Petit Grepon

One of the most famous alpine rock climbs in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) happens to be also considered one of the fifty classic climbs in North America. This climb is of the standard South Face (5.8) up the Petit Grepon. My good buddy Steve Cizik does something every year for his birthday and this year he wanted the Petit. J and I really never go to RMNP at all or to the front range in general for that matter, but we had to make an exception for this. It looked like a solid climb and any chance to hang with Steve, Nico Cizik, and Matt Reigner in the mountains was a bonus for us. Plus, the weather looked really good and I researched the harder Southwest Corner (5.9) up the Petit which could be an option for J and I. Matt also suggested we do the Southwest Corner as he had done it 15 years ago.

The Petit Grepon (center tower left of the tallest tower visible) above Sky Pond.

The Petit Grepon (center tower left of the tallest tower visible) above Sky Pond

J and I drove down in his car, got our bivy permits at the ranger station, and hit the normal Trail Ridge Road tourist traffic. The crowds and tourists and traffic reminded me why I never come down here, but by the end of the trip with the alpine rock climbing available, man this place is pretty awesome. I  ended the trip with a newfound respect for RMNP. J and I left the Glacier Gorge trailhead at 5pm and rolled into our bivy camp at 7pm with the other boys fishing in Sky Pond. Its such an easy 5 mile approach that the climb totally makes sense to day trip this tower as well. We met two college kids from UT Austin and invited them to hang out with our rowdy bunch. They were gunning for the South Face as well.

Hanging out at dusk on our large bivy rock with the Petit behind

Hanging out at dusk on our large bivy rock with the Petit behind

I slept horribly for whatever reason, but woke up at 5am ready to put the night behind me. However, it sure was fun to sleep out under the stars in my sleeping bag without a tent. We all downed some coffee and oatmeal, got water, and racked up. The college kids left before us and went on up to the start of the South Face.

Hiking up to the tower's base

Hiking up to the tower’s base. The Saber is the tall tower right of center and the Sharkstooth is to the left of the Petit seemingly lower in elevation in the picture when in reality its higher

Matt and the Cizik brothers started up the low 5th class pitch 1 of the South Face ahead of the college kids while J and I scrambled up pitch 1 of the Southwest Corner to the base of pitch 2.

1st pitch up the standard South Face

1st pitch up the standard South Face

Me leading up the easy 5.6 pitch 2 of the Southwest Corner

Me leading up the easy 5.6 pitch 2 of the Southwest Corner

J led the equally as easy pitch 3 up to the upper terrace ledge and belayed me up. We had a 2nd rope with us for the descent and the follower always carried that rope on his back.

J up and away on pitch 3

J up and away on pitch 3

I think we missed the proper 5.7 pitch 4, but I took a line closer to the actual southwest arete itself, which was definitely a bit harder than 5.7. The airiness and exposure of the route definitely heightened the higher and higher we climbed.

Me leading our pitch 4

Me leading our pitch 4

J finishing up pitch 4

J finishing up pitch 4

The top of pitch 4 was a large belay ledge on the southwest arete proper with some old slings around a rock. We then swapped leads and J took off up the lengthy 5.8 pitch 5. J rocked this pitch and brought me up to a tiny belay corner with some slings and rap rings around a chockstone.

J leading the pitch 5 corner

J leading the pitch 5 corner now on the well-defined southwest arete proper

Then, came the crux 5.9 roof pitch. J gave me the gear and I took off. It was definitely a bit exhausting at almost 12,000′, but I led the pitch clean and pulled the fun roof placing a #1 cam under the roof. I managed to gather myself at a stance and then led up an additional 15′ hand/finger crack to a 12″ wide belay ledge. J cruised the roof pitch very well and got up to me pretty quick.

J after pulling the 5.9 roof on pitch 6

J after pulling the 5.9 roof on pitch 6

Now, per the route beta, we could have done a traverse pitch right (east) to meet up with the standard South Face route at the so-called “pizza pan” belay or we could do another 5.9 pitch and meet up for the last two pitches of the standard route. I chose the 5.9 pitch and away I went up a nice double hand/finger crack. The middle of the pitch was more easy 5th class and then a nice top out to the belay ledge for the 2nd to last pitch of the standard South Face route.

J finishing up the 5.9 pitch 7

J finishing up the 5.9 pitch 7

At this point we could see team Reigner/Cizik about 250′ below us around 2 pitches behind.

J taking off up the fun 5.7 2nd to last pitch

J taking off up the fun 5.7 2nd to last pitch

J took this while on the 2nd to last pitch. You can see my head at the belay and Matt and the Ciziks well below me

J took this while on the 2nd to last pitch. You can see my head at the belay and Matt and the Ciziks well below me

J belayed me up to an amazing belay ledge and I took off for the final easy 5th class summit pitch.

Me ready to top out on this tower

Me ready to top out on this tower

The final pitch

The final pitch

J on his exposed belay ledge. What an airy position, though!

J on his exposed belay ledge. What an airy position, though!

J and I topped out around 11:45am and lounged for awhile. Like an hour and a half while :) But, we got an amazing view of two rockstars crushing the Southwest Corner (5.10a/b) of The Saber next door.

