Brotherhood of the Travelling Stopper Part II

After returning to the States, I put the Travelling Stopper in my car and waited for the next recipient in the Brotherhood to send me an address to continue its journey. Meanwhile, I headed to Moab for a couple weeks. Little did I know that the hardy nut would get one more crucial placement.

It was a soggy day, so Michael and I headed out for the Crack House to find some dry rock to shove our appendages in. The approach to the cave follows mostly flat dirt road for six miles, which had a couple inches of snow on it. Both of us were rocking 2WD hatchbacks but had tire cables in reserve, so we figured if we didn’t need use them on the way in, we’d have a good chance of getting out.
We drove four miles until the snow got deeper, and enjoyed a cruiser two-mile hike to the cave. Crack House features a fifty-foot horizontal crack, approximately hand-sized, that’s six to ten feet off the ground. It makes for stellar all-in jamming while hanging upside down.
Most of the crack is slammer hands and feet with the occasional tight hand, cupped hand or fist to keep things interesting. The crux for me was a sequential spot where you move from a good fist through a couple desperate tight hand moves to a constriction. Protection involves having your spotographer slide the pad along with you.
It was just under 30F with no sun in the cave, but you don’t need your fingers for this kind of stuff anyways. The Loki Tech Hoodie stayed on until my “redpoint burn.” The entire crack includes some offwidth moves on either end but those were covered in ice or dripping water, so we got to play the ethics card and avoid them (whew).
It was Michael’s first time crack climbing — pretty stout way to learn to jam! I told him that any route with perfect hands, no matter how steep it is, can only be rated 5.10. So the middle pitch of Crackhouse goes at about 5.10+++. He did really well and locked in some good jams … I think we have a new convert …
Everyone knows that tape gloves and sticky rubber are aid. It’s a Scientific Fact™ proven by Science. What most people don’t realize, however, is that aid climbing is amazing. As much as I would love to get a proper Free ascent of Crack House (naked, barefoot, in a blizzard, in the dark, on an empty stomach, carrying and placing doubles to #6 but not clipping them), we had a great time cheating our way through this area classic 5.9+.
Speaking of shoes, this was the first use of The General by Evolv. I broke them in for a day while driving stick shift from GJ to Moab, and then wandered around town in them like a gumby. They were sufficiently broken in to wear for two hours straight and jammed the cupped hands and fists like a champ. I’m excited to throw them on some merciless desert offwidth.
These kicks are so keen on jamming that you don’t even have to wear them. I was like “Aiyo General, will you lead this pitch?” And they’re like …
So back to the matter at hand. How in the world do you place a BD #7 Stopper on this stuff?
You don’t.
When we got back to the cars, it had been snowing pretty hard. With a little elbow grease, we got both hatchies turned around and partway out, but then came the crux pitch: a double-dogleg into a steep hill. Our tracks were covered with fresh pow. I railed it a couple times but could never keep up enough momentum after the second turn to get up the hill. After several attempts, I went to throw on my tire cables, but then realized that the only cable stop that fit had ripped off, most likely in a previous misadventure on Kebler Pass. This set of chains was only barely big enough to fit with the outermost size, because I had gotten two flats in Mexico and they only had 195/55/16’s there instead of 185’s, so my front tires were larger. We tried running the hill with just one tired encabled, but to no avail.
What to do? In this time of spiritual crisis, I beseeched (besought? besotted? besmooched?) the Holy Stopper for guidance and it answered.
One BD #7 Stopper, one Neutrino wiregate and a quicklink gave us just enough extension to connect the damaged cables. Tire crampons in place, we tried again (with Michael sitting on the hood for good measure) and after many efforts, inched Jezebel up the slope.
Then we swapped my jerryrigged cables over to Michael’s Versa — in true dirtbag fashion, he hadn’t opened his set of cables and was hoping to return them for a refund at the end of his four-month road trip — and after several attempts, got him up the hill as well.
Eventually, we had to break into the second set of cables because the mellow hills that we encountered on the drive in had turned into stout WI-5 hardman testpieces. Michael conceded that it was a $40 well-spent.
Altogether, it took us four hours to move two vehicles four miles. We could have hiked the whole thing with less time and effort, but hiking is aid. And where’s the story in that?
Finally, as a culmination of our efforts, we received the Crown of Righteousness — a “well done, good and faithful servant” from Brother Tony, the founding father and OP of the Brotherhood of the Travelling Stopper.
And all G-d’s gotez said “YEEEEEE!!!!”

