Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Rock Climbing Leadership with Colorado Mountain College in Leadville

   As the summer winds down the days are warm but short while the nights are getting cool and longer. August heat and monsoon rains taper off and give way to what climbers affectionately call "Sendtember." This perfect weather is ideal for rock climbing in many of the world class climbing destinations across the United States. Including Vedauwoo in south east Wyoming and Eldorado Canyon and Golden Gate Canyon in the Front Range of Colorado. These world class climbing destinations are the venues for our Rock Climbing Leadership course with Colorado Mountain College.
   Anticipation was high for many students. As with many of the outdoor recreation leadership courses students are excited to learn technical skills and instructional techniques that relate to their newly found interests, passions, and eventual careers. In this case rock climbing in single pitch and multi pitch terrain.
   We left the Timberline campus headed over Fremont Pass and the continental divide, through Summit County, on I-70 into the Johnson tunnel, down the Clear Creek watershed and then north along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains to our first rock climbing venue Vedauwoo. Know as "the land of the earth born spirit" Vedauwoo offers an ideal location for instruction.
Walt's Wall from Camp
   After we set up camp we quickly headed to Walt's Wall. Since we were all excited to climb our American Mountain Guide Association certified instructors Kip Davis, Cheyenne Chaffee, and John MacKinnon put up many routes to get us started. Before we started to climb we needed our first lesson. Fortunately I was given the opportunity to demonstrate proper belay technique and "buddy checks" in order to safely start a top rope or sling shot climb.
   Our first climbs were Satterfields Crack (5.8), Friction Slide (5.8/8-), Edwards Crack (5.7), Walt's Wall (5.4), and Horns Mother (5.11a). After a fun afternoon climbing one of the Voo's most popular walls we headed back to camp, cooked dinner, and debriefed about the day and what to expect the next morning.

Cheyenne on Horns Mother
Don Belaying on Edwards Crack

Erik on Middle Staircase
   On day 2 we headed to the Beehive Buttress. Here we covered site management for leading groups including "helmet zones", Leave No Trace practices, climber courtesy, and self care for outdoor leaders. Next we discussed skills used in top rope and lead sport climbing such as communication, bolt clipping, anchor building on expansion bolts, cleaning top rope anchors, and rappelling. Following a lead climbing demo students were able to mock lead. This is where students climb on top rope while trailing a rope below them, clipping quickdraws to bolt hangers, then clipping the rope through the quickdraw. In this manner a student can develop safe leading technique while avoiding a lead fall. Through out the day we climbed Back to Bucket Country (5.8), Intoxica (5.10b), Lucky Groove (5.9), Noxious Invasives (5.10c)Middle Staircase (5.7)Gypsy Fire (5.5)Rip Chords (5.6), and Walking the Boards (5.10a).
   After 2 days of sending quality routes we started our third day with a ground school. The objective of the day was to develop traditional gear selection, placement, and anchor building. Including equalized anchors and side to side anchors.  Later we made our way over to the Nautilus. Here we climbed Easy Jam (5.4)Cornelius (5.5), and Ted's Trot (5.7).

Ground School @ The Clamshell
   The next morning, after breakfast and a recap of the previous days skills, we hiked past Walt's Wall, through a cattle gate, meandered through yellowing aspens, past pillars of granite, over a low saddle between crags and down to the base of an area called Jurassic Park. This is where all the students put the previous days skills to work. Everyone built top rope anchors and in short order we rappelled to the base and started our day of sending. By this time the sun was high, beams of light blazed the large grain granite as puffs of chalk dried our sweating hands. This area provided a high density of fine quality climbs from the birthing canal chimney of Prologue (5.6), to off the ground crux of Spatial Juxtaposition (5.8), intriguing and varied cruxes of Anatomy Lesson (5.9+), and of course the highlight Mud in Your Eye (5.11b). Even though this grade is subjective it never the less is considered an extremely difficult climb. It's no doubt committing yet doable. It starts with a step up finger lock, to a juggy right hand, all sequenced for the judo chop hand jam that allows you to pull into a right facing crack over a series of hand jams. The crack continues and eventually starts to narrow down to fingertips then flares as you smear to the top. Awesome climb!

Brooke on Kim's 
   A cool quiet night led to another amazing sunrise shining on Walt's Wall, the sound of stoves burning, the smell of the morning joe, frying eggs, and hash browns drifted through camp as the group prepared for another ground school day. This comprehensive day included some of the most practical technical leadership skills. Such as pre and self equalized 3 point anchors. Belays including the munter hitch, tube and assisted braking devices in addition guide tethers, high and low master points and basketing were introduced. Perhaps the most important leadership skill that was elaborated on was coaching.
   Subsequently we had multiple days of gear placement and anchor building along with movement development and perhaps just as important, a full rest day from climbing. Next we took a short drive from camp, under the highway and down a dirt road to Poland Hill. Finally students were able to mock traditional lead, build anchors, bring followers up and practice top managed sites and the belayed rappel. Mock lead routes included the fun low angle finger crack and friction slab of Kim (5.6), also Southwest Friction (5.4), and the surprisingly fun and perhaps a super moderate sandbag, Little Old Crack (5.5) which climbed a little harder than Kim. As the sun intensified we gradually worked our way around The Rat Brain to other classic routes such as Sugar Crack (5.7) and its hand size jamming, low stems, and an optional chicken wing at the top. The engaging off the ground stem and jam crux of Ape Walk (5.9+), and of course the crown jewel of Poland Hill, Fantasia (5.9). This is classic Voo off-width at its finest. Off-width is defined as being a crack or split in the rock that is to small to get your entire body inside of and to big to hand or foot jam. Often times these routes require that your left arm, hip, and leg go in the crack (left side in) or your right arm, hip, and leg go in the crack (right side in) or in the case of Fantasia many of us started right side in, then turned to go left side in. Either way this was a scrumptastic good time. After a long day of learning, practicing, and sending we headed back to camp for another great dinner and briefing.

