New Year's 2009
Right after Christmas 2008 we met Anne & Tom at Cochise Stronghold, a collection of Granite spires and blobs in the Dragoon Mountains of Arizona. Allison & I drove the truck, since it's set up for camping. Basically we're trading the misery of flying with camping & climbing gear and renting a car for 2 12 hour days of driving each way.
We left my Grandmother's place in Northwest Florida on Allison's birthday, December 28th. We think we stayed in a hotel in San Antonio, but can't quite remember, as we are writing this 6 months later. Powered through the next day, arriving at the slightly snowy East Stronghold early that evening, with Anne & Tom waiting. There is climbing all over the Stronghold, but it's generally divided into the East and West. The East has a developed Forest Service campground, with tent pads, picnic tables, and vault toilets. The West is wilderness camping, anywhere you like, with cattle grazing around. We would spend a couple of days in the East and move over to the West.
Day 1 - 12.30.08
Today we'd set our sights on What's My Line, a relatively short but aesthetic 5.6. The climbing here has a bold reputation, meaning not a lot of opportunities for placing protective gear, so we thought we'd ease into the difficulties. The regular start involves a rather exposed bit of what the book calls "fourth class" to gain a bolted anchor, from whence you rappel and then pendulum into the line. Anne & Tom had chosen this start, but unfortunately thrashed around looking for the "fourth class" and didn't findit. That's because the approach is clearly fifth class. They would return tomorrow to climb it. We, on the other hand, had chosen the 5.9 direct start, which includes some 5.8 R (runout, or not a lot of protective gear). There was supposedly a short 5.8 pitch before any of the 5.9 and any of the 8 R, so Allison got first lead. Of course we'd forgotten to bring any of the topos or route descriptions up the long approach with us, and I kept insisting that she needed to go further. When she finally built a belay and I joined her, we realized that she'd led the first 2 pitches, including the 8 R. Great, that meant I didn't have to! We cruised up the rest of the route, a sweeping face loaded with the biggest "chickenheads" we'd ever seen. On southern sandstone a chickenhead would be just what you might imagine, a feature sticks out from the rock, about the size and shape of a chicken's head. In this case, however, they are giant plates of granite. You feel like you're climbing a massive reptile's back. Most of the protection on this route consists of slinging these features, and many of them won't hold a sling. Exciting. Despite being well-known as an area classic, this was our least favorite route of the trip.
Day 2 - 12.31.08
Today Anne & Tom would hike back in to climb What's My Line, and we'd set our sights on Wasteland, 5.8, 6 pitches. In the parking area we met a guide who knew Andrew Kornylak. He and his client would be the only other people on this formation today. Fun and varied climbing, with some great exposure and position, and of course an excellent view. Apparently there are Africanized Bee colonies living near Wasteland, but they didn't visit us today.
Drove back to the campsite and walked over to the What's My Line trailhead to wait for Anne & Tom, who arrived shortly thereafter. We were relieved to hear of their success this second time around. We all made the adventurous drive over the Dragoons to the West side, via Middlemarch Pass, on the remote, unpaved Middlemarch Road. We picked a place to camp near the trailhead to Sheepshead Dome, which had several objectives that we all wanted to climb. The East side campground is nice, but being on this side in the middle of nowhere is nicer.
Day 3 - New Year's Day '09
We all wanted to climb Ewephoria today, 5 pitches, 5.7, with the 5.9 "Too Tough to Die" finish. I found a pair of Ray-Bans at the base (score), but pledged to post them to the Arizona forum on Mountain Project when we got home. Pitch 1 feels totally sandbagged first thing in the morning. The rest of the route is fun but uneventful, until the final bit of the TTTD finish (Will below left), which is a spectacularly exposed and steep bolted slab to the top.
Allison & I topped out, then scrambled down to a ledge over to the side of the last pitch to get photos of Anne & Tom climbing it (below right). We all signed the Sheepshead summit register, took group summit photos, and hiked down.
Day 4 - 01.02.09
Anne & Tom headed over to the sport climbing area "Isle of You", and Allison & I hiked back up to the Sheepshead to get on Absinthe of Mallet, a 5.9+, but with a bolted slab 2 pitch direct finish variation that goes at 10b. This was excellent. Our favorite route of the trip, and the finish was the hardest slab lead climbing I've ever done. Really heady in a couple of places.
We all drove into
Tombstone tonight, a cheesy "Old West" town, and visited Big Nose Kate's, a saloon, with people in old west dress and six guns playing poker, etc.
Day 5 - 01.03.09
After 4 splitter days, today was supposed to bring rain, but we awoke to perfect skies again, so we all hiked up to the Sheepshead one more time to climb Peacemaker, a 7 pitch bolted 10a. More fun, mostly slabby climbing. Cruised this and then took pictures of Anne & Tom topping out from the trail below.
We all drove into BENSON? had dinner, got a hotel. The next morning Allison & I started the long drive back to Atlanta, and Anne & Tom went to various oddball museums and things, like the airplane graveyard. An excellent trip.
Upon arriving at home, I did my duty and posted a message about the found sunglasses to the Arizona forum on Mountain Project. I didn't hear anything for the longest time, and was really enjoying "my" Ray-Bans, when finally, in April, the owner checked the message board and contacted me. I mailed his glasses, and asked for the 5 bucks shipping to be refunded. He sent me a check for 20 bucks.