Monday, August 6, 2012

C'mon Sun!

The other day, someone left a comment on one of my blog posts that was kind of aggro. I figured it was one of my friends messing with me so of course I responded in my usual style with something like, "lick my nuts." Something like that. Then I was curious as to who it was, so I went snooping around inside the dark underbelly of and found this tab called 'stats' that shows how many page views I get and where they're from, etc. Dude, I'm big time for sure. Climbingnarc posted a link to my last post today and I got like 700 hits or something ridiculous.
What really fascinated me though was the map of the earth that shows where people viewed this blog from. Dude, 25 Germans checked it out. I'm sure one of them was Kenny Barker but the other 24...Maybe it was just Kenny checking 25 times. I don't know how it works. Two Spaniards checked in. I assume it was Dani Andrada and Ramon Julian just scoping my guns. Nine Australians, twelve Brits and 67 Canadians? Not bad eh?

Come on Africa? Can I get a little Brazil? Get your head out of that sweat shop China!
200 million people in India lost power recently. They have an excuse. But honestly, I'm surprised that 200 million people in India had electricity to start with.

The point is, I had to delete my ball-licking comment cause I figured it might really be a real person, not just one of my friends. I also saw that I still get a bunch of traffic from the Sprinter forum site. There are a lot of folks that are interested in Max the rig cause they want a sweet rig too and they want to know how to do it. Since my beta is ironclad in all respects, and those van nerds don't give a crap about rock climbing, I figured I'd throw up some photos of Max's newest accoutrement.

C'mon Sun!

I've had Max for about 2.5 years now and he's still killing it out on the highway. He stumbled a bit on this trip and busted up his harmonic balancer which set us back 500 bucks but other than that...oh and we had to replace the front rotors but that's just standard maintenence. But let's talk ironcladbeta.

When I first got Max, I had no fridge and just one 55ah battery. The next year I installed the electric fridge and needed to up the battery bank so I got two more 100ah batteries for a grand total of 255ah of bank. I thought that would be plenty. For the most part it is. As long as I drove him a bit each day, the batteries would stay topped off. At least in the 12 volt range. Thinking back though, even last summer, we'd have to pay for hookups every now and then and really charge them overnight from shore power. This summer, we struggled a bit and really had to watch the charge. When we were up at Crazy Woman for weeks at a time, just driving to town every other day, we even crept into the 11.8 volt zone which is borderline bad for the bank. Drain them too far and they'll never hold the same charge again. Sadly, I think Max's batteries just aren't what they once were. I feel ya Max.

With the prospect of having to replace the whole bank in the next year or two, a cost of about 700 dollars, it looked financially more appealing to bite the bullet and hook up solar to keep them healthy. Thanks to the Chinese, who've also brought down the price of flat-screen TV's, Ipods, and everything else, (which is probably why they don't have time to EVER check my blog), solar panels are cheaper than ever. This panel I ordered from Home Depot for 200 bucks and the shipping was free. It's a 100 watt panel which just a few years ago would have been double the price. I also ordered a cheapo charge controller at the recommendation of 'customers who bought this also bought this.' The whole package was 240 bucks, but then I spent another 80 on wire and mounting hardware. Still a hell of a lot cheaper than damaging those precious battery cells and having to replace all the batteries.

If anyone can figure out what's going on here, you're a better man than me. I say 'man' cause there's no way a woman could figure this out. (Ladies, I'm joking. No one can figure this out. Not even Sarah Palin and she's wicked smart)

You'd have to be a total idiot to mess up the wiring on this thing though. Red wire from the panel goes to red wire on the charge controller which goes to the red post on the battery. Black to black to black. Done. The only freestyling I had to do was to put the ground wire to the ground post of the monitor instead of the battery. The monitor wasn't reading the charge flow but I knew it was working cause it was reading an increase in voltage. A call to dad and some brainstorming cleared that up.

