Summer Weekends in Vedauwoo, Part 2

June 28, 2009 at 3:54 pm

The nights seem especially warm and short right now. Sunday, we woke up tired and sore. And determined to find climbs without an approach this time.

So, we climbed at the Nautilus on Sunday.

Wildflowers below the Nautalis

The shady side of the formation was already busy when we rolled in Sunday morning. We started our morning on Straight 4 Ward (5.5). Maybe we were sore, or maybe the rock was rougher on these less popular climbs. Whatever the reason, this crack HURT. My hands screamed as I jammed the sharp, toothy, crystalline crack. It felt harder than 5.5. It hurt more than a 5.5 should.

We swore our way up the warm-up. “Oh, Holy, OW!” “Mother OW!”

It was easy to top rope Par Four (5.8) to the left. This was a very fun crack. Hard, thin, painful. I lost the skin on my left ankle, and my right hand was bleeding when I got down. But I had some lovely finger locks. I used perfect fist jams. It was very fun.

We contemplated another climb, but decided we didn’t have the energy. It felt like Vedauwoo may have won this round. But we’ll be back for more.

The rock took a chunk out of me on Sunday

Summer Weekends in Vedauwoo, Part 1

June 27, 2009 at 9:41 pm

The days are long and warm now. Afternoon storms roll across the mountains every day. The land is wide, and green, and alive.

Wildflowers cover the hillside

We camped in one of our favorite spots on Friday night. The wind was warm and blasting over the hills all night long. It carried the heavy scent of sage and mud, wildflowers and ancient granite. And, occasionally, cows.

The plan on Saturday was to walk to the Valley Massif, and tick off five climbs I’ve wanted to do for a long time. A very ambitious day. Especially if Vedauwoo had anything to say about it.

Mark sloggs through crow creek

The hike took FOREVER. It was wet. I sunk into black, slimy, smelly mud over and over again. We slogged along the shores of Crow Creek for hours in the steamy sun. We got lost, we wandered around, we yelled at each other, we read maps, we made new plans, and then slogged off again.

Hours later we made it to the base of the climbs. Mark led Powder Puff (5.4) for the warm up, and really enjoyed the climb. We both climbed the route twice, adding a few variations (the chimney start, the Corbel Exit). Then we napped. Four more climbs seemed far out of our reach. We finished the day with Bill Steal (5.6), a beautiful hand crack that was worth wringing out the last bit of energy in our reserves.

Vedauwoo View

We packed our gear up in the long evening light. We scrambled back to the trail, and started the slog along Crow Creek back to our campsite. In a narrow valley between rock cliffs, I spotted something moving in the creek ahead of us.

What's in the bushes ahead of us?

There were two, large, moose 25 yards in front of us. Liv hadn’t seen them, and came back happily as I urgently called her. The moose looked at us. We looked at our trail. And the moose. And considered what to do.

Afternoons in Vedauwoo, with moose

Did you know, on average, 11 people are killed by moose each year in the US? They are mean animals. They can kick in all four directions. I read this in Outside magazine a few years ago. And I’ve never been so close to a moose. Then they started walking towards us.

So, we yielded the trail to the huge, hulking, black animals. We scrambled up the rocks to the left, and watched the moose slog by us on the trail below. Mark decided on the high-ground move. He declared that, based on information gleaned from labels of Moose Drool Beer, moose love water and would not chase us up the hill. The moose moved on, and we exhaled.

A very (too) close encounter

The hike back was easier. We followed the trail longer. We were still completely exhausted on our return to camp. Our shoes and socks were soaked through. Our pants were coated in black, smelly, crusty mud. We had run out of water on the hike back, and were dizzy from dehydration. We definitely earned our hot dogs and beer on Saturday night.

The last light peaks over the horizon

Stormy Night

June 23, 2009 at 10:35 am

Last night I was in the house, working on a rhubarb cake, happily oblivious to the impending weather. Mark went out to ride his bike over to the grocery, and then came right back in and said I had to come outside and see this weather.

Super Cell

We’ve had a stormy spring, and a line of severe storms in the evening is not all that novel these days. But these storms were huge, and beautiful. They were organized along an instability boundary, forming pulse after pulse of circulating, swirling, very high based supercells.

