Climbing Sugarite Canyon: Part 1

September 13, 2008 at 8:13 pm

Mark and I have climbed a little bit in New Mexico, and each time, we’ve been impressed with the quiet, secluded nature of the crags, even if they are just off the road. Last weekend, the stars aligned, plans came together, and we were able to meet Dylan and Ann in the Land of Enchantment.

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We drove down to Sugarite Canyon State Park on Friday after work. We got caught in a bit of traffic in Denver, but made it into the campground just before the gate was locked at 10pm. Following the pattern from the previous few days, it rained for most of our drive down.

Pictures from the weekend are up in the gallery.

Dylan, Ann, and Liv on the edge of the mesa

On Saturday morning, we rolled out of bed a little later, made breakfast, and hung out with the ranger who had spent the previous evening dealing with rowdy campers for a little while. Eventually, we packed up and hiked up to the lovely, south facing basalt cliff. The approach felt relatively short, and we enjoyed the hike up to the rim of the mesa through high desert forests and prairies.

The day turned out to be clear and beautiful. The rock was sunlit, warm, and the views from the cliff-line were incredible. We were on the edge of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, in the high country of northern New Mexico. To our south, we could see distant deserts and open lands, with peaks, mesas and wind-blown sand sculptures. The summer has been feeling late, and the desert climbing season will be starting soon. Looking out at the beautiful landscape below us, I started to get excited about new adventures this winter! But for now, we were having a great day in the mountains.

Looking up at the pink basalt cliffs

Pete’s Downclimb (5.6) – Mark and I started the day on a nice crack suggested by Dylan. We had brought a light rack, with gear up to one #3.5 cam. Mark got about 10ft up this route and realized that the whole thing was going to take much bigger gear. He climbed back down, grabbed all of Dylan’s Vedauwoo big gear, and then headed up again. The climb was lots of fun, and Mark even found a perfect little placement for the smallest Big Bro about 3/4 of the way up. I followed, and enjoyed the nice little ledges and pockets covering the climb.

Crack Head (5.8) – Dylan lead up this route while we were figuring out gear on Pete’s. And we began our day of free-loading off of Dylan’s TRs. Why not? It was a fun day with good cracks. After each of us climbed and enjoyed the perfect hand crack on Crack Head, we’d clip a few of the top draws on Sangre Verde (5.10a), and then run up that nice arrete on TR. The pockets were lovely, the moves were smooth and the traverse back to the anchors at the top was spicy.

Salt Mother (5.8) – Another Redpoint feather in Dylan’s cap, and another TR for Mark, Ann and me to enjoy. The climb starts with a tricky thin fingers crack, that felt creepy and insecure. It ended with thin hands that were perfect for me, and quickly became my favorite route of the day.

And he finds the easy way!

Great Roof Left (5.9) – This intimidating roof hung over us all day, and Dylan attacked it on lead. Mark and Ann followed happily, and everybody seemed to agree that this route was not as hard as Salt Mother. I hung out in the sun with the dog, resting my now aching wrist and hoping that this pain wasn’t a resurgence of the tendinitis I dealt with a few years ago. Eventually, I decided that it was the end of the day for me, but enjoyed cheering everybody else up their routes.

Motengator (5.8+) – I guess 4 pitches just weren’t enough for Dylan at the end of the day. We had all started talking about cold bear and ice water, but we had plenty of time left to get one more in. Dylan lead up this route, which seemed much longer than any others so far. Perhaps it was the heat or exhaustion from a long day, but it also seemed harder than the 5.8 grade would suggest. Careful, but strong, crack technique got Dylan, Mark and Ann to the top of the route without any problems.

Ok, without many problems. Mark lowered Dylan off of his belt, which was not set up well and resulted in a few minutes of apparent agony for Mark as his belay device dug into his crotch and the rope ran over his leg. Evidently, the usual belay set-ups that Mark uses for me, don’t work as well when your climber weighs 50 more pounds.

Kate and Mark in New Mexico!

By the end of the day, we were all smiles, sunburns and sore muscles. We hiked down the mesa and spent a cool evening camping out with our friends.

Mark raps down into the evening light