Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Climbing Road Trip in a Pink Cadillac - Episode 2

On Friday I fixed Daphne's car. Saturday was the great day of Daphne's graduation at Naropa University in Boulder. And, now Sunday was Mothers' Day, and my two super kids wanted to take their mother, Sheri, out to a special breakfast. It is amazing how children and a special occasion can dissolve discomfort and bring even their divorced parents together for a short time. Daphne's uncle Fred had driven up with Sheri, so we were a sort of a family for breakfast. Daphne took us to Le Peep, a Boulder favorite where we ate Gargantuan plates of eggs, bacon, pancakes, fruit, and bread; I remembered the eating scene in "Tom Jones."

Le Peep

We staggered out, kissed everyone 'Good-bye', and I jumped into Sheri's car with Fred for what I thought might be a tense seven-hour ride south from Boulder to Mancos, Colorado, in the extreme south-west corner of the state. You might ask why I would do this: It's a long story, but contributes to the saga of the road trip. Sheri's mother had passed away in February, her pink 1985 Cadillac lay parked in Sheri's driveway, and it would be mine. I spent the night with Fred, who is always a great host, overlooking the sunset on the lake out the front door. He and Sheri operate her business, Alpacka Raft, and make the tiny one-person rafts that have floated virtually every river around the world. For an interesting diversion, check: http://www.alpackaraft.com

Sheri and the RF welders at Alpack Raft

An Alpacka Raft in production

But I digress. Monday morning I woke to a hot, sunny sky, loaded the Caddy with my climbing pack and blue blazer, and headed north through Durango, over Coal Bank Pass, Molas Pass, through Silverton, CO, and over Red Mountain Pass down the Million Dollar Highway, into Ouray, Colorado, where my good friends Jim and Angela live.

Ouray, Colorado - The Belmont Hotel

I have climbed with Jim for nearly 40 years; we are the same age; have the same interests; and a trip with Jim is always a treat. Each winter Jim and Angela go south to Patagonia, Chile, and I migrate south from Alaska to house-sit for them. My house-sitter comes from Wasilla. It's like south-bound musical houses. Jim has been climbing the hardest alpine routes in Patagonia since the early 70's, and is still the toughest, leanest, hard-man I know. I am always proud to climb with him.

Jim and I spent a couple of days climbing the cliffs around Ouray, and I started to get my rock climbing skills honed a bit. The 8,000' elevation was taking its toll on my lungs, but the cliffs were beautiful, the climbing excellent, and for a geezer I was stoked. On Wednesday evening, our friend Dr. Debbie invited us all to her home for Mojitos, Debbitinis, wine, and dinner. Life was beginning to get really fine. Dr. Debbie is a flaming red-haired pediatric anesthesiologist who can out-hike and out-ski me going up hill, breaking trail...all 108 pounds of her. How could you have more fun??

Jim and Dr. Debbie

I could have spent the whole month in Ouray, but I was chomping at the bit to go to Indian Creek, Utah, and climb the red Wingate sandstone cracks. Donini is the master there. We thought a small posse of folks would make the adventure even more fun, so we called our friend Charlotte whom I met years ago on the board of directors of the American Alpine Club. She and her friend, Inga, would meet us there. I'd had a good time climbing with Chris in Boulder the previous week, so on the off chance she would be interested, I called her. Through a lapse in judgment she was willing, so we called Tom and Andy who where coming from Boulder, and they agreed to drive Chris over with them. The logistics were beginning to be a bit much for a senior citizen.

Thursday the overloaded Volvo arrived from Boulder, depositing three climbers, and a mountain of gear in the driveway. Jim and Angela grilled salmon for everyone, the group got to know Chris, and a serious road trip to the desert formed in the setting sun. I packed the pink Cadillac with all the gear I had stored at Jim's place: pots, pans, stoves, chairs, table, food, clothes, tents, and climbing gear... By late evening I had packed every tiny crevice with our stuff, and the Caddy had a serious ass-drag.

Jim was the featured speaker that evening at the Community Center in Ouray, so we all migrated over to see his slides of Patagonia and hear his tales of the ascents of the huge granite spires of Cerro Torre and Torre Egger. Dr. Debbie was there pouring beer, and I had a chance to see many of my winter friends from the neighborhood.

Friday morning at 6:30 am we were on the road. Angela had to work the morning, but would follow with another car-full in the evening. I drove, with Chris at the shotgun; Jim made a huge nest among the pillows in the back seat, complaining that he had not slept well. Through Ridgeway, down past Telluride, up the hill through Norwood, and Naturita, where I always marvel at the quality of the junkyards, the dregs of the uranium mining boom of the 50's. Then left to Paradox and the Dolores River valley, up the winding road to La Sal, Utah, an old Mormon farming community, and south to Indian Creek.

Jim and I with the 'Desert Rose'

Indian Creek runs through beautiful cliffbands of Wingate sandstone on the road to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. The Dugout Ranch fills the valley bottoms, and we climbers are allowed to camp in a number of spots throughout the ranch area and on BLM land. It's the greatest camping ever: red dust, cottonwoods, willows, cows, campfires, and red rock.

Indian Creek

As you wind down the road to the creek, a national historic site, "Newspaper Rock" sits by the side of the road, a vast tableau of pictographs from the Anasazi period up to present. I've imagined that it was a classroom where kids wrote on the blackboard; it's anybody's guess.

Newspaper Rock

It would be hot in the day, and we picked Supercrack Buttress to climb, since much of it would be in the morning shade. Also, it had a bunch of moderate climbs for us to warm up on. Supercrack of the Desert, also called "Luxury Liner" is the most famous crack climb in Indian Creek. It would be a great place to introduce Chris to the hand and fist jams that are used to climb the vertical cracks here.

Supercrack Buttress

We met Charlotte and Inga in the parking lot and headed for the buttress.

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