Radar Image of squal line 6.22.09 at 7:35pm

Two things about this storm were extraordinary. The first is the amount of rain it dropped across our area. Nearly 3 inches over just a few hours in the northern part of our city. This is pretty serious rainfall for an area where the average June rainfall is less than 2 inches for the entire month.

The second was the light show. The lightening just poured out of these clouds all night long. Watching the frequent, huge, cloud-to-ground strikes as the storm neared was frightening and incredible. Watching the whole sky flash like a night club as the storms passed over was even more surreal. It was the ultimate “dark and stormy night” last night.

I tried to get a few pictures, but ended up not doing so well. I came inside early too, because the lighting was making me nervous. In the end, my photos weren’t all that impressive, but put together, they make a nice time-lapse view of the storm approaching our neighborhood at dusk last night. It was an amazing show.

Climbing in Vedauwoo

June 21, 2009 at 7:52 pm

As I type this, my hands are swollen to about twice their normal sizes. My finger prints have been gouged off my fingers. My shoulders are so sore I can’t lift my arms. My knees are covered in bruises and cuts. My right ankle is bleeding. My right wrist is swollen and aching. My toes are just getting feeling back from being wet and numb all afternoon, and we were only in Vedauwoo for 5 hours.

I forgot the camera today, but that’s probably for the best. We were only up in Vedauwoo for the day, and with our late start in the morning, it was more like just an afternoon. We hiked out to Plumb Line crag in the mid-day sun. Mark led Amaranth (5.7), which he felt was harder and more painful than it should have been. I followed and felt pretty strong, but a little happy that I hadn’t led the first climb back in Vedauwoo in 8 months.

Mark dropped a top-rope on Plumb Line (5.9+), and I took the first lap. The beautiful, vertical, slightly overhanging 50ft hand crack is one of the best in Vedauwoo. My hands were bruised from the jams, and my toes crunched in my shoes. But I loved every minute of it.

Mark got in two laps and then lightening started hitting the hills just to our west, so he cleaned the climb. We all piled into a cave at the bottom of the crag as the rain started pouring down. The lightening was close, the hail bounced in and pounded us all. Eventually, the rain ran down the roof of the cave and poured down on our heads, freezing us and soaking our packs and gear with icy water. For some reason, my chalk bag got it the worst, and I found it filled with white soupy goup when we got home.

After the storm passed, we packed up and got the heck out of dodge. On the hike out, I slid down a wet, slippery slab, landing hard on my right arm and hip. More bruises, more pain. None of the injuries seem bad, but my giant balloon hands might take a few days to get back to normal size.

Five short hours in Vedauwoo, and we were sliced open by razor-sharp rock, beaten up by overhanging crack climbs, drenched in icy water, hailed on, and fell down wet slabs. It was a good day – let the Vedauwoo season begin!

Climbing at the Monastary

June 13, 2009 at 8:05 pm

In which, Mark runs it out 50ft, we meet Tommy Caldwell, and the beer fairy leaves us a present.

On Friday evening, we met up with Doug and Liz at one of the free campsites perched on the hills above Drake, Colorado, about mid-way up the Big Thompson canyon. This is the last of the National Forest before Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park, and the free campsites are popular with all kinds of locals. Usually the sites are covered in trash, bullet casings, and broken glass. But they have fantastic views.

A very nice place to pitch a tent - and free!

There was an Access Fund clean up scheduled for the camping and parking area on Saturday morning. Doug and Liz filled a trash bag from our site on Friday night, and Saturday we left just as the clean up gang arrived. We confessed that we weren’t going to stay and help any more, but the guy in charge said our little bit of cleaning was appreciated.

We spent our Saturday climbing on the crystalline granite spires in the grotto known as the Monastary. The moderate sport climbs on the Outer Gates row of pillars are long slabs, covered with gnarly crystals of all shapes and sizes. Little cubic quartz crystals and quarter-sized flakes of mica are embedded in the rock like it was shot from a shotgun. Few of the climbs have much in the way of actual holds, and you end up tip-toeing up over 100ft of tiny crystal knobs and pulling on one and two-finger divots between them. I love this place more every time we go.

