Fall Climbing on Punk Rock

September 18, 2011 at 1:04 pm


This is going to be a short post to show off some fun pictures.

G playing with climbing gear

Despite the lack of evidence on this blog, Mark and I have gotten out for a bit of climbing here and there this fall. The changing seasons have brought more than the usual amount of illness to our doorstep, but on warm, dry weekends, when everybody’s healthy, we head out to the rocks.

Mark Concentrating

These photos all came from a sunny Sunday in mid-September. The theory had been to repeat the awesome afternoon of baby-full climbing of July, but the Bishops’ didn’t quite make it, and we got to bring Bruce a long for some fun this time!

Bruce kicking butt on a tricky 5.9 to start the day

We spent the afternoon on Punk Rock, this time, and climbed four of the routes there. I’m not sure which now, but they ranged in grades from a fun, overhanging 5.8, to tricky 5.9s and a thin, fingery 5.11 that Mark joyfully flashed.

Mark Concentrating

Hooray for sunny climbing in the mountains with good friends!

Climbing Lilly Mountain with the Crag Babies

July 23, 2011 at 8:50 pm

It turns out, we’re not the only parents crazy enough to take our baby rock climbing with us. People like us are scattered around Colorado, and the rest of the country. We sent out the call one sunny Saturday in July, and found four friends and another baby to join us in an afternoon of low-key top-ropes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Doug Leads on Lilly Mountain

Doug and Liz, joined us, and Brian and Sarah brought little A out for the afternoon as well. It was A’s first day at the crag, and G was happy to show her just how we do it.

Crag Baby

A at the crag

Doug started out the day with a lovely lead of Middle Toe (5.9-), and Mark led a bolted line just to the right. We are still not sure what that climb was or what it was rated. Probably in the high 5.10s, it was enough to put a thoughtful face on Mark.

Doug on the long, fun 5.8

Fortunately, the toprope for the harder climb was perfect for the lovely chimney Heel Toe (5.7). All of our (adult) climbers cycled through the 9- and the fun chimney 7, enjoying a sunny day in a beautiful spot.

Sarah in the sweet chimney

Doug and A

I had a particularly great day, and managed to climb both routes without falling. This may not seem like much (its an easy toprope after all), but it was the first time I have done so, outdoors, since G was born. And it felt sooo good to finally feel like I’m getting myself back.

Kate Climbing

G and A did really well. G had a short nap, and discovered that he loooves A’s Ritz crackers. A toddeled around the boulders and trees, and played with G’s crazy mushroom toy like it was the coolest thing she had ever seen.

G walks around the crag (photo by Doug)

It was such a great afternoon, that we’ve all decided to repeat the exercise again next month!

Climbing in the Piedra River Canyon

July 4, 2011 at 1:38 pm

As part of our vacation with my parents, we worked out a couple of days where Grandma and Grandpa can watch G, and Mark and I can get out for a little adventuring. We haven’t had many problems taking G with us when climbing this summer, but it is nice to have a lower stress, baby-free day now and then.

Mark Raps

So, on our last full day in Pagosa Springs (which just happened to be the 4th of July), G spent the day swimming with his Grandparents, and Mark and I drove north out of town to check out the Piedra River area.

Southern Colorado doesn’t quite have the density of developed climbing that you find in the Front Range, and that’s a really good thing. There isn’t much climbing really near Pagosa Springs, as much of the rock is crumbly basalt or chossy sandstone. In fact, the San Juan mountains have a completely different feel from the peaks I’m used to. The mountains feel looser, softer, somewhere heading towards a transition between the hard granite peaks of the north, and the soft sandstone mesas of New Mexico. We drove about half and hour (maybe a little more) northwest of town to find this little river canyon.

The Piedra River Trail

The views of the river and the canyon from the road are really nice, and remind me of the Pit outside of Flagstaff. Lots of pine trees and overhanging crags loom over the mountain stream, rushing by below. The approach starts at the Piedra River trailhead, and the trail along the edge of the river is a popular one for Pagosa Springs day hikers. Mark and I have a few people stop and ask questions, or just watch for a while.

