Cragmama "Not all who wander are lost…" JRR Tolkien

(Spry) Look, it’s Winter!

What do you do when climbing season goes straight from summer to winter?  Give up on the New River Gorge and follow the sun!  After yet another forecast of cold drizzle in Fayetteville, WV a couple of weekends ago, I got the green light from CragDaddy to make my own climbing plans.  A lot going on for him at work plus a minor knee injury meant his motivation was pretty low.  To take full advantage of flying solo, I decided to put out some feelers to see if anyone would be up for joining me at an area that is impossible to take the kids to – Hanging Chain at Rumbling Bald.  The hike is long, with the last half being a steep bushwhack straight up the side of the mountain, and the base is rocky with no good kid-hangout spots.  There are plenty of rocks and slabs to scramble around on, with fall potentials that ricochet back and forth down the gully and into the valley.  Needless to say, not the most kid-friendly combo.  

Photo: Bryan Miller

So anyway, I actually got multiple takers, one for each day.  Our objective was Spry Look, an old Porter Jarrard sandbag that would see far more action if it wasn’t guarded by such an obnoxious approach to a south-facing crag that is only climbable during the winter (and subsequently the shortest amount of daylight.)  The Day 1 strategy was for a dawn patrol start, so we could be at the parking lot right when it opened.  Amazingly enough, we torched the hike in just under an hour.  However, all minutes saved on the hike were made up for with me hanging draws…it wasn’t pretty. 

The first 40 feet is sort of an approach pitch to the real action – easy (5.7?) and protected by gear and a bolt.  The only crux of this opening bit is treading lightly around a giant hollow flake.  After the bolt you will arrive at a pedestal on which you can stand and place a bomber cam under a bulge.  Pulling the bulge will bring you to a stance at the base of a seam leading into a sea of endless bolts to the top of the cliff.

Here’s where the fun begins.  The rest of the climbing feels like a giant V3 (perhaps sprinkled with a side of V4?) boulder problem that goes on for 9 bolts.  Nothing really that hard, but also nothing really that easy.  If you like crimps, none of the holds are terrible…but none of them are particularly helpful for slowing the rapidly increasing pump clock.  Also a spicy finish that is more than runout enough to make you want to hesitate, which you can’t afford to do if you’re redlining.  

The first section climbs a technical seam that is easy to do inefficiently enough that you’ll regret it later.  Upon exiting the seam, you are rewarded with a good crimp rail…but no feet.  Some high-stepping through a sea of half pad crimps will bring you to a large, but slightly sloping flat hold (from now on referred to as “Biggie Flatz”).  From there, most of the holds are at least a full pad, but the moves between them get long, and the final move involves a pretty committing pop to a good knob that is always further back than I’m expecting it to be.  

Photo: Jaron Moss

After grabbing lots of quick draws and battling beastly rope drag (please sling the cam at the roof longer than you want to!!!) I finally made it to the top.  My next go went decidedly better.  I made it through the 4 bolts in the seam feeling pretty good…but then I hit the section with bad feet and all the gas ran out of my tank.  I then proceeded to go bolt to bolt the rest of the way up.  When my turn to climb came around again, I was still so exhausted and my tips were so raw that I opted to toprope, in case I needed to pull through any of the sections to get to the top.  By the end of Day 1 I was certain I wanted to send this rock climb, but had no idea if I had anywhere close to the fitness required to do it any time soon.

If I’m being completely honest, my psych wasn’t exactly high going into Day 2.  I felt wrecked after Day 1, and was not looking forward to enduring that hike again.  But Day 2 proved to be extremely profitable.  I didn’t send, but perhaps a send was closer than I originally thought.  I’d increased my previous high point by almost 2 bolts, linked the last couple of bolts, AND found better crux beta.  We managed to get down the most dangerous parts of the gully before night fell and we had to don our headlamps, and only got lost once (thanks to Paschal and Howie for redirecting us!)  

Photo: Bryan Miller

I spent all of the next week stalking the weather forecasts.  When it became obvious that most of Saturday at the NRG would be below freezing, once again my gracious hubby suggested I get back out to the Bald.  I hiked in on Saturday knowing that this would pretty much have to be the day, as I knew once the holiday craziness set in it would be difficult to 1) keep my fitness up, while 2) finding a good weather window that coincided with being able to climb sans kids.

