Highlights from the Colorado Plateau

Trip Start Jan 14, 2009
Trip End May 2010

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Flag of United States  , Utah
Friday, May 1, 2009

We just ended a chapter on our rock and road trip of physical feats mixed with memories of a lifetime.

Since most of our readers are from the northwest, we're happy to report that we've had nothing but sun since we left rainy Seattle. Actually, we did get a few days in Indian Creek of wind and dust storms that resembled the winds of Patagonia, which would blow red sand/dust into every orifice and make mounds of dirt in our tent. The dust would get pulled from the sky by rain and snow, which would create a bizarre rain-mud effect. Also, it snowed mud-snow on a couple of our first days at Indian Creek (hereafter referred to as the Creek). We climbed through the weather, however, and for the most part, we had lots of bluebird days. Lindsey is starting to look like another race from the waste up, but her legs continue to have the Seattle pale look. Ben, on the other hand, has preferred to dress in all black, pants and long-sleeved tops while climbing, blocking him from the sun and making him look like something out of a Johnny Cash song!

Our brand new tent covered in red dust. Bridger Jacks towers in the background. More on these precious gems soon in the Towers section!

What was beautiful about the weather was that we both got to experience spring in the desert for the first time. When we arrived, the trees were the same knarley branches you see all winter long. But we left the Creek for a few days to visit friends and boulder in Joe's Valley, a couple hundred miles away in Utah, and returned to the desert at the start of it's annual bloom. The cottonwoods grew ever greener for the rest of our stay and purple, pink, white and red wildflowers bloomed.

The colorful desert valley in springtime

Friends on the Road
We've always believed that the climbing community is a small community, but it was sure proved at the Creek. During our time in the Colorado Plateau, we ran into friends and old acquaintances, coordinated meeting up with friends, and even made new friends that we will for sure visit during the rest of our road trip.

The first day we ran into Patrick Wright whom Lindsey had piano lessons with in grade school back in Jackson Hole, WY. We later climbed with Pat and his friends, Sam, Aunika, and Toby, another Jacksonite.

Pat climbing up Sunflower Tower, a cool tower in the Bridger Jack group!

We also ran into Sara, our Finnish friend from Leavenworth, sending hard routes with her friend Stephanie. They gave us a top-rope on a classic route called Coyne Crack, 5.11+. Man these gals are stout! It was great having dinner with them at the Superbowl campground and getting to hear all their amazing adventure stories!

During this trip we also were fortunate enough to coordinate meeting up with friends for some climbing. We spent a wonderful day climbing with our friends from Seattle, Bobbi and Heather. (H. and B. - We made it to the Lamp Light but unfortunately it wasn't rib night. We gorged ourselves anyway though so thanks for the recommendation!)

Bobbi leading up the alternate, harder start to Hey Duke, a super classic on the Optimator Wall!

And we were able to meet up with Nick, a great guy we met on the Argentine Ruta 40 tourist bus down to Southern Patagonia.

Nick enjoying the false summit on Sunflower Tower in the Bridger Jacks (3 pitches, 5.10+)

Nick leading up Chest Full of Kind 5.10

Lastly, as mentioned before, we took a break from the Creek and drove to south-central Utah to meet up with our friends Jim (aka Big Sexy) and Josh for some good ol' bouldering fun.

Jim working the knots out of Ben's lower back. More photos of these debaucherous days in the Bouldering in Joe's Valley section toward the end of this entry.

Even when we weren't actively meeting up with friends or running into them, the climbing community is gracious enough to always make more friends. We enjoyed the first few days' introduction to Indian Creek with Peggy, an artist from California.

Ben and Peggy Rochambeau-ing for first lead. Peggy won to lead, in case you were wondering. We later climbed a pitch on Way Rambo wall called Rochambeau. Also a great route!

Lindsey laybacking Long Island Iced Ted, 5.10+, our second pitch at the Creek, also on Optimator wall.

We met many other awesome people and climbers from Jackson and Flagstaff, people we will meet up with later on our climbing road trip. Needless to say, we never felt lonely out on the road.

National Parks Galore
One of the many lists we started tracking is the entries into national parks. We purchased an annual national parks pass and have already used this as a gateway into wondrous territories.

Lindsey starting a run during a rest day at Arches National Park

Lindsey walking the walk in Arches National Park. The final rock pathway gaining to Delicate Arch.