Stephen Schilling and his partner climb The Saber's Southwest Corner as see from the summit of the Petit

Stephen Schilling and his partner climb The Saber’s Southwest Corner as see from the summit of the Petit

Stephen also got a pic of Steve belaying Nico up to the “pizza pan” belay as seen from The Saber.

Steve & Nico

Steve & Nico

Steve topped out about an hour and 15 minutes after we did and we welcomed him. I had already set up the rappel and J and I boogied after we got a picture with the birthday boy.

Steve, me, and J on the Petit's summit

Steve, me, and J on the Petit’s summit

J and myself

J and myself

Stephen shot this pic of J and I on the summit of the Petit Grepon as well from The Saber

Stephen shot this pic of J and I on the summit of the Petit Grepon from The Saber

Also, a nice fellow named Reid Gurnee took a few dramatic pics of J and I on the Petit’s summit from their descent of the Sharkstooth.

Me & J on the summit

Me & J on the summit

And, a more zoomed out pic

And, a more zoomed-out pic

We then did 6 double rope rappels fairly smoothly straight to the base of the route and grabbed our approach shoes.

Me on rappel 3

Me on rappel 3

J on the 5th rappel

J on the 5th rappel

Back down at Sky Pond around 3pm, we swam and packed up. Minus our hour and a half stay on the summit, we were moving for about 6.5 hours RT to climb the Petit and descend back to the base. We wanted to wait around for the other boys, but we needed to get going having a 3.5 hour drive back home.

Zoomed-in pic of the college kids from UT Austin rappelling off the summit as seen from Sky Pond

Zoomed-in pic of the college kids from UT Austin rappelling off the summit as seen from Sky Pond

Happy to have climbed this tower in a new area for me

Happy to have climbed this tower in a new area for me. I’d love to come back for that Southwest Corner route on The Saber now!

After some subpar grub from some pizza/sub shop outside of Estes Park, J and I arrived back home around 10pm. Fortunately, we didn’t get sick from the food, but we didn’t feel so hot. Nonetheless, this trip opened our eyes to the alpine rock climbing world of RMNP and I think we’ll venture down there more than once every few years from now on.

No Name Canyon & Mudflap Girl

Over the last month or two we have been visiting the fun, little No Name Canyon for some nice, granite crack climbing. No Name Canyon is a spur canyon at the No Name exit off of the larger Glenwood Canyon. Its accessibility (can bring the dogs and Rainie in her wagon on the nice dirt/gravel road) and quality granite cracks make for a nice place to spend some time.

Kristine climbing Sumac (5.9) on the Poison Ivy Wall

Kristine climbing Sumac (5.9) on the Poison Ivy Wall

Me & Sawyer gearing up for her climb

Me & Sawyer gearing up for her climb

Sawyer on Beginner Slab (5.1)

Sawyer on Beginner Slab (5.1)

J climbing Poison Ivy (5.9)

J climbing Poison Ivy (5.9)

J climbing Lone Pine Tree Direct (5.10c). I led this clean and was super happy to do so

J climbing Lone Pine Tree Direct (5.10c). I led this clean and was super happy to do so

Kristine on Railroad Cracks (5.8)

Kristine on Railroad Cracks (5.8)

Kristine & I having a date at No Name Canyon one afternoon - just the two of us

Kristine & I having a date at No Name Canyon one afternoon – just the two of us

J climbing Poison Ivy (5.9)

J climbing Poison Ivy (5.9)

J leading one of our favorite cracks in the area called The Ironing Board (5.10a), a 110' route

J leading one of our favorite cracks in the area called The Ironing Board (5.10a), a 110′ route

I had my eye on a bigger route in the Grizzly Creek Canyon (one canyon east of No Name) called Mudflap Girl on the Mudwall. Mudflap Girl was the one route that went to the top of the Mudwall and was 9-10 pitches in all and over 700′ of technical climbing. Our own big wall rock climb right in Glenwood Canyon! Though Mudflap Girl is the easiest route on the Mudwall, it is no walk in the park climb. It goes at 5.10+ and 4 pitches of 5.10 climbing. We left Edwards at 4am and were hiking by 5am up the Grizzle Creek trail. It was warm out – supposed to get into the 80s in Glenwood Springs. There was an interesting Tyrolean traverse across the absolutely raging Grizzle Creek that made for a fun and exciting start to the day.

J on the traverse

J on the traverse

Me making my way across trying to not let my heavy pack turn me upside down

Me making my way across trying to not let my heavy pack turn me upside down

It was then roughly a 1,000′ boulder hop up to the base of the Mudwall following cairns. We found the base of the route by its namesake sign and racked up. We were climbing by 6:15 – 6:30am or so. J led off up the awesome 110′ 5.8 1st pitch placing 4 cams.

J leading the 1st pitch of Mudflap Girl with the namesake sign to denote the start of the route

J leading the 1st pitch of Mudflap Girl with the namesake sign to denote the start of the route

Looking down the 1st pitch from the belay

Looking down the 1st pitch from the belay

J then led the next pitch combining pitches 2 & 3. J did awesome pulling the 5.10 roof of the 2nd pitch.

J getting positioned for the 5.10 roof of the 2nd pitch

J getting positioned for the 5.10 roof of the 2nd pitch

Me coming up the easier 5.8 pitch 3

Me coming up the easier 5.8 pitch 3

The top of pitch 3 was a nice ledge and we swapped gear so that I could lead the next few pitches. Pitch 4 was a really fun and long 5.9+.