Loki Shadow Shirt

I don’t normally get excited about base layers. A shirt’s a shirt. As long as it’s not cotton in the mountains, you’re good with Underarmor knockoffs from Walmart, right?

The Loki Shadow Shirt changed my tune pretty quickly. As I’ve come to expect from softgoods made by this Grand Junction company, the hoodie provides versatile and effective protection against the elements, both heat and cold. Like many Loki products, the Shadow Shirt features cuffs that convert to mitts and a hood with an integrated face mask.

And it unleashes the ninja within.

P4 of Black Cat Bone

As a cold-weather base layer, the Shadow Shirt performs well. I wore mine for four days of scouting shenanigans in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison in winter with temps in the thirties. When darkness fell, they dropped to about 10F before wind chill.

I was doing a lot of rappelling and jugging, and the thin synthetic material did a great job of wicking sweat. I especially appreciated the under-helmet hood, which covered my ears well enough that I didn’t need to wear an additional hat.

Base of the newly established Image of the Invisible (1000’ 5.10 offwidth)

I also wore the Shadow Shirt on a Christmas Day jaunt up Kor-Ingalls in desert alpine conditions: heavy fog, wind and 30F. “It’s a beautiful day in Scotland,” we joked. The face mask earned its keep in the howling wind.

Castleton Tower outside Glasgow, UT

Where the Shadow Shirt truly shines (or shades?), however, is on hot and sunny days. It’s been a clutch piece for climbing in the blazing ultraviolet at El Potrero Chico. There are some routes like Tinewave Zero and Space Boys whose aspect and length make it impossible to escape the sun, no matter how early you start.

P5 of Black Cat Bone

At first it was counterintuitive to me that wearing a hood could keep you cooler than letting your neck breathe more. When I first wore the Shadow Shirt on the very south-facing Treasure of the Sierra Madre, it made perfect sense. Protecting my neck and the base of my skull from UV kept me from overheating while waiting for yet another descending part to rap through. (Now Loki just needs to make some magical pants that make hanging belays tolerable …).

Partway up Snottttttt Girls

The synthetic fabric is rated at UPF 30+ sun protection, so you could climb under a magnifying glass and not get burned . It’s also treated with some anti-funk witchcraft that actually works at controlling odors. I still haven’t washed mine once after thirty days of climbing, so either my EPC crew has an unprecedented amount of tact and olfactory fortitude, or the stuff is effective.

“The Garden of Bleedin’”

My review of the stupendous Loki Tech Hoodie waxed rhapsodic. Were I given to assigning numerical ratings on a scale of one to ten, I’d give this a BLEAT! — there’s hardly anything on that piece that I could find fault with, and it’s been my ever-present companion day and night.

Crack Test Dummies on the Spires

There are a few things I’m less than thrilled about with the Shadow Shirt. A thin quarter-zip would be ideal for venting extra heat while climbing or running with your back to the sun. The mitts don’t provide much warmth since they’re thin and make the sleeves bulky and overly long. If you’re rocking the Loki Tech Hoodie simultaneously, the Shadow mitts are superfluous (I tested the TH mitts down to 10F handling metal and snowcovered rock, and was impressed at their warmth to bulk ratio). Finally, there’s no pocket — the fabric is too thin to support a cell phone in the chest, but a zippered cycling jersey pocket would be handy.

… to carry #moar Goatmeal Creme Pies

Of course, extra features mean extra weight and cost, and the Shadow Shirt is both ultralight and affordable. You also have the intrinsic satisfaction of supporting a local Grand Junction company whose gear is designed by dirtbags for dirtbags. All in all, this is a solid bit of softgoods and I would happily buy another.

Chilling on the beach atop Estrallita.

The Brotherhood of the Travelling Stopper

You have chosen …

… wisely.

The Brotherhood of the Travelling Stopper began in Rocktober of 2011 when Brother Tony received divine inspiration and inscribed upon two tablets of stone the mandate “And Lo, Go Unto the Ends of the Earth and Place Ye This #11 Nut Wheresoever Ye Findeth Pro.”

Brother Tony B

Eight years and twenty-five pages of Mountainproject spray later, this piece of pro has been far from passive. It has journeyed far and wide from Alaska to Tennessee. A would-be initiate into the order petitions the Brotherhood on the MP forum requesting the next use, and receive it in the mail. After participating in the sacred rite and documenting it with a trip report, he or she mails the nut to the next member of the faithful.