Ben being inspired under Delicate Arch. Dean Potter soloed the Delicate Arch (which is illegal by the way) several years ago

Another visit took us back into Arches to climb The Owl, an easy but surprisingly amazing-quality sandstone tower. At 5.8, this one-pitch climb with a sandy scramble to the summit was an uforgettable experience. We felt a little strange, however, as we were spectacles for other tourists in the park.

Ben leading up the Owl in the early morning before the Park gets busy with tourists

Lindsey enjoying the view on the summit of the Owl

Other photos from Arches: http://www.flickr.com/photos/benkunz/sets/72157617167423637/

Our other national park visits did not include climbing, but with so many national parks in this area of the country, they made for great rest-day activities.

Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde National Park. The Poebloan people, or Anasazi people, weren't known for retreating into the cliffs, and since the cliff dwellings in this area were built in the 1200s, it is assumed that this was some form of defense before many of them migrated to other areas to escape a 20-year drought.

More photos of Mesa Verde: http://www.flickr.com/photos/benkunz/sets/72157617487997468/

Before leaving the Creek, we took a couple hours to drive through Canyonlands National Park.

The Needles in Canyonlands

More pictures in Canyonlands: http://www.flickr.com/photos/benkunz/sets/72157617489415028/

During our two-week stint, we certainly developed a taste for climbing towers. Because Indian Creek is more like a crag area for crack climbers, towers were our only way in many cases to get in multi-pitch climbing. Among those we climbed include: The Owl in Arches National Park (1.5 pitches, 5.8), Sparkling Touch route on the Sparkling Touch tower of the Bridger Jacks (3 pitches, 5.11-), Thunderbolt on the Easter Island tower of Bridger Jacks (2 pitches, 5.10), East Face on Sunflower Tower on the Bridger Jacks (3 pitches, 5.10+), Rimshot on the Bridger Jacks (5 pitches, 5.11-), and the Kor-Ingalls route on Castleton Tower in the Castle Valley area (4 pitches, 5.9+).

The Bridger Jacks. Towers from left to right: Thumbelina, Sparkling Touch, Easter Island (the smallest, narrowest tower), Sunflower Tower, Hummingbird Tower, King Pins, and Bridger Jacks Mesa (Rimshot is on the backside of this mesa/tower).

Here are some photos from these great climbs!

Ben leading the first pitch of Sunflower Tower, which included a fun "stem box"

Nick leading the thin fingers crux pitch of Sunflower Tower (5.10+)

Ben leading the sketchy traverse across the last pitch of Sunflower Tower. It wouldn't be a tower climb in the Creek without a super chossy, sketchy, poorly protected final pitch!

Summit shot! Ben and Lindsey managing ropes to set up the first rappel back to the ground.

Lindsey rapping off the summit


We sent the most difficult and adventurous multipitch we have together! It's called Rim Shot on the Bridger Jacks towers... goes 5.11- and it's 5 pitches that never let up. Extremely sustained and varied climbing and definitely keeps the heart pumpin'!

Ben at the base of Rimshot

Ben pondering the monster offwidth he's about to thrash and swear his way up

Lindsey scored this shot as she climbed up the famous stembox pitch

Lindsey pysched to be on the summit

Castleton Tower was our last climb in the area before heading off to Vegas/Red Rocks. Of course we ran into folks there as well (Eric Hirst and David Trippet). The weather was beautiful and it was a magical way to end our memories in the Colorado Plateau.

Castleton Tower

Lindsey getting stoked to climb Castleton Tower. Our early morning approach ensured that we'd be first on the route!

Lindsey getting high on the Kor-Ingalls route!

A shout out to our friend Eric Hirst who just happened to to be in the Castle Valley the same day we were there. He was off climbing on the classic climb, Fine Jade. Here's a shot of his team on that that climb from the summit of Castleton!

More photos of Castleton Tower: http://www.flickr.com/photos/benkunz/sets/72157617555302504/

Crack Climbing Bliss
Our main goal for going down to the Colorado Plateau was to taste the famous sandstone cracks at Indian Creek. All those years of hearing stories from people about these perfect handcracks that seem to go on forever seemed implausible to us. Being from the northwest, our extent of beautiful cracks were the hard, rough granite of Index and basalt in Smith Rocks, Tieton, and Vantage and of course the varied cracks of Squamish, so we couldn't wait to taste this experience! What we found, for those of you who have yet to sample this splitter heaven, is that rating system is not based on the hardest move like all the other areas we've been to, but rather based on the size of the crack and length/endurance of the crack as most cracks will continue for 100+ feet (some as long as 160 feet). For example, we climbed a crack that called for multiple .75 and #1 camalots, which gave the route a 5.11+, whereas a climb like Generic Crack that calls for 8 #2 camalots gets a 5.10- rating simply because a #2 size is usually a pretty solid hand jam for most people while .75 requires ring-locking, making the moves less secure and therefore more strenuous. This system took some getting used to, but thanks to Dave Wesley and Dave Snow, we had enough gear to safely get up any climb we tried.

