Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Devils Tower: Triumphant Birthday

I slept soundlessly with only enough conciousness to be awoken by the downpour that ravaged my tent. The blew hard and shook the tent and somehow I put aside any concern and fell back to sleep. When the morning light came to the gray sky it was still raining and dreary. I fumbled over to the car put my contacts in and gaining vision again decided to drive. My friend and I left on a small excursion into civilization, namely to Spearfish, SD a half-hour's drive away.

Some where along the drive it became more and more clear that this day was somehow important or special. Then it came to me... ah, yes... today was my birthday. Seeing as it was raining, we went to the library to check the internet. After discovering that the only place to go to get out of the rain in the country was in the desert of southern Utah and Nevada, we decided we go get pizza to celebrate another year of aging on my part and attempt to suffocate our rain filled misery with greasy food. Somehow it worked, because when we emerged from the restaurant the sky was clearing and the rain had stopped.

We hurriedly raced back to Devils Tower and rounded up our climbing gear. We hiked up to the tower and decided upon a route entitled "El Cracko Diablo". It was solid crack in a left facing dihedral that led up to a small roof and continued towards to top of the tower. The first pitch went easily with solid hand and foot jams creating an cautious optimism. The next pitch rated 5.8+ went equally well as the first, jams where solid... I felt good enough to hum a little tune to myself as I went. When I reached the roof, I looked at the crack and its sustained width and realized I would need my #2 and #3 sized cams back to finish out the pitch. So I set up a trad anchor and belayed my friend up to my position bringing my needed camalots from my placements below.

the route (left center, left facing dihedral)

From the roof I could see end of the pitch was near and my excitement grew. I continued upward past the roof and each move brought a bigger grin to my face. I finally pulled my way onto the final ledge threw my hands into the air let a joyful whoop. I quickly set up an anchor and belayed my friend up to my position. We continued upward a very easy scramble for 200 ft when the terrain began to level out. The route we had climbed was in the shade of the tower and

atop the tower, looking down

on the opposite side as the sun. As I crested the slope of the top, my first sight of the summit was blinded by the sunlight of the setting afternoon sun that had nearly reached the horizon. I walked through the ankle deep grass to the aged wooden stake that marked the summit and smiled broadly. The wind swept over the green flowing plains of Wyoming on my birthday and I sat contently with a broad smile, 876 feet in the sky.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Devils Tower: The First Fall

My friend and I arrived at Devils Tower in the night and was greeted with dramatic introduction. We drove up to base and it loomed as a black monolith on the back-drop of storm clouds whose lightning lit it's shear faces. It was quite intimidating. So being that we arrived late, we slept out in the car instead camping, which made for an uncomfortable and sleepless night.

I woke early the next morning, bought a guide book, and set out to climb. We hiked up the massive boulder field to the Northeast side of the tower. I timidly lead a 5.8- pitch, which proved fairly easy and built my confidence. I then jumped onto a 5.8+ face climb...it was slightly tricky with face moves and got my blood running a touch.

I woke the next morning with my leading confidence high and after talking with some locals decided that "Soler" would be our next route. I arrived at the climb with excitement. We decided that my friend would lead the first 5.8+ rated pitch, and then I would follow and climb the next 5.9- section. The route followed a hand width crack in a left facing corner, in which the corner slowly moved towards overhanging. Upon starting the first pitch I could tell things weren't going well. As my friend disappeared out of sight and up the crack, I noticed the rope went out slower and slower until it stopped.... I gave it a moment, then asked, "how's it going?" I recieved a nervous response, "I'm setting up an anchor". Which meant my friend was stuck or didn't prefer to climb further and was going to belay me up to their position so that I could climb the rest of the section. So up I went and found the climbing to be moderate. There were solid hand jams and I moved upwards steadily. Finishing the rest of the section optimistically, and clipped into the section's anchor. The next pitch looked like more of the same yet slightly overhanging. I climbed 20 feet up and placed my first piece, a stopper (metal wedge) and continued. However, the next moves got progressively more difficult...the hand jams became awkward and difficult to hold on to and the crack thinned making foot jams difficult. Soon I my breathing picked and my heart pounded while I looked down at my last piece 7 feet below me. I reached high with my feet for my next step, my hands just holding my weight inward towards the rock...Then suddenly my foot gave out and I fell. I slid down the vertical face 12 feet until the rope and my stopper caught me, while my friend and I hung some 200 feet of the ground. I brushed myself off and checked for injuries. Noting none, went back to re-climb the trouble section. I got to my previous place of difficulty and ascended past it 9 feet and placed a cam in the rock and clipped it. I continued upward 10 feet above the cam when things became difficult again. I found myself breathing hard. My arms and calves began to burn, my hand jams nor my feet felt solid.... I was losing friction...I just needed to get past this one move to find a rest...my foot lost it's grip and my hand jam scraped out from the rock as I fell. I fell/slid twenty feet until I was stopped abruptly when the rope and my cam caught me. I looked to see my right hand scraped and raw near my first knuckle and my elbows bruised and bleeding lightly from scrapes. I looked to my friend and decided we should come down. I climb up once more, removed my pieces from the rock and slowly down lead to the anchor. As we rappelled 300 feet down, I looked up and seeing how close I was to finishing the route couldn't help but feel frustration creeping in. I laid down in the grass and warm sunlight near the park office, and with tourists gauking I tended my minor wounds. I sat trying not to be too hard on myself knowing tomorrow was another day. And the next day my luck would in fact turn.... (stay tuned for my next post).