Doug and Liz climbing at the Monastary

I started out the morning with a FANTASTIC red-point of CCD, a CLASSIC 5.1 not to be missed! :) Doug and Liz jumped on Going to the Chapel (5.8) for something a bit more spicy. Doug did a great lead, but about 80 ft up, he ran out of bolts. He could see the next 40ft of climbing, and there was no protection to be found. Rather than risk the huge fall, he traversed right 20 ft, and brought Liz up to the anchors on Simplexity (5.9+), which they hung a top-rope on for all of us to enjoy.

Amazingly, Liz followed the long, thin, creepy, slabby, unprotected traverse at the end of the route without any complaints. I tried to explain, once they were on the ground, that, as a second, it is Liz’s responsibility to freak out when faced with such a terrifying climb. She should have done as I have, proudly, many times, and started crying and screaming obscenities at the leader for putting her in that position. Liz said she didn’t see the point. So young, so new.

Liz climbing, carefully, to Doug's belay

Mark and I watched Doug and Liz’s adventure from the hillside opposite, and then Mark decided that he had seen a bolt Doug missed, and he wanted to try the route. So, he hopped on the sharp end on Going to the Chapel (5.8) next, with a promise to me that he wouldn’t finish the climb with that traverse.

Instead, he climbed all the way to the top of the rock (130ft), with no bolts after the first 80ft. There was no missed bolt, no bolts at all. He climbed slowly and carefully through a nearly 50ft run-out up an exposed arrete, with only the hope that there were anchors on top. Luckily, there were. Also luckily, I couldn’t see him climbing and had no idea what he had done until I met him at the anchors.

Kate approaching the last bolt - Mark ran it out from here

We finished our day with some milder stuff. Liz led CCD and I followed. Doug led the Steeple (5.8) and Mark followed. Storm clouds filled the horizon and thunder had started rumbling through the grotto as we packed up and hiked out.

As we left the shade of the big rocks, Mark met up with two climbers heading into the area. He stopped to talk to them and then called down the hill to me: “Hey Kate, it’s Tommy Caldwell!”

Mark recognized the iconic and amazing pro-climber from the countless movies and news stories we’ve seen him in. At 31 years old, this guy is a legend all over the world, and happened to have developed most of the routes at the Monastery with his father when he was younger. Mark told him that we enjoyed his climbing area quite a lot, and Tommy thanked him and made a bee-line for whatever insanely hard climb he was hoping to get on before it started raining.

Doug is proud of his climb

The hike out of the Monastery seemed to take forever. We were exhausted from the day, dragging our feet but being chased across the exposed hillsides by thunder and lightening. We wanted to go slow, but didn’t want to get caught in the storm just to our south. As we limped into camp that evening, we were all happily surprised to find a 6-er of Mighty Arrow, the new seasonal beer from New Belgium, left for us by the campsite. Doug declared with glee that the Beer Fairy had left us a present, and we all enjoyed the appreciation of the Access Fund around the campfire that night.

Sunset over the Rockies

Backpacking… below mountains… somewhere

June 7, 2009 at 8:31 pm

Hmm, I’ve had a lot of trouble coming up with a title for this trip report. What exactly did we do last weekend? Where were we?

We were definitely backpacking. There were backpacks and hiking and camping involved. But all of the words that I had used to describe our planned trip – “Backpacking in the Comanche Peak Wilderness” or “hiking to Browns Lake” – just don’t really fit the actual outcome. Here, let me explain.

We woke up in a grapenuts commercial!

There are pictures from the weekend in the gallery.

We left Fort Collins a little late on Friday, and after an hour of driving up the Poudre Canyon Mark asked me “So, how do we do the tooth-brushing thing in Bear territory?”

I responded with “Oh no! I forgot the water bottles!”

Yep, we were all ready to hike into the rapidly darkening woods, and had discovered that we were missing: all of the water bottles, Mark’s headlamp, warm hats and gloves, the bear spray and batteries for the GPS. We bought four bottles of Dasani from a camp store further up the canyon, and decided we would just have to live without everything else.

A little creek runnng high

We finally got to the trailhead much later than we were hoping, around 8pm. As we drove along the winding mountain road, we pulled around a corner and nearly ran over a very large moose and her calf. It was one of those startling moments that really gets your blood pumping. Moose are HUGE.

