Category Archives: Climbing

The Open Book (5.9)

Looking up the climb


Like the Snaz, the Open Book is another one of those climbs that has been on my to-do list for years due to a lack of climbing skill and/or partners. I had planned for a solo day (more on that later), but when Ben asked if I was interested in climbing, I saw an opportunity, and dug into my bag of unfinished things. Ben, one of the interns, is young and strong, seemingly more interested in Real Climbing than the kind of stuff that I can do, but he seemed game for a moderate trad route. Given its name and description, this one seemed likely to be even more un-gym-like than the Snaz, with lots of stemming and a finger crack. Predictably, it turned out “the way it always does,” with a fair amount of thrashing and bleeding.

Garnet drying out

It was a cold morning, so we didn’t leave the Ranch until about 6:30. We passed the usual bear on the Garnet switchbacks, ignoring us as she fed on some plant. Based on the giant pile of green bear manure I had found earlier, plants seem to be the majority of their diet this time of year, an impressive digestive feat that can’t yield many calories. Just above, we saw a cub safely up a tree. The bears frequenting this hillside are disturbingly accustomed to people, and while they have not been aggressive, I wish they felt a more normal degree of fear. Preemptive use of bear spray would probably fix that, but I doubt the Park Service would approve.

Despite our late start, we reached the base of the climb while it was still in the shade and quite cold. I had hear of others having problems finding the route, but it was easy to identify, and required no shenanigans to reach. I happily gave Ben the first lead, and he chose the direct 5.9 crack start, soon regretting this decision as he wedged his hands into the frigid rock. I kept my running shoes on until the last moment, then followed, grateful to be on a toprope. I found myself consciously staying out of the crack where I could, and unconsciously using my palms and elbows for counter-pressure to spare my fingers.

Looking down from my fail-belay

We were climbing on a 50-meter rope, and the first pitch as described was supposedly 60 meters, so Ben belayed at a stance somewhere below the official belay. Unlike the Snaz, there are no bolts on the Open Book, so it can be naturally split up like a normal trad route, with pitches where one runs out of rope or gear, accumulates too much drag, or reaches the base of a crux. I led our second pitch, featuring a “5.8 undercling/layback” that felt hard and insecure to me. I put in a couple of good cams as I went, trusted my feet, and was surprised to be able to pull through it. However, I was unable to find a good placement above that section, and couldn’t quite make it to the next stance. I tried out a few things, then went for it and took a nice 15-foot slow-motion fall before the rope finished stretching. I have a pretty good sense for when I am secure on rock, but am willing to go for it on gear.

Ben doing climber things

I thought about giving it another try, but my arms were tired and I was disappointed with myself, so I built an anchor and belayed Ben up. After taking over, he thoughtfully made his way through the layback, then up the namesake pitch, a greater-than-ninety-degree corner with a finger crack. I enjoyed following that part, but was definitely glad not to lead it. While my technique is mediocre and I usually bleed, I am fairly comfortable with hand jams, but trusting much weight to torqued fingers still feels like a terrible idea to me. I managed to stupidly fall right off the belay, but did the layback and the rest cleanly, albeit not always securely.

My head was not quite in the right place, but I don’t believe in being an animate haul bag, so I set off on the next pitch, traversing right under a roof before coming back left on easier terrain above. I struggled a bit with the first part: a crack below the roof offered all the protection I could wish for, but it was also seeping, making the hands and a few of the otherwise-nice feet wet and slick. Teton rock is stickier than it looks, even when wet, but I am still adjusting to what I can trust on steeper ground. I finished the pitch without incident, building an anchor where I thought the guidebook suggested.

Ben led the next, opting for what I think was the “5.9+ roof move,” a sketchy-looking thing around the right of a bulge. I screwed around for far too long following, trying another route left of the bulge in part because it looked easier, and in part because that was where the rope ran. I finally figured out that it was harder, backed off, moved the rope over a bit, and pulled the roof without taking what would probably have been a fairly harmless pendulum fall.

South Fork Garnet peaks

I led the final 5.7 (?) pitch, making it look harder than it was, then we packed up and traversed right to pop out at the base of the Lake Ledges above Amphitheater Lake. We had carried ice axes all day, and used them for the five minutes it took to descend to the lake. I suppose mine could have been helpful for self-arrest, but most of what I did with it was hack away at the slush to free my leg from a self-filling posthole. Axes stowed, we followed the beaten-in path through the snow back down to the summer trail, then fast-walked home to the Ranch. My shenanigans made Ben a bit late for his evening shift, but I don’t think he got in too much trouble.

Having done both recently, we agreed that the Open Book was better than the Snaz. While it is not as long (6 vs. 8+ pitches) or as hard (5.9 vs. 5.10), it is cleaner and more sustained. I was surprised that the highly-rated Snaz involved as much walking while dragging a rope through debris as it did, especially on its first two pitches. While the Open Book had a walking finish, it was rarely low-angle enough to collect debris, or to be dull (at least for me). An efficient team should be able to climb both it and neighboring Irene’s Arete in a day, making for a truly spectacular outing. Thus endeth my trad climbing for the summer.

The Snaz (5.10)

Snaz on return


(Photos featuring Yours Truly, and some others, courtesy Robert. There was some other stuff in the Bend area, including more skiing and cycling, but that’s too far past and mostly of too little interest to write about. It’s a great place to visit, and I miss skiing from the car in June, but I wouldn’t want to live there.)

The Snaz is a Real Climber climb in Death Canyon, which has been on my radar for almost as long as I have been coming to the Tetons. I have failed to do it in the past because I haven’t had a capable partner, and because I have never been a good enough climber. This year was different in the first respect, with Robert emerging from his SoCal bouldering lair, and I hoped that four weeks of intensive climbing gym work would change the latter as well. Robert sadly had little time to spend at the Ranch — he is also a solid all-around mountaineering partner — but Saturday’s forecast of moderate temperatures and wind up high would at least be an opportunity to finally tick this classic Chouinard climb.

Sure, why not?

We started reasonably early from the Ranch, driving down to Death Canyon and up the rough dirt road to the trailhead. The road is rocky and has some deep puddle-holes, but it is perfectly drivable in a van or sedan with caution and patience. I have a bit of gear these days, but we used Robert’s: a light 70-meter rope and an absolutely massive collection of protection, with two cams from 0.1 to 3, a 3.5, a 4, and a set of nuts. In retrospect this was too much: the large pieces were nice, but most of the small pieces’ uses could have been covered by nuts. Also, since we did not rappel the route, the 70 was too much rope: the wind and roaring stream below made communication difficult, and it was tricky to link pitches without creating terrible rope drag. The short version is that I am not good enough to use a large rack and a 70m rope. First, I lack the judgment to eliminate rope drag on a long pitch. Second, the things I am able to climb are not steep and straight, but lower-angle and varied. This means that there are long sections of easy terrain that do not need to be protected, and twists and bulges that prevent the rope from running straight. This could just be old age and familiarity speaking, but I would have been happier with my old setup of a light 50m rope, nuts, single cams from 0.3 or 0.5 to the largest required, and maybe a couple of doubles or link-cams.

