CRACKS, COWBOYS & SANDHILLS
It was a warm and sunny late March when we crossed the border into California. There were some “special circumstances” with a Russian family that stopped processing of all passports for about 3 hours but as always we were welcomed with a friendly smile and some small talk back in the USA.
A new I-94 gave us another 6 months to explore places we hadn’t seen before and also some we had visited before. We headed straight east along the Mexican border into Arizona, saw lots of border patrols and were stopped once for a routine control. “Are you US citizens?” the officer asked, our “No” puzzled him a bit - “What are you then?” - “from Europe” was our answer - a big smile and a friendly “get out of here” - and we were on our way to northern Arizona, Winslow to be exact. An area we had visited before but we never had the chance to climb at Winslow Wall before. A narrow and deep canyon cut out of the desert plains of Arizona, super pretty, outstanding rock and wild. We met Andy on his way out as we arrived and we arranged to meet again in Indian Creek in a few weeks time, other than that no soul to be seen for days. OK, the access is an exposed scramble down followed by rappelling on static ropes - the way out obviously more tedious but the beauty of the place is worth a visit.
After a few days its as time to move on - to our goal for this spring - climbing around Moab and Indian Creek in Utah, the world famous sandstone cracks and desert towers! For the non-climbers, climbing sandstone cracks and especially the ones in this area requires a whole new set of skills and tools. Even for regular climbers like us it is like learning to walk again. We had to start very low on the grade scale, learning to place gear, trusting it and developing the foot and arm, hand or finger jamming techniques required to move up along the cracks, chimneys and dihedrals. As I read it in a book, regular climbing is about climbing on “what is there” while crack climbing is about climbing “what is not there”. We enjoyed this experience, got lots of useful input from fellow climbers and also explored the surroundings of this vast desert area. Susi came to visit us from her host family in Lake Tahoe for a few days and together we climbed our first desert tower - “Happy Turk” - a must do with this name ;-).
We had a short visit of Spanish / Argentinian fellow travellers Javi & Ines and towards the end of our stay around Moab we decided to climb another desert tower - Ancient Art in the Fisher Towers, “a pile of mud” (it is really mud and not sandstone!) with exceptional features but questionable rock quality, still I think it is something you have to have done at least once indoor life ;-). The heat of southern Utah reminded us that it was time to move on, into Colorado and back to sport climbing.
Passing over the continental divide and at the Black Canyon we headed straight to Canon City and put up camp at Shelf Road, one of the first sport climbing areas in the US with over 1000 routes. The surroundings are great and wild and with the exception of the weekends - when all the weekend warriors come in from Colorado Springs and even Denver - we were almost by ourselves most of the time.
The weeks passed and the heat also arrived in Southern Colorado. Our regular guest Susi announced herself for another visit and we decided to hit the higher elevations of Colorado before heading further north. We discovered Elevenmile Canyon and were stunned by its beauty, the cold river, the wilderness and the climbing. We headed through Pike National Forest and into Denver. We were torn between visiting some of the famous climbing areas of Colorado or heading further north into Wyoming, namely the area of Lander. Ken’s brother and our preference for wilderness and not crowds made the decision easy - Wyoming it was.
Just a few hours north of Denver the world changed from megapolis and crowded highways to absolute wilderness and relief to seeing a car on the road. Wyoming, 6 times the size of Switzerland with a population of less than 600’000 was already high on our most favourite list after our visit of last fall but the area of Lander with the Shoshone National Forest and the Wind River Mountains topped our expectations.
We camped up high at Wild Iris, enjoyed a few days with Mallory and Logan whom we had met in Mexico last winter and discovered old mining towns and the wilderness. We met local cowboys looking after their free range cattle and Native Americans logging to build new homes. Slowly we had to start planning for our summer trip back to Europe which also meant heading a bit east into Nebraska where we had found a temporary home for Rouletout and Mutlu with Bo’s parents.
We drove for days through the high prairie of eastern Wyoming, passing towns with 4 inhabitants, a post office, a shop and a bar and into northern Nebraska which is surprisingly not flat at all. The Sandhills of Nebraska actually look like the dunes of the Sahara covered with grass. If Wyoming was parsley populated, this area of Nebraska tops it. Wild grassy farmland, black cattle and a few humans sum it up. Right in the middle of this land - which by the way was one of the last ones to be settled in the USA - is the ranch of Betty and Paul, Bo’s parents. You might remember that we had met Bo in Korea where he is teaching and luckily he and his wife Songhee arrived at his parent’s ranch just a few days before us. We spent a great few days preparing for our trip, being constantly fed by Betty and exploring the vast grasslands and the Niobrara river.
The ranch is the perfect place to relax and calm down. While Mutlu enjoyed chasing after cats, rabbits, turtles and toads we woke up to the smell of bacon and went to bed full with the best burgers we ever had. After a few days it was goodbye - Bo and Songhee dropped us off at North Platte airport for our long flight back to Europe, in a few weeks we’ll be back “home” at our Rouletout who is waiting between the trees of the Hermsmeyer Ranch.