Closing the Loop

March 4/5, 2000

Last year, on the spur of the moment, I decided to ride the famous White Rim trail in Canyonlands National Park. This is considered by many to be one of the great mountain biking rides in the world. The ride drops down one thousand feet from the high Island in the Sky uplift to the first rim of the canyon. The Colorado River is still far below, but a relatively flat rim is formed at this level. The edge of the rim is lined with strikingly beautiful white sandstone. The rim varies in width from about a mile to nearly nothing and a 4WD road contours along this rim. Rim to rim, the ride is 80 miles and that's what Homie, Mark Oveson and I did last year. Closing the loop involves 20 more miles and 1500 more vertical feet. This was the goal.

Last year, I had trouble finding any companions for this ride. Doing the ride in March makes it tougher to find people fit enough to ride 100 miles. In fall after many months of prime biking weather, it would be easy. Homie turned me down last year, but when Mark Oveson agreed to do it (he'll do anything on no training), Homie felt he had to go. He didn't want to miss out.

Last year, Homie got his ass kicked on this ride. Early on, he was out in front since it involved some very fast downhill terrain. Homie is the undisputed king of the downhill amongst my circle of biking friends. His skills and bravado gain him so much time over the rest of us that it takes a long time to catch up. But after 30 or 40 miles his lack of training started to wear him down and he trailed from then on. We weren't racing or pushing the pace but he dropped off the back anyway. He made it, but it hurt him badly.

This year things were different. Last year we had the excuse of doing a big climb in Taylor Canyon and had to stop before closing the loop. This year we had to close the loop. Riding the White Rim in early March is a wilderness experience. We only saw two other people (in vehicles) in 100 miles of canyon country. The White Rim is extremely popular in April/May and most people do vehicle supported rides in 3-4 days. In early March, there is little chance of any support from other groups. We'd have to be prepared to ride completely without support. This meant carrying enough food and water to bike 100 miles since there is no chance for either on this ride.

This year Homie kicked ass. Homie was enthusiastic about closing the loop this year. He even went out and did some training. And recruited a couple of friends, Matt and Mikey Record. They teamed with Mark Oveson for a long training ride and Matt proved to be the strongest. Mark recruited his good friend, The Fern, and Fern recruited his cousin Eric from Florida. While Fern is an avid biker and former bike racer, Eric's training consisted of a single 30 mile road bike ride on the Florida coast. He'd have some problems with the altitude, climbing, and length of this ride.

I was much more successful this time in wooing victims to the slaughter. My long time climbing partners, Trashy and Hardly, signed up, along with a new climbing partner, BTO Bockmann, and a couple of new running friends, Buzz Burrell and Peter Bakwin. That gave us a total of 12 riders! What a mob. All males. Boo! Hiss! Where are the tough chicks when you need them? But the group was even bigger than that. Along for moral support were the Baron von Goo, Sally "Hand jam" (don't ask!) Moser, Neeraj, Skippy Peanut butter and his wife Susan, and Lisel, Mikey's wife.

We all separately drove out to the Mineral Bottom Road and Highway 313 junction, which is just outside Canyonlands National Park. Six vehicles converged there at various times throughout Friday night. I drove out in my RV with the Baron, BTO, Hand jam, and Trashy. Earlier in the week, Peter had done the homework on the sunrise/set times and said we should be riding by 6:30 a.m. He and Buzz were the only ones not ready at 6:30 and we left without them. Peter and Buzz are both ultra runners and had previously biked the White Rim in a day. This was a fairly easy adventure for them, but would push the rest of us pretty hard. Hence, we didn't feel bad about letting them play catch up early on. The roles would eventually be reversed.

Hardly would be doing the White Rim as his first mountain bike ride. Without any training. That sounds crazy, doesn't it? Stupid even? I don't know. He's the toughest guy I know, bar none. His first big wall was the Salathe Wall on El Capitan so he's used to jumping in at the deep end. He didn't even have a bike. He borrowed my old mountain bike and, judging from his comments, he won't be making me an offer on it. If it was anyone else doing such a thing, I would have strongly counseled them to abandon the idea. But I've never done anything Hardly couldn't do better.

