Monthly Archives: September 2021

A labor of love – My labor day climbing road trip! Part 4.b: Exploring Devil’s Tower

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Saturday, 04-Sept-2021, through Saturday, 11-Sept-2021

I love road trips. I’ve learned that, speaking to various therapists and councilors in the last year or so, long drives are a major form of meditation for me. I have something to keep me focused, and I’m accomplishing a goal, but I can let my semi-conscious mind wander and reflect on what’s been happening in my life.

I try to do this at home, of course, but… I always get too stressed out, feeling like I should be doing something instead of juSaturday, 04-Sept-2021, through Saturday, 11-Sept-2021

I love road trips. I’ve learned that, speaking to various therapists and councilors in the last year or so, long drives are a major form of meditation for me. I have something to keep me focused, and I’m accomplishing a goal, but I can let my semi-conscious mind wander and reflect on what’s been happening in my life.

I try to do this at home, of course, but… I always get too stressed out, feeling like I should be doing something instead of just sitting back and letting my brain process all the various thoughts and possibilities that are constantly screaming around in my skull.

For my birthday, I’d originally planned to climb at Index with Daniel. When that fell through, I’d sketched out a road trip down highway 101 into California with my friend Laurel. That fell through too. Finally, I gave up and decided to do something on my own – something I’d always wanted to do, but had never quite been able to make happen.


An ascent of Devil’s Tower...




Wednesday and Thursday, 08-Sept-2021 & 09-Sept-2021


Wednesday:

I left Rapid City in the mid-afternoon. The goal was to make it to the tower early enough that I could get a solid 8 hours of sleep before waking up… which meant that I needed to be asleep by… 7pm.

Yeah…

Okay, maybe I wasn’t aiming for a full 8 hours of sleep. Plan was to be asleep by 8:30, okay? Still a very legitimate amount of sleep!



Anyways, okay. So I left Rapid City.

The drive into Wyoming was pretty simple – beautiful, in a hazy… sort of ethereal way.

With many thanks to a guy at a gas station who warned me about a few speed traps on the road, I made my way out of South Dakota, into Wyoming, and along the road to the first national monument of the United States.


When it finally came into view over the horizon, I was… Excited? Apprehensive? I had mixed emotions, to be sure – this was the culmination of the whole trip, and quite possibly one of the biggest (or at least, the most famous) route that I’ll have climbed. This was a big deal, climbing and emotion and anticipation all wrapped up in one point on the horizon.

I kept driving.

Wednesday was primarily a rest day – I didn’t plan on exploring much of the tower before the ascent, but I did plan on driving up to the base, at least, to scout out driving times and other concerns. If I was going to be up there by 4am, I’d need all the recon info I could get…

And with that info gained, I headed back to my campsite. A teepee, actually, with a lovely soft bed in it waiting for me. I mean, not honestly that soft… but hey. A heck of a lot softer than the sleeping pad I’d been rocking, so I was absolutely not one to complain.

I ate an amazing dinner, watched the sunset, read a bit from my book, and slept like a log.





Thursday:

First things first – Prairie Dogs!



Okay, with the cuties out of the way – Thursday was my climb day! But… the climb was early, and even after taking a nap I had quite a bit of time left in the day. See, we summitted by 7:45, and I was back asleep in bed by 11:00, after doing a few extra routes… which meant that I was awake from my nap a bit after 1pm. A quick breakfast-for-lunch later, and I was heading up to the tower to really appreciate the cultural side of it.

I treated it like a museum, really… Walking slowly, enjoying the scenery, and going at my own quiet pace.

So walk with me. Enjoy the signposts, read a bit, and see the views that I saw from along the trail!





After exploring the tower, seeing the signs, and appreciating the work that the national park services has put in, I headed back to camp to enjoy the rest of the day. Peace, quiet, and beautiful views were my greatly appreciated reward for the day.

