It all started several years ago when Jonathon and I sat down to talk about our dreams. Now we live a super fortunate and blessed life and so these dreams focused on the real dreamy things like traveling, exploring the world and climbing. I told Jonathon that I wanted to go to India, have an adventure and establish a first ascent. Jonathon told me that he wanted to buy a van and road trip around the American west. In August of 2015, I left for my trip to India and it was all that I could have expected and so much more. Shortly after I returned from that trip, we bought a van and spent the following year trying to find the time to convert it into a small living space on wheels.
In the fall on 2016, we both took about 3 months off of work and spent 2 of those months traveling out our van (which we named Suzy). Colorado was our first destination since Jonathon was speaking at a conference in Breckinridge at the end of September and we figured we could launch from there. Jonathon and I both went to college in Colorado. I went to Colorado College and Jonathon went to Western State so we both were familiar with Colorado but hadn’t spent much time there recently. In college, I did some of my first climbs at Shelf Road and Turkey Rocks. I recalled hearing about Eldorado Canyon, the Black Canyon and Cynical Pinnacle but at the time those places were far too advanced for my ability. Fast forward ten plus years and now these climbs are totally within my grasp. And so from Breckinridge we drove to Boulder to check out the classic Eldorado Canyon State Park.
We spent about a week hanging out and climbing around Boulder. We ate some great food, hung out with some friends and went for a great trail run. We both really liked the climbing in Eldorado and found it techy and bold. It is quite different than the slabby, lower angle cracks we are familiar with in Salt Lake City. We found Boulder to be rather expensive and very busy. People were nice but it almost felt like it was the new Seattle except sunny, lacking bodies of water and homeless people. The camping scene was also difficult. A couple nights we drove around for awhile looking for a place to park the van. One night we parked in Walmart in the North end of town with many other RVs.
Some of our favorite climbs were: Outer Space, Rosy Crucifixion, and of course the infamous Naked Edge on which I almost peed my pants while leading the crux bombay chimney pitch. Seriously, I haven’t been that scared in awhile. But I was able to pull it together and get to the anchor (while screaming, whimpering and hanging my way through the crux). The next pitch went much smoother. There was only one hang and I don’t recall any whimpering! It was definitely a classic climb based on its history and setting. I can’t believe people solo that in 30 minutes or so. That is cray-cray!
Our next stop brought us to the South Platte. In college, I did lots of crack climbing in this area so it was neat to come back to an area that was integral to my initial love of trad climbing. The camping was super nice and hanging out by the river was even nicer.
We had our sights set on climbing Cynical Pinnacle, a small granite tower home to several classic routes. The first day we did some climbing on the Sunshine wall. It was a steep hike to the base of the wall and we did three long and rather wide 5.10 pitches. The next day we did another long hike to the base of Cynical Pinnacle to climb Wunsch’s Du. I started us off by leading the first 5.8 pitch. Jonathon lead the next 11a pitch. It was so good but unfortunately brought us to a super uncomfortable hanging belay. I racked up for the next pitch, the crux 11b pitch. The first crux was leaving the belay by stemming over Jonathon and maneuvering through an overhanging fist crack. It was rather exposed and strenuous and that wasn’t even the crux. I slowly worked my way up the fantastic finger crack and layback. It wasn’t an onsight but it wasn’t epic . Jonathon took us to the top via the bolt ladder. All and all, it was a fabulous day with a great partner on a classic route.
For the final part of our stay in Colorado, we spent our time in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison and the Grand Junction area. It was at this point in the trip, that I felt the most relaxed I had felt in years. Given my nursing schedule, I have had lots of free time over the past several years but I often feel like I am frequently on a mission with goals, chores, and other obligations and so relaxation has taken a back-burner. But I found my zen while traveling the open roads, hanging out in the van and checking out some of Colorado’s best and most adventurous rocks with my best friend and husband. There were seriously many moments when I asked Jonathon – is this really my life? And then Jonathon says – well, yes, it is!
The Black Canyon was my favorite destination of our Colorado road trip. It’s beautiful, remote and adventurous – all things that I love in a rock climb. We climbed Midsummer’s Night Dream, Cloak and Dagger and the Scenic Cruise. Although all were fabulous rock climbs, the highlight for me was the Scenic Cruise. This 1700 foot route climbs directly up the daunting north chasm wall and every pitch is splitter. There are scary and exposed traversing pitches and steep 5.10 crack climbing. I have good and bad climbing days and this day was definitely a good day, and I was totally in the zone on this climb. Plus we shared the route two crushers from Grand Junction, who were some of the nicest climbers we met on our trip. We topped out with plenty of light and shared beers with our new friends at the rim of the canyon.
In Grand Junction area, we spent a day at Escalante climbing some Indian Creek style cracks. We parked Suzy just off the dirt road in Escalante canyon for that night and had one of our windiest nights in the van. The van swayed back and forth most of the day and having left the windows open a bit, there was a bit of sand in the kitchen area. It was slightly reminiscent of the time we spent a very windy night in the Moab area in a tent mostly made of mesh. We woke up that morning completely covered in sand – all over our sleeping bags and in our noses and ears. That was another key tent failure that increasingly prompted us to buy a van.
We also spent a couple days climbing at Colorado National Monument. I climbed the moderate and historic Otto’s Route in 2004 with my friends Kate and Cortney from college but hadn’t climbed any routes since that time. On this trip we climbed the wild and adventurous 5.11 route on Kissing Couple. I surprised myself by onsighting the first sandy 5.11a pitch. Fortunately a bolt protects the slabby crux move at the top and you are essentially on top-rope pulling the crux. A couple more unique and physical chimney pitches brought us to the final pitch. Unfortunately I couldn’t figure out how to get off the anchor on this pitch and ended up doing a little French-free action to the next moves. For the next 50 feet or so, I tunneled my way through the inside of the tower and climbed over and on top of an absurd amount of bird poo. It was so gross. When we got back to the van, we washed our hands several times.
We finished our Colorado trip with a climb up the super classic Medicine Man on Sentinel Spire. This desert spire contained 3 good pitches and 1 outstanding pitch. Jonathon lead the first two pitches through a bit of crumbley rock containing some challenging climbing. The layback getting to the second belay is pretty stout and sandy and I was super psyched to have the top-rope on that pitch. I took over at pitch 3 and lead the crux pitch which was about as splitter as any Indian Creek pitch. I was super close to getting the onsight but that overhanging .75 finish spit me off. The final pitch was rated 5.10 but it was no gimme with a tricky traverse and some insecure wide climbing. From the tippy top, we waved to the tourists standing on the rim of the canyon well just a stones throw away. It was a fabulous finish to an awesome couple weeks in Colorado.