Sunday, July 27, 2008

Everything Else

July 18th, 2008

Wow, so it's been awhile! Logistically, blogging became much more difficult after the laptop fried...

When we last left our heroes they were lazing around Banff on what would've been a perfect day to climb Eeyore's Tail, with plans to hit it the next day (today). Well, it rained intermittently all night (of course), and at 4 am, the alarm sounded in perfect sync with booming thunder, and it started raining harder (of course). We killed the alarm and rolled over. In the planning stages of this trip, we knew we'd be visiting a lot of places that are famous for finicky weather, but we thought that Banff would be the least finicky. Too many rest days. Too much sitting around. Getting antsy. End of vacation looming closer. Gotta move.

We decide "to hell with Eeyore's Tail". The route isn't known to be fantastic anyway, and the only reason we're doing it is to redeem ourselves from our epic years ago, which certainly we've done, if not on the same route. We decide to blast east to Yamnuska, a huge cliff just west of Calgary. The weather is known to get better as you head east. But (of course), when we arrive, the cliff is shrouded in dark grey clouds. It looks like an awesome place to climb, but right now it looks very cold. Clearly there are a number of forces working in concert here, the net result being a negative effect on our motivation level. They are:

The weather (of course)
Our time allowance in days (it's dwindling, we're antsy)
The fact that we've gotten A LOT of climbing in already (satiation, complacency)
The fact that we've gotten A LOT of climbing in already (we're tired)

So with some misgivings, we turn southward, toward the U. S. A. (God Bless It). 

On the recommendation of Cheryl, the Kain Hut Custodian, we drive through Kananaskis Country, on the eastern border of the mountains. It is beautiful. We enter into Montana through a customs gate at high altitude that's only open in summer. Immediately we miss the metric system. In Canada when a sign says that your destination is 100 km away, you're there in virtually NO TIME, since you're programmed in MILES. Upon reentry, we jokingly remarked "Now it's gonna take FOREVER to get anywhere." Yes, of course we realize that this would wear off if we spent lots of time in Canada...

We drive through Glacier National Park, also amazing in its beauty, but a bit of a pain owing to lots of roadwork. Another twist on the kiteboarding theme -- near the center of the park, someone is kiteboarding on a glacier, with a snowboard.

We continue southward, passing so many familiar icons of our country. Wal-Mart. Applebees. Office Depot. Just to assure ourselves that we've returned to The States, we stop in Polson and each eat a HUGE plate of bad mexican food, which we immediately regret. We camp on the side of a road on National Forest land, just east of Missoula.

July 19th, 2008

We decide today that we'll head to Devil's Tower (and climb it this time), then The Needles, in the Black Hills, so we need guidebooks for each, which we'll pick up in Bozeman. On the way there we take a break from the interstate on a scenic highway, which takes us through the charming old west town of Anaconda. We both realize that we'll never be able to see or hear that word again without thinking of Sir-Mix-A-Lot. We cruise into the lovely Bozeman, and all of the downtown retailers have the sidewalks filled with sale items. We grab our guidebooks at the local climbing store and notice (inside joke here) that Chris Sierzant is on the cover of the current edition of Urban Climber. We blast for Devil's Tower, arriving at about 9 pm and, once again, snag one of the last campsites. At about 10 we notice headlamps on the tower. A party of 2 is slowly descending.

July 20th, 2008

We rise at 5:20 am, eager to beat the heat and the crowds. We'd attempted The Tower on our very first road trip, in June of '03, but due to bad timing and route selection, we'd pretty much been baked off the rock, and left frustrated. On the way here yesterday, we'd decided on the Durrance Route, (5.6) which would mean our second climb from "50 Classic Climbs in North America" in less than a week. You have to register to climb here, and register your return (for safety reasons).  In the climbing office we find out that the Durrance Route is closed for raptor nesting. Many climbs throughout the nation are closed from spring through mid-summer if raptors have chosen to nest there. They generally reopen when the young birds fly the coop. As an alternative we choose "Bon Homme" with the "Horning Variation" (5.8). Will leads pitch 1, Allison pitch 2, and we simulclimb the summit pitch. The route is fine, but a bit of a grunt. Remind me to lie back the first pitch next time instead of jamming. It is excellent and redeeming to summit the tower finally. We spend some time on top, take a few photos, then rappel. It is clear that the rappel route is set up for single rope rappels, and when we see this we should know better than to be greedy and do double-rope raps, but we do it anyway, and of course, pulling our ropes from the last rappel they get stuck. We do have one whole rope though, so Will leads the first half of the first pitch, up to the last rap anchor (which we'd skipped in our greed), frees the rope, and rappels down. At least it was the fun part of the pitch, and not the grunty part.

Hiking out, we encounter some obvious climbers hiking in, and we all stop and chat. We find out that one of them is Frank Sanders, who, on July 3rd, wrapped up a charity campaign which entailed summitting The Tower every day for 365 days in a row. Imagine doing this in winter. Brutal. We totally cheese out and ask him to pose for a photo with us. Then we hit the road for The Needles.
The Needles consist of tall, thin granite spires, some over 200 feet, with summits that are barely big enough for one person to sit on.
They're located in Custer State Park, in the Black Hills, in the southwest corner of South Dakota. They're known for a strict bolted-on-lead (runout) ethic, so much of the climbing here is very bold. The park itself is mostly unspoiled, aside from the work of the same pine beetle that wreaks havoc at home in the southeast. It is loaded with tourists sightseeing. They are fascinated by the rocks, and even more fascinated by the climbers. Much of the surrounding area is a cheesy wild-west tourist wonderland (more water slides, mini-golf, dinosaur and fossil exhibits, sad petting zoos, gift shops, the whole gamut). Presumably it all developed as a side attraction to nearby Mt. Rushmore. We establish camp at Stockade Lake Campground.