Saturday, May 12, 2007


The coming weeks host a menu of activity that is sure to create lasting memories. Besides adjusting to life as a hermit and living out of a tent for the next two weeks, I will spend four days getting certified by the American Mountain Guide Assoc. then driving to Wyoming's Devils tower to climb. However in the interim I am preparing for the rigors ahead.

In light of this, I went with friends to Palisade Head and lead trad on the giant cliffs lining the shores of Lake Superior. We started the day by climbing "Quetico" crack, an off-width that I managed to climb with one eye previously this year. Then we to took the route "Danger High Voltage", which proved to be a fun mix of off-width crack, finger and hannd cracks, and face climbing.

climbing "Danger High Voltage"

We then took to "Phantom crack", a 5.9 crack requiring knowledge of hand and foot jamming techniques...

reaching high into the crack on "Phantom Crack"

myself cursing a stuck cam

On the way back I tackled a new adventure...learning how to drive a manual trasmission after a day of hard climbing. I got home with the general sense of fatigue that lent itself to pleasant sleep....

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Back In Action

It turns out that I'm not invincible...my last five days of tire-less fun got the best of me. Considering the high water, the next week continued paddle despite a large amount of pain in my back, ribs, and shoulder. I managed to run the Upper St. Louis and Lower St. Louis river twice...and managed to fall in love with a large standing wave aptly named "big glassy". I took a couple days off but couldn't pass up the opportunity to paddle the Stoney River near Babbit, MN. It was pristine it would drop quickly spilling into large pools and small lakes. Stoney River started almost immediately with action providing a class IV- slide into a chaotic bursting hole (see picture). It was a gorgeous sunny day and the water ran warmly. We eyed the the class IV+ "boxer" drop and determined it was just on the edge of our ability levels...and left it for another season. Continuing onward we reached what I would deem "the island of fun". The river split around an island on one side a class III slide/chute, and on the other a 10 ft waterfall. We ran the chute first, and it proved fun and easy...then we scoped out the based of the falls....it seemd plenty deep. And one by one we launched ourselves off the waterfall...it was nothing short of a rush.Upon approaching the fal, you maintain focus on hitting your line as the water leaps off rocks in your path until you see the water line meet the sky as you sail into the water filled air!!! Then you land with a gentle boof on pillow of aerated water. Leaving "the island of fun", talked like school children trying to live in the moment as long as possible.
When I got home later that night, I knew I was going to pay for paddling with the pain. When I woke the next morning, I could barely breath without pain in my ribs. I knew it was time to stop. With the help of my Physical Therapy friends I took this week off...and it was excruciating to be sedintary. I went out and belayed friends out rock climbing, and sat impatiently, knowing fully I could not even cough without pain, much less climb. Yet after three days, couple of painful massages, and a lot of "icy-hot"/ibuprofen, I started to feel better...and after 5 days adventure-less I can honestly say I'm recovered and back in action. I went out and surfed with my kayak this morning at 6am as the sun rose over Stoney Point and the frigid water was better than coffee in the morning...ah, yes...good to be back...