Marmot-proof hang

Be that as it may, the approach was pleasant and easy, hiking the familiar Death Canyon trail up to the edge of the moraine, then down past Phelps Lake and up the canyon along the creek, raging with snowmelt from the unseasonable warmth. The climbers’ trail was trivial to find, continuing off the end of the last switchback below the marshy, pond-filled flats of the middle canyon. I was not sure what to expect, but The Snaz and neighboring Caveat Emptor are popular climbs, suitably equipped with a good approach trail, bolted belays, and even a loop of cord in a sheltered alcove to hang your packs away from the waiting marmots.

Snaz from base

The actual climb is preceded by a short low-fifth-class scramble, which I assumed we would scramble in rock shoes. We divided up the gear, me with the rack and pack, Robert with the rope, and started up the approach pitch, an angled crack along the edge of a slab. At only 5.5 it should have felt easy, but I found myself unnerved, unsure of my feet and insecure. I backed down, tied in, and Robert belayed me as I climbed it again, this time having no trouble and placing useless protection. I was unnerved and unbalanced by the experience: it was moderate climbing that should not have given me any trouble, but my head was not in the right place.

Easy leading

We walked up to the base of the real climb, and I led off again, linking the first two 5.7 pitches with our long rope. This climbing felt much easier, with mostly scrambling terrain and only a few steps that deserved the rating. I placed gear from time to time, trying to avoid creating drag, but was still dragging up slack by the time I reached the belay, the gear on my harness clanking and occasionally catching on protrusions. Trad often feels like climbing while fat and clumsy, making easy things hard and hard things possible. I reached the second anchor with a few meters of rope to spare, clipped in, and belayed Robert up to the start of the harder stuff.

First hard pitch

I was embarrassingly inefficient on the transition, slowly remembering the tricks and details, then Robert took off up the first harder pitch, which continued up the dihedral past a bulge and a roof. It did not look so steep, but he was taking his time, and as is often the case on the slicker golden Teton rock, it was harder than it appeared. The first crux required an odd layback to the right, while the second was passed by steep moves on black, positive rock to the right of a roof. I watched Robert steadily at first, but my neck soon tired and I spent more time looking across the canyon and down at the hikers below.

Detached flake pitch

On belay from above the roof, I started up this first pitch of actual harder climbing, and was soon disappointed to find that I am, for the most part, the same awkward, thrashing, bleeding climber I have always been. I often feel that it makes no sense for the same grades to apply to face, crack, and slab climbing, since they require such different techniques. The same goes for training: while my time in the gym gave me noticeably more power and grip on the steep moves past the second bulge, it helped me hardly at all elsewhere. I was determined to climb the pitch clean, without hangs or falls, but it was a slow and awkward process. I worked my way up the first bulge, hesitating before committing to the layback, chewed my ankle a bit torquing a foot in a wide crack, took an odd backstep when I felt that I had the wrong side facing the rock, and generally made things look harder than they probably were.

Some harder terrain

It was a discouraging performance, reinforced when I handed Robert the rack to take the next pitch rather than swapping leads. Here we had the option of taking the Snazette, a long 5.10 finger crack, but neither of us seemed in the mood, so Robert continued up the original route, proceeding carefully as before. Another party had started up the first pitch, but there seemed to be little danger of them catching us. My mind was elsewhere, so I don’t remember much about the pitch other than I was glad I did not lead it, despite again managing to climb it clean.

On route?

The climbing was easier above, so we returned to swapping leads. I led up a crack to a broad alcove, where the route description said to “step left to a double crack.” Though I knew it would create problems, I clipped a fixed blue cam below the roof to the right before traversing left and placing another cam to hopefully direct the rope around the rock. I looked at a spot in the middle of the roof, backed off, and explored around the corner to the left, but found only rounded, lichen-y rock there. Returning to the middle, I got myself as high as possible, then pulled over a bulge to find a sort of double crack. I got in another piece, then continued a short distance to a sloping shelf where I could build an anchor, unsure which direction to go next, but tired of leading.

Final pitch right of roofs

It turns out that I should have continued up and right another fifteen feet, where there was an anchor consisting of two fixed pins and a nut. Robert led past these, then into an easier chimney with an awkward entry. He seemed to find the pitch somewhat beneath him, but I enjoyed it for making me feel somewhat competent for a change. I took the final lead, another short pitch leading left of the 5.10+ triple roofs to easier terrain, where I belayed him up from a slung block. I was cheered by the view and by having acquitted myself well on the last two pitches, and grateful that Robert was willing to come out and make the climb possible. I felt that if, as in previous years, I had a partner and a full month in the Tetons, I would enjoy making some real progress as a trad climber, but that unfortunately will not happen this year. Perhaps I will find myself in the right circumstances here next June, or somewhere else this Fall.

Walk-off

I at least felt smooth and assured on the walkoff, an ascending traverse on class 3-4 slabs followed by a steep and often faint use trail down a gully. Fortunately I found the correct route the first time, because another promising ledge below the one it follows cliffs out at a waterfall. We returned to the trail, and crossed a couple of minor snowfield on the short hike to the start, where I went back up the climbers’ trail to fetch our packs. The group below us had rappeled after the hard pitches, and there was another pair on the route likely planning to do the same. I suppose this is faster than topping out and walking down, but I felt that the upper pitches were still enjoyable, and it is not much of a hardship for the follower to carry a pack with shoes, food, and water. But I’m not a climber…

It turned out to have been an excellent day to climb the route. Though it is on the north side of the canyon, it faces southwest and is therefore shaded for most of the morning. High clouds kept the temperatures reasonable at lower elevations, and the strong west wind was mostly blocked by the crest. The route ended up taking something like ten hours car-to-car, more than either of us had expected, but not an embarrassingly or exhaustingly long day. We both had the energy for another solid outing the next day, but unfortunately the forecast called for wind and rain, and Robert was leaving that Monday. This one climb may be enough to keep my trad skills from completely atrophying, but not enough to lead to any improvement.

Smith Rock

Central Smith Rock


Smith Rock is a well-known cragging area about a half-hour northeast of Bend. Being low and east of the Cascade crest, it is warmer and much drier than areas west of town, with the best times to climb being Spring and Fall. It lies on the boundary between basalt flows presumably from the Newberry Crater and older John Day welded tuff, with the climbing being on the latter. The rock is sharp, sticky, and pocketed, with most routes being sport-bolted and single-pitch. This is not the kind of place that normally draws me, but I was nearby and in the midst a sort of crash project to improve my climbing, and Jason was local and free for the weekend. With a late start on Saturday, and a race going on, we were unable to park in park, instead stopping at an intersection outside the broad “no parking” zone and jogging a mile or so past the tricked-out Sprinters sprouting expensive cell boosters.