Once again, no one could stay with Homie on the downhills. Even in a much larger group, Homie rules. Fern was the next fastest, but he wasn't very close. I was probably the slowest, being timid and unskillful. Homie was off the front frequently during the earlier going because he gained so much ground on whom ever he was riding with whenever a downhill came up. He'd flow through them while everyone else would brake. He wasn't trying to drop anyone but was just enjoying the exhilaration of cruising downhill.

We regrouped at Musselman Arch - an awesome span of rock across a gaping, hundred foot void. Five of us rode across for the photographers in the group. We shed clothing here and ate and drank somewhat. I introduced everyone in the group. Before pulling off his shirt, Mark Oveson said, "I'll warn you not to look directly at my chest. At least not without some sort of eye protection." When he whipped off the shirt, sure enough his skin was of such alabaster white that the glint off his skin blinded me. I changed to my sunglasses while Mark grabbed a thick roll around his middle and said, "Here's your White Rim!"

At Airport campground, where most riders stop the first night, we regrouped again. Mikey Record excused himself from the group and was standing over by a bush. I thought he'd be peeing, but he had one pant leg hiked all the way up to his crotch. What the heck was going on over there!? Turns out he was wearing a biking bib and threading his unit down the pant leg was the easiest way to pee. Strange bikers...

We ran across Stephanie, Peter's wife, and Kurt running along the trail. They had run down a hiking trail from the rim and would run along the White Rim for awhile and then ascend a different trail. They'd end up running about 30 miles. It was fun to meet up with them and of course run them off the road as the big peloton hammered by. Well, maybe not quite like that.

At another regrouping stop forty miles into the ride, Buzz and Peter had had enough. They told me they'd be continuing without stopping any more and hoped to see us at dinner that night. I knew we wouldn't see them again. We were moving quite slow and would further fragment later on. I agreed with their call and wished them a great ride.

Murphy's Hogback was the first big climb on the ride and it marked the exact half way point for riders closing the loop. Actually, it turned out to be about two miles further than halfway, but we didn't know that at the time. In the lead group at this time was Homie, Matt, Mikey, and I. Once we hit the really steep part of Murphy's I immediately dismounted as did Mikey. We didn't want to burn ourselves out on such a steep, loose climb this far from the end. I never could have climbed it clean anyway. No one in our group really attempted to clean this hill. Buzz and Peter got it clean though.

We waited at the summit for a long time. The rest of the group straggled in. BTO was the penultimate to arrive and immediately sought out shade off to the side. He was hurting, but committed to the loop. He had to be committed for it was shorter to continue on to the rim, where support was waiting, than to turn around. Eric sat directly in the middle of the 4WD road and said, "24 hours ago, I thought I was in pretty good shape." He looked wasted and would have a tough ride ahead of him. The rest of us were feeling pretty good, but Hardly still hadn't arrived.

I rode back over to the top of the hill to look for Hardly. He was pushing his bike up the last steep part of Murphy's Hogback and sweat was streaming down his face. Trying to be positive, I said, "Isn't it beautiful country out here?" His response, "I wouldn't know." I knew he was hurting. He didn't know that we all had pushed our bikes up that section. He was 52 miles from the start. 48 miles to go. 35 miles to the rim where a support vehicle would be waiting. He was riding a heavy, unfamiliar bike on big knobby tires. Most of the rest of us had installed semi-slicks for this long ride. He carried a lot of weight including tons of water and a headlamp. He'd need both. Nevertheless, he was determined to make it and encouraged us to continue without him and not to wait anymore. Knowing Hardly well, I knew he was sincere. I'm sure he hated having everyone wait for him at every stop. This was an extremely unfamiliar situation for him to be in. He is always the strongest and fastest. He's used to waiting for others and always did so patiently. He's had enough practice at that. But never on the other end. Perhaps this was a good experience for him to know what it felt like to be a straggler. I'm sure he doesn't want to relive it and he never badgered the stragglers before, but now he knows what it feels like. No one (except Buzz and Peter who had already taken off) minded waiting, but that didn't matter to Hardly. He'd rather straggle in last just one more time: at the very end. As he approached me up that hill he said "I think I've bitten off a bit too much this time." I've never heard him say this before.