End result. An immediate increase from 12.6 volts to 13.2. Despite a few clouds I was getting 1.9 amps and when it was full sun I was getting about 5. At one point, the fridge was running and I was charging my phone on the inverter and I still had a 1.7 amp charge from the panel.

Why would this interest you? Well, if I knew then what I know now... I may have invested too much money into the battery bank when I could have originally put that into the solar panel. For my use, in a small camper, I think a 200ah bank with a 100 watt panel would be sufficient. I was worried too that 100 watts wouldn't be enough. I'll comment fully on that later I reckon. I'm also keeping in mind that a 1-year old solar panel puts out about 80% of what it does out of the box. It gets weaker over time, kind of like the batteries and my muscles. 

Moral of the story is that I'm really excited to have this panel on the rig and I highly recommend incorporating it if you're in the conversion phase. It's totally worth the relatively minimal cost and I foresee this saving me lots of worrying and being more carefree with charging the laptop, leaving the fan on, etc.

Lastly, a note about mounting it. I fully freestyled this, so take it with a grain of salt. I just bought some aluminum angle and created a little framework that barely overhangs the edge of the van. I bolted the angle to the panel and then bolted the framework to the rain gutters. I just drilled right through them and siliconed the crap out of the holes. If they start to rust'll just go with the theme of the rest of the van. I drilled a hole through the plastic brake light cover and ran the wires through that. Siliconed the crap out of that hole too.

We'll see what happens from here and I'll make some comments a few months/years down the road. Hopefully it will be tales of never worrying about power needs and a constant 13 volts. More likely it will be that I didn't realize that the hot wire was running over my hack saw that I store in the battery compartment and driving down a washboard road finally shaved through the insulation causing it to ground and spark right next to the propane hose that's in the same compartment and Max and Milky went down in a blaze of glory. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Fanning a Twister

One of the warmest summers on record had us fleeing from the usually cool climate of Ten Sleep. With the completion of the last route I bolted, a crimpy little gold wall called Milky's Ultimate Steeze (13a), we'd finished up the new routes at Crazy Woman and thought we'd get a bit of climbing in back at the canyon. But even the breeze didn't help much and mostly felt like blowing a hair dryer on your face.

At the same time, Elissa applied for an actuary job in Chattanooga. With the looming hope/fear that she might have to fly out early for an interview we decided to split. As we know, Elissa is the kindest, most selfless/easily manipulated partner one could wish for. Knowing that the project I bolted north of Sheridan at Steamboat Point was the best of the bunch, and the most important to me, we headed back to actually climb on it.

This route is the proudest line I've bolted, and one of the best routes in the country. It is still absolutely unbelievable to me that routes like this still exist in plain view of a major road.

Steamboat Point

Flashback to when we first came up here about two weeks ago. I'd looked through the tiny guidebook "Rock climbs of the Eastern Bighorns" and seen a picture of Steamboat Point. Massive 200' walls of steep, always-climbable Bighorn Dolomite loom over highway 14 that passes through the northern part of the Bighorn Range.

We drove up on a whim to check it out and arrived at the cliff around 5:00. The cliff was blazing in sun but we tromped up the hill to check it out that evening. Walking along the base from right to left started out relatively uninspiring. There are a handful of established routes that generally stick to the tall gray slabs.

The tornado-shaped pillar. For scale, the first small roof on the pillar is at 150 feet.

About mid-way along the cliff is a huge semi-detached pillar of stone that looks like a giant tornado. The current hardest rig at the cliff climbs the left side of the pillar up the face. Todd Skinner bolted the 140-foot pitch in 1991 and cleverly named it Stub Farlow (5.12d). Stub Farlow is a famous cowboy from Todd's hometown of Lander. As legend has it, at some point between 1901 and 1914, Stub rode one of the most famous horses in bucking bronco lore; Steamboat. Steamboat was named for his high-pitched snort that sounded more like a steamboat than a rodeo horse. Inducted into the pro-rodeo hall of fame in 1979, Steamboat will forever be remembered as one of the wildest rides in the rodeo business.