A labor of love – My labor day climbing road trip! Part 4.a: Ascending the tower itself

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Saturday, 04-Sept-2021, through Saturday, 11-Sept-2021

I Saturday, 04-Sept-2021, through Saturday, 11-Sept-2021

I love road trips. I’ve learned that, speaking to various therapists and councilors in the last year or so, long drives are a major form of meditation for me. I have something to keep me focused, and I’m accomplishing a goal, but I can let my semi-conscious mind wander and reflect on what’s been happening in my life.

I try to do this at home, of course, but… I always get too stressed out, feeling like I should be doing something instead of just sitting back and letting my brain process all the various thoughts and possibilities that are constantly screaming around in my skull.

For my birthday, I’d originally planned to climb at Index with Daniel. When that fell through, I’d sketched out a road trip down highway 101 into California with my friend Laurel. That fell through too. Finally, I gave up and decided to do something on my own – something I’d always wanted to do, but had never quite been able to make happen.


An ascent of Devil’s Tower...




Thursday, 09-September-2021



It was early.

I mean… really early.

“Keep your headlamp by your pillow, because it’s way before the sun is up”, type of early.



I was moving by 3:15 – Pulling on my clothes that I’d laid out beside the bed, doing some jumping jacks and stretches to warm up my cold muscles. I scarfed down my quick breakfast of protein shakes, sipped on my pre-made coffee from the night before (the thermos keeping it mostly warm, still), and shook the cobwebs from my brain.

I’d gone to bed early the night before… The drive from Rapid City was long, but beautiful, and I’d arrived at the tower with more than enough light left to bring my gear into the teepee, to cook a meal, and to do a quick initial recon of the tower itself.

Still, I’d had a bit of spare time… one of the advantages of a kindle, that I’d been able to pick a short book to read that evening… and I’d been asleep by 8:30. Hadn’t slept perfectly, of course, since I was too excited… but I’d slept acceptably well.



Two days before, Doug and I had talked about where we’d meet:

“Okay, we’ll meet at the gravel parking lot. But Doug, how will I find your truck?”
“Ben, it’ll be 4am. We’ll be the only cars there. Don’t worry about it”


He was right, of course. We’d met at 4am, and started the walk to the tower by headlamp. By 4:45 we were on the wall, and by the time the sun broke the horizon we’d already made it half-way up Devil’s Tower.

We climbed by the Durrance route (5.7+, trad, 6 pitches), one of the most iconic climbs in North America.

We didn’t follow the “jump traverse” section, where you vault over a 5ft gap, since it’s the most common spot for accidents… and there’s a perfectly good option called Bailey’s Direct that goes straight up to the top. The climbing was glorious, though I honestly don’t remember a huge amount of the Durrance itself. It was dark for the first three pitches, which doesn’t help… but I do recall that I stuck to the off-width for the eponymous “Durrance Crack”, which is definitely the less-optimal way to do the route.

But hey – it was fun! And at the end of it, I was at the top of Devil’s Tower!!!

From here, We relaxed on the summit for an hour or so.

Doug gave me a quick tour, showing me the semi-famous Bison skull (proof that the Great Creator had raised the tower from the ground) and the cache of food from a stunt gone wrong years ago (A guy named “Jumpin’ George” who parachuted to the top… but lost his descent rope on the skydive). We looked at lightening strikes, we ate some food, and we appreciated the serenity of being at the top of the nation’s first National Monument – completely alone.



After a solid amount of reflection and relaxation, Doug asked if I was up for some more climbing. I was hesitant, not wanting to push myself to injury, but after some stretching and frank / candid self-assessment, I knew that I was ready. We descended, and I started climbing back up…

Instead of descending all the way, I’d rappel down a pitch, then climb back up to Doug. Then, we’d rappel down to the base of that same pitch… and do the same thing again.

This way I was able to climb Bon Homme, a 5.8 variant ascent, that was singularly gorgeous! Honestly, it was even better than the Durrance route; clean climbing, great cracks, and gloriously fun movements. I felt great, and absolutely felt my love of rock climbing refreshing itself.

