Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Vedauwoo Madness Part 1

Attempting the 2nd ascent of "The Empty Suit" 5.12
Photo: Zach Orenczak

Just as quickly as it arrived, my two week stay in Vedauwoo has come to an end. I leave with my muscles sore, pants badly ripped, and skin bruised and cut most everywhere I can see.  During my stay I wore more pairs of tape gloves than clean socks, braved thunderstorms and dodged tornados, slept on floors, lost my wallet at Walmart, found notoriously obscure boulder problems, took my first whipper out of an inversion, and even successfully climbed a few classic routes! (Phew!) The whole experience has been amazingly challenging and inspiring for my climbing momentum and has really helped reinforce and remind me of all the positive experiences I've had through my pursuit of climbing. Vedauwoo has more than lived up to its reputation of being a mysterious and eclectic destination and I am still surprised the climbing hasn't become more popular there.  Even with most of my days spent searching out and attempting the wide "classics" I never encountered another climber looking to climb in the same general area.  I guess it just goes to show that the stories of disappearing people, man eating cracks, mountain lions and forest dwellers just might be true? While roaming around by my lonesome I found countless beer cans older than myself, two random dog leashes, and a plethora of wide cracks seemingly untouched.  Luckily, during my time there I met up with friends Pamela Shanti Pack, Patrick Kingsbury, Zach Orenczak, Rachel Lynn and Molly Chambers for some serial crushing during my stay.  Together we roamed around the hills, jumping from bog to bog looking for the best cracks to test our skills, make our day, or send us packing.  Some of what we found is described below, while a majority still remains hidden in the Vedauwoo hills under layers lichen and moss. 

The crew hangin'
Photo: Patrick Kingsbury

Since my last post I've worked on a few more area classic boulder problems such as Life Without Parole V4, The Warden V8, and Desiderata V5.  Although the problems themselves were quite difficult, I often spent more time attempting to locate the problems than actually climbing them. Once I found the features I would often complete a majority of the problem, only to stop early due to the fear of falling upside-down with no spotter.  My hands down favorite problem was Desiderata V5, which is a long wide roof crack with a tricky revert ending.  The majority of the problem is an inverted offwidth shuffle, which is actually quite comfortable and controlled.  The crux (and total difficulty) of the problem comes from when the crack narrows in and forces your feet out just before you have to revert and turn the lip using an array of handstacks and foot trickery.  One slightly weird fall out of this section tweaked my confidence and sent me reaching for the PBR tallboy a brought along for my days effort.  After a relaxing beverage and doing the inverted shuffle a few more times, I started to notice a storm brewing in the distance.  What started as a few sprinkles quickly turned into a full-on thunderstorm in the same amount of time it took me to pack up my stuff. Before I knew it I was down scrambling wet granite in Chaco's with a crash pad and camera in tow. I did my best to navigate a safe route and realized quickly the obvious and actual danger of being stuck by lightning in Vedauwoo.  Luckily for me I only got completely soaked by the storm and avoided the lightning on my hike back to the parking lot.  I will never forget my eagerness to get back to the solitude and shelter of the van.

The inverted shuffle on Desiderata V5.

Coincidence? I think not! Tall-boys and wide climbing go together.

After that day I was pretty tired of the solo bouldering and very excited to rope up with Pamela, Patrick, and Molly, who were all coming back to Vedauwoo that night.  We all gathered for a dinner and shared a few beverages and stories before calling it a night.  In the morning we were going to go check out Pamela's new project route.  After a short hike we got caught in a rainstorm and were forced to head back to the safety of the cars to wait out the storm.  After an hour or so we were able to get back outside and hike around, continuing the search for great established offwidths and maybe even some more new route potential.  We didn't get to check out the project that day, but soon after I was able to watch the OW guru work her magic on the overhanging inverted monstrosity.  I don't want to reveal too much info about her new route (check out Pamela's blog for the nitty gritty), but I will say that this route is a beast of a thing and requires an inversion shuffle upwards and a pivot and revert to an arm bar! Yeahhhh super tough!  The danger level to lead this route is also high because of the risk of falling out of the inversion and swinging into a ledge that juts out below the wide crack.  I gave the route a laughable attempt on top-rope, but let's just say I didn't make if very far and Pamela will not be stealing my beta.

Pamela Shanti Pack workting the nutso inversion handstand mantel on
"Forever War" 5.13c/d R

Molly Chambers rockin' the tape gloves of peace on the approach to Forever War.