But nothing thrust Steamboat into the limelight more than the silhouetted image shown on the state's license plate. Though there is some dispute over which horse and rider are depicted in the image, it's commonly believed to be Stub and Steamboat.

Stub Farlow, Steamboat the bucking horse, and Devil's Tower; summing up Wyoming on the license plate.

Route name etymology, first ascentionists, and the history of routes fascinate me. I imagined Todd Skinner stomping up to this massive pillar in 1991 and sinking 140 feet of bolts up the blank looking face. I imagined him quickly climbing the route, with it's rad Euro 'rose move' crux, smiling and knowing that Wyoming was the future of American sport climbing. I pictured him standing there at the base and looking out toward's Elephant's Foot, a huge 200-foot tall and 1/2 mile wide wall that looks like a bone white version of Ceuse's Biographie sector. (Sidenote: 2wd roads only get within four miles of the wall  located at the northern tip of Walker Prairie, the highest elevation plain in the Bighorns. From Elephant's Foot, heading south there are 4 more giant reefs of dolomite.)

Todd Skinner and his friends of the time period, were really the first to see the true potential of Wyoming sport climbing. As the story goes, Todd's sister was living up in Wyoming as a rancher. She'd been to the south of France and knew what to look for in climbable rock. One day she rode on horseback along the cliffs of Wild Iris and called Todd to let him know what she'd found. This story is told from memory, which is how legends form, but as I recall he told his wife he was driving up for a day to check it out. She didn't hear from him for a week.

Wyoming legend Todd Skinner at Baldwin Creek near Lander.

It wasn't long after that that bolts were being fired into the short cliffs of Wild Iris. But it was only the beginning and the crags around Lander are the tip of the iceberg. Rumor has it that Todd flew in a plane over the Bighorns and proclaimed that there was more climbable rock here than anywhere else in America.

I think multiple things led to the overall stall of development in Wyoming sport climbing. Firstly, the nature of the climbing plays a role. Climbing on Bighorn Dolomite is my favorite style of climbing but that opinion is not shared by everyone. It's gently overhanging on small tweaky pockets and edges. The climbing is technical, thought-provoking and pumpy.

In the early game of sport climbing, throughout the late 80's and 90's, techy faces were king. Smith Rock, the New River Gorge, Penitente Canyon, and Shelf Road were some of the first in America to see bolts and all define that early style. By the late 90's and early 2000's, steep climbing was in vogue and developers sought out the steepest overhangs and caves like the Red River Gorge's Madness Cave, which saw it's first routes in 1995. Over the past 17 years, I'd say that steep rock has been the focus. In vogue areas include Maple Canyon, Rifle, the steep deep south, and of course, the ever popular Red River Gorge.

Of course, Todd's untimely death in 2006 probably played a large role in halting development as well. In addition, Wyoming is the least populated state in the nation, far from any population center. Regardless of the reasons, development in Wyoming has chugged along at a relatively slow pace. Much of the past decade was focused on Ten Sleep which is only now being recognized as a true destination area.

Screen grab, hiking up to the pillar. The steep arete above Elissa's head is the rig. 

I stood there at the bottom of that route at Steamboat and saw what Todd saw in 1991; enormous potential. So much that one person can't ever scratch the surface. It was immediately apparent to me that Todd had put up this route with the intention of coming back. There is no way he could have looked at this wall and not been drawn to the arete.

About 25 feet right of Stub Farlow the wall makes a drastic 90-degree bend forming a perfect overhanging arete. My first impression was that it was completely blank. I stared at it, heart-racing, and just could not believe my eyes. "The perfect line, the perfect route," kept repeating in my mind, sometimes followed by an exclamation point but just as often followed by a question mark. I could see, about 40 feet up, a big pocket right on the corner. It was the only hold I could see from the ground. Knowing that Todd had rappelled over it coming down from Stub, I honestly thought it probably didn't go. He would have bolted it otherwise.