My warm-up run on Day 3 was less than awe-inspiring.  For the first time ever I fell in the awkward bit just after the first bolt, more awkward now than before due to the fact that we had trundled an extremely loose basketball sized jug off the week before.  I then proceeded to fall after the seam, just like I usually do.  I hung on most the bolts after that, but once I clipped the chains, I lowered to bolt 7 and went from Biggie Flatz all the way to the top.  Granted that part was just on TR, but it felt good to link all that together, as well as get a glimpse of what the runout at the finish would feel like carrying some pump with me.  

Send captured by Jaron Moss

At this point, I knew I had a chance, but it would come down to pump management.  Due to the lack of good rest stances, I would have to execute every piece of beta correctly and without hesitation.  So on my 2nd attempt of the day, I climbed as quickly as I could through the seam, then got one shake out of each hand as I shuffled through the bad feet section.  That was enough to get me through the place I usually fell at, and I was able to get another shake per hand by squatting low at the next clipping hold, right before the crux.  My newfound crux beta went according to plan, and as I was grabbing another couple of shakes (and trying to control my Elvis leg) at Biggie Flatz, I suddenly realized I was getting more back than I’d expected.  I wasn’t sure I could make it to the top, but I told myself I could at least make it to the next bolt.  Then at the next bolt I told myself the same thing.  At the bolt after that, I realized that I only had one more bolt left to clip before the finish.  The only choice now was to just keep rolling, so after a couple of deep breaths and a “watch me” to my belayer, I took off for the chains…and sent!  Woohoo!  

Some routes are all about “try hard”, whereas others are more about “try smart.”  What makes Spry Look such a monster is that it requires a good dose of both – figuring out the most efficient beta, so that you can use your “try hard” sparingly enough to last you all the way to the chains.  (Side note: I love this topic, more on trying hard AND smart in the archives here.)

So what’s the grade?  Hard to say, because while there may not be any individual sequences harder than 11+/12-, putting them all together felt a heck of a lot harder than 12b to me.  And really, who cares, because it’s freakin’ awesome!  Here’s my thoughts.  If you climb hard 11’s…you should get on this route.  You may surprise yourself, because there are no stopper moves on it!  If you climb 5.12..for sure this is a worthy opponent, and it’s a great route for fitness training.  And if you wanna onsight?  Better bring your 5.13 game, because there’s nowhere to hide from that pump!  

Many thanks to Bryan Miller and Jaron Moss for all the photos…such an awesome souvenir to have from this epic adventure!  

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This Just In – Conditions Matter…A LOT!!!!!

Were you aware of that?  You probably were.  For some reason, I’d forgotten.  Maybe because it’s been so long since I’ve touched rock as dry and crisp as it was this past Saturday.  Or maybe because I’d never experienced such a direct one to one comparison before on such a hard route.  But before I get ahead of myself, let’s rewind it back a few months to where this story actually begins.  

I initially got on Death by Chocolate partly because it looked kinda cool and mostly because it was the only thing dry over Memorial Day.  Then, as usual with a good rock climb, I got sucked in.  I worked it hard right up until a few days before we left for Ten Sleep, before finally conceding to the summer heat.  At that time I would have told you the powerful crux sequence contained the hardest moves I’d ever successfully been able to do on a rope.  My wingspan wasn’t long enough to do the crux the most obvious way, and the only beta that worked for me involved using a bad sloping pinch in combo with a desperate toe hook to fight a seemingly hopeless barn door at full extension.

That left hand…on a previous, significantly warmer day.

I had every other move on lock down – technical crimps down low, check.  Exciting and insecure finish, check.  But after 6 days and 20+ tries on it, I just couldn’t keep the barn door closed mid-crux when I was on point.  My success rate on those moves was probably around 20%.  Not great odds, especially for a route featuring such skin-shredding holds.  

