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!