I explained the new situation to the group. We'd been riding for six hours and were only halfway back to the cars. At this pace, if we didn't slow down on the second, hillier half of the ride, we'd finish after dark. BTO, hiding out in the shade, asked, "Are we going to be stopping any more?" We decided that we wouldn't wait any longer for Hardly and BTO. They'd have to continue at their pace and enjoy it as much as they could. We'd continue around as a group of eight and send down a support vehicle to give the stragglers a ride or at least take their extra weight and give them more food and water. I felt a bit bad by leaving these two, but there really wasn't much we could do for them at this stage. The best thing we could do was to get the support vehicle started down just in case things got worse on the second half. That said, I wouldn't have wanted to be left. My ambition to ride strong and stay with my other friends got the best of me and I continued. Now I feel that, while I succeeded as a rider, I probably failed as a friend. I'm impatient with slower people and like to move fast and at my own pace. Yet when I'm the slow one, and this happens frequently with my group of friends, I don't want to be left. I really want to be fast enough to keep up, but barring that I'd like someone to stay back with me. I never ask for it, but I always appreciate it when they do. I guess my insecurities about my strength and endurance urge me onward to prove that I can keep up with these guys. Changing that behavior will be hard for me. But it will make me a better person.

After Murphy's and the decision to split into two groups, a further sub-group of six emerged at the front. Absent from this group were Eric, who wasn't a surprise since he was wasted and hurting at the top of Murphy's Hogback, and Matt, who had been going strong. Little did we know and wouldn't find out until almost 9 hours later, but Matt had flatted (the only flat out of all 12 riders and over 1100 combined bike miles) just a couple of miles past Murphy's. Matt apparently had brought the wrong tubes for his bike. His rims were for Presta values, but his spare tubes were for Schrader. He tried to patch the hole, but his glue was hardened. Hardly gave him his glue. Reluctant to wait since he had been dead last most of the day and reassured by Matt that he had everything he needed, Hardly continued on. Matt wasn't able to fix the flat because it was so close to the stem. He was stranded 54 miles into the ride, 46 miles from the finish, and 33 miles from the rim and support help. He'd spend the next six hours walking his bike almost twenty miles before help arrived. When we next saw him, he had a huge smile on face and was laughing at his folly. Isn't there anything that can get this group down? I've never seen such positive attitudes out of so many people under severe physical and mental stress. I know I wouldn't fare as well.

Fern went off the front after Murphy's and stayed away from the group for quite awhile. Homie, Mikey and I rode in pursuit for many miles and eventually caught him at a camp spot where Fern was taking a break. When Mark Oveson arrived, he didn't even slow down saying, "I can't stop any more or I'll never be able to start up again." I hopped on the bike and continued on to ride a few miles with Mark. We all agreed to regroup at the top of Hardscrabble Hill. Later, Homie and I went off the front a bit and rode together up Hardscrabble.

Riding next to me on a hill was a dangerous proposition as I don't hold a very straight line. When things get tough and I slow down, my poor balance causes me to weave across the road in a desperate attempt to stay upright. On an earlier hill I weaved into Homie's path and caused him to stop. Since then whenever approaching a hill, if I was near Homie, I'd ask him if he wanted to get out in front. Frequently he'd turn me down and still follow behind. One reason is that I tend to climb the hills at a faster rate than Homie because my gearing isn't as low and I need more speed in order to not fall over. But I suspect the real reason he elected to stay back was for entertainment. I remember on a tough hill a ways before Hardscrabble, where I was just ahead of Homie when he reminded me that I didn't clean this hill last year. I was determined to make it this year but fairly early on, I spun my back tire. I struggled to recover, failed, and then couldn't get my foot out of my pedals. Plop! Over I went onto my side. Homie just chuckled as he rode by. It must have looked hilarious.