I had several reasons for wanting to get ‘er done before Ten Sleep.  Obviously, it would have been a great confidence boost going into my trip.  And sending “now rather than later” meant coming into fall with no loose ends to tie up.  But mostly, it was because I knew if I waited til fall came around, I wouldn’t care about it as much.  It is, after all, just a piece of rock, and I knew once a couple of months went by, I wouldn’t feel nearly as intensely about it as I did then.  My motivation level is very emotion-based, and I had a feeling that if I didn’t tick it then, I wouldn’t want to summon all the effort to work it again another time, and would instead opt to move on to other stuff.  Especially since CragDaddy had already sent, and we really enjoy working on projects together.  So when it didn’t go down, I chalked it up to just being the one that got away.  

But somehow in the 4 days between the events in this post and the event’s of my last post, climbing conditions had gone from summer to winter.  We literally went from tanks and shorts straight into puffy jackets.  The previous week’s high was 85…and this past weekend I’m not sure it ever got above 45.  

Due to the potential rain that was forecasted in conjunction with the low temps, we opted for Hidden Valley over the New.  And since I didn’t have anything else “in the hopper” so to speak at Hidden Valley, I’d told myself that if I felt good, I would give Death by Chocolate another whirl just for kicks.  Then if it still didn’t feel any closer, I could move on and forget about it for a while.  Now while I’ve always been a big proponent of the “sun’s out, gun’s out” rule, I am NOT a fan of cold and dreary, which is how our first few hours of climbing began.  My toes got so cold on the warm-up I thought about declaring myself done for the day.  But climb number 2 required a little more effort, which heated my body up just enough that I could take note of how absolutely perfect the rock felt. 

Ah, there was that amazing friction that by this point has pretty much achieved unicorn status in the South.  Just like that, project time was here!  As we hiked over to the Chocolate Wall, clouds gave way to sun, and our whole crew just soaked up what it felt like to be rock climbers in October. 

Kiddos having fun in lots of layers

 

“Here we are again!” said my son cheerfully as he and his sister threw their packs down and went off in search of acorn caps, mushrooms, and cool leaves to make a fairy house over on the rocks at the base.  The line looked as intimidating as ever, and a big part of me just wanted to walk away.  I thought back to one of my favorite lines from The Dawn Wall, which I’d seen just a few days prior, when Kevin Jorgeson was in the midst of struggling with Pitch 15 after Tommy Caldwell had already sent.  “Everything was perfect, and I still couldn’t do it,” he had said authentically at what seemed like his lowest point on the wall.  I laughed to myself as I thought I would probably be saying the same thing at the end of the day.  But we were all there so I at least had to try, right?  (I mean, it worked out pretty well for Kevin in the end too, so why not?!?)  

Of course all of my tick marks were gone, so my first run up felt decidedly unsmooth as I struggled to find all the holds in the filtered sunshine and remember all the beta.  But when I got to the crux and made the big move to the sloping pinch, my hand stuck exactly where I put it, instead of sliding into place.  I was so surprised that I fell.  I pulled back on, ticked and brushed all the crux holds, and got back on.  The moves felt more doable than they ever had.  The finish, which had seemed so scary and “it won’t be over til I clip chains,” felt straightforward and I daresay almost casual.  Who had swapped out all these holds?!?  

Letting go of this right hand to catch a micro-crimp before opening up is the crux.

I lowered, letting a slight amount of optimism creep in, but not too much.  But when it was my turn again, lo and behold, I sent!  It was weird – no desperation, no try hard sounds, no exciting, go for it moments.  I just did the same beta I’d been doing all along, and this time it worked.  In that moment, everything came together in a completely anti-climactic way, as if the route was actually 5.10.  

It went down so easily I almost feel guilty claiming the grade.  Why on earth couldn’t I make that move last June?  Yet had I sent 3 months ago, I would have without a doubt said that for me personally, the crux on this route was substantially harder than anything I’d done before, despite being a slightly lower grade than my highest redpoint. 

While I suppose it’s possible that my power has improved some since my previous bouts with this route, I don’t think that can account for how drastically different the route felt this time around – I think it’s pretty obvious that conditions were the real star of the show here.  I’d always known that cold temps = sending time…but I don’t think I’d ever realized just how much of a difference it makes.  I guess because I generally don’t start trying anything hard until the weather is already pretty good, so I’ve never gotten a true comparison on something close to my limit.  Who wants to hop on a project when it’s hot outside?  Not me.  

