Monday, December 22, 2008

A November Afternoon -- From Jay Knower

Editor's Note: Jay wrote this a few years back.

A November Afternoon
Jay Knower

No cars were parked in the CCC parking lot. The leaves had recently fallen off the trees. I had missed the fall colors because I live in New Hampshire. Now the leaves were a slippery brown mass beneath my feet as I made my way up the trail. I had flown back home, back to Devil’s Lake, for just a few days. I had to get away for a while.

I made my way to Full Stop. The rock held a little more friction that the typical nightmarishly slick quartzite, so I figured this climb would be a good warm up. Shoes on, chalk bag opened, I began climbing. Full Stop with the elephant ear. Full Stop with the three hard moves. I topped out and headed down the access gully past Peter’s Project.

Peter’s would be next. I had soloed this many times when I lived in Baraboo. The crux moves down low could be rationalized as a boulder problem. The upper crux before the top always felt just about right. And so it did as I topped out again. What was she thinking? Did she really mean what she said?

Down the gully again and to the base of Berkeley. We climbed this together last summer. She led it. I had never soloed it. The bulge always felt awkward, like I was missing something. This time I found what I had missed and gained the bigger holds above. Into the hanging chimney and onto the top. The sun was bright over the South Bluff but the wind did not encourage me to linger at the top.

I feel like everything in my life is falling into place, except this one thing. Down Boy Scout and up Brinton’s. The traverse feels easier when I solo this. I don’t have to think about the gear. I remember when I first toproped this climb. I remember when I soloed it four times in one week. This time, it felt the same as always. Right hand jam, reach to the big bucket. Done.

Callipigeanous was in full sun. The bottom is really just another boulder problem, though a little higher than the crux on Peter’s. And harder. I was at the ledge before I realized my decision. “I am soloing Callipigeanous,” I thought as I rocked over onto the arĂȘte. The realization brought neither panic nor worry. It was just a matter of fact. I wonder what she is doing right now. Leaving was the right thing to do. The sun was still high to the south.

I have always wanted to solo Congratulations. As I walked down the trail, the crack looked so perfect: not slimy, but crisp. I told myself: “Don’t commit if the first fingerlock feels bad.” I knew this was a lie as I climbed the first few feet: I would climb the route no matter how the fingerlock felt. She led this last summer. We sat together on the top. Now I am alone at the Lake. The top out moves gave me pause, but I remained focused. I did not sit on the top.

I whooped. The sound bounced off something far away and echoed back to me. I thought about soloing Birch Tree. That crux move had always felt so tenuous, with the awkward body position and that right-foot smear. But, I felt plugged in, confident. I moved up to the crux. Left foot on right side of the crack. Get the crimp. It didn’t feel right. Is our relationship over? My body was in limbo. It doesn’t seem simple anymore. I released my left hand and shot it toward the large jug. I will have to go back to her. I stuck the hold with a yell.

I had one foot across the line that separates calculated risk and recklessness. I forgot I was soloing. For a split second, I thought I was on toprope, that I had room for error. I did not have room for what was building inside me. Confidence was giving way to craziness. Yet, I wanted to solo ten classic routes at Devil’s Lake. Only three to go . . .

Double Overhang would be perfect, I thought. My first lead. I was getting tired, but the climb fell below me. Second Coming was next. Another boulder problem, though the laybacks felt strenuous because I was over gripping. I will call and I will tell her about my day at the Lake. One more route. The sun was getting low and the wind had teeth.

I walked to Watermarks because the wall gets the last sun at the Lake. I began climbing. After the crux, I turned around and looked directly at the sun. The light was diffuse, orange. Birds floated in the water near the South Shore, waiting for the impetus to fly south. The quartzite glowed as if it were lit from within. Maybe things will work out.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Hidden Gems: Ferry Bluff

Ferry Bluff State Natural Area encompasses a sandstone bluff on the banks of the Wisconsin River about fifteen minutes southwest of Devils Lake. Because it is a State Natural Area it is off limits to climbing, but it does have beautiful sunset views from its summit looking out over a wide section of the Wisconsin River. Also please note that Ferry Bluff is CLOSED from November 15th to April 1st annually - this is to protect roosting bald eagles in the area.

