For the week leading up to Easter, some climbing friends and I decided to go to Albarracin, in Spain. Our expectations weren’t that high as unfortunately the weather wasn’t looking great, but in the end we got a few decent days climbing in, followed by a total washout of a weekend.
Having previously been on sport climbing trips to Cheddar Gorge, Portland and Mallorca, Albarracin was my first experience of bouldering outdoors. What a place to start! Steeped in history, it really is a magical place, with hundreds if not thousands of ancient sandstone boulders dotted around a huge forest. Easily accessible and with seemingly limitless problems covering all the grades, it’s a bouldering paradise. We were all having a great week until the rain started, and I was particularly happy as I came away having sent the grade I was aiming for, 7a, with a problem called Nisu in the remote and brilliant area of Tierra Media.
Regarding the images, I knew that I wanted to approach shooting this trip a bit differently to the normal style of climbing photography. A lot of my work (I’m a freelance photographer) is based around using details to tell a story, be it a portrait, space, or product, so I decided to apply the same approach to photographing my friends in Albarracin. I focused in on the lines and light that make up holds and limbs, telling the whole story using multiple images.
It’s dusk on a Sunday night, which means there are around a hundred cars below me in various states of disarray, all blasting Mexican pop and mariachi music at an astounding volume. The echos resound from the two-thousand-foot canyon walls, cascading into a wall of sound that feels like it could slam me off the rock. I’m having trouble focusing, and every time I get ready to make a move, a new boombox-volume duel kicks off below me. The position I'm in is tenuous; my hands are on a bad two-finger pocket and a small crimp. The light is fading, and I glance at the long run-out of rope below me before returning to my search for the next handhold on Gringo Disco, a forty-meter-tall sport route on the Central Scrutinizer wall of El Potrero Chico, Mexico. If I fall, it's going to be a long ride.
Much of the climbing in Potrero happens above the dormant structures of a water park built into the canyon slope. A paved road runs through the canyon, and a now-defunct public picnic area, destroyed by rockfall, abuts the start to some of the longest and wildest multi-pitch climbs in the area. There’s trash from the weekend crowds who come to the canyon to party. The trappings of civilization are all around me, to the point where some climbers would begin to consider it unethical; the majority of crack climbs in Potrero are bolt-protected. And yet, as I struggle to move upward on thin holds through the discordant noise, there’s something that feels absolutely and unassailably essential about the whole experience. This is part of the rhythm of Potrero Chico, as much as the swish of palm fronds, the ripples and cracks in the sheer gray limestone, the gentle clicking of hooves from horse-mounted caballeros, the shouts of joy and frustration from climbers questing upwards. I stop trying to shut out the noise, find my footing and make the final move into the finishing jugs.
For many of us, climbing is an escape from city life. We dream of alpine starts where the only sounds you hear are the wind and the soft bite of crampons in firm snow, the focus and isolation of venturing out on the sharp end, a campfire-sized bubble of warmth and friendship amid the trees. Visiting El Potrero is different: immersion rather than isolation. Everyone seems to know everyone, and the sense of community is infectious. Spend a few weeks in Potrero and you’ll end up hitchhiking to camp in the back of a local’s truck, swapping stories with the missionaries who work at the climbing-themed cafe in Hidalgo, and joining up with a group of soon-to-be-friends for the Tuesday street market. Depending on the hour, the breeze wafting through the canyon may carry soft bird calls and the hum of insects, or it might bring you a pulsating reggaeton anthem. If you’re lucky, one day the canyon might be full of monarch butterflies on their annual migration south, wheeling under your feet as you top out on improbable limestone spires.
El Potrero Chico takes the minimalism of climbing and wraps it in a particular brand of color, noise and chaos that you can only get in Mexico. It’s not a wilderness experience, but with the right attitude, it might be something more.
Climbing today hardly resembles what it was at its outset - and climbing at Joshua Tree National Park is no exception to the change seen around the sport. That said, climbing in Joshua Tree is a mix of both old and new with modern bouldering right next to run-out trad climbs put up many decades ago. The area’s history of trad climbing and bouldering is the stuff of legend. Wandering around the Park and looking up at old classics is like walking through a museum dedicated to the sport. Some of the oldest climbs, first done without modern shoes or crash pads, terrify the strongest gym climbers of today. This is part of what makes Joshua Tree unique and fun to continue to return to. Because of the epic feats of climbing’s forefathers, the lore of Joshua Tree climbing is part of the sport’s origin story. Everything thereafter is measured against the bold feats of the sport’s first greats, the Stone Masters.
