Back to Colorado: Front Range Part Two and American Rockies

It’s hard to believe that it has been two months today since we left for our trip. Time seems to be going by faster and faster, and the more I am on the road, the more I want to stay on the road. Don’t get me wrong, there are some days when living out of a car gets frustrating: not having a fridge, having to shift around all of our belongings to sleep in the car, then having to shift it all back the next morning, having to do dishes with cold water out of a water bottle, or misplacing an item only to find it underneath all the climbing gear… Sometimes I miss the luxuries of living in an apartment or house, but at the same time there’s a lot to love: finding the new area and campsite, planning the next day’s adventures, and having the freedom to go anywhere and do anything. I appreciate everything about this trip, and the whole thing is precious, even the frustrations.

The last week has been spent in Colorado. We stayed a few nights at a friend’s cabin; Magoon (Megan, from the last Colorado post) kindly let us stay at her place while she was on a backpacking trip. During our stay we climbed Bastille Crack (5.7 trad multi-pitch) at Eldorado Canyon, simu-climbed the second Flat Iron (5.0 – I placed the gear for it, which ended up being every 30 feet or so), and sport climbed at Clear Creek Canyon with Anthony. We also tried out a pizza restaurant in Denver, called Hops & Pie; it was delicious and lived up to its reputation. On our last night at the cabin, Magoon’s housemate stopped by and had a few friends over for a BBQ. Unexpected things like this end up being the most memorable. Kyle was very generous and entertaining, to say the least.

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These are from Clear Creek Canyon. Find me hidden in the wall on the first picture.

The next stop was Fort Collins, where we camped in Poudre Canyon – pronounced POO-der. Tom made fun of me for how frustrated I was with the butchering of the beautiful French word for powder. We didn’t climb in Poudre, but rather switched it up a bit and went to a movie: Mad Max, which we both enjoyed.

The next stop was Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). I was curious how the Rockies here compared to the ones in Canada, and I’ll admit my bias, but Banff and Canmore are way more beautiful. The mountains here are huge, but not as majestic as in Canada, at least what I saw from the Estes Park side. Tom and I climbed a few cracks at Lumpy Ridge, and hiked Mills Lake trail inside RMNP. It is truly beautiful here, but some of the beauty is taken away by the thousands of tourists. Tom and I almost ran the first 2 miles of the trail to sneak past the many hikers. It was nice to finally hike alone after Mills Lake, but I was struck by how so many people turned around before the hike got spectacular. The streams, waterfalls, lakes, and mountainous backdrops were breathtaking, especially Black Lake. Today we plan on hopping on a 5.8 trad multi-pitch called White Whale, then we will make our way back to Wyoming. RMNP is way too busy for our liking, and it feels weird to be frustrated at tourists, when we are tourists ourselves.

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These are from our day at Lumpy Ridge.

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This lake is Mills Lake

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Living up to its name: Black Lake

Thanks for reading! Much love sent back home to Ottawa, and to friends and family all around. ❤

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The Tale of the Tower

Our time at Ten Sleep came to an end after eight sleeps –  an abrupt end, after I tripped on some uneven pavement and sliced open the tip of my big toe. The idea of putting my feet in my tight climbing shoes or hiking shoes gave me the heebie-jeebies, so I had to wait for it to heal a bit. Our time in Ten Sleep was amazing; it is a magical place, and I am so fortunate to have experienced it for just over a week.

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Here is some info about Ten Sleep and the climbing:

Ten Sleep is the name of the town close by the climbing area, which has a population of 200 people. Ten Sleep Canyon is the area that we camped and climbed in, about a 25 minute drive away from the town. The climbing has been developing since 1991 and it is clear that this place is still somewhat of a hidden gem: nowhere near as popular as Red River Gorge, but maybe one day it will be. The number of people is super unpredictable. On a Saturday, Tom and I ran into only one other party at French Cattle Ranch, and they happened to be locals; one of them had actually bolted the climbs that we were all climbing – how cool! The crag called Slavery Wall always seemed to have people on it, and the parking lot leading there was often full, holding a little over a dozen cars. Some areas, like the Circus Wall/Denial Wall area can range from no cars to a full parking lot, and the busyness appeared random.

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This photo was taken moments before I tripped and sliced my toe.

The new guidebook was released during our stay at Ten Sleep, which was exciting for us. After not being able to find the previous, out-of-print guidebook, we guided ourselves through the crags with a Mountain Project ap and the generosity of other climbers letting us peek at their guidebook. Sadly, the author of the new guidebook released a collectors-style book with unnecessary bells and whistles, such as 3D glasses. Priced at $100 USD ($120 CAD), there is no way we could justify buying the book.

As disappointing as the guidebook was, we must move on. Climbing highlights for us were as follows: I led a couple climbs in the 5.9-5.10a range, Tom climbed his first 5.11d onsight, and I climbed my first TR 5.11b onsight. I am really working on exercising my fear muscle, as it is becoming clear to me that I am strong enough to climb 5.11s, yet am crippled by fear on low 5.10s on lead. I am one of those people that has a really hard time leading, but I am definitely seeing progress. Woohoo!

Another funny thing worth reporting is the hilarity that was the local farmer releasing his cows into the area that also happened to be our campground. One morning we were woken at 6:30am by the calls of herded cows. We quickly learned that the area would also be their home for the time being. I have to say, after this experience, I do not like cows. They poop everywhere, they make really loud cow calls, particularly when the sun rises, and they seem scared of humans, yet often eat grass way too close for comfort. On the first evening, about 20 of them surrounded us, mooing and spying on us over the tall grass. We had no idea how to handle them.