I received the Stopper from Brother Christopher, who fulfilled his sacred duty at Brownstone Wall in Red Rock NCA, Nevada. He placed it multiple times on a linkup of Myster Z and Armatron and faithfully added to the canon in his trip report.

Brother Christopher

This is my contribution to the Holy Writ. Yesterday I placed the Travelling Stopper on the first pitch of Snottttttt Girlz (700′, 5.10d) in El Potrero Chico, Mexico. While not the most liturgically appropriate route for the nut — a literal interpretation of the founder’s writings would favor an obscure route instead of a popular one like SG — the circumstances hopefully absolve it.

Initiate excuses one through seven: I ventured onto Snott Girls with less than all cylinders firing. It was my first day of climbing after two weeks of stateside sloth, and I had just driven across the border late the night before on very few calories and little water, sleeping on the side of the road partway. I rolled in to Rancho El Sendero that morning and neglected to eat breakfast or drink much water. On the approach, I slipped and banged my left quad on a sharp protrusion of rock, which left me unable to bend my knee without sharp pain. I also had a new-to-me belayer and was jumping on a slippery pitch that is reputed for being very stout for short climbers like me, no warmup.

So all of that to say, I haven’t struggled on a 5.10 that much in years. I ended up fiddling in the Travelling Stopper at the crux between bolts. It was a marginal, flaring placement that I was sure would pop with any amount of outward pull. After hemming and hawing and camping out at a good handjam rest like the trad-dad-in-training that I am, I finally clipped a two-footer to the stopper and shamelessly aided the move.

After that pitch, I warmed up quite nicely and was pleasantly reminded that I do in fact enjoy climbing. My partner generously gave me a Mexican coconut crack bar and I was able to push through the premature bonk, climbing barefoot like I usually do on anything under 5.11a.

Altogether, it was an edifying experience with the Travelling Stopper, and I look forward to seeing where its pilgrimage takes it next.

BLEAT.

Loki Tech Hoodie

I’ve become a bit of a rabid apologist for Loki USA since acquiring three pieces of kit from them. This winter I picked up a Shadow Shirt UPF sun hoodie, a Kenai 800-fill down parka, and the All-in-One Tech Hoodie. I’ve been very impressed with all of them, but the Tech Hoodie is what stands out the most for three reasons.

First and foremost, it has integrated mitts built into the cuffs. At first I thought this was a hokey idea, but they soon won me over. No more forgetting gloves or dropping them. There’s no exposed skin on your wrist when you lift your arms above your head. Exposing a finger to work a smartphone is quick and easy. The interior of the mitt is a a comfortable fleece that’s thin enough to manipulate carabiners, yet warm enough to keep my hands happy in ten degrees. There’s a rubber palm guard sewn into the cuff to protect the fabric when you’re belaying. Loki makes the sleeves a bit on the long side in order to facilitate the convertible cuff, but that hasn’t bothered me yet. The only problem I’ve run into with them is that the tips can freeze shut, making it difficult to pop a hand out.

Second, the hood has a built-in face mask. It’s generously sized and covers from just under my eyes down to below my chin. The mask can be worn just under the nose for more breathability, or just over the neck. For those poor unfortunate souls who lack beards, this is a key piece. Bonus points for looking like a ninja as well.

Finally, the Tech Hoodie packs into its own pocket. Yeah, sure, everyone and their grandma has a jacket that can do that. But Loki had the foresight to attach a couple thin straps to the ensuing package, allowing the hoodie to be worn as a backpack. There’s even a mesh pocket with a cinch cord for carrying your Bluetooth speaker so you can blast German mumble rap as you’re climbing a thousand feet of bolted limestone in EPC. The stuffed jacket makes for a great pillow, as I found out while taking a heatstroke-induced recovery nap amidst the twenty-three rappels on Timewave Zero. The packing process is quite easy, as Loki apparently realizes that no one wants to take five minutes to cram their jacket into the smallest possible stuff sack. There’s room enough to fit a few cans (of LaCroix) in there as well.

Other nice features include cinch cords with toggles to tighten up the hood (which is over-helmet compatible, a must for me) and burly construction. I have no doubt that this piece of kit will survive the merciless thrashing to which I subject all of my gear. It’s not the lightest midweight layer out there but it has quickly become my favorite.

Thus far, I’ve worn the Tech Hoodie on three trips to the Black Canyon in winter. Each involved skiing four miles, rapping a thousand feet, and then jugging and climbing. Temps hit five degrees at the lowest and I definitely was rocking the hood, face mask and mitts. I’ve also worn it every single day in El Potrero Chico and carried it up most routes.

