Rock Climbing Vedauwoo Wyoming
Labor Day Weekend. Typically a time of massive exodus from the city, with the resulting traffic making everyone wish they'd stayed home. Or at least that's what I figured was going to happen as we planned our trip to head to a small climbing area in Wyoming called Vedauwoo (every pronunciation I've heard of it says "vay-duh-voo").
The climbers going on this trip were Greg, Aran, Mandy, Kate, and myself. We'd made the decision somewhat on a whim a week before and were committed to going. Of us 5 only Greg and Aran had been there before. Naturally they went ahead and left town early together, leaving the rest of us to figure out where we were going (we had some directions, and I'd managed to find the area by looking at Laramie Wyoming in Mapquest, then gradually expanding my view.)
Since Mandy lived north, Kate and I decided to swing by and pick her up, narrowing us down to 2 cars and making it easier for the group to stick together. Heading north on I-25 is normally a nightmare anytime of the year and we really were dreading the 5pm Friday evening start but traffic suprised us by being very light and moving fast. In record time we'd hit Cheyenne, turned west on I-80 and kept an eye out the window. It started to get dark, making it harder to see what we thought we should be seeing, namely grand sweeping cliffs and huge mountains rising out of the earth. We were not prepared for what we did see, which is a small clump of hills that looked like they sat in the bottom of a valley. Not quite sure if that was it or not we started watching for signs and sure enough saw one.
We rolled into the campground and began our search for Greg's truck. After driving around the entire area we couldn't find them. So we drove around again, no luck. So we stopped the car in a camping spot (they were filling quickly and we didn't want to lose out by driving around), put on our headlamps and began to walk to each campsite. Still no luck finding them. Finally resolved they might not have made it yet (in spite of them leaving several hours ahead of us), we decided to fish Mandy's tent out of Kate's trunk. Unfortunately for Kate and I, Greg had come by my house earlier in the day and picked up most of our load, so we were without the warmer clothes and tent we wanted. Mandy broke out her candle lantern and then began setting up her tent. Long about the time we had decided we'd be needing to cram three of us in her 2-man tent (and two of us without sleeping bags no less), Greg drove up.
A quick conversation ensued where we learned that he and Aran had actually been driving around the backwoods area that wasn't part of the "official campground" searching for a suitable spot. They hadn't realized we were there yet, so they had pitched camp then set out to look for us. Wanting to get into some warmer clothes we threw Mandy's tent in the back of Greg's truck (no, we didn't pull the tent down, the whole thing just went in the back of the truck) then followed in Kate's Saturn as he took us out of the campground and down a dirt road filled with washboards.
The campsite they'd chosen wasn't bad, it had a large rock with a fire pit that was somewhat secluded from the wind, and level ground to pitch a tent on. We put on warmer clothes, once again donned the headlamps, then began to get everything in it's place. A few minutes by a small fire then it was time for bed.
The next morning woke clear and bright but still chilly. Well, beyond chilly; it was cold. We warmed up with a bit of a fire and prepared a huge breakfast. Seemed we had brought a lot of food for just the 5 of us and we were apparently determined to cook it all that morning.
After all the usual stalling we piled into Greg's truck and headed into the park. According to Aran and Greg it used to be free to get in, now they charge for car access (though hiking in is still free it was farther than we felt like going, especially since we didn't know what climb we'd end up on). We paid the fee then crawled along the asphalt road, staring at the rock formations that seemingly had appeared from nowhere.
We opted for an area that both Aran and Greg had done before, figuring that we could still find new climbs if it was busy. After a bit of boulder scrambling we emerged right in the middle of... Well, we're still not sure what it was. According to the young lady holding the clipboard and barking out orders we had stumbled right into the practice area for an "arial dance show". There were kids in harnesses, hanging from ropes and pulleys, going up and down, spinning around, kicking their legs out, etc. It was quite a site to see, I can only hope the actual show went smoother than the display we gawked at. After determining the limits of the dance practice we scrambled a bit more up to an area that had a good 2-pitch climb called Walt's Crack. It didn't look particularly difficult but since it was Kate's first multi-pitch climb (a pitch is a rope-length, meaning that you end up tying into a belay station while still on the rock. Multi-pitch climbs are a lot of fun but require a minimum of two ropes and take some getting used to) we decided that would be a good one to do.
While Aran and Mandy practiced a couple of short pitches on the big slab, Greg began shimmying up the first crack. After reaching a nice, mid-way ledge he placed gear to give himself a solid anchor and I began climbing, cleaning his gear off the rock as I went (and dragging the second rope so Kate could come up after me). I reached the belay station then we cheered Kate on. On top of it being her first multi-pitch climb, she was climbing with a large cyst on her wrist that sometimes made it painful. She did a great job working up the large crack though and soon joined us on the ledge.
