So, what do you do when you’re living the dream in the corporate cube farm 5 days a week with a minimum of vacation days but you’re Jones’in for some desert action? Well, living in the Colorado frontrange you have options…
1. Drive 7+ hours each way to Indian Creek and pump cracks for maybe 12 hours between Sat and part of Sunday? That’s 1.25 hours of driving per hour of fun. Nah, too much time in the car and sometimes I don’t care for the new gang bang posse style beanie clad pube beard tattoo crowd climbing at the creek these days (yup, I’m a crusty old trad, what can I say)…
2. Drive 6 hours each way to Castle Valley and climb towers for maybe 14 hours between Sat and Sun? That’s .86 hours of driving per hour of fun. Now that sounds better. Less car time, less crowds than IC, more adventure and more exercise in general. But, there’s yet another option...
3. Drive 4.5 hours each way to Colorado National Monument for about 15 hours of fun on Sat/Sun for .6 hours of driving per hour of desert fun. Bingo! Less driving, less climbers and plenty of routes to climb with real desert adventure!
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that CO NM doesn’t have the rock quality of IC or CV, but hey, if you’re a desert nut, it’s all good! So, my buddy Mark and I pack up after work on Friday evening and head out through the fresh April snow in the mountains and before you know it, we’re setting up camp in a nice spot in the mellow CO NM campground up on the rim. From here, most climbs are either a quick drive and short approach or just drop a fixed line off the rim and you’re almost at the base of several towers and other routes. Pretty cool.
Mark had never climbed in CO NM before and being an adventure nut, he was fired up to check it out. I’ve climbed there a fair amount, but it was still easy to choose a new adventure for Saturday morning.
We chose a 4-5 pitch route called Ribbed Buttress that ascends a pretty cool crack/chimney/corner/crack/corner feature on a buttress that’s about 400’ high. Logistically it’s kinda cool since you drive close to the top of the buttress on your way to the base. We stashed approach shoes at the top so when we finished we could slip on the comfy shoes and walk the road back down to the parking spot.
The base of the route is reached after about 3.5 minutes of brutal approach hiking from a nice pullout on the side of the road. Kinda nice compared to many desert approaches. We racked up and many a tourist drove by and checked out the crazy climbers.
Just a few minutes later I was headed up the 5.8 hand crack of the first pitch. I had to laugh while reading the route description on Mountain Project where the poster says “Solo a short perfect hands crack (5.8) to an alcove at the base of a large chimney”. I do think that if you are up for the rest of the route the first pitch is trivial, but I certainly would not recommend soloing the thing, after all, it’s CO NM and it’s kinda sandy, holds break and stuff like that… Caveat emptor or whatever that saying is…
Anyway, the second pitch starts with some fairly athletic chimney and squeeze work and finishes with a pretty cool 10+ technical corner. This is the first dose of the CO NM full body workout for the day Oh, did I mention, there is nobody else climbing anywhere near us? Kinda nice! Mark fired the pitch in fine style.
The next pitch is the crux and I (foolishly?) volunteer since I already have most of the rack hanging off me. Never mind that I’m working through a couple of injuries, this is the first trip of the year, I’m a Q-tip, I’m packin a few extra lbs. etc. etc. ;-) The pitch starts with some sorta sketchy 10+ or so face climbing on temporary holds until you can make an awkward pull into the base of a crack system about 12’ to the right of the belay. As holds break away here and there and I move awkwardly into the base of the crack, the pitch has my full attention. I get a fairly good chicken wing in a wide section and work hard to sink some small cams in the start of the very steep 5.11 finger crack above me.
In this rock I figure more is better, so I place maybe 3 cams in 6’ and then barely get through this first section. There’s a quasi rest and then it gets a bit harder yet. I give it a pretty good effort but sadly I must report that I put the pooch in the noose a couple of times… Kind of degrading, but I figured it might happen. Just a little too hard and a little too sketchy for me to make it clean right now. Oh well. After some more strenuous crack with some break away foot holds, it opens up and you are forced to make some strenuous awkward moves into a gaping, leaning maw kinda thing for maybe 15’ until you reach the belay. Whew.
