Thursday, February 25

Snow in the Desert

Winters can be rough for us rock climber types. Comfortable climbing destinations are few and many miles between, days are short, and delicious celebratory baked goods are plentiful. For many it is a time to switch pursuits, catch up on socializing, or maybe dust off that Nintendo 64 and re-beat GoldenEye and Super Mario Kart. For others the winter is a time to embrace the pursuit of pulling plastic and pump mileage in the gym while meticulously planning for the months ahead.. dreaming of short sleeves and flip flops. Regardless of your wintertime activities and motivation level, the early spring always brings a touch of heartbreak. We fool ourselves into thinking that late February is actually spring, and that April is for sure the summer. Despite how many days we inevitably freeze our asses off, it seems to consistently take only 9 months or so for us to forget such lessons...

cattle standoff
Of course we all thought we had guaranteed sunshine time. I tricked myself into not only packing a tank top, but shorts and flops too. Unfortunately, a titanically sized storm was on our asses the whole way through New Mexico over the last few days, and we learned the hard way that there is indeed a winter even in the desert. When we first arrived at Palomas outside Albuquerque, it took a good 25 min for me to cultivate enough psych to convince the team (Beau Stuart, Andy Mann and Paige Claassen) to post-hole through thigh deep snow to what looked, from afar, like a giant, steep, beautifully streaked limestone cliff- baking in the sun. This approach should have been warning enough, but we carried on (sorry team!), enduring heinous wind and bitter cold beneath a turd of a cliff (again, sorry). Regardless, we made fun out of it, searching for fossils and finding laughter in the absurdity of the conditions.

Things did look up however. My good buddy Leif Gasch hooked up some killer topos and gave the beta spray down on a couple south-east New Mexico gems; Sitting Bull and Last Chance Canyon. Deep in the middle of nowhere, tucked below the erie landscape of Roswell, you'll find a couple killer limestone crags. Sitting Bull is something of a mini-Killer Cave (Sinks Canyon), complete with a wide range of burly sport climbs that ascend buttery smooth pockets and skin-friendly edges. I really enjoyed the classic thuggery in 'Broken Arrows' 12d, as well as the bouldery 'Custer's Last Stand' 13b and 'Kootenai Cruiser' 13d. Our time spent there was rad, albeit not quite the tan-a-thon we all hoped for (read: it was frigid). The hangout at Sitting Bull is hard to beat and definitely hard to leave behind. The surrounding landscape and dripping limestone waterfall is stunning plus the locals were generous and eager to share their little hidden oasis.

myself thugging through 'Kootenai Cruiser' 13d
After another solid, lonesome drive even deeper into the middle of nowhere we found ourselves dropping into the vast, beautiful canyon that is Last Chance. With a shockingly different type of limestone, this area boasts over a hundred established climbs in a canyon over an hour and a half from the nearest gas station- you can't help but feel the power of the brutal New Mexico desert out there.. it takes no prisoners. We found refuge near an old pump house and set up a campsite to remember. The howling wind ripping across our tents over the previous few nights had resulted in little to no sleep, so we were willing to do anything to find shelter.

Beau Stuart- looking prime after a windy bivy

At the tail of the trip we planned to drop off Andy Mann for the Rock Rodeo in Hueco and hopefully even get a couple routes in while we were at it. Unfortunately the freezing theme continued, and we awoke to a brisk 30 degrees and snow in El Paso.. bummed.

Although we all experienced some high gravity and the weather was not ideal, the adventure value of the trip was huge and we were all stoked to see a handful of new crags- it's always rad to get out on the road, regardless of the turn out. Nothing like some camp fires, howling coyotes, random motels, Carlo Rossi and late night buildering to kick start your stoke for springtime on the road. Beau, Paige and I killed the drive home in record time, thanks to the blaring pop music pseudo-karaoke.. our new favorite drive time activity. It's only appropriate that as I'm writing, the weather has gradually turned to crap here in Boulder.. guess it's time to bust out the N64.

At this point, late March is just around the corner and I know a place where (fingers crossed) winter is well over by then. With a couple local jaunts and some hard hours pulling plastic between now and then, I'm excited and ambitious for my first trip to the Virgin River Gorge. My homegirl Lauren Lee has offered to give Paige and I the grand tour. For many years I've had my walls covered with photos from three classic American sport climbing spots- the Red, the VRG and Smith. I had a chance to visit the Red last fall and I'm eagerly awaiting my first visits to the others this spring- assuming the spring does come.

Hope everyone out there is patiently coping with early onset spring fever.. hold tight! It's coming! Plus I know you haven't beat James Bond on '00 agent' yet- sh*ts impossible.

-all photos courtesy of Andy Mann-