Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Biking and Climbing in Moab

Jeff arrived in Moab shortly after my last entry. We quickly caught up then proceeded to alternate our days between mountain biking and rock climbing.

We soon began to appreciate the area's main attraction: the weather. Through mostly sunny days we sampled the area's offerings of mountain bike trails and rock routes. Like most places, the quality of the trails and routes spanned the spectrum. From a purely technical standpoint, some I will not miss, others I would gladly repeat. One nice thing about many of the rides (and rock routes) is that the landscape is very open. There isn't much to block your view, and the scenery is pretty. From this standpoint, the rides and routes were mostly pleasant.

The riding surface was usually some variation of sandstone. The best riding surface was found on large monoliths of smooth sandstone the locals call "slickrock cowpies." It's a good description of what they look like. The surface is unforgiving if you fall on it, but the traction (when dry) is as good as it gets. Natural ledges in the stone turn the cowpies into a stunt park for bicycles. At the other end of the spectrum was sandstone in the form of sand. When piled up this stuff makes it feel like you're biking in molasses. It reminds me of biking in deep mud or snow. The deepest sand requires walking the bike. In between the two extremes are rocks and stones of various sizes. I got a lot of flats and wheel rim dings from our rides. I think it was a result of impacting hard surfaces with the tire. After finding the limits of Jeff's patience I started avoiding the rocks. This helped with the flats, but was less entertaining.

As with the bike trails, the rock climbing quality also varied. Neither of us had climbed harder routes in a while. We started off on lower grade routes and gradually worked our way up to a four pitch desert tower called "Castleton Tower", which was rated at 5.9. We had planned on doing this climb on Jeff's last day in town. Unfortunately, the day before our attempt we realized that we didn't have the right gear. We needed at least a couple of larger sized cams for protection. The best rock we climbed ended up being on a local crag called Wall Street. The Wall Street rock didn't have much surface texture, but it was very solid, and contained good cracks.

At the other end of the rock quality spectrum was a two pitch tower in Arches National Park called "Dark Angel". It had one route on it, also a 5.9, with a short bit of A0 aid. Like Castleton, Dark Angel is set in a scenic place. However, some of the rock on Dark Angel was horrid, especially at the start. I saw rocks instantly transform themselves into a cloud of powder when pressure was put on them. After releasing a large boulder I learned to stay off the worst stuff and be suspicious of everything I touched. Some flakes would bend visibly when I pulled on them. Jeff said leading on the bad stuff was the most scared he's been in a while. I could see why. The protection is only as good as the rock it's in. In addition to the poor quality of some of the rock, there were many moves which forced awkward body positions and squeezes. We concluded that the only reason the route existed was because it's the only way up a prominent spire. Hiking the few miles back to the van in the dark was a final (and fitting) kick in the pants from the Dark Angel.

Jeff started his return trip to Oregon this morning. It was good to catch up and spend time with him. As always, I've enjoyed exploring with Jeff. I think we both enjoy the uncertainties in life and the range of possibilities which that uncertainty entails. Good luck Jeff, whatever you do next.

As for me, I think it's time to leave the Moab area as well. I'll be meeting Ann in Las Vegas at the end of November. Between now and then I'll gradually make my way west through southern Utah and northern Arizona before heading into Vegas.

Photos from the past couple of weeks can be found here.

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