A Month of Vedauwoo

July 25, 2010 at 9:17 am

Our friends Dylan and Ann have adopted a permanently nomadic lifestyle, and spent the last 8 months traveling around the western US. In July, they lived in Vedauwoo for the month, and we spent every weekend with them.

Wyoming Sunrise

Mark cleans up the tent as cows wander through our campsite

Mark and Kate - that was my last climb

During the month of July, I entered into my 6th month of pregnancy, and officially grew out of my harness. My last climb was a 5.8 offwidth at 23 weeks of pregnancy.

Sophie and Mark getting ready to climb!

Hiking out through an aspen grove

Ready for Ved!

Vedauwoo is such a special place. It is a quite grove of rocks and aspens, but sometimes the wind howls or other campers party nearby. It is criss-crossed with roads and trails, cows and climbers, but still has a wild and free feeling to it that cannot be tamed. The rock is sharp, painful and unforgiving, but offers so many opportunities for climb and play. It is a place where you meet people, meet up with friends, and meet your real self.

Sean belaying in the afternoon

Vedauwoo crystals are lovely

Another beautiful morning in Vedauwoo

Penitente Canyon

May 31, 2010 at 9:18 am

The sky is a blue dome, stretching overhead for miles. The mountains zip by at 60 mph for hour after hour. The hillsides are green and brown and snow covered. A warm summer breeze fills the valleys and canyons as we weave our way south through Colorado.

Our weekend destination is Penitente Canyon, a hidden sport climbing spot on the western edge of huge the San Luis valley. Our back is to the San Juans, and our view is towards the distant Sangre de Cristo range. The climbs are all relatively short, protected with ample bolts, and on reddish volcanic tuft, covered in plates, pockets and huecos.

Sangre De Cristos

We arrive on Saturday to find the BLM campground outside of the canyon nearly full to bursting. The last site available is the group campsite, and we meet Dave and his three kids, who offer to share the site with the six of us (Mark and me, Bruce, Doug, Julian and Ally). We fill every tent pad, and later meet up with two climbers camping in their van, who take one of our extra parking spots. It turns out to be a great group of people, and we all get along fantastically.

Our gang heads into the canyon to get some climbing in on Saturday afternoon, but my head hurts like mad, so I open up the tent and sleep in the shade and the breeze. They all return happily in the evening, joking about huecos and cracks and rattlesnakes.

Walking out of the canyon in the evening light

A really nice view from our sweet group campsite

On Sunday morning, Mark brings me ovaltine in the tent to settle my stomach, and I manage to get through the early hours without throwing up! Wonder of wonders!! After munching on poptarts and grapes, I feel good enough to join in with the climbing.

The day is warm, but not too warm, and we find a few fun climbs in a quiet side canyon. This is my first time climbing since I officially became pregnant, and I am shocked at first at the several inches I have to let out my harness to get it around the baby bump. But once my fingers and toes get back on the rock, everything feels good and smooth and healthy again.

How the West was Won

The morning goes better than could ever have been expected. I float my way up a super thin 10b (Concupiscent Curds), and monkey my way through deep pockets on an overhanging 9 (How The West Was Won). I sit in the shade with the dog, and take a ton of pictures. Everybody has a go on at least one climb, and then its lunch and we hike back to camp for snacks and naps.

Mike pulling through the tricky start moves on Concupiscent Curds (5.10b)

Mark leading on buckets

In the afternoon, we all take turns on a long 7 (Unknown Name), and I discover the heat and hormones of pregnancy have made my brand new rock shoes officially too small. I think I may have made a $130 mistake buying these last spring, as most pregnant women’s feet increase at least a size, permanently.

I want to climb a beautiful, thin, pink slab in the evening light, but I can’t stand the pain of these shoes on my feet any more. It’s disappointing as hell, but really, just another lesson to roll with the punches.

Mark enjoying some thin slab in the evening

In the evening, we eat hotdogs for dinner, and I’m so exhausted I crash in the tent before it’s even dark. I fall asleep listening to distant quiet conversations around the campfire.

Los Hermanos de la Weenie Way

Monday morning, I manage once again to not throw up! (Don’t worry, it comes back next week) Mark makes pancakes which we top with blueberries, and then, in a fit of genius, he puts the blueberries in the batter and the result is breakfast art. We pack up, briefly discuss stopping by the Sand Dune, but decide at the last minute that we don’t really have time, and head for home. Thank you everybody for such a great weekend!

Rockclimbing Railay, Part 3

March 21, 2010 at 11:46 pm

Ok, here’s my last post on to cover our climbing adventures in Thailand. If you missed the previous two parts, check out our rocky start, and Thailand’s redemption. I’m not sure why I’m having such a hard time blogging lately. I’ve had some health problems (more on that later, I’m sure), and for some reason, the idea of blogging makes me rather nauseous right now. Today, I want to bite the bullet and get these last two posts up.

