Saturday, July 9th, 2005

Whare are all my traddies at? Devils Tower, Vedauwoo, and Eldo

“I can’t find a hold anywhere.” What do you mean? There’s a hand stack right there!
Odub, Album Offwidth, thats me

What has happened to this woman in front of me? She has the tan of the rich people on Miami beaches, but the scabs on her nose, cheek, and forehead are those of a street fighter. Her arms, covered by scrapes and cuts, look as if they’ve been in a blender. Oh, look at the bruises on those legs! They make you want to call the police to report domestic violence. I look up and my eyes meet hers. Surprisingly, I detect satisfaction. The smile on her face seems to be telling me, “this is not too bad. It could have been worse.” Indeed, after climbing at Devil’s Tower for three days, Vedauwoo for four, and Eldorado Canyon for one, it is really not that bad. I say that to myself and walk away from the mirror.

It all started from an article, Vedauwoo Fats — Wyoming’s Wide-Crack Crucible, by Craig Luebben in the June 2005 issue of Climbing Magazine. It might sound weird to many people including some climbers, but the article and the beautiful pictures drew my heart to that place. When I heard that Craig might be able to make it out there from Denver area to climb with me for a couple of days, plus we were requested to take some days off from work to help out the company’s finance, I booked my airline tickets.

Now the problem was, whom would I climb with for the first few days? Normally, I wouldn’t trust the Internet for finding a climbing partner, but I found myself typing “climb” on Denver area’s Craigslist, and one post “Unemployed trad climbers wanted!!” caught my attention. I didn’t really fit the description, but the person, who later turned out to be a school teacher with all summer off, might be able to climb with me for a few days, so I replied. That was how I met John Langston. If I had had any expectation for my climbing partner for that trip, he had exceeded it — being a well rounded trad climber, he led finger cracks to offwidths to chimneys up to 5.12s, and as if that was not enough, he had made it a mission of his to get me on the most classic routes wherever we went. On the last day, he got up at 4 AM to give me a lift to the Denver Airport. What more could I have expected? (John, thank you for everything you did for me. I owe you.)

Another person whom I was psyched to meet was Odub (Kris Hampton). I first heard his rap, Offwidth, thats me, on my Indian Creek trip. I could only make out 50% of the words at the time (why are raps so fast?), but I loved hearing all those climbing related words come out of someone’s music. So, when I came across his website one day, I ordered three sets of the Offwidth CDs (yes, I did have my climber friends in mind). Instead of filling my order blindly, he emailed me to make sure that I was aware (I was actually not) that there was also a new CD, Valor Over Discretion, for the climbers. It was through the email correspondence that we learned our visits to Vedauwoo would overlap. He even offered me a ride back to Denver (a two hour drive each way) in case I wanted to stay at Vedauwoo on Saturday when John needed to go back for his bike race. He had not even met me yet! A musician (he is really an artist) with a kind heart. How cool is that!

John, his friend, Justin Edl (a young Vedauwoo rockstar), and I drove up to Devil’s Tower on July 1st. About 1 AM in the morning and 30 miles from the tower, we thought we were lost, so we stopped on the side of a road and started reading the map. Just then, a police car came up and parked behind us and started flashing. Five minutes later, an officer slowly approached our truck and asked, “Do you know why I pulled you over?” We had to hold back our laughs to give him an honest “no” answer. It took him 20 minutes to run a check on our three drivers licenses (from three states) before he let us go. We thought we were free until we were pulled over by him again, but this time he wanted to return the registration card that John handed to him earlier. We crashed at Amy, Mark, Mike, and Walt’s campsite. (I met them except Walt on the Indian Creek trip. And thank to Mark, the next evening we were treated a delicious pork stew dinner and freshly baked brownies.)
A brief sleep later, I woke up in the morning to a striking sight of the tower. It is a monolith that rises up about 1200 feet, all around which are the equally striking climbs that follow lines of cracks formed by the tens of columns that threat to detach themselves from the tower any moment. Climbing is unique at this place because of the wild stemming from column to column and the sustained cracks that shoot straight up. I would call all the routes we climbed classic, such as McCarthy West Face (5.11c), New Wave (5.10-), Soler (5.9), and El Matador (5.10d) just to name a few.