I took to climbing for reasons like many before me have, and many after me will. For me, climbing was an escape (suburbia sucks); and much like those who developed the sport, I found freedom climbing in the hills, valleys, and canyons of Southern California. When I began climbing 14 years ago, the extent of my climbing worldview was Stoney Point. Following the footsteps of the some Stone Masters, I eventually moved onto Joshua Tree and the Sierras for bigger and more epic climbs.
Make no mistake - Joshua Tree bouldering can be miserable and very difficult, yet highly rewarding. Many climbs topout high off the deck, the rock is coarse and shreds skin quickly, and it feels as if everything in the park is trying to kill you (spiny cacti, yucca spears, death bushes and rocks sit at the bottom or in the fall zone of many climbs). Finesse pays dividends over raw strength here, every move matters and the subtlety of figuring out the movement can be remarkably frustrating leading to dramatic meltdowns. Grades tend to be misleading with 5.8 slab boulders feeling like modern day V3s or old hard classics needing an upgrade to balance with modern grades (likely never to occur). It doesn’t matter what kind of climber you are - the crusty dirtbag, the modern gym machine, or some combination - Joshua Tree can, and inevitably will, crush your spirit. But we all come back for more.
What makes Joshua Tree climbing so frustrating, rewarding, and ultimately humbling are the topouts. Yes, not the drop knees or tenuous pulldown moves or insane flexibility sequences, but the topouts in that when you actually send, you feel fully accomplished having climbed a well-rounded boulder. Joshua Tree topouts tend to be terrifying and sketchy. Due to the geology of Joshua Tree granite and erosion, the tops of boulders are usually amorphous, rounded out, and most of the time featureless. Once out from under a roof or face, and over the lip, you’ll find that most boulders become very chossy (jokingly referred to as kitty litter by my group of friends). Many times the crux of a climb isn’t just a hard pull, but is just mental battle of putting yourself through a heinous topout high off the deck. All Washed Up, which tops out at around 20 feet. With its technical face climbing to subtle hand positioning to get the best leverage off pretty bad slopers, it is quintessential Joshua Tree bouldering.
Joshua Tree National Park should always be considered a top climbing destination for bouldering in California, if not the United States. It’s not Buttermilk Country, Hueco, or Southern Sandstone, but it has modern gems, Stone Master circuits that build strength and character, and thousands of boulders (not to mention thousands of routes) . With vast sweeping views, rock outcroppings that look like Fred Flintstone’s home, surreal Dr. Seuss-looking-Joshua Tree forests, and, most importantly, the absurdity of figuring out a climb yet finding it easy once completed, reminds me of why I began to climb in the first place. Climbing is so many things yet nothing at all. For me, the community and climbing being a vehicle to push myself beyond my own mental and physical limits is why I’ll never leave the sport - the friendships and rewards are endless. Joshua Tree National Park is where it all comes together.
Ask most people about the climbing at the Virgin River Gorge and all they’ll talk about is the heinous hang located of the side of I-15. Chances are they’ll tell you, ‘I just couldn’t handle the road noise. That crag’s just not for me’.
Sure, spend a day climbing at the VRG and you’ll feel like semi-trucks are motoring through the inside of your skull, but the main reason most climbers don’t like climbing in the Gorge is they likely got shut down. Yes, the crag is literally on the side of the interstate, and the canyon can accelerate wind to hurricane speeds. It’s not the most pleasant place you’ve ever hung out, but it’s the climbing itself, not the hang, that turns most people off—whether they admit it or not.
Simply put, the routes at the VRG are flat out hard. The climbing has an old school character to it and you’ll encounter finicky conditions, insecure bouldery movement on small slippery holds, run out bolting, and routes that are just easy to fall off. All of this, however, is on some of the best limestone this side of the Atlantic. In my book, if you’re a climber’s climber, there’s no way to not show up at the VRG to take your beating, get humbled, learn, and become obsessed with repeating these historic test-pieces.
