In November 2016 I headed to Chamonix, France to feel out a seemingly unbelievable opportunity. That trip was my first to Chamonix and I didn’t get a peek at the riches that the area has for mountain scenery and fun. The clouds hung low for the duration of that trip and snow fell frequently. Since that date things have accelerated significantly and at the beginning of May it was time to return for a longer and more productive trip to solidify the gel that has started setting. In short the opportunity was to work with Blue Ice, a small Chamonix based climbing company. I would go along with Bill Belcourt to discuss opening an additional office in Salt Lake City. We would head the hardgoods design effort here in SLC and softgoods would continue out of Chamonix. Six months after the project kicked off we are six strong in Salt Lake and augmenting the team of 13 in Chamonix. Stay tuned to see what we’re working on…
As for the trip. Adam and I headed out at the beginning of May just as one of the team from France was leaving a visit to the US. The itinerary was to visit a number of suppliers, climb, ski, and live in France for the bulk of May. Check, check, check, and check.
In Nov. ’16 I didn’t get to witness the scale since the place was socked in and we didn’t get out for any climbing. This time however, our ride in from Geneva left us with a clear view of the magnitude of topography that is Chamonix. The elevation at the cable car, téléphérique as it’s called, in town is 3,379′ (1030 m). The top of the Aiguille du Midi which the téléphérique brings you to is 12,604′ (3,842 m). Mont Blanc, the highest point in Europe, is 15,774′ (4,808 m) and only 3.4 mi (5.4km) away. I thought that Salt Lake City had some of the best relief in the world and it is only half of that of Chamonix. The scale is mind blowing. Looking up at the peaks from the center of town almost hurts your neck in how high you have to look.
While there was quite a bit of working on the trip we were able to get out and do some fun in the hills and mountains.
I had the great fortune to get a call from Paul Brenner–West Virginian, goat herder, chicken raiser, and climbing hardman–to say that he and Lauren would be travelling to the Southwest rather than Mexico for their annual month-long break from farming. One of their first stops on their trip would be Indian Creek, a short 4ish hour drive from Salt Lake City. Even though the Black Diamond Christmas party at a swanky mansion type place was going on that Friday, Nov. 30th, I decided to skip it and visit with some good friends down in the desert who I hadn’t seen in over a year.
Late Friday I headed out, perhaps around 5:30pm; a little later than I’d hoped but a few things needed to be tidied up at work. On the way out of Salt Lake/Provo area on the Wasatch Front I ran into some traffic. The highways out here are pretty wide, 4-5 lanes in places so it was always moving to some degree. Once passed Provo I was able to open it up. Unlike the Northeast which has lots of people and stuff everywhere, there’s a whole lot of nothing in Utah. This allows for regular state routes to have 65 mph to 80 mph speed limits. This of course means that I’m travelling at 5-10 mph over those. Given that it was night and quite dark I never really opened it up though. Approaching the Creek I had to slow a bit since there are open ranges and a possibility of cows in the road exists.
Pulling off the main road in the Creek, Rt. 211, I headed down the dirt road for Bridger Jack Campground. The campground is little more than an official place to park a car and sleep. There are no amenities, no trash, no structures, no fees, just nothing. Well there are some bitchin’ views of the Bridger Jacks, a tower-esque formation of sandstone. It also has a moderately difficult road to travel to get there. After my Red Rocks incident a few weeks prior, I was hesitant to drive down the road, especially at night. But I figured that I was able to get the WRX through a lot on that trip and this road would be easier from beta I got from Kevin at work. The road did prove to be tricky in some spots but no major hills so a little momentum was all that was necessary to clean the difficult sections. Paul and Lauren were already in the tent, it was about 10 pm when I arrived but they came out and we caught up a bit on things before retiring to our tents.
In the morning we had some breakfast and headed off to the North Sixshooter Tower which is a bit of a haul from Bridger Jack CG. There is also a fairly lengthy dirt road which luckily with their Pathfinder didn’t prove to be very difficult. The side of the tower we decided to approach on isn’t used very often as a result we didn’t find a good trail from where we parked the car to where the tower is. One good thing about the desert is that you can see for miles so we could see where to go, but the down side to the desert is the fragile environment and just ‘shwacking across isn’t the most environmental thing to do. We stuck to sand and rock as much as we could, avoiding the delicate cyanobacteria fungus.
After some scrambling and two talus fields, there the tower is on a plateau and the car was at the bottom of it, we finally reached the base of the tower. The view even from the base was pretty amazing. I’ve commented before but I’ll do it again, the scenes of the west are striking, more so than most on the East Coast. I think the only thing that might compare is a brilliant autumn day with all the foliage bursting.
If the view was this good at the base it’ll be even better at the top, eh? Lauren decided on a rest day and left the climbing to Paul and I. We chose Lightning Bolt Cracks (5.11) a classic line up the Eastern-ish side of the tower. The first pitch starts as a finger sized crack but quickly widens to a little big near the top of the 100 ft pitch. Paul lead this one as I’m still not in shape to lead that difficulty, especially at the Creek. The pitch had some good moves and a tricky finish around a bulge.
