Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Pink Cadillac in Ouray - Episode 5


San Juan mountains above Ouray, Colorado

It is so brutally hot! Castle Valley is a furnace. "Let's go to the mountains and climb the huge granite walls in the shade", I propose. So, we hop into the 'Desert Rose' and head up Utah Highway 128 east to I-80. Past the red cliffs of Colorado National Monument, and into Grand Junction. I have two life-long friends in GJ, so I persuade Chris that it won't take long to visit and veer into their driveway. Bill and Cheryl are retired National Park Service employees; Bill was a park ranger with me in the Tetons in the 70's. A short visit turns into beers, salad, dinner.... By the time we wander back to the car, it is dark, but it's only an hour and a half back to base camp at Jim and Angela's in Ouray where we can get more gear and clothing for the next phase.

In the morning Jim has coffee ready for us, and we do a load of wash, regroup, and socialize with our friends. Jim suggests we all go climbing on the "Pool Wall". Ouray is beautiful, and the rock climbing is first class: hard quartzite, tiny handholds, hundreds of climbs. It's a nice way to do a little climbing and rest a bit from the long difficult climbing we have been doing.

The town of Ouray is nestled in a deep valley of the San Juan Mountains, one of the most highly mineralized areas of Colorado. The Uncompaghre river cascades down from Red Mountain pass through a deep gorge next to the townsite. All winter long it is the home to the best ice climbing around; thousands of climbers have made Ouray a destination resort, culminating in mid-January with the Ouray Ice Festival. Hot springs burble from cracks along the river for the next ten miles, and virtually every hotel has hot tubs or natural hot pots for the guests. I love the place.

Spring 2009 Road Trip 219
Your guide with a smile

It is warm but overcast, and the threat of afternoon thunderstorms again threatens our outdoor activity. The pool wall is directly above Ouray Hot Springs, right in town, and only a 7 minute walk up a trail. Chris and I choose the Amphitheater, a huge gully with cliffs on all sides. Old mining shafts, giant cables, and ancient wooden walkways litter the cliff sides. Climbers have put up routes all over the cliffs, and since it faces west, the afternoon sun warms it in the winter and keeps it cool in the summer.

Chris ropes up to climb
We start off with a moderate route; it has started to sprinkle, and we worry a bit about the rock getting too slipery. I love the feel of the smooth, hard rock, so different from the red porous sandtone of the desert. We are climbing well, heady with energy and enthusiasm.
Copper ore

Because the rock is full of ore, everywhere we look we see brilliant turquoise colors of the copper sulfate deposits. Gold would be nice. Most of the mining shut down at the start of WWII for the war effort. A few years ago two brothers sold their hot-spring resort and used the money to go mining above town. They used up all the money, gave up and went to town for lunch. During lunch they decided to use the last of the dynamite for one last blast. It produced an absurdly rich deposit of ore. After each brother realized a million dollars profit, they closed the mine and bought back the hot springs.

The hard rock has few footholds
The cavern we are in has huge rounded groves caused by giant gushers of water and rock funneling down the precipice. They look like enormous wormhole, and are as smooth as glass. We decided it would be a challenge to ascend one.

Up the 'Wormhole', like something out of "Dune"

Chris moves up the slick rock

Chris at the top of the 'Wormhole'
We move to the side of the cliff where there are huge overhangs, and I lead up a hard one. Chris is elated that she is climbing so well: 'It can't be that hard...I can't climb at that level', she beams. But she can!
By now it's noon and we head to O'Briens, where Rick and Jen Smith host the climbers, and we split a sandwich. By now it's raining, so we tuck in our tails, return to the barn, and scheme the next leg of the road trip with the 'Desert Rose'. Jim is a basketball fan, so for the first and only time on the trip we watch television.

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