Thursday, May 06, 2021

Desert Towers With Derek

The Priest Strava

The Priest Photos 

River Tower Strava

Defecating Monk Strava

River Tower and Defecating Monk Photos

The Priest

During Spring Break of my senior year in college, I climbed Castleton Tower via the Kor-Ingalls route (coincidentally, Derek also climbed Castleton during his senior year Spring Break). It was my second "Fifty Classic" and I've now done more than thirty of them, but that trip also started my interest in desert towers. On the same ridge as Castleton, further to the north, is a tower known as the Priest. The easiest route on the Priest is the 5.11b Honeymoon Chimney. The technical crux isn’t the biggest barrier, though. The route starts with 120 feet of barely protectable offwidth to squeeze. I was daunted enough to put off an attempt for 38 years...

I read what I could about the route. The first pitch has a single bolt and a drilled piton. The only piece that will protect the crack is a #4 BigBro. Some recommended three of them, as you can't slide up a BigBro like you can with a large cam. I had one. I consider myself proficient on wide cracks, at least up to the modest rating of 10a. This pitch was rated 5.9 and would disabuse me of the notion that I'm good at wide cracks.

Derek and I tried to drive out Friday night, but I-70 closed down due to a couple of massive crashes (thoughts and prayers), so, after a very enjoyable dinner in Georgetown, at The Alpine, we headed back home to sleep. We left the house at 6 a.m. Saturday and were hiking up to the Priest by noon. After some procrastination, I started up the first pitch around 1:45 p.m. I squirmed up the initial offwidth section to a stance, where things got real. Some recommended liebacking the crack and I considered it and rejected it as too dangerous, as I couldn't place my one piece of protection.

I started up, left side in, and could heel-toe for a couple of meters, mostly up to the height of the bolt, but it was behind me on the other wall. At this point, I regretted my decision of going left side in. Clipping the bolt was an exercise in shoulder flexibility, of which I have almost none. Once clipped I had macrame-ed myself to the wall. Untangling myself was difficult enough, where I had Derek take me on the bolt. After some failed attempts to continue, I stepped in a sling and got high enough to get a foot on an edge out to the left (now I was right side in). I stretched back to the crack and placed my #4 BigBro. I've only used BigBros once or twice before and never weighted them. I wasn't excited to do that now because I wasn't sure how solidly I had placed it. It seemed good, but I struggled mightily to gain the ledge above via free climbing.

Once on the ledge I clipped the drilled piton and looked down at my #4 BigBro. I wished I still had that with me. But I didn't. I continued, left side in, again. The effort to move at all in this crack was so extensive that whenever I could jam myself securely enough to rest, it took many minutes for my breathing rate to decrease below hyperventilation. In the course of climbing this pitch, I nearly hurled at least twice. I squirmed up to a pinch and could reach above to place a cam. I rested for five minutes. Then I negotiated the pinch and got established in the squeeze, where I rested another five minutes, only eight feet higher than before. 

The next sixty feet wasn't scary, but any progress was so physical that it took forever. The squeeze is so tight that you can't bend your legs at all. Progressive is measured in inches. Inches. And there is sixty feet of this. A few chockstones have slings on them and I clipped most of them. One sling I could clip, but I didn't have the room to clip it. By the time I made the ledge, I'd gone completely through the tower to the other side. Here were two fat bolts and a chain rappel anchor. When I first arrived, I couldn't imagine continuing. Above me, the chimney was now so wide that I wasn't sure I could stem it. Of course, there was no gear, as the only crack is the chimney and it was five feet wide. I was so thirsty. I could have downed a half-gallon of liquids. The route is four pitches long, with a 5.11 crux on the third pitch, yet I can safely say that 90% of the total calories expended in ascending this tower was spent on this first pitch.



I put Derek on belay and fully expected having to hold him on the rope. Nope. He did awesome, liebacking almost the entire offwidth. I forgot to tell him how to clean a BigBro and I think he ended up pounding it out before realizing you have to unscrew the collar before it will collapse. There was no way to lieback the last sixty feet though and Derek burned his share of calories. He's slightly smaller than I am and the smaller you are, the easier this pitch will be. 

By the time Derek joined me, I had spotted a single piton 35 feet up the next pitch and decided to give it a try. Online someone called this "the scariest 5.6 you'll do." I had to admit that it looked that way, but if it really was 5.6, I figured I'd be fine. It was and I was. In fact, this pitch is super cool, super fun, and not scary at all if you are comfortable chimneying. It was a back-feet chimney and felt very secure the entire way, as it flares a bit and you can therefore climb it wherever the width is comfortable for you. Also, it gets easier after the first twenty feet when some footholds appear and make it ultra-secure. The pitch took me back out to the west side of the tower (starting on the east side). Actually, the entire Honeymoon Chimney, which starts at the ground, separates the Priest from another tower that seems to be completely separate from the Priest. You finally leave this other tower behind when, after stemming between the two, you commit to the technical crux. But that was Derek's job.

As I belayed Derek up the second pitch the wind battered me. It was windy when we started, but we were sheltered for the first two pitches. It had increased considerably and whipped our ropes and made communication nearly impossible. I had been dragging up our second rope behind me, but here I coiled it and put it on my back. Derek scampered up the pitch and enjoyed it as much as I did.

This tower really appealed to us, as a team, since it would play to each of our strengths. The wide stuff for me and the bolted, finger-pulling for Derek. Hence, Derek was psyched to take over the sharp end on pitch three, which, like the previous pitches, is wild. Derek chimneyed up relatively easy ground (5.7) until the gap increased. He placed a couple of cams and then started stemming between the two towers. He clipped a bolt, then another, and a third before he had to commit to just one side, the bolted side, the Priest. 

The move to gain the other tower is a bit freaky, though well protected. There is a good foothold over there, but to get high enough to be able to stand on it, Derek had to do a full-body stem, with both hands on the Priest while he walked his feet a bit higher on the subsidiary tower. Once high enough, he switched back to a huge stem. From this position, it is possible to get two fingers into a thin crack as a Gaston. For his left hand, he crimped an insecure side pull. Now had he had to psych up for this move. A chalked hold is tantalizingly out of reach but would be within reach once he stepped over. Derek pushed hard off his right foot and then bore down with hands so hard that he grunted with effort. It was just barely enough to hold him to the tower. He got his left foot over and grabbed the chalked hold, which wasn't that great. Hanging onto that bad hold and getting hammered by the gale-force winds, he hung the draw on the next bolt and then tried to pull up the route. I short roped him. I was so ready to catch a fall and didn't want him to fall too far, that I didn't have enough slack for him. He reset and I paid out more rope, but when he went to clip the second time, the wind was too much and he grabbed the draw and clipped in. He didn't hang on it, though, and immediately let go and continued up past another bolt to the ledge at the top. He did this relatively quickly and I anticipated small, but secure holds. I was going to be very disappointed.

Derek placed a cam and moved left on a good ledge to a difficult, perplexing move off the ledge and onto a sloping shelf above. There is a piton here to protect this move, which I think was at least 5.9, but Derek was running low on slings and felt he needed them for a belay and skipped it. Yikes. Just above was the belay - a single piton backed up by a bomber #3 Camalot and another smaller cam. My turn.

I mimicked Derek's movement up to the step across. The full-body stem is nuts, but necessary unless you are extremely flexible. I got my foot on the required placement but highly doubted my ability to hold myself to the tower with the two marginal holds that Derek used. I decided to push off and dead point my right hand for the chalked hold. I did this, hit the chalked hold, realized it wasn't the secure hold I had counted on and plummeted down between the two towers. I stopped only about six feet lower, almost all due to rope stretch. I climbed back up to the same position and this time tried the two tiny holds. I grunted loudly bearing down for all I was worth and stuck to the tower. Further progress seemed unlikely. The edges I'd hoped for weren't here. Everything was either rounded or less than a quarter-inch in width. Derek thinks I was missing a hold, but there didn't seem to be any place to hide them. I pulled on a couple of draws and made the ledge and then the belay.

Derek's belay atop the third pitch

Looking down on the subsidiary tower from the third-pitch belay.


I figured I might lead through to the summit, up the final 5.8 pitch, but Derek's wasn't having any of that. I had led the first two pitches and he had to lead the last two. He cruised the last pitch, going around the corner to the left with massive exposure. He found a good crack and soon was on top. I followed and thought the last pitch was pretty hard for 5.8, as it was a tough width -- off fingers. 

Derek starting the fourth and last pitch

We signed the register, took some photos, and readied ourselves for the descent, which turned out to be very stressful. I dropped first, with one end of one of the ropes clipped to me and the other rope whipping around. It was impossible to drop the ropes down, as they were blown right back at you. Our second rope is a 6mm static line that we specifically bought as a rappel-only rope for Patagonia. Why rappel only? Because it is so crazy stiff that managing it is a nightmare. The idea is that it is too stiff that it will not wrap around any blocks and never (or rarely) get stuck when pulling it down. So far, this has proved to be the case. But this rope is so thin that it doesn't provide much friction through an ATC rappel device and makes for a stressful rappel unless you can wrap the rope around your back. I couldn't do this because the ropes were being blown too hard in the opposite direction. We had knots in the ends of the ropes, but it was a white-knuckle descent back to the belay at the top of pitch two.

On the summit!