Me beginning up pitch 4

Me beginning up pitch 4

Me leading the awesome pitch 4

Me leading the awesome pitch 4

J topping out pitch 4

J topping out pitch 4

Pitch 5 (5.9) was our least favorite as it was over looser rock and broken terrain and a bit wandering.

Me leading pitch 5 with most all of the upper pitches visible

Me leading pitch 5 with most all of the upper pitches visible

We came to a big ledge at the top of pitch 5 and now the sun was out in full force and heating us up.

Big ledge at the top of pitch 5 looking down Grizzly Creek Canyon

Big ledge at the top of pitch 5 looking down Grizzly Creek Canyon

I took the lead up pitch 6 (5.10) on what was my favorite pitch. It was long and continually interesting with solid 5.10 crack moves. I eventually came to a single bolt belay below the roof and backed the bolt up with a solid #0.5 cam.

Me leading up pitch 6 (5.10)

Me leading up pitch 6 (5.10)

Top of pitch 6

Top of pitch 6

Pitch 7 (5.10+) was the crux pitch of the entire route consisting of a tough sequence of moves over a roof with no feet. I think the last few pitches of climbing caught up with me in making the few tough moves over the roof. I had to rest and hang – between the heat of the sun and being tired from leading the previous 3 pitches, I just didn’t have the strength in my fingers :) Oh well. I eventually made the necessary moves and topped out on pitch 7’s large ledge.

Me under the pitch 7 roof

Me under the pitch 7 roof

J made the roof moves no problem and joined me on the ledge. The heat was really getting to me now by this point.

Top of pitch 7

Top of pitch 7

J then took the lead up the last 5.10 pitch 8. This was a long pitch as well – maybe 100′. He led it beautifully and belayed me up.

J leading pitch 8 (5.10) on the upper headwall of Mudflap Gorl

J leading pitch 8 (5.10) on the upper headwall of Mudflap Gorl

My strength was failing me and I grunted up this pitch even on top rope. I made it to J and then wanted to get back on the horse and decided to lead pitch 9. I led the tricky 5.9 pitch 9 clean and soon belayed J to me. I felt better in the shade a bit climbing pitch 9. J then led the final easy 5.7 pitch 10 to the top and belayed from a tree.

J setting off on the final pitch

J setting off on the final pitch

J leading pitch 10 (5.7)

J leading pitch 10 (5.7)

When I finally reached the top with J, we were in the shade. I felt much better in the shade and started to get my energy back.

Happy to be on top of Mudflap Girl

Happy to be on top of Mudflap Girl

Now, we didn’t bring a second rope to double rope rappel the route in hopes of finding the north gully descent. Through a few published descriptions online and from my Western Sloper guidebook, we found the inconspicuous black webbing around a tree about 100 yards east of the head of the steep north gully. From then on, it was 4-5 fun single rope rappels over cliff bands and steep talus downclimbing between.

First rappel

First rappel

Second rappel

Second rappel

J looking up at me at the bottom of the first rappel

J looking up at me standing at the bottom of the first rappel

Me on the second rappel

Me on the second rappel

The steep and loose north gully

The steep and loose north gully

J on the final rappel. Almost looks like a lush jungle

J on the final rappel. Almost looks like a lush jungle

Then, we hung a right at the base of the gully and within 5 minutes we were back at our packs at the bottom of Mudflap Girl. We saw a climber on a harder single to two pitch route on the Mudwall on the hot descent out.

I think this gal is climbing the two pitch route called White Dads on Rope (5.11b)

I think this gal is climbing the two pitch route called White Dads on Rope (5.11b)

Looking back at me and the Mudflap Girl route up the Mudwall

Looking back at me and the Mudflap Girl route up the Mudwall

We scrambled back to the river and dunked our faces, which felt oh so good and refreshing. We then reversed he Tyrolean traverse and surprised a few hikers on the Grizzly Creek trail. Back at the car shortly after 2pm, it was about a 9 hour day car-to-car. J had two beers in the car and we toasted each other to a good adventure climbing day on the Mudwall. Maybe not soon, but I would like to go back and climb this route again now that we know it as well as the descent down the North Gully.

Escalante Canyon 2017

A little behind in our blog entries, but the whole Chalk family made our annual trip down to Escalante Canyon, CO on Friday, May 19 for some camping and crack climbing with friends. Always fun to get down there in the Spring and Fall as the Summer is just too darn hot. Sawyer slept most of the 3 hr drive, which was great, and we arrived finding a nice campsite around 5pm. All of our friends trickled in over the evening and next morning hours.

Sawyer & Kristine in our big tent

Sawyer & Kristine in our big tent

The next morning in the tent vestibule

The next morning in the tent vestibule

I think this little gal likes camping in the high desert

I think this little gal likes camping in the high desert

It was chilly at night, but once that sun hit Saturday morning, things really warmed up nicely.

Rainie on point

Rainie on point

Sawyer displayed her desert energy by jumping off rocks

Sawyer displayed her desert energy by jumping off rocks

Most of us then went off to the Cabin Wall and likely our favorite route, Willy’s Hand Jive (5.10+). I led up Willy’s and set up the top rope for folks.

