Climbing the Pear Buttress

May 31, 2008 at 10:49 pm

In which Kate continually redefines the “scariest thing I have ever done.”

General view of our climb

Mark and I have spent a fair amount of time climbing on the giant granite rocks just north of Estes Park known as Lumpy Ridge. We’ve manage to climb a few easy and a couple classic routes over the years, but we’ve never found a route that made the area truly special, until we climbed the Pear Buttress (5.8+).

Note: It is important to keep some facts in mind for those who may have visited Lumpy before. The Pear is a rock formation with a classic 5.7 that climbs to the top of it. The Pear Buttress is a route on a different rock formation called The Book, and goes at harder and more sustained grade. It doesn’t have to make sense, it simply is.

Big crowd at the bottom of the Book

Mark and I were proud of ourselves when we managed to show up at the Trailhead for Lumpy at around 9am. There were other climbers milling about, and we ended up hiking in a long line people up to the base of the Book. We noticed as we left the car that we had forgotten both our guidebook and the printed copy of the route description that I made on Friday. It was a nice Saturday in the National Park, so we figured we would just follow other climbers up this wildly popular route. And after seeing the number of people at the bottom of the climb, we knew our plan would work.

The first pitch of this climb has no protection until 20 or 30ft up. Watching Mark climb this steep, thin slab from the ground was very scary. I held my breath and held my hands up the whole time, convinced that if he did fall, I would at least be beneath him before he hit the ground. Mark, as usual, didn’t mind the high first piece, and climbed as if he were on toprope. When he finally got his gear in and I started breathing again, I declared that to be “the scariest thing we have done all year!”

The rest of the first pitch is fun flake hand-jams and then the crux, or hardest part, of the whole climb comes at the top of the pitch when you are forced to climb very thin cracks on a slippery rock face before making it up to the belay ledge.

The first pitch of Pear Buttress (5.8+)

The second pitch traverses left along a sloping ledge 150ft in the air. I was feeling confidant, and had no problems until the ledge reaches the edge of the huge slab of rock we were climbing on. The route then ascends the corner of the 1000ft tall slab of granite, with air below you on all sides. Mark admitted that he felt “exposed” during this section of the climb, and I trembled and slowly worked my way up and then across an airy traverse and then down to the belay. I knew I was safe on a rope and seconding the fairly easy climbing on this pitch, but the route hung out over so much empty space that it was nearly impossible to keep your mind off of the image of a tumbling demise. Once I reached Mark, I clipped myself into the fixed anchor and decided that this section was “THE scariest thing I have done in a very long time!”

Mark getting ready to climb the 120ft long handcrack

The third pitch was the “money pitch,” a 160ft long hand crack that splits the blank face of the rock. It starts with thin hands about an inch wide and slowly widens to perfect cupped hands near the top. Mark led the pitch like the crack master that he is, quickly and quietly working his way up the beautiful formation. When it was my turn to second the pitch, I found my crack climbing rhythm, and moved up the rock at a good pace. After the first 30ft, I found my breathing and heart rate had increased and I felt like I was climbing at an aerobic pace. After the first 60ft, my toes were sore and my calves had begun to cramp. After 90ft of crack climbing, my right groin muscle had begun to spasm and shoot pain through the right side of my body whenever I lifted my right leg, and when I finally reached the top of the crack, I was sweating, panting, and pushing my physical limits past what I ever thought I could endure. It was a fantastic pitch!

Unique View of Lumpy Ridge

The last few pitches got us up and off the top of the rock. Mark and I decided to give the Cave Exit a try, and after his adventures in stemming, I thought I would let him write his own post about the exit. Look for that one to show up soon. I was so sore and exhausted by the time I reached the critical point on the last pitch, I didn’t think I could do it. I stood on a little rock, reaching out to a shelf that hung out over the 800ft of air we had just worked so hard to ascend, and had to hang upside down and pull myself over the lip. I screamed in pain, terror and effort as I pulled over the roof, and then topped out a fantastic climb with a rush of adrenaline stronger than any in years.