I tried to keep hold of the ropes while Derek came down but he was fighting the same issue of the rope being blown around the tower and creating a lot of friction around the corner. After he joined me, at first, we couldn't pull down the ropes at all. Nothing. I thought we might be spending the night up there. We had no cell service and no way to descend without those two ropes above us. We realized that the tension of the rope around the tower was too much and worked hard to flip it back on our side of the tower and hold it taut, but not too taut that we couldn't pull the ropes down. While Derek held the thin rope, I pulled down our other rope with body weight and hard pulling. This was the second greatest outlay of calories on the route -- getting this rope down. But down it did come. Thank goodness.

The next rappel was back down the second pitch, so entirely inside of the tower. The start was so tight that you rappelled with your body held completely vertical in order to fit through the start of the chimney. I descended back to the bolts at the top of pitch two but made the mistake of not making sure both ropes were down with me. Once at the bolts I realized that our lead rope was stuck around the corner to the south. It was just the situation that our thin, white rope was made to avoid. Now it was the lead rope, but Derek was still above and he'd have to handle it. He did, but it wasn't without some stress and struggle, as he had to wrap the rope around his leg in order to use both hands to pull himself over on the stuck rope and dislodge it. The first time he tried this he was too high and had to swing back into the chimney, unwrap the rope, rappel six more feet, and try again. I stopped him from slamming into the wall by pulling on the other ends, but the tension squeezed his leg quite painfully. On his second try, he freed the rope and was able to smear his feet on the face and avoid building up too much speed. Whew.

The start of the second rappel

The end of the third and last rappel


The last rappel was blissfully without problems. We were quite relieved to be safely back on the ground and quite excited to have bagged such a difficult tower. We packed up and drank our fill of the water we'd left at the base. The hike out went smooth, as our steps were buoyed by not carrying the crushing weight of defeat. Derek felt so light that he carried extra gear down, saving my knees from extra stress. 

River Tower

The day after climbing the Priest we had planned to climb the River Tower, which is a Fisher Tower, which means it's an aid tower and coated in a layer of mud. The appeal of such a tower should be obvious...if you are insane, like Jim Beyer. It's less obvious to the rational mind, but the tower is very impressive. The desire to be on top of such a feature is strong, though highly tempered once you get close enough to actually touch the rock. These are terrifying things to climb. So much so that we didn't have the mental fortitude to leave the ground. We called it a recon and vowed to come back, though I wasn't sure when.

It turned out to be just six days later, the very next weekend. Derek had previously surpassed me in the gym and even outside on sport routes, but he's now taken the reigns in the planning as well. This is a new thing. My buddy Tom nicknamed me "The Plan Man" because I'd make adventure plans for an entire year. I did this to make sure I had enough vacation days to do all the climbs I wanted and to prioritize the ones that were the most important. Now it was Derek that pushed for another trip to Utah. He does half the driving and doesn't consider it a bad drive (at least when the highway isn't closed or a snowstorm isn't raging). Nowadays I prefer a weekend at home after a road trip, but if Derek is raring to go and he wants me as his partner, I'm not turning that down. Not this weekend, not any weekend. I'm so thankful that he still considers me a worthy partner, not only in climbing ability, but as a companion for the weekend. We seem to be evolving our relationship past just father-son to true friends as well. It will always be more complicated because he's my son, but we do enjoy each other's company. We have the same attitude about movies, books, food (mostly), guerrilla camping, road trips, etc. Now that we're equal partners on the rock, my value as a rope gun is severely diminished. My time as his main partner might be limited, but I'll milk all I can out of it.

This time the Friday drive went smooth and we crashed at the Dinosaur Mountain trailhead, a bit south of the Fruita exit. The temperatures were perfect and we slept reasonably well. We were up a bit before six and after a stop at McDonald's, we were headed for the turnout just past (coming from the north) Mile Marker 23 on the River Road. We packed up at the turnout, reading the recommended rack off of Mountain Project. It said, "13 or so rivet hangers." We read that last time too, but I was hoping things would change in the six days since. Rivet hangers? We didn't have any of them. I wondered aloud why first ascensionists don't leave the hangers. Maybe they are expensive. I  know the bolts are expensive. They certainly have the right to do as they please. I'm thankful for all the effort it took to place all the bolts and would never go up these walls to place them myself. 

Starting up the first pitch of The Flow

We brought eight nuts where we could push the nut up from the end of the cable and get a loop that we could hook over the top of the hanger-less bolts. That was all that we had that could be pushed up. We figured to back-clean a bit and reuse them. Our objective was a route called The Flow, as it had a similar rating to the North Face route and someone on Mountain Project said it was the nicer route. Since it was also the recommended descent route, that sounded good to us. Except for the 13 hanger-less bolts...

We brought a double rack up to #4 Camalot and one #5 and three #3's as there was a wide crack on pitch three. With aiders and jugs, we hefted heavy packs onto our shoulders for the, now familiar, approach. We were at the base in just over 30 minutes and geared up not at the base of the route but at the base of the rappels. We did this because there is a bit of scrambling to get up to the start of the route and it is along sloping, loose ledges. We decided that the second would carry a small pack with some water, food, and our wind shells. Then we scrambled up to the base of the route, which involved a couple of 4th class moves to gain an exposed shelf, with two bolts, at least fifty feet off the ground.

Derek hugging the first pitch of The Flow

The rating for this route depends upon which source you use. On Mountain Project, both the Flow and the North Face are rated 5.8 C1. In Bjornstad's admittedly dated guidebook (before even the second ascent), this route was rated at 5.8, A2+ with the crux being the first pitch. The second pitch description in that guidebook says "a perfect 2-3-inch crack leads to a bolt ladder." That description doesn't do that pitch justice. 

I free climbed from our stance up and right ten feet to a bolt. I clipped, grabbed it, and used it to surmount a bulge. More free climbing and bolt grabbing had me pass two more bolts. I placed a cam and tried to move right to lower-angled ground, but found it too difficult. I'd have to go higher first. I did a difficult mantle and placed a couple more cams, right next to each other, to protect my traverse to the right. I delicately moved right and up, climbing on mud with no chances for gear. Above and further right was another bolt and I made for that. Once there, I looked down at the pitch. I was worried about how Derek was going to follow that section. It would be a huge, scary, bumpy pendulum and no way to pull the cams with the rope under tension. I figured Derek would have to climb up, clean the gear, and then, somehow, reverse back down all the way to the bolt. From the bolt, he could lower out. I yelled down my concern, but turned my attention to finishing the pitch.

More mud climbing led to a crack and I placed three or four cams in the final section, free climbing most of this and pulling on gear when I felt it was solid enough. I never got out my aiders. I arrived at the super cool belay ledge (not completely flat), which was a fin that stuck out five feet from the wall. Three bolts, slings, and three rappel rings had me feeling pretty secure, but the pitch above looked daunting. I resisted saying anything about it to Derek. He had his hands full following the pitch and we'd worry about the next pitch when he arrived.

The anchor at the top of the first pitch

It took a bit for Derek to work out the jugs, as it has been a while since we last did any aid climbing. He had to lower out immediately from the belay and then had to turn numerous bulges where the rope laid tight against the rock and made moving up the jugs extremely difficult. At the cams before the traverse, he was able to stand in a sling on the first cam and stretch high to remove the two cams above. Then he climbed back down, using the lower cam, cleaned it, and reached down for the bolt below. He lowered out again and then jugged up to join me.

We studied the pitch above. It was 15-20 feet before the "perfect" crack started. The perfect crack looked pretty good, but it closed down to a seam in a couple of sections, though reaching by these would probably be fine. It was hard to imagine any crack feeling that perfect because all the rock was covered in at least a thin layer of mud and sometimes a thick layer of it. Evidence of the flow of this mud was everywhere. These routes change, at least somewhat, with each ascent, as the mud is worn over, and with each rain as the mud flows down the tower and over any fixed gear. 

The start of the second pitch. Not a lot of gear until that crack 20 feet up.

Not only did it look like unprotected, dirt clod climbing to get to the crack, but, above the crack, we couldn't see a single bolt hanger, nor any drilled pitons. After climbing above the crack the only protection would be our nuts looped over the exposed studs. Yikes. It looked too serious for us. We decided to bail and set up the rappel. The start of this rappel is wild as you go straight over this fin that sticks out five feet. Just a few feet from the anchors I was hanging in free space and hung free for most of the way to the ground.

We sat at our packs, a bit discouraged. This was our second bail from this route, though we at least did one pitch this time. I tossed out some compensatory options, such as the Hindu, but we weren't too enthusiastic. I then decided that I wanted to give the North Face a try. We knew the first-pitch bolt ladder didn't have many hangers, but we'd seen some drilled pitons on our recon the week before. I figured if I didn't like things, I could retreat from one of those pitons. We packed up and started hiking up the hill.

Derek rappelling off The Flow and a look at the wild fin which marks the first belay.

To even get to the North Face route involves scrambling over a couple of 5th class bulges. Last week we found it quite intimidating to downclimb the most exposed bulge. It's possible that it is easier to approach this tower if approached further to the left (north) of the tower. At the base, there wasn't much to do, but reach up and hook the first stud. Derek clipped into the single bolt that is only five feet off the ground and put me on belay.

Starting up the North Face route

Immediately I was stumped. There was no way I was going to reach that next stud. Not even if I could top-step on this vertical wall, which I couldn't. Then I noticed a bump of mud. I scraped it with the wire of my stopper and revealed another stud underneath. This turned into a theme for the rest of the pitch. Whenever the distance seemed too great, it meant I needed to dig out a hidden stud. Most of the studs had a regular nut on them and it provided some nice security when I wedged the wire between it and the mud wall behind. Some studs had butterfly nuts on them. These seemed so out of place and better suited for light home use, but I guess it allowed for hand tightening of the nut.

