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Blondie on approach to Ancient Art.
We were speeding down I15 in southern Utah – the subcompact seemingly rattling itself apart. Straining to maintain the 85 mph my lead foot was imposing on it. Its trunk filled with 300 pounds of climbing gear including some heavy metal aid junk. Shirley sleeping in the passenger seat next to me and me… I was laughing my ass off listening to the cd we picked up at the last gas stop. Every once in a while I would glance up through the windshield looking at the black sky – straining to see some stars. Nothing. Just milky clouds.
Just this morning as we were packing up for the evening flight to Salt Lake City we had no idea where we would head to from there. The NOAA forecast was just shitty for the entire southwestern US. The weatherman pointed to a fluke of nature – a 50 degree contour crossing the far eastern South Dakota a day before New Year’s Eve. “Let’s go back to Devils Tower” I hollered to Shirley getting ready for work. “It’s hot there!!” I kept on checking the weather website throughout the day at work. Rapid City temperatures for the following day did not look quite so promising – low 20’s. Moab – our “plan A” destination had 70-90 % chance of precipitation for the foreseeable future; Vegas and Red Rocks sucked too. It looked grim. Just five days ago over the 4-day Christmas weekend we had the most incredible stretch of two days – two unexpected days – in Moab. It was our first trip there. 28 hours of round trip driving from Portland for two full days of climbing – a bargain! Two cold but sunny days; two classic routes. I even forgot how pissed off we were after our trusty digicam refused service two pitches up Stolen Chimney route thus denying us the classic shot atop the summit spire. We topped out but no pictures!
Mad rush down the muddy formation and back to town to find a camera store on the afternoon of Christmas Eve ensued. I blocked the door with my foot as they guy was closing down the Radio Shack. Being able to get a decent digicam on the evening of Christmas Eve in Moab, Utah could almost make me a believer!! Castleton Tower via Kor-Ingalls route was probably the greatest way that we could think of to end the year. And it happened the following day. Two days in Moab that spoiled us with incredible climbing. And we were supposed to get four more days the following weekend! The climbing possibilities were endless.
These thoughts flowed through my sleepy head as I sped out of Vegas heading for the tourist trap known as Hoover Dam. It was my goal to cross this barrier at night -late at night to avoid the damn traffic jams. Driving through the night after a full day of work is easy – anything under 400 miles is almost trivial; 800 miles is doable. Driving through the night after an evening flight is just hard for me. Five hundred miles from Salt Lake I pulled into a Shell station in Kingman, Arizona at about 4am. It’s not that I couldn’t drive further – it’s just that I did not see the point of it. We would not be climbing today anyway. Might as well sleep.
The sound of the station attendant tossing out garbage woke us up at about 7am. We grabbed a cup of coffee from a local mom-and-pop place (I’m all for supporting these charming little businesses but I have yet to find one that can brew a semi decent cup of coffee) and headed for Phoenix. NPR provided the local forecasts: Sedona – no good; Grand Canyon – no good. “Shit!!” We pressed on further south. The sky brightened up just north of Tucson. Our gamble and our long drive investment seemed to be paying off. We were heading for our “plan G” (or was it “H”) destination: Cochise Stronghold in the Dragoon Mountains of southeastern Arizona. A mere 920 mile drive from Salt Lake. None of this mattered. According to our estimates we would have 3 days of climbing. And looking up at the sky I thought to myself that those would be SUNNY days of climbing!!
We shot the breeze with a local climber at the shop in Tucson. He gave us good beta and whetted our appetites for granite domes with his tales of climbing in the Stronghold. Got a cheap motel room in Benson. After a night of hearing the neighbors making the most out of their call girl deal, we woke up and headed for the West Stronghold. Easy approach with just a touch of head scratching near the base of Whale Dome put us at the start of Moby Dick – a 6 pitch area classic rated 5.8 that we thought would be a good break-in route for us…. as apparently did a party of three already relaxing at the base when we got there. In a gesture of generosity we have not previously experienced, these guys offered to let us go first (many thanks!) claiming that they’ve never done a multi-pitch climb with a party of 3 before. As we were rushing to gear up, a party of four arrived at the base. Seven pairs of eyes were now on me as I started up the first (and crux) pitch of the route. A couple of grunts later I was above a bolt and moving past the short crux with no hint of gracefulness. Upper pitches went quickly. We ended up doing the route in four pitches with some simulclimbing (could be easily done in three stretched out pitches). The climbing was mostly easy and secure. The rock was warm, the sun was shining and the sky was blue. We forgot the pains it took to get down here. We were back at the base at about noon socializing with the climbers of the party of four. With a more ambitious plan for day 2, we headed back to the car to check out the trailhead (and the dome) for our next climb.
