The rain woke me up, its heavy consistent patter on my tent fly. Camped as I was in a small sandy alcove somewhere between the base of Wyoming’s Lankin Dome and Lankin Gap below, I felt secure and dry. The heavy wind that had buffeted the tent earlier had died down, leaving only the heavy, wet downpour falling from the sky. Something however was keeping me awake, something more than the rhythm of the rain on the tent. It was a small babbling creek’s increase in volume that eventually set me bolt upright. Shit, Tony’s tent.
Tony had driven out to Lankin that evening. He was joining us for the second half of the rock camp and had shown up sometime around dusk. It had been a long drive over from the Teton Valley and I had shown him a handful of tent site options. Though I had personally camped and seen others camp where had eventually chose, I knew it was a gamble. I showed Tony around. He took a chance and I helped set up his tent. Now at 1am, he had lost.
My headlamp pierces the blackness, the light reflecting off the falling drops of rain. Ten feet ahead i see the raging creek that was once a trickle; my head and beam of light turn to follow it down its path. The water cascades down a slab and into a small sandy pool carpeted with aspen leaves and bobbing pine cones. The tent’s reflective tabs, illuminated by the sweep of my headlamp, reveal its location in the middle of the pool. I carefully pick my way down the slippery, wet slab and peer into the darkness.
“tony” I whisper, shining my headlamp into his open vestibule and tent door. I can see him asleep, his top half out of his sleeping bag. Around the tent, the water is rising toward the top edge of the six inch bath tub floor that is currently keeping the inside of the tent dry. “tony” I whisper from my dry perch. No response.
I roll up my pants and step into the pool. I crouch under my umbrella and scoot around some low hanging branches. “Tony” I say louder, stooping now at his door. No response. “TONY” I say in a terse whisper. Still no response. I look at the pine cones floating in his vestibule and then the waterbed effect under all his stuff on the tent floor. The inside of the tent is dry, but lighter items bob up and down with the movement of the pool. I figure it won’t be dry in the morning and try one more time. I reach into the tent and put a hand on his shoulder. “TONY” my terse whisper this time accompanied by a gentle shake. This time he stirs and I shine my light away from his face. An unintelligible mutter is elicited. “Tony, your tent is flooding, you should get up” I shake him again and repeat myself. He sits up slowly, his eyes widen… “huh…uuuhhh, thanks…” Tony mutters and reaches for his headlamp as I pick up the shoes floating in vestibule and set them in the tent.
Though I have worked in the Sweetwater Rocks region over twelve times, I have only had the opportunity to witness flash floods twice. Neither matches the size or scope of flash floods in the canyons of the Colorado Plateau, but both were still able to elicit feelings of awe and wonder at the extremes of the desert.
The dawn was clear and cloudless, significantly different than the previous three days, but we put effort in to moving quickly anyway. Yesterday Angie had climbed the upper pitches of Split Rock’s classic Standard Route in a heavy squall. The wide crack had taken on all the attributes of a waterfall. We were determined not to be wishing for wet suits later, so we made good time up to the base. For both my partners in crime, Kathy and Allie, it was the first multiple pitch climb. Enjoyable climbing, excellent company, and fat belay ledges made for a fun romp to the top.
The first drop hit my face as I paddled up the unprotected fourth class slab at the top of route. The clouds had rolled in earlier, though not in doomsday fashion. We watched rain fall on Green Mountain as we made upward progress, our ears tuned to the as of yet unheard sound of thunder. I reached the belay, slung the pinyon pine and let Kathy know that I was secure. The rain fell harder as Allie climbed and we donned rain jackets as she reached the belay. She set to belay Kathy and I motored off to the west, looking for the easiest way down. By the time I got back the deluge had abated and we were once again debating our descent options. “how do y’all wanna go down?” I asked. Kathy didn’t snap her fingers, but could have.
“I would like to rappel” Allie said and Kathy nodded in agreement.
We traded tight sticky rubber climbing shoes for more comfortable approach and running ones and then made a bee line for the top, eager to get going before the rain caught us again. As we flaked out the ropes, I point out a dark looming cloud just to our west. “You sure you all want to rappel? I polled again.
“I’ve rapped hundreds of times, I’m fine” Kathy responds.
Allie looks at the cloud and then back at us. “Yeah, lets rap.” I cast a doubtful glance at her and tie the two ropes together with a euro death knot.
“Alrighty then, I am in” I say as I try unsuccessfully to toss the ropes across the slab.
The main face of Split Rock in central Wyoming is approximately 41000 square meters. Due to the fact that the area of an irregular polygon or irregular round shape is difficult to ascertain, I rounded down. Approximating that the face is about 275 meters long and averages, from Fire and Sage on the northeast side to Ass Ripper on the southwest end, about 150 meters in height. In the grand scheme of things that is not a lot of area, but within that area there is nary a shred of ground that can absorb water.
The weather holds off and several more laughing fits and rappels have us standing at the base. No sooner had the ropes hit the ground than a sudden and loud clap of thunder reverberates down the main face. Then a second. A deluge of hail was the third act in this play, which was just getting warmed up. Above us the giant 41000 square meter face of Split Rock turned into a waterfall. Walls of water started descending even before the hail turned to rain. What had once been a climbable runnel was a cascading waterfall. The base, bone dry mere moments ago, is transformed into a calf deep creek within minutes as we stand in awe.