Ben on Coyne Crack (5.11+). Thanks again for letting us take a go on your ropes, Sara and Stephanie! You two are badass babes!

Ben leading Neat (5.10-). We thought this climb was a tad hard for the grade. It sure was a blast for a 120 feet with a final roof to pull at the very end of the route!

Ben leading up The Incredible Handcrack (5.10) on Supercrack Buttress, probably the most climbed crack in all of Indian Creek.

Many more photos and videos from The Creek: http://www.flickr.com/photos/benkunz/sets/72157617235032446/

Bouldering in Joe's Valley
Bouldering? What is bouldering? Neither of us have been bouldering outdoors in quite a while, but we tried our hands at it anyway out at Joe's Valley, UT. In reality, our bodies needed a break on the hand cracks and the trip was more about spending time with our old friends, Jim Johndall and Josh Mitchell.

Ben and Lindsey admiring the beauty of the high-desert valley our first evening in Joe's.

Jim, from the backside. Jim's a Seattle climbing connector. Just about everyone that climbs in the northwest knows and loves him. Being the only giant Korean/Norwegian guy I know, it sure makes it easy to find him in a crowd!

Josh meticulously rolling and cutting the spinach for one of our many gourmet camping meals together. Josh used to live in Seattle about six years ago, but he now lives in the Front Range area of Colorado.

Cooper, Josh's dog, taking one of many naps on some boulders.

Because it had been so long since we had been bouldering, we didn't know where to start or what grade to start at. Thankfully, Jim and Josh are the best bouldering hosts anyone could ask for, and they toured us around to several quality areas: Boysize, Riverside, Moby Dick, Mansize, and New Joe's.
Lindsey warming up on a V0 at Boysize. "That was a V0?" Ben and Lindsey exclaimed after hitting their second problem of the day. We had no sense of problem grades!! Oh yeah, in most bouldering areas here, the ground was pretty level and safe, but if you ever need a good spotter, Jim is the best spotter in the world!

Ben flashing Mono E Mono at Boysize (V5). The grades at Joe's seemed a little inconsistent because even though it had been a while since we bouldered, we've never sent a V5 outside before and both of us sent this problem! Must have been soft for the grade.

Lindsey warming up on day 2 at New Joe's

Lindsey working the moves on a V3.

Jim working Self Service in New Joe's (V5)

Ben working the moves on a high-ball V6 (I'd Rather be Climbing Her) in New Joe's at the end of the second day. You can see more shots with the moves of this cool problem on Flickr under the Joe's Valley set (link below).

One of the beautiful sides to this style of climbing is that bouldering is much more social than any other style. All day, you are hanging out with groups of friends and since there's rarely a need for an alpine start, you can stay up late with your friends and sleep off a hangover. Therefore, this more debaucherous lifestyle took hold of us for a couple days and we were glad to go a few days without beer, wine or whisky when we returned to the Creek! We did, however, get to hang out with some awesome Vancouverites in the process, and Lindsey got to experience long pulls of whisky while making smores at the campfire! Matt, Meg, Jessica, Jay, Rachel and Wiley: we had an awesome time hanging out with you and Matt, you will forever hold the title of best storyteller ever!

Our last morning at Joe's we went around to a couple areas with Josh to return the favour of being spotters and to watch him work some hard problems.

Josh projecting a sick v10 problem our last day in the valley. The moves were steep, big and extremely sharp! Not that any of the rest of us even dared to attempt this problem!

We had a blast with Jim and Josh and will remember this trip forever.

More photos from Joe's Valley here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/benkunz/sets/72157617258981380/

Moving On
After a little more than two weeks, we are moving on from the Colorado Plateau to Las Vegas, NV, to climb at Red Rocks. Our bodies bruised, scraped, and achy, we took a couple days of rest in Vegas, tried on wedding dresses (http://www.flickr.com/photos/benkunz/sets/72157617258981380/ ), and prepared for our next climbing adventure.
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