So that said…is it 12d?!?  Looking just at Sunday’s performance, I’d say no way.  But looking at the sum total of work I’ve put into it, I’d say that it very well could be, and I managed to show up at just the right place and right time to pull it off.  Either way is good with me, I’m just happy I finally did it!  Cheers to hopefully more sending weather in the coming weeks!  Oh yeah, and if you’d like to check out the video, click here!

 

 

 

 

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NRG Rounds 1 and 2…aka “Hey Fall, No One Likes A Tease.”

Desperate Egyptian-move beta on Bourbon Sauce 11d

Our first fall forays at the New a couple of weeks ago actually ALMOST felt like fall.  Then this past weekend was back to summer.  Autumn is such a tease here in the Southeast.  I’m over it.  It’s hard on the psych.  And it’s hard on the skin. Considering conditions the past couple of months can be summed up by the phrases “hot,” “wet”, or “hot and wet,” CragDaddy and I both came into the NRG with low expectations.  Aside from a sweltering Labor Day weekend at the Red in Amazonian rainforest conditions, we’ve pretty much been gym rats since we got back from Ten Sleep in July. I know for me personally, it always takes me a while to get my lead head back on straight when I haven’t been climbing outdoors a lot.  But despite a somewhat inconsistent start, it seems like fall is finally getting underway.

Our first weekend out was probably the wettest I’ve ever seen the gorge, even though it wasn’t actually raining.  (Hurricane Florence is the gift that keeps on giving.)   Trails were mudslides, and trickling streams were raging waterfalls.  So a lot of our initial options were nixed due to wet conditions, but we found plenty of dry rock at Summersville.  On our first day out we managed to get in 3 pitches – Baby’s Got a Bolt Gun 10c, Strong Arming the Little Guy 10b, and Orange Oswald 10a before moving over to Long Wall once the crowds all descended.  Our afternoon was spent at Long Wall, where CragDaddy was finally able to put down Under the Milky Way 11d, a line that he’s for some reason always waited to get on until the end of the day when he’s tired. And after a very poor showing on my first attempt at Maximum Overdrive 11c, I pulled myself together and sent 2nd go without sucking too much wind.

Sunday was my turn to pick a route, and I chose Morning Dew 12a, a route that so many people say is soft for the grade but I just couldn’t pull together on point the last time I tried it a couple of years ago. It’s such a long hike that we never made it back, but a weekend without an agenda seemed like the perfect opportunity to get some closure on it. But after an hour of hiking, we rounded the corner and….it was a waterfall, the only wet line at Fern that day. Dangit.

He didn’t get much farther than this…but he still had fun 😉

So we dropped back and punted over to a route that was a good deal harder than we’d initially wanted for a first weekend out in a while, but had been on our bucket list for a long time – Thieves in the Temple. It gets 12b in the guidebook…but has a reputation as the hardest, most sandbagged 12b in the gorge.  Without a warm-up other than an hour and a half of hiking, CragDaddy hopped on it, with stick-clip at the ready. I’ll spare you the details, but we both got annihilated on our first attempts. It’s 90 feet of nonstop V4 climbing, with a V5ish crux on the upper face.  The movement is varied and super technical, with a little bit of everything. Burly start, crimps, long reach off a mantle, big deadpoint that goes straight into a pumpy, scary traverse…then the crux starts on the face, and doesn’t really let up til the chains.  Despite the struggle, I was able to do all the moves on my first go, and on my second go gave a valiant effort linking the first 5 bolts before petering out and hanging on all the remaining bolts. The thought of actually putting it all together was pretty overwhelming, but it felt like the kinda thing that might be doable later on in the season after some more power endurance training. 

Psych was high coming home from that trip, and after a couple of really good training days at the gym during the week, we found ourselves back at the New again, this time starting out at Butcher’s Branch.  The only bad part about Butcher’s Branch this time of year is the crowds.  Lucky for us, at this point we’ve done all the popular routes.  So after getting down there early to put up Flight of the Gumby 5.9 for Big C, we were able to relax and take our time the rest of the day because no one wanted a piece of Bourbon Sauce 11d.  I’ve been climbing there for over 10 years and I literally don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone on it. 

