Last Friday to Sunday, I was leading sport climbs at the 3rd Annual Shelf Road Gathering in Colorado. Tuesday through Thursday I was in Vegas being guided up trad multipitch on the multi-colored sandstone at Red Rock. The day after returning from Vegas I packed the car that morning and headed with my friend Katie Grimes and headed for Las Alamos, New Mexico.
- 3 states in 10 days.
- 2 rest days.
- 8 days of climbing in 10 days.
I’ve heard rock climbing compared to an obsession, to an addiction, and I think there’s some truth in that, but I prefer to refer to rock climbing in more positive terms.
I compare it to a love affair.
Love affairs have the same sort of qualities of obsession, even addiction, but at the end of the day I do it because I love it. I love it so much that if I didn’t have to think about recovery and rest I would climb every day.
But I love to climb so much I will take care of myself so that I can climb as well as I can for as long as I can.
It’s about longevity.
I was talking to Katie at fireside after the sun went down, saying, “I just want to have fun – ALL the time.” And by “fun” I meant going to cool climbing places like Red Rock Canyon, Shelf Road, and now Los Alamos, NM – and climb my brains out!
So, I arrived back home from Vegas on a Thursday evening, contemplating what I would need for a 3 night camping trip, and how to fit both myself and all my gear in my 2002 Suburu WRX – along with Katie, her 11 year old son Sawyer, and terrier Charley.
And their gear. I was about to cancel, but Katie said, “All we need is the space in the backseat next to Sawyer.”
I took her at her word, reduced my things to what would fit in the cargo area, leaving the space in the half of the backseat that Sawyer would not be using.
When they came down with only 2 backpacks I knew we’d be fine.
Some things I look for in a partner: say what you are going to do. Be on time. Be ready. Stay positive. Don’t be a grump.
She had her game on, which was great.
And off we went!
Our first stop after driving 6 hours was camping at the Juniper campground, a campground just outside the Bandelier National Monument. I think it’s funny that I’ve never visited the park, as I’ve always been so one-minded about climbing that I never thought to visit there. I recommend this campground for visiting the area as it’s equidistant between the Overlook and Los Conchas, and only an hour away from El Rito.
The next day we made our first stop at The Overlook, a place I’ve climbed at before.
The Overlook is in a sort of smallish town in Los Alamos called White Rock. You drive through a suburb, past a school with a jungle gym, past tidy 3 bedroom/2 bath houses, to a viewing area with a guard rail that overlooks the cliffside of the Overlook to the winding Rio Grande river below.
I threw the rope onto Box Overhang Right, a 5.8 warmup that escapes the overhanging roof via a crack running on the right side.
After that one I hung the rope on Box Overhang Left, but it was a little wet, and I read on Mountain Project that the “…presence of feces makes this crack hard and disgusting. What might have once been a great line if now offensive.”
We decided to do a combination of Box Left and Len’s Roof.
The test piece for me, though, was the 3 star 5.11b Way Beyond Zebra that Scott Hunt lead when we were here back in 2014.
Way Beyond Zebra is vertical crimp climbing at it’s finest. I didn’t feel up to leading it, but I did feel stronger this time than last time, which speaks to my improvement as a climber. I’ll lead it next time.
Because we only had 2 climbing days, I thought we’d take a break after 3 climbs at the Overlook, and then go and visit Las Conchas, in the Jemez Valley area.
The Cattle Call Wall area of Las Conchas is more of a group climbing area, full of moderate climbs, sunny and sportish, if you know what I mean. The group next to us kindly asked if we minded if they played music.
“Well, is it good music?” I joked. They said something about death metal, and I agreed. Some Dave Matthews song came on, and I knew we’d be fine.
I’ve since relaxed my stance on no music playing while rock climbing outdoors. Unlike the interior area of Las Conchas, within the confines of the canyon with the bucolic river winding through it, this area seemed more suited for a little pop music, sunlit meadow and all. Most places I still disagree with playing music while climbing, but that day, in the warming sun, I was more than fine with it, digging the sport climbing with friendly neighbors.
I ended with the 2.5 star 5.10b route, Eat Mor Chikin. I thought it was excellent, pumpy, vertical, slightly overhung at spots – played to my strengths. Halfway up I exclaimed, “This is soooo good!”
6 climbs, 2 New Mexico climbing areas.
After cold 29 degree Fahrenheit night that had me wearing my winter puffy and down ski pants with my 20 degree bag we went on to El Rito, one of my favorite places to climb.
El Rito is cobblestone climbing, with the stones embedded in a matrix, or as the Proj describes it:
Fun, vertical to overhanging conglomerate matrix of metamorphosed sand and mud with inclusions of smooth, rounded cobbles of all sizes. The cobbles, and the holes they leave when they fall out of the matrix, form excellent holds that allow relatively moderate climbing for such steep rock
After our warmup, we moved to the Balcony, which was around the corner and up a short slope. All the names of the routes had an Austin Powers connection.
We started on Mini Me, a 5.9- warmup, then I led Chupacobbler, a 5.10a which I thought was fantastic, and then led Sharks with Friggin Laser Beams, a 5.9 I thought was harder than the Chupacobbler, but maybe I was just tired after this sixth route of the day.
As we left El Rito, I thought that next time I should give the primitive camping at the campsite at the foot of El Rito a go. Next time – in January 2017!
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