Anchor Light on Sugar Crack

Cheyenne Brings Erik up on Straight Edge

   It was dark when the quiet chirp of my alarm rustled me from sleep. Fortunately I packed the previous night and the only thing to do was grab a small breakfast then head out of camp on head lamp lit trails with Cheyenne and Erik. The rounded domes of granite were just silhouettes against the black and blue morning sky. Our breath billowed in front of our headlamps as we walked down the road, past the gazebo, up over and through stacked talus blocks to the base of our multi-pitch climb. An incredible experience and learning opportunity for students on this course is to go on a multi-pitch climb with professionally trained and certified guides. On this day we climbed 4 pitches that started with the friction slab of the Old Easy Arete (5.9+), linking this into the ultra classic and popular 2 pitch MRC Direct (5.9). This route starts with twin cracks and flakes to the first semi hanging belay. The next pitch begins with a low angle right corner to under clings, wide stems, and hand jams out around a roof, pulling into a widening hand and fist jam crack, continued jams lead to a large belay ledge. Our final pitch was Straight Edge (5.9+). Even though this pitch isn't technically part of MRC it is the recommended link up finish. Straight Edge starts out with a big step across an open chasm into finger locks. Then it continues abruptly up nice steep hand jams, flaring fists and finally into near off-width arm bars or stacked hands. Wow! This link up has full value climbing with every pitch at 5.9 or harder. Of course the adventure doesn't end once you reach the top. So we continued on short rope to our double rope rappel. This took us to a series of ledges and back down to the base of our climb. Along the way we excitedly talked about our favorite pitches, moves, and holds. Once back at camp we grabbed some lunch then headed over to the Nautilus where the rest of class was climbing single-pitch. 
   This ultimate day of send continued at the Nautilus. After an early morning of cold hands, climbing in insulating layers and shells, I waited for the sun to warm up my core. Following a big scrumpy chimney climb on Etude for the Left Hand (5.5) the class wrapped it up and headed around the Nautilus to a great route called The Grand Traverse (5.10a). This crack climb begins with moderate jams and side pulls leading into the crux bulge that requires fun hand jams, stems, lay backs, and a foot to hand match. Next was Captain Nemo (5.8) with its consistent hand size crack with foot smearing on the face. Then with a nice break from the scrumping and jamming we climbed face moves up War Zone (5.9)

   In a seeming blink of an eye our week at the "Voo" drew to a close. We packed up camp and said goodbye to the iconic Wyoming Front Range offwidth splitting granite. Our next stop is the Colorado Front Range with its deeply rooted climbing history and abundance of rock this next leg wouldn't disappoint. On the road before sunrise, we headed south back into Colorado to waiting thunderstorms. Greeted with wet rock and some skill assessments on the schedule we continued up to Golden Gate Canyon State Park to set up camp.
   Our final two days of Rock Leadership were spent in the legendary Eldorado Canyon State Park. These green, yellow, black, and red mottled sandstone monoliths were transformed from "their little spot" to enlivened bastions of international recognition by American icons such as Layton Kor, Bob Culp, Pat Ament, Jim Erickson, Larry and Roger Dalke, and many more. 
   We started our 2 day "Eldo" siege by heading to the moderate haven of the Wind Tower. Kip led out  with a couple students on Calypso (5.6)  and into Reggae (5.8). Then Johns team went up The Bomb (5.4) and over to the Wind Ridge (5.8). Next Erik led The Bomb (5.4) while I set up a top rope on Calypso (5.6). In the meantime Cheyennes multi-pitch team was making the approach to Grand Giraffe (5.9+) follwed by a link up into Smoke and Mirrors (5.10a). Later in the day I put a rope up on Tagger (5.9). Soon the sun was beaming on the Wind Tower while everyone finished lapping these routes, so we headed over to The Bastille. In the shade, next to the road, on this legendary cornerstone I put a rope up Werk Supp (5.9) while Kip put a rope on multiple routes in between March of Dimes (5.9) and  Lilliburlero (5.11d). Simultaneously Erik put up The Bastille Crack (5.7+) which included the Northcutt Start (5.10d)
   One final day of sending led us to the West Ridge. There we climbed another set of classic "Eldo" routes. These included Dandi Line (5.7), Mesca Line (5.7)Iron Horse (5.11)Pony Express (5.9) and just uphill Positively Fourth Street (5.10a) and Lunar Avenue (5.8). These wonderful climbs were a great finish to our Rock Leadership Course.
   Following a great morning of send we loaded up the crew and headed back up Interstate 70, along Clear Creek we played throwback tunes, through the Roberts Tunnel recalling the things we'll carry with us for a lifetime, down into the Blue River Valley filled with yellow, orange, and red splashes of  autumn aspen colors, back up Ten Mile Creek, over the continental divide at Fremont Pass, on the home stretch, with a sigh of relief into the Arkansas River Valley and back to Colorado Mountain College in Leadville.