I headed up on Sunday with some folks in the Hoofers Mountaineering Club to go bouldering at Rib Mountain in Wausau, WI. Rib Mountain was closed to bouldering in 2003, but was just reopened a few weeks ago, so we were excited to check it out.
The boulders were right next to the lookout tower, so access was very simple. A multitude of cracks made for a fun day of bouldering, but it was also frustrating because the rocks are hard and smooth quartzite. I found it really difficult to grip most of the holds with my fingers frequently slipping off. The fact that nobody has climbed there in a decade also meant that there was a lot of detritus on the rocks. The good new was that Gokul still had an ice scraper with a brush in his car, so we were able to prep a lot of the holds for future boulderers.
Overall it’s exciting to have more options for climbing in our state and I’ll probably get back to Rib Mountain as a side attraction to Wausau’s whitewater course.
I spent a recent weekend with 7 friends climbing at Jackson Falls in the Shawnee National Forest of southern Illinois. I had no idea there was an actual forest with hills and cliffs in Illinois. I always thought the state consisted of Chicago and a bunch of flat farmland dotted with windmills.
It ended up being a fun weekend of perfect weather with highs in the 60′s to low 70′s, whereas it was snowing all weekend in Madison. The forest was beautiful with climbing a few minute’s walk from our campsite and a waterfall in the middle of the canyon. The climbing was also fun with lots of sport routes to choose from. Chimichonga had the most interesting name out of anything we climbed, though I thought it should have been named either “Chimneychanga” or “Shimmychanga.” We finished the weekend with some bouldering/top-roping on the Yosemite Slab, an almost featureless rock with about a 55% incline. Fun times!
On our trip to Joshua Tree National Park, someone in our group borrowed a tent but didn’t set it up in their yard beforehand. Only after we were in the park did we discover that the fly was missing, the zippers didn’t work, and some of the poles were missing. The temperature was supposed to drop into the twenties that night, so we patched the tent up the best we could and made this video to show it in all its glory.
I met a couple of friends last week for an afternoon of bouldering at Governor Dodge State Park. For the uninitiated, bouldering is climbing without a rope, but you use a mattress called a “crash pad” in case you fall. Most boulder “problems” are only 10-15 feet high, but sometimes they can be 20 feet or more. I’m still terrified of climbing anything difficult that’s higher than 15 feet without a rope, but getting out there and just trying it a few times helps to get over that fear.
I recently made the trek along with six others to Red River Gorge in Kentucky. This is one of the country’s premier destinations for sport climbing, so the nine-hour drive from Madison is normally well worthwhile. Instead of staying at the famous and overcrowded Miguel’s, we pitched our tents at Lago Linda’s. There’s a shelter for cooking, free hot showers and a lounge with a fireplace, making the $5 per night camping fee a great bargain. Plus on weekends Linda cooks blueberry pancakes or burritos for a reasonable price. I’ll probably stay there next time I’m in the Red as well.
For our first day we went to Muir Valley and climbed at the Land Before Time Wall, an easy-to-medium grade sport wall that was bolted only a few years ago. It was a warm, sunny day and the routes were a pleasure to climb. We rounded off the day with a walk around the valley to take advantage of every minute of daylight.
We woke the next morning to the pitter-patter of rain which only grew heavier as the day droned on. The forecast for the next few days didn’t look good either: falling temperatures and snow. After a group meeting, we decided on a change of scenery and spent the afternoon and night driving to Horseshoe Canyon Ranch in northwestern Arkansas.
We got into the ranch in the middle of the night. We had rented the teepee, which was far easier than trying to find a campsite in the dark, but it was cold. It got down to something like 18 degrees that night and the teepee offered little insulation with drafts coming up through its floorboards. We shivered through the night and barely got any sleep.
Climbing for the next two days was freezing, but better than what we would’ve faced had we stayed at the Red. Our biggest obstacle was dodging the falling icicles that had accumulated across the North Forty’s walls. Still, everyone seemed to have a good time despite the freak cold front that was plaguing the middle of the country. After our second day at the ranch, everyone other than Katie and me drove back to Madison, but not before stopping at the Ozark Cafe for the best fried mushrooms we’d ever had and some damn good burgers to boot.
The following day Katie and I went to the east side of the ranch. Other than two women from Minnesota, we had the entire area (probably 100 climbs) to ourselves. The weather took a stunning change for the better with sunny skies all day and temperatures in the fifties. The few remaining icicles had fallen by mid-afternoon. The highlight of the day (and probably week) for me was Horseshoes and Hand Grenades, my first 5.11a lead. It was really a fantastic climb. Too bad it was just the two of us climbing together and we barely got any photos. But at the end of the day we met a solo traveler from Denmark named Hans who agreed to climb with us on our last day.
For our final day, Katie, Hans, and I went back to the North Forty, which was only a five-minute walk from our campsite. I had been wearing three pairs of long underwear for the last four days, and now I finally got to shed some layers. There was no more ice, which opened up the majority of climbs, including Sonny Jim, another 5.11 that had been covered in ice a few days earlier. We climbed route after route in the sun and greatly enjoyed Hans’ company.
Because of the change of venue, we passed through St. Louis on our way home. Katie and I had made many friends there through Couchsurfing in the last year. Naturally we stayed in the city for the weekend, caught up with friends, and even squeezed in a tour of Missouri’s wine country. Even though the weather caused us to drive hundreds of miles out of our way, it was a great week of fun times.
Recently I got to go ice climbing for the first time near Madison. Tying in and belaying were basically same as rock climbing, but there were tons of differences. Here’s some of the stuff I liked and disliked versus rock climbing:
– Huge reaches. You’re allowed to – no, encouraged to – strike as high above your head as you want. You can literally use the entire face and do traverses wherever you want.
– Anything works as a foothold. It takes some getting used to, but get your front points into the ice and they’ll probably stick.
– Changing conditions. Every time you go back to somewhere you ice-climbed before, it’ll look a little different. Ice doesn’t stay constant like rock, so you can get a variety of climbs in the same spot.
– Tendon relief. Ice climbing doesn’t put a lot of stress on your fingers, so if you have the common tendon injuries of rock climbing, you can allow them to heal while having a fun day on the ice.
– Stress relief. Go ahead and slam your axe into the ice. It feels so good.
– Good boots and crampons are hard to come by. I broke two pairs of crampons strapped to my hiking boots before giving up. You really should have proper ice climbing boots, and they’re really expensive.
– Hazards. You’re carrying ice axes, wearing crampons, and repeatedly striking ice. Yeah, sometimes chunks break off and can hurt you if you’re not careful or just get unlucky.
– Less leg flexibility/foot creativity. Forget about edging. You’re foot’ll slide straight off the ice. Doing the splits or even stretching your legs a few inches wider than shoulder width or higher than your knees is almost useless. You need to move your feet up a little at a time in the center of your body only.
If you’re a rock climber, then climbing some ice can be a great way to get over the winter blues. I’ll definitely be back for more next year, assuming I can find some decent gear.
Here’s the video I made of the Joshua-Tree trip I took last December:
The coldest invasion known to CouchSurfing was upon us in Duluth, MN. This year’s highlights included a walk through Pattinson State Park to see the frozen Little Manitou Falls and a mineral-laden river, a potluck at an art gallery, a walk on the beach next to Duluth and the Knife River further north, and of course the famous Betty’s Pies and the ice bar. I was happy to see the more even split between Wisconsin and Minnesota this year, with the entire bar crawl occurring in Superior. It was another fun event and a great way to end a week of travel.