Adventures in Cowboy Country
If I could see further than the glow of my fogged headlights on the expressway then maybe I wouldn’t feel so misplaced. Mile markers and exit signs are the only means left to gauge my distance from the destination ahead as I roll on in a gleeful angst of the coming weekend. Morgan sits upright in the passenger seat talking of social nuances over the music of Alt-J while David sleeps in the back. I know none of their thoughts, but mine are on the impending demands of off-widths and sharp granite in Vedauwoo, Wyoming that we will soon face.
As the plains roll on and we enter the state of Wyoming I feel less like I’m going on a climbing trip and more like I’m going to a rodeo. Thick fog blocks my view of any landscape but the billboards with bucking broncos littering the pastures give me a gauge of the culture around me. Buck and rail fences line every inch of highway like beer cans down a dirt road. I’ve been living in the west for almost three months now but I have never actually felt as if I was in the wild west until this moment. The land of cattle and cowboys is unfolding in front of me, I can’t see it but I can feel it.
Vedauwoo (vay –da –voo) or “The Voo” is a climbing area known for it’s numerous off-width sized cracks. Too big to jam your fists into, but too small to fit your body into for chimney moves. This means that the only way to climb them is to fit in half your body and shimmy your way up with various jamming techniques. To climb these cracks technique is of the utmost importance… and I have little experience. The first climbers to establish routes in the area could be defined as outlaws in their own rights. Local Wyoming hardmen, that spent years perfecting their technique in order to get to the top of the areas many granite features. They sowed patches on their knees and taped their hands in preparation of the wrangling that was to ensue.
We rolled into the campsite around 11:30 PM, found the first open spot and relaxed to the comfort of our sleeping bags quite soon after setting up camp for the evening. As the sun rose in the morning we were soon to discover the landscape that the fog had hidden so well the night before. Crawling out of the tent onto dew covered grass, which temporarily chilled the bones of my feet, I stared at the feature of rock known as “The Nautilus”. The cliff that lies in front of me is unlike anything I have seen before. It is as if God were a glass blower, given molten granite, and told do as he pleases. What he then came up with was a large field of rocks shaped like gum drops and domes, then stacked on top of each other in ways that seem impossible for nature to create on its own. In-between these large boulders; cracks seemingly designed for climbing.
We racked our gear on the nearest picnic table as I brewed a mediocre pot of cowboy coffee over an MSR stove. The morning air did not remain cold for long and soon we were in our T-shirts as the last of our gear was packed away in our bags. I stared at the Nautilus while slowly drinking my tin cup flavored coffee and arranged plans with my climbing partners. I saw a finger crack running diagonally across a face that I recognized from a photo. I didn’t know its name, but I knew it was moderate and I knew it would be the first climb of our trip. We didn’t have guidebooks yet; those would be purchased later in the day when we made our way to town. The first climbs we did would be on-sight.
We found our way to the base of the climb, set out our gear and taped our hands for the first time all summer; knuckles softened from months of slab climbing. I racked my harness, tied in and slotted my hand into the first jam. The feeling of a hand jam wasn’t foreign but I had to remind myself a bit of how to climb the angling crack. I kept working my way up, slotting my hands or fingers and smearing my feet on the steep slab below. As I climbed I’d look up, following and in search of the feeling those first outlaws had when they wrangled these cracks 50 years ago.