Friday, June 26, 2009

Vedawoo, Wyoming, Don and the Two Blonds - Episode 11

The road trip is only two-thirds over. The final third will be in Chris's Honda Element. What a cool car! My son is appalled that I like them: "They are made for teen-agers," he tells me. But the Element is amazing. All of our gear goes easily into the back, and she can wash it out with a hose when we are done. Unlike the Caddy, which should be detailed.

What next? Oh, we're in Boulder. Tons of climbing to do, although I've never really climbed here. This is Chris's turf; she knows the areas and will be the guide. We settle on Lumpy Ridge in Estes Park, about an hour north. We're off, and it is a beautiful morning. But by the time we get there (I slept in because I didn't get in till midnight) the thunderheads are already starting to build. No problem, we'll beat the storms. Usually it doesn't rain till 3 pm. It's only 1 pm now. Just as we arrive at the rocks, the first drops begin to fall. Thunder claps overhead. With our tails between our legs and Goretex on our heads, we trudge disgustedly back to the car and make the worthless drive back to Boulder. A wasted day...damn! Rain coats the road...lots of rain.

We need a new plan. 'We should have stayed in Vegas'. 'It was too hot!' 'This is's been raining for a month!' We check Laramie, Wyoming, only a couple of hours north. Slightly better report: A 30% chance of thunderstorms the rest of the week. That means it will be raining hard on us more than 30% of the time, I think. But it's our only hope, so we make the mental adjustment and head north, up 287, through the "L" towns, Louisville, Longmont, Loveland...through Fort Collins, to Laramie and Vedawoo.

Wow, this is a beautiful place. The campgrounds are so clean and well maintained, and at the senior citizen price of $5/night it's a great deal. We have our pick of sites, so we get the highest, best, sunniest place: picnic table, fireplace, close to water and doesn't get much better.

Vedawoo is old rock: a very course granite with large feldspar crystals poking from the otherwise smooth surface creating tiny hand and foot holds. They also create a sharp, abrasive surface that scours the skin and scrapes the body. The guidebook tells us to 'tape your belly' for one climb. Hmmm!

We wanted to get on the rock right away, so we dived into Chris’ guidebook and found 'Walt’s Wall', the most prominent feature, directly north of the campground. A route called “Ericson’s Crack” took a direct line up the face, and since we had been climbing a lot of cracks recently, we thought this might be just the ticket for an introduction. The crack was slightly more difficult than the guidebook grade had led us to believe, but we were honed and breezed up the pitch. It felt good to be on the rock again; we had begun to have climbing withdrawal symptoms, not having been on the rock for several days due to travel and weather. Large expansion bolts at the top of the climb allowed us to rappel down the ropes to the bottom.

Walt's Wall, Vedawoo

The climb was just two pitches long, and we were climbing fast, so after a quick descent, we tackled a second climb, "5.7 Cracks", a system of fissures that cracked up the middle of the face. Tons of fun! By now it was early evening, and we were getting ready to settle in, have a glass of wine, cook dinner, and wait for Don and Gillian, Chris' Boulder friends who would join us in the adventure. Don arrived just before Dinner.


The next morning we headed for a slippery slab on the south side, (translate that as sunny-side of the rock), of the Nautilis,a rock formation named for the nuclear submarine. There were two routes there: 'Etude for the Right Hand' and 'Etude for the Left Hand'. We did laps on the slab, enjoying the feel and friction of the rock.

Don in action on 'Etude for the Right Hand'
We then moved east to a large chimney and crack system to a tough route called 'Stinkzig', an odd name, but a great climb. While we climbed it, others accumulated at the base waiting to follow. Again, it was harder than the guidebook proclaimed, but a great route. Those following took hours and had a tough time. We wandered around on the top looking for the rappel anchors, finally found them, an descended.
At the bottom, lo and behold who should be climbing right next to us but Tom, our friend from Boulder who had driven Chris to Ouray two weeks before. It's a small world! Tom and Mary were on a horrendous climb with a flaring crack that required extreme skill and effort. We had a nice conversation as Tom grunted and squeezed his way up the chimney. They were all camped at a spot several miles down a dirt road and wanted us to come join them for a drink later in the evening.
Tom inches his way up the chimney