Grayson climbing Willy's with the gals in the foreground

Grayson climbing Willy’s with the gals in the foreground

Grayson again on the amazing Willy's

Grayson again on the amazing Willy’s

Kristine on Willy's

Kristine on Willy’s

Me and the Sawyer

Me and the Sawyer

Happy Sawyer at the wall

Happy Sawyer at the wall

Sawyer getting harnessed up for some 5.10s :)

Sawyer getting harnessed up for some 5.10s :)

Jesse & Natalie each took a turn to lead up the imposing Rusty’s Cave route (5.10-) next door to Willy’s. They did awesome, but the crux is the cave at the top where it got wide. Its a bit weird for sure. I finished it off for them and set up the top rope for everyone.

Me leading the last part of Rusty's Cave

Me leading the last part of Rusty’s Cave

Jesse on the Cave route

Jesse on the Cave route

Me taking a lap on Willy's

Me taking a lap on Willy’s

Me higher up on Willy's

Me higher up on Willy’s

At the funky offwidth pod crux on Willy's

At the funky offwidth pod crux on Willy’s

Dylan on Willy's

Dylan on Willy’s

I then took my camera and climbed up Willy’s again and anchored myself to take pictures of Jesse and Natalie climbing.

Jesse digging hard

Jesse digging hard

Natalie hand jamming

Natalie hand jamming

Natalie at the crux pod

Natalie at the crux pod

Cranking hard

Cranking hard

We wrapped it up and headed back to camp around 4pm. Sawyer was able to nap for an hour on Kristine’s back as she walked up and down the road. I then took Rainie and Kona down to the creek to let them swim since it was pretty hot outside. I drove them down to the Cabin Wall and parked on an incline. The automatic rear door lifted up so slowly that before I could grab Rainie to lift her down she had jumped out and went down hard on her right front leg and laid sprawled out in the dirt. I was terrified and grabbed her and felt around…It seemed that nothing was broken, but she was in pain and could put zero weight on it. I carried her to Escalante Creek and soaked her legs hoping it may help. I then carried her back to the Tahoe and we drove back to camp. Everyone was worried and gave their medical opinions on what to do and if it were broken or not. Eventually, I just made the decision I wanted to drive back to Edwards and see our vet later that night. So, we packed up everything and loaded it all into the Tahoe. However, before we left, good buddy Steve Cizik had set up this awesome zip line for his kids and Sawyer gave it a good crack. I think the video speaks for itself:

We hated to leave Escalante and the whole gang, but I had to get Rainie looked at. Its all I would think about until I could do so. We arrived back in Edwards around 9:30pm and saw our vet at 10pm. After some x-rays and an examination, nothing was broken. She had likely sprained her ankle. They gave her some morphine for the night and sent us home. It took a few weeks to really heal (or close to heal), but she is doing much better now. Always scary when a really old loved one hurts him or herself. Fortunately, she was able to bounce back for the most part.

Chalk Hill Thanksgiving 2016

This year’s Thanksgiving was a special one as we headed back east to the mountains of North Carolina to spend 7 days at our mountain cabin, Chalk Hill. Sawyer had never been to Chalk Hill and Kristine and I had yet to see the finished addition of the large great/game room. The new addition is incredible and really adds to the livability of the cabin.

The new addition under construction as seen last December 2016

The new addition under construction as seen last December 2016

The driveway side front entry of the new addition as seen last December 2016

The driveway side front entry of the new addition as seen last December 2016

During the first 2.5 days in Charlotte, Kristine & I went to Charlotte Country Day School to have lunch with my niece, Harper, who is in kindergarten. My sister and I both attended CCDS and was so fun going back especially to see Harper. Gosh, last time I stepped foot on campus was when I gave the Cum Laude Induction Ceremony speech in February 2013.

Leaving Eagle for Charlotte

Leaving Eagle for Charlotte

Sawyer & Harper at Brixx on a Sunday night

Sawyer & Harper at Brixx Pizza on a Sunday night

Lunch with Harper at CCDS

Lunch with Harper at CCDS

It was so fun being with Harper at school

It was so fun being with Harper at school

Love this little lady

Love this little lady

Sawyer was so excited to be with the big kids that she lined up with the kindergarten class

Sawyer was so excited to be with the big kids that she lined up with the kindergarten class

We then drove to Chalk Hill later that day. I always feel right at home at Chalk Hill with dad and everyone.

In the new living room

In the new living room

On the front porch swing

On the front porch swing

Cuzins

Cuzins

Sawyer and the coyote

Sawyer and the coyote

Me & Sawyer

Me & Sawyer

Me and my gals

Me and my gals

Me, Sawyer, Wesley, & Harper

Me, Sawyer, Wesley, & Harper

Cuzins lounging on the back porch hammock

Cuzins lounging on the back porch hammock

If only we could get those pacifiers out of their mouths

If only we could get those pacifiers out of their mouths

Sawyer & Wesley

Sawyer & Wesley

Sawyer & Aunt Evon

Sawyer & Aunt Evon

Kristine and the little cuzins

Kristine and the little cuzins

My mom organized a 2 person bluegrass band to come over for 2 hours one evening and it was so fun especially for all the little gals.

