What a week to test the perseverance of the two participants, and the adaptability and spontaneity of our guides.
Sunday morning began with the fine weather that usually prevails in Estes Park. Vanessa hopped in her car early in the morning and headed to DIA to pick up a participant who was flying in. In the mean time, Kat set about pulling out and moving the camping gear to our onsite group camping spot. As the guides worked, they kept glancing at the foreboding weather charts, which were forecasting an unusual weather pattern for our little town. Rain. Heavy Rain. On, off and on again every day with periodic thunderstorms to add to the mix. Our fingers were crossed our meteorologists were wrong. Still we discussed possibilities and back up plans. We knew flexibility would be a necessity this week.
Around 11 AM, Meg, a participant, was dropped off at KMAC. With possible impending weather, Kat and Meg went right to work on camp set up. The massive kitchen tarp was quickly erected. In the process, Meg quickly learned a number of knots and hitches handy for camping and climbing. Shortly after lunch Vanessa arrived with our second climber, Annika. The four ladies finished setting up camp and went over the ground rules for the week, including the seven Leave No Trace Principles.
Gear was then distributed, and details on the sort of ropes we use outdoors, why, and how to care for them were reviewed with the girls. Soon all four walked 2 minutes from our KMAC building to our onsite climbing area where a few top ropes were set up. The two girls tied/clipped in and were about to be assessed on their belaying when the weather arrived. The rain and lightning rolled quickly in, forcing the ladies back to the shelter of the KMAC building. Inside, the guides were able to at least finish up the belay test so that the ladies would be ready to climb if the weather cleared. Kat and Vanessa used the valuable time for more in-depth lessons on equipment and the difference between outdoor and indoor climbing. With multi-pitching climbing as a likely opportunity for the week and something the girls had never experienced before, the guides gave a basic introduction on multi-pitching and how some systems would look different from top roping.
Before long they were cooking dinner on the propane stove at camp and the ladies headed to their tents for bed to rest up for the week ahead.
The day started with looking like it would be a bit wet. Dark clouds threatened Estes Park Valley and a cool dampness could be felt in the air. The girls were awoken early and started on breakfast. There was the hope of beating the weather by at least a few climbs.
By 8:40 AM Brett and Kat set out with the two girls for the crags off the Lily Mountain trail. A short drive to a spot that has an easier walk compared to some climbing sites, with lots of diverse climbs that are quick and easy for our guides to set up and change over. In little time at all the girls were climbing.
Unfortunately, it didn’t take long before the dark clouds to let loose. And then our guides had the opportunity to teach the concepts of self care that outdoor rock climbing requires and that indoor climbing does not teach: hydration, calories and appropriate layering for warmth. It didn’t take long unfortunately for the rock to become saturated. Reassessing the situation and wanting the girls to get their fill of climbing in for the day, the guides packed up site and hiked out, and headed straight for the Mountain Shop in town. Here the girls got a couple more hours of climbing in: bouldering and top roping. Brett and Kat took the opportunity to throw out tips on climbing technique.
When interest and energy for pulling on plastic holds waned, the group headed over to the Estes Park Museum for its climbing exhibit. Here the ladies were offered the opportunity to see some of the old and slightly more modern equipment used for climbing: from old ropes and shoes to pitons, hexes, stoppers, and cams. An active model even gave the girls the opportunity to practice gear placements in various shaped cracks. A short video interviewing some of the local climbing legends of Estes Park gave the girls some insight on the diverse and deep climbing culture the small town of Estes Park has to offer. Amongst those interviewed was KMAC’s owner, Harry Kent. Who, amongst other accomplishments in his nearly 40 years as a climber and professional guide, made the first American winter ascent of the North Face of the Eiger.
Tired, the crew returned to camp to cook up a delicious dinner and have another lesson for their multi-pitch day: prussic, extended auto-block rappels, and clipping into an anchor with a clove hitch.
The morning was looking clear, but weather was building up to roll in late morning/early afternoon. Wanting to maximize the weather window and sneak in multi-pitch climbing, Vanessa and Nate took Meg and Annika East down Rt 34 to Combat Rock. Here they ran a short two-pitch climb for the ladies, introducing the concept of climbing up to the belayer, cleaning gear, clipping in and staying safe at a hanging belay, and setting up to go up another pitch. While one girl would be on the multi-pitch, the other would be climbing some single pitch climbs. Both the girls were able to make it to the top of their first multi-pitch climb and sneak in a couple of single pitch climbs before the inevitable weather rolled in.
On the way back up to KMAC, a mandatory detour for ice cream seemed to be in order. Then, after a short break at camp, the weather cleared enough that the guides snagged the bouldering pads and took Meg and Annika bouldering for the evening. Eventually, when skin tips were becoming raw and muscles sore, the group headed back to camp to cook up a well earned dinner.
The weather still looked unstable, but the guides were determined to make the most of the shreds of sun that broke through the clouds and moments of respite from the rain. Nate and Kat took the two girls up to one of our classic climbing spots, Jurassic. On a fine weather day, Jurassic offers a stupendous view of Longs peak and parts of the continental Divide. This morning, the four of them got to admire the clouds rolling up and over the mountains, covering them in a grey and white blanket.
Some of the most classic climbs in Estes Park (The Edge of Time and Andrology) were pointed out to Meg and Annika, with an explanation of the style and technique they require to climb. Soon the warm ups were up with plans to get on the classics shortly after. As the girls finished up these climbs, a mist began to roll in. Hoping it would pass, another two easier climbs were set up. As the girls prepared to climb however, the cloud rolled onto Jurassic Park, the temperature dropped, and the heavy rain came down. Even the tireless Annika, who was so reluctant to finish climbing or leave a climbing spot every other day that week declared she was done for the day. They quickly packed up and hiked down out of the cloud. Despite the limited time climbing, Meg was excited to have had her first experience being in a cloud on the mountain. It’s like being lost in your own world, patches of vegetation popping in and out of the damp white blanket.
For the afternoon, the ladies were able to enjoy a climbing movie in a warm room. The movie not only demonstrated the extreme version of multi-pitch climbing (big wall climbing for an attempt at a first free ascent of a tower with haul bags and porta-ledges) but also put in perspective the weather we’ve experienced for the week: Baffin Island’s reliably bad weather.
After the entertaining and lesson intensive movie, the ladies got to enjoy hot showers before the nightly dinner process began
With weather starting to clear but still being a bit finicky and diverse interest in climbing routes, Brett offered a couple of options for climbing spots and in the end the ladies returned to Lily mountain to maximize their climbing time. With our first day of relatively stable weather in nearly a week, the girls finally had a day dedicated to climbing, catching up on their climbing laps with about 10-13 routes.
The final morning was busy with camp clean up and debriefing the week. Shortly after tasks were finished, Meg was picked up in the morning. With a little more time to kill before heading to DIA and Annika still full of energy, Kat put up a couple of climbs for her on campus. Annika was able to burn off a bit more energy before the long trip home.