I was thrilled and goofy on top of the rock. I yelled profanities to the wind, jumped up and down, and took about a million pictures and some goofy video. I decided that roof was “THE SCARIEST THING I HAVE EVER DONE!” and felt so happy and proud for completing the climb.

In the end, this route fit all of my requirements for a “great climb” without any doubt. We worked hard, with sustained physical effort, and it took everything we had, all of our mental, physical and emotional power, to finish it. It topped out on an amazing and beautiful summit. And Mark and I got to enjoy it together. Score one for Lumpy Ridge!

Summit photo!

Memorial Day Weekend Conglomeration

May 29, 2008 at 8:10 am

As you’ve no doubt read by now, we spent a the holiday weekend with good friends in our favorite place: Vedauwoo, Wyoming. I was not the only person with a camera and a blog, and I thought I would add a few links, pictures and video taken by others in the group.

Sean has a concise trip report and some pictures on his blog.

Doug has a nice write up on his blog, as well as a lot of great pics up on his flickr site.

Ann also has some really nice (and not so nice ;) ) pictures up on her flickr site, though she is often to shy to make them public, unfortunately. Here, I will help!

Yes, that is me trying out Doug’s very nice pipe and pipe tobacco. I have a strange and secrete fondness for pipe tobacco and cigars. Don’t tell my mom or my insurance guy.

Dylan, who is one of my greatest blogging inspirations, is slowly building a great series of posts about the weekend. He has the actual GPS track from our hike on Saturday up on his site. And he has this fantastic video of our first campsite on windy, windy Saturday. It really gives a bit of a feel for what the wind is like out on the ridges of the Green mountains. Just remember, the temperature was hovering around 40F (~4C) while he was filming.

Thank you everybody for your friendship and company. What a great weekend!

Memorial Day Weekend in Voo, Part 3

May 26, 2008 at 10:54 pm

Three nights, three posts. Though Monday was a little uneventful. The rest of the pictures from the weekend are up in the gallery.

Our tent in the forest

One good day of climbing and then it was time for Vedauwoo to remind us that it is still, technically, early spring in Wyoming. We awoke Monday morning to a wet fog filling the air like confetti at a political convention. Those of us who were left packed up camp and headed home. I wandered about the woods near our camp for a while trying to capture the surreal thickness of air with my inadequate tools.

Aspens in the Mist

It felt a bit like being a goldfish in a dirty tank. I mistakenly went off trail for a few minutes and then couldn’t find it again. I bushwacked in (what I thought) was the general direction of our camp, and then caught a glimpse of our bright yellow car. I popped out of the woods on the exact opposite side of camp from where I imagined I had been walking. So weird and disorienting.

A Walk in the Woods

Mark and I drove home, layed out all of our wet gear to dry, and then spent the afternoon in a semi-conscious state watching TV as the rain pounded outside of our house. In the evening, we all met for dinner one more time at our favorite local brew-pub. We toasted a great long weekend, and the beginning of another fantastic climbing season.

Memorial Day Weekend in Voo, Part 2

May 25, 2008 at 8:02 pm

Sunday morning we all slept in, snuggled into warm bags and tents kept cool by the woods around us. Doug and Liz put up a hard breakfast competition with Mark and I, now that we all have the car camping gear, there was bacon, eggs, and sausage all around that morning. Eventually we packed up for the day, organized who was riding with whom, put the mountain bikes on the car and headed back to the main area.

There’s more pictures from the weekend up in the gallery.

The gang hiked out to Jurassic Park while Kevin, Wade and I headed off on our mountain bikes in the opposite direction. We rode along the south-east side of the Nautilus to the far end, through a serious swamp, and then caught up with the Turtle Rock trail at the east trailhead. We rode all the way around the main area; having a blast riding over granite boulders and through deep muddy creaks. 1.5 hours and 3.5 miles later, we eventually found the climber’s trail into Jurassic Park. We hid the bikes and hiked in to meet the rest of the group, who were just starting to climb after having a luxurious lunch and lounging on warm, sunny rocks.

Got Chalk?

I was really tired from biking. My legs felt like jelly and my shoulder muscles were in burning tight knots. But the group put up some interesting topropes, and I gave a few of them a shot. Kevin took over control of the camera, and came up with some really great shots from the day.