Halfway up the pitch, I clipped into a drilled angle and contemplated a huge gap to a sling dangling from the next fixed piece of gear. I searched the mud for a hidden stud with no luck. The angle here was less than vertical and the groove I had been climbing was forming more and more into a legit chimney. I was able to top-step, then step on the piton itself, and finally, do one free move before I could barely clip the sling. 

Besides the freaky nature of no hangers and back-cleaning pretty much all of the wires I looped over the studs, the climbing was pretty easy and straightforward. The key for me was to just not think about the quality of gear. There wasn't much point to doing that if I was set on climbing it. Looking at the bolts, I was dubious that you could even hang a picture from them, yet there I was standing on them. It took me quite a while to do this pitch and Derek had great patience.

Derek jugging the first pitch

The final section before the belay is devoid of fixed gear. An incipient crack appears in the dirt and I placed gear here, clipped in my aiders, and tugged on it, but I wouldn't stand in my aider. One of the cams seemed completely in dirt. I couldn't see how it would hold. But now I could free climb by chimney technique. In fact, this is the best way to climb these towers: push, push, push. Never pull, as pulling on nearly anything up here will just rip it off the wall. Stemming and pushing on the mud walls was unnerving, but better than trusting my placements. When I yelled down to Derek, out of sight to avoid the debris that rained down continuously from my scraping off the dirt and mud, that I was going to free climb, He called back up, "Do you know where you are going?" I did. I told him the belay was only fifteen feet away.

Derek leading the second pitch

It was a relief to clip the anchors. This pitch is about 130 feet long and ended at three bolts, placed to the hilt in the mud, located under a very protective roof. This roof was key when Derek was leading the next pitch. I fixed the rope and Derek started to jug. Watching him ascend I noticed him shaking his head a lot and keeping his head down. Most of this behavior was due to the constant stream of debris coming down, just from the movement of the rope above him, as I tried to remain completely motionless as any movement would dislodge some dirt and mud and rain directly down on him. But I interpreted his body language as disgust. He wasn't having any fun. He wouldn't be alone there. Fisher Tower pioneer Crusher Bartlett wrote, "The Fisher Tower climbing experience was, by any normal standards, awful." I was pretty sure Derek would either want to go down or decline the next lead. I scoped it out the terrain above, which, after a difficult start, appeared to be chimney climbing. I vowed to push the ascent higher.

Derek arrived and wasn't psyched with the experience. He said, "I don't like this, but I want to be on top of  this tower." I passed him the rack and moved up on scary aid placements. The gear held, though, and his confidence grew. After three or four placements, he started free climbing. He discovered the need to push on everything and figuring it out. He placed a #3 deep in a slot and moved up via a squeeze through a roof. Above, he was on a loose lege. He moved up and right and found the fixed piton at the last aid move. He stepped up on a large block here and it moved. It shifted on the ledge and would surely fall, maybe while I was following the pitch and unprotected. He called down the danger. I couldn't do anything besides huddle under my overhang, but I felt safe there. Derek didn't want to leave that block above me and I'm thankful for his judgment. He decided to back down and trundle it, after making sure I was okay with that. He warned me it was large and I asked if his rope was in danger of being cut. He didn't think so. He trundled it and it was quite the visual and audible event. Large chunks streamed by me and exploded on the wall and the ground below. Awful, indeed. 

Derek continued up on 5.6/7 climbing to anchors at the top of his 100-foot pitch. He fixed the rope and I followed, struggling a bit to reach the #3 Camalot with the pack on my back. I free climbed some of the pitch, pushing my jugs up the rope for protection. Once past the last aid move, Derek put me on a regular belay and I joined him soon after.


I'm on the sub-summit here. The summit is in front of me. I'm going to rappel 35 feet into the notch between me and that summit. Over my left hand is the top-out of the 5.8 offwidth pitch.

I led up fifty feet of 4th class to the sub-summit, where I found a static line looped around a car-sized boulder. The true summit lay to the west past a 40-foot deep notch. Here we had a decision to make. One option was to fix a rope here, tag the summit, rap back into the notch and jug back to the sub-summit and then rappel our route. The other was to rap into the notch, pull our rope, continue to the summit and then along the ridge to the top of The Flow and rappel down that route. We liked the idea of traversing the tower and seeing the upper section of The Flow, but devil you know is always less stressful than the unknown. We didn't relish going back into the mud chimney, though, and decided to roll the dice. It seemed just as we committed to the traverse the wind picked up greatly. My stress and anxiety increased along with the wind speed. I'd been there before...


Derek on the true summit

We rapped into the notch, pulled the ropes, and I started up the 5.8 chimney/offwidth to the summit. The chimney section went smoothly, but the vertical offwidth was tough. I placed our #4 Camalot and gave it a tug. We were aid climbing, so why not? With this cheat, I made short work of the pitch and belayed from anchors at the edge of the notch. Derek followed and then continued, planning to tag the summit and continue on the ridge to find our descent anchors. He topped the tower without trouble, but couldn't continue due to rope drag. I joined him on the summit and belayed him down steep 4th class and along the ridge to the rappel anchors. He didn't place any gear here and both ropes were whipped straight sideways, defying gravity.

I continue to be the first one down on descents. My job is to get the ropes down without tangles and find the next rappel anchor. It's very stressful, which is why I'm not ready to turn this role over to Derek. That would be worse for me. The wind was so great though, that we adopted a different strategy. Derek looped our lead rope into a sling, which I clipped to me. Derek held onto the end of the stiff, thin rope paid it out to me. This way, no ropes were whipping around in the wind as I descended. At least until Derek had to let go of the thin rope. 


Derek on the second rappel

I inched down the vertical mud face, searching for anchors. I purposely descend down a bit to the south, as the wind blew so hard towards the north and I knew the final anchor was on the south edge of the west face. By doing this I passed the rappel station that was atop the third pitch of The Flow and not atop the second pitch. I arrived at the top of the second pitch and just found two bolts, with hangers thankfully, about 18 inches apart. But nothing else. No slings, no chains, no rappel rings. Yikes. I knew I must have made a mistake, but there was nothing I could do about it now. I clipped into both bolts and called off rappel.

Derek noticed the higher rappel anchor on his way down. I gave him a fireman's belay, just for my own peace of mind. It was such a scary place to be. I feared the ropes getting stuck, but this tower has hardly any cracks for the ropes to snare. The ropes came down fine and I rapped to the top of pitch one, where we had climbed earlier in the day. I had to tension traverse hard to my right to reach the anchors. Derek left two carabiners on the bolts and joined me. I even endured some stress on the final rope to the ground as the white rope tangled. I was once again so thankful to be back on the ground safe, reflecting on what a strange leisure pursuit climbing is. A certain mentality is required to become a climber, though I'm not sure that is a good mentality.

Looking back at the tower on the way out

We hugged and high-fived. Success is so sweet, especially after such stress. Both of these towers would be half as stressful if not for the descents. The relief of touching down is so great that I immediately wondered if I was done with these towers. Yet, on the drive home, I was scheming a return for The Flow and other Fisher Towers. That's just strange.

Despite carrying a liter of water up the climb and having a liter at the base, we were out ten hours from the car. On the hike out, I fantasized about the drinks I'd consume. Derek was into our cooler before he even dropped his pack. We both started with a Root Beer and then went with chocolate milk. I put down two more soft drinks, 48 total ounces before we pulled out of our parking spot. Later that night I drank most of a quart of milk as well. 

Defecating Monk

We were so drained after the River Tower that we decided to head back to Fruita and climb a tower in Colorado National Monument. I picked Ahab Tower initially only because it is listed first in the areas for CNM and it has a route rated 5.9. We drove up to the Window Rock parking to check it out and organize gear. Then my motivation waned even further, as I didn't want to deal with fixing a rope down from the rim and having to jug back out. I scanned Bjornstad's guidebook and found this tower and the route Squeezebox, also rated 5.9. Despite Steve Levin's disparaging comments on Mountain Project, I was optimistic. 

Approaching the Defecating Monk


We drove back down the road to the first switchback and found a place to park a bit further down the hill. We hiked up the road to the switchback and found a faint trail leading down from the road and towards the tower. We were able to follow a trail clear to the base of the tower. 

We geared up and I took the first pitch. It started with crux-y moves on overhanging terrain with insecure holds. Quickly tiring, I maneuvered myself into a chimney position. Without the pump clock ticking, I solved the remaining problems and gained a ledge. Above was a fun, wide flare. I protected the start with a #2 Camalot and was soon at the belay, marked by a drilled angle, which I backed up with a #1 Camalot. 

Me leading the flared section on the first pitch

Derek followed in kind and took the second pitch, which burrowed into the tower via a tight slot and then up a 5.6 chimney to a ledge. The final moves were over a bulge with a slightly overhanging start. Derek placed his first gear here and was soon on the summit. I followed, having to remove my helmet to fit through the tight slot. As I inched my way up the chimney, I noticed the rapidly darkening skies. We'd seen them at the start, but they seemed to be comfortably to the north. That wasn't the case now. We knew the storm was imminent. 


Derek squeezing through "the box" at the start of the second pitch

At the summit, I sat down near the rap anchors and immediately started untying my knot. Derek chided me, rightfully, to clip into the anchor first. Nice to know your partner is looking out for you. I clipped in, untied, and threaded the rope. The rain started before I slid over the edge and the intensity built rapidly. I struggled with the ropes, tangled and caught down in the slot we had climbed. It only took a minute or less to sort it out, but the rain was so hard now, that I worried about Derek alone and unsheltered on the summit. At least there was no electrical activity. Derek said later that he curled up into a ball and just waited for the "Off rappel" call. 