A very picturesque approach, it's a popular day hike in the area

The rock is really interesting sandstone. A soft light brown or beige beneath a dark black patina. It looks a bit like varnished Wingate sandstone of the Moab deserts, but its not red or smooth. The plates and knobs reminded me of Red River Gorge sandstone, but this is sandier, with fewer pockets. It is unique, and Mark and I both really enjoy exploring all of the different holds and textures in this special little canyon.

Cliffs, rivers and trees

We start our morning on the surprisingly pumpy Thunder Will (5.7). Mark comes down saying it felt pretty pumpy for a 5.7, and after I flail my way up, I agree. Again, my climbing is no where near where it once was, and steep (overhanging) 5.7s like this one make it blatantly obvious. Next we head up Lightening Crashes (5.9), just to the right. Mark has a ball, and he makes the top half of this climb look beautiful. The plates, edges, balancy movements and interesting sequences have him giddy by the finish. I take a turn and have a heck of a time getting off the ground. I hit a cruxy section around the second bolt, and something goes “POP” in my left shoulder. I shake it out and try the move again, but a shocking pain in my left arm suggests this is a bad idea.

Mark cleaning the anchors on this neat black-rock cliff

I lower off and we call it a day. Mark does the climb one more time to clean the gear, and then I hike down to the river to cool off and play with my new neutral density filter. Eventually, Mark joins me, and we chase snakes or jump rocks or soak feet for a few minutes while we soak the hydration bladders in the icy river water. It was a really fantastic, if short, climbing day. And in the evening, I alternate icing my shoulder (with a daiquiri) and heating it in the warm waters of the Pagosa Springs mineral pools. Aahhhhhhhh.

Playing with long exposure shots, while Mark packed up

The Kiddo’s First Weekend in Vedauwoo

June 25, 2011 at 6:29 pm

Its the end of June, the sun is shining, the rain has (finally) stopped, so what do we do? Go to Vedauwoo! We pack up the 7 month old baby, two out-of-shape parents, two friends from the other side of the planet, an 18 ft camper trailer, and our crag dog, and head to Wyoming!


Vedauwoo is one of my favorite places on this planet. The wind, the rocks, the wide open feeling of the high plains, all combine to produce an area full of adventure and wildness. I was excited to take our friends and G up to visit the area, but a little bit apprehensive, knowing that weekend was Fronteir Days in Cheyenne, and the place would be hopping with other campers.

Sure enough, most of the sites are full when we pull in around 9p. But our favorite site on the hill, the one Mark and I have used over and over again, is empty and waiting.

Our camper in Vedauwoo

G camping in with Kyle and Daddy at Vedauwoo

On Saturday, we head over to Blair III for easy top-ropes in a low key setting. Kyle and Briana tape up for crack climbing, something they don’t do very often. And we all climb The Sweet Variation of Go Left, Old Man, Go Left (5.7-) and Random Crystals (5.8-), two classic climbs that we’ve hit up about once a year for the past 4 years.

Climbing on Blair 3

Sweet Variation

The Californians do great on the sharp, crystally crack climbs. I manage to bruise both of my hands, and peel some skin off even under the tape. Mark, of course, feels great, and has a ball. And G takes a short nap under the aspens.

Babe in the Woods

G playing in the woods for the afternoon

We check out a couple of long, bolted climbs on the opposite side of the Blair 3 formation. They look really interesting: very tall slabs protected by a huge number of bolts… that start about 30 feet off the ground. Briana is concerned about the chimney start, and I’m concerned about G’s lack of afternoon nap. So, we pack up and head to the Nautilus instead.

Briana hops on Stand and Deliver (5.10a), which has a very tricky and difficult start. She takes a couple of tries and eventually figures out a move or two that she feels are more like high-5.11, but the rest of the route is full of crystal-pinching loveliness, and she ends up with a big smile on her face.

Briana on the rough start to Stand and Deliver (5.10a)

Briana climbs, Mark belays, Kyle watches, and G sleeps

Mark and Kyle lead it after her, with Mark abusing his height on the start, and Kyle abusing the first bolt. I give it a few attempts, but give up quickly and yard on the first draw to get on the route. The rest of it goes smoothly and happily for me, which is nice as its clearly been a rough spring for my climbing ego.

