool thing about the comp is that there are so many people working on problems in the area so there was no lack of crash pads; everyone was super friendly and chill about sharing, not to mention very supportive to give encouragement and proper spotting for fellow climbers. A thing to note however is that if you are doing Circuitmaster, it's ideal for you and a partner to move together and each bring a crash pad, cause if you're moving around quickly, the less popular problems may not have people there and you'll need your own pads.
Around 4pm we got back and tallied up our scores and submitted them, then got ourselves some tasty dinner (pulled pork sandwich with sides ~$10). Everyone gathered around the stage area as prize presentation took place. For reference, Reuven and I scored ~4000 points, and the first place of Circuitmaster was 80 climbs with 15,000 points, so we were not remotely close. Next was the sweet raffling/schwagiving's where Lois snagged a stray bag of loose chalk while I managed to deadpoint the dyno for a Prana chalk bag.
Now for the best part - the after party. I am still disappointed that so many club members didn't come for the comp or at the least for the party but well they're the ones missing out cause it was dope. Won't say too much but there may have been:
A lot happened that night and I couldn't remember too much other than waking up like 4 times throughout the night to take a leak, but I reckon it was a wild party.
Next morning the rain began to roll in so we decided to bail and head home early. Driving out in the day was a treat though, with the road out looking like a yellow tunnel with the lovely fall colors at its peak. We stopped by Carbondale for some brunch at Harbaugh's Cafe and I highly recommend it. There's good reason why it was a full house; fantastic food and great service at a reasonable price. Highly recommend it if you're passing through (they're only open till 2pm though).
And that's a wrap! My first time to the Holy Boulders was fantastic and I can't wati to come back. I just want to end off with something that really stood out for me the night of the party (in my potentially less than sober state that I still remember). I was talking to Doug from the ICA board and he mentioned that more than a fund raiser, this is really just an event to get the tribe together and have a good time. And that word really struck me - 'tribe'.
Jackson and Holy Boulders aren't really premier climbing destinations; it certainly isn't up there with places like the Red or Yosemite. Yet there is that sense of attachment to these places beyond it's rock quality and familiar roads for me. The people who make up this climbing tribe here in Illinois, whether they still live here or have moved on, still continue to care deeply for this place that we treasure, and for the people who they share it with. At the Holies, it didn't seem like a gathering of a few hundred strangers who came to climb and win. Rather it seemed almost like a reunion of this massive extended family, who are all connected to one another in some way. This feeling of inclusiveness from the tribe, and at the same time, exclusiveness of being part of this unique tribe, is something that I have never really felt before, and I am thankful to have been a part of this.
A huge shoutout to the ICA for organizing this amazing competition and beyond that, for the effective management and preservation of our climbing areas that we sometimes take for granted. Thanks to Philip and Kate for allowing all of us to access their private property and hosting hundreds of people for such a great event. And of course, thank you to the U of I fam, past and present, for continuing to support the Holy Boulders.
Callout weekend got rescheduled due to rain, so I (Marshal Herrmann), Shao, Ansel, and Melanie checked out Illinois’ newest crag on Sunday, April 23. Summarized into quick facts, the good, the bad, the (driving) beta, the verdict, and an outline of our day.
Quick facts about the park
The (driving) beta
Google Maps gave me 3 pretty different routes with virtually the same driving time. Taking I 72 past Springfield would definitely be the fastest way – you could go 90 mph if you wanted (pretty empty country roads). I57 and I70 is much more scenic however (follows Mississippi River, see something other than cows and cornfields); pictures below. This route also passes through Alton, IL which is a bigger tourist town on the river just past the park. Alton has a variety of restaurants and other accommodations. We took the quicker way in and the scenic way out, which is my recommendation.
The climbing lot actually shows up on Google Maps - click here for link. It is unmarked in person. If you look at satellite mode, you’ll notice there’s a much larger parking lot just down the road (it has a sign saying “Day Use Parking” – probably an extra minute hike).
We stopped at O Jans Fish Stand, a sketchy fish stand along the river with big portions for cheap! If you like greasy food and no frills, come here. Otherwise, drive into Alton for more restaurant options (fast food, ethnic, diners, burger stands, nicer places, etc).
You could do 75% of the park in a day with a 10c leader, a 35m rope, and 6 quickdraws. Maybe 95% if you bring a trad rack. It’s probably best for bringing newbs or single day trips. I would not recommend spending more than a day here, but it’s worth checking out if you can only climb for 1 day. The routes are fun and have some variety – it’s certainly a change of pace from Jackson.