On Hardscrabble Homie rode everything clean except for one twenty foot section of very steep, very loose dirt. Only Buzz and Peter, we would later learn, cleaned this section. Buzz, in fact, rode the entire loop clean - even the seemingly impossible sand section after Hardscrabble. Amazing! I fell off again on the last steep section of Hardscrabble and had to push up the remaining section.

We stopped at the summit and soon Fern, Mikey, and Mark arrived. I said there was no point waiting longer than twenty minutes for Matt and Eric. We were low on water and food and couldn't carry them out. There was really nothing we could do for them except send down a vehicle to check on them. At this point, we had concluded that Matt must have had a mechanical problem. Eric we figured was just fading further. We ate and drank and soon Trashy arrived. After 25 minutes we were off again down the fast descent. Fern and Homie led the way down this quick descent. Homie must have been feeling spry because he went off the front a ways. He claims it was only on the downhills, but things are pretty flat after Hardscrabble. I rode with Fern and we talked about hard hill climbs. Fern has done the Triple Bypass a number of times and would like to do the Mt. Evans Race, which I've done three times. He told me about doing some 9 mile hill with 4000 feet of gain in under an hour! Dang. I was looking forward to an epic battle up the Mineral Bottom road. But when we arrived at Potato Bottom, at the base of the climb back to the rim, Fern announced that he was going to wait for Mark and ride the last stretch with him. What a loyal friend. Mark had previously reminded Fern about waiting for him when he had altitude sickness on the Triple Bypass. Mark said, "Remember how we finished together? I hope you remember that today." Fern did indeed remember and they finished together.

Buzz and Peter hit the rim first, spouting to the support team how they had done rim to rim in 9:03 hours. Buzz took aid at the top, but he's already done it unsupported before and cared little about this distinction. He and Peter apparently had a bit of an attitude with our support crew of Lisel, Neeraj, Magoo, Judy, Skippy, Susan and Sally. They told Judy to start driving immediately for a rescue operation for Hardly. Buzz and Peter made a common mistake. They didn't know and underestimated these riders. Buzz and Peter, as previously stated, are ultra endurance athletes and might have a slight air of superiority because of their past achievements. But when it comes to pure toughness, they are marshmallows compared to Hardly Manson. They didn't know Hardly and assumed weakness. With people around Boulder, this is almost always a mistake. No matter how hot shit you think you are, you'll be humbled in Boulder. Hardly would make the rim. Tired, yes, but still with a smile, and no complaints. He whined less in 85 miles of hard biking than Peter did about potentially bad weather on the drive out there. I am proud of Hardly? Yes. He's my hero.

Peter and Buzz weren't supermen leaving a group of gumbies behind them, as implied to our support team. They just didn't like the regrouping stops. This is exactly how Peter's runs are done on Thursday nights. It makes the runs very enjoyable and quite social, but almost worthless as a workout. I told them before that this ride would be the same experience. But obviously it was too much regrouping for them. That's fine, of course and I encouraged them to continue on at their pace. I was just a bit disheartened to learn of their attitude at the rim.

I coasted up to the RV feeling a bit weary. I racked the bike, walked in and reached for the microwave popcorn. I needed salt badly. Horror of horrors, the generator wouldn't start! Talk about a desperate situation. The ride was a picnic compared to this disappointment. Thankfully, I was rescued by Magoo's chips and salsa. Every rider to finish would go through these same motions and we completely devoured Magoo's chips and salsa. Thanks, Magoo!

My car to car time was 11:13. Mikey and Homie finished in 11:32 and Mikey's bike computer record a total riding time of 9:10. I figure my total riding time was just under nine hours - around 11 miles per hour.