The second pitch was still tricky and had a traverse which was nice. The difficult portion of the second pitch was a chimney section which I found very awkward and difficult. This type of climbing continues to be my worst.
P2 ends at a great belay. The ledge isn’t large, it is a little awkward for even two people but it has amazing position. I was about 150+ft off the deck, and many hundreds off the desert floor. The ledge is just a little triangle of jutting out into nothing, superb. Paul continued up the third pitch as I wasn’t feeling the lead, even on the lower rating of this section. This turned out to be a good idea. From the belay there is a bombay chimney (flaring downwards so it is wider on the bottom than the top) which then pulls up a small roof. That part went down with out much trouble. The next portion of rock from there is very slippery and sandy as the quality of the rock degrades up this high. Following that is a squeeze chimney that I found very difficult. It was just a little too small for my long arms to really push myself up. Very little protection as well. Thanks Paul! From the summit we were awarded some amazing views of the valley.
After another shorter climb that I lead, truly onsight since it wasn’t on Mountain Project, we headed back to camp. I’ve been fed many times by Paul and Lauren or her parents so it was time for me to give back. I brought some curry paste, veggies, and rice. Unfortunately I forgot to bring the coconut milk so it wasn’t quite the full gourmet I was hoping for. Nonetheless it tasted great and hit the spot.
Sunday we brought both cars to the road since I’d be leaving in the afternoon. For more of a cragging day where Paul could really try something hard we went to Scarface Wall. This crag is great as it has a short approach and a bunch of climbs. Typical to the Creek there isn’t anything less than a 5.10 or so but that’s fine. I figured that I was getting used to the length and difficulty of Creek cracks so I decided I’d lead the warmup. The climb I chose was the route farthest to the left on the wall, an unnamed 5.10. I loaded up what I thought would be a sufficient number of cams and moved up. Off the ground the crack was #.75-1 camalot sized. This isn’t my strongpoint so I quickly moved through it to get to the #2 size. From here I started to get a bit tired because there weren’t any stances. I kept moving and realized that I’d run out of the #2 and #3’s I had and the crack only kept getting wider to wide #3 size. So I started bumping pieces and leapfrogging them. This completely wiped me out so I had to end up hanging on the rope. I wouldn’t call it a fall on gear just yet since I was only about a 1 ft above the last piece. This cycle of bump and hang repeated until I was after the changing corner on the pitch, which was quite wide, wide fist for me. Clipping the chains I was glad it was over–and it was only 60ft. I have a long way to go before I’m leading much here.
Lauren went up next and had a difficult time since her small hands quickly turned to fists then wide fists, then a bit off-width. I felt better when I saw her hand a couple times :-). Paul then launched into it and predictably had no trouble, though he did complain that fists were not his thing.
Next up was Scarface (5.11). This picturesque line has the Bridger Jacks and the Sixshooter towers behind it. The position is great and the climb is as well. The route starts as #.75-1, perhaps a little smaller even. From here the crack goes into dead vertical #2’s, which are normally a great size for me. However endurance and technique are the name of the game in the Creek. After about 50ft of #2’s (hands) I got tired. Seeing the only stance on the route about 10 ft above–a block with a good foot hold–I kept going and suppressed the pain in my feet and cramps in my hands. Finally I got there and was able to shake out and recover a bit. From here there is still another 50ft or so, luckily it gets a little easier as there are stemming options on the right wall. It is one amazing route, classic for sure. I’m looking forward to leading it clean at some point.
To finish up my day I followed, Not That Funny (5.12) which Paul put up. FINALLY I got to see Paul fail at something. No big whippers unfortunately but still it was nice to see him get stumped by a route. The route had tight hands to a roof, around the roof the corner changed to a right facing one. Pulling around this roof and bulge was the crux for sure. Very difficult feet because of the roof and the hands suck because the crack is #.75 sized. Once around the roof I was able to blast through the next 15-20 feet by laying it back and forgetting about messing with the straight in crack technique. I think this is definitely the beta for that section too. Paul wasn’t quite able to get it clean on top rope, but close.
We all hiked out at this point, perhaps around 3 pm. Not a ton of pitches, but they were tough and I was worked for sure. I was great seeing some good friends from the East and climbing in a beautiful area. Paul and Lauren’s next few weeks sounded pretty awesome with Red Rocks, Zion, and J-Tree, all on the list. Hope they have fun!
Since I just moved to Utah and I don’t have many vacation days at work, I didn’t go back to New England for Thanksgiving, a first for me. Instead I spent the long weekend in Red Rocks Canyon just outside Las Vegas. Climbing there in the past has been fun and it was no different this time.