Scrambling Round River

The first day was for scrambling, so we hiked and jogged over to Round River on Koala Rock, at the right/east end of the park. Since it was only 5.4, I decided to head up in my trail runners. It had been awhile since I did any real scrambling, so I was slow and tentative, but this was necessary practice to get back into scrambling headspace. Jason had it worse: he is better than I am at getting free stuff, and that stuff included some Hoka-style clown shoes which he had decided to wear. As expected, they were not much good for scrambling, so he had to work a little harder. We topped out, then went around the loose, steep climbers’ trail down for another lap. I felt much more in my element this time, thoughts of slipping and bouncing no longer crossing my mind.

Instead of returning down the climbers’ trail, we continued to the top of the “peak” so I could get a point, then continued down another use trail to rejoin the main trail system. Rather than return to the trailhead, we took a gradual, switchbacked trail down the back, which was perfectly graded to open up and practice running at a 5-something pace. After circling around the back of the park to the west, we climbed back to the summit of Misery Ridge (another peak point!), then took the tourist trail down.

Passing by the bottom of Super Slab, we hesitated for a bit, then decided to scramble it. Since it was 5.6 and had “slab” in its name, we opted for rock shoes. The first pitch had little to do with slabs, climbing a ramp/corner/crack to a fat ledge. I scampered up, then watched another pair on the second/third pitch while waiting for Jason who, after awhile, decided he wasn’t feeling it and told me to go ahead. I continued across an exposed traverse, then started up the last pitch, which was indeed slabbier. The other party was unfortunately still there, the leader taking his time on his first trad lead. I tried to pass a couple of times, but the slab to the left had fewer features and more lichen, neither of which I liked. After I hung out at a couple of rests, the guy found a spot where he could pull off and let me pass. The final moves were a bit thin, but I had rock shoes and my head was back in the right place, so they didn’t give me much trouble. I had more trouble with the top-out, which descends into a gully and climbs a gritty dryfall, then traverses again to climb a weird chimney. Maybe I should have left my rock shoes on a bit longer.

I jogged back down the trail to meet Jason, then we returned to the trailhead. The final bit of trail climbs away from the river, with a paved portion that it is “traditional” to sprint. I didn’t have fast-twitch muscles in my 20s, and time has not improved that situation, so I was thoroughly trounced. After dinner we headed to Redpoint Climbers Supply, a combination coffee/gear/beer place that caters to every phase of a typical climber’s day. I am not one for late nights or hanging out, so I sat around mostly checked-out for awhile, drinking a kombucha, until it became socially acceptable to sleep.

Sunday was rope day, so after another late start, Ashley dropped us off at the trailhead with the gear before parking back where we had the day before. The sunny moderates were all full, so we kept going to the much more pleasant shady side of Asterisk Pass to do a few 5.8s. I led them, then we took turns toproping. By the end, I had a good feel for Smith’s rock: grippy and pocketed, but sharp and potentially quite painful. I would probably not enjoy crack climbing there, but I felt ready to do more scrambling or harder leading if I get a chance before I move on.

Vesper (True Grit 5.8, Ragged Edge 5.7)

The climbing part


Vesper Peak is an unremarkable summit off the Mountain Loop Highway with a remarkable granite north face containing several five- to six-pitch moderate climbing routes, which had been on my radar for awhile. I met Ben climbing in City of Rocks, and when he contacted me looking to do some climbing in the western Cascades, I immediately thought of Vesper. I don’t get to rope up very often, but I still more or less remember how to do it safely, and it helps my scrambling. Since the approach is long (3500 feet) for relatively short climbs (500 feet or less), we did two routes, climbing True Grit, then looping around the convenient walk-off to climb the more popular Ragged Edge. We climbed on a weekday, so the crowds were manageable, but there were still at least three other parties on Ragged Edge, including one guided. The parking lot was jammed with pricey “#vanlife” vans on Friday night, though, suggesting that this area is too close to Seattle to be pleasant on a weekend.

Unnamed glacier and Copper Lake

We got a semi-lazy start from the parking lot around 7:00, each carrying too much stuff: I was lugging Ben’s 70m rope, while he carried an extensive rack with two sets of nuts and cams up to #3 including many small ones. We passed two teams headed in the same direction, and saw one tent at the lake near the head of Vesper Creek. Looking at Vesper from the approach, it seemed like we were hiking too high, and would run out of peak. However we were in fact on-route, and once we reached the saddle with Wolf Peak it became clear why Vesper is so popular: its upper north face is a smooth, triangular granite slab tilted at about 60 degrees. The ledge traverse to reach the base of the climbs can be dicey with snow, but it was mostly clear and easy.

Climber finishing Ragged Edge

Reaching Ragged Edge’s original start, we quickly racked up and got climbing so as not to delay the party behind us. As it turned out, we need not have worried, since they were doing the adventurous alternative start, and since we quickly got off-route and climbed True Grit. Ragged Edge jogs drastically right in the first or second pitch, so this is an easy mistake to make. True Grit is a more direct line, with generally better rock and more interesting climbing. Ben linked the third and fourth pitches, a slab and a long finger crack, using the full 70 meters of rope. I was glad he led this one, as the finger crack would have been intimidating on lead, especially now that the rubber has worn off the toes of my ancient climbing shoes. I finished the final vegetable scramble to the summit, where we chatted with a guide as he brought his client up the final hero pitch of Ragged Edge.

Ben and someone on the two routes

We followed a bit of a trail east, then slid and kicked steps down snow to reach the saddle again. There were already two parties headed for Ragged Edge, but we were moving fast, and they very politely allowed us to go first. Rather than starting in the same place, we did the alternate start, which requires a bit of fourth class downclimbing to reach the base of a lieback flake. I took the first pitch, making the lieback look harder than I should have, then wandered up the class 3-4 slabs and gullies above, looking for the “faint white dyke [sic]” mentioned on Mountain Project. Not seeing any such feature, or many good gear placements, I wandered up and slightly right until I found some clean cracks below a step to build an anchor.

Across face to Sperry and Glacier

Ben followed up, then traversed right to spot some bolts leading to a bolted anchor, then belayed me across to get back on-route via a short and unremarkable pitch. I led the next, which traverses some moderate ledges before climbing the arete past a couple of old pitons. The initial ledges were a bit intimidating, as the only crack that looked like it might take protection was behind a giant loose breadloaf. I was much happier after reaching the first bolt and piton, and continued up to another gear belay on a grassy ledge.

Looking down the Ragged Edge

Ben once again linked the two crux pitches, which head out to and climb along the edge of the face, giving the route its name. The climbing is sometimes face-y, and the exposure feels very real for both the leader and follower, as a fall could leave one swinging over the edge. I took the final pitch, along the easier upper portion of the edge to the summit. The climbing was not very hard, so I got lazy with my gear placements, slinging a horn and placing a cam in a too-big crack. While Ragged Edge ascends a cool feature, we both agreed that True Grit was a better climb.