Get up that Tree (5.8) – A one move wonder that Mark lead up as his warm-up. I never tried it, but many people in the group seemed to enjoy hanging upside-down from the giant chockstone.

Lawyer on the Toilet (5.8) – This was a great little crack with a pretty tough off-width section in the middle. It took me a few minutes to figure out the key, for me at least, was turning around and facing the other way when the foot holds ran out on the slab.

Liv is the best crag dog

Rowdy Joe Bad (5.11c) – I gave this bolted slab a go while the top rope was hanging around. I never got past the crux. Mark worked out a method that may have been cheating, using his wing span to reach over to the crack on the right. Which left Dylan as the only one in our party to honestly climb the route.

Flake-O-Saurus (5.10c) – Mark hung a top rope on this climb and many of us had a great time thrashing around on it. Mark climbed it with a few falls in the crux as the steep crack transitioned to awkward face climbing. I took a bunch of falls as the perfect hand crack transitioned into an offwidth. My excuse for the day was that my legs were exhausted, which lead to weak, sloppy footwork. And that was especially evident on this climb. Eventually, I layed back the sloping flake until I could get back in above the wide section and jam to the actual crux (where I quit). I know, cheating, but at least I got to enjoy some sweet crack climbing before and after.

Kate is crack climbing!

At the end of the day, a fellow climber in the area hung one of our ropes on Slot-A-Saurus (5.9+), and we all lined up to give it a try. Sean gave everything he had and more on that climb. Clare worked hard and completed it. Ann made it look beautiful and easy. Wade got about half way up and called it a day. In the course of this, the evening was getting later and later. Kevin had decided he was going to drive back to Denver, no matter how late we stayed at the crag. I was hungry and exhausted, and still had to ride my bike back to the car.

I ended up convincing Mark to leave this climb for another day, but I suspect that our next trip to ‘Voo will start with this fantastic crack. He was disappointed, but seemed to understand. We all headed back to camp in our own fashion. Dylan, Ann and Clare hiked back from the crag – a mere 3 miles at dusk in a road-less and trail-less wood. Sean drove back to the Fort. Kevin packed up and headed home to Denver. Doug and Liz and Mark and I sat around the fire, cooking dinner and hanging out until rain started falling out of the dark sky above, then we all tucked in for another night of wild Wyoming weather.

Memorial Day Weekend in Voo, Part 1

May 24, 2008 at 10:19 pm

“This is ‘high country’ and wind is ever present, whether just a light breeze prowling through the aspen groves or near hurricane force gales. Storms of near bestial proportions are spawned in the snowy range … and many times descend upon the valleys of Vedauwoo.” – Skip Harper

Pictures from the weekend are being added to the gallery!

We made plans to spend the long weekend with the old gang at Vedauwoo months ago. And we should know better than to try to predict weather so far in advance. After a week of heavy weather in Northern Colorado, Mark and I (and most of the rest of the group) weren’t sure how a long weekend in the mountains and high, windy, cold plains of Wyoming was going to turn out. We waffled about whether to drive up on Friday night or Saturday morning, but around 7p on Friday night, the clouds parted, the sun came out, and we decided it was time to take a chance.

Back near the Heap as bad weather closes in

Our first adventure involved finding the campsite that Ann and Sean had picked out earlier in the day. Dylan sent us a map via email, which Mark and I promptly left at home. We both felt we had the image in our mind, so after two hours of driving through mud and fog and rain and the dark woods northwest of Vedauwoo, we finally found the site. We put up our tent in freezing rain and dark fog, and crashed for the night.

In the morning we woke to howling winds and the left side of our tent encased in ice. The few hearty souls who had camped Friday night (Dylan and Ann, Clare, Sean and us) collectively decided we would be unlikely to get much climbing in that day. Mark and I brought my little brother Kev back from the meeting spot and Doug and Liz showed up around 10:30. We all packed up day packs and put on layers to hike out and explore the northern reaches of Vedauwoo.