We returned to Laramie on the evening of Monday, July 4th early enough to shower at Justin’s place and watch the fireworks. There is free camping everywhere around Vedauwoo, 20 minutes away from Laramie. The landscape was so flat that I kept forgetting that I was at 8000′ elevation except when I wondered why it was so pleasant at night. Although there were warnings about daily thunderstorms at this time of the year, they seemed to be taking a break during my visit. The granite was much more abrasive than anything I had climbed — simply touching the rock could leave a scrap in the skin. It was the offwidth and wide crack climbing that attracted me to this place, and John and Craig made sure I would not go home disappointed. Just to name a few, the wide cracks I got on included Middle Parallel Space (5.9, OW) and Left Torpedo Tube (5.9+ or 5.10d depending on which guidebook you look at, or depending on your body size) at Nautilus area, Satterfield’s Crack (5.8, fist and chimney), Fourth of July Crack (5.12a, the crux for most people was the finger crack section, but the offwidth section on the top pretty much shut me down), Horn’s Mother (5.11a commonly known as a sandbag, first short pitch was impossible for people with small hands, and 2nd pitch was a 80′ of hand stack for me), Fallout (5.9, chimney and offwidth), Mainstreet (5.10a, OW start), and BoardWalk (5.11b, offwidth start, flared finger on 2nd pitch) at Coke Bottle area, and Bad Girls Do (5.10b, hand stack for me), Gash (5.10b, chimney), and Gloria’s Fantasy (5.10b, sustained offwidth and you need to make a 180 degree turn in the middle) at Granite Staircase area. Every time I got off of an offwidth, I felt as if I had been run over by a truck, twice. But the satisfaction that only such climbs, or getting them done over with, grant kept sucking me back into the next wide crack. However, do not get the wrong impression that Vedauwoo only has wide cracks. The hand and finger cracks are quality, challenging to be more accurate, as well such as Ghost Dance (5.11b, flared hand and finger crack), Hesitation Blues (5.11b, layback and overhanging hand jam), and Max Factor (5.11c, classic finger crack) at Nautilus area, Gloria (5.11b, finger crack) at Granite Staircase area, and Spectreman (5.11c, from fist to hand to finger, double overhang) at Blair area.

I was lucky to witness Justin re-send an overhanging finger crack, Harder Than Your Husband (5.12d) and Craig redpoint an extremely hard offwidth, Bad Girls Dream (5.11b) on his second try. Oh, you have to take the ratings with a grain of salt. In this area, many ratings were given in a giggle test — the first ascentionists would see what was the lowest rating they could come up with for the new climb that they could say without bursting into laughing. Although the ratings might be deceiving, normally the names would give out the truth. For example, before you even get on Bad Girls Dream, you should have figured out what you are getting into from the name — you are doomed to be #$!%ed.

The last day at Vedauwoo, I took my first leader fall on gear on Spectreman. After running out the wide off fist section, I was so pumped that I could not hang on to the first hand jam I had finally come to. The fall flipped me upside down, the back of my head knocked on the wall and the gear on my gear sling smashed into my face (hence the scabs on my nose and forehead). However, after being lowered down when I told John that my hands and feet were numb, he felt a relief — I was still speaking English. It was only after we climbed it (I did follow it clean) , I realized how insanely overhanging (in two directions) this climb was (see the picture below). Many valuable lessons were learned from this one fall.

Days were spent hopping from one climb to the next, and at night, I hung out with a subset of John, Justin, Craig, Odub and his friend Casey, and the camper down the road. It was a life that I could have wished to go on forever, but my body was screaming for a break. It was time to tear myself away from Vedauwoo. On Friday (July 8th) night, I rode back to Denver with John. While he went for his bike race on Saturday, I slept in, did laundry, did yoga, and took a nap. It was a very hot day around Denver, so Craig had planned to take me to Eldorado Canyon late in the afternoon. We arrived at the canyon shortly before 6 PM. The destination was the all time classic at Eldo, The Yellow Spur (5.9, 7 pitches) — we were going for a speedy ascent. With Craig leading all the way, we started climbing around 6:15PM, and caught up with the party in front of us at Pitch 4, who started at 2 PM in the afternoon. We passed them at the first opportunity where variations existed, and after 4 rappels, we got back to the car just in time not to switch on our headlamps. The climb was exciting — the rock and the nature of the route were very different from anything I had climbed before, and I learned a great deal about efficient climbing from Craig (yes, Craig, I will leave my daisy chain at home from now on). However, on our way out, we couldn’t help but wonder how those two guys were doing behind us. Did they have headlamps? Did they know where the rappels were? Did they stay calm in the dark? The only soothing thought was it would be a warm night in the canyon. They would have been fine even if they have had to bivy up there. Maybe by now, one of them has written a trip report about it — a climbing epic. I know I would have — after all, I have just finished writing a trip report even without any epics involved.

Link to photo album

Craig (RIP)

Free hanging rope off Spectreman.