I picked everyone up at 5am, and off we went! We arrived at the crag around 8am with just 1 other group already there. I had a GoPro I rented from the library to play with, and will probably add the video as an addendum to this later. We first walked into the Meadow Slab wall and warmed up on a 5.6 and 5.7+. I was feeling adventurous and along with Ansel, free soloed a 5.2. We found a solo climber with 2 dogs; coincidentally, also a UIUC student. We climbed with him for the majority of the day.
After this area, we kept following the trail and kept finding bolts. So we kept climbing! I didn’t keep good track of what we climbed, or what we liked, because well we climbed almost everything the place had. Shao estimates he climbed 14 routes (and we left with 2 hours of daylight left!). I can’t provide any recommendations on routes, just do all of them.
We were getting a bit confused about which route was what since there is no guidebook (but not a huge deal since everything sans a few routes are 10s or lower). The routes are well depicted and logged on Mountain Project though; any confusion was definitely user error. Case in point: Shao led a 5.11d, The Father's Gift, without knowing the grade until afterwards. Other people did tell us it was the best route in the park. I followed it on top rope like a true champ, so there’s my recommendation afterall: climb this route.
Shao clipping a bolt on The Father’s Gift, 5.11d, “best route in the park.” It traverses left near the top. Ansel on the right climbing Vista, 5.10c. Both at Ryan’s Balcony wall.
The last wall we visited was pretty crowded, but because of the short routes, it cleared out pretty quick (routes have high turnover). This area also has a nice picnic area.
A little busy at this wall, but cleared out soon after
We left fairly early since we experienced most of what the park offers (5pm or so, my guess). While the crag was very clean, the highway is full of litter: we packed out half a trash bag of cans and bottles on the way to the parking lot.
We voted on fish for dinner, and headed to the aforementioned O Jans Fish Stand (5 minutes from the crag). This place epitomizes no frills. I asked the lady at the counter what she recommended. She laughed at me, quipping that she eats everything. It didn’t help narrow down the menu options, but gave me a laugh. The lady was very obese and I can see why: the fish stand serves up huge portions of greasy fish for cheap! It would be dangerous living near here, and especially working here. To keep a balanced climber’s diet, you can round out the fat and protein from the fried fish with some carbs from their huge variety of pies. Somehow I managed to avoid that sugary goodness temptation. You better climb hard to earn dinner at this place.
Yes, they serve you in cardboard boxes that they reuse. And yes, those 2 big fish filets are a part of one $4.50 sandwich.
Afterwards we were on the road again. We took a 3 minute detour (calculated by Google at the time) and followed the Mississippi River for a bit eastward instead of heading straight north. Pretty nice views, breaks up the traditional Illinois interstate monotony. We were home by 10pm.
Beats the Interstate
Be sure to check out Melanie’s quality photo album (featuring high res pics and not stills from a GoPro, like my report). My GoPro video montage to be released at a later date (gotta make it gnarly!)
Marshal Hermann - April 2017
This weekend was the Badass Bitches Climber Crew climbing trip. We went out to Jackson Falls for the weekend with a crew of nearly a dozen women. We stayed up at the campsite near the dog walk which was a first for me. We arrived Friday night and just passed out.
Saturday we went down the dog walk to Snakes Roof where several of the ladies stayed to climb. My friends Lena, Natalie, and I went over to Spleef Peak to get on some different climbs. We started out on the 5.8 Blue Spark which was an okay climb. Followed up an okay crack in the wall but didn’t have much in regards to feet.
Next we did Through the Smoke (5.9). This was a tough one to the left of Blue Spark. I got two bolts up and was going for the third when I fell. I unfortunately swung and caught my leg on the side of the rope and got a bad rope burn on my leg.
Beautiful right? But I got back up and finished the route with no other issues. The top part was more pleasant than the bottom part. There is a frequent occurence in Jackson that the bottom part of the routes are tougher than the rest of the climb. (Not always though.)
Next we tackled the 10a to the right of Blue Spark. This route was probably my favorite of the three we did on Spleef Peak. It had a lot of interesting foot holds and the hand holds were clear to see. The moves were challenging enough for it to be enjoyable though. It was also my first on-sight 10 outside. So I was pretty excited. You can also see that there is a pleasant little sitting area at the top to enjoy the views of Jackson.
Paige Mundy on top of The Garden Route. Photo by Katie Konocel
Paige Mundy on top of The Garden Route. Photo by Katie Konocel
(Only photos of me during the trip. Enjoyed the view at the top though.)
