I’ve been climbing in the Black Hills over the 4th of July for three years in a row now. This trip is all about relaxing, climbing, and enjoying who you’re with, not neccessarily about pushing your limits all the time. We keep it low stress, highly entertaining, and eat way more than we should. Not once have I written a comprehensive trip report about this. I always mean to, but when I come back, other things get in the way. I’m gonna try something a little different this year: write it as I go.
Day 1: Travel
My day started early. I called up Keese to see if he wanted to hit a climb or two in Vedauwoo on my way to the Black Hills since I was passing through Cheyenne anyways. Pffffft. Of course he did. But before we hit The Woo, he introduced me to Cheyenne’s premier breakfast place. I had the potato, egg, and bacon breakfast burrito slathered in green chile sauce. Or should I say: “awesomesauce”?
Anyways, we loaded our stomachs and the 2lb. burritos they contained back in my Subaru to head to The Woo. We did a 5.6 chimney route called Piton Perch. Keese led the first pitch, and I got the second, a simple “hike through the formation”. Yeah, “hike”. What they really meant was, “chimney traverse and hope that your C3’s hold or you’ll cheese grater down the slot.” Great. Thanks, Keese. (It actually wasn’t bad. Quite fun, actually.) We topped out and had a fun free-space rappel.
Done with those, back on the road, 4 hours to South Dakota. We say our hello’s and head out to the Bugling Elk for the 1st evening dinner. I had wild boar. Weird, right? Tasted like chicken. Several beers and a Moscow Mule later, we head back to the cabin to figure out what we’re doing the next day.
Day 2: Humble Pie
I’ve been leading really strong lately. Everything has been clicking. Trad lead, sport lead, free solo (5.6’s but hey, it’s still a different headspace)…it’s all going well.
I followed up a 5.7 and thought, “hm, kinda awkward.” But no problems.
Then there was a 5.10 sport route looking at me. I’m all like, “bro, what are you looking at? Come at me!”
I get to the first bolt after some more awkward moves and maneuvering around a stupid, bulgy overhang in my way. I don’t see any hand holds that I feel like lunging for after the first stance. I back off.
Sick clip the second bolt to protect decking out after lunging for your first set of hands past the 1st bolt. Great, just like top-rope. Getting past the bulge really wasn’t that bad. Bolts 3 and 4 are pretty good, and now I’m at the second crux: another friggin bulge. After messing around for 5 minutes, I back off again because we’ve set a top rope on the route from another set of anchors. We’re climbing with 7 people so efficiency is kind of important. Oh well.
Strike 3, 4, 5
After watching a 17 year old make it past the 3-move crux and finish the route, I have to try again. Get back to the upper bulge, fail. Try again. Fail. Pull on the rope to get to the next move, fail. Pull on the rope more, fail. Pull on the rope more, got it. <rolls eyes>
We moved to another area and had a couple top-ropes already set after one of the more daring members of the group trad’ed up a stiff “5.9”. I managed to top-rope a 5.10 cleanly, get spit off a 5.9, and I think I finished another 5.9+. We’re not sure how/where that route finished. It was weird. Trust me.
So anyways, I have to remind myself The Needles are not Colorado. I can’t expect to walk up a 5.10 or 5.11. Here’s to hoping I can find some “easier” stuff tomorrow. Geesh…
Day 3: Short ‘n Sweet
We went to The Love Knob and started the day with a 5.7 trad lead. There was only 4 of us so we all met on the top. We set top ropes on a 5.8 hand crack and a 5.10+ slab. The weather was coming in so a couple people did the 5.8, and I did the 5.10+. After the previous day, I wasn’t feeling confident, but I made it without a fall. Hoooray!
Back to the cabin we go.
Once the rain stopped, we decided to take the kids to an easy area behind the Sylvan Lake Dam. I top roped a stout 5.7. I would have led it, but, you know, 2 bolts for a 90′ climb didn’t appeal to me.
Day 4: So Picturesque
I got the honor of leading one of the coolest features I’ve seen in The Black Hills. The area is called “Picture Window” and the route is called Gossamer. It’s only a 5.7, but it’s pretty intimidating. You climb a GIANT flake that has a huge wind blown hole going through the middle. It was just cool.
After that, I hit a 5.11b on top rope called Broken Window and a beastly 5.9+ that had an off-width section, and then turned into a teeny-tiny crystal pulling fest. It was almost harder than the 5.11.
