Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Ten Sleep

Leaving Ten Sleep was hard to do. The limestone canyon yawns for over 10 miles, just asking- BEGGING- to be climbed. And it’s ALL bolted… and the approach trails are heavenly… and the climbing reminds us of the Red. Seriously, we climbed 21 routes in 2.5 days. My hands are crying but the rest of me is smiling.

Ten Sleep is named because it is the midpoint between 2 Native American trading outposts. It was 10 days/nights travel from both locations.

Our first stop in town was at Dirty Sally’s. It is run by a wonderful Veteran named Katherine. If you call her Sally, she charges you a $1 “ignorance fee”! I approve! The town of Ten Sleep actually looks like a town straight from a western movie… wooden buildings… the works. Dirty Sally’s even has old-fashioned saloon doors! We got our climbing book and some ice cream (oh yeah! You have to get ice cream from the soda fountain in the back!)

So a little about the book: it is insane. A great guide to the walls with fantastic pictures and listings of routes, everything you need is in the book, but finding it might take a few minutes! There is a lot of additional information on space, the powers of good and evil, and African dictators… routes don’t get stars; they get pictures of kitties, sexy ladies, or a nationalistic symbol. Route descriptions are also… unique. It is easy to get lost in this book. Double entendres also come easily when referring to it:
We are only here for 2 days, so we’re going to do as many kitties and porno shots as possible!
Let’s go climb “Hooray for Boobies”, it has nice deep pockets you can slide your hands into…
…you get the idea!

It is cold in the morning, but warms up quickly. You spend the day chasing shade. After enjoying 2 days traipsing up 10c routes with 15 bolts and the anchors, or stemming while facing out into the valley, or bushwacking across scree in direct sunlight when there was no trail where the book thought one would be… we were ready for town. Lunch at the “Crazy Woman” is a must. Then we said good-bye to our new friends and headed out of town.

The prairies and fields between Ten Sleep and Yosemite are booooooooooorrrrrrrrrriiiiiiinnnnngggggg. But Leeloo is enjoying the chance to sleep after running about the canyon, and I must say that a lack of movement is particularly joyful for me too. Except that I ate too much. Food baby demands a nap.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

on the road again

So, I wanted to journal our travels and, true to blonde form, it took me over a week to remember this old blog we have… PERFECT! So I hereby resurrect the blog of bygone misadventures!

Recapping July would take forever, so too bad, I’m skipping it. Maybe if I get bored I’ll return to it, but chances of that are pretty darn slim. This first post is going to be a little long, so I have sectioned it for those seeking brevity.


Augustine adventures, here we go! So we headed out to Rushmore, expecting to split the drive in half. Made it to Kansas City driving through temps as high as 115*F (too hot even in the car with the AC blasting)… then headed out to much cooler temps in the morning. We got a late start since I was feeling under the weather and slept in. This current headache has lasted a week… and was migraine level for 3 of those days. To say it has affected the trip would be an understatement, but when have I ever let anything stop me.  Anywho, the Missouri river is REALLY flooded, and it appears that it has been for some time as trees are dying. Where it had receded there were dead crops and grass. Water lapped the sides of the highway for quite a while, and we were rerouted twice away from the river, adding over 2 hours to our drive. I don’t think there was an area where we went the speed limit for 8 hours! Back woods Missouri is very quaint though!

So we got into Mt. Rushmore very late. It was 1230 in the morning in KY time, 1030pm locally. I am a little sad we missed the Corn Palace and Wall Drug, but hey, you can’t have everything in life, right?!


Too tired to find a campsite we slept in the car at the National Forest adjacent to Rushmore. In the morning we set up camp, discovered water, and set out to do some climbing (smart with a migraine, don’t you think?!?). One small issue: these are granite pillars, with camouflaged bolts placed at varying intervals. Sometimes the routes were bolted safely like in the Red, other times they were more like western routes where the first bolt is 20ft up and the anchors are at 30 ft… So identifying routes can be difficult. Add to that the fact that the last guidebook put out was published in 1995 (there are at least twice as many routes now), contains very limited drawn pictures of faces, and mostly contains crudely drawn topo maps of pillars (so an oval could represent either a tall cylindrical pillar or one that is conical and short). Poor descriptions added to the problem, and most of the time locals point out which routes are good and which to avoid, and help visitors orient themselves. Sturgis motorcycle week was about to start, so there were no locals climbing. It is no surprise then, that we started one fin over from where we planned and accidentally got on a 10a when we thought we were on a 7 (non-climbers read here the route was much harder than expected, but still in our range)… oops! The rest of the day was, thankfully, delightful and uneventful.