Sporting the Loki Shadow Shirt here, another great piece of kit.

One time I was particularly glad to have it was on Treasure of the Sierra Madre, a route that bakes in the sun all day. Since it’s stacked with fun 5.10 pitches, it gets overrun by hordes of inefficient gumbellinae. We made the mistake of climbing it on a Saturday and shared the route with way too many other parties, which necessitated waiting for hours at the belays to allow rappelling parties to descend through. After topping out at sunset, we did all eight raps in the dark. I normally wouldn’t have brought an extra layer, but I wanted to try out the backpack feature of the Tech Hoodie, so I slung it over my shoulder and quickly forgot about it … until darkness fell and the temps along with it. I was quite cozy for the rest of the descent.

Loki gear is designed by climbers and mountain bikers in Grand Junction, Colorado, so you get the additional warm and fuzzy feeling of supporting a local cottage shop. I’ll be back soon to pick up their Mountain Hoodie Extreme, a beefier monkey-fleeced version of the Tech.

Viva la MEXIGOTE

Last week Sender’s Game Podcast relocated our corporate world headquarters to Hidalgo, NL.

Employee morale has skyrocketed, although productivity has plummeted. The past seven days featured 4800 vertical feet of climbing and one rest day. While our friends back in los Estados Unidos are getting hammered with snow and a nonfunctional government, we’re climbing barefoot and in sending boxers in 65F sunny days.

We donated two new fixed lines to Timewave Zero and hung them a couple days ago. As usual during EPC high season, the route was packed so we started at 20:30 and climbed through the night, stopping to nap briefly at the top of pitch seven.

Our new favorite contributor, Cris Garcia, is an aspiring guide and displayed excellent ropecraft and efficiency despite having never climbed multipitch before. This kid is a perma-stoker and loads of fun to share a rope with.

Our Arizona Tea gallon jug of water failed miserably at the top of pitch two, so we climbed the rest of the route on just 250ml of water, a banana and and apple between the two of us. I got heatstroke on the way down but Cris took good care of me and did most of the cactus-wrangling.

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Other notable climbs included Treasure of the Sierra Madre, which I climbed in penny loafers because I don’t have money to get my K-laces resoled. I figure my skin grows back for free, so anything under 5.11a goes barefoot or in Nepal Cubes or street shoes.

TSM was pretty much Flight of the Gumblebee Part II … parties stacked at every belay, microwaves hurtling through the air, people bailing, grumpy old men berating their wives for not climbing faster. If you want wilderness solace, don’t climb at Mota Wall in daylight.

We climbed a couple pitches on the ultra-classic Spires. First time I’ve ever been on a limestone tower. Great little summit. I took some modelling shots of the Loki Tech Hoodie, my new favorite piece of kit. It has integrated mitts and a face mask, and packs into its own pocket with a couple slings as a backpack! It’s a way better and cheaper fleece than the Patagonads R2. Burly piece of softgoods made by proper dirtbags in Grand Junction, CO.

The last time I did a tower two weeks ago, it was in very different conditions …

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One of my favorites things about Potrero is that climbing is incredibly accessible. Hike fifteen minutes from Rancho Sendero and you’ve got a thousand pitches of baller limestone at your bleeding fingertips. It’s easy to bang out six hundred feet in the morning, come back and take a siesta, and then walk into town for tamales, and then get a couple sunset or headlamp burns in.

And of course, the apres-climbing is on point. Tamales for eight pesos ($0.30), a five-pack of cinnamon churros for ten ($0.50), a week’s worth of groceries for two hundred ($10.00), and a two-liter margarita for two hundred (they even were willing to make a non-alcoholic one for me!)

And let’s not forget the best coffee shop south of the Rio Grande … EL BUHO MUTHAFUGGAZZZ! Their frozen Oreo frappe is pretty much #straightchronic . If it were any more potent, they’d have to pay protection money to the cartel. (That’s the one downside to Mexico … no ethical, non-brick sources for oregano. I’m so used to cooking with quality, cheap oregano back home that it’s tough to go without here.)

The four-legged life is abundant and friendly. I have yet to see one of my own kind, but some friends did get positive visuals on some crag gotez hanging out by the river.

