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Trip Down Memory Lane Report


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First of all, thanks to the several cc.commers who hooked me up with Colorado partners (or tried). With no solid pre-trip plans other than visiting my relatives, I ended up climbing every day.


Second of all, there ain't much climbing in this TR. So just move along, nothing to see here. No beta, no carotene, just a bunch of frayed ends of mental rope.


Ironically, while I spent a good deal of my youth in Estes Park, I failed to appreciate the rock climbing possibilities until after I graduated from EPHS and left town. It was only after I moved to SE Washington, and learned how to climb out in a wasteland of chossy basalt that I realized I'd been living in something of a rock paradise. It's one of those "don't know what ya got til it's gone" things (cue big-hair-glam-rock band Cinderella).


The one thing you can count on in Estes in the summertime are the afternoon thunderstorms. The mornings start out clear, and by 2 or 3 pm, big black thunder clouds accompanied by rain, wind and often hail sweep down the valley, peppering the granite formations of Lumpy Ridge with lightning. As soon as the storms come, they are gone, leaving the warm summer air thick with humidity and the smell of rain on hot granite.


Since most of the routes there are multi-pitch trad lines with no fixed anchors, you either start early enough to top out, or you retreat and leave gear in the thick of an electrical storm. As a result, there is a thriving gear-collection business among resident climbers.


Each afternoon after the thunderstorms have subsided, locals sweep the most popular lines, collecting a bounty of booty left by people fleeing the lightening. I talked to one guy in the Lumpy lot who'd collected over 200 pieces of perfectly good gear in the last year alone!


Anyway, the first day I headed up to Lumpy Ridge with my uncle, who's hardly been climbing since the early 70s. After climbing a couple pitches we ended up on the Roosting Ramp, a long ledge system below the Twin Owls. We decided to climb the East Ridge. I started up, clipped an antique piton,(probably the same one my dad and uncles had clipped 35 years ago) and the rain came down. I downclimbed, unclipped the pin and we took shelter at the base of the owls. The rain eased up, but lightening and continuous thunder rolled across the valley, so we wandered along the protected ledge, eyeballing all the classic lines and my uncle told me about some climbing adventures they had in the area.


My dad and his three younger brothers spend much of the late 60s climbing around Estes Park and the Front Range. (The youngest of which, incidentally, was struck and killed by lightning in the backcountry in 1992, his body subsequently eaten by coyotes. When they finally found his remains, they were easily able to determine the cause of death: everything metal he and his co-worker (who also died) were carrying had been melted and fused together by the immense electricity.)


At the base of an infamous old school 5.8 named Wolf Tooth Crack (then rated 5.7, now some call it 5.9), my uncle started laughing as he remembered their effort. The climb begins with a fist crack on the side of a detached pillar, widens slowly to offwidth, then a chimney for 150' of strenuous dead vertical climbing. Quite similar in appearance to Damnation Crack on Castle Rock in Leavenworth, but twice as long. Back when my dad was a teenager, he took his his younger brothers to climb Wolf Tooth. Outfitted with hiking boots, a few hexes, stopper and pitons and pitons, he spent over an hour of thrutching and thrashing his way up the offwidth/chimney. Upon arriving at the top, crazed with fear and exhaustion,he prompty puked his guts out down the chimney and then lay dry heaving for 10 minutes on top of the Tooth. After seeing their older brother nearly die, his younger brothers decided against climbing the puke-covered chimney...


Wolf Tooth Crack (not my pic) climb goes up crack/chimney on left side of pillar--->




While waiting for the rain to stop, we gaped up at the aptly named Crack of Fear, a 300 foot 10D squeeze chimney that is famous for brutalizing even the most competent and masochistic of offwidth fanatics (A category that does NOT include me--gaping is as close as I'll ever get to that one--unless one of ya'll wants to lead it!).


As we were sitting there, a couple of young punks came huffing up. One punk, clearly the know-it-all punk of the two, was admonishing his buddy to always maintain three points of contact on the class 3 sidewalk-like ledge. They approached us: "Hey man, we want to do some free-roping. What's an extreme way to get to the top of this thing?"


"Well, there's an easy class 4 way around back that'll get you on top," I offered.


"We don't want to do anything EASY! That sounds totally lame!" the one sneered at me. They had no rope and were clearly not climbers (what is "free-roping" anyway?) but they had plenty of attitude.


"Well, I guess it depends on what you're comfortable with," I said.


"we'll do anything extreme" said the annoying one. "I've climbed Long's Peak before."


"Ah, that's a great fun hike," my kindly uncle said completely sincerely, trying to be nice to the kid. (He's hiked Longs over a dozen times via the various non-technical routes)


"That's no hike!" the loud one said shaking his head disdainfully, "you could slip and fall like 2,000 feet!" he said, talking to my uncle like he was talking to a retard. My uncle just shrugged, somewhat taken aback by this kid's attitude.


I'm no sandbagger, but this kid was an ass. I rubbed my chin, then pointed to the gaping manacing maw known with the reputation as the hardest 5.10 in the universe. "Well, I've heard the Crack of Fear over there is pretty fun. It's a little tricky at the start, but it gets a lot easier once you get up a hundred feet or so," I deadpanned in my most helpful, earnest voice.


Now, I would never give somebody bad advise if I thought they would hurt themselves, but after watching this kid climb the class 3 ramp, I knew he'd never get 10 inches off the ground on the Crack of Fear, much less 100 feet. The punk and his buddy took a couple steps in the direction of the Crack of Fear, and then looked up...and up...and up... I gave my uncle a discreet wink and supressed a smile. "Hum...that's looks fun--maybe another time," said the annoying one. "So what were you saying about the back way up?"


The next couple days were great. We did a beautiful 5 pitch 5.7 route on the Book called Osirus with deep chimneys, teradactyl fins, and groovy grooves of granite. I climbed with and got spanked by Mistress J, who climbs way harder than I can ever hope to in my life. I flailed around on the crystal-toothed granite boulders along the Gem Lake trail until my fingertips bled. Each afternoon was an exercise in dodging lightning. Not that it would be a bad way to go, but I'm not ready to follow in my late uncle's footsteps just yet.


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Nice TR. I used to live in CO, and I never got to do as much as I wanted to when I lived there. I spent most fo my time dicking around in Eldo. I love Estes park. You know it's great climbing there, that's where Tommy Caldwell grew up. Horsetooth, Boulder canyon, man does any state have more rock than Colorado? California? Washington? Anyway, that sounds like it was a great vacation. Oh yeah, I got trapped by lightning myself on Alice pass (I think) at the end of Wild Basin in RMNP. That was scary.

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