Left hand in the pocket, the only visible hold from the ground.

The next morning, we got a rope up to the anchor of Stub and I fixed it and rapped down over the arete. It went for sure but it wouldn't be easy. By lunchtime, I was geared up and tacking over from the Stub anchor. I sunk my own cold shuts at exactly 34.5 meters so you can get down with a standard 69-meter rope. I cooked like a lobster in direct sun all day but 8 hours later, at sunset, I was brushing the last of the holds and cleaning my gear.

The next day we jetted back to Crazy Woman. Steamboat goes into direct sun at 11:30 and becomes unclimbable so the project was left for cooler temps. But with the prospect of Elissa having to leave, it made sense to come back up here and take care of business. For now, It's 6:00 am wakeups and three burns before the sun hits. I got 'er down to two hangs yesterday and came very close to a one hang.

It's about V7 to get to the second bolt, like Babyface V7 not Tommy's Arete V7.

The question mark has been erased from the "perfect line" that repeats in my head when I'm climbing it. It's perfect...almost. The rock is a little crumbly still, I imagine just like it was at Smith Rock the first time a route went up. But it's already cleaning up really nice and everything else about it is absolutely perfect.

Pinching the arete at the first redpoint crux.

The first 55 feet are the crux. It's super continuous up the steepest part of the route. The arete overhangs about 30 degrees on the left side and about 20 on the right. The climbing stays right on it the whole time; right hand on the right side, left hand on the left side. Slapping, balance, high-stepping, precision...the whole works. It's amazing. At 55 feet is the first real break at a good hold that can be matched. The top kicks back to barely overhanging but has some really big holds. It's still 5.12a or so but if you know what you're doing, it's chill with plenty of rests.

Dynoing for the break. After the sustained opening section of 5 bolts there is a marginal shake. Getting through the next 3 bolt section is the 2nd redpoint crux.

I just have this suspicion that Mr. Skinner intended to come back for this route and never got around to it before his death. With so many projects on his plate, it would have been easy to forget about. But I also have this feeling that he had a name for it. The other iconic symbol of Wyoming is the University of Wyoming's distinctive logo. Similar to the one on the license plate, the symbol depicts a rider on a bucking bronco. In the early 1920's the University obtained a photo of famous cowboy Guy Holt riding a bucking horse. It became the inspiration for the logo. Of course, that horse was none other than Steamboat, bucking and snorting his characteristic whistle while refusing to be tamed during his 12-year reign as king of the rodeo ring.

Miles of cliff stretch away in every direction. You should hike out there and check them out. 

I added this picture because at the very right edge of the photo, as far back as you can see, is Elephant's Foot. I was eyeballing that thing through binoculars and it might be the real deal. Like Biographie good. But I'm just saying that to get you to hike out there and find out. It's 4 miles from Steamboat and the shortest way might be right across that open meadow.

For a century, Steamboat the bucking horse has symbolized the spirit of the state. Wild and still untamed, it's possible to step off of any road in Wyoming and find yourself in immediate wilderness. The countryside in the Bighorns will never be reigned in. They're too big, too wild, and hold too many secrets.

The spirit and iconography of Steamboat, ridden by Guy Holt, was cast in bronze in 1991 and erected outside of the University of Wyoming stadium. It was that same year that Todd stomped up the hill to Steamboat Point and sunk the bolts on Stub Farlow. I wonder if he looked at that arete, twisting and turning it's way up the outrageous 200-foot tornado tower and thought of Steamboat and the statue that'd just been erected: Fanning a Twister.

The statue named "Fanning a Twister" depicts Guy Holt on Steamboat the bucking horse.

 Yup, that's a moose. I also saw an ermine yesterday which was a first. Never had seen one before. Ermines are also known as 'Stoats.' Stoat was a nickname for bold New River climbing pioneer, Andrew Barry. There is a route at South Nuttall called Stoats aren't Dangerous. With this knowledge on hand, I was unafraid of the 4-pound rodent shaped like a dachsund.