As with so many of my vertically inclined endeavors, this one seemed doubtful from the start. It was to be a short afternoon of clipping bolts up on Sinks Canyon’s dolomite escarpment. It started with an email from Scott. “Eleven-forty five?” he queried. I countered with a twelve-thirty request; the NOLS Faculty Summit wouldn’t be done until that time. “Yeah twelve-thirty should work” he responded. He too would be attending the workshops and speakers of the Summit. We would touch base again there to further the plan.
The day dawned overcast and stayed that way. It was warm, but the clouds to the west, over the Winds, threatened rain. After re-reading the schedule, I realized I wouldn’t be out of the final plenary speaker till twelve-thirty. “Might have to push it back to one, Scott” I said between workshops. “I still have to get back to the Noble, grab my bag, pack etc. Didn’t realize the final speaker wasn’t over till twelve-thirty”
“I have to be back for something about five-thrity or so, but one should work” he replied. “It looks like a chance of rain too” he added, “but I’d like to go up anyway.” I agreed and we went our separate ways to workshops.
Technical difficulties delaying the start of the final plenary speaker coupled with raffles and announcements at the end, had us standing by the door listening to closing remarks at one o’clock. Another change in plans. “I’ll pick you up at one-twenty/one-thirty at the Noble?” he asked as I grabbed a sandwich and headed out the door to my bike.
“Sounds good” I replied.
It wasn’t raining when we pulled into the upper parking lot, though the clouds did not inspire much confidence. The walk up, much like the ten minute drive was dominated by talk of the Faculty Summit, what we liked, what we didn’t and general impressions. As usual Emma and Henry had vied for the front seat and then Emma had tried to curl up at my feet, but now they were bounding through the sage, sniffing, chasing and listening.
The Wave Cave dripped water and the faces to its west flowed and glistened with the same vital, but annoying, liquid. Across the canyon the north facing slopes showed heavy remnants of recent storms, the sagebrush and conifer trees coated white with snow. The southern aspect however sported dry trails and warm temps. That meant approach shoes and t-shirts for us, which was a marked difference from several days ago when mud and snow covered trails were the norm.
My first lead of the day, on the west end’s new favorite warm-up, Buzzworm, further cast doubt on the viability of the day. Poor technique coupled with awkward movements propelled me to the top. I was a marionette, my limbs being controlled by someone else. The dolomite was foreign, its slick, sharp, and steep nature contrasting so vividly with my most recent climbing, the sandstone cliffs of Nevada’s Red Rock Canyon. The subsequent top rope lap did little to improve my outlook on the day.
Lucky for me the water was seeping through a few nearby tens. “Wanna go do an eight?” Scott asks. I readily agree and we traipse 50 yards west, finding an agreeable looking, lower angle pitch. Somewhere near the top I find myself skipping a bolt. “You got it back” Scott yells up. “Crushing it.”
“Yeah, well it is only 5.8” I reply. We follow that route with another 5.8, intent on scoring a free top rope on a 5.11, when I notice a fixed line on the cliff to the left.
The day’s weather is a perfect spring day. Gray clouds perch on the edge of the mountains, poised to sink down the canyon and smatter us with rain drops. They occlude the sun, and combined with a light breeze of cool air, we climb in t-shirts.
After a three days of sitting in doors, watching powerpoint presentations and looking out at cloudless blue skies, a quick escape to nature was in order. Climbing in Sinks Canyon is my go to for that escape. The power of beauty and nature to restore a touch of sanity in my life can not be overrated.
“Hey Scott, is that top rope-able?” I ask, gesturing toward the fixed line.
“Yeah, I think so. It is fixed though…” he trails off. I lower off the eight and set some directionals on the 5.11.
“Do you have ascenders here” I asked, knowing he usually has a stash of gear near his projects.
“No, but a gri-gri and a cordelette would be easy.”
“How hard is it?” I ask.
“Maybe a hard eleven . . . C or D?”
Many of the twenty or so routes that he has established down at the west end of the canyon have quickly become popular. The well envisioned and thoughtfully equipped routes have added hundreds of feet of new vertical terrain. Therefore, getting the chance to climb on one of Scott’s new routes is always a treat.
I decide to go for it. I rig the gri-gri and a cordelette and climb the thin, slightly sunbaked, static line.
The climbing is clean, fun and for me, hard. There is no tronsight, but there is no shut down. “Scott, this is good, nice work. I think I smiled all the way up” I said as I lower off.
I belay Scott on top rope. He sends and we leave the rope hanging. I top rope our “free” 5.11, clean it and call it a day.
“Thanks for coming up” Scott says as we load our packs and corral the dogs.
“Yeah, thanks for going rocks climbing” I reply.
We walk down the hill, grateful for having given it a try. Despite the omens and indicators, this vertically inclined endeavor turned out all right. In fact, it turned out to be a day that truly encapsulated why I climb: a good friend, the surmounting of obstacles, and good climbs all in a beautiful, inspiring place. For what more could I have asked?
Featured Image: Graham Kolb, belayed by Anna Haegel, climbing the “because it is there” Powderfinger (5.8) Sinks Canyon, WY.