Here is Mike Record's description of the ride from the rim back to the car:

"I don't know if you heard me complaining when I got back to the RV, but I was pretty delirious the final few miles. When I started up the road, my stopwatch said 10:15. I figured at an average speed of 9 mph, it would take me 90 minutes to finish. My odometer said 87 miles, so I decided to leave the display on the stopwatch and wait exactly one hour before looking at the odometer again. If I was on pace, the mileage should read 95. Well, somehow I managed to wait 60 minutes. At 11:15, I switched the display to the odometer. Halleluiah! It read 95.26!! I would be done very soon. I left the display on the odometer, and started to watch the hundredths tick by. Only they didn't tick very fast. In fact, they were hardly moving at all. It took eons before the thing read 95.27. What was going on?! I couldn't have been going *that* slow! True, I was getting tired. And the road was inclining up at an alarming rate. But shouldn't it have turned over to 95.28 by now? Crimony, what was going on?? I almost said something to John, maybe a half-joke about my computer being broken. But talking was too much effort. I decided to grimace and bear it. And then the top of the RV came into sight just beyond the crest of the hill. Whoopee! John and I finished together. I looked at my computer. "Damn!" It only read 95.34. I was going to have to pedal around the parking lot just to get my full 100 miles in. And then I realized something. I had switched the display to total cumulative miles. Not trip miles. By some cruel coincidence of fate, my total accumulated mileage was nine hundred fifty three point four. That's 953.4. In my bleary-eyed state, I failed to notice the exact location of the decimal point. I had been watching tenths tick by, not hundredths! Oh joy of joys, the trip distance was 100.06!! I didn't have to pedal anymore!!"

Trashy was the next to arrive - just a couple of minutes ahead of Mark and Fern, who arrived around 6:30 p.m. Mark and Fern almost immediately got into their van and headed back down the road to check on Eric. They found him seven miles from the finish, extremely tired and starting to get cold. He was so close, but didn't hesitate to take the ride. Later, he'd say that when he saw the headlamps approaching he was half hoping it was them to rescue him and half hoping it wasn't them so that he'd be forced to close the loop. With the possibility of a ride, he couldn't muster the will to close the loop. My friend Tim Nickles made exactly this same choice last year.

We waited a long time after that. We were starting to get worried. Not about the other riders, but about the possibility of all the restaurants in Moab being closed by the time we got there. I encouraged Susan and Skippy to just head in and eat, but they wouldn't abandon ship. Fern and Eric took off back to Salt Lake City and Buzz and Peter were long gone, but the rest of us all piled into the RV for food, drinks and stories. It was a packed group in there and lots of fun. Finally, around 8:30 p.m. lights approached. When they flashed us, we knew it was them and scrambled outside to get the story. Hardly was wasted and barely moved from the back of the truck. He told the story of pushing his bike all the way up the final hill to the rim. He could have taken a ride out, but turned it down. Damn, this guy is tough. BTO had waited for Hardly the entire second half of the ride. He didn't want to leave Hardly alone and probably didn't want to ride completely alone either. Yet he frequently got far ahead of Hardly. At one point, BTO waited for almost 45 minutes before he finally started to backtrack in search of Hardly. He rode back a mile before finding Hardly. To turn around and ride the opposite direction this far into a ride is impressive. The character of this group is unsurpassed. I aspire to rise up to the level of my companions, not only in terms of physical achievement but mostly in character and compassion. BTO and Hardly both eschewed the ride in the truck and pushed their bikes side by side up the final hill in the dark.

At the rim, they piled into the truck with Matt and Judy. Judy had to be the hero of the day. She hadn't really met Matt that morning and when Matt, who had been pushing his bike for endless hours, saw the truck approach and a beautiful woman emerge and say, "Need a ride?" he thought she was an angel sent from heaven. And indeed she was an angel. A finer, more giving person you will not find. Judy drove over the treacherous Hardscrabble Hill alone and in the dark to rescue someone she didn't even know. She just knew someone was back there and needed help and didn't need to know anything else. She wouldn't return without him. Was she pissed that she had to drive so far? No. She smiled while picking up Matt, flushed with the tremendous joy and fulfillment of coming to the rescue of someone in dire need. In some ways she might have had the most satisfying day of all. The rest of us just did a ride. She rescued a new friend. She was widely hailed and toasted at dinner that evening. Matt offered to buy dinner and beers until she couldn't stand up. All were turned down. Good will was more than enough payment. If she ever needs help, there is going to be a stampede to help her. And Matt will be leading the charge.