After hanging out on the summit for awhile, we descended to the lake, passing a couple guides setting up camp. They suggested that we do Mile High Club, a 7-pitch 5.10a on a formation we would pass on the way down. Ben seemed tempted, but we had climbed 9 pitches already, and I did not feel that my skills were up to sustained climbing at that grade. So we just hiked back to the cars, and he headed back to Index while I had dinner and settled in for another night at the trailhead. The weekenders were descending in force, so I was glad to leave first thing in the morning to scramble somewhere less popular.

Queen Creek

Sunset on Atlantis


As winter advanced, we continued to retreat south and down. After finding that sport climbing in the Superstitions is limited, bad, and hard to reach, we continued to Queen Creek, an area between Superior and Globe along Highway 60 suggested by Leonie’s friend Liz. I had never heard of the place, but it turned out to have multiple areas with short approaches and plentiful sport routes on welded tuff and some granite. There is also — rarity of rarities! — free camping with pit toilets on nearby Forest Service land at Oak Flats. Most of the climbing is on Queen Mine land, and requires a liability waiver from the mine company, but this is a free and easy formality that can be taken care of online at the Queen Creek Coalition site. We ended up climbing there for three days, and could have stayed longer had the weather not turned.

Ali Cat

We spent our first day in Atlantis, a five-minute walk down a steep slope from the highway. Most of the climbs in this area are on either side of a slot canyon below a concrete check dam, and are too hard for me to lead. However there are enough moderate routes to stay busy for a day, and I even managed to lead a 5.10b by mistake. We arrived to find a family with a dog climbing on one of the easier crags below the main area, locals who helpfully oriented us in the confusion of crags and bolts. We started with Ali Cat, a long 5.7 going up a steep face with positive holds. It was a good place to become familiar with the area’s rock, with ample bolts and low-consequence falls. It was windy, and the guidebook recommended Atlantis for such days, but that suggestion seemed way off base, as the wind was fierce higher up on west-facing Ali Cat, and the main area was a wind tunnel.

After cleaning the first route, we dithered for a bit, then headed into Atlantis proper for First Born, a varied 5.8 involving face, crack, and chimney climbing. One of the other climbers came over to watch, remarking that it was her favorite moderate and that she had never seen anyone do the final chimney facing the way I was. Little did she know that I only faced that way because I had no idea where the anchors were, but fortunately there were plenty of holds to turn around and top out.

It would have blown away

Next we moved slightly downstream to attempt one of a couple of 5.9s. The guidebook and Mountain Project were both somewhat confusing, though, as the former is outdated, the latter lacks diagrams, and there has been continuous modern route development. I ended up by mistake climbing KGB, a 5.10b on which I had no business and which I had wanted to avoid. Though it felt more serious than the 5.9 I was expecting, I amazingly managed to climb it without falls, and was inordinately pleased with myself for pulling it off. We finished with some short moderates on a small west-facing section downstream, then hiked back to the car and took a spot at the popular but spacious Oak Flat campground.

The next day we hiked over to Upper Devil Canyon to check out the climbing there. We spent most of the day on a few climbs on Lost Wall, the only memorable one being Projectile, a 5.7 following an open book. We finished with a fun route that might have been Spanish Omelette (5.8) on Universe Wall, which pulled several well-protected bulges. It was fun climbing, and grippier rock than the stuff at Atlantis, but after being spoiled by five-minute approaches, it was somewhat of a disappointment.

The Pond

For our final day before the rain, we headed back to the roadside area to explore the Pond, an area around what is, in the Spring, a pleasant waterfall and swimming hole. Now it is a slimy mosquito breeding facility, but the climbing remains high-quality, and the approach under an overpass and up some rebar rungs is quick and fun. We started with three routes near the pool, Deadpool (5.8) and two others to its left, both supposedly rated 5.7. I led the middle one first, which felt unreasonably hard for its grade; later I learned that some holds had broken, making it closer to the 5.9 it felt. Leonie was not feeling particularly well or motivated, so she mostly hung out and did yoga, sometimes doing both in the middle of a climb.

Double heel-hook

A few other parties joined us as we climbed, starting from the left and working their way right as we did the opposite. There was plenty of room to keep socially distant, and even mostly out of earshot, so it never felt crowded. I eventually made it up Weak Sister (5.10a) after falling a few times on the well-protected crux bulge; my limited forearm strength was showing on this steep, crimpy climbing. Sufficiently humbled, we did a mediocre neighboring 5.8, then found a 5.6 far to the left. I led it, then Leonie toproped it a couple of times before leading it herself. Despite having climbed for many years, it was her first time on sport lead, and she handled it calmly.

Too late in the day, I decided to try Pocket Puzzle, a vertical west-facing 5.10a. Such a pumpy route would have been a stretch for me even when fresh, and it proved far too much for me at the end of the day. I made it a bit past the first bolt before admitting that I would never be able to top out, then managed to clean it and downclimb before scampering up neighboring Adventure Quest, a mediocre moderate involving brush and yucca, to finish the day. We both left feeling that we had left a lot of unfinished business at Queen Creek, but with two days of cold and rain in the forecast, it was time to once again move on.

Prescott climbing

Yours Truly climbing?!


After Leonie and I took care of things in opposite directions — me closer to her home, and she closer to mine, ironically — we needed to meet somewhere in between, and chose Prescott because it was a roughly equal drive for both of us, not too far out of the way, and south-er, lower, and presumably warmer than the now-frigid southern Utah deserts. We met off I-40, then found a… perfectly adequate place to camp along Highway 89, in a National Forest mattress-dumping area. It reminded me a bit of the start of my 2016 road trip with Renee, though with only a handful of clean-picked cow carcasses in place of the dead sheep.

Granite Gardens map

In the morning we drove into town and stopped at the first likely climbing spot, Granite Gardens, an improbable collection of granite blobs nestled in a neighborhood north of downtown. Though we had come to central Arizona for warmth, it was too cold for climbing, so we decided to take a hike/scramble first to get an overview of the area. We were immediately surprised by the visitor-friendly signs at the trailhead and at intersections, which had both numbers and small maps. Unlike most places, where climbers are at most tolerated by the surrounding communities, they seem to be almost welcomed here, though one crazy neighbor lady apparently objects.

Playing on rocks

We started off along the outermost trails, then left to scramble up one of the easier formations to get a view. Though houses encroach in all directions, the granite formations hide enough to offer a pleasant view, and Granite Mountain and Thumb Butte, a basalt volcanic plug, beckoning to the west. We rejoined the loop with a bit of down-scrambling, and were making our way around the far side when I noticed some bolts on a wall. As I checked out the start of the route, which felt hard, a man with a limping dog hailed us and eventually introduced himself as Jared. He turned out to be not only a local climber, but one of the people active in local route development. He named the routes on the wall (including “Full Metal Corndog” and, of course, “Corndog Millionaire”), then took off for home to get his climbing gear while we returned to the parking lot for ours.