The awesomest giant marshmallow treat ever!

In the evening, G goes to sleep in the trailer early, and we hang out, roast giant marshmallows over a fire, and watch distant storms on the high, windy, Wyoming plains. The next day, we’ll hang around camp. We’ll pick wildflowers, whittle tiny game pieces, and play a kick-ass game of Settlers of Katan under the awning of our trailer. The Californians will head north to the limestone of Lander and Ten Sleep, and us Calders will head south, back towards our crazy lives in the Fort.

Desert Climbing with the Crag Baby – Part 2

May 30, 2011 at 11:14 am

Geeze, this is what I get for taking too long to write the second half of this trip report. Memorial Day? Shelf Road? That seems like a million years ago.

Kate climbing desert limestone - yum!

On Sunday, the six of us packed up and headed back to The Bank. Mark and I were interested in trying more of these new routes at the Piggy Bank. But as we walked up to the base of the wall, we could hear the crowds, see ropes on every climb, and even hear a few other babies already crying. We decided we could produce enough chaos on our own, and so went looking for other areas in the vicinity.

Mark makes this look easy

We ended up heading to the middle of the long Bank wall, and (after waiting a while for the other party to finish) we hopped on From Russia with Love (5.9+) and B/C (5.9+).

Both climbs were fun, and I enjoyed the thin, technical moves on From Russia a bit more than the powerful overhanging jugs of B/C. Mark was thrilled by the fact that he still felt strong and very confidant on the rock, even after not climbing since the previous August. Hooray for CrossFit!

G's tent set up at a windy, sandy crag

The weather on Sunday was nice, but hard on everybody’s systems. A dry, but cool, wind gusted around the canyon, blowing sand in everybody’s eyes, and making G a little fussy. Babies can clearly tell when they need to increase their fluids, and G drank 4 or 5 big bottles during our day out. He napped in his tent which we covered to keep the wind and sand out, for almost 2 hours that afternoon. And while he wasn’t the sweetest, happiest, baby all day long, we all managed to have a fun time.

Doug, Mark and G at the crag

After we all took our turn on the two 9’s, we packed up and hiked a bit further down the cliff to find a new 5.8 Doug had scouted. I’m still not sure of a name, or even a good way to describe where it was on the wall. We should probably invest in the New Shelf Road Guidebook. There has been so much new development in the last few years, that Shelf is starting to feel like an entirely new destination.

Mark settles G in his tent

The 8 was fun, and covered in sharp, hard, black limestone. We all took our turns on it, and enjoyed the meandering and interesting route. I cemented my day of disappointing efforts by not even finishing this one. I bailed on the upper crux, about 10 feet below the anchors.

After two days of climbing straight-forward moderates at Shelf, I had yet to finish one without falling. I suppose my time off from climbing was a bit rougher than what Mark went through, and the extra 20 pounds of baby weight were not helping.

Kate pulling the little roof on 'From Russia with Love' (5.10a)

Regardless, I felt thrilled and very accomplished as we hiked out that evening. We had just spent our first full day climbing with the baby, and it wasn’t that bad! True, climbing wasn’t as easy at it had once been. I was exhausted, and the pounding headache behind my eyes was a reminder that I was spending a lot of energy taking care of G, and not much taking care of myself. That evening, we gobbled down dinner, drank a ton of water, and G and I collapsed asleep together at 8p. On Monday, we would pack up and make a leisurely journey home. But that night, the baby and I enjoyed the best reward of a day in the desert sun: quiet, deep, satisfied, sleep.

Desert Climbing with the Crag Baby – Part 1

May 29, 2011 at 6:40 pm

The long Memorial Day weekend marks the beginning of high climbing season in the Rocky Mountains. The spring thaw is (usually) under way, the days warm, and the rocks dry out. This holiday has been an opportunity for our group of climbing buddies to reunite and celebrate the opening of the rocks.

A little lizard

In the past, we’ve had weekends in Vedauwoo, at Tres Piedras, and in Penitente Canyon. This year, most of our group has traveled on to bigger and better things, so we few stragglers decided to go back to where it all began, on the warm desert limestone near the Cheesehead Ranch.

