After an excited and extremely informative beta spray down from my good buddy Nick Martino on one of America's best kept secrets, Mill Creek, Paige and I were Utah bound with turbo vigor, powered by the WRX. We took a weekend trip to this killer area last fall and left with huge smiles and some proud success. Despite the small size of this area, it packs a great number of 'kick in mouth' hard routes and is sure to inspire. Mill Creek stands out to me as perhaps America's prettiest crag- and definitely one of it's hardest as well.
Weather was amazing when we arrived, and with my cryptic beta-map scribbles in hand, I was stoked to attempt some un-repeated burly classics as well as polish off some amazing moderates I hadn't had a chance to sample before... however, despite approaching in short sleeves, we found the deep, tight canyon buried in snow. The warm weather was pushing melt-off from near by hill-sides directly over the sandstone cliffs, turning most of the crag to a raging waterfall. Along with heavy run-off from above, the floor of the canyon was either covered in 2 feet of slush or 5 saturated inches of mud - super unpleasant. Still *kinda* stoked, we warmed up and made the best of it, climbing whatever wasn't soaking. There did happen to be one classic burl route left for me at the Wicked Crag that was bone dry. 'Aesthetics' is appropriately named for it's jaw dropping beauty.
approaching the crux of Aesthetics 5.13. Ben Randolph Photos.
I did it's neighboring route, 'Prosthetics' 13d, last fall, but didn't have a chance to do the straight up version (Aesthetics). This route is laughably called 5.13a by Moab locals, but took me the same amount of effort as it's 'much harder' neighbor. Perhaps I missed something or maybe I could blame it on my height (pretty please!!), but I would be quick to say it felt in the same general ball-park of difficulty as Prosthetics.. dang Moab sandbaggers!!!
lowering into a tree was the dry climbing shoe beta
Paige crushes Bow Spirit 13a. Jstar Photo
After a solid, albeit soaking, day at Mill Creek we had to consider other options.. conveniently between us and home, just a half hour off of I-70 lay a historical Colorado hard man/woman area that I had yet to visit.. an area that I was destined to arrive at sooner or later- and it would take a situation such as this to finally draw me there...
Those who know me (and probably many that don't), know that I had never climbed at the beloved Rifle Mountain Park. For years I resisted the weekend regular, 3.5 hour climbing-sticker-laden Subaru caravan from Boulder to New Castle. For a long time now, I've received shocking stares when I interrupt the, 'you know the kneebar on Pump-O-Rama, how it.. (etc.)', with, 'Dude. Sorry, but... I've never been to Rifle'... Some reply with aggressive shouting and poor language, others with physical abuse, and some just quietly peer into my eyes and turn their heads with disbelief. Kidding. Kind of.
It seems you can't just like Rifle, you have to LOVE it like a stranded kitten, direly in need of a raised arm to escape the height of a tree limb. It's THAT GOOD, people would say. However, I refrained. While many of my friends were logging thousands of miles on I-70, I was hiking 'insane' lengths to access un-repeated front range classics and bush-whacking hours to find gems that Tommy Caldwell and Colin Lantz had left for us many years ago. I had plenty to do close by and I grew to love obscure climbs, and the solitude (which I'd heard Rifle was severely in lack of). However, just like those said Legends did in the 90's, I'm running desperately low on inspiration close by (currently reduced to 1-star climbs, link-ups and repeats). I knew I would eventually make it to Rifle, I guess I just wanted to wait it out as long as possible- mostly to spite Chris Weidner and Tony Yao!! (you win guys.. you win..)
I have never arrived at a climbing area with near as much expectation as I had when I first pulled into Rifle this past weekend- I'd heard everything.. choss, crowds, beauty, Dave Pegg's dogs, spray, kneebars, chipped holds, glue, burl, picnic tables, some crazy high-pitched rhythmic bird noise.. everything. However, I tried to put it all aside, and let my loving girlfriend (who loves Rifle), give me a tour of the historic canyon for a day and half. So, without further ado- here are my first impressions.
The climbing is SUPER unique, and immediately I curbed my ego and accepted that it would take me some time to become comfortable with the style. The canyon is much more beautiful than I expected and the routes are much uglier than I expected - it really is, for the most part, choss. Despite the lack of jaw-dropping aesthetics and the existence of standout lines, the movement is fun. The classics are polished to a degree I thought unimaginable, however, as I would eventually find out- if you apply pressure your feet actually do stick (probably the trickiest part of learning to climb here I would say). It's more compact than I thought (whole canyon is ~2 miles)- people really drive between these cliffs.. serious? The river-side hangout is very cool, although I can imagine being not psyched on crowds in the high season. 'Pretty Hate Machine' 12c is not very good, IMO (sorry!). 'I'm not a Philistine' 12c is amazing (yes!!).
Like I mentioned, I lowered my expectations considerably here.. it's well known that flash climbing in Rifle is very difficult and the unique arrangement of poor opposing holds and horrible feet is really hard to pick up on right away. I did, however, manage to onsight a couple 12+ and flash a super fun 13a, 'Poetic Justice'. I also put down the incredible 'Anti-Phil' 13b, which I thought was WICKED good and very hard at the grade (perhaps cause I didn't use the chipped hold and I mistakenly missed the sit-down rest). By the end of our long day and evening there I definitely felt like I was beginning to get the hang of things, but I'm not ready to say I know the style yet by any means.
Like any crag (save the Red), Rifle has it's ups and downs- to me the ups are a copious amount of hard climbing, great history and a beautiful setting. Downs include mostly choss quality rock, high crowds/traffic and generally ugly routes. However, overall, I left stoked. Just to stand in a beautiful canyon full of difficulty that I haven't touched, within 4 hours of my house is MAD inspiring. Not to mention I finally won't have any trouble finding partners. I'll be returning to Rifle for sure, kneepads in hand.
In the spirit of Colorado Burl, I want to announce a WICKED slide-show that Andy Mann, Matt Wilder and I are putting on at Neptunes Mountaineering on the 27th of April at 8pm. Titled 'Colorado Burl: Part 2' we will be highlighting a number of the Front Range's best and hardest climbs, complete with stories, trivia, a generously sponsored raffle by ARCTERYX, Mountain Hardware and MountainSmith and yes.. shhhh.. Avery Beer. I'll remind you next week. See you there!