View Larger Map

Overhead Photos available here.

Ferry Bluff has a decent trail system and spectacular views, although the bugs can be a little crazy.

Hidden Gems: Pine Hollow

Pine Hollow is an amazing sandstone canyon just southwest of Devils Lake. It is a State Natural Area owned by the Wisconsin Chapter of the Nature Conservancy and as a result climbing, along with a host of other activities, is forbidden - be sure to check that whatever you are planning on doing is allowable before going.

The map below should give you a decent idea of where to park and where to head from there:

According to information posted at the site a strong tornado touched down in the area a few years ago and did some real damage. As a result there are quite a few downed trees in the canyon which adds a certain challenge to getting around. All-in-all it is worth spending an afternoon at Pine Hollow wandering around and seeing what there is to see.

See a satellite image of the area by clicking here.

Winter Bouldering at Governor Dodge - Dec. 13th 2008 - From John K

I have been following the weather pretty closely. Any weekend that looks to be 25F or higher, we head out for some climbing. This weekend, Dec. 13th, we planned to hit up the Dodge. Weather was iffy all week, and after many a person copped out, Paul, Chris and I headed out on Saturday morning. It was very windy, but as I thought, the Dodge was pretty protected from the wind. We had perfect conditions all day.

When we arrived at the park, we were informed of the deer hunters and we were told to wear some blaze orange. We were also told that the road leading to Qual Wall and the Group Camp B area was closed. We thought it wasn't going to be that far of a walk. To Qual Wall, it was a short walk, but to the Group Camp it was looking like quite a hike, so we opted out of that area.

The Lonely Boulders was our first destination. We geared up at the car and headed out. Making sure to stay off the main trails and groomed trails. No reason to get killed by a snow mobile. We made a lot of noise as to ward off any bullets that might be heading our way.
We setup camp and started climbing. We warmed up on Flake Face V0. After that, we worked on Another Day Dream V3 and Day Dream Arete V5. We all got up Another Day Dream and after a few tries, I sent Day Dream Arete to complete my first V5 outside.We stayed in this area most of the day repeating the routes and just relaxing in the beautiful day we were given.

After some chillin', we headed over to the Godfather boulder. On our way over, we saw a hunter trying to get a deer into the bed of his truck, but he kept dropping it. So I pulled over and helped him get the deer into his truck. He thanked me, I wiped the blood off in the snow, and we continued to the Godfather. The boulder was in great shape, except the topout being covered in snow. So we climbed as high up as we could without topping out. We stayed here for the remainder of the day.

That ends our trip to the Dodge in December. We hope to see a few more days of good weather for climbing this winter. See you guys out there!

Climb on!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Devils Lake to Parfrey's Glen 12-13-08

This is one of my favorite training hikes in the area, and it can give you a real sense of doing something -- it certainly gave me that sense last weekend. One of my climbing partners, Todd, and I decided to kick off our training for the summer alpine climbing season with a weekend of winter camping and a long hike with light packs from Devils Lake to Parfrey's Glen and back on the Ice Age Trail. My best guess is that this puts the round-trip distance around 16-20 miles.

We both arrived late Friday night under a full moon, entering the park around 10:00pm, by the time we had camp setup at the Quartzite campground, dinner cooked and a few beers consumed it was just after midnight. It was cold, but we were prepared with weather appropriate tents and sleeping bags.

Saturday morning found us slow to get started and our hike finally got under way around 11:00am. Leaving us about 5.5 hours of daylight to complete a 16-20 mile hike over hilly terrain covered in ankle-to-knee-deep snow. Obviously that was not going to happen, so we packed our headlamps -- well I packed my headlamp at least.