As far as the routes themselves, it’s hard to overstate just how important these lines were in the evolution of American sport climbing. Developed by the likes of Randy Leavitt and Boone Speed—cutting edge climbers at the prime of their career—the VRG was a proving ground of the 90s and these routes have more than withstood the test of time.
Necessary Evil, bolted by Boone Speed and first climbed by Chris Sharma in 1997, may be the main prize, but routes like Fall of Man 5.13b, Don’t Call Me Dude 5.13c, Captain Fantastic 5.13c, The Mentor 5.12b, Horse Latitudes 5.14a, and Planet Earth 5.14a are all still worthy objectives that mean a lot more than their grades suggest.
Pick any one of these American classics and you’ll be blown away by the quality. Just be careful; you may find yourself on the side of I-15 season after season wondering why you still haven’t sent. Don’t worry, though; you’ll be in the company of a dedicated crew of VRG veterans who love this place and understand what doing these routes means. See it through and you’ll not only have enjoyed some of the best limestone in the North America, but you’ll probably emerge a better climber for it.
At a balmy 72 degrees, it wasn’t exactly a ‘send temp’ kind of day. But with clear skies on a slow Thursday, it was too beautiful to stay indoors. With our minds made up, the three of us piled into my Honda Civic and headed out to climb.
Car parked and gear accounted for, we scouted out our first project. As boulderers, we’re well accustomed to the typical questions our crashpads earn us:
‘Are those mattresses on your back?’
‘Are you going to sleep on that?’
‘Is that what you camp in?’
Today was different. We were met with a surplus of double-takes and eyebrow raises by suspicious passerby. One truck slowly drove by, wearing a puzzled expression while rotating a thumbs-up as if to ask ‘Are you hitchhikers? Do you need a ride?’.
Based in Jacksonville, Florida, climbing is not an easily accessible sport. Our closest crag is a seven hour drive away, and our small (but proud) gym is still the biggest within a 100 mile radius. Even though we grow bored of spending hours upon hours in the gym, a tight budget and busy schedule doesn’t afford us as many outdoor trips as we would like.
So what’s the solution? Buildering. Ok, yes. I understand how it sounds. There’s already a big enough debate between boulderers and sport climbers regarding the ‘purity’ of the sport, but now we’re adding ascents of man-made structures into the mix?
Camera in hand, I followed Jack and Gabi as they studied the urban landscape. In the heart of the Bold City, we were surprised by the amount of climbable features we found. Bridges provided fun heel-hooks and compression moves, while the foundations of on-ramps allowed for more technical footwork. The excitement was tangible and creative beta was bouncing around like any other climbing session. The more we looked, the more we started to visualize potential on every street.
Night fell, but the stoke was still high. We were eager to find more creative spots, but the art piece in mind had a high risk of police involvement. The three of us scoped out the giant red rings of the sculpture, skeptical of the logistics, and growing more apprehensive by the minute. We were ready to pack out when Gabi stepped up to crack the beta. Without chalk or climbing shoes, she was determined to make quick work of the climb.
After an awkward mantle, a slap to the connecting ring was the final move of her inadvertent project. The excitement of sending was abruptly stolen—seeing the enormous ring tilt dramatically, Gabi let go and slid to the crashpad below. Panicked and immediately convinced that we had destroyed a city landmark, we continued to watch it slowly rotate. Unknown to us at the time, the “top-out” piece of the art structure has a kinetic design; it is meant to sway when weight is applied. Needless to say, we vacated the spot and vowed to do better research next time.
As we drove home, we reflected on the climbs in terms of applying a grade. When I asked Jack and Gabi, they couldn’t put a precise number on them. No, they weren’t particularly challenging or something you would brag about on Instagram. But, in short, we realized that it really didn’t matter. As far as we knew, we were in uncharted territory. There were no predetermined start and top-out points. There were no tick marks or hints in the margins of a guidebook. It was just satisfying to push yourself as far as you could, traverse the steel foundation under a bridge, and challenge your lockoff strength as you dangle over a river. Free of grade chasing, we were able to remember why we started climbing in the first place: it’s fun.