I just assumed it must not be that great of a route, but I was pleasantly surprised!  It’s every bit as good as the other hard 11’s on the wall.  It shares a start with Control 12a (another good line that no one ever does!), then traverses left for a burly roof pull.  The climbing eases up until you reach another roof, where a final (and super fun!) boulder problem awaits before the chains.  My first go I struggled down low but found the upper crux flowed really well for me.  I was not confident tying in second go, but I managed to send.  It wasn’t a sure thing – I almost fell at least 3x pulling over the initial roof, and on the first move of the upper crux my feet went flying off unexpectedly.  While the grade alone might not be that impressive, I’m pretty psyched about it – if you wanted to set a route that exposed my specific weaknesses, it would probably look a lot like Bourbon Sauce, so I was pumped! (Both literally and figuratively ;)).  

The fall critters are here…but where are the fall temps?!?

After a confidence boosting start to the weekend, it was back to Fern for another duel with Thieves in the Temple.  I linked the same 5 bolts again, but then fell in the same spot again.  The traverse went a little better, but my left hand kept sliding off the crux crimp, and eventually I had to just pull through.  I did find better beta for the last couple of moves though, and the finish felt the best it’s ever felt.  Physically, I’d say the battle ended in a stalemate.  Mentally…my psych level for getting on this route again is potentially lower now.  That thing is going to be a monster to link, and it’s not worth trying again until the temps are no longer 85 with 100% humidity. #whereareyoufall

Also worth noting is that I (still) can’t do the move on Fly Girls, and that Quickie in the Molar would’ve been an okay route minus the weird traverse, bad bolts, and chossy rock up high.  Sometimes the obscure routes are worth doing, sometimes not…

That said, I’d say our season as a whole is getting off to an unexpectedly decent start.  The only extreme lack of success so far as been in the photography department…our first weekend we didn’t get a SINGLE shot that had anything to do with actual climbing.  This past weekend we were only slightly better.  Sorry about that. We’ll try to get our photo game going, hopefully happy sooner rather than later, as the weather seems like it finally wants to shift in the right direction.  (Fingers crossed.)  

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Ten Sleep Canyon Part 4 – Superfly 12c/d

So after a patriotic day at the rodeo on the 4th, the next day was back to the canyon for business as usual.  As I said in Ten Sleep Recap Part 2, the 3rd day on in our 3 day chunk was spent scoping out the moves on Superfly 12c/d at the Slavery Wall, so let’s rewind back to there for a minute.  The main difference we noted between Slavery Wall and everywhere else we had climbed was that it was WAY hotter in the morning, due to the lack of tree cover at the base of the cliff.  Thankfully though, our main objective climbed an east-facing corner, so it went into shade earlier than everything else.  

Some new found friends on the 11a beside Superfly

On our reconnaissance day, we warmed up on a route everyone that ever climbs in Ten Sleep Canyon simply must do once – Beer Bong 10b.  The face climbing on it is pretty polished in places, and the movement is just okay.  But the exposure and position out over the chimney in the last 15 feet is what earns this route its stars.   For a more interesting perspective than the typical crotch shot at the finish, we decided to take the drone up to capture some better angles while waiting for Superfly to go into shade (video here.)  

Beer Bong 10b

Hanging draws on Superfly was exhausting – 100 feet of technical climbing that demanded focus for almost every move.  After an hour (and a lot of stick clip hauling), I gave up two bolts from the top.  CragDaddy took a turn, and while he was able to clip chains, it wasn’t without aiding through the crux lurking right before the anchors.  To be honest I was a little discouraged tying in again, this time on toprope so I could work the crux more efficiently.  But my second run went awesome – I actually linked most of the lower section.  And though my initial attempts at the final sequence were pretty dismal, I ended up finding a pocket that CragDaddy had missed before – it made the move juuuuuust doable enough for me (though I had my doubts as to whether that beta would work coming in hot on a redpoint burn.)