The Jump

We spent some time climbing a few progressively harder routes on the short Corndog Wall, then moved on to climb “Hop, Skip and a Jump,” a moderate but improbable route ascending a fin or arete with a gap crossed by a large and committing step or a short jump. I always enjoy jumping things, so I found the move fun, but Leonie did not especially enjoy it, taking five minutes or so to prepare herself and/or psych herself out before making what, with her flexibility and balance, was a straightforward move. Shenanigans complete, we finished up with some harder but more normal routes nearby, leading a 5.8 and toproping a 5.10d. The 5.8 felt reasonably serious to me, but I led it cleanly, and more-or-less cleanly toproped the 10d after Jared spent quite a bit of time working out the crux sequence.

We had planned to camp in some National Forest outside town, preferably somewhere with fewer shot-out TVs, but Jared kindly invited us for dinner and to use his spare bedroom and, crucially, shower. I do not expect such hospitality from strangers, even less now in our pandemic times, but traveling with an attractive and sociable woman does have its advantages. Jared turned out to be a fascinating guy, with interests ranging from Mary Oliver’s poetry, to guitar, to deer hunting with native bows he makes himself. We finally turned in after a folk sing-along, with plans to climb with Jared the next day.

Leonie on limestone

The next morning we piled into Jared’s Honda Element — the only one with enough room for three people — and drove back up Highway 89 to near where we had camped to visit some “secret” limestone sport crags. We drove an obscure dirt “road,” followed a faint cairned trail to a canyon, and descended through a band of basalt to the bottom. There limestone bluffs intermittently emerged from the otherwise volcanic walls, some hopelessly rotten, but others solid enough to climb, though apparently only after significant cleaning with a pry-bar.

Jared kindly allowed me to do the leading, while he and Leonie took turns following and belaying. Limestone is much different from the previous day’s granite or the sandstone I had climbed with Renee in Sedona. Because it features sharp-edged slots and pockets, and is rough and grippy, routes are steep for their grades. This means that falls at grades I can hope to climb are safer, but also that the rock tears up one’s fingertips, and that it is easy to exhaust one’s forearms. Proper technique requires using small footholds, subtly shifting one’s weight, and strategizing about how and when to spend limited forearm strength.

Granite Mountain climbing

I had climbed limestone before in the Dolomites and crags around the Tetons, so I took to it quickly and enjoyed the different style of movement. Leonie, just getting back into climbing and used to Sierra granite, was less comfortable, and took awhile to learn the best technique. For once her flexibility worked against her, as it is often best to make small upward movements with one’s hands and feet instead of big reaches and high steps. I led two routes on a wall downstream, then two more on one just across from the approach trail. On the second-to-last, I realized partway up that I had two too few draws, forcing me to choose a couple of bolts to skip and run it out. It was all thoroughly enjoyable climbing, and we were lucky to have met a local willing to share it.

We had only planned to stay for one night, but Jared insisted upon making curry for us, and it was hard to refuse another night of running water and heated space. We stayed up “late” again (where “late” for a winter dirtbag means several hours after dark), talking about life and even some politics, then turned in to enjoy a last night of civilization. Jared had to take off early the next morning, but kindly allowed us to depart at our leisure, so we enjoyed a final hike and shower before heading down and south in search of warmth.

Half-full Palisade Traverse

Palisade Crest silhouette


The term “Palisade Traverse” usually refers to a crossing of California’s most rugged fourteeners, between Thunderbolt Peak and Mount Sill; this is a fairly popular route, seeing dozens of parties every summer. However, this is just part of a much longer ridge. The longer section between Southfork and Bishop Passes has come to be called the “Full Palisade Traverse,” and has been completed by only a dozen or so parties ever. Even longer traverses, extending north through the Inconsolable Range, northwest across the Evolution Ridge, or south over Split Mountain (formerly “South Palisade”) to Taboose Pass, have been done once or twice, if at all.

I was leaving the Sierra when I received a last-minute invitation to join Vitality and Ryan, two erstwhile mountain partners, for some version of a longer Palisade traverse. Carrying food for four nights, a rope, and a small rack, this was not my style of climbing. However, I have long been interested in exploring the unfamiliar parts of this ridge, and it is good for me to occasionally venture beyond my familiar path. I broke up the drive back south by riding Ebetts, Monitor, and Sonora Passes, summiting some peaks near each, then met the others, threw together an overnight pack, and rode up to South Lake to begin the traverse.

Sill and Winchell from Agassiz

It began with the familiar slog up Bishop Pass, which fortunately passed largely by headlamp. Unused to the cold of a high trailhead, I had neglected to sleep with my water bladder and headlamp, so the water hose had frozen, and the lamp’s batteries were weak. We filled up at a stream below the final headwall, then left the trail just short of the pass to climb Agassiz’s standard route. This is normally a class 2 boulder-hop up a gully, but the rock-hard early-summer snow forced us onto the class 3 ribs instead. Finally reaching warmth and sun just below the summit, we dropped our packs to sign the register, then contemplated the start of the real traverse.

Agassiz from Winchell

Another climber had mentioned that many people skip a tower called the “Sharkfin,” and the ridge crest between Agassiz and Winchell looked jagged and time-consuming, so we descended a choss-gully to an azure snow-lake, then returned to join Winchell’s standard east ridge partway to the summit. We had fortunately decided to bring minimal snow gear — two pairs of crampons and an axe for the three of us — because although the snow had been baking in the sun for several hours, it was still hard enough for Vitality to take a stylish but unplanned glissade. I had climbed the east ridge for the Sierra Challenge many years ago, and the rest of the route was the fun third class I remembered.

Improbable ledge off Winchell

From the summit, we contemplated the jagged ridge behind to the north and ahead to the south. As I had noted from previous outings across the valley, Winchell stands alone, with wide and deep gaps separating it from Agassiz and Thunderbolt. Realizing that we might have “cheated” by skipping some of the best and/or hardest climbing, we decided to stay on the ridge for the next stretch, the long traverse to Thunderbolt. The descent from Winchell was wild and suspenseful; we often reached a point where it seemed we must cliff out, only to find an improbable downclimb. One of these was a bit desperate, and while I nervously followed Vitality’s lead (he is a much stronger climber than I), Ryan opted for a short rappel.

Reascent after Winchell

After traversing over a sharp intermediate tower (perhaps the “Sharksfin?”), we started up the long climb to Thunderbolt. This was time-consuming but substantially fun, with many sections of the good kind of Palisades rock. At their best, the Palisades consist of solid black rock flecked with white, which forms sharp edges and knobs. The climbing is steep and exposed, but secure, making one feel like a better climber. This alternated with the bad kind of Palisades rock — shifting choss on sloping ledges — but such is the nature of this traverse. We eventually reached Southwest Chute #1, and were back on the familiar Thunderbolt to Sill traverse. As expected, this seldom-climbed section had taken a long time, but we still had plenty of daylight left.