Soon enough though, we were back at the foot of the tower, the climbing completed. Doug and I chatted as we walked back to the cars – thanking each other for an excellent few days of adventure, and with him sharing some much-appreciated feedback with me. Feedback… and a few tips for new climbing spots back in Portland!


Then we were off – Gear was traded back, cars started, and I was heading down the road to get some much-needed napping in…

Links:

“Jumpin’ George” = https://www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/stuntmans-jump-parachutist-stranded-days-devils-tower

Link to the Lakota Legend of the bison skull = https://www.nps.gov/deto/learn/historyculture/first-stories.htm

A labor of love – My labor day climbing road trip! Part 3: A rest day in South Dakota and Wyoming

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Saturday, 04-Sept-2021, through Saturday, 11-Sept-2021

I love road trips. I’ve learned that, speaking to various therapists and councilors in the last year or so, long drives are a major form of meditation for me. I have something to keep me focused, and I’m accomplishing a goal, but I can let my semi-conscious mind wander and reflect on what’s been happening in my life.

ISaturday, 04-Sept-2021, through Saturday, 11-Sept-2021

I love road trips. I’ve learned that, speaking to various therapists and councilors in the last year or so, long drives are a major form of meditation for me. I have something to keep me focused, and I’m accomplishing a goal, but I can let my semi-conscious mind wander and reflect on what’s been happening in my life.

I try to do this at home, of course, but… I always get too stressed out, feeling like I should be doing something instead of just sitting back and letting my brain process all the various thoughts and possibilities that are constantly screaming around in my skull.

For my birthday, I’d originally planned to climb at Index with Daniel. When that fell through, I’d sketched out a road trip down highway 101 into California with my friend Laurel. That fell through too. Finally, I gave up and decided to do something on my own – something I’d always wanted to do, but had never quite been able to make happen.


An ascent of Devil’s Tower...



Tuesday and Wednesday, 07-Sept-2021 and 08-Sept-2021


Tuesday, 07-Sept-2021

After turning the car around and drinking down some post-climbing Gatorade, I headed back onto the road. From now, I had just over a day of relaxation and rest. Two days of climbing, one day of recovery, and then the summit day at Devil’s Tower itself. A good plan, if I may say so myself, and at the end of climbing on Tuesday I was absolutely thankful that I’d have a day to rest before doing any more climbing.

Our story begins right as Doug and I parted ways off the Western edge of Mt. Rushmore. Since I was already on the mountain, I figured that I may as well make use of my location, and visit the monument itself – As I ranted about in an earlier post, I have mixed feelings about the faces… but those feelings won’t change the fact that they are, in fact, there. And if I’m there, I may as well at least learn a bit about it, right?

I drove in, parked (paying a frankly ridiculous amount of money for parking, damnit), and took a lovely quick walk around the monument / tourist trap.

It was definitely interesting. The monument itself is definitely impressive, but… I don’t know. It wasn’t quite as grand as I’d expected; Perhaps it’s the distance, or the prior knowledge of the rock, or the huge granite entryway that was trying to mimic a grand hall… It was absolutely beautiful, but I don’t know if I would be able to rationalize a full trip just for this one monument.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to – Since I was already here, I wanted a bit, took some more pictures, and enjoyed a bit of people watching. “A life-changing patriotic experience”, the signs had heralded… and while I can’t say that my life was changed, I can definitely say that I appreciated learning how it was carved, the history behind it, and that the people watching was definitely top-notch.

There were, unsurprisingly, a ton of RVs… and, as so often seems, quite a few political shirts and slogans being bandied around. What was interesting to me, though, was mask wearing – The news tells me that everyone in the country is polarized with masks – but I’ll tell you, dear reader, that wasn’t the case here. We had all walks of life, and all forms of very overtly political shirts… but not one person complained or argued about wearing a mask indoors.