We hiked up-and-over the hill from the Quartzite Campground to the North Shore Visitor's Center to make a quick check on how the Parfrey's Glen closure would affect our trip. The ranger there said that the Ice Age Trail was open, but that we should not go up into the canyon at Parfrey's.

We crossed the north shore parking lots and the train tracks, then we started breaking a trail up to the East Bluff Trail via a shortcut just behind the bathrooms. It gave the morning a bit of an alpine flair and got our blood pumping. We shed a few layers once we joined the East Bluff Trail, which was fairly boot-tracked, then continued up towards Elephant Rocks, where we shed a few more layers. We followed the East Bluff Trail to its junction with the CCC Trail, where we cut north through woods to join the Upland Trail. We broke trail alongside the Upland Trail because it had been groomed for cross country skiing and we did not want to disturb the tracks. The Upland Trail led us to its junction with the Sauk Point Trail which took us across Hwy 113/DL and up to Sauk Point, the "summit" of Sauk County, and then down into the Parfrey's Glen canyon. The Sauk Point Trail was boot-tracked for about a half-mile from Hwy 113/DL, but then became untracked and heavily drifted for a long section, before eventually becoming fairly well tracked again for the remainder of the way to Parfrey's, starting a half-mile or so West of the trail's junction with Solum Lane.

Above right: Todd feeling confident midway through the day.
Below: Todd feeling the cold on our break.

We arrived at Parfrey's shortly after sunset, and decided to take a half-hour break in order to eat and hyrate. After our break we set off under the light of the full moon, and the glow from the lights at Devil's Head being reflected by the clouds. I figured it was best to conserve batteries in my headlamp since Todd had neglected to bring his. We were making good time and put about a mile behind us on the return leg of the hike when I started limping. First my left knee, and then my right, which prompted Todd to ask, "Are you limping?"

"Yes, but it will go away in a few steps." I replied, and it did, but then it came back along with some audible clues like deep, deliberate exhalation, and what can only be described as the sound of a low-frequency/pitch horse nay.

"You're not looking so good." offered Todd.

"I'll be fine," I forced out in a breath-held crescendo punctuated by a final burst of air seeming to drive the word, "...OFF!" out in what seemed like the climax of some victorious struggle to speak without collapsing.

"We need to go back to Parfrey's and call someone for a ride." Todd thought aloud.

"But, who? Coach? Suzanne? Marc and Lollie? Susan? A taxi service in Baraboo?" I responded. "I'll text Jay for Coach's number."

"Good, let's start hiking back down." said Todd.

"Okay." I said, taking a step, "Hey, they don't hurt anymore, I can keep going." five uphill steps later, "No I can't." flopped out in an exasperated tone.

Jay got back to me with Coach's number, and I figured he was the best choice for a rescue because he would probably get a kick out of the whole thing. To my dismay Coach was out and the only answer was his machine, I didn't leave a message. Next I texted Suzanne, who was not in the Baraboo area, and unfortunately neither was Susan she informed me. A phone call to Marc and Lollie was next, but it was busy. More texts exchanged with Suzanne trying to find a solution, but none was forthcoming. Finally Todd called a taxi service in Baraboo, and they were less than helpful even when Todd explained the situation to them. So we continued down, and I fashioned a pair of makeshift walking sticks to aid me on the trip. I called Marc and Lollie again, but it was still busy, I tried coach again and again got the machine, but I left a message this time, "Coach, it's James, give me a call sometime, well actually tonight if you could. I'm at Parfrey's Glen, and I can't walk, well I can, just not very well. I'll be okay, I'm with my buddy Todd, and we're prepared for the weather." Reading this now, it sounds horrifying, but I'm pretty sure the near laughter in my voice told another story. At this point there wasn't much else to do but laugh at the absurdity of the situation, I was after all in need of a rescue from a harrowing epic at a State Park. One more call to Marc and Lollie, and we got an answer. Marc was on his way and we were saved.
Broken, but all smiles because it's over.