Trip Report
Donini at The City of Rocks: Climbing as a Lifetime Sport!
Monday August 30, 2010 12:12am
I am just back from City of Rocks. My summer was vastly enhanced by 4 nights of witty conversation, and 3 days of (to me) hard climbing with Donini and my new friend “Tom from Maine.”

photo not found
Missing photo ID#168240

When I last climbed with Donini, in the early 1980’s, he was leading at a 5.12 level. At that point, I had been climbing for 10 years, and I was leading up to an “easy” 5.10 level.

The old fellow does appear to be in a rut. He is still leading at a 5.12 level at age 67, while at age 61: I had not climbed anything harder than 5.7, since 1983.

That was about to change!

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Missing photo ID#168241

After meeting Donini and Tom at our camp on Monday night for dinner, drinks, and enjoyable conversation, we rose to a coolish morning and drove off to Elephant Rock.

Jim led Rye Crisp 5.8, while joking about not wanting to "over-protect" routes. He finally set a cam about 70 ft. up: well after the crux. After Donini lowered off, Tom also led the route easily, but set a "wee bit" more pro. I followed Tom, and struggled over the layback crux without falling off: then cruised the remainder of the route.

Jim suggested Tom might enjoy leading Wheat Thin 5.7, then visited with other climbers, while Tom led and I followed that enjoyable route.

Then we were off to the west side of Bath Rock, to meet up with Heidi, who was driving down that morning, and to do some slightly harder "warm-up" routes.

More story & photos to follow!

  Trip Report Views: 8,559
About the Author
Fritz is a trad climber from Hagerman, ID.


Big Wall climber
Terrapin Station
  Aug 28, 2010 - 10:59am PT
Thanks Fritz!

Donini rocks......and so do you.

Trad climber
San Jose, CA
  Aug 28, 2010 - 12:47pm PT
I am continually impressed at Donini's longevity. What the hell does he eat?
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
  Aug 28, 2010 - 01:11pm PT
Jim eats young, tender sport climbers...!

Gym climber
  Aug 28, 2010 - 02:06pm PT
No camalots---he's not climbing.

Nice pix; looking forward to more...

Big Wall climber
Republic, WA
  Aug 28, 2010 - 01:39pm PT
You gotta love this guy...
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
  Aug 28, 2010 - 04:18pm PT
Jim always carries the Big Pink Camalot...gets a bit blue when its cold! LOL

Trad climber
San Jose, CA
  Aug 28, 2010 - 04:50pm PT
If I eat young tender sport climbers, do I absorb their powers like the highlander? Wait...Is Donini immortal until another Ancient eats him? Is he really 670 years old? I used to want to climb with him, now I'm afraid he might mistake me for a sport climber and devour me!
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Aug 28, 2010 - 06:35pm PT
Awesome Fritz, did you make it to the Perch?

Sport climber
Boulder, Colorado!
  Aug 28, 2010 - 06:48pm PT
Looking forward to more!
Mark Hudon

Trad climber
On the road.
  Aug 28, 2010 - 08:42pm PT
Donini is my hero!

Social climber
Choss Creek, ID
Author's Reply  Sep 1, 2010 - 08:50pm PT
Thanks everyone for your posts!

I swear: Donini is kindly and polite in person, and really likes hanging with young climbers.

The food was good!

Donini & Tom had brought plentiful food from Jackson, and we went with "car-camping" menu plans (full coolers of fresh food).

BBQ Wild Salmon, fresh shrimp in cilantro-lime sauce, and fresh corn on the cob: for night one. Baja fish-tacos: for night two. BBQ chicken skewers, thin-cut pork chops, with boiled red spuds: for night three. Night four I drank heavily to celebrate surviving, but I remember: salmon burgers, more pork chops, and brown rice.

Breakfast was Heidi’s fresh organic peaches, from our “ranchette,” cereal, muffins, and occasional turkey bacon.

Donini had PB&J sandwiches, and more organic peaches for lunch.

Ezra: We bagged the Elephant's Perch trip for logistical reasons.

Afternoon of Day two, we were surprised to find six other climbers on the west side of Bath Rock. No problem, everyone was competent and friendly.

While Donini was "chatting up" a “Gunks” climber he knew: Tom roped up and quickly led Coffee and Cornflakes 10a. Tom lowered off and, with great kindness, assured me that the route was easy, and that I should do it. It was pastry down low, but the 10a part was overhanging, and I ran out of upper-body strength, somewhere up toward the “easy” crux.