We loaded into our vehicles and headed for Moab. The original plan was to invade Trish, Mark' wife, and the Wild Bunch, Mark's four kids, at their hotel room and order pizza. That plan was shelved because we like Trish and want to keep her as a friend and we found out Eddy McStiff's was still open. We got a big table and the entire group had a great dinner. The joy and goodwill flowed around the table like a strong river. I felt buoyant. Not because of my ride, but because of my company. I am such a lucky man. As with climbing, the adventure is grand and the scenery outstanding, but these perks are dwarfed by the big rewards: great companions.

Mark's comments on the ride:

I was so wasted, and my butt so sore, that by the end of the ride I was getting off the bike to walk up the littlest hills. Any excuse! I will probably not do this ride again in one day unless I've got many more bike miles under my belt for the season. It's just too painful. I'm so glad that I did it, though, and got it ticked off the list.


Just like last year, I still consider this my favorite mountain bike ride. This is just so much fun. The terrain is relatively non-technical - which is a huge plus for a Gumby mountain biker like myself. Out of the 100 miles I pushed my bike less than a mile and most of that was because I wasn't fit enough to ride the steep hills clean or to ride the extremely difficult sandy sections clean. The views are sublime. Around every corner I am gaping with appreciation for the beauty. So many formations to climb; so many canyons to explore; so many sights to see. The weather once again was perfect. This was a necessity for making the loop with a smile on our face. Wind or rain would have made this miserable to un-doable.

My altimeter watch recorded a total elevation gain of 6260 feet. Trashy got 7400 on his altimeter which was sampling the altitude every 20 seconds instead of per minute like mine. Seems like a great disparity, but suffice it to say that the gain is well over 6000 feet. This surprised me. Before the ride I had guessed under 4000 feet. After the ride I would have guessed about the same. No other rider guessed more than 5000 feet. It just didn't seem like that much to me since it was spread out over such a big distance. Two weeks previous to this ride I did 10,000 vertical in 38 miles. The White Rim is flat compared to that. I'm still amazed. It seems like there are just three hills: Murphy's Hogback, Hardscrabble (both pretty small at 500 vertical feet) and the climb back to the rim (900 feet). I failed to take into account that there is about 1200 more feet of climbing from the rim back the car and that there are a number of smaller hills all along the way. Buzz had said before that he didn't consider this a very flat ride. He was right. I was wrong.

Everyone got a room at the Best Western that night except for the RV crowd who just slept in the parking lot. The next morning we went to the Chinese restaurant right next to the hotel. Egg rolls for breakfast? Not! They serve a $2.99 eggs, bacon, hash browns, and toast breakfast that was delicious. At breakfast were the RV crowd (BTO, Baron von Goo, Sally, Trashy, myself) and Hardly's group (Hardly, Judy, Neeraj, Susan, Skippy). Homie, Matt, Mikey, and Lisel were slow risers and taking advantage of the shower. Mark was sleeping in, but Trish and Jacob ("What's your favorite food that begins with a 'C'?" I guessed candy, but the right answer was Cheezits) were up walking around. We headed to Arches National Park, only a few miles outside of town, to try and squeeze in a desert tower ascent before the coming storm hit.

Our objective was the Right Chimney route on the Penguins formation. This route is called a "forgotten classic." In his guidebook, Stewart Green calls it "possibly the finest free climb in Arches National Park with good rock and superb jamming." Arches formations are constructed of Entrada sandstone which is particularly sandy and scary to climb on - nothing like the solid Wingate sandstone of the Castle Valley and Indian Creek. Hardly and I had some experience on this rock and knew this 10c route would be challenging. The route itself isn't a chimney at all, but a thin hand to hand to fist to offwidth crack climb. The route is two pitches long, but only 140 feet high so it could easily be combined into one pitch.