Simple, clear, straight-forward signs were placed at every entrance to every building, stating mask requirements. And everyone put theirs on as they walked in. It was… nice. Uplifting, almost. Interestingly, I’d say that one simple action had a bigger patriotic impact on me than the huge faces carved, from what I was told by the historian, specifically to bring tourists to South Dakota.



After my visit, I headed out toward Custer State Park. It was still fairly early in the day, and I wasn’t quite ready to go back to camp just yet…

I drove, I explore, and I saw Bison (I thought they were buffalo at the time, so forgive me if you got a text about buffalo), and I enjoyed some great views and cool bridges.


I made my way home, cooked up some delicious dinner, and finished reading Treasure Island.


An excellent day.




Wednesday, 08-Sept-2021


I woke up early, for me.

I mean, not that early, of course… I’m talking about getting out of bed around 9am, give or take. Compared to my normal weekends, though? Yeah. Early.

What got me out of bed so early, you may ask?

Adventure! Of the pancake variety!

Today was my day off – only goal was to relax, rest, energize my muscles for the big climbing on Thursday, and then drive myself to the tower sometime before it got too late. I had to check out from the campground too, of course, but… that was pretty simple, right?

Well, we started with Pancakes, and then moved into rescue.

See, I’ve been making a point to chat with more people. I miss how easily I had made friends back in Boston, and while I’m still finding it much harder to meet people here on the West Coast… I’m slowly getting back into the swing of just being excessively friendly. Maybe it’ll work, maybe it won’t… but I can say that this time, it worked.

See, earlier in the week I’d chatted with a family who had set up camp near me. We’d said our hellos, talked about trips a bit, and I’d even given them a quick lesson in how Technical Rock Climbing works, showing the Mom, Dad, and four (!!!) kids the gear, and giving a quick overview of how the safety gear works together. We’d had a good time, and even shared a glass of scotch (not the kids though, of course).

As I was packing up, they stopped by my camp again – I assumed to say goodbye, and while my assumption was correct… it wasn’t complete. Their van had died overnight, and they were hoping that I’d packed some jumper cables…

Well, I had, of course. Paranoia to the rescue!

Clip clip, lickity split, and their van was powered up and running! We said our new goodbyes, I felt good about being a rescuer, and we both headed off on our separate ways…



The rest of the day was mostly unplanned… I started off by driving down the road a bit to a place called “Chapel In the Hills” – a lovingly recreated Scandinavian chapel, built almost exclusively from wood and placed out in the woods slightly outside of town. It was gloriously beautiful, and I absolutely enjoyed learning a bit about the immigrants from the area, and seeing what they’d lived like.



After the Chapel, I headed into town – I wanted to poke around a bit and find some interesting gifts for folks back home, but didn’t have any specific targets in mind… a quick google search found me a distillery, so… good a starting point as any, right?

Frankly, I was astoundingly disappointed.

Rapid City, and South Dakota itself, had frankly astonished me so far with how cool it was. Lots of neat stuff, positive energy, and… just a great up-and-coming place. This distillery was not so much. It had a cool name, and a neat bar, but… Well, I guess I’m used to Portland bars having the faux dive bar look, but actually not being a crappy dive bar.

This distillery was a crappy dive bar. No tours, no interesting spirits… and when I asked them about aging or any details?

Well, a quote is all I can give, “Ohh, yeah! We filter it through charcoal! You know… Brita filters! Yeah, we just buy them, and filter all our liquor through them. Just the normal things from the grocery store”.

I’m really hoping they were just messing with me… but I’m not feeling positive about it.




Anyways, that was a bust.

But hey! It had found me a place to park, and a starting point for an exploration!


I quickly found an “Art Alley”, where spray artists were welcomed to paint anything they felt like – and they had gone about it with a passion. Beautiful art was everywhere, and had turned a dull alley way between businesses into a gorgeous outdoor gallery: