I originally heard of Escalante Canyon when I traveled to Ouray for the first time, three weeks after I moved to Colorado, to go to the Ice Festival. I had never been crack climbing in the desert, but it sounded awesome, so I put it on a mental checklist. l’d been meaning to get to this area that’s only about an hour from Grand Junction for three and a half years.
Alex Vidal and I finally made a trip out there a few weeks ago. It was great! Perfect weather, great climbs with awesome people.
We pulled into the campsite just before midnight. I slept on a picnic table covered by a small roof, and in the morning I saw a GMC pickup pull up and suspiciously look around. Neil Longfellow found us. He’s been living in his truck wandering around the desert for a few months.
The climbing is similar to, but shorter than, Indian Creek. After spending quite a bit of time struggling up incredibly stout and powerful climbs in Vedauwoo this summer, the desert hand crack style felt so “easy” and precise (for the most part). After a short, but fun warm up we jumped on an offwidth 5.9 called Junk Corner (given one and half stars, but I had so much fun I climbed it twice). I did junk up the skin on my left elbow pretty good.
Alex squeezes up the chimney on Junk Corner, 5.9
Alex prepares to climb TH Crack (5.8) at the Cabin Area
There’s a lot of vandalism on these walls. People who can’t hit broadside of a barn have to use cliffs as target practice, putting scattered pockets in puzzling locations up the walls. Below TH Crack someone carved a huge “TH”, hence the name. The climb is another awesome warm up.
It was getting hot so we took a break, went back to camp and jumped into the creek. Well, Alex and Neil did. I hate submersing myself in cold water – it was surprisingly cold.
The evening light from the Interiors area overlooking our camp and a bunch of climbing not listed on Mountain Project.
Alex losing his soul.
One of the best parts of camping in the desert is the incredible star-lit nights. I finally got some photos of the milky way I’m proud of.
Neil’s homemade rooftop tent silhouetted against the skyline
We climbed the second day at the Interiors Area again. We warmed up on Unknown I (5.9) which starts out as an overhang roof that you have to pull with offwidth moves, once on top of the roof it goes to extra wide #6 slab crack. Right where it gets desperate you’re able to grab the start of the 5.10+ crack and jump up to a small platform to the bolts.
Neil Longfellow got this shot of me testing my flexibility. I need to do more yoga. He just missed the really amazingly awkward shot of my head being stuck below the roof.
From our campsite we were eyeing the Keyhole route, a 5.10a splitter small hands .75 splitter with “keyhole” pods. The movement through the pods is really awesome, and it was really the first indian creek style crack – uses mostly one size cam the majority of the way up – climb I’ve led. Especially in the size that wasn’t just perfect hands the whole way up. Super-tight hands and fingers is all technique, and if you don’t have the technique it’s next to impossible. If you do it can be like climbing a ladder. Dealing with feet on these kinds of routes is probably hardest part. In the crux of this route I was able to lieback through the thinnest section and paste my feet on the slightly uneven crack.
Alex climbs the brilliant Keyhole route (5.10a) at the Interiors Area
The top of the route opens up to perfect hands.
Neil Longfellow snapped this photo of me climbing Key Hole.
The Interiors area is called that because of two routes that are in a cave created by a detached pillar. To get to the routes you pass through Pinball Chimney 5.9+++R. It only has one confirmed send, but didn’t stop Alex from playing around on it.
The two routes on the interior are amazingly fun and protected from the heat of the day. The namesake route is a 5.9- called Interiors. It starts up this 5.Fun (5.7?) crack ramp, where it seems like most people on mountain project stop and traverse out to a set of anchors for The Shaft, but the meat up the route starts there, and it’s very fun 5.9 climbing up a dihedral for another 25-30 feet. The anchors are on a detached block behind you that you have to chimney up to, one of the most unique anchor clipping motions I’ve done.
The other route in the cave is The Shaft 5.10a, a dirty but fun climbing up a dihedral with a couple different cracks. There’s a suspect internal flake that I wouldn’t place gear behind. Definitely a route worth climbing, slightly easier than Key Hole.
Neil Longfellow took this great shot of me on The Shaft
The light later in the day in the cave is so incredible, but we had to take off back to Boulder before I got any photos of climbers on these routes. Looking back that was a mistake.