Incoming!

Once off rappel, I gathered all our soaked gear and sheltered it under the overhanging start of our route. By the time Derek was on the ground, the rain had pretty much stopped. It seems we cannot avoid drama on any rappel descent. At least lately. 

Hurrying to rappel off the summit before the storm

We packed up, hiked out, and drove home, content with our two-tower weekend. The tower season is drawing to a close, but we'll try for at least one more trip.

 






Monday, March 29, 2021

Redemption at Angel's Gate

Angel's Gate



As we hiked up the South Kaibab Trail on Monday, a descending hiker asked us, “Did you make it to the bottom?” I said yes without breaking my rhythm. He called after us, “How long did it take?” While I was trying to remember our descent time from two days ago, Homie responded, “It’s a long story.” That aptly sums up our relationship with Angel’s Gate, a remote Temple in the Grand Canyon. We— Homie, Derek, Steve Hawkins, and I—tried this peak two years ago. We failed. Covid canceled plans in 2020, but we returned, sans Steve, in March 2021, and after 100 miles and 25,000 vertical feet spread out over two trips, we finally stood atop “The Doghouse” (the highest summit) of Angel’s Gate.

It’s all about the layers, bands, tiers when climbing temples in the Grand Canyon. As anyone who has visited knows, the Grand Canyon is a chasm cut through many different layers of rock with two billion-year-old black granite at the bottom. The layers going up alternate between steep, foliage-covered slopes and vertical rock bands. Each of these vertical layers presents a challenge. The most intimidating band is the “Red Wall” — a 300-500-foot, dead-vertical expanse of very hard, very sharp limestone. This band is never climbed directly and must be breached by finding a break in the wall, usually a drainage gully that has eaten away at the wall, reducing its angle. 

For Angel’s Gate, the Red Wall break lies below the Wotan’s Throne / Angel’s Gate saddle and is only 4th class. The catch is that this break is 22 miles from the nearest trailhead. Above the Red Wall is a series of Supai bands and it was the fourth band that thwarted our first attempt. We’d find out later that we were within a hundred yards of the route through here. Armed with this new information, we returned.

Unfortunately, Steve couldn’t join us, but since he lives on the south rim of the Grand Canyon (he is Imperial Grand Poobah of the park facilities), he jumped at the chance to fax our backcountry permit. He did his usual run down to the river and back (Steve is a badass ultra-runner) on the day we started. We descended 4800 feet down the Kaibab Trail to Phantom Ranch but met Steve just a few hundred feet below the rim. He’d gone all the way down and back up before 10 a.m. Impressive. We chatted only briefly before parting ways.


We’d left Superior, Colorado at 3 p.m. on Friday and drove 12+ hours to the GC, with a brief stop to sleep at Mexican Hat, Utah. Our plan was to spend two nights at Clear Creek, a 10-mile hike from Phantom, making for an 18-mile approach. At Phantom, we ran into a ranger, Della. She was most helpful, very nice, and excited about our plans. It was so gratifying to meet a ranger whose goal was to help people enjoy this great park. Yes, she needs to and does enforce all the rules that keep this place unspoiled, but she isn’t trying to put up any barriers. I found this a refreshing change from my past interactions with park staff on the rim where, understandably, they assume everyone hiking into the canyon is an idiot. Understandably, because so many people get into trouble here. It’s so easy to do because you can descend without great effort, but then find yourself with a daunting climb, tremendous heat, and no water. Della could tell we knew what we were doing (presumably by looking at Homie). After taking on extra water at Phantom, we headed east to Clear Creek and camp for the night. 

Halfway there we spotted, in the distance, a group of six taking a break. When they caught sight of us, they popped up and immediately started hiking. Fast. Their group first split into two groups of three and the back group first shed one hiker, and then another. They were racing for a 6-person site and didn’t want us passing them. In my younger days, I was like a Labrador and if someone started running, I gave chase for no other reason than to chase. But I’m decrepit now and my awkward shuffle wasn’t going to run down those ultra runners, as we’d later discover they were. Homie mused aloud about releasing the kid (Derek) to bring them to heel, but we decided to stay together. We knew we’d find somewhere to sleep.


Though my competitive juices aren’t as viscous these days, they aren’t completely dry. The three stragglers were too tempting not to pursue; after all, we humans are persistence hunters. I upped my pace from a plodding 2.8 mph to a blazing 3.0 mph and we slowly closed the gap. Five miles later, we passed those three and arrived at camp. The other three had claimed their prized site, but we got a stellar one as well. There really aren’t any bad sites here. Their group leader and Homie were wearing the same shirt from the Cruel Jewel 106-mile, 33,000-foot ultra in Georgia. Respect. 

We threw up our tents and I pulled off my shoes to inspect my feet. Sure enough, I had developed a blister on my left heel. I’d carefully manage that for the next couple of days. Derek graciously handled all the water gathering while I…now I’m sure I was doing something, but I can’t remember what. Suffice to say it was key to our success. We were done with dinner, teeth brushed and ready for bed at 6:40 p.m.. My wife Sheri would have loved this. I invited her along to be basecamp manager, knowing the rest of the trip would be pure hell for her, but she demurred. 

We set off down Clear Creek the next morning at 6:17. The route was familiar from two years ago. Down to the confluence and up the east fork of Clear Creek Canyon for a mile. Then up the steep slope and through the Tapeats band up onto the Bright Angel Shale. We traversed hard to our left across slopes covered in prickly pear, yucca, agave. We all got impaled at least once. We then dropped into the wash leading up to the Red Wall break and ascended to the saddle in just two hours from camp. We stashed some extra water and clothes here.

Homie, armed with a few GPS waypoints he placed from our first attempt, led us upwards towards the Supai bands. Homie is a bloodhound when it comes to sniffing out routes on complicated, difficult terrain. Derek’s more like a border collie, darting left and right, seeking out the best route. I’m like a Saint Bernard, huffing and puffing and constantly being gapped (Yes, I know I was just calling myself a Labrador, but that was in my younger days. Clearly I have dogs on the brain. I must be watching too much of Olive and Mabel). The first three Supai breaks went smoothly with only one false traverse to the left. We lost less than five minutes with that and arrived at the fourth Supai band after an hour. This progress is in stark contrast to two years ago, where we spent hours trying to find the correct breaks, severely sapping our energy and motivation for the fourth, final, and hardest Supai layer.  We started the long traverse at least a quarter of the way around the mountain. We saw a couple of possibilities but this time we wanted to make sure we went far enough and traversed all the way around to the west side before retreating back to the one weakness we thought we could climb.

We ascended a vertical chimney that was 5th class, but short enough that we didn’t bother with the rope. Above we traversed a ledge a long way to the left, passing an exposed, 5th-class traverse section and then up two more 5th class short sections before finally topping out the previously impassable fourth band. The way to the summit block was open and we hiked up steep, loose, open terrain of the Hermit Shale to the base of the roped climbing.


The roped climbing ascends the soft, white Coconino layer and was supposed to be two pitches. We carried two 30-meter, 8mm ropes, a rack of gear to #3 Camalot, slings, and some cord to leave for rappel anchors. We drank, ate, and geared up at the base, in the sun, as it was a bit chilly in the shade. Our route was on the west side and mostly in the shade at this time of day. 

I led the route, mostly because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be contributing anything to the venture. Derek could have easily led it. Homie, too, but he prefers that I take the lead when we rope up. I love doing this, as I spent most of this trip following in his footsteps. I got in a good piece at the start and made an awkward move up the slab. This first move was probably the crux of the route. Above, the climbing got easier, though a bit more runout, but I found good protection when I needed it. I climbed a 5.6 off-width crack (no gear due to the width) and arrived on a big ledge. I belayed here, inadvertently stopping short on the first pitch.

The others soon joined me and I climbed directly above the ledge which had a touch of 5.8 climbing, though I think I could have gone around to the left and made this section easy. Once above this section, I arrived at a small notch in the summit ridge. There was a sling with rappel rings here that we’d utilize on the descent. I dropped down the other side about fifteen feet and then up an easy chimney just high enough to where I could step left onto a low-angle face and scamper up to a ledge. I belayed there, due to rope drag.

From here the description says it is third-class and indeed it was, going off to the left, but I wanted to climb directly to the ridge, only 15 or 20 feet above my belay, mainly to get into the sunshine as soon as possible. This proved to be fun and easy climbing with great position. I topped out the ridge and found another rappel anchor so belayed there. Homie soon joined me and he was able to unrope and scramble south a hundred feet to the true summit. 


When Derek and I joined him there, Homie still hadn’t found the summit register, much to his consternation. But he kept digging and unearthed a beautiful brass (copper?) box, sized perfectly for the notepad inside. We were surprised to see that we were just the seventh ascent since 2013. There was one ascent in 2013, one in 2016, two in 2017, then one each in 2019 and 2020. I can see why this peak isn’t that popular. Getting here is a ton of work. The climbing is moderate and mediocre. The appeal, for me at least, is the same as it is for all these GC temples: they look so cool from a distance. It really boils down to the most essential of all climbing questions: I wonder if I could find a way to the top of that…

This is adventure climbing for the average climber. It’s potentially dangerous, as the rock quality isn’t great and the location is remote, but the technical skills are modest. Weighing heavily on the plus side is the non-stop, spectacular views of one of the most amazing places on Earth. For almost this entire adventure we were both above and below the tree line, so nothing impeded the vistas in any direction.