Vitaliy leading Thunderbolt

We scrambled up to Thunderbolt’s summit block, and rather than simply lasso it, Vitality decided to lead it with a pretend belay: he would hit the ground and probably break something if he fell, but at least he would be attached to a rope as he lay wedged between boulders. A few slow, cautious moves later, he reached the summit and was lowered, then Ryan and I both toproped it. I had soloed the block in running shoes in 2012, but lassoed it on both of my subsequent trips. As before, I found that while the free climb looked difficult, it was reasonably secure. While I was glad to have a rope, it is something I could now confidently do without one.

Ugh, that pack (V)

Having done it four times now, I expected the traverse to Sill to be straightforward, but the ridge is complicated and relentless, and I had never done it in early-season snow, nor carrying an overnight pack. I felt like my old self when I dropped my pack to scramble Starlight’s “milk bottle” (or more aptly “giraffe”) summit block, but was tentative and awkward otherwise, even rappeling once on a section I had easily downclimbed between Starlight and North Palisade. I scrambled through the sharp notch and down the Clyde Variation into the U-notch, but it all felt harder than it should have, eroding my normal confidence on moderate and familiar terrain.

First bivy before Sill (V)

It was late by the time we reached the talus beyond Polemonium, now covered in slush suncups. We could have continued, but there did not appear to be any flat, dry ground on the way to Sill, and we had to melt snow for three people’s water on two stoves. We eventually found a bivy spot large enough for three people to sleep uncomfortably, and spent the remaining daylight turning snow into dirty water for dinner and the next day’s consumption. It was the highest I had ever slept in the Sierra, and cold enough to make me unhappy, with my hands always on the verge of aching. I ate as quickly as possible, shoved my water bladder, headlamp, and gloves into my bivy, and put on a podcast while trying to sleep on my slowly leaking pad on the non-flat ground.

Our bivy spot fortunately received early morning sun, so we were able to get moving at a respectable hour. The snow was pleasantly solid, with a crunchy, grippy surface, making the traverse to Sill much easier than it would have been the previous evening. The final shady climb was frigid, but the summit plateau was fairly warm, promising a good day on the ridge. We scrambled over the two towers south of Sill, where I managed to tweak my ankle while playing around, then dropped down to avoid some annoying-looking terrain on the way to the saddle with Jepson. I briefly lost the other two on a detour for running water, finding them again as they pondered how to return to the ridge.

Me about to fail (R)

Jepson is a surprisingly difficult obstacle: while it is a simple talus-hop from Scimitar Pass to the south, the connecting ridge to Sill is sharp on both sides, with steep steps along the crest, and a long south ridge with a sheer west side extending some 1000 feet down toward Glacier Creek. After crossing a bit more snow, we connected ledges and broken terrain back to the ridge. I vaguely remembered descending this ridge unroped on a scouting mission, but that was with a daypack and later in the season. I had probably followed a line generally west of the ridge, but that was now shady and held a fair amount of snow. This time we stayed closer to the crest, roping up for one pitch for psychological reasons, and another for legitimate reasons just below the summit. Vitality nervously led up a pair of cracks below a roof. I followed and almost made the necessary moves, but failed at the top, partly because of my pack, but also because I am a mediocre climber. I fell once, then gave up and pulled on a cam to put this embarrassment behind me. While I have my pride in some things, climbing is not one of them.

Palisade Crest slab

The long boulder-hop from Jepson to the start of Palisade Crest was a welcome respite. We glanced at snowy Scimitar Pass, surprisingly high on the south side of the Jepson-Palisade Crest col, then soon found ourselves back in serious terrain. The “crux” of the first Palisade Crest summit, a.k.a. “Gandalf,” is a striking, exposed slab to its left. However, as I wrote in the register after my first climb many years ago, the ridge leading up to it is far more tricky and thought-provoking. After a wrong turn where we nearly resorted to a rappel, I found a line of cairns bypassing the final bump along the left side. It was standard fare — chossy and exposed fourth class — about which the others did not seem enthusiastic. I was not overjoyed, but at least I was back in my element, traversing to the slab, then cruising up the well-featured face to the summit pinnacle. A short, steep, but positive scramble led from there to the small summit.

Along Palisade Crest

Now it was time for more unfamiliar, and very intimidating-looking, terrain. In my past experience, Sierra ridges are usually easier than their official ratings if you take the time for some careful route-finding. Both the Kaweah and Evolution traverses are rated 5.9, but I found them no harder than 5.5 and 5.7, respectively. Since Palisade Crest is offically 5.5, I did not think it would cause much trouble. Boy was I wrong: while there may be a 5.5 path with perfect route-finding, the climbing is relentless, and the ridge allows few options. The west side is often near-vertical and smooth, while the east is steep and frequently loose. The north sides of the twelve towers are also steeper than the south, making it particularly intimidating in our direction. This would normally have been my type of terrain, but mental exhaustion and a heavy pack with an ice axe and two sets of crampons to catch on things spoiled the fun. Climbing some loose exposed rock to rejoin the others, with the rope coiled around my neck, I lost it for a bit, screaming “why am I doing this?!” before putting my head back on straight. This had stopped being fun for me.

Ultimate bivy (V)

We had hoped to get at least as far as the notch beyond the Crest, but by 6:00 we had only climbed a bit over half of the towers, reaching the first flat spot that we had seen in awhile large enough to sleep three people. The others were reluctant to waste daylight, but I thought it unlikely we would find another good bivy by dark. I think everyone was a bit mentally fried at this point, because it did not take much to convince them to stay here for the night. While Ryan and I cleared off rocks on the platform, Vitaliy rappeled down the east face to gather snow for water. Afterward, we went through the usual time-consuming process of melting snow and cooking dinner, then watched the light fade from one of the most amazing bivy spots imaginable. The narrow and serrated Palisades ridge extended north and south of our platform, while the sun set on Palisade Basin, the Devil’s Crags, and countless other Sierra peaks to the west. Sleeping right on the Sierra Crest, we received both last and first light, and the weather was pleasant and almost windless, even above 13,000 feet.

Me on the Crest (V)

With only a few towers to go, we were hoping for faster going the next day. After a rappel east with a scary (to me) overhanging start, we traversed around a headwall, then scaled some fun fourth class back to the ridge beyond a small, vertical tower. Vitaliy then led an intimidating but positive pitch along the crest to the next tower. Things were going better, staying generally on or east of the crest and finding fun, positive rock, but it was still slow and exposed through the final towers. A good night’s sleep had restored my mental energy and head for scrambling, but Ryan still seemed to be suffering.