We've never really had a personal show where we are the audience before this evening

We’ve never really had a personal show where we are the entire audience before this evening

Harper got to try out the banjo

Harper got to try out the banjo

My oldest niece

My oldest niece

Kristine & I went on a few trail runs up my old favorite Bullhead Mountain, the highest mountain in Alleghany County (3,862′).

On top of Bullhead

On top of Bullhead

Kristine running the road on Bullhead

Kristine running the road on Bullhead

Some of our best friends, Cashion & Eva, came up from Brevard for an evening to visit. It was absolutely wonderful to have them and everyone loved seeing them. Turns out Cashion & Eva have since moved to Carbondale, CO where Eva’s family is located. Again, it will be awesome to have them back in state and so close to us.

My dad, Maya, Cashion and their tenement on wheels, which always looks nice parked in the driveway :)

My dad, Maya, Cashion and their tenement on wheels, which always looks nice parked in the driveway :)

Wesley & Sawyer in the sprinter van

Wesley & Sawyer in the sprinter van

The crew with Cashion & Eva

The crew with Cashion & Eva

Kristine & Maya

Kristine & Maya

So awesome to have them up at Chalk Hill. Cashion originally helped dad and I clear hiking trails and camping in the eback in the early 90s before the cabin was ever built

So awesome to have them up at Chalk Hill. Cashion originally helped dad and I clear hiking trails and camp on the land in the early 90s before the cabin was ever built

My dad and brother-in law, Ransome, organized another fun hayride as well all throughout our property. Everyone had a blast.

All aboard the trailer

All aboard the trailer

Ransome was the captain driving the tractor, but Sawyer always seemed to find herself into the pics

Ransome was the captain driving the tractor, but Sawyer always seemed to find herself into the pics

Aunt Evon & Harper

Aunt Evon & Harper

The loving Foose dog, Finley

The loving Foose dog, Finley

Sawyer loved seeing the cows, aka "moo moos"

Sawyer loved seeing the cows, aka “moo-moos”

Moo-moos

Moo-moos

Sawyer & Gigi

Sawyer & Gigi

So fun having a picnic in the pasture with Bullhead Mountain in the background

So fun having a picnic in the pasture with Bullhead Mountain in the background

Horsing around

Horsing around

IMG_2486

Cap'n Ransome, Wesley, & Sawyer

Cap’n Ransome, Wesley, & Sawyer

After the morning hayride, Kristine and I put Sawyer down for her nap and zipped down the mountain plateau to Stone Mountain State Park to do some rock climbing. Dad and I had hiked this beautiful granite slab of a mountain maybe 25 years ago, but I had never been back. Little did I know it has some of the best rock climbing in North Carolina. So, Kristine & I had brought our harnesses, shoes, rope, gear from Colorado hoping to get out for an afternoon on Stone Mountain. While Stone Mountain is notorious for its extremely run-out friction climbing on slightly less than vertical slabs, the most iconic route is The Great Arch right up the middle of the south face. I’ve heard its one of the best 5.5 routes in the county, which is funny considering we are talking 5.5. Nevertheless, we climbed a long 150′ 5.8 pitch called Block Route to get to Tree Ledge where we began the 3 pitch Great Arch climb to the top. It was a gorgeous afternoon and really warm. We got behind a party of 4 at Tree Ledge and waited for an hour until we could get going after them. We ended up passing them on pitch 2 as the sun was setting. Then, the party of 4 decided to bail off the route rather than continue to the top and their last climber, a gal named Lila, really just wanted to go to the top. We offered to just put her on our rope for the 3rd pitch and hike down with us, so she did and was very appreciative. We got to the top right at dusk around 5:30pm and hiked down in the dark for 30 minutes to the car to cap off a really fun afternoon together. I will always bring our rock gear from now on every time we go to Chalk Hill. Stone Mountain is so close and has great climbing.

Kristine approaching Stone Mountain's south face. The Great Arch is the obvious dihedral up the center of the face

Kristine approaching Stone Mountain’s south face. The Great Arch is the obvious dihedral up the center of the face

Block Route pitch (5.8) to get to Tree Ledge

Block Route pitch (5.8) to get to Tree Ledge

Block Route pitch from above

Block Route pitch from above

Kristine balancing on the crux move of Block Route

Kristine balancing on the crux move of Block Route

The Great Arch from Tree Ledge

The Great Arch from Tree Ledge

Kristine climbing pitch 1 of The Great Arch

Kristine climbing pitch 1 of The Great Arch

Beautiful...climbing in the southeast on granite is pretty good

Beautiful…climbing in the southeast on granite is pretty good

Kristine climbing pitch 2 of The Great Arch

Kristine climbing pitch 2 of The Great Arch

Kristine taking in the beautiful sunset

Kristine taking in the beautiful sunset from the pitch 2 belay

It was a hundred or so vertical feet of easy slab scrambaling after pitch 3 to the summit

It was a hundred or so vertical feet of easy slab scrambling after pitch 3 to the summit

Stone Mountain summit

Stone Mountain summit

Happy to be together

Happy to be together

Beautiful NC mountains

Beautiful NC mountains

It was a wonderful Thanksgiving together with my family.