We did two rappels back to the ground, packed up, and reversed our route back to camp. We left two slings making a couple of rappels down the fourth Supai band. It was safer than trying to reverse the climbing. Back at the Wotan/Angel’s Gate saddle we took a short break before descending back to camp, arriving 11.5 hours after we left. We were tired but elated. Hugs all around. We chatted with the other two groups, who made special trips to our camp to ask how the climb went. They were both excited for us. Fun to meet such nice people.

The next day was a long one. By the time I went to bed, it was 23 hours long. It started at 4 a.m. in Clear Creek and ended at 3 a.m. at my house in Superior and coupled complete serenity with sustained stress. Our hike back to Phantom was pure magic. Absolutely perfect temperatures. We hiked in shorts and short sleeves. The trail was, relatively, flat and smooth. A full moon lit us so that we could hike without our headlamps, passing under the dark shadows of temples climbed and temples to be climbed. One of the best hiking experiences I’ve ever had.


The hike out of the ditch went well, a rarity for Homie and maybe a singularity. The drive home was broken into three legs. I took the first leg and it went smooth. Heading out of the park, we passed the longest line of cars waiting to get into a national park that I’ve ever seen. It was 3 or 4 miles long. I have no idea where they will put all those cars. They must close entry at some point. Derek’s leg, to Fruita, also went well. Then it was time for the Midnight Rambler: Homie. This was a nasty, nasty leg. Snow was sticking to the road by Avon and kept coming down until we pulled into his driveway, three hours later. We drove under signs saying that Vail Pass was closed, but Google showed only a delay of 24 minutes. The pass was nearly devoid of cars, but for good reason: it was the middle of the night, snowing hard, visibility nil, and roads very slippery. Homie did a masterful job, but it was 35 mph for 90 minutes. Things improved east of the tunnel, but not by much. A fitting end of a difficult, fun, satisfying adventure. Of course, we are already planning the next one…



Friday, July 31, 2020

Utah/Idaho Mountain Vacation

Kings Peak


Long ago Sheri and I worked on doing all the Colorado 14ers. Once that was done, we did all the California 14ers too. Then Derek wanted to climb Denali and with that done I got more interested in the state highpoints. I had an old book on the highpoints, but now I was much more interested. Still, I was only interested in the “real” mountains, which were the peaks over 10,000 feet and a number of other exceptions, like Mount Washington in New Hampshire. But then Derek asked me why not do them all. I started to answer about how so many of them weren’t mountains at all, some not even hills. But he made me look at it a different way. It was an excuse to visit all fifty states and at least experience them in some superficial way. That struck me as a very worthwhile goal. Then I learned that my buddy Homie was interested in them and had taken a couple of eastern trips to bag handfuls at a time. When Alexander the Sometimes Great joined the Minions, I learned that he not only was a “high pointer”, but that he was almost done. A few years ago I set a goal of doing at least one high point each year, but last year I never got around to it. This year I had to make up for it.

The Big Four of high pointers are Denali, Rainier, Gannett, and Granite. They are the most remote and technical. I’ve now done all four of those with Derek. I’d been basically working my way through the highpoints from west to east and the two most western summits I didn’t have were Kings Peak in Utah and Borah Peak in Idaho. I devised this trip to do with Sheri, to start another list-checking quest. Even though Sheri wasn’t motivated to finish them all, she was all in for the remaining peaks. 

Kings Peak is 13,528 feet tall and the highest remaining high point for me. It resides in the Uinta Mountains of northern Utah — the highest and one of the few ranges in the lower 48 states oriented east-west. This peak lies a long way from any road. The usual access is from the north via the Henry Fork Trailhead and the peak is more than 13 miles away. We elected to do it as a multi-day backpacking trip. After driving 7 hours from our house in Colorado, we hit the trail around 1:30 p.m under threatening skis. 

As we hiked the gradual, rolling, rocky trail, numerous riders on horseback passed us on their way out. At one point we caught a family hiking with two llamas. They were off the trail, barely, to let a group of riders by, but the horses were very nervous about the llamas. They balked, ears perked up, nostrils flared, then they’d canter by, causing Sheri and me to fade further off the trail to avoid being trampled. Another mile in another family was hiking out, but most weren’t carrying anything at all. This was because they hiked with four heavily-laden goats with huge horns. All the goats were just hiking free with no tether or leash or harness at all. 

It started to rain on us around 4 p.m. and it quickly got really hard. Sheri asked if we should take shelter and I thought, “Why? We’ll still get wet,” but then she said we could get under the ground cloth we were carrying. I whipped it out and we dropped it over us. We sat on our packs and the rain pounded our tarp and it stuck to our backs. It was cold and miserable. I thought my tent’s rain fly could be set up without the tent and I pulled it out of my pack and found out that wasn’t the case. Now we huddled under both. Others hiked by us and one person remarked, “Hey, look at the tarp.” And then Sheri poked out her head. It wasn’t our proudest moment. 

When the rain eased a bit, we packed up and continued on in a light rain. Our goal was to get to Dollar Lake, eight miles from the trailhead, but after five or six miles we burst from the trees into high tundra, just as the rain started again in earnest, accompanied this time by thunder and lightning. Going out into the open didn’t sound like a good idea. I found a semi-sheltered spot just a tiny ways off the trail and decided to throw up the tent, initially as a temporary shelter, until the rain passed by. We spent two nights there.

By the time the tent was up, we were wet and cold. Sheri had a rain cover on her pack, but I did not. Some of my gear was damp, but not too bad. We changed into dry clothes and got under our sleeping bags, but it was awhile before we were warm. It continued to rain for a couple more hours. Sheri got us some water and I cooked up dinner. Eventually two guys set up their tent about fifty yards away from us. By the time we left, there would be five separate parties and decided our spot was a good camp, though they were located well away from us.

The night was cold, below freezing judging from the frost on the bridges and the frozen puddles. I had only brought my lightest sleeping bag, which is really a quilt, with no enclosed bottom. We did have our down jackets and we wore all our clothing inside our bags and it was still cold. My feet were the worst off. They didn’t warm up until two hours into hiking 

We left camp around 6:30 a.m., both of us hiking in our long pants and down jackets. In less than an hour we got to Dollar Lake, though we never saw it. The trails here avoid going directly to lakes. I don’t know why. I waited too long to get water and had to drop down to a still pond and dip water out of it. The only filter we had was a heavily clogged Be Free and it would have a solid hour of squeezing to get a liter out of it. Yet, I didn’t want to drink this water. Further up, we found a small drip coming from higher up and I dumped the water I had retrieved and replaced it from this drip. Still, we used the Be Free, with great effort. 

We hiked up to Gunsight Pass via two long, rocky switchbacks at a gentle angle. We caught a group of four women at the pass. Another party had passed us lower down and they were hiking the “direct” option across the slopes of the peak to the west. The regular trail dropped well down the other basin to circumvent this peak and come up the valley between it and Kings Peak. This shortcut went well until we got to the southern slopes. Then it was a pure talus traverse. Sheri does not like terrain like this. I can just walk right across it. I’ve probably done hundreds of miles of talus by this point in my life. I’m not as agile or bold as Derek, but I know what I’m doing on talus. Sheri has no confidence at all that she can balance on these rocks so she has to squat and grab hold of them. She moves at about one third of my usual pace and expends about three times the energy. She’d later say that her big, soft Hokas sucked and that she turned her ankle 129 times. This caused pain in her already injured knee. She hated this. I was already planning a new route back. 

Once across the talus we did a fairly short climb up to Anderson Pass. From here it is a long 2nd/3rd class ridge to the summit. It gains another 900 feet from here, but the distance is great and seems to go on forever. All this boulder hopping wore on Sheri, as did the false summits, even though I assured her we had 500 vertical feet to go. Maybe 300 feet below the summit, I asked how she was doing, expecting the usual: I’m beat, but I’ll make it. Instead she broke down in tears and said, “This is too hard for me!” Too hard for her? I can’t remember ever hearing that from her. Sure some things are too hard for her and she declines to try them, like the LA Freeway or the Diamond. But I’ve never heard that from her on a non-technical mountain. We climbed Cotopaxi (19,348 feet) on our 5th day away from our sea-level home in San Jose, back in 1993. Near the summit she was stronger than I was. She’s done the 26-mile, 6000-foot roundtrip on Mt. Whitney in one day. And countless other hard peaks. Of course we’re both older now. The problem was just the length of the day and the length of the boulder hopping. It drained her. 

Despite her fatigue she continued to the summit. What choice did she have? She’d come so far already. The summit is neat with a very steep west face. There is a sign at the summit, but no register. We were up there with three or four other teams and more on the way. Mostly we had hiked by ourselves, but seen other parties. Now we were clumped together a bit more. Three runners had come from the trailhead that day. This is a big outing for a single day, but quite doable...if you’re from Boulder. Kyle could do it and be back for a late breakfast. I could do and be back for a late dinner.

Sheri was glad to have made the top and thankful to sit down, rest, and eat. She wasn’t drinking enough because of our crappy filter and limited amount of water. I didn’t drink hardly anything at all, trying to save almost all of it for Sheri. She ate quite a bit here, saying she was so hungry, another phrase I don’t hear that often from her. After half an hour we started down.

It was slow going back to the pass, but then we picked up the trail and moved a bit quicker. Now Sheri wasn’t limited by the terrain as she was by fatigue and dehydration. I found a little trickle of water down and refilled our bottles, but it was still difficult for her to suck it out of our Be Free bottle. 

