Day 29: Face Value

Ceri loves the limestone cliffs of Ten Sleep Canyon. Short and tall, slab, vertical and overhung, pockety, edgy, and cracky, the cliff bands of bighorn dolomite that line the canyon provide endless possibility of adventure.

On arrival we saw a dirty green subaru full of unkempt youth circling around the ten sleep campsites. They drove up and down the road, stopping in front of white camper vans. Quickly they’d creep from their vehicle, glance around, and then dart into the depths of the sites. We naively assumed they were looking for bears. We’d seen one earlier, we were sure of it. Driving north out of the canyon a large black loping furry mammal trundled through the tall grass on the right of the road. Large, like a refrigerator or perhaps two harly davidsons. It was big and we were frightened so we drove on, eyes glued to the road.

We met a women. She was tall, slightly chinese, and in need of a shower. A vagabond we thought. As a friend of a friend we got to know her better. She likes whiskey and offers it around at the end of a hard climbing day. Once a masters student at UCLA, now a climbing celebrity, she’s an organizer for all things women + climber. On her off days she produces films professionally with three close friends.

In Tensleep, we’d heard that locals sleep late and spend long afternoons on the south east facing walls. While partial to this shade searching, we were tight on time and planned to make the most of every day. On our first day climbing we selected a small shady out of the way wall. Our first climb was an easy five ten up horizontal pocket bands. then a slightly harder ten using underclings and side pulls. More fun but fewer stars. While Ceri was leading the third route, a hard eleven arete, sounds of civilization, clinkying metal and janglying chains broke through the bird calls and bear growls of the forest. Oh yes, the serial killers had final found us. First their dogs appeared, one, two, three, four and finally five knashing hounds rounded the corner of crag. Their handlers appeared, six in totally, two where just there for the show. They tried to play innocent, which climbs did you like, what do you reccomend, how about this one? But then they asked about the festival, are you going? Growing up I was taught not to take candy from strangers, look for their lost dogs, or get rides in their cars, especially if the windows were painted out. Here they were offering a festival, great food from a cart, a raffle, silent auction on climbing gear, live music, fire works, and painted out vans galore. Ceri and I decide we had to outlast them. No way could we go back to the car, they’d follow us. We continued to climb.

Later Ceri led 12a, this one with four stars. Yet where ever we went, who ever we spoke with, they all ended their convesations with “Maybe I’ll see you at the festival”. How did they know I was going? Whats with this maybe, like maybe you’ll last that long? It was a cult we determined, a dog loving, thrill seeking, gear giving, climb climbing cult at which we would be initiates (hopefully) or ritual sacrifices (more likely).

Day 25: Forces Beyond Our Control

We’re back in Lander. Back so soon? Isn’t this supposed to be a climbing trip? Why are we always hanging in town? As we were driving out last time to go set up camp at Sinks Canyon, Mico noticed this little golden light on the dashboard. This little golden light was in the shape of letters, and these letters spelled the words “check engine.” When Mico pointed this out, I was ready to have him turn the car around and head back to Lander immediately. To me, a car is a mysterious, magical creature. I do not know how it works, but most of the time I take for granted that it does work. I’m willing to pay people, who claim to know how these creatures work, large sums of money to assure me that everything is hunky dory. Mico knows something about cars because he is a mechanical engineer and did an extracurricular activity with the alleged goal of building a race car. Before I went on this trip, my mom told me to do whatever Mico advised because he is an engineer. I have been trying to follow her advice, though she herself is not an engineer. Mico said he thought we could wait, climb for a couple days, see if the check engine light turned off on its own, if it didn’t, then we could go back into town and speak with experts. Thinking of my mother, I agreed.

The next day, when we turned on the car to go climb, the little golden light was still on. In the afternoon, when we drove back to camp to put the rain fly on our tent (who knew it was possible for it to be sunny in the morning but rain later in the day?), the light was still on. We decided to get up early the next day, climb for the morning, and head into town in the afternoon to get the car looked at. Worst case scenario, we’d be stranded in Lander for a week while they ordered a special part for my 1999 Subaru Legacy.