The Thaiwand hovers over Railay West

On our last full day in Railay, we made the most of it. We ate a huge breakfast, lounged around until nearly 11, and then wandered up to the Thaiwand for one last go on those beautiful 6’s.

Fit To Be Thai’d (6a+, 10b) – Of course, most of the routes on the rock were full of groups of climbers, so we headed up the… interesting… ladder to the routes on the west side. Mark led up this long, lovely 10b, and I followed. It was one of the first tall routes in Thailand that I didn’t feel exposed and freaked out on. I loved every minute of it. The view was incredible, and the climbing was so much fun!

Rockclimbing in Thailand

After this route, we decided to camp out in line for Lord of the Thai’s (6a, 5.10a – 1st pitch). We lounged around in the orange dirt for probably an hour, watching a group of 4 people all climb the first pitch of this route. Of course, as soon as we get a chance to hop on it, the first weather we’ve seen in two weeks in Thailand seems to move in.

The wind picked up and started swirling orange dirt everywhere. Thunder rumbled constantly in the distance. Mark led the climb quickly and carefully, and I climbed and cleaned it. It was a long, fun route. And from the top, I could see out over all of Railay and towards Krabi in the distance. The storms were kilometers away, and we were in no danger.

View of Railay from the middle of the Thaiwand

In all, I wish we’d had another two months to spend climbing in Thailand. The routes of the area were so much fun. Long, overhanging, well protected, gymnastic, bucket-hauls that I was finally getting a good taste for right when we left.

On our way out of town, we donated our 2-year old rope and nasty old climbing shoes to Wee’s climbing outfit. At least future deep water solo’ers will have the option of Mark’s size 11’s and my size 5’s. :) And our rope will no doubt live on as anchor tat or boat anchor line somewhere in Southeast Asia.

Rockclimbing Railay, Part 2

March 7, 2010 at 10:59 pm

After a few not-so-fun climbs around Railay, we hit the jackpot when we wandered north to Tonsai for the day.

Kate follows the same way!

Fire Wall

We clambered up to the base of Fire Wall at just around 11:30a. The sun was gone, and the area was in deep shade, but a thick lingering heat still filled the jungle below the crag. You could feel the burn coming off of the rock. We were the only ones there, though. Amazing!

The Groove Tube (5.10a) – We had at least 5 people ask us if we had done The Groove Tube before the end of our first week in Railay. Evidently this climb is at the top of the super-mega-ultra-must-do climbs list for the area. I’m giving the route a grade of 10a, which is the closest YDS grade to the book’s given 6a grade. But Mark and I both agreed, this route was barely more than 5.8, in all likelihood. And it was fun!

Climbing the Groove Tube

There are a few lovely, unique things about this climb. One is it’s obviously interesting morphology – you start by squirming through a tight chimney (really a giant pocket in the limestone) and then stem your way up through a cool tube formation, covered in giant pockets. The other is the protection. The bolts in Thailand are not always great, and this climb is protected entirely by bits of climbing rope threaded through the rock and tied off.

As we were climbing, the inevitable crowds descended upon us. But this time, we met up with a bunch of fun climbers. We met a couple from California, Kyle and Briana, who are starting a 2-year long around-the-world trip. We hung out with everybody for the afternoon, swapped stories and belays, and had a really great time.

The jungle around Tonsai

Boob Tube (5.10c) – After our go on the Groove Tube, Mark led up this climb just to the left. It was lots of fun too. It starts with a cruxy overhanging section where you climb up giant stalactites, and then transitions into a long vertical pockety funness. Another crux comes further up where you have to stem up to below a chimney and then make a committing lunge for what turns out to be a good jug. Highly recommend this route as well.

View from Fire Wall - gorgious!

Kochel Rock

We were looking for a couple of fun routes to tick off before heading to cooking lessons later, so we wandered down towards 1,2,3 Wall again, hoping to find some of the low-tide climbs. Amazingly, we ran into Kyle and Briana again, and ended up following them to a little out-of-the-way crag called Kochel Rock.

With You, Liebelein (5.10b/c) – There were four routes on this little wall, and nobody around when the four of us showed up. Mark led up the righthand climb, while Briana led the lefthand one. All of the routes on this wall had recently had bad bolts replaced with shiny new ones, and the guidebooks were still out of date. So, the area had not seen much traffic, and we got a good dose of Limestone sharpness on these routes. They were covered in knife-like texture, but lots of fun!