From the summit, I had scoped out a route around the horrible talus traverse. I’d even thought about this route on the way in, but didn’t want to lose the elevation only to regain it again. But seeing how tough the talus was for Sheri, this was an easy decision. We dropped down on the regular trail until we were below the talus and then broke cross-country on grassy slopes until below the cairn that marked the end of the traverse. This cairn was six feet tall and I could see it from below. We did have to climb a couple hundred feet to get back on the shortcut route, but it was a huge time saver. We had been passed on the ridge descent by two young women and they had started the traverse at least ten minutes before we got down off the ridge. We then dropped two hundred feet below them and then re-climbed that vertical and ended up well in front of them. They wouldn’t re-pass us until miles later. Sheri appreciated the ease of this new route, but said she almost hurled on the climb back to the ridge. That’s a third phrase I never hear from her. I’m the hurler, not her.

I had been trying to move us along at a good pace because the sky was threatening another storm. The discomfort and cold of the day before was fresh on my mind and I wanted to make sure we at least got to Gunsight Pass before it hit. Sheri wasn’t moving that fast, but she was moving continuously. I’d get out ahead of her periodically and then wait for her to catch up, but start moving as soon as she got there. It wasn’t until we were down from the pass (taking a nice shortcut to lose altitude quicker) that I offered up little rest breaks to her. She took the first two offerings and then decided that she had to keep moving or she’d tighten up. 

It was a long way back to camp and it did rain on us some, but, try as it might, it could not develop into a real storm. We donned our jackets, but soon had them unzipped and the hoods off. Back at camp, I got us plenty of water and started brewing up some coffee and hot chocolate. It was only 3:30 p.m. so too early for dinner but we needed to hydrate and snack a bit. I also boiled up a few water bottles worth of liquid so that we didn’t have to use the filter. Sheri took a little nap and then the sun came out and the tent became hot. She hobbled down to the creek and iced her feet. I had originally thought we’d hike out this day, but I knew that was out before we had hit the summit.

We lounged around in the grass surrounding our tent. I was in shorts and nothing else. The grass was so soft that even I, with my wimpy feet, could walk around, gingerly, barefoot. We cooked dinner out here and enjoyed the views and the satisfaction of success. 

It was so warm that evening that we had high hopes for a warmer night, but that was not to be. If anything it was colder. I first woke up to put on my long pants and down jacket. Then, around 4 a.m. my cold feet woke me up for the rest of the night. I got up to pee at 5 a.m. and retrieve our food bag. I did fall back asleep in spurts, but started making coffee at 6 a.m. We ate and packed up and were hiking around 7:15 a.m. Not in our down jackets this time, but in hats and gloves and my pile sweater. It had been so hot at home and even when I did a 15-hour day up in Rocky Mountain National Park, but I had a hard time imagining being this cold anywhere outside of Alaska or Siberia. Later in the trip we’d do some more backpacking into the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho. Those mountains are lower, but further north. I’d bring a bigger sleeping bag for that trip (actually, I would not). 

That was my 16th state highpoint. The only remaining western highpoint is the next mountain on our list: Borah Peak.

Borah Peak


After hiking out six miles on Monday morning, Sheri drove us to Borah Peak’s trailhead. She does almost all the driving on our trips. I navigate, handle the music, read articles to her, and write the trip report. I only take a turn behind the wheel when the drive is extra long and she needs a break, or if it is at night, despite my terrible night vision. Or on a 4WD road. Or bad weather. Basically, I drive all the junk, which is very few miles. It works for us.

My book tells me that Borah Peak is 5500 vertical feet in 6.8 miles…roundtrip. That makes the direct route on Green Mountain (above Boulder) look like a road race course. It’s more vertical than Longs Peak in half the mileage (via the Keyhole Route). The summit is at 12,662 feet and the only state high point above 9000 feet that I had left. Once you get out of the west, elevation isn’t an issue. The next highest is Guadalupe Peak, in Texas, at 8,749 feet.

My guidebook mentioned three camping sites at the trailhead. Three. With so few I wondered if they were ever not filled, but we decided to check them out anyway, since it would be a Monday night. And we got one. In fact, there are probably five sites here. Two were open, but the first one we went to didn’t have any ground that was flat. The only remaining site worked fine. It even had a picnic table. We set up the tent, made dinner and chatted with our neighbors who had just got down from the peak. One of the guys was 68 years old and he adventures 9 months a year. The other three he works with his wife. They have a two-person, tax-accounting company. Sounds like a sweet deal. His wife doesn’t come with him, though. That would suck. His goal is to run a marathon in every state, bike across the US (in pieces), do the state high points (he isn’t very far), and visit every country (even less far there). I love a guy with lists to check off. I’m that guy. He recently biked around Lake Michigan: 1200 miles! He brings all his own gear, pulls a trailer and camps. That is so cool. I want to be like this guy when I grow up.

We also met Caleb and Kylie, a father-daughter team, in the parking lot. They had never climbed a mountain before. This monster seemed like a bold choice for initiation. But, I like bold goals. They had set up their tent right there in the main parking lot, not in a campsite, which was open when they arrived. It was windy and they tied the tent to their car, but couldn’t make it work, so they brought it down and slept in their car. They didn’t look very fit and I didn’t think their chances were great.

We readied our packs the night before and set the alarm for 5:30, planning to start as soon as it was light enough to go without headlamps. This turned out to be about 6 a.m. Sheri led the way and set the pace, which was steady and sustainable. The trail is indeed steep and consistently so. We hiked up a wooded ridge, frequently without any switchbacks at all. When there were switchbacks, they were very short, tens of feet, and still steep. We caught the K’s (yeah, Caleb isn’t a K, but it was easier to say and to remember) after about 45 minutes. They had started at 5:30 a.m. and were stopping to attend to some hot spots on Kylie’s feet. I noticed Caleb was wearing jeans. My assessment of their chances dipped lower.

Sheri kept pounding up the trail. If we could average 1 mph, we’d do the roundtrip in under 7 hours. That seemed like a good goal. The 68-year-old guy had taken 13 hours. Our other neighbor had taken 11 hours. We did our first mile in 32 minutes and our second mile in 47 minutes and our third mile in 48 minutes. Only 0.4 miles to go, right? Wrong. At least according to my GPS, the trail isn’t 3.4 miles long, it’s at least four miles. 

As we approached the scrambling section, we spotted a huge group above us. Up until then, the only people we had seen were the K’s. This group, of about 20 people, was a scout troop. Unfortunately, we caught them right at the start of the crux, a section called Chicken-Out Ridge. We’d talked to a lady in the parking lot the previous day who said, she did chicken out. It is solid 3rd class with some serious exposure. We picked our way past the scouts when opportunity allowed. Sheri was nervous, but did well. 

Chicken-Out Ridge ends with a steep, 15-foot down climb to a col, with hard snow. Thankfully, a knotted, fixed line eased the descent to the snow. I went first and spotted Sheri on the way down. The snow crossing was short, 10-15 steps, but very serious. A fall there would likely be fatal, but flat steps existed and I held Sheri’s hand across. Once on the other side, Sheri remained a bit nervous and needed me holding her hand for a while longer. Then the terrain became a trail again and she pushed on for the summit. 

The final 900 vertical feet was class 2 and 3, but not very exposed, but a bit loose. We made the summit after 3h37m and were the first climbers on top. We had gone non-stop from trailhead to summit. And it wasn’t me driving that. It was Sheri. The only time I pushed the pace was guiding Sheri around all the Boy Scouts on Chicken-Out Ridge. Other than that, Sheri was always in the lead. We only spent 15 minutes on top because of threatening clouds. It had been cloudy all morning, but now they grew darker. We left the top just before the first of the Boy Scouts arrived. We passed them all on our descent and then were once again alone. Until the Chicken-Out Ridge, where we found, much to my surprise, was the K’s! We directed them to the proper route and passed by them just before they got to the fixed line. I’m sure they made it. I’m also sure they got very wet on the descent.

Once off the ridge, our pace picked up. We did the descent without stopping as well, making the roundtrip in 6h40m, just a bit under our goal of seven hours. The last 30 minutes or so was in the rain. We put on our shells, but barely needed them. Back at our campsite it was raining harder and everything was soaked. Sheri hopped in the car while I made her a hot coffee. She relaxed and fueled while I packed up our campsite. I wanted to get on the road quickly because we had a 2-hour drive to our next destination: Redfish Lake. We wanted to get a hotel so that we could shower and dry-out our gear before packing for our next backcountry trip. 

We drove to Stanley, population 67, passing Clayton, population 7, without any cell service. Once there I started calling hotels, without any luck. Finally, I tried a lodge back the way we had come and booked a quaint, cozy cabin. We reversed course for twenty miles and had a great afternoon and evening. We drove back another 8 miles to a grill located at a gas station. We had great burgers and fries here. We liked it so much that we repeated the meal on our way home, three days later.

Sawtooth Range


As long as we were driving all the way to Idaho, I wanted to sample some of the classic alpine climbing in the Sawtooth Mountains, especially the famed Elephant’s Perch. Sheri wasn’t interested in any honest rock climbing. Luckily, I had a friend, Ali G., who lived in Boise and had climbed on the Elephant’s Perch numerous times. Unluckily, Ali G. had a trip planned to Yosemite that same week. It was his first trip to the Valley and he was rightfully excited about it, despite the ridiculously dumb time to visit. At that time of year Yosemite Valley will seem more like Death Valley than the climbing Mecca that it is. I queried some of my other partners. Danny has a strict rule of not climbing outside the state of Colorado unless he’s with a climber of short stature (Hi, Ryan!). Tom was busy bagging peaks with his wife, just like me. Except his peaks weren’t my peaks. I queried Jon Oulton, up in Seattle, before realizing his drive would be as long as mine. I even queried the Brilly Goat, who also lived in Boise. He’s a young kid known for running up mountains, not climbing up them. He was tempted, itching for a good epic, but decided he needed to write a paper on the limits of human endurance, a subject about which he has lots of firsthand knowledge. 