My Misty Mountain Cadillac harness finally died. One of the leg loops is frayed past 50%. This was the harness I rescued from the trash at Creek Pasture. Someone chopped the waist webbing, so I rethreaded two strands and tied on two new belay loops and kept it going for many pitches. I could thread some new webbing for the legs, but I think this harness may need to be retired to hangboard pulley status. I’ve got my eye on the Metolius Waldo …. the world’s biggest, heaviest, most comfortable wall harness. As you guys know, Metolius is one of the best gear manufacturers in the universe and proudly makes their products in the United States. We’re going to do some aggressive testing of the Fat Cams at Splitter Camp this spring in the Creek and take some monster whips on finger-sized gear with a GoPro pointed at the cam during the fall to show just how bomber they are in soft rock.

In other news, I have a new life goal: be Josh Warfield.

If anyone wants to come visit, I’ll pick ye up at the MTY Aeropuerto! Jezebel the Honda Fitch has airbags and air conditioning!

Well, it’s time to fire up Desayuno Segundo de Bomber Breakfast Burritos, as the sound of rain pelts the tin roof of the kitchen. It’s an armaid day for sure! Hoping to get on Sendero Diabolo and Zapatista once things dry out.

VIVA LA MEXIGOTE

Desolation Vigil (Black Canyon Bikepacking Rim-to-Rim)

Prologue: After speaking to the Black Canyon Rangers, they brought to my attention that each NPS area has a local compendium of regulations in addition to federal law. The AZT 750 is allowed dismantled hike-a-bike-access per a local ordinance that the Black does not share. Please do not attempt this route.

There comes a time in each person’s life of being tested beyond what they can bear. Call it a crucible. I had mine yesterday in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

“Not many should become teachers,” the book says. The same could be said for guides. I recently announced my plans to start a wilderness therapy program on the Western Slope within the next five years. It’s brutal and often thankless work, taking disadvantaged kids into the wilderness to let them experience a greater reality outside themselves.

I often forget what it’s like being challenged on every level: physical, emotional and spiritual. Sure, working a 5.12 is a challenge, but it doesn’t rattle me to the core and force me to confront the darkness lurking in my heart. I’m used to pushing myself, and often forget how hard it is for a troubled teenager to trust the rope and take that first step off rappel rock.

Rigging for photo only; the actual rap had the rope running across the spine of the biner, not the gate.

I was challenged on this trip. The plan was to ride my bike from Delta to the North Rim of the Black on dirt and snow (forty miles), rappel the fixed lines in Cruise Gully, carry the bike downstream to Warner Draw, hike 2000′ feet up to the South Rim, then bike eight miles on snow back to the South Rim Visitor Center, then ride singletrack down to Montrose and finish with twenty-five miles of dirt road to get back to Delta.

Bicycles are not allowed in Wilderness areas such as the inner Black Canyon, so I planned to disassemble my bike per AZT 750 rules and carry it on my back while bushwhacking and rockhopping through the canyon. (EDIT: As later discovered, this is bad intel. Don’t do it).

(Editor’s Note: We weren’t able to get the videos to embed and we’re too busy eating everything in sight to mess around with it any more, so ye are just going to have to click on the links like the good ol’ days of Windows 98 SE and Altavista).

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I rolled out at 07:00 and rode dirt and snow to get to the North Rim ranger station.

There I filed a permit and packed up Ophelia for what would be the stoutest hike-a-bike in the world. Wheels on the pack and frame over my shoulder.

It was a good day to be on a single speed, although the heavy 29+ wheelset was a bear to negotiate through the ever-present scrub oak in the canyon.

Rapping Cruise was the easiest part of the trip. The rangers leave the fixed lines up all winter. A lot of people hate the descents in the Black (steep, loose, overgrown, infested with poison ivy, committing) but I do them for fun. I’d rather hike the Walk of Shame in the Black and not climb than work a limestone sport project.

When I got past the start of Scenic, I headed straight down to the river instead of contouring along the Nose toward Moveable Stoned Voyage. This allowed me to boil water and get some great photos, but the ensuing riverside rockhopping gave a new meaning to the word “arduous.”

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I lost probably two hours picking my way through house-sized boulders, and poor Ophelia lost a bit of paint (NB: bring a steel frame next time). I girth hitched a spare tube to the rear triangle and used it to lower the bike down some boulder problems, then climbed down after her. I eventually abandoned the river and hiked straight up to the base of the cliffs, which made for easier travel.

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The “trail” eventually dropped me off at the base of the SOB Gully descent. One of my emergency bailout plans was to hike back up SOB and retrace my route to Delta (the other being to jumar back up Cruise), but that wasn’t necessary. The week before, Meg and I scoped out water levels to make sure I could get across the river safely. It ended up being a bit wetter than I expected …

@bearclawbicycleco Does this void the warranty?