So, here it was, Friday night. Nearly dark. Only one headlamp for the two of us. Four crappy plastic bottles of water. No GPS. No compass. Close encounter with very large wildlife. I was ready to head home at this point, but Mark was too excited to contain. We parked the car and hiked out into the darkness.

A great spot to take in the view

Actually, it wasn’t that dark. There was a full moon. And it wasn’t that cold. We got about a mile into the trail and then walked off into the woods, set up the tent, and enjoyed a night lost in the wilderness.

After all of the mistakes and problems from the first night, the rest of the weekend was surprisingly smooth. We had originally planned to camp Saturday night at Brown’s lake (around 10,500ft), but comments from other hikers dissuaded us. After hearing “It was freezing up there last night!” “The wind never stopped!” and “There was so much snow!” we just decided to try to hike up to the lake, and camp down near the reservoir.

Fall Peak, Comanche Peak, and an unnamed 12'er in this ridge

We stashed the packs at the end of the Brown’s lake trail and climbed up a mile and near 1,000ft of elevation gain into the woods below the lake. Here, the snow was still very deep. We post-holed in up to our hips, loosing entire legs in the freezing piles. The trail was difficult to follow, and, as far as we could tell from just our map, we were still more than half a mile from the lake. Not worth it. We went back down.

An approximate route and waypoints for our weekend

So, we never camped in the Comanche Peak Wilderness. We never saw Brown’s Lake. We really walked up and down 6 miles of trail that runs across the valley floor below the Mummy Range and the northern boundary of Rocky Mountain national park, and that was a great way to spend the weekend.

It certainly wasn’t what I was planning, but I’m not going to complain. We learned about what to make sure we remembered to pack. We learned that walking in the dark doesn’t result in being eaten by wolves. And we learned that we have the most fun when we go with the flow. Relax, re-evaluate, and keep on truckin’.

Camp Gear FAIL!

June 3, 2009 at 1:02 pm

Ever find that awesome new toy or must-have piece of gear, then get it out in the field and it not only doesn’t make your life more awesome, but, in many ways, sucks parrot caca? Well, Mark and I recently discovered that this happens to us far more than the average camper and climber. We seem to gather useless pieces of crap gear like pirates collect parrots… or something.

Anyway, I’d like to put together a short series of posts on what NOT to buy right now. Save yourself the pain and money, and don’t make the same mistakes we did.

Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow

ThermaRest Compressible Pillow - Advertised

A few years ago, I made camp pillows. I bought some heavy canvas and stuffed it with pillow filling. They were the right size, and I could throw them in the washing machine. But we need the BEST gear, and lumpy, old, homemade pillows just don’t fit in with our hi-tech, light-weight, uber-svelt climbing-gear persona.

I thought these Therm-a-Rest pillows were pretty great when we played with them at the store. They were filled with some kind of soft memory-foam-like substance that compresses when you roll the pillow, but slowly expands when left open. You don’t blow or pump them up, you don’t have to stuff them full of anything, and they were comfy when we laid on them in the store.

ThermaRest Compressible Pillow - Actual

We took them camping for three nights in Fruita, CO and three nights in New Mexico and I can officially say, these are a camp gear FAIL.

What happens to compressible foam when you lay your head on it all night long? That’s right, it compresses! It seems to take these pillows a full 24 hours to reach their full fluffyness, and a mere 2 hours of laying our fat heads on them to go right back to lumpy-pancake-state.

If you’re going camping, save yourself $30 and take the pillow off your bed. The Therm-a-Rest compressible pillows shown here: DEFINITELY not worth the money. FAIL!

Kate’s Free Desktop Image 9

June 1, 2009 at 6:21 pm

I took votes from friends as to which photos would make the best desktop from the beach shots. I ended up ignoring them all. I decided that if I was going to stare at one shot for the next couple of weeks, it would be one of the dolphins. I love the dolphins.

Loosing Porpoise

As usual, I’ve saved the image as a few different sizes for the most common screen resolutions. Feel free to down load the one that works for you by clicking on the link to the correct size below!

1024 x 768, 1440 x 900, 1600 x 1200, 1680 x 1050, 2560 x 1600