July 21st, 2008

We set our sights on a group of rocks called the Cathedral Spires, and the Cathedral Enchainment (5.9), which includes tagging 3 tiny summits with some rappelling in between, but never to the ground. It also involves a 25 minute approach, which we mess up initially, but eventually we find the start of the route, at the first spire, West Gruesome (5.7). Cool route, which we climb in 2 pitches, and sign the summit register.
A huge, menacing cloud is rolling in though, and we decide to bail, at least temporarily. Will rappels down, and as Allison starts rapping, it begins to rain. We find a convenient little cave in which to hunker down and eat some lunch, as it rains and hails. The rain stops, and we emerge, but the clouds don't look much better, and the rock is wet, so we hike out. We are glad to have tagged one tiny summit anyway...

We drive to a very popular sightseeing spot, the Needle's Eye area, named such because a massive tower right beside the road separates into two, then rejoins up high, creating a huge needle's eye. There we encounter some Needles regulars, one of whom is pictured and discussed in our guidebook, prolific Needles first ascensionist John Biddick. The weather clears, and we follow them back to some climbs a short bit from the road. We climb Obstacle Course (5.10b), on some unknown formation, then the Direct Route (5.8) up The Gnomon.

July 22nd, 2008

We return to the Needle's Eye area, and climb Threading The Needle, which of course entails climbing right through the giant Needle's Eye.
Will leads, with the spectacular 9+ finish. Then we toprope the 5.10 on the front of the formation, leaning on the front of the truck as we belay each other. We answer tons of questions from the sightseers, the most popular of which is, of course, "How'd you get that rope up there?". We relocate to the Ten Pins area and finish our Needles experience with the classic tall, thin spire, Tricouni Nail (5.8). There is no anchor at the top -- you merely pass your rope between two bulbous "heads" on the summit, and simul-rappel off of opposite sides. This results in a classic needles photo op (thanks Peggy!):
We pack up and head toward The Badlands, pausing to view Mt. Rushmore from the road (which is surreal).

We camp at the Sage Creek Campground, in the middle of nowhere in Badlands National Park. There is very little infrastructure here, and what little there is is well-preserved from the 50's or 60's. It truly felt like we were in a period movie, a feeling that was supported by the fact that all the way out the long dirt road to get here we were following a 1938 Dodge coupe (now parked at a campsite a few hundred feet from us). This is a beautiful place. We shoot at least 100 photos in this campground alone. Gotta love digital.
July 23rd, 2008

We continue through The Badlands, then make the uneventful drive to Minneapolis, where we visit Janna, a college friend of Allison's. We arrive at Janna's D & B & B (Dinner AND Bed AND Breakfast) where we finally get to meet her four precious girls- Quinn, Gillian, Aubrey, and Shelby. Janna treats us to an amazing dinner- she should go into the hospitality business.
July 24th, 2008

This morning we wake up and hang out with Janna and her girls for a little while before hitting the road. We get to see a little of Minneapolis by taking a walk around Lake Harriet, one of the lakes in the Chain of Lakes. We grab lunch in a great little neighborhood and then head out of town. Thanks for the great visit, Janna and family!

We arrive at our chosen campground at the Starved Rock Campground in Illinois only to find it full. So, this will be our first night out of the whole trip where we end up crashing at a hotel- not really even a hotel, we stay at the Starved Rock State Park Lodge.

July 25th, 2008

The rest of the trip home is pretty uneventful aside from a quick stop in St. Louis to pick up a kayak that we bought off of Craigslist before we left town in June. We stay at a hotel again on our last night, because driving way off of the interstate late at night, only to find a state campground full or full of mosquitoes seems awful. We just want to get home. We DO miss the bed setup in the back of the truck though. It was truly the most comfortable place we slept for the entire trip.

July 26th, 2008

We make it home. Yep, here we are back in Atlanta. And, it is hot. But it does look like we've had some rain, so maybe it won't be quite as bad as last summer. The trip ends with cooking out and a movie at the Starlight Six drive-in down the street with some friends. A good way to wrap up the trip...back in Atlanta with our friends. Also, we were able to hook the semi-dead laptop to another machine and pull off all of the photos that we thought might be permanently lost. A new photo posting of those can be found in this set.

We'll be posting some videos on our flickr site soon.

Random notes, July 27th, 2008:

We drove a grand total of 7,765 miles. This may seem silly with current gas prices, but for perspective, we spent less on gas on this entire trip than we spent 5 years ago for our plane tickets to Banff alone, and we experienced SO much, in SO many places. We'd have happily paid double. We had a self-prescribed speed limit of 65, which saved a lot of gas, and possibly speeding tickets. It is nice to be home, but certainly that feeling will be short-lived.

A & W


Pajama Jam said...

Thanks for the great posts! Looking forward to seeing you this weekend...

Elyse said...

you guys must be so strong after all that climbing! Sounds like an amazing trip!

Brady said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
revtiara said...

wow. ya'll blow my mind. i get dizzy just looking at the pics. ya'll are ninjas. atl is gonna be snoozeville with only stone mountain to climb. thanks for the pics and sharing! see ya when ya get back.