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Six Days Prior
We wake up in Redmond, OR to pouring rain. Sky is overcast in every direction. We take our time with breakfast hoping the weather will improve. It does not. No Smith climbing for us this weekend. Begin heading home pissed off. In this moment of weakness an idea is reborn: let’s drive to Moab next weekend and fondle some warm sandstone.
We’ve tried this before – drive down to Moab on Friday afternoon after work, bag a tower or two, and be back home in Portland before work on Monday morning. The plan failed due to foggy weather through Idaho that slowed our progress and we ended up turning around just north of Salt Lake City. This time we decided to give ourselves a head start by leaving after lunch on Friday. We packed up the climbing and camping junk into the truck on Friday morning and went to work.
Friday Noon: Road Trip Begins
I dash out of the office at 2 minutes past noon. Quick stop by our place to pick up Blondie, then on to Shirley’s office. We’re on the interstate before 1pm.
Friday 7pm, 400 Miles Covered
We cross into Idaho as the sun is setting. We’ve lost an hour due to time zone change. Been enjoying the The DaVinci Code audio book – the miles pass by painlessly. We’re right on schedule. This time the evening sky is clear. Start getting excited at the prospect of climbing in a few hours.
Friday Midnight, 800 Miles Covered
We’re pulling off I15 in Spanish Fork. The sky is no longer clear but things are still dry. We hit the 2-lane highway out of town. As we start climbing to cross the Wasatch, snow begins. Shit! It’s snowing hard with significant accumulations on the ground. I slow down as the van ahead of us is slipping and sliding. Perhaps our weather luck followed us after all? The snow subsides on the other side of the range however.
Saturday 3am, 970 Miles Behind Us
We cross the Colorado River right outside of Moab just after 3am. Tired but mostly disappointed as there’s a dusting of snow on the sides of the road and the pavement looks wet. Pull into the city park in Moab (“No Camping Allowed”). Looks like our choice climb will not happen tomorrow. No point in going to the trailhead. All three of us pass out in the cabin of our truck.
The sound of other illegal car campers waking up in the vehicles next to us wake us up. The morning light confirms what we thought last night: sky is overcast and the ground is soaked from the melting snow. Time for plan B. Let’s go check out something easier. We grab a quick coffee from the bakery in town and drive into Arches NP outside of town. Take our time driving up the park road. Snap some photos from the roadside overlooks. A peak into Castle Valley shows it being under a blanket of fresh snow. We decide to give Owl Rock a shot as it’s one of the easiest desert towers. Olevsky Route is wet with snow on ledges. I have little desire to climb it and possibly damage the route. We do the tourist thing in the park, checking out the Windows Arches, the Turret Arch, and finally The Delicate Arch. Amazing – if crowded – place! The sky is beginning to open up but the snow is still covering the ground. Let’s get some lunch.
As we’re gulping down pasta, the sun arrives. Hopeful, we head over to Wall Street. Shirley picks out a 4-star trad pitch – something called El Cracko Diablo, 5.10a – not the warm up pitch I was looking for, but let’s try it. Line looks good if short (~60 feet). Fingers in an acute dihedral make up the lower part; a double hands to fingers crack system (“bear hug”) take you to the top. What do we do next? We’d like to bag a tower but the hour is getting late. Let’s go back to the Owl.
Back at the Owl Rock, the snow is all gone. Rock looks dry and now the Olevsky Route is in the sun. Let’s go for it. Fun climbing ensues. Perfect jugs and occasional hand and fist jams up the steep face. The rock is incredibly clean and feels solid despite its appearance. Great fun! We top out, snap a few photos and get back to the car quickly. What’s on the menu for tomorrow? I know that we need to get back on the road by 1pm to get at least 3 hours of sleep before work on Monday? Plan A for the trip will take too much time. We decide to go for The Three Penguins via The Right Chimney – same grade as Plan A but only 2 pitches long and with trivial approach.
We slip into sleeping bags in the back of our truck 10 miles out of town on the side of the River Road. I pass out immediately.
Wake up and head directly to the base of The Three Penguins. That Right Chimney dihedral of pitch 1 looks AWSOME – perfect sandstone with a perfect hand crack! Quick hike up (~10 – 15 minutes) puts us up close and personal with the start of the route. Looks intimidating as the route starts ~100 feet above the park road on an exposed ledge system. I start up the dihedral with a nagging voice in the back of my head “you’ve never led a 10c pitch”. I’m nervous but the climbing is wonderful – perfect thin hands (#0.75 Camalot) to hands crack (#2-3 Camalot)! The crack eats cams. From up close, the crux bulge in the dihedral does not look so bad. The crack widens to fists (#3.5 Camalot) and more at the bulge but tapers down back to hands just above – you can reach through the wide section. Good stemming rest awaits just above. One or two easy moves put you on a small but good ledge just 15 feet below the anchor chains. Couple moves of .9 fists and the pitch is done!! I put Shirley on belay and she enjoys the thin hands section. Shirley’s ideal hand crack size is somewhere around the #0.75 Camalot (mine is #2-3) and so she faces a long fist crack and an even longer OW section through the bulge. She does fine with some liebacking and joins me at belay quickly. Pitch two starts up another perfect – if slightly overhanging – hand crack (#2 Camalot territory).
The joy is over 15 feet higher as the angle kicks back but the hand crack opens up to an offwidth. I manage to get another fist jam low in the OW just enough to pull myself up. The 20-foot OW starts with a tight #4 Camalot and goes to a #4.5 near the top. The edges are rounded which essentially eliminates the option of liebacking. My attempts are met with loss of ground as I keep on sliding back down to my starting point. When my foot finally gets some purchase in the crack, I realize that I’m standing on top of my #4 Camalot – oops! Tired, I shamelessly yank on a piece to get myself out of the OW and pant profusely in the little notch between the two penguins. One more mantle move (almost lost it here as my left foot slipped off the sandy edge) puts me on the summit of the Center Penguin. Shirley comes up and after taking a detour onto the north penguin (photos) joins me on top of the center bird. Quick summit photos and off we go – one double rope rap to the base of the route. As I’m coiling the ropes at the base, I notice a large gash in the sheath of both ropes (end closest to the knot)! Can’t really determine where the sharp edge was? Kind of spooky as 3/4ths of the sheath are damaged on both lines. Later found a similar rope story online. Guess we now have a 59 meter double rope set up.
We make it back to our truck by noon. No time for food in Moab. We hit the road and start speeding towards home. 970 miles to go. The roads to Salt Lake are clogged up with some off-roadin’ enthusiasts dragging their asses at 55mph. It’s one long speeding and passing frenzy till we get to I15. Some substandard John Grisham audio novel barely keeps us conscious between Salt Lake and Boise. Quick fast food drive through dinner outside of Boise and we’re back in Oregon though still a stretch to go before home…
Pull into our street at 2 am. Odometer reads 2086 miles since leaving home on Friday. Unpack the truck, hit the sack. 6:30 am wake up and back to the rat race with only the memories (and photos) of a great weekend. Not quite a 2 day weekend trip – since we did leave at lunch time on Friday – but close enough. We’ll be back for our “Plan A” climb.
Olevsky Route on The Owl
The Right Chimney on The Three Penguins
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