Loop hike on Saturday around the Green Mountains

This turned out to be a great decision. Even though Mark and I have been climbing in the area for more than four years now, every time we go back to Vedauwoo we discover a new valley, rock, mountain or glade that is just stunning. On this hike, we all explored a whole region that I had only seen from a distance. The Green Mountains are a series of rocky peaks to the north of most of our climbing areas, and on Saturday we got an up-close look.

Looking up at the first peak in the Green Mountains

According to Dylan’s GPS, we covered about 7 miles in about 4 hours, which is good for a hike that was only 60% on a trail or road. With the mountains and rock formations in Vedauwoo, it’s so easy to hike off over a hill, across a marsh, through a forest, without ever needing a trail for navigation. Just put a rock to your back and walk “that way!”

On the final leg of our route around the mountains, we stumbled upon a perfect campsite snuggled up against a peak. The ground was soft with pine needles and the wind blew by overhead without touching us. We all decided we should move campsites.

Saturday evening was spent next to a roaring fire in the soft quiet arms of the lee-side of Vedauwoo. The wind, weather, and remoteness of the area make it so wild. The dark forest feels like coming home to those of us with storms blowing in our souls.


Surprise! Indiana Jones movie release (no spoilers)

May 23, 2008 at 8:17 am

Last night Kate asked me if I wanted noodles from the similarly named chain restaurant. Of course I want noodles, I love noodles! On the way to the restaurant, we gave Doug and Liz a call to see if they wanted to join us and share Liz’s experience with the tornadoes of the day (she works in Windsor, CO). I thought it a little odd that we invited them when we were two-thirds of the way to one step above fast food, but they were up for it and met us at Noodles. Near the end of dinner, Liz declared that she wanted to do something else and I mentioned that I had wanted to head home to purchase and play the newly released Penny-Arcade game. I then accidentally used profanity in the vicinity of lots of children, but none seemed to notice. Kate suggests we go to check and see if Indiana Jones had any tickets left. Sure, why not… it’s opening night and we might get lucky.

At the ticket counter, Kate had a voucher for tickets! And so did Liz!
“When did you buy these”, I asked, thinking it was probably earlier in the evening.
“Last week”, Kate replied.
I was astounded. With a slack-jawed look on my face I started rewinding my week and connecting conversations with this secret plan. It was a conspiracy! Sweeeet! Kate was hoping for a big hug, but mostly I reacted with shock and a far-away look as I put together all the events which were driven by this plan.

How was the movie? It was fun. I was a little nervous about the time gap in this series and thought we might be getting another debacle on in the same way that Episode 1 was to Star Wars, but it was light and fun.

Northern Colorado Tornados, Part 2: Observations

May 22, 2008 at 7:33 pm

So, when the word went out that there was a huge tornado on the ground about 10 miles from the Atmospheric Science department where I work, what did everybody do? That’s right! We ran up onto the roof to go see if we could see it!

Looking out at other Atmospheric Scientists gathered on a neighboring roof

We had a great view of the horizon from our perch on top of one of the highest buildings in the whole area. This made us aware of lightening danger, but not concerned enough to go inside. On a clear day, we can easily see past Windsor to the south and all the way into Wyoming in the north. On Thursday, however, the skies were filled with clouds, rain, and fog, so we never got a clear view of the funnel cloud.

Windsor Tornado

After the storm rained itself out, our skies cleared up a bit, and we got a view of the HUGE cumulonimbus thunderhead above the storm, and eventually the remnants of the wall cloud which includes the upper part of the wide funnel. I uploaded the videos to You Tube, enjoy!

Northern Colorado Tornados, Part 1: Analysis

May 22, 2008 at 6:27 pm

Yes, I am a big weather geek. I spend a lot of time rock climbing and hiking, but my day job is atmospheric dynamics research. So on the morning of May 22, I was happily working away when my office mate announced that a tornado had just touched down north of Greeley, Colorado.

Radar image of the tornado just after touch-down

This was especially exciting because my husband Mark works about 20 miles south east of me, and the initial storm track had the vortex heading straight for both Mark and our house! Thankfully, for us, the storm trended more to the north, and Mark saw only high winds and hail. Throughout the day, though, storms appeared in our area and tornados touched down all around us. There is a preliminary storm report at the national weather service if you click here.

Weather Warnings around our area after the storms