While it could never replace the feeling of real rock, buildering is simply another outlet for physical creativity. When the gym becomes stale and the waves are flat, expect to see Floridian climbers searching the city for sending potential.
For most of us climbers, adventuring and living in the Pacific Northwest is to feel a sense of pride that most of our outdoor ambitions can be realized locally, within a days drive. We know the feeling of having spiring mountain ranges to climb, awesome crags to project and bouldering zones that gives us some of the best quality lines in the US. We can have long, harsh and wet weather windows. Thus we expect a lot of ourselves and from our plans, when the weather opens and gives us a chance to go out. We are surrounded by a lot and always enjoy that sense at our fingertips. Few places, we feel, can provide everything our Pacific Northwest environment has to offer. It is a densely-adventurous region, that seems to be matched perfectly, with one densely-adventurous northern town—Squamish.
Just manageable for long-day trips, the drive for us coming from the U.S. is almost as memorable as the destination itself. Cruising through ranging farmlands, mountains and along stretches of water inlets, taking it all in is best done with the car windows cracked wide open. The town lies at the head of myriad multi-sport options, from climbing to skiing, from backpacking to base jumping. Narrowing down your activity in a limited time window may seem daunting, but for the next few months we can focus on some amazing rock!
Entering into the quaint town of Squamish is a treat. Perhaps, not so much the town itself, but rather cresting the last hill into town and arriving at the foot of “The Chief” looking over the city in all its massive-glory. As a climber, it is at that moment you know you have arrived somewhere special. At first, the magnitude of multi-pitch possibilities seems massive and exciting, while bouldering in the forest floor seems less apparent. Perhaps because of its stature in the area. Looking below a huge, beautiful rock and wondering what lies within the forests seems almost an afterthought.
After gassing-up with black coffee in the day’s early hours, you will park generously close to a zone of choice. Grabbing your share of pads and beginning to saunter, navigating through the typical small crowds of people, you may experience some second guessing as to the logic of coming to such a popular place. As you walk under the forested canopy the boulders make their presence. Many first timers will pick a variety of classics to tick down as they experience the texture, complexity and diversity of each problem. Others will line up to retest their skills on ultimate hard lines, some rarely repeated. A good option for most is to start with ‘Easy in an Easy Chair’ aka ‘Easy Chair’, an area classic. Many popular bouldering destinations have limited options in the type of problems you can try. For this wondrous place in the woods, your style can be accommodated to, but can never be made an excuse. If you are climbing mid-day, out-of-season, consider yourself lucky. You will likely be alone. In season, however, expect to be in a short queue. Do not stress, locals are wonderful and the experience collectively will be worth the wait.
Although my path lies on the big walls and above in high-alpine settings, my first climbing experiences in Canada were for bouldering. From day-trips projecting, to weekends spent entirely snapping shots, the Squamish bouldering zones are certainly diverse and impressive enough to leave you in in awe, standing within. These day and weekend trips easily can become regular. Out of season, any opening in the often finicky weather window, even a slight chance to give reps to anything dry, will seem totally worth your time. Given the immensity of quality problems concentrated within a short approach, the first true issue maybe related to skin, as over-excitement often translates into voluminous reps up enticing lines. The boulders will eventually win and with that, the planning and anticipation for a follow-up trip will begin.
The experience of Squamish and broadness of the area's bouldering can hardly be matched by anything less than entire regions. Spreading throughout the forest and skirting around giant zones, you may choose to hangout on area classics or to explore further on major test pieces. In any event, you will never be lost from the amazing local environment and not be isolated from others pursuing enjoyment on some amazing rock. It would seem then, the only issue that presents itself is whether to grab your trad-rack, skis, backpack or crashpad? Anyway, you can always hang at Mags with everyone else and ponder-away your decisions….
When Raphael Fourau invited us to come to Bavella in Corsica, we didn't hesitate. We had only met each other at the rock face a few times before, but he quickly convinced us of the aesthetic potential of the Bavella Needles. He goes there to photograph his friends Thibault Saubusse and Jeff Arnoldi at Delicatessen, the great mythical route of the Bavella Needles. They had been there for several weeks already with the aim of linking this great route of 5 pitches (8b, 7c +, 7c, 8a, 6c), opened in 1992 by Arnaud Petit and Stéphane Husson. The idea of finally getting to visit this granite of exceptional reputation enchanted us!