Tom then followed the “Gunks” group on Donini’s Crack 10C, and had a good time.

Meanwhile: Donini led up Private Idaho 5.9: without “overprotecting” the first 50 feet.

He finally put a couple small cams in before the awkward crux, finished, and lowered off.

Donini, of course, had not “taped up” for this 5.9 romp, nor did I.

I fell off twice in the first 50 feet, and was soon bleeding copiously from the back of my, now shredded, left hand.

I “sniveled” to Donini that I was “bleeding out” and couldn’t continue. He suggested that he could improve my attitude by feeding out 10 feet of slack: so I could enjoy “a simulated leader fall.”

No sympathy, no lower-off for me. I was damned!

I clotted the blood-flow with chalk, and worked my way up to his first points of pro, pulled them, and fell off some more.

Seized with desperation, after a fall: I cheated left on tension, grabbed a flake, and pulled up, then worked left some more, as the pendulum factor increased
Donini mentioned: “I didn’t go that far left.”

I muttered: “I know that.” (Why wouldn’t I know that---I'm acutely aware of the big swing into a rock wall: I will take if I fall here!!)

It worked!

With four falls, copious blood, and some sniveling: I was up my first 5.9 in 27 years!

Much more Donini and photos to follow.

Tom! If you are back at the Climber's Ranch, and want to post photos and comments: feel free!

  Aug 29, 2010 - 12:18am PT
Keep it coming Fritz. You are up to 5.9!!!

Social climber
  Aug 29, 2010 - 01:46am PT
hey there say, fritz! this is wonderful.... so very nice to see trip reports again.... :)

this is a wonderful one to start back in on....
(course, my comments on all the neat pics, are never fully here, as it takes me a while to see them all---though some DO LOAD faster, off and on)....

thanks so very much for the share! ...
and the share of good climbing partners, too... :)

Big Wall climber
Republic, WA
  Aug 29, 2010 - 03:17am PT
Fritz, you're killing me, part II is even better. I know somewhat how you feel. I did some 5.9 at Index recently, totally off the sofa. The mind says sure, but the body rebels.
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Aug 29, 2010 - 10:22am PT
Great idea clotting blood with chalk, I've never thought of it.

If I lead "Private Idaho"; I would have at least 17 pieces of pro in, Donini would want to shoot me for over protection, I'm sure.

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
  Aug 29, 2010 - 11:50am PT
Nice, More!

Trad climber
The state of confusion
  Aug 29, 2010 - 05:35pm PT
Great stuff, Fritz. And what can one say about
Jim. Something else. Glad you had a great time!!!!

I hope before I die I get to share a rope with Jim!

Social climber
Choss Creek, ID
Author's Reply  Sep 5, 2010 - 03:16pm PT
I forgot to mention that Donini staged a "grounder" for me, near the top of his 3rd class run-out on Private Idaho.

I heard a grunt, and both his feet flew out from the wall. Then I heard him snicker.

Donini climbing humor!

Donini then led Rollercoaster 5.8/9, (he even clipped most of the bolts) while Tom led Private Idaho. Heidi got to warm-up on Rollercoaster, and did great.

Then she scampered up the lower part of Private Idaho and made it to the awkward crux. She worked on the crux for a while, but the combination of difficulty and the "pending pendulum" if she fell, finally robbed her of will-power. Tom, being a decent person, lowered her off the route.

I regained a little confidence, following Rollercoaster.

Next came a short drive and a hike to The Incisor/aka Morning Glory Spire.

Jim’s friends that came up from SLC: Bo, Molly, & Bo’s 16 year old brother Ben, were taking turns leading Fall Line 10.b. We roped up just below them and Jim led Heidi up the classic and beautiful Skyline 5.8. He actually put some pro in along the way.

After they rapped off, Tom led Skyline and I followed. Great route and great fun.
It was about 4:00 PM and Heidi & I departed to our camp for a solar shower, while Donini and Tom went off to do Bloody Fingers 10a, which Donini let Tom lead.

Heidi and I hosted Baja fish taco night for Donini, Tom, Bo, Molly, and Ben. Molly also made up a yummy dutch oven apple crisp for desert.
The full moon was rising, and a great day ended well!

Stay tuned for Day 2!
climber bob

Social climber
  Aug 29, 2010 - 12:30pm PT
crazy tom is my hero..

  Aug 29, 2010 - 06:07pm PT
Sounds like a good time. We were there about 3 weeks ago, and did many of the same routes. We enjoyed pretty moderate temperatures, and the Perseids on a no moon night. My son attempted to cut off his thumb while preparing a stick to roast a marshmallow, and we had a night time excursion to the emergency room in Burley. Saw a lot of owls on the first part of that drive.

