The Shenaniconglomerate did something very uncharacteristic last weekend… we bought a helmet. Now, now, I know what you are thinking, “does safety really have a place in adventure?” And of course the answer to that is “no.” In that sense, we failed you. I hope we can make it up to you by assuring you that what we bought it for is quite the opposite of safe. We have really gotten into “extreme walking” lately. It’s a lot like regular walking in that we’re on top of a surface and moving along it with our feet. Not too extreme? What if that surface was VERTICAL?! THAT’S SO EXTREME! A much more succinct way to put it is we went climbing this weekend. I could’ve just said that, but then my opening paragraph would’ve been too short. If I learned anything from English class (I didn’t), it is that you should always focus on the aesthetics of your paragraph structure, rather than on content and basic writing principles. Bridge sentence to first body paragraph.
The helmet is really just so we have something more secure to strap the GoPro to.
We started the weekend by grabbing some REI gear on Friday (not because we really needed any, but because Tier really wanted a Wisconsin REI sticker), and spent the next two days climbing and camping. Saturday morning we fueled up on eggs and bacon- hang on a sec, public service announcement: Woodman’s on the west side sells three pound “Bacon Boxes” for $8; that will be all- and then made our way north up to Hillbilly Hollow, a climbing area just south of Coloma. The name “Hillbilly Hollow” sorta makes me think of a place hobos go to die/haunt people, but it’s really just a wooded area behind a rest stop. Which admittedly also sounds a lot like a place where hobos would go to die/haunt… but it’s actually a really beautiful area along the Ice Age trail which some amazing sandstone cliffs.
We parked, sorted some gear, and then trudged through the magical, hobo-free forest up a leafy path for about five minutes before the sandstone bluffs appeared over the hill. We dropped our packs off at the base of the cliff and hiked up to the top to drop a rope. The routes are pre-bolted, which is super convenient, so we didn’t have to worry about building our own anchor system. We laid down at the edge of the cliff, reached over, clipped a couple of quickdraws to the chains, and dropped the rope. (For those of you who don’t understand climbing vocabulary such as “quickdraw, anchor system, and pre-bolted”, you’ll have to come climbing with us someday so we can teach you!)
To get the blood flowing, we took turns on the two 5.7+ (google the Yosemite Decimal System for how Americans grade route difficulty; if you’re European, do whatever you do. I don’t understand it) routes that were perfectly situated in a gap in the trees that was flooded with warm, warm sunlight that much of the rest of the hollow was lacking. After everybody got some reps in, we were willing to venture on into the cooler shaded area. Cooler in the sense that it felt much more like November and in the sense that there were some pretty dope routes. Unfortunately, this area did not have anchors conveniently bolted where we wanted to climb, so we had to either build our own anchor or go on lead. None of us have had much experience with either of those things, so we decided to do both.
We started by building an anchor above a 5.10 crack climb named “zig-zag”. We tied a rope around one tree, some (totally) tubular(!) webbing around another, set a hex in a crack, and equalized them all with a runner. If that doesn’t really make sense to you, you are not alone; we are right there with you. We spent about 20 minutes fiddling with it and constantly assuring each other that “it will totally hold,” because how solid an anchor you have is directly proportional to how many times you describe it as “absolutely bomber” to each other while raising the inflection of your voices. 40% of setting up safety equipment is verbally reassuring yourself that it is safe.
“Soooo bomber!” -Scott, Kyle, Tim, and I, successively.
I had already forgotten about the anchor by the time we descended back into the gorge; I was eager to get on this zig-zag crack. You could say I’m a bit of a crack addict. Of course, if you said that, you’d be making one of the most cliché climbing jokes ever, but that is your prerogative. Having taken a month off of training really hurt my skills, and I failed several times at the crux of the route. Kyle crushed it on his second go, then Tim and Scott both gave it the ol’ college-graduate-try before they split off to another route, leaving Tier to belay me as I continued to claw my way up the zig-zag. The route they chose was a 5.8 lead-route that is named, and resembles, Swiss Cheese.
The face when you forget your rappel device…
We spent the rest of the afternoon’s daylight on “Swiss Cheese” and “PWB Arete”, a 5.9 arete climb, right across the gorge. We got some good lead practice in as the sun set and forced us off the rock. Something felt incomplete about our experience though. We agreed that we couldn’t leave without at least one person taking a sick whipper, so Scott climbed up above his fourth quickdraw and took a step back of the rock. Into nothing. Kyle caught the fall like a champ, arresting Scott’s free-fall. Scott was safe, and we were all content with packing up and heading out. Because the alternative option was to continue climbing in the pitch blackness…in an area called Hillbilly Hollow. Without flashlights or guns. So yeah, we packed up and scrambled back to the car by the lights of our iPhones and fiery adventurous spirits.
Beating sunset just isn’t worth it sometimes.
I drove Tier back to Madison to study for her GRE (stay in school, kids!), and then met up with Scott, Kyle, and Tim at a campground in Devil’s Lake State Park. By the time I arrived back there, they had already uncorked the 5L bag of boxed wine and had a nice fire going. We also had a Heinekeg, which I tapped upon arrival (I promise we aren’t that big of drunks; while shopping, we had thought there might be up to 5 more people with us for the night). We chopped up some more wood, continued to sip wine out of pots and pans, and enjoyed the clear night and the hot fire. Alas, Scott and Kyle had to get back to Madison, leaving Tim and I to tend to the fire, wine, and Heinekeg.
Stop. Hammock time.
Sunday morning found us waking up in hammocks and hungry for FOOD! We continued our theme of “we thought we were going to have more people.” by eating about two pounds of bacon and 18 eggs for breakfast. Okay we found that we couldn’t eat all that, so we had only about a pound of bacon and 5 eggs each. Once adequately weighed down by food, we drove down to the lake to find some routes. But on our way there, we saw a large boulder along the wind-y road that was mocking us. So we decided to climb all over It’s face.
Take that, rock!
While working on it, a car of five University of Wisconsin – La Crosse students pulled up and joined us. Yup. Its THAT easy to make friends. They were pretty new to the Lake, so we showed them to a couple of our favorite spots…and they proceeded to make us look like chumps. One girl had competed in the American Boulder Series this year, and she made easy work of what we made look impossible. We embellished how hard we had been climbing the day before though, so I don’t think they judged us too hard. In addition, we cleverly ran out of water and used that as an excuse to be on our way. Couth. It worked out though: while boiling some lake water to drink, some hikers passing us offered their extra bottled water and saved us from the gross, warm lake water we were planning on drinking. I like hikers.
We love Devil’s Lake thiiiiiiiiiiiis much!
Overall, a successful weekend, if not simply for the fun times, then for the lead experience. I’m looking forward to my fingers healing up, getting back to the climbing gym, and putting that experience to good use on a climbing trip this winter. More on that later…