One for you, one for me (5.10c) – We TR’d this route from the anchors just left of With You, Liebelein. It started with a 20ft long overhanging finger/hand crack, and finished with thin, sharp moves on a gently overhanging face. Mark whizzed up this one, feeling super-strong and made it look beautiful and easy. I got about halfway up and decided to give up before I was bleeding too much on the route. Briana worked it out and said she enjoyed it as well.

Unknown 6a (5.10a) -The route on the far left of the rock, that Briana put up in the morning, was more fun for me. I started massively off route, but rearranged myself and finished strong, it was a fun one. Mark enjoyed it as well, but felt this was one of the harder routes of the day for him. I disagree completely. With more vertical, balancy moves, it definitely played more to my strengths than any of the other climbs on the wall.

Climbing sharp limestone in Thailand!

Rockclimbing Railay, Part 1

March 6, 2010 at 11:17 am

So Mark and I traveled half way around the world to hang out on beaches and climb huge limestone cliffs in Thailand. Unfortunately, our first few climbs were a little… ahem… rocky.

Kate climbing in Thailand

During our two weeks on the peninsula, we managed to visit most of the main areas of climbing, and tick off a couple classic routes. We stuck to single pitch climbs, and only did about 2 pitches a day before deciding to move on to a pool, bar, or boat.

So, we can’t provide an impressive ticklist from our trip, but I can give a brief overview of each area we went to, and the few climbs we did.

1,2,3 Wall

This was our first stop for the trip because it was easy to find, and covered in moderates. Weeks rented a harness and shoes and we took him climbing for the first time in two years!

Weeks tying in for his first climb in two (?) years

We arrived at about 1p, and the wall was shady and quiet. Within 20 minutes though, the guided groups arrived. The wall was instantly swamped with European tourists and Thai guides, shouting instructions and encouragement to each other at the top of their lungs. If you’ve never been climbing before, this seemed like a fun, party-like environment in which to start. If you’re used to long, quiet days of trad at Vedauwoo, 1,2,3 Wall was a bit of culture shock.

Giggering for Climbing (5.9-) – Our first route in Thailand was a bit of a disappointment. Short, weird, loud, and smooth as glass, this climb has seen so much traffic that there was no friction left on it anywhere.

Make a Way (5.10c) – We found this gem had just been vacated by a couple of Americans. I should note, I’m giving ratings here in YDS, but in Thailand, it’s all French. The guidebook said this was rated 6b. The guys at the base refused to call anything by it’s YDS rating, and the resulting conversation went something like this:

Mark: “Hey guys, is this a fun 10?”
Climber: “This climb is a long 6b.”
Mark: “It doesn’t look like a 5.6.”
Climber: “No, just a 6b. Maybe 6b-.”
Mark: “6b-, what kind of grade is that? What are you talking about?”

Longer routes cover 1,2,3 Wall

Mark put up a great attempt at this long, overhanging, VERY FUN route. He flashed it to the last bolt, but a bad sequence problem left him hanging from a deep one-finger pocket, and then *pop* suddenly he lost all feeling in that finger. He rested a bit on the last bolt, and finished the route strong, even without knowing the state of his finger.

The injury ended up sticking with him. Mark still doesn’t have all of the feeling back in his right middle finger. But he’s gotten used to it, and it didn’t interfere with his climbing on the rest of the trip.

The Thaiwand

View of Railay West and Tonsai from the base of the Thaiwand

After the 1,2,3 Wall incident, we had the hike with Weeks, and the deep water solo’ing day. So, it was probably 4 or 5 days before we were back on the rocks around Railay. And our next stop was the Thaiwand wall – a huge overhanging monolith that hovers over the south end of Railay West.

Primal Scream (5.10b) – There are about 5 climbs on the lower tier of the Thaiwand that are in the 10 range (and worth climbing), and when we arrived around 11a on this morning, there were groups of climbers on all of them. At the far left end of the rock are two 10-ish climbs that two girls had hung a top-rope on, and were running laps over and over on.

Mark and I tried to make friends with the Norwegian girl who was belaying, but she really did not like the idea of us horning in her climbing plans. No, she would not relinquish the climbs any time soon. No, she did not want to let us to lead one while they were climbing on the other. No, she really didn’t want us to hang out and wait for them to get done.

This girl was not nice.

Eventually, we convinced her to let us lead the left climb while her partner worked on the right one. It was a fun route, but nothing too spectacular. They pulled their rope eventually, and Mark and I TR’d Solution 41 (5.10d R) after they left. I thought this one was more fun, but both routes were so close together as to be rather contrived. The cruxy top section of Solution 41 was great fun, pulling on shallow pockets and balancing on little limestone divots.