I ended up wading a slow-water section at waist-deep and them climbing a 5.8 chimney boulder out, chocking the handlebars and pedals in the chimney and then aid-climbing off the bike.

Safely across but shivering, I built a quick fire to dry my clothes, then assessed the situation. (Editor’s Note: Fires are prohibited in Wilderness areas, so but so is dying of exposure). Between the late start and the boulder-hopping, I was running behind schedule, and the last thing I wanted was to get SAR called out and have them rap down Cruise after me. It was getting late, and sticking to Plan A (hiking the river to Warner) would have put me even further behind, although it would’ve been an easier gully to exit.

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Looking at the topo and my GPS, I determined that Big Draw (right across from SOB) would get me out. The contour lines looked comparable to SOB in steepness. I scattered the coals, micturated on the fire and started up the gully. I often had to take two trips for every section because it was too steep to carry the bike and the wheels. I used my pedals as an ice axe on several occasions.

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Halfway up Big Draw, darkness fell and my personal stoke meter dropped drastically. I though about pushing through the night, but dealing with unknown terrain while fatigued didn’t sound appealing, so I set up a bivy inside a cave and lit a fire. Before settling in for the night, I climbed a tree and hung my reflective vest in case the rangers were looking. Then I stockpiled some wood and curled up in the fetal position around the fire. (Note: fires are not allowed in Wilderness areas. But neither is dying of exposure. Pick your poison).

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Except that I didn’t have a fire, because despite being able to light one immediately after fording the Gunnison, none of my three lighters would work. I settled in for a long, cold night.

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At about 02:30 I woke up and tried the lighters again, and got the faintest spark out of one. I whooped like a crazy person and cranked my Jetboil to flamethrower mode, caught the spark, and ignited a fire. Without that, I would’ve been in bad shape.

I spent the night shivering but safe, dozing off for thirty minutes at a time and then awaking when the fire went out. The moonlight reflecting off North Chasm was stellar. To keep morale up, I sang hymns, recited poetry (rage, rage against the dying of the light) and ate one gummy worm per hour.

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I also had just enough battery to listen to one album, so I chose my favorite: “How to Start a Fire” by Further Seems Forever. Jason Gleason’s searing vocals have gotten me through some pretty tough times in life. This was undoubtedly the coldest of them.

At first light, I extinguished the fire, slurped a bowl of jalapeño kettle chip soup and started slogging up the rest of Big Draw. When I was about on par with the start of Comic Relief across the river, the terrain steepened significantly and bike-wrangling became unbearable.

My choices at that point were to hike back down to the river and either continue to Warner or retrace my route after swimming the river again. Or, ditch Ophelia and scramble to the rim. For the sake of time and sanity, I chose the latter. I stashed Ophelia under a boulder and vowed to come back for her in the spring.

From that point, things got serious. The scrambling was easy enough, but I wasn’t sure if I’d get cliffed out. I kicked steps and scrambled for about 1500 vertical feet of 3rd/4th class, all the while praying like mad that I wouldn’t have to downclimb and spend another shiver bivy on insufficient calories with SAR endangering themselves to look for me. Mountaineering is truly the most selfish activity in the world. And yet we quest onward and upward.

The very last bit of my exit involved a couple hundred feet of tight chimneying, but I had no way of hauling my pack. So I stuffed my bivy sack, knife and lighter in my pockets and ditched the pack.

When I finally topped out at Painted Wall Overlook, I kissed terra firma and ate some snow. My phone was dead, as was my backup battery, but here’s someone else’s picture of what my view was like:

Four miles of flat hiking to the visitor center, where hot chocolate awaited. Along the way I ran into a couple skate skiers headed back and told them to let the rangers know that I was out.

At long last, I made it to shelter and quaffed four cups of hot chocolate. The NPS volunteer let me know that the rangers had gotten called, but that they were called off before they dropped down Cruise, for which I was very grateful. I hope they enjoyed the cross-country ski in the North Rim. And I hope they enjoyed the six-packs of beer that I’ve been bringing them every time I climb in the Black (65 days and counting … that’s a lot of beer). I owe Ryan another, that’s for sure.

I caught a ride with a friend back to Montrose, then walked into the library in full kit (harness, Nepal Cubes, gaiters, dirt) and took a nap in a chair until another friend got off work, fed me a steak dinner and gave me a ride to Delta.