After gearing up in the parking lot, we hiked and drove up the road for a half mile. Initially we were stumped as how to approach the base of the climb, but found two ways to bypass the very serious approach pitch on the lower, very rotten rock. We traversed in on an exposed ledge system which was a neat little mini-adventure all by itself. I got to the route first, but didn't have my pack since I wasn't sure my approach would go. I descended back down to take my pack from BTO, who was bringing it up for me. By the time I returned, Hardly was nearly ready to launch up the route. I really wanted to climb this route because the alternative was a desperate, run out squeeze chimney just to the left. Hardly knew this and knew I had selected the tower and the route. He had every right to head on up the route in front of me, but he didn't. He knew it would disappoint me and it wasn't worth it to him. I thought this a gracious move considering the threatening weather.

I did a "Trashman tape job" on my hands. This consists of just wrapping tape around your hand in one long piece. It tends to roll off and doesn't give the best coverage for your knuckles, but it can be done in about 30 seconds. Soon I was geared and ready to go. Trashy gave me a belay. I told Hardly to follow me up the pitch a couple of pieces behind because it was starting to rain and we could see a big storm coming. If the rain got steady, we'd have to descend because climbing on wet sandstone is dangerous to the climbers and the route. Hardly ended up leading the route at the same time as I led it. This proved a bit complex for him with my gear and rope in the way, but it maximized our climbing time.

With the wind picking up and some droplets falling, I thrashed upwards. A few nice jams led to the first crux of thin hands or off fingers. The climbing on the first pitch was entirely up a right facing dihedral and here I was able to do a bit of lie backing and stemming in order to reduce the load on my arms. I found this section the most difficult of the route and almost came off here. I probably would have come off except the urgency of the conditions forced me to climb fast. Hence, I didn't have enough time to do my classic pump-out and fall off routine. Above, great hand jams led to an awkward wide section at a bulge. By working my feet up very high and getting into a crouch, I was then able to stretch completely by this wide section and get another hand jam. A drop knee (hey, a gym move!) helped establish me above this section. The final bit to the belay was offwidth and proved its usual challenge. I clipped the anchor, which consisted of three drilled pitons and a chain.

Trashy started following my lead as Hardly reached the belay. Hardly had easily cruised the pitch and thought it was easier than 10c. I was reluctant to downgrade the pitch and hoped instead that I was climbing strong. Trashy had to take tension to remove one of my cams which had walked far into the crack. Thankfully he was able to retrieve it. Further up Trashy confirmed the grade in my mind, when he came off at the wide section. Trashy almost never falls off something that I can do. I asked Trashy if he wanted the second pitch and he declined. It was rated 10a and offwidth, which doesn't work so well for Trashy now that his left wrist has a pin in it (the effects of a nasty fall while ski mountaineering in the Cascades). I headed off, now out of the corner and climbing up the crack that splits the right penguin from the center penguin. This cracks starts off as perfect hands but it is slightly more than vertical. Luckily there was a foothold about ten feet up and the angle eased back to less than vertical. I placed a couple of #2 Camalots on the lower section and now placed a #4 Camalot. Here I had to make a tricky transition from right side in to left side in. At this point I could still get fist jams, but further up, just where the wall went vertical again, the crack became offwidth. The next five feet were quite challenging and physical. I'm sure glad it was short. I placed a #4.5 Camalot here and started arm barring and heel-toeing. My first attempt only netted me about three feet and my technique wasn't working. I slid back down until I could get a foothold for my right foot and reassessed the situation. My second attempt wasn't really any different in technique, but this time I was committed to exert the necessary effort. Thrashing, groveling, whining, etc. ensued. In other words, my standard offwidth technique. The crux for me was moving my arm bar from below the #4.5 Camalot to above it. If I wasn't such a sissy, I'd have placed the piece lower - at waist level - and never had to encounter this problem. Then I could have moved up the arm bar an inch at a time. Finally I got high enough for a locker chicken wing and let out a whoop of delight. The terrain was still very steep, but I rested comfortably on this lock and then squirmed the last six feet to the anchors.