Climbingwise, Rye Crisp is an all time classic, and the west side of Bath Rock is quite the sport climbing crag. Castle Rocks State Park is also well worth exploring. Honeymoon in Almo in the Twinky Gully is a great route, as is the rightmost route (the 10c) on the hard to find Tidal Wave, which faces N and is a good place to go on a hot day.

One last note is that the restaurant is pretty good, and is run by nice people. The hot springs is also a good evening stop, especially if you have kids who get tired of too much climbing.

Social climber
Wisteria Ln.
  Aug 29, 2010 - 08:47pm PT
Uh,Where are the 5.12 pics?

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
  Aug 29, 2010 - 10:25pm PT
Donini is the man. I'll be 67 in three months, and while Donini may still be leading 5.12, about all I can say is...

...I'm still leading...

Social climber
Choss Creek, ID
Author's Reply  Aug 30, 2010 - 12:11am PT
Rgold: Thanks for chiming in. Donini & the vacationing "Gunks" climber: were gossiping about how "you still have what it takes."

Day 2, we left our camera in camp for the morning climbs. Sorry, but we fetched it for the afternoon thriller!

In the morning, Donini & Heidi climbed Carol’s Crack 5.8 on Decadent Wall. Donini had never climbed at that part of the city, but since he now works with Carol, he thought the route was a must do.

Heidi had a little trouble getting into the upper cracks, then stemmed up the jamcrack.

Tom led the next route south, Adolescent Homos------now with Sapiens added to Homos.

It is a “interesting” 5.7.

We then switched routes and I got to have my own slight slips getting into the upper cracks on Carol’s. The upper jamcrack was very solid. Glad I didn’t try to stem it.

After we fetched our camera, we went to Owl Rock. Donini had heard stories about Owl Roof rated 10C, and wanted to climb it. He mentioned the rating for the roof was thought to be “sandbagged.”

The route did not look like many people had been climbing on it.
Donini avoided the wild roses in the crack, at the start, moved up easily to the roof, and even placed a little pro along the way.

He stood up and fished around in the, slightly wider than fist crack, and announced that it was certainly sandbagged. Then he easily climbed the roof, while calmly mentioning the route was a 5.11.

Tom had easily led everything we had attempted up to this point. He is a youth of 54, and has been hanging at the Climbers Ranch in the Tetons since mid-June. He had not managed to climb every day this summer, due to weather, but he was in superb condition.

He needed to be in superb condition to follow Donini up the roof. Tom worked, and worked, and worked, to get into the roof, and just couldn’t get solid jams.

Donini kept encouraging him, and Tom hung on the overhang: while trying every possible combination of moves-------------for what seemed like a long time.

Tom finally got up the crack with incredible willpower and a very tight rope.

Owl Roof ends just below the ridgeline of Owl Rock. Donini had put in two cams to lower off, and asked Tom to also lower off, rather than lead through, and look for an rappel anchor.

So: Donini then got to find a way up the steep west side of Owl Rock, without the benefit of our "left behind" guidebook. It was now necessary to recover the top anchors for Owl Roof.

Of course he found another “sandbag route.”

Snack Break Direct: features a “bouldering start” on a 5.8 rated “sport route.” The start appears to be a "little harder" than 5.8.

Donini avoided the bouldering start, and worked in to the first bolt, that is 20’off the ground, from the left. Luckily, he had taken some cams. He discovered that horizontal cracks, which were far more numerous than the sparse bolts: gave good pro for the route.

After Tom & Jim recovered the top anchors for Owl Roof, and rapped off: we broke for a late lunch.

Somehow, we never made it back to the rocks that afternoon. It was "hot for the City:" with temps in the mid-80's.

Heidi went home to deal with business calls, and emails, and our elderly cat.

Next day would be the big day for the guys!

We had a great evening in “Mancamp", and another gourmet meal!


Trad climber
  Aug 30, 2010 - 10:36am PT
NICE!!!! Was just there Aug 19-21. Love the City!! Would have been cool to run into Donini himself. Second the Durfee Hot Springs as a nice way to end a day (and rid your body of City dust!) and the Almo Outpost served a great rib-eye. Really love the kind folks at Rock City, where you can get beer, ice, sandwiches, firewood . . . and AUTO PARTS! hahaha! They really need to make a t-shirt advertising that fact!