Big C shakin’ his money maker

Knowing that a 3rd burn on a 3rd day on would likely do nothing but further rip my skin to shreds, I opted to quit while I was ahead, in the hopes of coming back a muerte on our final day in the canyon.  So fast forward past the rodeo, and past another day at FCR.  Last day equals last chance, so nothing like a little pressure, right?  The morning dawned sunny and hot, as the temps had steadily been rising since we’d arrived 10 days prior.  Although it would for sure be much cooler in the canyon, highs in the town were forecasted at 100!  That said, no one was in a rush to get up there right away, considering the lack of shade.  So we took a nice drive through the old road in the canyon, stopping here and there to play with the drone and take some token Christmas card pics.  

When we finally made it up there, we opted for the Red River Gorge strategy of warming up – a bolt to bolt run on the project.  Superfly is not a terrible warm-up option – the difficulty builds very gradually, with nothing harder than 11a in the first 40 feet.  Then come two back to back cruxes, the first being a hard lock off, the second using a series of insecure feet.  More long moves on decent holds leads to a pretty solid rest stance at 80 feet , followed by a little more hard 5.11 filler before setting up for potential heartbreak at the anchors.  

Having only had one run at it before, and therefore needing more beta refinement than me, CragDaddy offered to hang draws.  A welcome gift, especially considering that a lot of my tick marks had washed away during the freak deluge of rain from the night before.  Using the new hidden pocket I’d found the previous day, he also was able to do the final sequence, and lowered down feeling more optimistic about his send potential.

Down low on Superfly

My strategy for the first run was to climb like I’m sending until it becomes apparent that I’m not – ie, don’t get sloppy, and don’t get flash pumped.  I executed well, remembering most of my beta.  I got stalled out in the 2nd hard sequence, but managed to make it through and up to the rest.  After getting as much back as I was going to, I proceeded, til I was one bolt from the top, staring down the gauntlet of the final sequence.  I took a breath, pictured the moves then executed – Crimp, crimp, pocket, mono, make clip.  Done.  Get feet up and reach high for the hidden pocket – got it!  

I was almost out – all I had left was to bump my left hand to a better hold, smear my feet really high, and toss to a flat hold where I could then mantle to the chains.  But in my haste to hit the hidden pocket, my feet were lower than they were supposed to be.  Also, my right finger was sliding out of the shallow mono, and I was way too insecure to re-grip.  Not to mention that ever present pump clock.   Despite the fact that one of the cardinal rules of redpointing is to STICK WITH YOUR BETA on a send attempt, I just knew my original beta was done for.  I needed to go Rogue.

Now Rogue Beta is a slippery option that can only end in one of two scenarios – you either feel like a genius for making a wise, in the moment choice, or you feel like a chump because you hesitated and didn’t execute correctly.  Honestly it’s usually the latter, but I felt like I had no choice.  Instead of going left hand to the better hold, I went right hand, which allowed me to leave the mono early.  However, the hand mix-up cost me.  Not only was the mantle more awkward, it also left me out of reach of the finishing holds!  Panic started to set in again – the chains were literally at eye level, but too far to the right to clip.  True confessions – I thought about grabbing the quickdraw, but I knew I would hate myself for it on the ground, and that after all the effort I’d just put in, I couldn’t count on getting there clean again.  It really was now or never.  I held my breath, stepped my right foot level with my right hand, and precariously started to rock over, praying a gentle breeze wouldn’t blow me off.  Right when I thought I was about to tip backwards, I felt my center of gravity settle over my feet, and I could stand up.  Clip chains = DONE!  

CragDaddy high on Superfly 12c/d Photo by @izzyjams

CragDaddy sent on his next go as well (with far fewer dramatics.)  After a nice long break, he got some revenge on another near miss from 2015 – Strut Your Funky Stuff 12a.  Even Big C got on the send train with his toprope onsight of Shake Your Money Maker 5.7.  I was hoping for a similar effect on Momma’s Mental Medication, also 12a…but I fell going for the final pocket.  Womp womp.  That said, nothing could dampen our day too much.  It was a grand ending to an even grander trip!

Me with my favorites.