This is how we found ourselves a few weeks later loading our bags in a parking lot along the road that goes up to the Bavella pass. Ropes, static line, quickdraws in shambles, shoulder belts, shoes, chalk, an armada of straps and carabiners, photo equipment and liters of water—all were needed because the path (or rather the obstacle course) which goes up to the foot of the cliff is long and steep. As we walked we were unable to see our destination; we were wrapped in a moist and thick mist that gave the place a mysterious atmosphere. We discover the Corsican maquis: A kind of Mediterranean jungle comprised of very dense vegetation that's dry, rough and entangled with sweet smells and aggressive brambles. We went along a canyon, across a river and entered a mining area. We made our way over large slabs, sometimes on all fours, sometimes by some sections of climbing. It was as if we were on a treasure hunt. Through the haze that was struggling to dissipate, the granite giant looked down us from above. The orange tower that houses Delicatessen is at the top, but we could only imagine it. We finally reached our goal after more than two hours of walking.
The draws were left in place in the first length by our companions. They followed a streak in the middle of the face, going up along shells, waves, and tafonis—big holes with an improbable design. Here nature is lace and painted by Gaudi. It is a delicate monster that unfolds before my eyes and I am speechless, because in truth, I have never seen a wall as beautiful. Delicacy is also necessary when we begin climbing. There are few hard pulls, instead only bumps, flat areas, a gratton here, some crystals there. Nothing is a hold but everything can become one. We must contort, find our balance, place our feet with accuracy. Each movement is learned and felt with all the body. Each must be done with subtlety, in a delicious mixture of strength and precision. It is an extremely technical climb, but equally demanding on the physical level. It is not enough to squeeze as hard as you can with your fingers; your whole body must act on the holds. Guided by Thibault and Jeff, we discover the movements. We explore the way, learn the choreography. Behind us, Raph is there, suspended in his harness, lost in translation. He immortalizes Jeff in the first pitch. He and Thibaut will link all the pitches ten days after our visit. As for me, I will remain hypnotized by the route. Falling under its spell, we spend the next few days exclusively in it, almost forgetting that the Bavella massif has several hundred routes.
As on Delicatessen, the majority of the routes present a style of climbing which is simultaneously technical and powerful, confusing and demanding of solid technique. It is necessary to know how to manage the holds if we hope to progress. The rock abrades the rubber of our shoes and the skin of our hands. Each section is a problem that must be solved by a good dose of technique, strength and lucidity—like U Tocardu, the 8a major route of the wall. I need some attempts to decrypt the movements, comprehend the effort needed before l dare to put myself to a real test. Often, it is during these moments of intense effort that a photographer best captures the beauty of climbing and all that defines it: A climber, a state of mind, a route, an environment. On my side I'm getting used to it, I'm trying to play the game and make it easier. So when at the end of the afternoon, the shade begins to touch the cliff, I know that I must hurry. I must reach the granite wave before the shadow engulfs it. There follows a race with the sun and another fight with U Tocardu. I go forward and try as best I can in the different sections to finally reach the final move exhausted. The shadow is right at my feet, I grab the lip of granite and Raph presses the trigger a fraction of second before the fall.
One thing remarkable about Fontainebleau is its capacity to keep churning out new problems. And not just new problems, but entire new areas. Areas which a decade or even a few years ago were largely unknown to visiting climbers. As development has continued in unstoppable fashion, and each successive guidebook edition dwarfs the previous one, we now have more venue options available than ever before. Yet the old honeypots seem to get busier every year. Now visiting as four dads with a combined age of over 150 and ten children between us, it's fair to say we were relishing a bit of peace and quiet this Easter. I couldn't stomach the thought of fighting for space at the most popular areas any more. In seeking to avoid the increasingly crowded circuses of Cuvier, Sabots and Isatis (complete with climbers' illegally camped vans parked two or three deep) we found ourselves spending time at areas we'd never visited before.