Trad climber
santa fe
  Aug 30, 2010 - 02:32pm PT

Look on its power ye mortals and weep!

  Aug 30, 2010 - 06:57pm PT
Fritz, it was great climbing with you. Really enjoyed your story telling around the evening campfire! I'll add more pics when I have time!
Jim and Fritz chillin'

Fritz's abused hands

Pigs on a Wing

Jim hasn't placed any pro yet!

Social climber
Choss Creek, ID
Author's Reply  Aug 31, 2010 - 01:11am PT
Tom! Dude! Thanks for posting more photos! Great to meet and climb with you!

The last photo is from our first route on the first day: Rye Crisp 5.8. Donini finally put a cam in about 30 feet higher. Rope drag, was minimal for him, as he led above that point.

I talked a little with Donini about his “training regimen.”
No climbing gym or home gym workouts, except for doing “some” pull-ups.

Climbing is his training for climbing.

That regimen: seems to work pretty well for Donini.

We managed to get out of camp by 8:00 AM the next morning, and hiked into The Anteater from Parking Lot Rock. Donini and Tom both led Scream Cheese 5.9 and I followed it with only slight difficulty. I did have to cheat a little on the crux move.

I pulled the rope, and to our shock, it hung up at the chains. I felt very guilty, although I didn’t think I had left a knot in the end.

Tom led back up Swiss Cheese 5.7R. It seemed like a dangerous lead, with two bolts in 95 feet of near vertical climbing. Tom added a “Dresden Style” knotted sling knot to the protection and felt a little safer.

My new Bluewater 10.3mm rope had hung up on the chains in a bizarre way. Tom took a photo to share, since he didn’t believe it when he saw it. One end of the rope has two pieces of tape, and that end had pulled one chain tight against the other chain and jammed the last two inches of rope. We had all pulled on the rope together, and even that had not budged the jam.

We next hiked down to “The Drilling Fields” and Donini & Tom took turns leading Hired Gun 10a. I opted out, and decided today was my day to be a “belay slave.”

Then Jim led “Pigs on a Wing” 11a, which is a favorite route of his. It is a colorful, featured wall, 100 Ft. high, that overhangs most all the way to the top. Donini never complains, but he had mentioned having an upset stomach after doing Hired Gun.

During his lead up “Pigs on a Wing,” he stopped several times and seemed about to spew. I, of course, offered to lower him, but he insisted on finishing the lead. After Tom followed the lead and cleaned, Donini excused himself and vanished down into the trees. I was now also starting to feel some early symptoms of what I think, was a mild case of food poisoning. I suspect Donini had a little bigger dose of the same bugs.

Donini rejoined us after a while, then vanished again as we walked back up to the Incisor/aka Morning Glory Spire.

He rejoined us there and urged Tom to lead Fall Line 10b.

Tom became the “rope rocket” for the rest of the day, and I became his faithful, and only slightly miserable “belay slave.” Tom led and cleaned Fall Line in very good style, but I forget to take any climbing photos the rest of the day.

Donini then led us up to Thin Slice 10a, on Parking Lot Rock. Tom had a good time on that classic crack route, and Donini cleaned.

Tom finished the day by leading and cleaning Tow Away Zone, 10a. The start of that route is the crux, and despite taking a short slider, Tom worked his way up some thin and slippery stuff to the first bolt.

I belayed and burped a lot, trying not to vomit.

Donini found some young climbers to visit with. One knew him, and Donini obviously enjoyed working the crowd.

After Tom lowered off and cleaned, it seemed like time to go. As we changed our viewpoint, smoke from a nearby brush-fire was suddenly apparent.

We made good time back to our car, and drove up to the Breadloaves to check out the fire. No problem! It wasn’t likely to bother us, since it was at least 7-10 miles northwest over the next ridge-line.

Back to camp! After a while, my guts felt better and I was able to enjoy the company (and a wee-bit of wine) for the remainder of the evening. I also led the nightly "here's to cheating death" toast, with more than my usual enthusiasm.

Donini was a little slower than us in rising the next morning and a huge flock of vultures started circling his camper. Over one-hundred birds were apparently seeing if Donini was a candidate for: "Sky Burial."

I swear! The vultures departed as soon as Donini popped out of his camper!

Donini and Tom were off to climb some more as I left.

As we were saying farewells, Donini said: “You know, this was a lot of fun. Maybe we should plan a bigger party here for next year.”


Big Wall climber
Sedro Woolley, WA
  Aug 30, 2010 - 11:03pm PT
So awesome, Fritz... That place is magical...