We eventually reached the end of the Crest, and were dismayed to find hundreds of feet of sheer-looking rock dropping to the south saddle. I thought I saw a feasible line of 2-3 rappels down chossy terrain to the notch, but Vitality wanted to find something shorter and/or cleaner, and traversed east along a ledge. While we had seen sporadic webbing anchors all along the traverse, we found none here, suggesting we may have been off-route. Vitality eventually found a clean line down from a large horn somewhat east of the spine, and Ryan rappeled into the void, eventually finding a platform near the end of the rope.

Vitaliy led the next rappel, trying desperately to angle back toward the notch before giving up on the sheer wall of the couloir to its east. We discussed our options a bit, but I was privately done with the whole business, and had no enthusiasm left to bring to the group. I could not think of a good way to get across the gap short of going down to the snow and around, my ankle was bothering me a bit, and I lacked the energy to regain 1000 or more feet on chossy fourth class rock. We downclimbed east, then made a rappel to the snow, which sucked until it became lower-angle.

There was some fun boot-skiing getting to the lake northeast of Norman Clyde, then an endless hike through mosquito-infested woods to the South Fork trail, where I put in my headphones for the slog of shame. I bashed my ankle again for good measure, limped to the parking lot, and threw my pack down at the gate. Fishing for my keys, I found that my olive oil had leaked all over my sleeping gear. Joy. I needed some time alone, so I did not mind walking the mile down the road to the overnight lot to fetch my car. It was a bit awkward cramming two people into my filthy and disorganized “home,” but they did not complain on the drive around to South Lake. Ryan kindly volunteered to fetch the other car, and I pulled into one of the flatter spots in the overnight lot to sleep in the high, cool air. I had seen most of the unfamiliar terrain about which I was curious, but it still felt like failure.

Squamish-y things

Good scenery and bad posture

Good scenery and bad posture


[All photos by Renée.]

With the snowpack and my own motivation not quite in condition for Serious Business in the Cascades, I took advantage of an opportunity to both climb and interact with civilization up in Squamish, where Renée and a couple of her friends were doing things with ropes and gear. In addition to getting in some roped climbing practice, I hoped to tag a couple of local peaks. After another typically unpleasant encounter with a Canadian border guard, I pulled into the Stawamus Chief parking lot early enough to chat with Renée and MJ before it got dark, and easily found parking in the “day use” lot on a weekday. I had been worried about being deported or sent to the Snow Mexican juzgado for sleeping there, but plenty of other climbers were already blatantly camped, so I figured I would have time to make a getaway if things turned bad.

Forced smile after P1 of Calculus Direct

Forced smile after P1 of Calculus Direct

First up was Calculus Crack (direct 5.9 start), a 5-ish pitch route on the Apron. After waiting for a couple of groups ahead of us, MJ led the first pitch, up a corner and out above the forest canopy. While it did not look too steep, the rock was much slicker than at Index, and I embarassingly could hardly follow the pitch. I was almost discouraged enough to be lowered off and walk home, but the rest was only 5.8, and was supposedly more sticky where the rock received more sun.

Calculus Crack P3

Calculus Crack P3

Climbing as a team of three on two ropes was a bit of a nuisance, but we were fast enough to have to wait again at the top of the second pitch. The rest of the climb was less slick and easy enough for me to actually enjoy it. The “top” was actually an exit ledge partway up the huge face, and walls beckoned above and to either side. I am not a climber, but I understood why people spend weeks camped at the base, following different paths up this maze of routes.

With the two waits, we did not have enough time to do another long route, so we instead headed over to Smoke Bluffs, a forest maze surrounding single-pitch crags facing different directions and with different levels of tree-cover. With this variety, it would be possible to find comfortable temperatures at most times during the climbing season, and the approach trails were well-maintained and -signed enough not to confuse a newcomer. I followed a fun and sometimes painful 5.9 hand-crack, then we all retreated to the friends’ house for fancy dinner. This mode of existence was neither temperamentally nor financially sustainable for me, but I could put up with it for a couple of days.

Flailing at Cheakamus

Flailing at Cheakamus

The next day we headed up to Cheakamus Canyon for some bolted face climbs with great views of the Tantalus range. I much preferred this area, with face climbing on predictably sticky rock on which routes I could actually climb were steep enough for falling not to hurt. I managed to lead a few things, and toproped some 5.10s less embarrassingly than I had feared. Still, by the end of the day a mixture of failure and lack of sleep had reduced my desire to crag; it was time for more typical activities.

After another late night, it was off to do some hill-running. Renée and I started with a sort-of loop over the Chief’s three summits, leading through hordes of tourists on some familiar and more unfamiliar trail. The “climber’s route” off the back of the first summit, with its hand-chain and rebar ladders, is easy to miss from the top, but well worth finding. The route is too steep to involve much running, but I didn’t mind saving my knees.

I had lunch in the climbers’ lot, then caught up on sleep for a couple of hours in the back of my car before heading over to the tram to run the Sea to Sky trail. There had been a race the previous weekend, and I wanted to see how close I could come to the winning time. At about 3600 ft/hr, it looked approachable on paper: I had managed similar speeds around Jackson, even when not fully rested. However, the actual trail had numerous flat sections and downhills, several of which were rooty and technical. The course record was actually set by someone capable of near-world-class ascent rates, and I did about how I should have expected: 25% off the CR at 57 minutes bottom-to-top. Hills don’t lie.

Lots of Teewinots

2016 version

2016 version

2010 version

2010 version

Teewinot gets a bad rap because its standard route is a good place to get avalanched or fail to self-arrest in the early season, and becomes a crowded scree-chute later on. However, it has the advantages of avoiding Garnet Canyon, allowing a quick bail-out if conditions go bad, and offering 5500′ of vertical with a minimal approach even by Teton standards. As the years go by and I have fewer Teton objectives, I find myself using Teewinot more, both as a climb and as a work-out peak.

My first Teewinot of this year was a quick run up to the Apex, about 2700′ of gain on a steep trail to treeline. I did this to gauge both my fitness and snow conditions in the range. My fitness seemed okay: the climb took about 45 minutes. As I had experienced in the Gros Ventres the day before, the snow line is abnormally high this year: I only hit consistent snow in the last 100′ vertical or so, and the face above seemed to have consolidated.

Approaching past Worshipper and Idol

Approaching past Worshipper and Idol

My second was a bit of exploration and two tick-marks. The Idol and Worshipper are two prominent pillars just south of the standard route. I had passed them too many times to count, but never taken the time to climb them, despite their being only low 5th by various routes. With an easy day planned and a mediocre weather forecast, I decided it was time to check them out.