Initially, we had thought that this 3rd time to Ten Sleep might be our final time.  After all, there is so much rock to climb in the United States, it hardly seems fair to keep our pilgrimage in the same spot…but guys, I just don’t know if we can give up going to this place!  Especially now that the kids are older and are so vocal about how much they love it.  One advantage to growing children however, is that road trips are a lot easier now…and with homeschooling, it’s pretty darn easy to take our show on the road.  So who knows, maybe next time we’ll drive?  Anyone got any fun ideas for stops along the way?  For now though, it’s good to be home.  See you at the New this fall!  

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Ten Sleep Canyon Part 3 – Rest Days and Rodeos

Despite being a town with a population of 260, the town of Ten Sleep, Wyoming is actually a pretty good base camp for fun family rest day activities!  And for once, the weather cooperated really well with our plans!  Saturday dawned cold and dreary in town, which meant the canyon was no doubt frigid.  So what would have been a pretty yucky climbing day was actually perfect for exploring, geeking out over nature stuff, and picking up groceries, all while resting our tendons.  

REST DAY ~
Our first stop was the the Medicine Lodge Archaeological Site, where we had a lot of fun spotting the pictographs drawn on the rock faces, left by ancient human inhabitants.  A free map made finding the fainter, older ones a LOT easier.  A short walk along a nature trail gave us a chance to stretch our legs before heading south to the booming metropolis of Thermopolis.  

For the past several weeks leading up to our trip, our homeschool learning had revolved around 2 things – the Wild West, and DINOSAURS!  Fun fact: Thermopolis is home to one of the largest collections of dino fossils in the world. Unfortunately, we were unable to visit the dig site due to rain, but the inside of the museum was more than enough to please an 8 year old dino-maniac like my son.  While the giant t-rex and brachiosaurs were impressive, it was the majestic plesiosaur, posed mid-swim that really floated his boat.  

Before stocking up on groceries, we made a final stop at Hot Springs State Park.  We took the token pictures by the waterfall, but passed up on the bathhouse in the name of good sanitation (to be honest, it just looked nasty…)  But our highlight of the day had to be catching the bison herd!  They roam freely through the expanse of the park, and we not only lucked up and spotted them from far off, but were able to drive out to them before they moved on.  We saw so many, literally right outside our car – baby ones, mommy ones, and great big daddy ones. (that last part said in a “deep” 4 year old voice.)

INDEPENDENCE DAY~
Our 2nd and final rest day was spent celebrating our independence the small town ‘Merican way.  Our morning was spent at the town parade, which might have had more participants than people that live in the town. It was very much fun, especially for the kids, since all the floats passed out candy…and at one point even ice cream sandwiches!!!   

 

The afternoon was spent at the rodeo, which was unlike anything I have ever seen.  It was amazing – the horses, the barrel racers, the cowboys, all of it.  We saw kids as young as both of mine out there riding and competing!  While I’m sure we, as well as the other climbers in attendance, definitely stood out compared to the locals, we cheered and whooped and hollered as if we’d grown up there all our lives.  It was loads of fun, and a wonderful chance for our family to get a glimpse into a way of life that is completely different than our own!  Post-rodeo, pretty much any free time back at our apartment was spent with one child trying to ride on the back of the other.  

   

Rest days are generally not the parts of climbing trips that we as grown-ups look forward to the most.  Although necessary, compared to the climbing excitement, rest days are slow and boring.  But I’ve discovered that sometimes these down time moments are what make for the best family memories, especially for the kiddos.  Yes, of course my kids loved playing outdoors all day in beautiful places – that’s the main event!  But they also loved recording all the license plates we saw on a map (and would you believe, we found all but 5!!!)  They also loved walking through the town, poking around at the general store, and stopping at the ice cream parlor for a “Ten Sleep Tornado.”  They loved meeting a REAL COWBOY named Cash, who was kind enough to talk our ears off about everything ranching and bareback riding…and then give one of his lariats to my son who carried it with him 24/7 for the duration of the trip. 

 

Sometimes as grown-ups it’s tempting to want to skip that down time and just go go go, whether it’s on an adventure vacation or just in everyday life.  But often times these are the moments that the memories are made of…and on a climbing trip, the moments that unbeknownst to us, give us the physical and mental break we need to (hopefully) put down that project when it’s main event time!

 

 

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