Rifle, Mon Amour


~ from “Hiroshima, Mon Amour” page 92

This post on Rifle gave me my first impression on what to expect: http://www.climbing.com/news/what-i-learned-at-rifle/

I was intimidated. The climbing is funky and weird, really polished with generally bad feet, long and powerful, and super-duper beta-intensive. Not really my style.

But, counter-balancing that was the first sentence on MP on the area: http://www.mountainproject.com/v/rifle-mountain-park/105744310

Simply put, Rifle Mountain Park offers the best limestone sport climbing in North America…

I am, at most, a 5.10 lead climber. I’ve advanced my skills from being nervous on class 4 scrambles, to the occasional lead on a 5.10a/b. Climbing with Jacqueline and Richard Parker, this climbing couple I met at EarthTreks, I knew I would be climbing more 5.10s than not. On an indoor climb with them, I noticed that they climbed slightly harder routes than I for slightly longer.  They projected 11’sand 12s that I would not even touch. But it’s good to climb with people who are a little bit better than yourself – it pushes you to improve.


I noticed that I climbed with beginner’s or new-comers lately. I tell myself that it is because I liked to teach, and that teaching helps me learn my systems – which it does, and I do. But, in the far reaches of my reptilian brain I ask myself: am I afraid?

Am I afraid of doing 5.10s and higher consistently – is that the reason I stick with newbies? Gut-check time.

High 1st clips are standard at Rifle.

High 1st clips are standard at Rifle.

No, I’m climbing what I consider appropriate. My skill level is up to leading 10’s, but I am easing myself into it.

But it’s time for me to step up my game.










Rifle, much like other real yet mythical to the not-yet-climbed, like Yosemite, or Fontainbleu or Krabi, instills both a touch of awe and fear (or does awe already have a touch of fear mixed in?) It’s a place you read about, that the single named pros like Alex, or Caldwell have climbed.

Jacqueline on lead

Jacqueline on lead

On Saturday, we headed to the Ice Caves, the Funny Face area to be precise. The climbs here are moderates named after comedians.

Riding the streak

Riding the streak

The first two we did were a blur to me (Rickles 5.7, Martin & Lewis 5.9) . I was just so intimidated/in awe of actually climbing at Rifle, even though I self-talked myself into saying it was ‘no big deal’, and ‘Just another rock like every other rock.’ But, right out of the gate, on the Rickles 5.7 lead, I felt an instapump hit my forearms.
Overgripping this unfamiliar rock, feet on slight angled divots that I wasn’t sure of. First-climb jitters on new rock. 5.7 or no, it was adrenaline producing.

Rich looking for his next move

Rich looking for his next move

I prepared for the second climb. I felt immediately tired, and realized it was probably a post adrenaline low. I’ve learned to embrace all aspects of climbing, even the lows. To climb through whatever is in front of me – no matter if I’m confident or scared, or or – anything. Just embrace it as part of the experience – and move past it. On a previous trip to Canal Zone, introducing a friend to one of the 5.8s on the far left I felt an strange fear as I climbed. All the holds and moves were there on a climb I’ve done a few uneventful times before – but for some reason this fear wouldn’t release me. Lashed to me as I took a step, a grip, a pull. And I…just embraced it. Knowing: ‘…and this too shall pass.

And it did.

Going higher...

Going higher…


It took 2 climbs before the lead jitters dissipated. The rock, yes, took some ‘getting used to’, but it wasn’t so out of the ordinary. I describe it as if Eldorado Canyon and Shelf had a baby. The flat planes (unless glossed out) held the rubber. Appropriate holds appeared as if out of nowhere to be exactly where you would think they would be. Once the tunnel vision of fear loosens and the peripheral comes on, the holds and feet placements appear, leading the way.


Martin & Lewis I dispatched without remembering the climb once I got off. But the tunnel vision was leaving, and I started feeling better about the different type of rock here. It was unlike the limestone at Shelf – more flat planes like Granite, but some glossed holds, like North Table.

Crag friends

Crag friends

‘Pryor’ felt more in my groove, past the cruxy first half, then cruise to the finish. Carlin (5.10b) was a good finish. All of the day’s lessons learned put to good use on this 5.10b route. I felt in my groove, strong, but at my limit.


After a short break we decided to return and do some routes on the opposite side, in the Sno cone cave area.  “Mariscos Lambada” 5.8 -This route ambled right in a diagonal traverse. I hit a greasy foothold and my left foot popped off once I weighted it. A heart-pounding moment on a so-called 5.8. Wally, a regular from the area, thought that the rating was sandbagged because of the gloss, and the angled traverse. I would agree. The glassy footholds reminded me of many of the Table Mountain moderates, where many thousands of hands and feet have smoothed out what were once presumably reasonable holds, beaten down to the nothing chalked out slap-and-slips they now were.