The next day we headed to the Nautilus to attempt some classic wide routes that Pamela and Patrick recommended for me.  I was excited to give my best attempt on some of the Vedauwoo right-of-passage routes, even though my original plan for the day was to rest and photograph instead.  My "warm up" was an overhanging offwidth called "B-G Crack" and is rated at a stiff 5.11-.   The route starts with a high unprotected step across to a flake before gaining a horizontal crack where you get your first piece of gear. After this you traverse right and are stuck below a tight hand crack that runs through a five foot roof.  To me this appeared to be the crux of the route, and after I pulled the difficult roof I was super excited to have just onsighted this section! But unfortunately my efforts were in vain, and just as I entered the offwdith section above the roof Patrick yelled up at me "You do have a #5 right??"  I looked down at my rack and immediately realized I had forgotten all the wide gear on the ground! Opps! I felt quite disappointed realizing that my onsight attempt would go no further, and that I had to lower to the ground and retrieve the gear that I had forgotten.  In the end the mix up was actually more hilarious than anything else, but it did throw off my climbing groove for the day. 

Where is my mind? Working on "B-G Crack" 5.11-
Photo: Pamela Shanti Pack

Another excellent route that we got on at the Nautilus was the old school classic "Right Parallel Space" 5.5 X. This route starts in a deep squeeze chimney before jutting left and entering another large chimney section that gradually expands before topping out on an exposed tower. This route is certainly a "heads up" type of climb that requires placing little gear (3 pieces in 90ish feet) and should not be attempted unless you're a very confident chimney climber, super old school madman/woman, or a confused drunken hillbilly rappeller looking for the nearest set of anchors.  As an example that illustrates this routes traditional nature, the last 30' of this climb is protected by a "bolt" that more closely resembles a rusty nail that has an equally rusty hanger that spins in circles as you climb above it.  So now with all that clear I must admit this was one of my favorite pitches of my trip!  The exposed nature of the climb combined with the lack of protection and chimney style of climbing had me mentally traveling back in time convincing myself that I was an old school madman with leather boots and hemp braided rope tied around my waist. Nowadays most people might get scarred off this route, but to me it was a embrace and homage to the traditional form of climbing that has lead to the modern practice of climbing that most people now know and love.  This route is a must-do climb for the grade and could quite possibly be one of the coolest pitches that I had ever done.

Molly Chambers follows up the old school classic scare chimney.
"Right Parallel Space" 5.5 X
Photo: Pamela Shanti Pack

Standing on top of the Right Parallel Space.
The chimney goes up inside the other side of the tower I am standing on.
Photo: Molly Chambers

The next major highlight of the trip was getting to climb a new route next to Pamela's project area.  Although its not a 5.13 inversion squeeze thing, it is a long sustained offwidth crack that tops out at about 70'. The climb starts in a hand crack corner, and then follows a wide crack system for about 60' more feet to the top.  The crack goes through a couple of bulges and pods, but generally stays pretty consistent in size at about 5"-7" with a little flare to it.  At the very top it starts to widen up (9" Valley Giant) and turns into a tight squeeze chimney just before topping out.  I was super psyched to attempt  this climb and had a ridiculously fun time doing it.  To my surprise I was able to onsight the pitch and subsequently give it the first lead shortly after.   To all of our knowledge the crack has not been previously climbed in it's entirety and after completing it I am pretty confident in claiming the first ascent. Big thanks to Patrick and Pamela for showing me this crack and encouraging me to get on this thing first. You guys rock!  I am hopeful that the route will some day be on the list of high quality moderate offwidths for the area, and perhaps even Zach and Rachel will climb it and give it a gold star in the next book.   If you love consecutive knee jams and arm bars and are looking to get on a fun and challenging moderate offwidth, this pitch is for you!

Placing the 9" Valley Giant on the FA of "Intergalactic Bong Rip" 5.10
Photo: Patrick Kingsbury

I have just barely begun to share stories from my Veduawoo adventure! There is still a lot of photos to be posted and stories to be told.  If you're interested in hearing more make sure you revisit for the "Part 2" post that will talk about the routes "Burning Man" 5.11a(+), Penetration 5.9+, Unicorn Exterminator 5.10c, and my attempt to climb the unrepeated "The Empty Suit" 5.12.  As for now I must return to the beautiful Indian Peak mountains In Colorado where I am currently living and spending my time screeching like an eagle while teaching youngin's how to rock climb, hand stack, and invert unnecessarily.  For more information on Pamela Shanti Pack and Patrick Kingsbury's newest adventures and routes make sure you visit their blog(s)!

Urban squeeze? Or abandoned bunker?
Photo: Patrick Kingsbury


Anonymous said...

Zach, Rachel, Pat, Jim Beam and I miss you in the Voo! Time to get back here and crush the Empty Suit, Yaaaaaaah!

Matt Kuehl said...

I can't wait to get back, you guys rock! In the mean time I'm training by lifting cinder blocks with my toes while eating discount macaroni for inspiration.