As if the experience wasn’t enough of a challenge, my car battery was dead.

Back home in GJ, I took the world’s longest and hottest shower and slept the sleep of the righteous. Meanwhile, poor Ophelia languished under a boulder halfway up an unmarked gully in the Black Canyon. I’m kind of hard on my gear.

In retrospect, I’m really pleased with how the trip went. It was probably the most arduous time of my life, thanks to Ophelia. Were it not for here, I would have finished in the same day easily. I also made some serious judgment calls that I hope to never repeat.

But you know what Layton Kor’s friends always said about the Black … “No rope, no rack, just a bike on your back.”

Or something like that.

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Epilogue: Due to an ordinance regarding abandoned property in Wilderness Areas, Fritz was cited and fined for leaving Ophelia, which he gladly paid, plus a six-pack of Fat Tire for the climbing rangers as a thank-you for being on standby (no rescue was launched). A bike retrieval mission is underway.

A Tale of Two Towers, Granite Edition

Back in Black.

As I am fond of saying, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is my favorite place on earth. There is no canyon steeper, deeper or darker. If I were to climb only one area for the rest of my life, this would be it. And when I die, I want half of my ashes to be scattered off the peg traverse pitch of Scenic Cruise.

The day before Thanksgiving, Mickey and I headed to the Black to link two classic moderates: Dragon’s Tooth and Maiden Voyage. It would be about 1200′ of 5.8 and lots of bushwhacking. Temps were a frigid 40 degrees in the shade and I climbed everything in belay gloves — we were both glad to be on easy terrain all day.

Dragon’s Tooth is an underappreciated moderate, by far the best beginner route in the Black except for perhaps Maiden. It’s short and mostly low-angle 5.7 on good, well-protected stone. After summitting the tower, you can rap off and walk back up SOB or bushwhack up a drainage (with a mandatory V0 anklebreaker boulder problem that’s worth roping up for). Or you can climb the exit pitches of Casual, which is kind of a chosspile but preferable to walking.

The tower from above, camoflauged against the canyon backdrop. Bring webbing for the rap anchor.

We opted for the walk-up to save time for Maiden. It’s not bad, as far as buschwhacking goes, and not as bad as the exit for Casual.

The nice thing about doing two short routes was using the car as an aid station. We slammed some fried chicken, salt and vinegar kettle chips, pickles and brownies, then drove from the campground to the ranger station. I dropped Mickey halfway at the Cruise Gully entrance, parked, and then trail ran down Cruise and caught up with him at the second fixed rap.

This was my sixth lap on Maiden. We had a 90m Beal Opera 8.6 and ran the whole route, ground to summit, in two pitches and two hours total. I took the first three hundred feet and placed a dozen pieces or so.

Kor called this 5.9- but that was back when the route was dirty and loose. Relentless gangbanging has transformed the Red Dihedral into an ultra-safe, cruiser 5.8 whose crux features good fingerlocks in a corner over a bulge with great feet.

The first three-hundred foot pitch brought us to the top of the third official pitch above the railroad tracks dual handcracks. I slapped in an alpine anchor on an offset nut and a #3 and Mickey blazed by. He’s an incredibly efficient aid climber who has done all of the Fishers except one (5.10X slopers) and knows his hardskills inside and out. It’s nice to climb with someone who knows how to improvise.

Maiden Voyage gives you a primo view of Scenic Cruise. I preferred the original offwidth variation and highly recommend it to anyone who likes getting sandbagged …. get ready for the hardest .10d finger crack of your life!

Mickey ran his pitch all the way up to the summit, taking a direct route I hadn’t tried. We shot some video for Sender’s Game Podcast and then rapped off and burned rubber up the approach trail. Headlamps were only needed for five minutes.

Back at the car, we signed out and celebrated with mango LeCroix, which tastes just like PBR. (I’m on probation and can’t drink). We polished off the rest of our sweet potato jalapeno breakfast burritos, then hightailed it to Hotchkiss to grab doughnuts and blueberry milkshakes.

This was my 30th and 31st climbs in the Black, counting repeats. I’m looking forward to Spring Black with uberstoker Andy Ofhubble and my most experienced blackguard Tim Noble … we’re gunning for Southern Arete and Astrodog Direct, respectively.

Home, Home Again

I like to be here when I can.

Lots of life has happened as of late. I got divorced and moved to Grand Junction, CO. I’ve always wanted to live there but my ex doesn’t do well in extreme temperatures.