On Belay,

Social climber
Choss Creek, ID
Author's Reply  Aug 31, 2010 - 12:11am PT
Thorgon & all: Thanks for posting up!

I am now "hooked on the City."

September is a "work my ass off" month.

October there: should be good for some short days climbing, and some long nights of story telling.

Trad climber
Santa Clara, CA
  Aug 31, 2010 - 12:05am PT
Awesome TR!

Trad climber
  Aug 31, 2010 - 01:36am PT
Very nice story and pics! Thanks for posting.

Big Wall climber
Sedro Woolley, WA
  Aug 31, 2010 - 12:26pm PT
Fritz, don't forget to ski in one "warm" sunny winter day!

em kn0t

Trad climber
isle of wyde
  Aug 31, 2010 - 03:53pm PT
awesome TR.

thanks for the inspiration. I especially like the Donini training regimen.

aka nurse ratchet
bishop old climbers home

Trad climber
Douglas, WY
  Sep 3, 2010 - 12:22am PT
This was really a classic TR! Glad you survived getting "Donini-ed." Awesome reporting style, too.

Social climber
Choss Creek, ID
Author's Reply  Sep 3, 2010 - 11:38pm PT
Hey! Thanks for your comments!

Thorgon: do you have winter photos of City of Rocks?

If so: start a thread!

Ski in?????

I thought it was a: "snow machine" play area.

"Snow machine" people are not: "my people."

Big Wall climber
Sedro Woolley, WA
  Sep 5, 2010 - 05:24pm PT
Fritz, I do not have winter photos, but my parents may. All my "old" photos are at my parents house in Idaho Falls, but you can skinny ski in and climb, then hit the hot pools!
Here is a cold day with light snow showers!
Thor catching a TR on a very dicey face route!

See ya there,

Social climber
Choss Creek, ID
Author's Reply  May 10, 2014 - 10:41pm PT
Bump for Donini filling ST tonight.

  May 10, 2014 - 10:48pm PT
Larry Nelson

Social climber
  Jun 1, 2016 - 07:37am PT
Another bump for climbing
Gnome Ofthe Diabase

Out Of Bed
  Jun 1, 2016 - 09:09am PT

& a good bump !
mouse from merced

Trad climber
The finger of fate, my friends, is fickle.
  Jul 23, 2017 - 12:49pm PT

Just livin' the dream
  Aug 13, 2017 - 06:51pm PT
The old fellow does appear to be in a rut. He is still leading at a 5.12 level at age 67, while at age 61: I had not climbed anything harder than 5.7, since 1983.

One of the funniest TRs yet, and chocked full o' great photos!
Fritz, you and Jim are a comedy team extraordinaire.
Hope to see more of these.

Social climber
Choss Creek, ID
Author's Reply  Aug 13, 2017 - 08:20pm PT
L! Thank you for your praise!

Purr, Purr! I have more stories out on the internet. Some are free, but Idaho Magazine, which has published 14 of my stories, makes you pay to view.

Here's their link to my stories.

And here's the Idaho, A Climbing Guide link to some free stories.

Thank you yet again!


Social climber
Choss Creek, ID
Author's Reply  Aug 14, 2017 - 09:28am PT
Speaking of Donini humor, I recalled this part of Donini upsetting the adjacent young sport climbers for an article published by Idaho Magazine.

I first climbed “Private Idaho” with Jim Donini in 2010, on a much-more pleasant day. Jim was fully grey-haired, skinny, & wrinkled even then, but he had driven all the way from his home in Colorado to climb at City of Rocks. There was a couple in their early 20’s climbing a harder-route a few feet to the right of our route. The lad belaying his girlfriend while she led, soon became concerned about Jim’s safety and likely his sanity.

Jim & I bantered back and forth about whether an old-fellow like him was capable of the route (a nearby much harder route is named for him). When Jim started climbing, he pretended to slip a couple times, and complaining about excess rope-drag, didn’t put any nuts or cams in the crack, for “protection” to catch him if he fell.

After a few minutes, while Jim tottered- up about 60 feet without placing “protection,” the young guy earnestly whispered to me, “I’m really scared for your friend.” About that time, Jim let out a whoop of surprise, a grunt, and both his feet flew into the air like he had just started to fall. I chuckled and admonished him for “working the crowd.” The couple next to me did not recognize Donini climbing humor, and fled, as Jim finally put in one piece of protection and finished the route.


Just livin' the dream
  Aug 14, 2017 - 12:21pm PT
Like I said, Comedy Team Extraordinaire!