As soon as I crested the ridge the wind hit me and I got cold. I was just below the summits of both right and center penguins where the sling anchors dangled. There were a couple of in situ carabiners here. While I shivered at the belay, the Trashman began cleaning the pitch. Meanwhile Judy was zooming up the first pitch. She'd say later that she came off on this pitch, but I'm amazed to hear that since she seemed to climb confidently when I was watching. Judy and I usually climb at the same level so I assumed she was clean on this pitch. Undoubtedly the fist sections were much tougher for her. The Trashman dispatched most of the final pitch with ease, but also stalled at the offwidth section. He struggled to reach the chicken wing rest I had raved about and when he finally threw his arm into position I thought he had it. But moments later, the wing popped and he slipped down six inches. I asked, "You want tension?" but he was too busy fighting gravity to respond. I figured he didn't want tension until he slipped further. Trashy then threw in the chicken wing again, but this time instead of placing his palm against the wall of the crack, he placed the knuckles of his fist. I'd never seen a move like this. Then he moved up and leaned into the crack as far as he could. I think he jammed his helmet in there to move up his lock. Then he belly rolled into the squeeze before he was secure. I knew I was watching a master climber practicing his craft. Spellbound, I watched with the rapt attention of protégé observing his mentor exercising all the tricks of his trade.

Once Trashy hit the belay, he quickly bouldered out the final 5.9 move to put him on the summit of the center Penguin. After down climbing, I repeated this move. We were just rapping off as Hardly arrived at the belay. Not satisfied with the puny challenge this offwidth provided, Hardly made things more interesting by pinching his lead rope between his foot and the crack. This made upward movement the challenge he was looking for. Of course, under those conditions he found the climbing difficult also. Trashy and I rapped off. Judy started up the second pitch and BTO was already a ways up the first pitch. He was top roping this pitch and belayed by Sally. BTO, a 5.13 sport climber, had little trouble with a silly 5.10 crack climb. He waited a top the first pitch so that he could climb the second pitch. Trashy belayed Sally, remember her nickname is Hand jam, up the first pitch. Sally soared up the corner with remarkable ease and speed. She stopped once at a good stance to warm up her hands. My hands were freezing and I was just standing on the ground.

Once Judy hit the top, she quickly rapped down and, on the way by BTO, handed him a rope so that he could climb the next pitch. BTO had the obligatory struggle with the offwidth and even commented that he thought it was hard! A mere 5.10. Must have been the lack of face holds. BTO was quickly lowered to the ground and Hardly set up the double rope rappel and finally descended. Despite belaying in the wind and cold, he was his normal imperturbable self. Glad that everyone got the opportunity to climb as high as they desired. Most of the time we were watched by Neeraj, Homie, Mikey, Matt, and Lisel, but none wanted to give the crack a try. This would have been an excellent crack for Homie - the inventor of the butt jam and ass lock. The wide cracks on this route offered ample opportunity for Homie's favorite techniques. His ground breaking philosophy was to consider the ass not merely as dead weight, but another appendage to be used as fully as the arms and legs. Once Homie has a solid ass lock he can literally make himself a sandwich before continuing. I think he has even bivied from one particularly bomber butt jam. Of course his ass was so sore the next morning that riding the White Rim Trail in a day seemed like a vacation for his butt.

We packed up and headed down. The quick weekend trip was drawing to a close. All that remained was the drive home. This went smoothly except for the blizzard from Vail to Idaho Springs. Fish tailing down Vail Pass in traffic while driving an RV was the most stressful part of the entire weekend for me. At one point, after a particularly stressful, jerky incident where I was pumping the brakes madly and swerving to avoid sliding cars, I looked in my rearview mirror to see Trashy standing by the door. I thought he was getting ready to jump out if a collision seemed imminent. I learned later he was just returning from the back bedroom. He had run back there to try and get more weight over the back wheels. But I shouldn't complain. My four passengers were experiencing an epic of their own: they almost ran out of paper in which to record the score in the game of Hearts they were playing. Talk about a tense situation!