Within a ninety-minute drive, GJ has the following crags:

– Local bouldering (5min)
– Monument towers and wingate cragging (10min)
– Unaweep multipitch granite and miles of FA potential (20min)
– Escalante singlepitch (60min, mediocre wingate but ok for when you don’t feel like driving to the Creek)
– Grand Mesa basalt (60min)
– Black Canyon granite (60min)
– Rifle limestone (90min)
– Ouray sandstone, limestone, quartzite, ice, dry (90min)
– Moab sandstone (75min)
– Creek wingate (90min speeding)
– Gunnison granite (90 min speeding)

Plus some new mixed routes being developed on the sly by certain unnamed gotez of liberty.

For biking, GJ is stacked even more than for rock:

– Chunk Loops (5min)
– Tabeguache Trail 140 miles from GJ to Montrose (5min)
– Mary’s Loop (15min)
– Kokopelli Trail 140 miles from Fruita to Moab (15min)
– 18 Road (15min)
– Powderhorn lift-accessed downhill (45min)
– Delta adobes (45min)
– Montrose adobes (60min)
– Uncompaghre Plateau (75min)
– Grand Mesa downhill and XC (60min)
–  Moab (75min)

So yeah, I’ll be busy. I love Grand Junction. It’s one of the cheapest places to live in Colorado, has a good metal scene, lots of jobs, nice downtown, good college where I’m applying for nursing school. Super hot in the summer but you’ve got the Mesa (10k’) nearby for an alpine break.  I have six good friends here from Redcloud and Journey Quest, a flexible job as a CNA and a solid church. Sender’s Game Podcast is exploding. Life is looking up.

Here’s the goods:

Kokopelli Trails in Loma

Former fifth-grader Fauxny Hawk clipping up Simple Physics 5.10b in Montrose. I lost one of the kiddos in the divorce but FH and his family have been really supportive.

Shep on the 5.8- P1 of Sweet Sunday Serenade

Meg and I on Otto’s crux pitch, 50 feet of unprotected 5.4 to a 5.8+ roof pull on drilled pockets.

Rob Pizem on Questions and Answers 5.10+ in Unaweep

Rob giving me the go-ahead for the crux pitch on Q&A. I took a fifteen-footer onto a nut!

Sammy and G-Unit on a mediocre 5.11b at Cascade

Sidewinder in Delta. I burped a rear tire and forgot my multitool , so hiked four miles then ran nine to get back to the car to make it to a job interview.

Jones H Bars

Normally when I make a cockpit adjustment, it takes a few rides for me to get used to the new position. That was not the case after I installed my carbon Jones H Bars (710mm).

It was immediately obvious that these bars offered the most comfortable positions for my hands. The way I counted, there are at least seven different ways to grip a Jones bar as you’re seated.

Widest grip, no brakes: good for flat gravel grinding.

Mid grip, one finger braking: downhill

Choked up, two/middle finger braking: steep singletrack climbs (longer lever principle, keeps front wheel weighted)

Hoods: road cruising

Middle of the bars: road, easy climbs

Aero (elbows on grips): pedalling while tucked

Aero (elbows on middle of the bar, gripping Gnarwhal): coasting while tucked

I quickly found the Gnarwhal was not worth the weight, price and real estate. By running my forearms along the grips,I could approximate the same position. In this configuration, my elbows are at comfortable angle that keeps my body position forward but also broadens my chest to allow for easier breathing. The Narwhal is surprisingly heavy aluminum and really functions best as a hikeabike lever and accessory mounting rail. I found myself hardly ever needing it for balance.

One of the joys of running H bars is the sheer volume of real estate you have for handlebar-mounted accessories. The forward rail is a great place to mount I like without it being obstructed. There’s plenty of room for all of the necessities: bell, phone, GPS, t-rex squeaky horn.

Jones makes a nice, simple ultralight pouch that fits inside of the handlebar space. It makes for easy access two small items, but is a little bit on the pricey side. Boutique frame bag cottage shops like Cleaveland Mountaineering could probably custom make them better.

The specialty Jones EVA foam grips, however, are worth the price; they are long enough to maximize the three hand positions that can be used with them. Wrapping the remainder of the bar with handlebar tape was an easy enough task.

Altogether, I couldn’t be happier with the Jones H bars. I haven’t ridden anything longer than 110 miles on them but I trust that they will be an invaluable piece of kit on neverending gravel rides like the Sancho 200 and Michigan Coast to Coast.