When I first traveled to Fontainebleau in 2001 it was all about climbing all day every day, classic areas, classic problems. We would drive down from Sheffield one, two or three times a year. Cuvier, Roche aux Sabots, Cul De Chien, Rocher Canon, Isatis, Elephant. We would climb until our skin or elbows gave way. Big teams out at big crags. Big evening meal in a big gite every night. Years later this gave way to parenthood. Trips became less frequent, planned months in advance with a need to stick to the established family friendly areas, kids circuits, known venues, introducing the next generation to the delights of the forest. So this time to find myself in Fontainebleau without the family at Easter was a rare occurrence—but it didn't feel like going full circle back to my 20s where you could go anywhere and do anything, all day. Things had changed. It was time to put some miles in, go into unknown territory and spread the net a bit wider. And the wet showery weather provided a ready-made set of restrictions of its own.
A lot of time was spent chasing dry rock and fast drying problems. One day we clocked up over 13km of walking with pads and full bags. Often hard work and frustrating, but always worth the effort. Even over a busy Easter weekend with dry rock at a premium we didn't see many other climbers at these out-of-the-way areas. We were never crowded out or fighting for space. It was a pleasant surprise given the tales of overcrowding and poor behavior we hear these days—although it has to be said we sadly still witnessed climbers attempting to climb on obviously wet rock. It is perhaps an unfortunate product of the modern, goal-oriented training ethos that climbers can become blind to the process and only think of their personal goals. It is worrying that even at Fontainebleau, the most hallowed of climbing areas, practices like climbing damp rock and caking wet problems with chalk is seen as fair game if It produces a 'send'.
Photographically this trip represented a slight shift in approach too. I've shot film alongside digital for many years now, but always with the nagging doubt that each one was operating at the expense of the other. I used to carry around a bag with a DSLR with two or three lenses, maybe a flash, plus a 35mm or 120 film camera, maybe with a couple more lenses. I used to pride myself on creative packing and the amount of gear I could cram into a camera bag. I once had the shoulder strap on my camera bag give way under the weight of the contents. Remaining primarily a climber, these days I prefer my main weight penalty to be a good quality crashpad on my back, so the camera gear is often pared down to a single camera and lens. Carrying multiple lenses or a big zoom is without doubt more flexible, but can be argued that having more options can dilute your vision somewhat. And the same goes for modern digital cameras; with unlimited ISOs and super-wide to long-telephoto easily catered for, you can go anywhere and shoot anything under any lighting conditions. But creatively, paradoxically, you can find that approach leaves you nowhere to go—rather like bolted aid climbing with battery drills. Everything becomes possible, so the challenge, an intrinsic part of the appeal of the activity, is gone. There are plenty of other parallels to be found in music and art and other creative fields where restrictions and limitations, once embraced, stimulate creativity rather than hinder it.
So I made the commitment to take only one camera, one film, one lens. No digital, no crutch, no backup 'just in case'. All my eggs were in the same basket, and in this case the basket was a rather nice German made classic Rolleiflex 3.5F from 1959, the idea being to try and distil the process to its simplest. No distractions of reviewing every image on the screen afterwards, no juggling spare batteries, no fiddling with a thousand settings. Only a fixed moderate-normal lens, aperture, shutter speed and focus to worry about. No auto-exposure, so a handheld light meter was required. I took just a handful of rolls of one type of film, Ilford's iconic HP5+. A 'high speed' film at ISO400, enabling respectable shutter speeds for capturing action in most daylight conditions I would encounter. Although introduced in 1989, Ilford's earlier emulsions in their HP 'hypersensitive panchromatic' lineage started out in 1931, long before proper rockshoes or even printed topos were used in Fontainebleau, before marked circuits or perhaps even pof/resin. I could make some dubious claim to this being a nod to a timeless look, and a bygone age, progressing in parallel with the development of modern bouldering as an activity in its own right in Fontainebleau, but the truth is I just like the look it produces, a break from the clinical look of digital.
The obvious question remains: Does this actually give me better images than I would have made with a digital camera, or indeed my iPhone? You could view it as a pointless exercise, much as climbing small rocks is viewed by the rest of the world. All I can say is I really did enjoy being out in the forest using the camera enjoying the simplicity, being out with a few friends. Just us and the rock, the trees, the climbing, the light. And that's good enough for me. After all, that's why we keep coming back to Fontainebleau.