After that Lena and I went to meet up with my friend Peggy who was crushing it on Feed the Rat. Our friend James Fran made the FA of this huge off-width that required Cams the size of your head and a lot of courage.
Peggy Flavin climbing Feeding the Rat.
At this point my leg was not in the mood to do anything else for the day. I had intentions of trying Wild at Heart (5.11a) which was opposite wall of Feeding the Rat. I had TR it the fall before but I just wasn’t feeling 100% for it. So I chilled for the rest of the day in hopes that I’d feel better.
We went back to camp and went to dinner at a Mexican restaurant about 30 min from our campsite. After stuffing ourselves full of delicious food we went back to meet up with some other friends who happened to be at Jackson that weekend. When we got there we saw glowing Easter eggs around the campsite and people wearing bunny ears around the campfire. I got to meet some UIUC alumni that are currently living in Chattanooga. There were great stories and company. Probably one of my happiest nights around a campfire I’ve ever had.
That night I tried my new blow up mattress and slept in my car. It was so much better than the dinky sleeping pad I had been using.
The next day we got up and went to go watch Peggy climb Off-Width Exam. Our buddy Alex crashed our girls weekend and joined us. Peggy has the energy of a goddess. It took her about an hour but after several dozen tough moves, two pigeons flying out of the crack at her, and some serious bad ass persistence she topped out of the climb.
Alex Bragg climbing Off-Width Exam.
Peggy Flavin on Off-Width Exam
After that three of the girls wanted to head home but I decided to stay. So I followed them to the falls where they climbed out on a 5.8 called Lovin’ Lizards after one last foot dip to the falls. Then I headed back to Exam Wall area to meet back up with Alex, Peggy and some of the people from the campfire the night before. Alex was trying to finish a route called Eminent Domain (5.12D) that had a bail beaner left behind. After several valiant attempts he switched out with Peggy who also gave it a go.
After that we could tell it was going to start raining soon so I wanted to get in one more climb really quick before we had to head back. So I did The Dagger (5.8) a few routes over and my leg was throbbing from the rope burn so I wasn’t on the top of my mental game. I managed to finish and get to the top where I found a tiny painting about 2″ x 3.5″ on a tiny easle. It was a nice scene of a forest, lake, and a little sun. I have seen several of these around Jackson now. They are apparently left behind by the cancer society. It’s super inspiring. I’d love to figure out the stories of those who put them there. Anyway…I finished the route and then Alex decided he wanted to give it a go too. I gave him a belay where he practically ran up the face of the wal, then we decided to head out due to the growing thunder.
We headed out of the canyon and went to clean the anchor for Off-Width Exam. It was then that the rain started to pour. The others told me to go on ahead to get out of the rain. So I literally RAN all the way back to the parking lot and threw my stuff in the car. First off…I haven’t ran in the rain in years. It made me feel so refreshed and like a kid. (Plus it kind of washed off the grims and sweat of the last two days of climbing.) It felt so amazing. Alex and Peggy came shortly after and after briefly saying we were going for food. We headed out of Jackson and stopped at Tequillas in Marion where we had well deserved Margaritas and food.
One of the best trips I’ve ever been on.
- Trip report by Paige Mundy, April 2017
It’s time for a well overdue trip report that all of us were too lazy to write about!
During the last week of winter break, a good number of us went out west in search of good climbing, less than freezing rocks, lots of good food, and maybe a chance to get lucky.
Yes we’re talking Vegas baby.
Our group comprised mainly of two groups, trad (local climbing legend Alex James and co), and sport (everyone else who wasn’t worthy enough for our local climbing legend). And Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, or Red Rocks for short, boasts quality trad, sport and multi pitch routes in a dry and arid desert (average of 4 days of rain a month), which was perfect for our group. With over two thousand routes just a few miles off Las Vegas Boulevard aka The Strip, this was the go to crag for our winter break.
Most of us flew into Las Vegas airport, except my MVP Ansel Higgs and gang (Eric, Dylan and Amanda) who decided that it wouldn’t be enough of a challenge unless you drove across continental US in the middle of winter (it was rad). Some groups of us arrived a few days earlier and got some climbing in at Red Rocks, while Kyle, Kirsten, Noah and I arrived on Saturday. Kyle rented a sweet SUV, and even with that amount of space, we barely fit all 4 of us with luggage, camping and climbing gear in, so in case you’re considering fitting 5 into a vehicle, I do not recommend that.
