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