With this in mind, we tried to make the most of our climbing. We got to the crag at 7am, and by noon we were struggling to complete climbs due to exhaustion. In town, we asked the woman at the local climbing store for a mechanic recommendation, dropped the car off, and went thrift store shopping. We purchased a set of 4 cassettes titled “The Golden Age of Country” and a Celine Dion cassette. It’s possible that we may have been overcharged ($5.15) since, last time I checked, cassettes stopped being used in the early 2000s.

We took shelter from the hail in a coffee shop with a climbing wall. There I received a call from Brant, the mechanic, who said the problem with the car was the catalytic converter but that I wouldn’t need to address it until it affected performance. After I hung up, my resident car expert asked me with a grin if knew what a catalytic converter was. I, of course, did not. Appraently, it has to do with car emissions, so we’ll be polluting at a higher rate until it gets fixed. I wonder if there’s a room in hell reserved for people who don’t get catalytic converters fixed, and if they share that room with oil industry tycoons and Scott Pruitt. Probably not. That seems a bit extreme.

Day 23: Real Rock

I was promised a rest day. My fingers were thin. Not so thin that blood oozed out but thin enough that I could count three distinct layers of skin and watch as little droplets of sweat, pin pricks of crystal, condensed on my tips. My back ached. Long moves on big pockets, twists, turns, knee-drops, heel hooks, had strained my stringy muscles.

On a day of many mistakes, I tried to push through these pains and found a much greater suffering: the formidable forearm-bicep cramp, a shooting pain that locks any arm above the heart in full extension. These cramps are frequently experienced by climbers on low sodium diets (i.e. those that forget salt and shop at health conscious grocery stores) and render a climber in a zombie like stance, arms straight from the chest. Only a vigorous shake can transform the zombieafied climber back into their human form. These cramps I dearly wanted to avoid and with no masseuse or hot pad (only white tiger balm to soothe my aches) I was out of commission.

I can only assume Ceri was much worse. Her visible injuries were many: a julienned pointer, a flayed ring finger, a scorched face, and countless bites. The invisible ones, the muscle aches, the queasy stomach, and what ever else I could only guess at. Yet she wanted to climb.

We awoke to an oven like tent. Confused by this sudden change from the frigid mornings we staggered from the tent and quickly made breakfast (eggs and hash browns). Temperatures seemed to drop but we heeded no warning and set off for the crag in only a base layer. Winds picked up. Across the valley gray dark rain clouds moved in. It was three days on, twenty three days into the trip, and Ceri started to climb…

Day 21: Exxon Valdez

The dude’s name turns out to be Isaac Duncan. He’s from Minneapolis, and his age is probably closer to 18 than 24 since he’s doing the precollege climbing road trip. His is a one-stop road trip. He plans to spend the summer climbing at Wild Iris, projecting 5.14’s on overhung limestone pockets. After his trip, Isaac will begin college at CSU in Fort Colins where he plans to study nursing. His speech is saturated with the word “sick” (used exclusively in the positive sense, mostly to describe the sharp monos and two-finger pockets he uses for dynos), and he doesn’t seem very worried about sunburn, climbing two days in a row in a tank top and refusing to reapply sunscreen because it would soften his skin. After perusing his blog dashboarddeities, we determined that he is definitely not a serial killer.

When we first agreed to climb with Isaac, my other big worry (other than the concern that he was a serial killer) was that I would lose my climbing partner, that Mico would realize he was much more compatible with Isaac in terms of climbing ability and the two would spend the summer climbing in Wild Iris and watching beautiful sunsets. I would have to choose between projecting their warmups and continuing on my own. In this paranoid scenario, I discounted, of course, the fact that we had to get up to Vancouver so Mico could make good on the grant he’d received to climb the Opal.