Whale Dome summit.
The following morning as I swung open the motel room door at 4:30 in the morning I saw a grizzly sight: rain! Steady, hopeless rain! We actually made the 45 minute drive to the trailhead hoping for a miracle. Rain got harder. The sky was densely overcast in every direction. Our luck had run out. NOAA website showed no more windows. Desperate to get at least one more day of climbing, we took the 60% odds for bad weather and headed back towards Red Rocks. The clear evening sky over Vegas suckered us in further. We geared up and went to sleep. Morning was dry but severely overcast. 60%-expected snow followed by rain hit us half an hour into the approach hike. The climbing was over. Four days, 1400 miles by air, and 2000 miles by car to do 6-…no wait…4-pitch Moby Dick.
Photos From Moab (Christmas 2004)
Shirley and Blondie on the freezing cold approach hike to the base of Stolen Chimney route on Ancient Art...the skinny, unstable looking spire above Shirley. The large formation on the left is the Kingfisher (Christmas 2004).
Shirley and Blondie freezing on our way to the base of Stolen Chimney on Ancient Art - the funky looking spire summit above. Kingfisher is the large thing in background (Dec. 2004).
The Ancient Art formation from the approach hike. Stolen Chimney route climbs to the funkiest looking summit spire (Dec. 2004).
Blondie chilling (literally) during out approach hike to Ancient Art. Cottontail Tower dominates the background (Dec. 2004).
Blondie taking a break during the approach to Ancient Art. Cottontail and Echo (left) Towers are in background (Dec. 2004).
Ancient Art formation. Stolen Chimney climbs to the top of the leftmost spire in four pitches (Christmas Eve 2004).
Starting the lead of pitch 1 of Stolen Chimney on Ancient Art (Dec. 2004).
At the base of the bolt ladder on pitch 1 of Stolen Chimney on Ancient Art (Christmas 2004).
The Cobra pillar as seen from top of P1 of Stolen Chimney on Ancient Art (December 24, 2004).
Shirley at the pitch 1 belay on the Stolen Chimney on Ancient Art (Dec. 2004).
Looking back down towards Blondie from top of pitch 1 on Stolen Chimney (Christmas Eve 2004).
Staring up the mud chimney on pitch 2 of Ancient Art's Stolen Chimney route. The rock is interesting but the climbing is mostly easy. As it turned out, this would be the last photo our Nikon Coolpix 4300 would ever take (photo # 10049). It denied us the opportunity to photograph the awsome upper pitches of this route. Christmas Eve 2004.
Blondie enjoying the Motel 6 blanket the night after our climb of Ancient Art's Stolen Chimney Route (Christmas 2004).
Shirley starting the approach to Castleton Tower on a freezing (sub freezing) Christmas morning in 2004.
Castleton Tower's east face from the approach hike. Kor-Ingalls (III 5.9) climbs the obvious left-facing dihedral system (Christmas Day 2004).
Shirley at the base of Castleton Tower's east face before our climb of Kor-Ingalls...trying to warm up a bit in the sunshine (sub-freezing temps; Christmas Day 2004).
Racking up for Kor-Ingalls at the base of Castleton Tower (Christmas Day 2004).
Leading pitch 1 of Kor-Ingalls on Castleton Tower with some of the route visible above (Christmas Day 2004).
Starting up the second pitch on Kor-Ingalls route. The pitch and the next one follow the obvious dihedral above (Christmas Day 2004).
Leading pitch 2 of Kor-Ingalls on Castleton Tower (Christmas Day 2004).
Starting up the third pitch (crux pitch) on Kor-Ingalls route. Note the cool (& slick) calcite deposit coating the wingate sandstone (Christmas Day 2004).
Crux pitch (#3) on Kor-Ingalls route. Admiring the next few moves from the safety of a good stance (Christmas Day 2004).
Nearing the top of pitch 3 (crux pitch) on Kor-Ingalls route (Christmas Day 2004).
Shirley atop the third pitch of Kor-Ingalls route...end of the difficulties (Christmas Day 2004).
Shirley atop the third pitch of Kor-Ingalls (Christmas Day 2004).
Looking back towards Shirley atop the third pitch from high on the fourth (and final) pitch of Kor-Ingalls (Dec. 2004).
Shirley on the fourth and final pitch of Kor-Ingalls route (Christmas Day 2004).
Shirley nearing the top of the fourth pitch of Kor-Ingalls route (Dec. 2004).
Shirley at the fourth and final belay on Kor-Ingalls. This is 8 feet below the summit of Castleton (Christmas 2004).