Cooling our feet in the stream

Cooling our feet in the stream

Air Patrol 10a – I actually felt that this higher graded climb was actually easier than the previous 5.8 – not glossy, every hold and foothold was where you needed it to be. As they say – “Take the grades lightly in Rifle…”


After an evening of brats, beer and burgers, I felt fueled for the second day of climbing.










After the warmups of “Do the Mashed Potato” 5.7 and “Hot Potato” 10a, Rich and Jackie decided to do an 11: “Costello” 11a.

11s are my glass ceiling. It’s where some people start and where I stop. I felt tired from the previous day, and an 11 sounded outside my limit.

‘Just for the record, I’m fine with TRing this one,’ I said.  I watched Jacqueline fight her way to the top. The crux, about 3/4ths of the way up seemed awfully hard and off-putting. Seeing Rich go through a similar thrutching had me feel better about my TR decision.


But as I made my way up, through the difficult beginning, and then the cruiser area, then confronted by the crux, and overcoming it to grab the chains at the end, and the descent I had a fleeting thought:

I should have lead that.


It made me think about how , as climbers, we deal with the fear response, and the overcoming of fear, and even the blanking out of fear.  But also: how we get beyond the fear and how climbing starts to turn into problem solving, and use of techniques and experience that leaves us feeling – hundreds of feet in the air – oddly confident, privileged and somewhat superhuman. Like: check this out yo! Cinematic moments made real.

Java, crag dog

Java, crag dog

The dark side of climbing that I think is real is how it can be traumatizing. I’ve had more than one friend leave outdoor climbing abruptly. A too high first clip that left one quaking, a long fall after a runout missed clip,  a long-healing injury – left more than one climber out of the game for good.


They say that when something bad is about to happen, and you are able to say ‘No’, then by asserting your boundary the experience doesn’t become traumatic. But alternatively, when something bad is about to happen and you say ‘No’, but it still continues – crossing your boundary even though you said ‘no’ – then the experience becomes traumatic.

The other situation is when you push yourself forward and just try to survive the experience. Just gut it out when every fiber of your being says ‘No’, you might feel a kind of relief afterwards, saying, ‘Man, I survived that!’ It might even feel good to have survived the experience. But continuing with that sort of mindset is not confidence building – and it’s not entirely traumatic.

It’s masochistic.

Pain for pleasures sake. Sort of twisted, and it’s a mindset that I’ve seen some climbers get into – masochistically driving themselves forward on increasingly unrelenting limit climbs.  Grade chasers, burnouts, madmen. Not entirely unhealthy if it enables you to get to a place of trancendence, but the ride can be unhealthy and lead to a downward spiral.

That, I’ve also seen.


But after this one, the 5.11, I felt a regret for not having attempted to lead it. It was doable; I could have done it.

Shine a bright light

Shine a bright light

These thoughts accompany me as I make these (for myself) to-the-limit climbs. Doing the gut-check – pushing onwards when the answer is yes – give me more, and when the answer is no:  I’ll just ease off the pedal now.

“Lovin’ You is a Dirty Job” 10a/b
I faced this on the final climb, where half of the route was already set, and the second half open for lead. If you climb hard enough bailing happens to everyone who climbs. Absolutely no shame to it. As they say: “…if you’re not falling, you’re not climbing hard enough!” And this allowed an easier first half prior to getting on the sharp end.

“Lovin’ You is a Dirty Job” was my favorite in Rifle – by far. I love sidepulls, the weighting, the technique of straight arms, planted feet, transitions of hand and feet upwards in a magical levitation.

I saw a climber on “Feline” pull this move that I love the look of: grip high, lean to one side, backflag to make the slanted hold weight more secure. On this climb I felt the move emerge on a high left hand diagonal grip – weight right to secure the angle better, backflag with my right leg behind and towards the left – clip with my  right. I heard a ‘Yeah, nice move!’ from my belayer Rich far below. Nailed it.

The rock was highly textured, grippy sandpapery surface, and spiked crystals in the sidepulls.  Reminded me of the grippiness of Shelf Road limestone. Made me wonder if Rifle used to be like this before the decades of climbers glossed out the surfaces?

Back at camp I felt beat, wrung out. Worked. I have added another area to my quiver of climbing routes. I sussed out the particular rock and the ways and means to climb it, and found it not just climbable, but – fun. Some of the most fun I’ve had at a crag. I pushed up to and a tad past my limits, and didn’t feel overly spanked, at least at the moderate level I was at. It left me wanting for more – to push myself at this adversary – to overcome my self-imposed limits, my fear – to the transcendence beyond.

Glenwood Springs for some apres climb

Glenwood Springs for some apres climb

List of climbs
1st Day:
(Ice Caves – The Funny Face)
Rickles – 5.7
Martin & Lewis 5.9
Pryor 5.10a
Carlin 5.10b

(The Sno Cone cave)
Air Patrol 10a
Mariscos Lambada 5.8

2nd Day:
(Ice Caves)
Do the Mashed Potato 5.7
Hot Potato 10a
Costello 11a

(Upper Ice Caves)
Lovin You is a Dirty Job 5.10a/b



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