We’d been climbing for a few hours (Mico’d already sent the 5.13 featured in the video below), when these two dudes showed up on the trail. One of them exclaimed, “Dante!” and gave Mico a hug. Mico thought he recognized the guy from Tucson, but it turned out the guy was from City Climb. Mico introduced Isaac and me, and the guy introduced his attractive brother, Jessie, a bearded blond with a nose ring. The dudes continued on the trail. When they were out of earshot, Mico confessed that he couldn’t remember Jessie’s brother’s name. When we met up with them next, I did what my dad always asks me to do when we’re out surfing and somebody comes up and talks to him (my father has a poor ability to retain names). I introduced myself to the dude who turned out to be Will.

Will is in the process of moving to Denver with his girlfriend. Will joined us for the evening and climbing the next morning because his brother had to go back to work for NOLS, leaving him without a partner. Mico and I were feeling pretty good about ourselves–we were super popular, everyone seemed to want to climb with us. And, I mean, who could blame them? Here we are, two smart, charming, kind, patient, athletic, ridiculously good looking people. I’d want to hang out with us, but I digress.

We were feeling good, and that’s when I should have known it would go downhill. I was hanging out with all these strong climbers, who made 5.12 look like child’s play. I forgot that, while 5.12 is easy for them, I’m lucky if I can do all the moves on a 5.12. I am a 5.10 climber. Forgetting this, I decided I’d scamper up an 11b. I was struggling with the second move, so out of desperation I stuck two fingers in a rather tight, sharp pocket and tried to bump my foot higher. My foot slipped, and I was unable to extract my fingers from the pocket before I fell. Gravity and the pocket’s knife-like edge helped get my fingers out of the hold. Back on the ground, I realized that my ringer finger had been partially flayed.

Please excuse the rude gesture; all my injuries seem to be happening on the same hand. It was recommended that I call it quits for the day after my flaying, but I’d be damned if I’d listen to sensible advice. I had to prove I was tough. I got on a highly rated 10d called “The Devil Wears Spurs” and proceeded to cry, bleed, and apologize my way up the climb. If I were Mico, in that moment I would have seriously considered spending the summer with Isaac climbing on overhung limestone pockets.

Back at camp, after a tasty dinner of backcountry pizza, we discovered that our tub of knock-off Vaseline had been knocked over in the tent and escaped its container by turning into a liquid during the heat of the day.


Day 20: Rest Day for the Weary

Wyoming + solstice = lots of daylight. Lots of daylight = lots of climbing but not so much sleep. Lots of climbing + not so much sleep = lots of tired and many dumb mistakes. Yesterday, we tried to make up for lost sleep by napping next to the crag. Mico and I both swear the other fell asleep while we remained alert. Either way, I don’t think much sleeping was accomplished. Still tired, we struggled through a last climb and vowed to take the next day off. As we were packing up for the day, a dude who we’d spoken with earlier approached us and told us his party was abandoning him. He asked if he could join us. After a group powwow (excluding our new potential friend), Mico and I said yes. The dude climbs pretty hard. We saw him redpoint 5.13a. I can’t remember his name; that’s why I keep referring to him as the dude. We estimate his age to be somewhere between 18 and 24. He has plans to be in the Lander area until August, so he might be in school. We made tentative plans to climb with him tomorrow. We’re hoping he’s not a serial killer, but they’re not always easy to spot, the better ones at least.

Despite my intention of building up the sleep bank, I woke up at 6am (not as early as we had been waking up, but not late enough to get in my full eight hours). I listened with envy to Mico’s heavy, even breathing and tried to pretend I was asleep as I grew increasingly hungry. Since we weren’t in a rush, we decided to make our signature julienned potato and fried eggs breakfast. Usually Mico does the dangerous job of julienning (a julienne is a kitchen utensil with many little teeth and a single long blade. Sliding a potato back and forth across the surface of the julienne yields hash brown-sized shards of potato). Julienning a potato is pretty easy, but julienning a sweet potato is much harder because it has a tougher consistency. It involves a lot more force. Nearing the end of the sweet potato, I was getting ready to celebrate. I did a final push across the julienne and felt a sharp pain in my index finger. I pulled it back and discovered that a chunk had been julienned, including the nail (see picture below).