G is ready to hike on Saturday afternoon!

We arrived on Saturday just before noon, and started off at the Bank parking area to try and track down Doug, Liz and JoAnna. We found their car with a mysterious note taped to it: “Change of plans, we’re climbing at the Piggie Bank today.”

Now, Mark and I counted, and we have probably been climbing at Shelf Road more than 15 times. We have visited almost every crag and area in the region, and we have never heard of “the Piggie Bank.” In fact, neither had anybody we asked. I hypothesized that it might be a newer area near the “Cash Wall” and “The Vault” at the east end of the the Bank. Sounds reasonable…

We hiked over to Cactus Cliffs with the baby, about a 20 minute walk, and finally found somebody with a copy of the new guidebook. There! The Piggie Bank was listed as its own area in this book, and it was at THE OTHER END of the Bank – probably 2 miles in the opposite direction.

Mark and G hiking (the wrong way) across the desert

We trudged along the wall of the Bank in the afternoon heat. G napped on and off, but demanded a few breaks, making the hike take a little longer. It took 2.5 hours to find our way up to the base of the crag where Doug and Liz were climbing! It turns out, recent activity in the crag surrounding Number 1 Super Guy has produced a new and very nice climbing area at Shelf Road.

Zonked baby by the time we found the crag

When we arrived the baby was napping, so Mark and I hopped on a top-rope and climbed a new, fun 5.7. Doug and Liz had been climbing newly bolted moderates on the sunny south-facing crag all day long. The area has a (rightfully gained) reputation for holding a few difficult-to-get-to classic Shelf test-pieces. But we discovered a trove of long, fun moderates, and a much nicer trail for access. This area is likely to see a lot of growth in popularity over the next few years. It could even become a good alternative for the crowds at Cactus Cliffs.

Our lovely campsite

Brian spent the previous weekend clearing and leveling a spot for our little trailer. It was perfect – down the hill from the crowd and noise, easy to get in and out of, and more level than any of the expensive sites we’ve had so far. This was our first weekend of “Coyote Camping” (using the trailer with no hookups in the middle of the desert) and it went great. We had plenty of water, gas, battery life and tank space to make camping easy and luxurious.

Coyote Camping

The camper proved itself especially worthwhile on Saturday evening. G was napping, and I was reading and staring out the window as Mark pulled food out for dinner. A dark shape moving quickly past the window just above G’s head caught my eye.

My first thought was “Somebody’s dog is loose.” and then I realized, it was a BEAR.

A (relatively) small brown-colored bear tore through our campsite, running at a strong gallop just under the trailer windows and then up the hill behind the communal fire ring and other campsites. I pointed and yelled and jumped up and down, scaring the crud out of Mark and waking the baby up.

We told Brian what we saw, and he said it was the first bear sighting on his land in the 15 years he’s owned it. Mark and Brian wandered the hillside looking for prints or claw marks, while Brian carried around a plate full of bar-b-que pork, presumably for bait.

It was an exciting end to our first day in the desert. I felt the money spent on the trailer was worth every penny for a bit of extra bear protection, and the ability for us all to get out camping! I laid next to G in the trailer that night, staring out the window at a dark sky full of stars just above my baby’s head.

Baby G’s First Day at the Crag

May 22, 2011 at 12:20 pm

It’s May in Colorado, G is 6 months old, it’s time he went rock climbing! We took the family up to Duncan’s Ridge, a little top roping area just west of town, for our first climbing outing with baby. I told Mark on the drive over that I was really nervous. Not about the rock climbing, but because our success or failure on this day would set the tone for future outings with G. Would he be easy or difficult? Would he nap or scream? Would we climb at all?

G napping in his baby tent at the crag

We timed the outing to correspond with G’s afternoon nap. Mark carried all of our climbing gear in his big backpack. I carried G up to the crag in his hiking backpack, with all of his diaper bag paraphernalia in the storage compartment and a Pea Pod clipped to the back. The approach was relatively short, but our time off showed, and both Mark and I were gasping for air on the march up the hill. The short 3rd/4th class downclimb to the base of the rocks was a little scary with the baby in the backpack, but Mark spotted us well, and everybody made it down safely.