I felt far more comfortable and strong over trad gear in Escalante Canyon than I have since I broke my back over 2.5 years ago. I blame the struggle fest that is Vedauwoo improving my technique so much. At the end of the second I was so psyched and energized by these climbs I wanted to do 10 more, but Alex and Neil were wiped. I found one last climb that I knew would wipe me out, a super wide offwidth on the outside of the cave called Fondon’t (5.9++)
“Well, that might hold a wet cat”…tipped out with mud on one side. – Alex Vidal. Photo by Neil Longfellow
I had definitely never led anything like this. I had to fight my way up 20 feet before I could place my first piece, a tipped out #6, the widest cam. I had to worm up, finding body positions that pinned just the right part of a knee or elbow or head or shoulder to keep me from sliding out and landing on the rocks below. The positions where it’s possible to move upward are the positions where it’s possible to fall out. The body positions where you’re locked in to the point of relaxing and taking a breath, I found it all but impossible to move from. Getting in and out of those two main positions I found to be the crux of the route. It’s a full body battle agains the rock to move and keep you in it at the same time. I bumped the #6 higher in the crack till it was finally good enough that it might have held me if I statically took on it, and pulled myself out of the offwidth crack onto a small ledge before the rest of the climb up 5.8 crack and slab. I huge sigh of relief and a proper mount of exhaustion. Now. Now I was ready to go home.
I’ve been in Vedauwoo more this year than any other climbing area besides Eldo. It’s been fun getting a lot better at trad climbing (Though, I went sport climbing this weekend and last weekend, and it’s been a refreshing change). Alex Vidal and I went over Labor Day weekend and got on some great climbs.
Alex taking in the sunset at the incredible rock garden on top of Edward’s Crack at Walt’s Wall (Main Area)
I struggled up Currey’s Diagonal (5.10b+++) as it is an off-angle crimp rail with smeared feet and micro-cam protection instead of the bomber hand jams you’re expecting. Then Alex and I climbed Edward’s Crack up to Hassler’s Hatbox, definitely one of my favorite climbs I’ve done. HH gets only one star and 5.6 in the book, but deserves 4 stars and 5.7+ (Vedauwoo rating, 5.8+ elsewhere). I then gave a strong go at Best of the Blues (5.10b), the first pitch of Lucille’s. Absolutely worth getting on. Fun climbing to a powerful roof bulge move. It protects very well. Then you can stare longingly at Lucille’s.
We checked out Reynold’s Hill the second day. It has a really nice approach, and it’s removed from the noise of the highway quite a bit. We climbed past a dead bird and through the bushes to a very stout but fun route, Cosmic Debris (5.8+++). Needs to get more traffic to clean it up a bit. We then climbed Pooh Corner a few times. Alex cruised this flaring hand crack, but it was a battle for me. I like variation as I’m still not 100% with pure hand jams. The Maiden is a fantastically fun route that would be an ultraclassic if it were 60 feet longer. It’s called 5.6 but would easily be 5.8 anywhere else. Then Alex fought his way up the Matron, a 5.8 squeeze chimney.
I found it a lot easier to face the other way, but then again I was on top rope.
Unknown girl climbing Pooh Corner at ssunset
View of Reynold’s Hill from the approach
Every time I’ve gone to the Voo it has thunderstormed all around me, but it’s never rained or thunderstormed on me. That night the milkyway was out in force and the lightning storm was creating quite the light show. I’m still working on really capturing the milky way well. I also forgot my tripod, so I was balancing my camera on rocks.
When it’s too hot in Boulder to climb outside, head to Vedauwoo, WY. It’s a little over 2hrs away, and it’s a great escape from the overcrowded crags in the Front Range. And you leave feeling like you’ve accomplished something – or just with sore muscles and tattered clothes.
I went back this weekend with Alex & Vincent. We attacked some great lines on Saturday: ~Middle Parallels Space – a fun 5.9 with a crux down low and a 5.7 chimney with a hand-to-offwidth crack for protection. The anchors are placed in an odd spot on a pillar, thought. ~Friday the 13th – Alex sent this 5.10a (heavily sandbagged) with much more ease than on my first lead. The greasy top of the crack pumps you out. Vincent worked on the second pitch, a short but powerful 5.11a out a roof. ~Hesitation Blues – A pretty stout 1st pitch of 5.11b. The second pitch looks so inviting, but the continued rating of 11b and our current state of being worked caused us to hesitate, then have the blues. -Mother #1 – According to Alex, “The world’s hardest 5.7”. I would have to agree. An offwidth that is a struggle all of the way up.
Alex figures out the gear on Middle Parallels Space
Vincent turned my camera on me giving Friday the 13th a send attempt.
Using my head for balance
Since the weather was calling for a clear night, I decided to not set up my tent and sleep under the stars. I woke up to an amazing show of the milky way, but couldn’t convince myself to get out of bed to get my camera. Again I awoke, just as the sun was starting to come up to something scampering up my chest. With my hands in my sleeping bag I just pounded out on the bag, and looked up to see a chipmunk doing backflips through the air! The visual is still cracking me up.
Someone built this cairn in a cairn near our campsite
Sunday we decided to try somewhere new. On top of the main area, where there are classics like Edward’s Crack, sits Hassler’s Hatbox with the iconic Lucile 5.12d/13a. We scrambled up the backside of the main area through a maze of fallen boulders – over, under, and squeezed through. Despite being in the baking sun, we found some great moderate and not so moderate lines.