'I can't wait to lose cell service and just get down to bouldering' said Andy as we drove towards Red Rocks for the first time. 'No doubt' came a reply from the back of the car. We all felt the same; we'd been waiting for this for a long time. As East coast city dwellers the American west and its national parks hold a special lure for us. There is nowhere quite like them; the history, the landscapes and the lack of cell service are the perfect escape from city life.
On every climbing trip it takes time to get used to the rock, take in your surroundings and gain confidence. This was a short trip, a weekend hit. We didn't have long and had to move fast. A morning at the easily accessible Kraft boulders to get some rock feel, then we were up into the canyons for the true Red Rocks experience and to escape the howling winds that were due to hit. An hour's hike found us at the perfect river-washed block to gain that confidence, plenty of classic problems to go at across the grade spectrum and just us alone. The perfect escape.
As we worked our way through the lines we couldn't have felt further from the world we had left behind. This was the experience that we had craved, an experience that couldn't be further from the City of Sin and 'the Strip' just visible in the distance from our walk out. As we made our way back to the car we stopped to take in our surroundings.
There is something special that occurs when you take in the desert, when you stop and view it for a period of time—it starts to move and comes alive. It's one of my favorite things to do in landscapes such as this. Wait a few minutes and you'll see something dart between the flora, then another and another. But there was something different about this time; as we looked out other things caught our eye, each a stark reminder of our close proximity to the urban sprawl outside the park - plastic. Bottles, cups, a half drunk smoothie left on a rock—none of these belonged in this place. As we moved back to the car we picked up those we could see and discussed the impact people were making on this beautiful spot.
Like those who had left plastic reminders of the city, we were just visitors in this place. But as climbers perhaps we have a deeper connection to the land than those who cruise the Scenic Drive in their cars, jumping out just to take photos. Our role goes further than just worrying about brushing tick marks and chalk from the rock we love. As our sport grows we have an opportunity as individuals to both mitigate our own impact on nature and use our growing force for good. Places like Red Rocks deserve respect, wild landscapes that must be looked after if those experiences we crave, those beautiful escapes, are to be preserved for generations to come.
Next time we'll be back with an empty bag for the walk out.
When I moved to Scotland six months ago for my wife’s post-graduate education, I was excited to visit famous climbing destinations like Fontainebleau, Siurana and the Peak District. I had no expectations or notions of the climbing that existed just outside of Edinburgh. So when a new friend from the local gym invited me to go to Kyloe-In, I immediately answered yes, despite having no clue as to what “Kyloe-In” was or would await me.
Arriving at the small forest and hiking down the lush path, it felt as if I were in a world of Tolkien. The ten minute walk ended with us arriving parallel to a wall of rock, topped by moss, trees and their outstretched roots. Despite the beauty of the crag, I was completely surprised by my surroundings. The walls stood some twenty feet or taller. And as nervous as I was about topping out at that height, I learned quickly that most of the problems did not require a traditional top, due to both the height and amount of vegetation covering the rock. Exploring the short, rocky outcrop, Scott described and pointed out problems, including Monk Life. The seemingly blank wall was a route that had only been repeated eight times since it’s original ascent in 2003. At 8b+ it stood out with most routes being far from that difficulty.
The rock at Kyloe-In varies, offering razor-sharp crimps, sloping pockets, and even a few cracks on mostly overhung walls. The overhang makes all the routes there a touch harder, but also allows you to climb in nearly all the weather that Northumberland provides. Classics like Jocks and Geordies, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and the Yorkshireman line up and give you a chance to experience some of the best of Kyloe-In within fifteen feet of rock.
I was so happy to go to Fontainebleau this spring, and the Peak District and Siurana this past fall. But with few knowing of Kyloe-in-the-Wood outside of the UK, this beautiful little spot of rock allowed us to escape. That day we were able to enjoy the rock and each other’s company. Even with all the shivering from snow dripping off of trees and the occasional breeze, it was nice to be outside in the quiet with intervals of friendly encouragement and laughter. And we were in just one of the many small forests littering the hills of Northumberland. It left us to wonder what gems might be tucked away in another wood waiting to be found.