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