I made my way to the Apex, much slower now with a pack, then kicked and postholed up through the krummholtz toward the Worshipper. I watched three skiers make perhaps a dozen turns each, then pick their way back through the brush and rocks to their shoes for the long hike back down. It didn’t seem worth the hike to me, but then again, I had just done the same for two pitches of scrambling…

Worshipper from near Idol

Worshipper from near Idol

I started out by trying the Worshipper’s long, east, downhill face, supposedly the easiest route to the summit. While the climbing was not especially hard, the variable-quality rock and outward-sloping ledges were not fun, so I traversed around left into the notch between it and the Idol. This side is shorter, steeper, and harder — 5.4, according to the Ortenburger guide — but also more secure and fun, climbing a near-vertical crack/chimney with a bulge partway and positive holds to be found throughout.

Pulling over the bulge, I was surprised and pleased to see a natural arch directly in front of me, with a small tree in its center. From the top of the chimney, the route goes through the window, then around to the right and back over it to reach the highpoint. Cool! I even found a summit register, a rarity in the Tetons. It only went back a few years, but suggested that perhaps 1-2 parties a year make the climb.

I retraced my steps, passing an old piton-based rap anchor, then traversed and climbed around the north side of the Idol. I made this harder than necessary, crossing some wet, slimy slabs and grinding my way up a chimney rather than going the long way around and traversing in from the northwest. Still, the climbing was still all easier than the Worshipper, with a couple low 5th class moves and some scrambling on the southwest side quickly leading to the top. I appreciated the view quickly, as the weather was getting colder and possibly wetter, then returned to the Ranch to waste the rest of the day.

Moran, etc. from north ridge

Moran, etc. from north ridge

My final Teewinot turned out to be an excellent use of a half-day, timed nearly perfectly to avoid the atypical early-season afternoon thunderstorms. Eric, a squad leader in the 10th Mountain Division, had a couple free days before starting a course, and was itching to climb. After considering more ambitious options on Owen, we gave in to the realities of the forecast and settled on a shorter route on the north side, starting from the col with Crooked Thumb.

With a 4 AM start from the Ranch, we actually had a bit of headlamp time passing through the aspens at Teewinot’s base. Stripping to t-shirts, we made the climb to the Apex in between 1h20 and 1h30, good time with trad gear. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that Eric was fast: he does this for a living, usually with a much bigger pack.

The snow in the krummholtz was slushy, but above it was firm enough to boot past the Worshipper and Idol without postholing. Above, we traversed around the right-hand shoulder, suffered across some snow already softened by the northeast-rising sun, then followed a grassy, partly snow-covered ledge on around to the couloir leading to the Crooked Thumb Col. This perch has excellent views of Owen’s northeast face, Cascade Canyon, and the seldom-climbed peaks north of Mount Moran. Unfortunately, it is too close to offer a good overview of Teewinot’s north side.

A few pitches of actual climbing

A few pitches of actual climbing

We puzzled over route descriptions and photos for awhile, then descended back east, roped up, and started simul-ing some random terrain left of the north ridge. When we got tired of this, we headed back right, where Eric built and anchor and started leading up the left side of the ridge. Since he passed a couple of old pitons, we figured we were “on route” for some version of “route.” The climbing was varied, fun, and mostly moderate, with the exception of a wide stem followed by some thin face climbing. I haven’t climbed in boots for awhile, but it felt like 5.8 or hard 5.7.

I led the second pitch, whose crux was an undercling/traverse left around an overhang then easier climbing to a broad ledge. One could probably exit left from here, but I thought it would be fun to continue straight up a chimney/crack. This turned out to be incorrect. After thrashing and scrabbling up some sort of off-width, I was forced by my own rope drag to build a semi-hanging belay out of a #2 cam and two tiny nuts. After an awkward sit-on-my-face gear exchange at the belay, Eric led 20 feet more tricky climbing up out of the chimney, then continued across easier ground to just below the summit.

Other than 20 seconds of graupel, we had enjoyed calm, clear weather for most of the climb, and had talked about traversing on to Mount Owen. However, as often happens on a northeast-facing Tetons route, we topped out to find that the weather situation was not as we hoped. With inclement weather coming from the south and west, we quickly packed up and headed for the summit, where I reenacted the photo I took on my first Teewinot climb in 2010. Descending the east face took longer than anticipated. The snow was thin slush over a harder base layer, soft for kicking steps but hard for boot-skiing, so we stuck to the rock for much of the upper face. Back at the apex, I resigned myself to an hour or so of clomping misery descending the dry trail in full-shank boots. The rain and lightning started maybe a half-hour after we reached the Ranch, and continued for much of the afternoon, but our well-chosen mission was complete.

Maple Canyon

Maple Canyon from above

Maple Canyon from above


Maple Canyon is a climbing area in central Utah featuring mostly single-pitch sport climbs on solid conglomerate rock. This means that routes are steep for their grade: 5.9-10a is near-vertical, while 5.12 is massively overhung. Maple also has good cheap camping, is high enough to be cooler than the surrounding desert, and is much less dirtbag-hostile than the hellish sprawl of greater Salt Lake City. We were both pretty worn down, so we ended up spending an afternoon and the better part of the next day hauling jugs and clipping bolts.

Rapping off Haji Tower

Rapping off Haji Tower

After some extracurricular four-wheeling, we returned to the main climbing area to climb Haji Rock, one of the few multi-pitch routes in the area. Renée got most of the real climbing on the first and third pitches, while I “led” the lame but necessary second pitch, which consisted of a step-across, a few easy moves, a search for the bolts, and much time pulling up the remainder of the 70m rope. I was happy to follow the third pitch, a short, overhanging 5.9 to the top of the Haji’s head. After signing the register, one free-hanging and one bouncing rap took us back to our packs.

We finished off the evening in the Zen Garden area, trying out a 5.9 and some 5.10s, and I confirmed that I am basically a 5.9 climber these days. That’s better than I have any right to expect given how little I climb, but kind of pathetic for the amount of time I spend in the mountains. So it goes.

Maples near Orangutan Wall

Maples near Orangutan Wall

Having sampled the right fork our first day, we moved over to the left for the second. Though there had been sounds of manly exertion echoing in the canyon the previous day, the area had not been at all crowded, and the pleasant lack of waiting continued. We found a next of 8s, 9s, and 10s on Orangutan Wall, and worked them from easiest to hardest, alternately belaying from the Maples’ shade and roasting on the sunny wall. My forearms were failing by early afternoon, but I felt I had done enough steep, crimpy climbing to improve at least a little.

We decided to have dinner in Salt Lake before parting ways, and after a startling reminder that speed limits go to 80 in Utah (i.e. everyone drives at least 85), cheap Mexican food was procured. I headed northeast to the forests of western Wyoming, while Renée hoped to run errands and crash in town. With the help of my usual drive-time mix of vile energy drinks and beef jerky, I made it to a nice dirt road off a pass a couple hours south of Jackson. Renée was less fortunate, learning to her dismay that the normally camping-friendly Walmart does not allow overnight parking in metro SLC. I swear that place gets worse every time I visit…