Team "Drive Across Continental US Cause I Can"
So now it’s time for some fun facts:
The catch? It’s in the middle of a dried up lake.
There are quite literally no roads there, so driving in at near 2am and shining our headlights in hopes of finding our group was a huge pain in the ass. After half an hour of aimless wandering at other groups of parked cars, watching the GPS jump around, and leaving tire tracks over half the damn lake, we found our group and finally caught some sleep.
The challenge was to identify our group, and the tents didn't help. So we used Ansel's car which had an Illinois licence plate to find everyone (P.C. Ansel Higgs)
The lake sucked, but the sunrise was gorgeous (P.C. Dylan Walsh)
Next morning, after hugging each other in acknowledgement that our friends are in fact alive, our group debated on what to do for coming days. Joshua Tree had a lot more trad and bouldering, and about half of us were there mainly for sport. So by the power of Mountain Project (go download it), we found this place called New Jack City about an hour from JTree, and our group split from there.
Now for the good stuff. New Jack City (officially known as Sawtooth Canyon) is the beautiful gem hidden in the middle of nowhere in Southern California with some 300 sport routes. The metamorphic rock looks gorgeous and while there are a few sketchy routes with choss (loose rock), most of the holds are solid and generally safe. Routes are well bolted and easy to find, even without a guidebook we got around pretty well with Mountain Project. Unfortunately because we didn’t have a guidebook, I did not keep track of which climbs I did, and we kinda just went ahead with whatever grade we were told the climbs were as long as they were within our abilities. On that note, gradings there are close to Jackson Falls, not too tough, but definitely not soft.
The crag comprised mainly a 5.10 and 5.11 climbs, so lucky for me, I managed to bag a few mid 10s which I was comfortable leading. That said, there are some good 5.7-9 climbs too, with the only climb I remember being Crooked Dick Spire (5.9), or as I like to call it, Poop Rock. There are also a few two pitch climbs, one of which I did with Ansel as our first sport multipitch. Unfortunately, it is chossy as hell, hard to find, and very exposed (lots of wind), coupled with some technical difficulties, ended up not being a great climb. But still if you’re looking to do your first multi pitch, there are options in New Jack City.
The pretty metamorphic rocks that forms New Jack City
Poop Rock in all her glory (Crooked Dick Spire, 5.9)
Other great things about New Jack City, camping is free, with vault toilets, a pavilion and fire pit for each, and while there is no running water, the town of Barstow is only a 30 minute drive North on a straight road from New Jack, where you can find a Walmart, gas stations and restaurants.
Did I forget to mention that the crag is 100 feet from the car park?
That was literally my favorite part about New Jack City. It was so compact and accessible, with a bunch of climbs just a five minute walk from the campsite. I felt like I was in this playground that I never got to explore as a child, just that this was a playground for climber which was even better.
The sport group spent two days at New Jack City. The first night, it was forecast to rain so only my car camped at New Jack City while the others went back to the BLM lake. But well it rained at both places (in fact it hit them harder in the middle of a freaking dried up lake with no shelter), and they ended up coming back to New Jack City, so I guess we won that night. Also, we had breakfast at this lovely diner chain called Black Bear Diner, which was a little pricey, but had massive portions and was absolutely delicious so I highly recommend it.
Eric and Dylan atop one of the two pitch climbs in New Jack City (P.C. Dylan Walsh)
I can probably unlock my car from the top of the route
After two days in New Jack City, we heard that there are some sport climbs in JTree so we headed there to regroup. Camping at JTree was apparently full, paid campsites nearby were expensive, and we were sick of staying in a dried lake. So we got two motel rooms instead (9 Palms Inn), which allowed for a good night of drinking and ice cream. Also, showers. It’s nice to be clean once in a while.
Joshua Tree National Park has over a thousand boulder problems and much more trad routes, known to be notoriously sandbagged (under graded). But with no crash mats we had to make do with whatever sport routes we had. Our group split into two, one group followed the trad group by top roping their routes (I only joined for one day, which I didn’t remember much of), and the other group sport climbed in this place called Siberia.
The approach to Siberia was flat but about 2 miles long along a well-marked path called the Boy Scout’s Trail. Getting near the crag was not an issue, getting to the actual climbs to find the damn routes was near impossible without a guidebook, because the main path kind of disappears and it becomes easy to follow a ‘stray path’ that guides you away.