G likes his little tent!

Our set-up, topropes and baby gear

Once we were down, Mark went up to set up the ropes, and I bounced G around for about 5 minutes until he fell asleep. We popped him in the Pea Pod, and he slept happily, outside, in the breeze, with climbers all around for about an hour. Happy baby!

Kate belaying with G napping in the back

Doug and Liz showed up a bit later, and we all had a chance to climb two easy and fun routes: Corner Climb (5.7) and Conglomerate Face (5.8). I know that I’ve climbed both of these, probably several times, before. But on this trip, the rock felt new and harsh on my weak, pink hands. The crack seemed steep, and the face seemed a bit tricky. Still, I loved every second of both climbs. It felt sooooo good to be outside with my boys and my friends!

Mark back on the rock after a 10 month break

In the late afternoon, we hung around the rock and enjoyed the sun. Mark gave G a bottle to calm him, then we packed up and hiked home. It was a wonderful, VERY successful day that absolutely sets the tone for future outings!

Mark and G

Making Babies is Type 3 Fun

August 12, 2010 at 1:19 pm

In climbing and many outdoor pursuits, it is well known that there are, actually, three types of fun. Type 1 fun is the classic, smiling, happy, laughing, good times for all, fun. Type 2 fun can be painful, but you end up with a smile on your face. I think loosing skin in Vedauwoo and biking up Horsetooth mountain both fall into this category.

Type 3 fun, well, that’s a whole different animal. As Fitz Cahall once put it: “This is the epic. The suffer fest. This is collarbone breaking, giardia-getting, soaked-to-the-bone, carnage. If it sounds horrible, that’s because it probably is.”

I would like to posit: making babies is Type 3 Fun.

The most extreme sufferfest ever

So, you think your week in a snow cave in Patagonia was bad? Try throwing up every day for four months. Your legs and back are aching after your 20 mile slog out of the back country? Yeah, I’ve got a small person pressing and kicking against my spine and ribs, and it’s only going to get worse over the next three months. Feeling hungry after a week on a big wall? My Hunger has morphed into an all-encompasing demon, and it never rests or relents. I have even named it: Eddy. Eddy, my appetite, is my new constant companion. He makes most of my decisions for me these days, and not all of them are good.

Yes, I know pregnancy is a wonderful, joyful, hormone-fueled happyfest for many women. I’ve heard some ladies say they felt a little tired and had some heartburn, and that was it! This is much like some climbs that can be done in good conditions, with good route finding and good luck, and be perfectly wonderful days. Those same climbs, when the weather blows in, when the party gets off route, when a sling snaps and you watch your rack tumble into the abyss below, become a new and utterly excruciating experience.

If the stars align, you might have a perfectly happy pregnancy. You might barely notice the tiny life growing in your uterus. If, however, you’re like me (short, and possibly carrying a reptilian alien) then come prepared for pain.

What’s rough right now makes for great stories later

If it’s so bad, why call it fun at all? How can Type 3 fun even be on the fun scale? The surprising thing is, the worse your Type 3 fun is now, the better off you’ll be in the future. True suffering makes for epic tales around a bonfire, or, in my case, a babyshower. These are the stories that last forever, and the experiences that mark our souls, that change who we are and how we see the world.

A day out at the crag might leave you feeling warm and fuzzy for a while, but those memories fade, sadly. However, the limp you acquired on the sixth day of that adventure race might just last you a lifetime. A hard pregnancy lets you test the boundaries of what you can give up, of the aspects of your body and your life that you will lay down for the health and happiness of a loved one. It teaches you about sacrifice, selflessness, and devotion to a goal.

Plus, when you stop to vomit on the side of the trail and then just keep walking, everybody knows you’re a badass.

Want to compare scars?

One of the best parts of an epic climb is the clarity that you find afterwards. It puts life into perspective, and you learn what your real priorities are. It teaches you your limits as a human, and you may find yourself capable of greater things than you ever expected. This is Type 3 fun. And making babies fits squarely into this definition. It’s not something I’d do very often, but it’s something that I’m very glad I did.

And yeah, my episiotomy scar will trump your broken ankle any day of the week.