Luckily, there’s no problem superglue can’t solve, so after sealing up the gushing wound and picking julienned bits of finger out of the hash browns, we had breakfast. The day went slightly up from there. We bought a bag of mushrooms at the local farmer’s market and learned that in Wyoming anyone is allowed to sell their wares at a farmer’s market. We then went to Ace Hardware where we bought a drillbit to fix the rear view mirror (it had gotten loose and would tilt toward the ground within three seconds of straightening it. We’d basically been functioning without a rear view mirror since day 1). We also got a spare key made for the car. Back at the car, I promptly dropped the drillbit and was unable to relocate it. Mico wanted to put the spare key on his keychain, but couldn’t find his keychain. While searching for his keychain, he lost the spare key. There was a moment where we were both digging through junk in the car, laughing maniacally because we couldn’t seem to do anything right. Eventually, I found the drillbit and Mico relocated both the keychain and the key (the key had been in his pocket the whole time). With everything under control for the moment, we renewed our vows to get more sleep.

Day 18: The Training Wheels are Off

Mt Lemon was nice, but my dad, a BBQ, and hot tub were just an hour away. Flagstaff was a stopover on the way to Durango, a kitchen, and a dog named bear. Then there was the bed bug incident of Leadville and the ice cream fiasco but they weren’t so bad because we had Misha and Kevin to help us through our troubled times and a cushy stop in Denver and Fort Collins (real beds, pre-cooked meals, showers, laundry, thick air, comic books) to heal our wounds! But now we are in Wyoming, 5 hours, 7 towns, and 250 miles from our nearest friends. Any disaster that strikes, a punctured tire, seized engine, stuck car, or injured finger we’ll have to handle ourselves. The safety net is gone. We’ve swum beyond the reef. But why worry? A giant ocean of rolling hills, wild flowers, bird song, and white limestone cliffs await. I think I’ll go climb.

Day 6: On the Road to Durango

I’d long known that the place to look for potential offspring names was the American west. There are a lot of names to admire, a lot of names you can imagine giving to tykes, names they will thank you for later in life–Blythe, Laramie, Cody, Phoenix, Odessa, Mesa Verde… the list is virtually endless. But there is one name in my mind that has always stood head and shoulders above all others, a beautiful, polysyllabic name that screams “hello I am a badass” like no other. You’ve probably guess it from my description (or the title of this post), but the name is Durango. Initially Mico and I weren’t going to go through Durango, which nearly broke my heart, but due to a very slow packing day yesterday and learning that a friend I’d met in Alaska (also a climber) was now based in Durango, we rerouted. We broke up the drive, arriving in Flagstaff around 11pm. I suffered a heart attack that night when I heard footsteps near where we were sleeping. My first thought was serial killer, but when I noticed the figure creeping toward us in the dark had four legs, my second thought was bear! Fortunately for us, on closer inspection it turned out to be a friendly relative of Bambi. We were still alive in the morning, so we went bouldering at Priest Draw. After that, we hit the road again, stopping briefly at the four corners. Well, actually, we drove by it the first time, but turned around five miles down the road because there’s really a very limited number of times you find yourself in the four corners in your lifetime. While Mico waited in line to squat on piece of metal that indicated he was in four places at once, I purchased frybread from a dude about our age. He explained that frybread is consumed with everything from sugar and cinnamon to mutton. We got the cinnamon sugar topping. After a snack and a selfie, we drove into Colorado with a beautiful sunset at our backs (much to Mico’s irritation because he wanted to take pictures). We’re arriving in Durango a bit later than we’d hoped because we failed to account for the fact that Arizona doesn’t observe daylight savings.