I traveled down with Jon from work and met some of his friends there. The first day we went to the Black Corridor. At first I was not crazy about the idea since there are many fun long routes to do here. But it was good to get reacquainted with the rock as my last trip was in 2011. It was nice getting on some routes that I did on my first trip to Red Rocks a few years ago, and it was good to get on things I wouldn’t have even dared even just last year.
Dinner for Thanksgiving was rotisserie chicken wrapped in bacon cooked over the fire on tin foil, mashed potatoes, green beans?, sweet potato and maple syrup, stuffing and pie. Not a bad meal considering the limited cooking appliances available.
Friday Jon and I did Jubilant Song (5.8), eight pitches. The climb is on Windy Peak at the very south end of Red Rocks. The drive was a little longer and hairier than I expected. We took my WRX from Salt Lake. While the WRX isn’t super low it isn’t very high, especially with my aftermarket exhaust on there. We made it in ok but hoped that the other road would be quicker and easier for the return trip.
After topping out after 8 fun pitches in the sun we headed back to the car. A party next to us mentioned that the direct road wasn’t too bad except for one spot but they got through with a camper van without all-wheel drive. We figured we could as well. As the sun set we headed out on this road and it was indeed better. Until we got to a rocky, bumpy, steep hill. The section of road wound right and at the bottom of the wash sharply left. On the up hill, it was bumpy but not quite as rocky. But it was sandy and cut back right quickly. The only possible way for me to make it up this was gunning it from the downhill side of the hill. This required careful selection of the line to take around the biggest bumps and rocks. On the first attempt I veered slightly too far left and lost traction and came to a stop with one wheel totally off the ground. The WRX was not meant to do this. Low speed torque is not how my car is geared.
With Jon spotting I backed carefully down to the downhill side of the section again. We knocked down some of the bumps and filled in a few holes with some rocks as best we could. The sun had set, it was getting dark quickly, and there was only the camper van guy who possibly could save us if we couldn’t get up this time; going back the way we came also was out of the question as it was too rocky for an uphill shot. And I was running out of gas.
Gunning it, spraying sand and gravel all over, I bounced up the hill. Quite a bit more violently than I would have liked. At every moment I expected to hear the loud bang of a rock against my exhaust or worse, my oil pan. While I haven’t been under the car yet I don’t think I nailed anything too badly. We just made it up the section. Immediately after the camper van bounced its way up too. He had decided to take the same route out and I’m glad since if we hadn’t gotten up he would’ve been our only hope of getting out.
We filled up at the nearest gas station and then the next big event of the weekend happened, though I didn’t realize it at the time. I lost my wallet.
The next day I couldn’t seem to locate my wallet but I wasn’t too concerned since there was a bunch of stuff in the car. On this day 5 of us headed into Black Velvet Canyon to climb Prince of Darkness (5.10c) and Dream of Wild Turkey (5.10a). Jon and I would do Turkey and the others Darkness. The section of rock these routes are on is impressive. It is nearly unbroken with ledges or corners for 800 feet or so.
We queued up in line behind a pair of girls from Colorado on Dream of Wild Turkey. They moved slowly and we found out that it was because the second had only been climbing a couple of months. The transitions were very slow. We wanted to pass them at P3 but they didn’t stop for us. I spent two hours at P3, which luckily was a nice ledge. During this extended stay when the second was finally moving we had something quite unexpected happen. She was up about mid way through the 180 ft pitch when she kept saying she was sorry and that she was embarrassed. Bare assed is more fitting. She said she had to go to the bathroom and to take. Jon and I were so shocked and thought she was kidding. Looking up we saw her squatting while being held on the rope and pulling out a plastic bag. Was this for real? Pissing in a plastic bag while mid route? No it wasn’t, she was shitting.
After that we gave them their distance, but still had to wait for them. Despite starting at a little after 9am we only got to the top of P6 before we decided to bail. By that time it was 2:30-3pm and the sun set at 4:30pm. While on the way down we were again slowed by this pair of girls. They had rapped around the same time we started and were able to make it to the rap below us. I was in no mood to wait again so I proposed that the four of us combine ropes and set two raps up at a time. I went down with our ropes and started to set the next rap. While this may not have been the most efficient overall, I was at least able to get to the ground first. Eventually everything worked out and we hiked out before the girls and left them making their way out in the growing darkness in the shady canyon.
Sunday we were all pretty wiped and since we had a 6+ hour drive back to SLC, we went to Cannibal Crag to do a little sport climbing in the sun. It was fun and did a few steep routes. The drive back was a little more cramped as we had picked up two more people for the ride back. We were just able to squeeze into the WRX. Traffic wasn’t too bad, but it is aggravating when you are going 65 mph in an 80 mph zone.
A good trip and a nice Thanksgiving. The wallet hasn’t turned up even after checking the car and unpacking. Losing a wallet is a major pain, something I haven’t had to deal with before. All the credit cards need to be cancelled not to mention I need to remember what’s in it. Do you know every thing that’s in your wallet? Hopefully I’ll get my Utah license on Thursday. Until then I’m a scofflaw.