Monument Canyon Towers

My good buddy Steve (Stevo) Cizik and I have started making a habit of getting in a desert tower climbing weekend once in the spring and one in the late fall. We went way too late last year (as in mid December) and it was some darn cold climbing. Fun, yes, but cold. This year, we planned it about a month earlier when our schedules coincided and we recruited J to come with us and our good friend Mikey. Mikey had to cancel due to family health issues, but I recruited my young friend/co-worker Dylan Friday to come with us. Our thoughts were with Mikey and his family all weekend for sure. Dylan had never climbed a multi-pitch route, but he was a strong guy whom I climbed with all summer and fall around the Vail Valley. I knew he would do well. I had two towers and two routes in mind in Colorado National Monument outside of Grand Junction: Fast Draw (5.10+) on Sentinel Spire and The Long Dong Wall (5.11) on the Kissing Couple Tower. I had researched the routes and had always wanted to climb them. Now in retrospect, I’d love to go climb them again. They were good.

We all rolled down in my Tahoe Saturday morning around 8am after dropping J’s 16 mo baby, Raina, off at Aunt Julie’s in Eagle. We decided to do Sentinel Spire first on that Saturday as it would require less time. The approach to Sentinel’s north face is exciting. By parking at the Book Cliffs Viewpoint near the Saddlehorn Campground, we walked down to the edge of Monument Canyon and fixed a rope to a tree and rappelled down about 100′ to a sloping ledge. We left my old rope fixed and scrambled down a few hundred feet to the base of Fast Draw (5.10+) and laid our eyes upon the intimidating tower.

Fixing my old rope to a steadfast tree

Fixing my old rope to a steadfast tree

J rappelling off the canyon rim with Sentinel Spire behind

J rappelling off the canyon rim with Sentinel Spire behind

Sentinel Spire's north face

Sentinel Spire’s north face

Scoping out the 1st pitch - a 5.10 handcrack with a 5.10+ crux off the ground to get into the hand crack

Scoping out the 1st pitch – a 5.10 handcrack with a 5.10+ crux off the ground to get into the handcrack

I took off up the crux leading for Dylan & myself and actually led the crux finger-layback clean, which was exciting. I enjoyed jam after jam of awesome climbing for 80′ to the airy pitch 1 traverse left to two old fixed pins. I set up my belay careful to not put all my bodyweight on the two pins. I just didn’t totally trust them – it was indeed an uncomfotable belay. Dylan then followed and cleaned my gear.

Me leading pitch 1 of Fast Draw. Photo by Steve

Me leading pitch 1 of Fast Draw. Photo by Steve

Dylan following. Photo by Steve

Dylan following. Photo by Steve

Dylan climbing pitch 1 of Fast Draw with the J/Stevo team below

Dylan climbing pitch 1 of Fast Draw with the J/Stevo team below

J then led for his team and as I know J loves a good handcrack, I don’t think he was disappointed.

J on lead on pitch 1 of Fast Draw

J on lead on pitch 1 of Fast Draw

Pitch 2 was the offwidth pitch. I had bought a #6 camalot specifically for this pitch and it worked well. It will come in handy in the future I am sure. This was a fun pitch with some stemming involved and nothing over 5.10a in my opinion. The belay ledge at the top of pitch 2 was a paradise compared to pitch 1’s belay station.

Dylan climbing pitch 2 of Fast Draw

Dylan climbing pitch 2 of Fast Draw

Pitch 3 looked like it would be a breeze from below, but gosh it reared its ugly face about halfway up and I thought one small section was pretty darn difficult during the bolted section. Nevertheless, I made it and belayed Dylan up to me.

Dylan climbing Pitch 3 of Fast Draw

Dylan climbing Pitch 3 of Fast Draw

Dylan about to top out on Sentinel Spire

Dylan about to top out on Sentinel Spire

J leading pitch 3 clean and smooth

J leading pitch 3 clean and smooth

Dylan on top of Sentinel Spire with the canyon rim and where we rappelled from behind him

Dylan on top of Sentinel Spire with the canyon rim and where we rappelled from behind him

Me on the summit of Sentinel Spire with Independence Monument behind

Me on the summit of Sentinel Spire with Independence Monument and Kissing Couple behind. Photo by Dylan

J then brought Stevo up and we had a ball on the summit for a good 20 minutes. Some nice folks on the canyon rim spotted us and took some phone pictures of us on the summit and sent them to me.

Stevo and his notorious summit "bolt"

Stevo and his notorious summit “bolt”

Me, Stevo, & J on the summit of Sentinel Spire

Me, Stevo, & J on the summit of Sentinel Spire. Photo by Dylan

Picture of us on top of Sentinel Spire taken from the canyon rim

Picture of us on top of Sentinel Spire taken from the canyon rim

A close-up of me and Dylan on Sentinel's summit and J belaying Stevo up the last pitch

A close-up of me and Dylan on Sentinel’s summit and J belaying Stevo up the last pitch

What a great afternoon, but we still had a lengthy out to the car despite not being very far away (as the crow flies) at all. After a single rope and then a double rope rappel to the bottom of the north side of the tower, we scrambled back up to the fixed rope. Stevo brought his jumars and aid ladders and ascended the dynamic fixed rope up to the canyon rim in excellent fashion.