Greg and I decided that now was a good time for me to try my first lead while setting pro gear. I've led indoors quite a bit, and had done some outdoor, but hadn't ever led a climb where I had to place gear in the rock (I'd always climbed routes that had "bolts" secured in the rock that I could just clip into). Greg stood up, hoisted his rack of gear over his shoulder and handed it to me. Then waited patiently as my legs nearly bucked. "You've got to be kidding." I told him, "You want me to try and climb with this much extra weight strapped to me? This is going to be really interesting."
I worked my way right, along the rapidly diminishing ledge and prepared for my real adventure. "Keep an eye on me, I don't know how I'll do" I told him nervously. I looked up, there were three bolts I could clip into above me, then I was on my own setting the gear he'd given me. I could see the holds that looked good, what I couldn't see was how I was going to make it up the 10 feet of rock in between those bolts. Taking a deep breath I stepped up and began working on the lead. I made several moves to the first bolt, grabbed a quickdraw from my belt, clipped it, clipped the rope, then breathed a sigh of relief. I steadied myself again and went for the next one. I was terrified but determined. I was also to learn later that after every clip I said to Greg "this is a big move next, be watching". I also apparently said it loud enough for everyone on the wall to hear. I reached the upper ceiling and began moving right to the corner where another slab intersected it, looking for promising holds. After setting my first tri-cam I set a nut into the crack and began working over the small roof. I finally made it to the top of the climb and began heading for a very large boulder that a couple of other climbers encouraged me to anchor off of. Fifteen feet short of the boulder I came to a dead stop, the rope appeared hung. I tugged a few times then wondered how far down I'd have to climb to get it unbound. I finally opted to sit next to another boulder and set my gear there, unsure of if Greg would hear me yelling to start climbing, especially since I didn't see him again after clearing the roof.
I anchored in with 4 pieces of gear and got my belay ready. The other climbers who had been at the top with me were getting ready to rappel back down so I asked them to let Greg know that I was ready for him to climb. I felt the rope go slack in my hands and began taking it as fast as Greg climbed up to me. Soon enough his head popped over the roof and he was sitting next to me. He told me that not one piece of gear I had set came loose, which made me proud (not bad for my first try).
Greg anchored in a prepared to belay Kate. Before he did though I tied off on the first rope and had him lower me over the edge of the roof so I could get some pictures of Kate coming up. He dropped me over and I placed a quick couple of tri-cams in a crack just in case. Greg began to belay Kate up and she moved right up. After clearing the roof I waited till Greg was ready for me to come back up. Once at the top we got our gear and ropes in order then set out to see what was up there.
Strange, very strange. Stacks and stacks of boulders, each looking like it'd been placed there. No high peaks that they could have rolled off of, we were the highest things on the mountain. Where they came from I have no idea, if they just eroded that way then even stranger still. We hung out on the top for a while, enjoying the day that finally turned warm and commenting on what a great place it'd be to camp if we could have only climbed with our tents and sleeping bags in our packs. Then we began the task of getting off the mountain.
Coming up a multi-pitch route takes some planning with gear and ropes, and getting off one is no less challenging. After finding the bolted anchors at the top of a different section of the rock wall we put a rope in and began down, one at a time. In between pitches Greg set up a belay station, letting us all attach to the rock before working the rope down the next section. Coming down put us on a different part of the wall, this one was actually three pitches to come down, not the two we'd gone up. After a bit of work (and one soggy rope when it landed in a puddle) we hit the ground. It'd taken several hours round trip and water was the first thing on our minds.
We packed up the gear and decided to head back to camp, every one of us was hungry. Back in camp was a feast that I haven't even repeated at home. Someone had crackers, then someone had wine, then someone had smoked clams, and on and on. By the time we were done dinner was the farthest thing from us, but we knew it'd be getting dark soon so Kate and I made the decision to run into Laramie to get firewood, some hair ties for her, s'more materials, and a grill to cook our dinners on (chicken that had been soaking in BBQ sauce the whole day). We found a grocery store (after being told that Wal-Mart had none of those things), grabbed what we needed and made the 10 mile drive back to camp.
The firewood didn't work as well as it should, but we still managed to stay up late just chatting and enjoying the relative quiet (actually, it was very quiet considering the fact it was Labor Day weekend...) Finally it was time once again to crawl into the sleeping bags and call it a day.
The next day repeated the first, nice looking but very chilly. We made another breakfast, packed the cars and left.Though the trip only lasted to Sunday we were still satisfied and had no problems beating the traffic back to Denver. First the carload of Aran, Kate and myself (Mandy and Greg live near each other so they carpooled back) stopped off at the Sierra Trading Post in Cheyenne for their annual sale. Big dissapointment, their showroom doesn't have nearly the selection of their mail order catalog. I did pick up a great pair of climbing shorts though...
Then it was on back home, with another day off work ahead of us to relax and enjoy the recent adventure.
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