I was thinking seriously about rope soloing the Mountaineer’s Route on the Elephant’s Perch. It was rated 5.9, but the comments on MP.com indicated that it wasn’t very sustained. I thought I might be able to manage it. Then, on the goodbye scramble for Angela, 36 hours before leaving on my trip, I talked with David the Sometimes Great. He of state highpoint fame. I gave my pitch. He bit. He mentioned Baron’s Spire, the hardest summit in Idaho. I said we could probably get both and the hook was set. A day later he confirmed.

We met at the Redfish Lake boat ramp on Wednesday morning. I was going in loaded for comfort. Kings Peak had convinced me to man up either in my toughness to discomfort or to carrying a heavy pack. I opted for the latter. And then tried to sneak all the heavy climbing gear into DSG’s pack. Actually, it was so warm that I took my tiny sleeping bag once again. The only extra comfort I carried was our backpacking chair. 

David arrived at exactly the same time as we did. I was asking a ranger about overnight parking when I noticed David in his 4Runner. We parked next to each other in the lot and divided up the climbing gear. I took our 9.8mm 70-meter rope and my jugging setup (we planned to attempt Baron’s Spire, which had a bolt ladder on it) and David carried the rack. His pack looked huge. He had to carry all this own gear, while I had Sheri to carry pretty much all the food.

We were headed for the Saddlebag Lakes below the absolutely awesome Elephant’s Perch. To get there, you can hike 5-6 miles around Redfish Lake or pay $17 for a roundtrip boat ride across the lake. We didn’t hesitate even a second before opting for the ride. Not only would it save us a lot of effort, but we all felt it was so cool to take a boat as part of the approach to a climb. I’ve always thought that the CMC Route on Mt. Moran, in the Tetons, was such an awesome adventure because you have to canoe over to the start of the trail. 

Getting the boat was so easy. Just walk up at any time, pay your money, and less than 10 minutes later you’re speeding across the lake. On the other side, we pulled our heavy packs onto our backs and headed up the trail. We were chatting so much that I walked right past our turn to head up to the Saddlebag Lakes. In my defense, there is no sign or cairn or any indication that there is a trail there. The trail was listed on my Gaia maps and I figured there would be a sign. Nope. We backtracked and found a faint path leading into the dense jungle. We got to the river without trouble but there is no bridge there and it was extremely difficult to move up or down the banks because of incredibly dense vegetation and downed logs.

I found a dicey crossing a bit upstream, but it involved a tiny jump onto a rock with water running over it. Not that much water ran over the rock, but it was scary not knowing how slippery that rock would be. I went for it and made it across. I dropped my pack and reversed it (harder), thinking I’d take Sheri’s pack across, but my companions balked. It was too dicey for Sheri and for David with his enormous pack. They crossed halfway, on a log, a bit further downstream and then waded across. I went back across my leaping route with Sheri’s pack and then had to carry both packs through crazy, dense terrain where I was walking across wet logs four feet above the forest floor and couldn’t see the ground because of all the plants. I was fearful that a fall off the log would impale me on a stump or stick below. It was dangerous and as I was doing it, I thought, “I tell people never to do this.” I’ve got my huge pack on my back and Sheri’s over one shoulder. Sheri’s pack kept slipping off my shoulder and I carried it in the crook of my arm. Plus the plants were all wet. By the time I found the trail on the other side, I was wetter than David or Sheri. 

Shortly after continuing on the trail we talked to a family coming out asking if we had crossed at the logs tied together. Nope. We didn’t see it. We didn’t see it on the way out either. We seemed to be the only party having trouble with this crossing. It was frustrating and an epic bushwhack on our way out, the next day.

The trail up to the Saddlebag Lakes is very steep and not maintained. It was mostly easy to follow, but a couple of times we seemed to wander off it only to find it again shortly. It was quite hot and this was a grunt. Just below the lakes we met a couple coming out that raved about their campsite, saying it was the best they’ve ever seen. They described just where it was and we hiked directly there. It was perched atop a 50-foot cliff right above the water. From inside our tent we had a view of the Elephant’s Perch. This area is incredibly beautiful. The lakes are crystal clear and lined with lush, green forests and white granite slabs and cliffs. Above loom alpine peaks and spires everywhere, most are angular and sharp, but the immense Elephant’s Perch is smooth, round, steep. It looks like a mini El Cap, though still huge. It towers a thousand feet over the lakes but our proximity to its base made it appear taller. With numerous vertical crack systems, it is not surprising that this monolith holds many established routes. The easiest route is the Mountaineer’s Route (7 pitches, 5.9). It being my first visit here, I wanted to climb this route. I wanted to increase my chances of success and get a feel for the place. I hope to return someday and try my hand at the more challenging routes.

After setting up camp, eating some lunch and relaxing, David and I trekked over to the base of the Perch to make sure we could find the route and a good way to get there. Halfway up the talus below the wall we ran into a couple taking shade by a big boulder. We asked them if they had climbed the route and the guy told us about bailing. Then, after some introspection, he says, “Can I ask a favor of you guys?” I was expecting him to ask to team up with us or retrieve gear he left or something like that, but he says, “I’ve been climbing for 15 years and this (referring to the woman at his side) is the love of my life. She’s only been climbing a year, but she’s done 5.9 at Indian Creek. We got up to that mantle move (this is prominently marked on the topo and is either on the first or second pitch, depending upon how you string them, and is rated 5.8) it wigged me out. I got by it and belayed hanging below the tree up there. When my lady got up there, she climbed too high and was looking at a huge fall, pendulum.” He goes on and on and then talks about the 5.9 2-foot roof on an upper pitch and how with no fixed anchors he wouldn’t be able to retreat and on and on. He was mentally torn up by rappelling off from that tree (basically one pitch up the route). He said that he climbs 5.12 at Indian Creek but he seemed very inexperienced at multi-pitch trad climbing and especially stressed about how his girlfriend would do and what would happen if she couldn’t get up the route. David said he was forlorn, bearing his soul to us. Watching him wrestle those inner demons, I sympathized. I’ve been through that before. Probably most climbers have. He also seemed to be embarrassed, as he said, “We made friends with other campers down at the lake and they were so excited for us to go climb this thing and now…” Hey, sometimes climbs are too tough, or too long, or too dangerous (we’d run into this ourselves in a couple of days). 

This is part of what makes climbing great: the unknown, the adventure. If you knew you were going to make it, then there isn’t any adventure. Adventure is a two-sided coin, though. It’s type-two fun. Climbing like this is a strange thing for most people to understand. Most people recreate for fun, but trad climbers sometimes specifically seek out situations that will stress them greatly, mentally and physically. While this stress is happening, it is most definitely not fun. Yet, we do it over and over. I do it less and less these days, which is why I was going for the Mountaineer’s Route on this trip. I was mainly on a trip with Sheri and I didn’t want to risk any epics with her along. Plus, I didn’t know David very well. He could fall apart under pressure. I didn’t know. Just kidding, if suspected that David wasn’t solid I wouldn’t have been here with him, but this would be the first time we’d ever roped up together. In truth, I didn’t know him well.

We found the start of the route easily, though we couldn’t identify the mantle move, at least with any confidence. Walking back to camp, we discussed logistics. Since this route was my idea, I wanted the crux 5.9 pitches, though I wasn’t dogmatic about it. That gave David the first pitch and likely the, now more concerning, mantle move. We traversed around the shore of the lake and I was surprised and delighted to spot a couple of frogs. Amphibians are rare in the alpine. I guess these frogs hibernate all winter. Frogs are cool.

The next morning, as I drank my coffee, I watched headlamps bob and weave up the slopes to the base of the Perch. I assumed they were going for our route and hoped they were either fast or would let us pass. I rarely climb for speed alone, but I always like to move efficiently and at my pace. Who doesn’t? Getting stuck waiting behind slow and inefficient partners is frustrating. Nowadays it seems that more climbers are willing to let faster climbers move through. I wasn’t that concerned. We left camp at 6 a.m.

It took a little more than 20 minutes to get to the base and David was leading the first pitch by 6:35. The most challenging aspect of climbing with David, was feeding the rope out fast enough. He sped up the first hundred feet of this route like he was in a Tour stage, not placing a single piece. Yes, the climbing was easy, but, dang, I wondered if he’d be bored belaying me. David ran out 200 feet of our 230-foot (70-meter) rope. I was soon on belay and moving upwards.

I got the famous “Mantle Move” and was a bit surprised. The beta had said that the move was easier if you moved left before you tried the mantle. Moving left is the obvious thing to do and if you do so, there isn’t even a mantle to be done. Footholds and handholds abound and I felt the climbing was about 5.6. Perhaps that rating isn’t fair, though, as I didn’t lead it. David thought it was 5.7. It was barely worth a pause, let alone any consternation. Right after this move was probably the crux of the first pitch with maybe a move or two of 5.7 jamming.

I led the second pitch up to a two-bolt belay on a small stance below a big roof. This pitch was generally easy, but I felt there was a short section (3 or 4 feet) that was probably 5.8. It took me a couple of tries to figure it out. David led the next pitch, going up to the roof and traversing left underneath it. This was easy as well, with handholds and footholds, and probably 5.7 at best. Above the roof the climbing becomes very easy, 4th class, and David burned up my belay device.