So, after our first week on Railay, we had climbed four routes at two areas. We had been screamed at by guides, overrun with tourists, frowned at by an unhappy Norwegian and only had one great climb to show for it. So far, Thailand was not living up to expectations.

Deep Water Solo’ing

March 4, 2010 at 5:45 pm

After returning from our trip, Mark and I have been asked several times “Why go all the way to Thailand for a vacation?” And our answer is pretty simple. There are not many places in the world where you can do something like this…

Mark Deep Water Solo'ing

To be honest, deep water solo’ing was not on our list of “must-do”s as we made our plans. But at a reasonable price of 800 Baht (US$24) a person through Wee’s outfit, which covered a full day of cruising around islands, a nice lunch, the option to snorkel and play on remote and deserted beaches, well, it was an offer we couldn’t refuse. And it was worth every Baht.

John heading for the drink!

I highly recommend checking out all of the photos for this one in the gallery.

Shelf Road in the Snow

January 31, 2010 at 2:52 pm

Mark and I have taken several trips to Shelf Road, in the desert of Southern Colorado, to camp and climb during the winter. It’s a beautiful canyon filled with miles of pink limestone cliffs, and usually a warm spot in the middle of a snowy Colorado winter.

The new Marmot Thor 3P 4-season tent!

This year, we were up against a bit of a deadline. With an upcoming trip to Thailand, we wanted to get in climbing on limestone before we left. So, we went against our better judgement and headed down to Shelf even after the forecast had called for snow. Even when we knew it would be bitterly cold at night. Hoping that we’d get just a few hours of sun on the rock, because that’s all we need.

The trail to Cactus Cliffs is REALLY snowy

As promised, Friday night was horribly cold. My -10F REI down bag was not fully lofted, and I shivered all night long. In the morning, the sun lit up the tent and promised reasonable temperatures at the cliff. We shivered through cooking breakfast, and then headed towards Cactus Cliffs.

I Lean (5.11a)

Once we hit the crag, the temperatures soared. It turned out to be a beautiful day – warm rock, bright sun, and lots of happy climbers! (and dogs!)

Crag Dogs!

We hit it hard on Saturday, climbing White Punks on Pockets (5.9)**, La Cholla Jackson (5.8)****, I Lean (5.11a)****, The Book of Dude-Aronomy (5.10d)**, and finishing up on Politically Incorrect (5.10c)****. Three of these five routes get four-stars in the guidebook, so we got a good dose of quality with our quantity.

Cleaning Up

Saturday night was cold, but slightly more comfortable than Friday. This time, I remembered the 20 pound box of chemical warmers, and I stuck them all over the inside of my bag, the dog, and Mark. On Sunday morning, a huge cloud had rolled in from the east, and a bitterly cold wind was blowing into the valley. We decided to head home.

We had a good, long day on Saturday (for us). Mark said he felt really good, with very little forearm pump even after 5 rough routes. No finger rawness or elbow pain for either of us, so the outlook is good for lots of great climbing in Thailand!

Climbing Potrillo Cliffs

November 21, 2009 at 4:58 pm

As I mentioned in my previous post, our first day in Santa Fe, New Mexio, was an amazing desert adventure. After our trip to the Farmer’s Market, we headed out for a day of climbing at the Potrillo Cliffs.

El Portillo

This line of short, but sunny and bomber basalt cliffs sits above the Rio Grand river canyon, just south of Los Alamos. In fact, inorder to get to the cliffs, you have to walk past a very interesting, specific, sign that outlines all of the possible bombs that we might run across, and who to call if we find some. The area sits on the edge of the Los Alamos munitions testing range, and we all learned a lot about what bombs look like from checking out this sign. I hoped to find a purple grenade!

Mark reads the sign carefully, and hopes to find a purple grenade

At the end of November, this area had perfect climbing weather. There were clouds occasionally obscuring the sun, and a chilly breeze that came and went, but plenty of warmth and light. We hung topropes on several climbs and worked some beautiful cracks.

Ann starts with a clean ascent of the wide chimney on Chuckawalla (5.8)

Mark stems the beautiful diherdral in the afternoon sun

Dylan has a nice write up and good pictures from the day on his blog as well. I loved the thin hands cracks on Upper Kor’s Crack (5.9), the chimney start on Chuckawalla (5.8) was awesome, and the overhanging fingers start on Lower Kor’s Crack was tough but very, very fun.

Mark belaying above the canyon

We climbed until our shoulders started to give out and the sun had dipped near to the rim of the canyon. Then we packed up, hiked back through the deserted, and headed into a cold, quiet starry night. Ann and I spent two glorious hours at Ten Thousand Waves, and Mark and Dylan had beers and a hike home from the Second Street Brewery. It was, as I have said so many times before, and awesome day.

Climbing Desert Basalt