Scrambling out. Photo by Stevo

Scrambling out. Photo by Stevo

Getting dusk and at the sloping ledge at the bottom of the fixed rope. Photo by Stevo

Getting dusk and at the sloping ledge at the bottom of the fixed rope. Photo by Stevo

Steve jumaring out to the canyon rim

Stevo jumaring out to the canyon rim

Feeling like the rest of us wouldn’t nearly be as efficient as Stevo ascending the rope, we decided to haul our heavy bags up one at a time after I tried to free climb the roof on belay from Stevo above. It was a tough climb and I should have put on my climbing shoes instead of wearing my approach shoes, but I didn’t. I finally pulled over the lip and we began hauling all three bags up to us from Dylan & J below. Dylan free climbed the pitch and then J was last as darkness really set in.

J climbing out to the canyon rim

J climbing out to the canyon rim in the dark

We packed everything up and a room at the Super 8 motel in Fruita was in order. After some hot tubbing and swimming we hit up our favorite El Tapatio for generous heapings of Mexican food and giant blue margaritas. It was a good day with my boys.

After a warm and comfortable night at the Super 8 and an average continental breakfast, we found ourselves hiking up the familiar Monument Canyon trail for an hour and 15 minutes to the base of the Kissing Couple Tower.

Sentinel Spire from Highway 340 the next morning en route to Kissing Couple

Sentinel Spire from Highway 340 the next morning en route to Kissing Couple

It was warm on the way into the Kissing Couple. Photo of me and Indy Monument by Dylan

It was warm on the way into the Kissing Couple. Photo of me and Indy Monument by Dylan

There was a bit of a boulder problem to get to the base of the Long Dong Wall route and we lifted each other’s packs up because it was too hard of a move with a 40 lb pack on! Finally, we were at the base of the route on the tower’s south side in the shade. It was chilly even though it was around 10am already. The first pitch was said to be the difficult crux pitch rated at 5.11a. However, I have heard because of the sandy and insecure footing and hands, it could feel more like 5.11+. I share that sentiment in retrospect. It was a tough pitch. I was sweating so much halfway through leading it, I had to throw down my jacket to the boys. The biggest challenge for me wasn’t so much the moves but the insecurity of the route with little to no footing and what footholds/edges there were sand completely covered them making them extra slick. Its a long pitch too – maybe 100+’. Once you got through the bottom half, the finger crack and hand crack went much smoother until you get to the top crux face move, which is protected by a bolt. Yep, I hung, but figured the move out without french-aiding on the bolt :) I would definitely think because these moves were so slick, sandy, and smooth, the move felt much more like 5.11+ to me. I then set up and belayed Dylan up to me cleaning the route and trailing another rope so J and Stevo could just top rope the pitch. I would love to go back again to lead this pitch 1 better.

Me starting the lead up pitch 1 of Long Dong Wall. Photo by Stevo

Me starting the lead up pitch 1 of Long Dong Wall. Photo by Stevo

Me high up in the handcrack portion of pitch 1. Photo by Stevo

Me high up in the handcrack portion of pitch 1. Photo by Stevo

Dylan on pitch 1

Dylan on pitch 1

Good perspective pic by Stevo of me belaying Dylan up to me on pitch 1

Good perspective pic by Stevo of me belaying Dylan up to me on pitch 1

J at the face crux move of pitch 1

J at the face crux move of pitch 1

Pitch 2 went well with some easier 5.7 chimney moves up to a very runout stemming chimney (5.9ish-5.10?), which was a very exciting lead for me. However, there was no place for gear and its about a 30′ runout to where I could plug a #2 cam in a hole to make the final mantle move to the anchors.

Dylan stemming up the chimney on pitch 2

Dylan stemming up the chimney on pitch 2

Again, we trailed a rope so J and Stevo could top rope this pitch to be more efficient. Next up was the no-pro class 4/low 5th scramble up to the base of pitch 4. Its easy to belay the follower if necessary from the pitch 3 belay anchors. Pitch 4 was a wonderful pitch. I’ve heard its the best 5.8 in the desert. I don’t know about that, but it sure was fun. J led this pitch for the J/Stevo team and loved it.

J a third of the way up Pitch 4 with Dylan higher up climbing up to me

J a third of the way up Pitch 4 with Dylan higher up climbing up to me at the pitch 4 anchors

Dylan stemming up the final 20' chimney to the top of pitch 4

Dylan stemming up the final 20′ chimney to the top of pitch 4

Dylan topping out on pitch 4

Dylan topping out on pitch 4

We were now in the center of the “belfry” between the two halves of the Kissing Couple that appear to be kissing if seen from a distance. It was a cool position. In fact, someone etched in the sandstone “Far Out!” at the belay. It was a fitting statement.

Pitch 4 anchors

Pitch 4 anchors

The Belfry

The “belfry”

Looking out from the pitch 4 anchors

Looking out from the pitch 4 anchors

Pitch 5 was the coolest pitch of them all as you climb up between the two halves of the Kissing Couple inside the belfry, squeeze through a small whole, and “voila” you are at the pitch 5 anchors 5 feet below the summit cap. The first 15′ of pitch 5 is rated 5.10c and is protected by a piton, but you can get a piece of gear in after that. Climbing up the crack then to a roof and traversing left under the roof is just so cool.

Looking up pitch 5

Looking up pitch 5

Dylan following across the roof traverse

Dylan following across the roof traverse

J leading pitch 5

J leading pitch 5

J squeezing through the small hole

J squeezing through the small hole

After a quick unroped 5′ move to the summit cap,, we took in the amazing views of Colorado National Monument from a new summit. I think it was around 2-3pm, but who knows. It was so warm and windless.