The next pitch was the first 5.9 pitch. I did some reach-y face climbing out to the left to gain easy cracks near the arete and then climbed up them into I could step right into a right-facing dihedral at a relaxed angle. The “2-foot roof” couldn’t really be called a roof, since the terrain never even became vertical, let along overhanging. I ran out 160 feet of rope or so and belayed on a good ledge. I never encountered anything harder than 5.7. I wondered if we were on route, but I knew we were.

David followed, confirming my thoughts on the rating. He then led a short 5.7 pitch into the second 5.9 pitch, which actually did feel like 5.9 to me. It even had a runout wide section that would have held my attention on lead. David cruised it and by the time I joined him, he had already changed into his scrambling shoes. We supposedly had a few more 5th class pitches, so I led upwards for a bit to make sure it was easy. I stopped atop a huge block and I changed shoes and we packed up the gear. We scrambled a few more hundred feet to the summit. The climb had taken us three hours from the base of the route to the very summit. Mercifully we did almost the entire route in the shade. Once in the sun, we started to bake.

The descent was easy and straightforward, with a single rappel, and we were back in camp at 10:30 a.m. Sheri hiked over and met us where we crossed over the outlet of the lake. What a fun romp. The climbing is really good. The position is excellent. The views are extraordinary. The rock quality was bulletproof (though there were some loose blocks, but nothing out of the ordinary for an alpine climb). It was the perfect introduction to Sawtooth climbing. David and I had meshed well together with a similar desire of efficiency.

We lounged around camp for a bit, drinking and eating and resting. We were moving our camp that afternoon up to Alpine Lake to position ourselves for an attempt on Baron’s Spire the next day. We shouldered our packs at noon and started down the steep trail, hoping to find the tied-log bridge, which we didn’t. I found a log that went all the way across and went over and dropped my pack. I came back for Sheri’s pack and thought she might be able to walk the log, but she wasn’t confident. She ended up scooting across it on her butt. So, the crossing went okay, but then we fought the worst bushwhack I’ve done in a long time. We only had to go maybe two hundred yards, but it was nearly impenetrable in most spots and finding a way to progress was difficult. It took us an hour to do the last mile to the official trail (Trail 101). 

It was really hot now and we were drained from our battle. We had to climb three miles to Alpine Lake. We broke it up into two sections, taking a break at the trail junction just 1.2 miles up the trail. The final switchbacks up to the lake seemed interminable and we were all beyond ready to stop and camp. We took the first flat campsite, a huge area with at least spotted areas of shade, which we chased the rest of the afternoon. Before we even put up the tents, we went swimming in the lake. Swimming is perhaps an overstatement. David dove right in but got out quickly. Sheri waded into her knees and I knew she’d go no further. I was the only interesting prospect. Would I or wouldn’t I? I stood knee deep for quite awhile before diving in. Truth be told, I knew I was going in. Heck, David went in, so the ironclad rules of masculinity demanded that I match him. Unfortunately, Sheri didn’t get it on video, but as I recall now, I think I did a perfect one-and-half slicing through the crystal clear water with nary a ripple. By the time I dove the shores were lined with other campers all cheering me on. Upon emerging from the water, as gracefully as a penguin shooting out of the ocean and landing on their feet upon an ice floe, the spectators thrust me upon their shoulders and… Well, you get the point. Suffice to say it was quite something.

We drank as much fluids as we could, trying to hydrate for our big day tomorrow. We ate early and Sheri retired to the tent at 7. I got in at 8 and David resisted until 9. 

The next morning we were hiking at 5 a.m. We had to climb 800 feet up to the pass and then drop 700 feet down the other side to the beautiful Baron Lakes. There are three of these, just like the Saddlebag Lakes. Right at the pass we spotted our objective: Baron’s Spire, AKA Old Smoothie. This is a huge, stunning spire which is supposedly one of the toughest summits to attain in Idaho. The gigantic 120-foot tall summit block overhangs on all sides and is only breached by an ancient, Fred Becky bolt ladder. We planned to attempt the easiest route, the Southeast Face, which was four pitches of 5.9 climbing up a ledgy platform, leading to blocky, ledge-y terrain which we’d scramble over to the base of the bolt ladder. 

The hike up from the Baron Lakes to the base of the route was very steep and we weaved our way around cliffs and slabs, finally picking up a cairn-marked climber’s trail. David had been dreaming about climbing this spire for over a decade. I only knew it existed for less than a week. Hence, he got the bolt-ladder pitch and hence the first pitch off the ground. This was an interesting pitch. It wasn’t very steep, but it was burly, wide, and awkward. Despite the wide nature of a lot of the climbing, large cams were not required. David’s done enough desert climbing to have developed solid wide-crack skills and wasn’t deterred in the least. I went to school on his choices and had an easier and less scary time when I followed the pitch.

The next pitch went up a nice corner with a good crack. Steep, but not vertical, it was continuous and had me breathing hard in a couple of sections. I solved the first crux via liebacking until I could get a good hand jam and place some gear. A small roof further up had me baffled for a bit. I had to down climb out of a false start before I noticed some tiny footholds that proved the key for me. At the top of the pitch I was supposed to “step right” to a ledge. When I got up there, this step right was more like a fifteen-foot traverse with no gear. It looked improbable and I thought the possibilities looked better higher up. Wrong. I had to downclimb a bit and back clean a piece. I inched out to the right and found some good footholds. I got out to a small arete and was able to reach way into a wide crack and place a completely tipped-out #3 Camalot. I did a few dicey moves up the arete and was able to step across to a good ledge. 

David followed rather quickly, deflating my efforts just a bit. He did comment that it was “big boy climbing,” though. The ground above offered many options. David selected a middle crack and chimneyed up a bit to some loose blocks, pulled on them and got to a pure chimney section. After little deliberation, he launched up the unprotected chimney. It was a pure back-knee chimney of about twenty feet. David climbed it in less than a minute. This was probably 5.8 climbing, 5.7 if in Yosemite. Following this section I suspended the pack I was wearing beneath me on a sling.

The next pitch was rated 5.9 and continued up the corner I climbed on the second pitch, but it was really just a short little boulder problem that was about ten feet of real climbing, after an easier introduction and then I was on the blocky ledge. This pitch seemed easier than 5.9 and couldn’t have taken much more than five minutes. Once on the ledge, I could immediately see there was rubble everywhere, but I didn’t study it closely. I could see a slanting ledge above and well to the right of me that would lead to the bolt ladder. I slapped in some gear and brought David up.

We decided to stay roped for the next scrambling pitch because it looked dicey. David set off and immediately balked. It wasn’t just dicey. Going the obvious, direct route was a suicidal path of completely loose rubble. Studying things more closely, we could see the rubble covered all the terrain below, which was our rappel route. While David probed another way to gain the traverse ledge, I started doing the calculations of how we’d rap our ascent route. We’d found one rappel anchor at the top of the second pitch, but it didn’t go down the corner that we’d climbed. We only had our one 70-meter rope and descending the other side could leave us hanging in space. I figured we’d have to leave a cam for an anchor to get down that pitch. Expensive, but we’d get down safely.

In the meantime, David had climbed half a pitch and set up a belay. When I joined him, we quickly came to agreement that continuing onwards was far too dangerous. We wouldn’t get the summit today. That’s okay. Just like the Forlorn Fellow over at the Perch, we made the decision to retreat and return to fight another day. I led the way down, selecting horns to sling. We made it down in four rappels, using the one at the top of the second pitch and leaving three slings of our own, along with three biners. The first rappel, from atop pitch 4.5, got me down to just below the “5.9” climbing. I then had to downclimb the 4th class terrain to the block ledges atop pitch three. I found another spike of rock to sling here and it got us down to the top of the second pitch. I looked over the side and thought the rope might reach a ledge with a huge tree below. I took the jugs with me, just in case I had to reverse back up the rope. The last sling was around a branch of this huge tree and that put us on the ground.

We were back at our packs at 11:30 a.m. We ate and drank while we packed up and then got down. Down the slope and then back up to the pass and back down to our campsite where we found Sheri reading her book.  We got there around 1:30 p.m. We were very dehydrated and Sheri squeezed fresh water from our filter until we were sated. We cooked up a dehydrated meal for a late lunch and to lighten the packs. We started the 6-mile hike out to the boat dock at 3:15 p.m. We had a 7 p.m. pickup time and knew it would be easy to make. We got there at 5:30 p.m. and David went for another swim. We thought we’d be hanging out for 90 minutes when I boat pulled up and unloaded some climbers. What timing! We hopped on board and ten minutes later we were at the other side.

While we didn’t get Baron’s Spire, we’d had a great first taste of the Sawtooth Range — such a beautiful place with so many compelling climbing objectives. We all hope to return someday. We all drove back to the gas station burger place and stuffed ourselves. Then we met up again at David’s sleeping spot on a lonely gravel road near Borah Peak. Sheri and I were driving at 6 a.m. the next morning, Saturday morning, while David slept some more. He was headed to the Tetons and then to Wild Iris. His trip started with this adventure while ours was ending with it.

It was great getting to know David better. He’s a very solid, safe, efficient, fast climber. We share a lot of the same type of climbing objectives. The only problem is that David now knows how much Sheri spoils me. She is such a great supporter of my adventures. Being with her and still climbing cool routes is the ideal vacation for me. As long as she’s game for more, we’ll continue with it.