Paige Claassen - 6 Weeks

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Six Weeks on the Road

By: Paige Claassen 

Most climbers would agree that the words “road trip” and “freedom” typically mean one in the same. I had never experienced the significance of this synonymous connection until I hit the road for six weeks on a trip to the Pacific Northwest. Throughout this six-week period, I learned how to keep life comfortable, manageable and exciting while living away from home. To begin, fellow La Sportiva Athlete Jonathan Siegrist and I made a “to do list” for our trip. This list, color coordinated and prioritized with various stars and asterisks, contained goals such as “see all 50 state license plates” (we only got 48), “learn Canada stuff” (a relentless downpour chased us out of Canada after only one day), and “touch fuzzy animals” (we got to care for Steve House’s three cows for a week). Of course, our climbing goal list held aspirations of equal stature, yet we felt that no road trip could be complete without pulling over at a few “points of interest” along the road. Among these sites: a shoetree, the famous Cupcake Royal of Seattle, and a Wyoming car show (a true American cultural experience). 

With six weeks to choose when, how, why, and where we wanted to travel, the options seemed overwhelming. Our first stop, and perhaps the trip favorite, was Smith Rock, Oregon. Here we climbed the endlessly vertical, unmarred dihedrals that hold some of our sport’s earliest history and spent rest days heckling geese in the quaint parks of nearby Bend. Climbing at Smith fits the area’s stereotype as run-out, crimpy, and more often than not dead vertical; characteristics I’d dreamed of for months. My favorite experience at Smith, exemplifying the thrilling nature of the area, was our ascent of Zebra Zion, a classic multi-pitch 5.10 the locals deemed a “must do”. As Jonathan and I approached the spectacular final 5.9 pitch, an unnervingly close lightning storm made for an exciting top out and a few singed arm hairs. After dispatching many of the area’s classics and enjoying the company of Smith’s generous locals, we set off to a cooler destination, chased out by the heat of late May.

After encountering a week of non-stop rain in Seattle, we arrived in Squamish, BC only to find the dreaded continuation of wet weather. Here our trip took an unexpected turn as we grasped the rarity of freedom to travel wherever we pleased. Promising sunshine and dry rock, Spokane, Washington called us south once again as we bailed on our plans to tour Canada for a month. Relying solely on broken tidbits of information from random friends, we discovered the hidden gem of Deep Creek and were immediately impressed with the quality of climbing. Despite the less than charming appearance of the rock, this blocky basalt crag offered fun, consistently difficult movement. Although we stayed in the area for a full week, Jonathan and I both experienced the pressure of time constraint as we projected near our limits at Deep Creek. This sense of urgency and tension brought me back to days of competitive climbing, and I realized that pressure is an important part of this sport as it tests my efficiency and focus while working a project. After finishing business at Deep Creek, we parted with smiles and high recommendations for this unique and relatively unknown crag (check out the Crown Jewel section of Sportiva LIVE for a detailed write-up of the Deep Creek area).

Inspired by the merit of Eastern Washington, we felt eager to check out a few more out of the “ordinary” crags before hitting Ten Sleep on the drive back to Colorado. Riggins, Idaho presented a disheartening scene with about 80% of each route manufactured. Recognizing the reality that we couldn’t visit 5 star areas for our entire six weeks, we once again took advantage of freedom and headed to eastern Idaho to visit friends and check out a few local cliffs. When we pulled off the side of a dirt road and headed into an endlessly flat desert of cactus, I was skeptical as to whether any rocks even existed in this part of the state. Yet when we stumbled upon a giant sinkhole beneath the ground, all doubts diminished as I played on the jungle gym of steep, razor sharp jugs of volcanic tuft. A bit further down the road, the Fins provided a similar shock with featureless white and blue streaked limestone jutting out of the mountainside. An exciting four-wheel drive excursion to the cliff led to a day of fun on shallow pockets- a perfect trainer for the challenges of Ten Sleep that lay ahead.

We finished up our trip in the backwoods of Wyoming, achieving full road warrior status when we shopped at the only grocer available- the gas station. Our days at the French Cattle Ranch of Ten Sleep passed quickly as we scrambled up route after route of two finger pockets, interrupted only by the occasional mono, but never a rest. With many red check marks on the goal list, we motored back to Colorado before injuries could claim our tired bodies. Never before had I climbed so many days on, for so many weeks in a row, without even stepping foot in a climbing gym. I was beaming. Never could I have planned such a smooth, rewarding, refreshing adventure, for it was the moment-to-moment decisions that kept things exciting. A reminder of the kind, motivated nature of rock climbers defined our trip. Both new friends and old generously put a roof over our heads and willingly sprayed us with beta at their favorite crags. Upon review of my first road trip, I felt accomplished, liberated from the confines of chores and homework, and ready for a real shower. I look forward to starting it all over again! 








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