The last area we went to that day was “Shipyard Rock” in the South Seas. We did a sweet 2-pitch 5.8 called “Waves”. It has some groovey vertical “fins” that I haven’t seen anywhere else in the Black Hills. The view from the top was pretty spectacular, but NO PICS FOR YOU!!
Day 5: Half-day Rest day
Did a quick and easy 5.8 lead with a bunch of chicken heads for natural pro. Then we went around the spire and did a cool 5.9+ up a flake system.
Called it a day. Went back to the cabin to get dinner marinating. Wished I had climbed all day instead.
Day 6: Rain, rain go away
We had two newcomers join the group, one of which was really looking forward to climbing. However, as we turned a corner and crested a hill, I knew the clouds wouldn’t cooperate. But I still had hope.
We ventured out, despite the high chance of getting rained on, and I decided that I really wanted to get this new person on the rock. There was a 5.6 I did last year called “Boxcars and Airplanes“, and it’s quite a short climb. I ran up as fast as I could to set a top rope for her, but just as my feet hit the ground, the rain started, and it could not be ignored.
But my quick draws were up there. Shit.
Despite the very distant thunder and lightning, I decided I wanted my draws. I think that was the fastest I’ve ever climbed an outdoor route. Thank goodness it was on top rope.
Day 7: I don’t want to talk about it
According to the forecast the night before, the rain was supposed to be on and off all day. That really sucked because I had gorrrrrgeous 170′ chimney picked out that I wanted to trad lead on Old Baldy. Rather than risking leaving an $80 cam in a chimney to lower off of in the event of a storm, we just decided to not climb this day.
Which was stupid.
Steven and Josh (have I mentioned Josh yet? There was a “Josh” with us. There, now I have.) decided they were going to just hike around and look for climbs while the rest of us went and did touristy stuff. They were smart enough to bring gear and rope with them, and ended up getting in several pitches that day.
Steve and Josh – 1; David – 0
Day 8: The final day
All week Steve had mentioned he “only had 1 goal this whole trip” (yeah right, Steve) and that was to do a 3-pitch, 5.8+ trad route called “Garfield Goes to Washington“.
Josh and his brother Jeff left the night before so there were only 4 climbers left. This worked out perfectly so that I could be the other leader, rather than taking up 3 or 4 of us on one rope. What a pain that would be! Plus, I really wanted to lead it too.
The whole route was pretty chill…until you got to P3. Looking up from the belay station, it’s not intuitively obvious where you’re supposed to go. The outer slab looked low angle…but slabby. Straight up from the station looked blocky and chunky but nearly vertical with about 2′ diameter bowls quite a ways up. This is concerning because I’m not seeing in cracks. Did I mention we’re trad climbing? No cracks = no pro. And the outer slab didn’t have any nearby cracks either. Great.
I opted for the chunky, vertical, dished out bowl option. It was chunky and easy climbing for the first 10′, and I even got a piece in. At least my belayer was now protected (for the most part). Then I made it up to the first bowl, about 20′ off the belay slab, 10′ from my last piece. Look around, look around….no pro. Only option is to go up, and the route is getting more vertical and less chunky. I’m actually having to “climb”.
After a minuscule mental freak out and a few deep breaths, I make it up to the second bowl, 25-30′ off the belay slab, 15-20′ up from my last piece. Fuuuuuuuuuuuudge.
This time when I look around, I notice somewhat of a mushroom shaped dish on the bottom of the bowl. “I think I can sling this!!!!!!” I thought to myself. Sure enough, it held. I had my first piece of pro in the last 20′. It was by no means bomber, but damn did that feel good. Also, “look, a bolt!!” The moves here were a little thin too, and I wasn’t greatly excited about taking a leader fall on a slung dish, but at least it was only 6′ to the bolt. I made it, and clipping a bolt never felt so good.
The rest of the route was low angled and had jugs on jugs on jugs on jugs. I absolutely LOVED the run out. I don’t know what it is about trad, but big run-outs get me amped. Remember that 5.6 free solo I talked about a long time ago in the beginning? I definitely get it. It’s not something I seek out. In fact, if I see an “R” or “X” rating on a route, I won’t even consider doing it, but if I’m not aware of it and it just happens to happen, man, that’s great.
As my partner and I got to the summit, there was a huge thunderstorm about 15 miles away from us, but we could see the downpour. I snapped a few selfies because I’m awesome like that, and then we got the heck outta Dodge. (As it turns out, we barely got a dribble where we were.)
We all ate our final meal together at the Bavarian Inn, fed some burros on the National Wildlife Highway, packed some stuff, and called it a night.
Day 9: Goodbye
As per usual, the rest of the pictures…