When we first arrived at the rocks, we saw a few routes with the first bolt unreasonably high up (I swear some first bolts were at least 25 feet up, not a difficult route, but not some simple scramble up). Finally after Kyle went exploring a little we found the right place with a couple of good climbs. They were mostly 5.9-10a, with some questionable flakes, high first bolts, and very sketchy scrambles to the base of each route. But they were good climbs, with my second (or first proper) multi pitch Dos Chi Chis (5.10a, 2 pitches) that I did with Kirsten, a slab climb that that was very exposed (Noah apparently got blown off the route, literally), but very enjoyable.
The approach into Siberia involved a lot of scrambling
Eric and Noah atop Dos Chi Chis
Siberia boasts some stunning views, especially near sunset
Getting out of Siberia however, was much less enjoyable. On the first evening, Kyle, Eric, Noah and I had our little desert adventure getting lost, following a bunch of paths and misidentifying landmarks which guided us off track (though I have to say it was quite a scenic hike out in the moonlight). Thankfully Kyle had GPS on his offline maps which allowed us to find the trail after an hour of wandering. So go download offline maps, your life could depend on it.
Another highlight of our trip to Jtree was The Chasm of Doom, a mini ‘cave system’ of sorts that involves lots of scrambling which occasionally gets sketchy, as well as squeezing through cracks and up chimneys. It starts near the Real Hidden Valley loop trail, but honestly I’m not too sure where it really is, you can search online for more details. In fact we may not have done the ‘actual’ trail cause it’s supposedly a secret route but we did what we could. The best part of The Chasm of Doom was that we did it during a full moon, so we barely even used our headlights, relying on the bit of moonlight seeping through the cracks. Highly recommend doing this.
Other things to note about this part of the trip, JTree is a National Park, so you need a weekly pass ($25) or an annual pass (~$80) for each car. Camping in the park is not easy as campsites fill up fast, but we found a site at Jumbo Rocks campground, which was far from the crags we were headed for, but still a nice campground. Also, JTree has vault toilets around, but no running water so remember to stock up. Food wise, there’s a great pizza place called Pie for the People in the town just North (Twentynine Palms). Oh and the rocks in Jtree are quartz monzonite, an igneous rock which from far looks smooth, but up close it is essentially sandpaper embedded with crystals. In other words, don’t fall on the rock. It’s incredibly grippy, but it will grate off any skin you have if you grind yourself against it on a fall.
Our cozy campfire at Jumbo Rocks campgrounds
After three days at Jtree, our group decided to head to find out one more sports crag for our last day of climbing, this time in Phoenix, Arizona. The place we went to was called Camelback Mountain, and it is smack in the middle of the city. Because of that, we couldn’t find a campsite, and settled for a Motel 6 instead.
Camelback Mountain is more of a park, being very established in terms of its walking path, with a nice carpark at the base and a toilet with running water there. Getting to the crag was a little tricky. It’s very close to the carpark and you don’t have to run too far off. Mountain Project has more details on it. But basically there are two walls. Headwall is the base with 10 routes, and Gargoyle Wall is ABOVE Headwall. Yes, you have to climb up some route first before you arrive at Gargoyle Wall, which was why we got quite lost in the process.
All of us paired up and got on some sort of a multi pitch climb. I was with Kyle heading up this unnamed route, Unknown (5.10a, 3 pitches). First pitch was tricky, because the belay ledge was very far right, and I missed it which required some down climbing and quickdraw retrieval. Second pitch was where the trouble began. Kyle got pretty far up, and I was nearing the end of my payable rope. We tried shouting for him but the wind was strong and we couldn’t hear each other. Eventually Eric and Amanda who were climbing beside up got high up enough and he told us he was at the anchors, so I unclipped and started climbing too. Eventually I got up, met Kyle at the anchor and learnt that
That feeling when you sit on stable ground after a long run-out section
Panoramic views atop Camelback Mountain
With the sun setting in Arizona, we headed back to Vegas and caught our flights out of Sin City, marking the end of our climbing trip. Our grand plans for the week in Vegas never happened (I never got to eat my ramen), but I’m kind of glad we ended up straying so far from our original plans. The highlight for me was definitely New Jack City, which I would never have found had we not detoured all the way down to Southern California.
Special shoutout to Kyle for coordinating and taking charge of things with our car, always looking out for us, to Noah and Kirsten for being awesome car buddies, and Eric and Amanda for helping me get sketchy van back home from Oklahoma City. It was a fantastic trip, and I can’t wait to get back outdoors for more climbing.
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