Shirley topping out on the summit plateau of Castleton Tower after our climb of Kor-Ingalls route. Snow-capped La Sal Mountains are in the far background; Adobe Mesa is on the left (December 25, 2004).
Shirley & I on the summit of Castleton Tower after our climb of Kor-Ingalls (Christmas Day 2004).
Sister Superior (leftmost), The Priest and The Rectory (long mesa) as seen from the summit of Castleton Tower (Christmas Day 2004).
Shirley on the summit of Castleton Tower with The Convent Mesa (left), Sister Superior, The Priest and The (long) Rectory (Christmas Day 2004).
Snowy Adobe Mesa from the summit of Castleton Tower (Christmas Day 2004).
Shirley atop the fourth pitch of Kor-Ingalls giving me a belay on the final 6 feet to the summit plateau of Castleton Tower (Christmas Day 2004).
Shirley rapping down the Kor-Ingalls route (Christmas Day 2004).
Shirley on the final rap down Kor-Ingalls route on Castleton Tower (Christmas Day 2004).
Shirley at the base of Castleton Tower after our successful climb of Kor-Ingalls...with the freshly caught tower bug (Christmas Day 2004).
Shirley hiking down the talus cone of Castleton after our climb of Kor-Ingalls (Christmas Day 2004).
Shirley hiking down Castleton's talus cone in the afternoon after our climb of Kor-Ingalls route (Christmas Day 2004).
Photos From Cochise Stronghold (New Years Day 2005)
Whale Dome is just left of center; Westworld Dome is at the very right. Not sure what the prominent feature in the center is (New Years Day 2005).
Whale Dome as seen from high on Warpaint route on Westworld Dome across the wash (Dec. 2006).
Whale Dome (close-up) as seen from high on Warpaint route on Westworld Dome across the wash (Dec. 2006).
Starting the lead of pitch 1 of Moby Dick (Jan. 1, 2005).
High on pitch 1 of Moby Dick on Whale Dome (Jan. 1, 2005).
Shirley enjoying the southern Arizona sunshine on Moby Dick. Pitch 1 belay. January 1, 2005.
Shirley belaying me on pitch 2 of Moby Dick (Jan. 1, 2005).
Shirley nearing the top of pitch 3 on Moby Dick (Jan. 1, 2005).
Shirley arriving atop pitch 2 of Moby Dick on The Whale Dome (Jan. 1, 2005).
View down from midway up pitch 3 of Moby Dick (Jan. 1, 2005).
Looking up from near top of P3 of Moby Dick route on Whale Dome. The pitch ends at a chickenhead belay stance somewhere in the photo (Jan. 1, 2005).
Shirley following the easy friction (~5.6) P4 (our P3) of Moby Dick. The (short, ~40-50 feet) pitch is protected by 2 bolts and a small cam (January 1, 2005).
I think this is like the top of pitch 4 on Moby Dick (Jan. 1, 2005).
Leading P5 of Moby Dick. This is a relatively steep (compared to rest of route) "headwall" which the Kerry guidebook calls a 5.7+. The abundance of huge, positive holds makes it very friendly (Jan. 1, 2005).
Leading pitch 5 of Moby Dick - super fun alligator plate climbing (Jan. 1, 2005).
Yours truly belaying Shirley from the summit of Whale Dome (Jan. 1, 2005).
Shirley on the summit of Whale Dome (Jan. 1, 2005).
Shirley studying the Kerry guidebook on the summit of Whale Dome. Next day was raining so we went home anyway (Jan. 1, 2005).
Shirley on the summit of Whale Dome studying the Kerry guidebook (Jan. 1, 2005).
Westworld Dome as seen from the summit of Whale Dome. Two climbers can be seen atop pitch 3 of Warpaint (Jan. 1, 2005).
Two climbers atop pitch 3 of Warpaint on Westworld Dome as seen from the summit of Whale Dome (Jan. 1, 2005).
Shirley on the summit of Whale Dome. Two climbers can be made out on the Warpath line on the Westworld Dome...if you know what to look for (Jan. 1, 2005).
Shirley rapping off the summit of Whale Dome (Jan. 1, 2005).
Whale Dome and Moby Dick route with climbers atop pitches 2 and 3 (Jan. 1, 2005).
Unknown climbers on (I think) pitch 2 of Moby Dick (5.7) on Whale Dome. This was taken during our hike down the next-door gully (Jan. 1, 2005).
Westworld Dome with its ultraclassic Warpath (5.10) slab line (follows slabs left of center). This was during out hike out following the climb of Moby Dick on Whale Dome (Jan. 1, 2005).
Whale Dome with 3 climbers visible on pitch 2 or 3 of Moby Dick (Jan. 1, 2005).
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