We met the most wonderful people camping at the Forest Service area at Wrinkled Rock: several teachers, and several other people making the most of unemployment. But the place was pretty much ours, Sturgis scared everyone else away. We learned from a local that a new book is coming out sometime in the next year with all the new routes in it, pictures, etc. After talking with the rangers, we found out that Leeloo was welcome on leash in many more of the climbing areas than expected, and we extended our stay to get more of the classics in.

Rushmore is granite. Large grained, rough, chossy (bits break off when you climb), full of greasy quartz crystals, odd hand-holds rock that is completely different than sandstone. Most of the routes were slabby, and chewed up our shoes. And our rope. Oops. Worth it! But we missed our chance to climb at the needles with a local we had become friends with; he wanted to climb on our rest/travel day.

Said hi to the president’s heads, then headed out for Devils Tower. It has been raining here almost every evening. You can watch the clouds come in really quickly, rain for 10 minutes or so, then blow away. It is all very different than at home. Weather underground forecasted rain all day for the past 2 days. Good thing it was wrong!


Got up early, headed to the tower, registered, and started our approach. Curtis bought a small book of the climbs out there, decent route drawings, but no descriptions. Very little information was in the book about the approaches or descents… do you sense a pattern forming here? I do! So we started our approach, left the paved tourist trail, and started picking out the trail through the talus field. We got all the way up to the tower (note, NEVER mention your opinion of talus slopes until you know you are done with them or Murphy’s law will bite you in the butt), and found that we were not near our climb. We were near some 5.11 cracks (non-climbers read here: very difficult). Found out later that we were on the correct approach for the “easy” route we had planned, but if you don’t know your way around the base of Devils Tower then you wouldn’t be able to navigate the ins and outs of the slabby and slightly slick columns. So BACK down the talus slope we went… and picked our way through the boulders and bity stones to the other side of the route, then headed BACK up the talus field. Got out the rope about 120 feet below the start of the climb and improvised a 5.5 climb up to the start of the route. Approaching the route took as long as climbing it!

The Park Service recognizes the draw that climbers are to the tourists. Many of the benches and viewing areas are designed to be shady and in prime view of the climbing routes. We were on display like animals in the zoo!

“Durrance” is considered one of the top 50 climbs in North America, and it reaches the top of the tower, so this route was a no-brainer for us. We had looked at some other routes, just in case Durrance was busy, as it usually is. Thankfully, there was only a short wait while the only other party that morning finished the first pitch. The first pitch involves going up a loose and leaning column broken into 3 pieces. Each piece weighs about 250 tons, so it is still stable, but the top one has been known to shift a little every now and again. There are warnings not to place gear between it and the main tower, and not to push off of both rocks at the same time! Welcome to off-width climbing! The second pitch was 2 cracks a bit more than shoulder width apart that widened to off-width for the last 30 feet. My favorite pitches came next: one with a traverse around a bulge that is called “walking the plank”. Then some delightful crack climbing that was fun and quick. After that an awkward chimney crack that my hips and shoulders kept getting caught in. Finally, you traverse around under some roofs and jump (yes, I said jump) over a drop-off (don’t look down), then follow a wide ledge system (the meadows) around the tower until you find a chimney to scramble up that is easy climbing (they say class 3, Curt agreed with me it needed protection) to the top.

There is a meadow at the top, gorgeous views at least 50 miles in all directions, and lots of flying and biting ants. 4 double rope rappels down. And an easy walk-off through the talus slope to the paved walkway. Where all the bikers wanted to talk to us about the climb, and the top, and how crazy we were… they had watched us rappel. Got some beta on other climbing areas from a ranger (we have met more rangers on this trip who climb…), and headed back to the campsite to check on one sleeping and happy puppy dog.

Who knew I could arm-bar and chickenwing with the best of them? Certainly not me!


After all our adventures, we are tired of trying to find routes in areas we are unfamiliar with. It takes time. It takes a good guidebook. And most importantly, it takes patience. Patience we want to apply to studying for Curt’s board exam. So we are changing plans from backpacking and climbing trad at Wind River, to climbing sport at Ten Sleep Canyon. Although it is raining, the guidebook might be the most interesting reading material we have… I have been laughing all afternoon!