Stevo pumped to be on the summit

Stevo pumped to be on the summit

Me on the summit of the Kissing Couple. Photo by Stevo

Me on the summit of the Kissing Couple. Photo by Stevo

J and I on top of the Kissing Couple

J and I on top of the Kissing Couple. Photo by Stevo

Dylan's first two towers - not too shabby, my young friend!

Dylan’s first two towers – not too shabby, my young friend!

A panaorama of all of us on the summit of the Kissing Couple

A panaorama of all of us on the summit of the Kissing Couple

We then double rope rappelled from the pitch 5 anchors to the tower’s east side (not down through the belfry) to the top of pitch 3 and easily pulled the ropes down. We had heard horror stories of ropes getting stuck, but honestly I believe its only possible if you rappel all the way to the top of pitch 2 and try to pull them from that location.

Dylan's 1st double rope rap too

Dylan’s 1st double rope rap

We then did a single rope rap from the pitch 3 anchors to the pitch 2 anchors and did a double rope rap all the way to the route’s base from the top of pitch 2.

Stevo on the easy single rope rappel down to the top of pitch 2

Stevo on the easy single rope rappel down to the top of pitch 2

We hiked out at dusk and reached the trailhead right at dark. I love evening hikes out like this recounting the day’s fun and excitement and telling stories. What made the hike out even better was the full “supermoon” rising.

The Kissing Couple on the hike out

The Kissing Couple on the hike out

Beautiful

Beautiful

The supermoon and Independence Monument

The supermoon and Independence Monument

After another awesome burger at Red Robin in Grand Junction and catching up on our NFL football, we made the roadtrip back home arriving back in Edwards by 11pm. What a fantastic weekend of desert climbing. My shirt even proves that a good time was had, especially during those stemming chimneys on pitches 2 & 4 of the Long Dong Wall.

The aftermath of my beloved Black Diamond tech shirt

The aftermath of my beloved Black Diamond tech shirt

Center Route, Cynical Pinnacle

My good buddy Mikey has repeatedly urged me to come climb Center Route (5.9+) on Cynical Pinnacle with him in the South Platte over the last year. Well, he had good reason. Frequently regarded as one of the best, if not the best, crack routes in Colorado for its grade, I have to say I now agree. Its wonderful. Great crack climbing, great gear, steep, sustained, long pitches, and super fun. Even better, we were the only ones on the route all day. I would bet the 45 minute approach and 1,200′ vertical gain deters the crowds. Mikey took the 1st pitch (5.9) and then I took the crux 2nd pitch (5.9+) and the 3rd offwidth pitch (5.9+). I was happy to have led them both clean and can honestly say following on the 1st pitch with our 2nd rope on my back was tougher than leading the 2nd and 3rd pitches :)

Cynical Pinnacle on the approach. Center Route literally climbs the crack where the sun meets the shade in the center of the pic

Cynical Pinnacle on the approach. Center Route literally climbs the crack where the sun meets the shade in the center of the pic

Mikey leading pitch 1

Mikey leading pitch 1

Pitch 1

Pitch 1

Mikey stemming on pitch 1

Mikey stemming on pitch 1

Looking out over the South Platte from the top of the 2nd pitch

Looking out over the South Platte from the top of the 2nd pitch

Mikey on pitch 2...sustained 5.9+ for 125'

Mikey on pitch 2…sustained 5.9+ for 125′

Just awesome crack climbing

Just awesome crack climbing

Mikey having fun in the sun

Mikey having fun in the sun

Looking down at Mikey at the 2nd belay from a rest up pitch 3

Looking down at Mikey at the 2nd belay from a rest up pitch 3

Mikey high on the 3rd pitch

Mikey high on the 3rd pitch

Finishing off Center Route

Finishing off Center Route

We topped out on Cynical Pinnacle’s false summit. There was still a 5.11b (old school rating) crack/sport climb to the actual summit of Cynical Pinnacle and I attempted to free climb this final pitch, but I could not get secure enough to climb to the 1st fixed piton and fell twice on my 0.4 camalot. It was hard. I could have pulled on gear and made it, but I decided to lower and forgo the summit pitch. C’est la vie. We came here for the crack climb (as the 3 pitch Center Route officially ends on the false summit) and decided to leave the goal of reaching the true summit for another time.

False summit of Cynical Pinnacle

False summit of Cynical Pinnacle

We then double rope rappelled from the false summit to the hanging belay bolts and then did a 2nd double rope rap straight to our backpacks below.

Mikey on the 2nd double rope rap

Mikey on the 2nd double rope rap

As some extra credit, we hiked around to the west side of Cynical Pinnacle and climbed the 100′ 5.9+ crack called Hand Job Direct to get one more long pitch in before we hiked down to the truck.

Hand Job Direct as seen from below. The 1 pitch climb tops out at about the midpoint of the picture

Hand Job Direct as seen from below. The 1 pitch climb tops out at about the midpoint of the picture

Mikey nearing the anchors on Hand Job Direct

Mikey nearing the anchors on Hand Job Direct

A super fun day with Mikey followed by some ice cream and me arriving back in Edwards by 7pm to see Kristine, Sawyer, and the dogs. Nice little Sunday.