2003 climbing road trip

"I went to the gym for the first time in over two months after returning from a Buy at Amazon.comroad trip. It fucking sucks. I was falling all over the place too, and those holds were hurting. My fingers are sore as hell. I watched in dismay as I got smoked by 17 year old gym rats. Then some kid who's never touched stone in his life told me that I could be pretty good if I just improved my finger strength and then he started to walk away. So I grabbed him and threw him against the wall and I took his fucking head and I put it on the fucking floor and said: 'you mutta fucka, I've taken 50 foot falls onto tiny tcu's, I got respect in all 5 boro's — sport, trad, big wall, ice, and alpine. My mudda can hold her head high in any crag in this country. Look at me, I got 26 first ascents under my belt and you're going to walk out on me? I walk out on you.'
I mean I said: 'yeah, I really need to work on my finger strength'....."    — Christian Brooks.
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The American Climbing Road Trip

Our road trip through the south-west US has come to an end. I transformed the blog into a bunch of full fledged pages, with pictures and links. I've kept all the text. Some of the areas that didn't need a full page on their own are still here.

Smith Rocks, Oregon

Cliffhanger backlit climber on classic 5.12 overhang.

Jenny imitating a rock carving at the Lower Gorge where the basalt is great for trad climbing.

Left: Cliffhanger backlit climber on classic 5.12 overhang. Image available as a free wallpaperPurchase this image on a royalty-free CD archive compilation

After the knee killing hike in the Idahoan (sp?) wilderness, Jenny insists on short approaches and I don't mind checking out one of the most famous sport climbing area in the US: Smith Rocks. We arrive at the free camping in the evening and quickly setup camp in the middle of some white rocks. Cold winds blow continuously from the Cascade mountains so we eat and shelter inside the tent quickly. In the morning we discover to our disgust that the white rocks were indeed diapers thrown all around... Yuk. And we'll find diapers like that in several other places during our road trip (St George, Tuolumne...) leaving us wondering about some climbing baby doing his own dirty road trip. At least the climbing is indeed very sweet in Smith Rocks.

Right: Jenny imitating a rock carving at the Lower Gorge where the basalt is great for trad climbing.

Panorama of Smith Rocks.

Left: Panorama of Smith Rocks.

The first day we go where everybody goes and climb only the 5 star routes of the guidebook. I'm surprised to find even a few trad routes (without waiting line on them) on what I thought would be hopelessly soft rock. On learning that we are trad climbers we get recommended the Lower Gorge where we go the 2nd day: tons of 5 star 5.10 trad cracks on basalt columns. It's like Devil's Tower in smaller, but just as sweet. Let's see if we can find a few other short approaches before we get to the serious business, down in California.

Happy Jenny.

Right: Happy Jenny.

White Rock Overlook, New Mexico

Car camping in luxury under the desert stars...

After leaving Arizona we finally hope to climb in New Mexico. We drove through the previous december, but it was too cold to climb. In the morning we arrive at City of Rocks (not to be confused with the same name in Idaho), where we see lots of good looking boulders from the car. But as soon as we open the door to pay the registration fee, the wind chills us to the bone, we look at each others, close the doors and turn tail without having even set foot on the ground. Heading farther north we stop in Datil, a supposedly 5 star sport climbing area, but upon arriving at night there is snow everywhere, the access road is closed and it's just plain cold. Again.

Left: Car camping in luxury under the desert stars... Image available as a free wallpaperPurchase this image on a royalty-free CD archive compilation

So we spend some time reading carefully the guidebook to find a sunny place for the next day. We settle on White Rock Overlook near Los Alamos and, for once, it was a good choice. This basaltic rock may not feel like the safest rock on Earth, but the choice of bolted sport routes and trad cracks make it a worthy destination. After a few good routes, the locals send us on a 5.11 testpiece trad crack in a horizontal roof. After hanging a few times I finally figure out the secret knee bar necessary to come out of that thing.

Back to Colorado: the Naked Edge

Jenny on the Naked Edge (with lots of clothes on), Eldorado Canyon.

Left: Jenny on the Naked Edge (with lots of clothes on), Eldorado Canyon.

The same locals who were climbing at White Rock were talking, among various things, about a guy who soloed the Naked Edge every day for 3 months as 'training'. Rated 5.11a this testpiece of Eldorado Canyon above Boulder has been on Jenny's to-do list for a long time. I've managed to worm my way out of that assignment several times in the past, but now that we are driving back north to Colorado in a snowstorm I guess I won't escape. We've been climbing 11c at JT, a place not known for soft ratings, so I finally feel ready. Kind of.

But first things first. We head back to Fort Collins, clean up, clean the car up, salute friends, party, shop for Giftmas presents, climb a bit of ice in RMNP and finally, one day with a decent forecast, we head down to Boulder's Eldorado Canyon. After a late start and a long breakfast in Boulder with East Coast friends who are moving here (on our advice ?), it's still cold when we join the other 2 cars in the parking lot. And when we get to the base of the route there's another party getting ready to start. The angry feeling recedes quickly when I ask one of the guys how many times he's climbed it: "Too many times to remember". A few minutes later the leader is at the first belay and I start following the second off route on some (bolted) slippery face moves. Now I remember why I've never liked to climb at Eldo: all the routes are polished by the constant influx of climbers from Boulder. There's never a sharp edge or crimp anywhere and all the positions you take feel insecure. I have a dreadful feeling thinking about the harder upper pitches while Jenny comes up frozen from the shade of the 1st pitch. The connection pitch is not even in the guidebook but its short overhang is not all that easy to deserve this lack of recognition.

One of the crux pitches begins right there. It's not too bad: a dihedral with a very narrow crack, too thin for fingers, but takes some okay pro. I hang a few times before committing to the moves and climb two pitches as one. I see the other party, already two pitches higher, where the second takes a fall at the beginning of a traverse; he swings 5 meters out of the cliff with his rope scraping an edge all the way. Okay, I'm impressed and concerned although I regain some confidence on the next and easier pitch (still pretty sandbag for 5.8). Then I stop for the other 5.11 pitch, although I still have plenty of rope. I have to go quite some way before placing my 1st stopper and reaching a so-so piton under a flake. I have a hard time trying and reversing several times the next moves that reach a slot with no pro, no feet and polished tiny crimpers. My fingers are cold and the more I try the more I think that this piton is not gonna be much use against hitting the deck below. After 10 tries where the only progress is a manky Alien, I decide to call it quits and to start the rappels, leaving a biner on the piton. As several times before I have to hold the packs of rope on my thighs against the wind and we see the rope fly madly away as it falls down. So our last US climb of the road trip was a failure. Not only that, but when we reach the base we see that our guidebook is gone, courtesy of the other party.

Our very last US climb at the Rotary park, Fort Collins.

Right: Our very last US climb at the Rotary park, Fort Collins. Image available as a free wallpaperPurchase this image on a royalty-free CD archive compilation

And last surprise of the trip, two days before leaving on Giftmas day, we get a letter informing us after a 6 months wait that our visa request has been denied and that we are now officially illegal aliens. Time to sell the car, ship our remaining possessions and head out before being hunted like terrorists. Not without a last afternoon at the Rotary, bouldering in solitude above the lake where I finally manage to send the left Eliminator (but can't do the right one anymore) while Jenny gets pumped doing traverses. Good bye Colorado, good bye United States. We'll be back, but we'll first need to renew our list of routes as well as our visa.

"So what if our last US climb is a failure, at least we'll have a reason to come back..."