In the 'Bombay chute'
We wandered back to camp, broke open the kitchen and awaited the arrival of Gillian. Moments later she called and was only a mile away. Our group was complete! Gillian had come at the spur of the moment and didn't bring food, so we hopped in Chris' Honda Element and headed to Laramie, Wyoming, just a couple dozen miles west. At the junction of Vedawoo and I-80 flashing red lights signalled that the interstate was closed. A quick trip to the iPhone internet confirmed that a freak snowstorm had closed it just a few miles west of us. We waited a couple of hours, horsing around and telling lies, until finally the big trucks stacked up along the interstate started to move. As we went over Happy Jack pass, I couldn't believe the six inches of snow! Amazing for this time of year. A resupply of beer, wine, steaks, and seafood got us ready for the night.
Gillian arrives
The next day we were primed for adventure, so we picked 'Piton Perch', a three rope-length climb to the summit of the Nautilus. I lead up the first pitch, and about 75 feet up, two ravens suddenly descended and set up a raucus jabber right next to me. Another couple of feet and I smelled rotten meat. I knew what was up; I was approaching their nest! The noise was deafening, and I considered down-climbing the pitch, but I quickly went past so mama raven would calm down. All four of us went past the nest, and each time, mama warned us not to touch her brood. After we passed, she resumed feeding her babies like it was an every-day occurrence for climbers to come by.
The raven babies eye us closely
The climb consisted of a giant crack, a 'chimney' filled with huge chockstones which blocked our passage. Climbing around them was a tricky effort. At one point we had feet on both walls and inched up like flies. At the top of the first pitch, we could see through to the north, like we were in a giant crack in the mountain.

Gillian stems out on 'Piton Perch'

Gillian squeezes over the giant chockstone
The next pitch exited to a large rounded belay station, but first we had to surmount a huge chockstone blocking the way. Jamming a fist in the crack between the stone and the rock wall got us over the obstacle.

Chris and Gillian at the belay ledge, third pitch up
The final pitch to the top swept up a smooth granite slab. It was windy, but beautiful at the top. Large cumulus clouds scudded along the horizon in every direction, a welcome sight after the horrible thunder heads of the past two weeks.

Gillian and Your Guide at the top!
At the top were two giant bolts that we threaded the ropes through for the 200' free drop to the bottom. Looking down was unnerving, to say the least. I've been climbing all my life, but I still worry when I have to do something this crazy.

Gillian prepares to rappel down the rope 200' in mid air
At the bottom, we had a chance to see Tom and Mary in action again on another impossible, bomb bay crack. Mary made quite a show for us as we cheered her on. I loved the guns on that woman!

Mary does the splits up the overhanging crack
Don had to take off, so we waved him good-bye. A quick lunch at camp, and surprise, it started raining again!! After a quick shower, we spotted some dry rock at 'Cornelius', a climb right behind camp. The descent was a convoluted meander around the top of the rock, then hard down-climbing at the west end where we met two young men doing a horribly difficult climb called, 'Harder Than Your Husband'. Lots of jokes on that one.
In the evening we headed to see our friends, Tom, Karla, Mary, and a host of others. Climbers tend to congregate together, far from the madding crowd. It was fun seeing everyone, but it was getting late, so we didn't stay long and headed back to our campsite.
The next day we headed to Walt's Wall again. The rock was totally wet, and we tried to keep dry as more thunderstorms threatened. It continued to rain on us.

Chris climbs a big flake on Walt's Wall

The Merry Band at the rappel point
Monday was nice in the morning, but every time we tried to climb, the heavens opened. The rock was really too wet to be safe, so we followed Gillian, our resident horticulturalist, and with her open flower guide, walked slowly out to Reynolds Hill trying to identify every flower in bloom. Gillian was a master, poking through hundreds of plants as we had our eyes to the ground in front of us. Wild Celery, Cinquefoil, Arnica, Yarrow, Paintbrush.... If only we could remember them all.

Reynolds Hill
In the afternoon, time was up. We needed to get back to Boulder, so admidst more rain, we headed south on 287. Fort Collins is a great little college town, and we knew it would have some terriffic food. Consulting the iPhone's 'Urban Spoon' we found the Rio Grande Cafe, famous for Margaritas and fine Mexican dining. Lunch turned into a long social hour, but rain drove us from the outdoor seating in the garden. As we paid our check, I noticed a beautiful old bicycle on the wall: a vintage Legnano. Holy Cow!!!! It's the same bike I've had since 1970. They called this one vintage, and it dated from 1978...mine must be an antique. I took a photo and promised them a photo of mine, same color exactly!.

The Legnano Italian race bike at the Rio Grande Cafe

Kicked in the butt by the rain again, we drove down into Boulder looking for a break and a place for a final afternoon climb. Not in the cards today. I'm afraid that after a month on the road, visiting six western states, climbing every great area we could find, that time had finally run out. Only one final experience remained.

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