My younger counterpart proceeds to cruise the pitch on his end of the rope and shows me how it’s done. I guess he should have led that one ;-)
Next up is another dose of the CO NM full body workout – 60’ or so of fists and OW heading up to a sloping ramp feature. After this you can go up a really nasty overhanging slot, or aid a short bolt ladder on the left – we go for the ladder – the maw above looks like a super grovel! Mark does a good job, but still gets his exercise despite the pitch is rated “only 5.9” – wink wink. I follow and get my fill of fist jams and body camming. Good calorie burning for the fat boy!
The next pitch offers heads up sandy corner climbing and some strange mantels and ledge things. Pretty soon I’m pulling up over the last part of the fragile Kayenta(?) sandstone and I’m tying into a juniper on the rim. With the weather moving in and great views from the top of the route, I’m feeling satisfied with another desert adventure in the history books. Mark quickly seconds the pitch and we pause for the mandatory team photo on the top.
We retrieve our stashed shoes and begin the walk down the road to our car. Now, walking about 1.5 miles of pavement down to your car might sound like a bit of a drag, but there’s almost no traffic and the views are great. Not bad at all.
Soon enough we are back at the rig munching on some snacks and ice tea and discussing the next objective… It’s maybe 2:30pm and the weather is a bit threatening and the forecast is worse for the evening and tomorrow. We get motivated and head over to a viewpoint parking area near the campground and rack up for a 2 pitch 10+ tower route called Fast Draw. It’s another brutal 5 minute approach to the rim where you fix a line to some junipers and rap off the rim down to a bench where you can walk over to the start of the route on the NW side of Sentinel Spire. Pretty cool.
Did I mention that no one else was climbing anywhere near us? Actually, we didn't see any other climbers the whole trip. Pretty cool. I have done the route before, so I give the sharp end to the young (relatively speaking, sorry Mark…) rope gun and he proceeds to fire the crux first pitch.
The second pitch provides quite a bit of CO NM full body workout wide crack climbing, but it’s fairly reasonable and hey, it’s “only 5.9” ;-) Mark gets the rope up there in fine fashion and soon we are both standing on the very cool and small summit, hamming it up for the tourists who are watching from the rim. Good times. Great views.
We do the two single rope raps down to the base of the route, then the mini slog back up the slope/bench features until we reach our fixed rope. By this time we are both fairly tired, so the free air jumar out provides the last portion of the CO NM full body workout that we came for.
Ugh, I’m pretty toasted by the time we reach the rim. But, it’s only a 5 minute walk back to the car, then a 2 minute drive to camp and a nice cold Belgian Trippel Ale :-) There was even a very pleasant park ranger who walked over to greet us when we topped out after the jumar - pretty cool.
We cook dinner and it starts blowing and raining pretty good. We chow down massive burritos and watch the family camping junk show gone bad next door. Gotta love those cheap cabin tents in a storm!
After much overnight rain, Sunday morning dawns sunny but cold. We figure the rock is too fragile to climb after that much rain and the temps are a bit cool for our lichen, so we decide to do some hiking.
Again, the scenery is great on the hike, some nice walls and other features, birds, creeks etc. Oh, and only 2 other hikers in maybe 4 miles. Kinda nice…
We stop for a poser shot at a cool canyon overlook, then pack up the car and head home to the front range.
A good time was had by all and I think I burned at least 1000 calories on the wide cracks alone Little did we know that the next day would be a record spring blizzard that would dump 15+ inches of the white stuff on Boulder and surrounding areas, much more in the hills. Gotta love April in the Rockies!
Colorado National Monument – try it sometime for a different kind of desert adventure! Cheers.