~Cat’s Cradle – 5.8+ A very hard 5.8. The start is a chimney to an offwidth. Traverse a ledge to a very awkward and hard move off a ledge, into a handcrack that varies from perfect hands to off-fists (too big for fists – very hard size for me) ~Hassler’s Hatbox – 5.6/7 A very fun moderate with some kick. I was happy to have a 4 and a 5 camalot for the bottom, but the top section takes finger size gear. Do this route! My personal opinion on the rating, 5.8/8+ ~The Best of the Blues – 5.10 that sits below the iconic Lucille (5.12d – which looks heinous). The first slab move is unprotected, but you get into a fun moderate chimney and handcrack up to a roof. The roof goes from cupped hands to off-fists and is very difficult to pull the bulge as a pure crack climb. Get your sport climbing skills on and lie-back and crimp up the bulge, and then sit on the duck.
Alex works his way up the start of Cat’s Cradle
Just after the crux of Cat’s Cradle, Alex looking for gear. The views from Hassler’s Hatbox were incredible!
Vincent took this photo of me figuring out the crux. I think I tried every combination of orientations before one finally got me off the ledge.
Vincent finally get’s a piece in on a hard slab move start to Best of the Blues, a bit of a one move wonder 5.10.
Vincent kisses the duck
Vincent belays Alex up through the crux of Best of the Blues
The view from Hassler’s Hatbox.
As always, the Voo did not disapoint, and we had a great trip. Ripped some clothes. Shed some blood. And left sore in places we did not know could be sore. Till next time.
To celebrate my 28th birthday last year, my Golden Birthday (28 on March 28), I had planned on skiing two fourteeners in a day (14,000+14,000=28,000!) but I broke my back on 11 days before. Needless to say, my birthday was way less exciting. I turned 29 this year and didn’t have any crazy ideas for commemorating it. My friend, Alex, invited me to climb desert sandstone crack in Indian Creek, which sounded like a good enough celebration of another year.
I’m a sport climber. I like clipping bolts, engaging my “try hard” and not really worrying whether the bolt I just clipped 10 feet below me will hold if I take this massive whipper. It’s freeing being able to just try your hardest, and if you fall – no worries.
The last few weeks, though, I’ve been climbing a lot more trad – placing your own protection into cracks in the rock. If you fall, you hope you placed the last piece well enough that it will hold you. And if that piece blows, will the next blow too? That’s exactly what happened when I broke my back.
It’s taken some time for me to get my trad “head” back, the confidence in my ability to climb and place solid gear that I stay calm throughout the climb. This past weekend I climbed more trad than ever in the South Platte, and really gained the confidence I need to start pushing myself again. But this time I have proper knowledge and technique to do it right!
Back to Indian Creek. Ah yea, I’m a sport climber. Indian Creek is huge splitter sandstone cracks with slim to none face holds that only protects with Trad gear. Definitely not my strong suit. Crack climbing technique is very different from sport climbing, using your hands and fingers to wedge into the cracks instead of pulling down on holds. Your feet don’t stand on holds either, instead twisted into the crack in a way that the most rubber touches both sides of the crack. When you complete a sport route your forearms, fingers and possibly back are tired. After climbing a crack your entire body is spent from working together merely to stay connected with the rock. It’s a full body battle against the route. And it’s fantastic!
Enjoy a few photos from the trip!
Alex Vidal climbing a challenging 5.10 “Elephant Man” at Donnelly Canyon
Unknown climber working his way up “Chocolate Corner” 5.9+
Anthony Biolatto working through Elephant Man
Miniature Klass enjoying the crag.
There’s two miniature Klass’s
Miniature Klass fights his way up Unknown 9+
Alex Vidal climbing Unknown 9+ at Blue Gramma Wall.
Happy new year! I have a really great feeling about 2013! Enjoy a post I should have posted a LONG time ago. And congratulations to my friend Matt Lloyd who just got accepted to the Evolv National Climbing Team!
Back in October, Matt Lloyd told me about a project in Eldorado Canyon that he wanted to work on. “It’s short, hard, and dangerous” he said. “The only other guy to do it took a pretty bad ground fall while working on it. It’s 5.13RX trad…” For some reason he likes climbs that have the potential of a bad ground fall.
It was cold. And a hell of a hike to get to the top of Redgarden wall. We warm up on a “Eldo” stout 5.11 crack.
Matt works through the crux and after a couple of attempts, goes for the send. 5.13 is hard. 5.13 rx Trad is harder. and Eldo 5.13 rx Trad is even harder.
Matt trying hard.
The route is short, and it’s over quickly. Once over the ledge, it’s a jug haul to the top.
The end of the year was crazy and I’ve had a lot of awesome adventures. A lot more are to come for 2013!