During our rest days, we went to Thermopolis to use their hot springs and shower, and Worland to get groceries, eat some diner food, and get our oil changed. There is not too much to do here, but we made do.

The next stop was Devils Tower. Our first sighting of the tower was at sunset: a slightly tilted 867-foot tall cylinder emerging out of the ground, with a surrounding tangerine orange sky and dark purple clouds. Breath-taking.

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The first day, we got our bearings, taking it slow because of my toe injury, and scouted out routes we wanted to do. We set up camp at the Devils Tower Lodge, where the owner, Frank, let us camp on his lawn by donation. Frank hosts visitors at the tower as well as climbing guides, who bring people up and down the tower. Between 2007 and 2008 he climbed 365 days on the tower. He and the guides, who live at the lodge, were really nice and willing to give us lots of information in regards to climbs, gear necessary for each climb, approach trails, and cheap places to buy beer.

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This last photo is of the side we climbed to the summit.

I felt joyous when I was able to not only get my hiking shoes on, but my climbing shoes as well, only four days after injuring my toe. Tom and I climbed a two-pitch, called New Wave (5.10a), and another climb called Mystic and the Mulchers (5.8). On our last day we proudly summited the tower; it consists of many pillars that form cracks, so hand jams, fists, and off-width are the name of the game. We used the route Bon Homme Variation (5.8+) and finished on Walt Bailey Direct (5.7). Summiting was definitely the highlight of our stay.

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These were taken at the summit

Getting Freaky in the Front Range

How wonderful it was to meet and hangout with the famous Magoon, Anthony, and Athena the dog in Denver, friends of Tom’s from his previous USA climbing trip. Atlas the cutie-pup also joined us. We squeezed in a lot of climbing over five days, especially considering that we got rained out multiple times. The first day (Canada day!) we climbed a couple cracks in Boulder Canyon, then climbed the first Flat Iron with Magoon (whose name is actually Megan). I never thought I would feel lame trad climbing, as about ten free solo-ers passed us on this 5.4 milti-pitch.

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Here are the Flat Irons from a distance. We climbed the one on the right.

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Above is Tom inspecting the 1st Flat Iron up close.

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Here are some of Magoon’s photos from the day:

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Day 2, we drove to Vedauwoo, WY with Anthony and Magoon. Pronounced vay-da-voo, this mystical climbing destination is filled with sharp, grainy granite cracks that leave any climber with scrapes at the end of the trip. And, if you have ever climbed outdoors with me, you will know that I always leave any area with scrapes and bruises. We all wore long-sleeved shirts and long pants to avoid the scrapes, but I still managed to cut myself. We hopped on a couple nice cracks, one off-width, and a couple boulder cracks. The off-width caused us all to wiggle like a snake up a vertical crack just big enough for our thighs and torsos to squeeze into. Sadly, I did not make it to the top, but I learned a lot about the skills necessary for off-width climbing. We all struggled a lot on an off-width roof crack boulder on Day 3 that was too painful to link any moves together.

Here are Magoon’s photos from the trip:

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Can you spot the Tommy?

 

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Can you spot the Sarah?

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Day 4 was Independence Day, and in the morning we bouldered in Eldorado Canyon with Anthony and a couple of his pals, Kristie and Dan. In the evening, Anthony kindly invited us to a BBQ hosted by his boss. It was fun to see and hear the continuous stream of fireworks set off by neighbouring houses; throughout the evening we had to raise our voices to be heard over the continuous cracks, pops, and whistles overhead.

On the fifth day, Tom and I repacked our car to head out of Denver. We were truly thankful to Anthony and his roommates, Lindsay and Fred, and the two dogs, Athena and Ruby, who were so hospitable and kind to us, letting us stay at their house during our Denver stay. And, thanks to Anthony and Magoon, who were amazing tour guides, and made time to hang out with us.

We managed to meet up with another friend of Toms, Alex, who he also met during his last USA trip. We had coffee, then ate at Watercourse foods – vegan and delicious. Due to a week of forecast rain in northern Colorado, Tom and I decided we would jump ahead in our itinerary. The next stop was Ten Sleep, Wyoming – we plan on going back to Colorado when the weather is looking better.

Driving north from Denver to Ten Sleep, we passed miles and miles of flat fields and hills of nothing. Cows appeared now and then, and the occasional town had a gas station, but that was it. All of a sudden the road was covered in fog, limiting our vision to about ten metres in front of us. Then, out of nowhere, instead of flat land, huge walls of rock towered around us: yellowy, pinky, and bluey-grey walls layered between lush pine trees, appearing like a lost world. I love the first moments of entering a new area: novel and full of potential.

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Ten Sleep was a bit of a shock to my system in terms of climbing. Steep walls full of finger pockets felt so different from cracks in Colorado and the bubbly slopers and jugs in Maple. Still trying to avoid the rain, Tom and I managed to hop on some good 10s and 11s at Slavery Wall, Wall of Denial, and Circus wall. We have found a nice hangout spot at the local Ten Sleep Brewing Company, where we come for some brews and wifi. Ten Sleep is a town of around 200 people, and was named so by Native Americans, who travelled ten nights to reach the town originally. We are planning to stay here for 7 sleeps. Is that wrong?