The Training Grounds, Devil’s Head, South Platte

‘When you’re stuck, take a break, breathe in, and try to have good feelings. Good feelings are more important than good thoughts,’ I said to Meriel, my friend from Scotland who is currently studying at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden. She had stopped right before the crux of Passing the Batona 5.8- route with a thin section before a slight roof.

Me, at the Crux of Passing the Baton

Me, at the Crux of Passing the Baton (Photo by Marissa Killeen Mason of Wandering Ink)

But sometimes positive self-talk is meaningless in the face of fatigue, and or illness. No amount of technique, skill or physical strength can overcome sheer tiredness to the point of sickness. Meriel, after a string of days of climbing, hiking, running and more climbing – was spent.

I’ve been there before – we’ve all been there before. If you live a life of adventure you will one day hit a wall that’s named No Further. She had reached her limit.

The story I was told about Passing the Baton is that the route setter set the route for his son for his son’s first lead. That’s the reason there are so many closely set bolts (12 for 50′). They are set so close that this is one of the few times I’ve z-clipped while climbing outdoors. Typically, z-clipping only happens when someone is indoors, climbing routes that are more closely spaced.

Well, luckily she was able to at least finish Beginner’s Luck, and most of Passing the Baton before she stopped.

Meriel on Beginner's Luck

Meriel on Beginner’s Luck (Photo by Marissa Killeen Mason of Wandering Ink)

I thought we should do one more before we make our way down to the Jungle, so I went ahead and led Learning Curve, the furthest right route (as you face the crag) next to the big tree.

Marissa on belay. Too bad the view sucks.

Marissa on belay. Too bad the view sucks.

In my opinion, I think this is the best route on the face: solid holds, good movement, challenging overhang ramp, and a roof with hidden holds just out of sight – leap of faith time! Mountain Project lists this as 5.9-, and I think on a first ascent that’s about right. But, like anything, it gets easier the more times you climb it. This was probably the 5th time I have climbed this particular route in as many years, and had a cool familiarity with it. My other friend Marissa was able to get past the roof fairly easily – not bad for only climbing outside for like the third time!

Me, leading at the Training Grounds

Me, leading at the Training Grounds (Photo by Marissa Killeen Mason of Wandering Ink)

At that point, we decided to disembark and make our way down to the Jungle. Be careful of following the correct trail marker – I have found myself mistakenly at Chickenhead Ranch by missing the signage! The signs are at foot level, with wooden arrows pointing right for the jungle and left for CHR (Chickenhead Ranch).

Meriel doing a slight traverse

Meriel doing a slight traverse

Meriel, enjoying the sun and rock

Meriel, enjoying the sun and rock

While we were about halfway to the Jungle, Meriel decided her body had had enough, and was ready to make the hike back to the car.  I handed her my keys, and back she went to recover.

Marissa and I decided to go ahead and check out the Jungle. Storm clouds started darkening the sky, but there was still no rain. In Colorado, sometimes the darkening clouds mean nothing – just have to wait and see. They could pass in ten minutes, or start pouring down any minute.

Since I was with a relative beginner, I looked for Mowgli, the long (100′) but easy 5.6 on the far right of the Jungle.

Me, with the Jungle crag in the background.

Me, with the Jungle crag in the background.

Then we felt the first sprinklings of rain.

‘Well, it’s just sprinkling. It could continue and get heavier…or it could just disappear…what do you think?’ I asked Marissa.

‘I don’t know. Whatever you think,’ Marissa replied.

I looked up at the sky, and saw dark clouds, but also patches of blue.

‘Let’s wait a little bit, and then decide,’ I said, and looked at Pike’s Peak in the distance.

Well, that didn’t last long. Rain started coming down in earnest, and a slight rumble was heard. That was enough for me – time to get off this lightning conductive granite! I quickly packed the rope and started humping back the trail to the car.

The rain quickly became a monsoon, with rain mixed with hail, drenching us completely. I watched for the flash, and then counted the seconds before the thunderclap…4 seconds. I knew that about every 5 seconds between the flash and the thunder was a mile – so the lightning was under a mile away. Still okay.

I could feel the weight of my harness, which I still had on in my haste to leave, and it pressed down against my hips as I made each step. It was cold and I put my hands in my armpits to warm them on the descent. About a third of the way we found a boulder with a slight roof that we could duck under for a bit.

‘Good decision to leave immediately, Marissa,’ I joked. I took a picture of us – but accidentally deleted it. Marissa was making a Hang-ten hand sign and smiling.

‘We’re making memories! she said, irrepressible.

‘Yeah,’ I said, ‘Remember that time when you asked if we should go back now, and I said, no, let’s just wait and see how the weather goes? Yeah, that was great!’

We then fast-hiked the downhill portion back to the car where Meriel was waiting for us. We already were making plans for next week.

Next up: trad at Radiohead!


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