The Article that didn’t make the Paper

So my article came out today in The Collegian,  my editor had to shorten it for the space provided. Below is the actual article I wrote before it was summarized for the space in the paper.

http://www.sdsucollegian.com/2011/10/19/world-class-climbing-not-far-away/

If I could choose one of the X-Men to have as a best friend, I think I would have to go with Storm.  Not because Halle Berry makes me weak in the knees, ok well maybe a little.  However, it’s mainly so I could have whatever weather conditions were more conducive to my day’s activities. I have a long-term relationship with the weather that isn’t necessarily positive.  This past weekend, the weather once again showed its ugly, rainy, wet and cold ass.

It’s Friday, October 7 and I’ve just arrived in the only noteworthy region of South Dakota, The Black Hills.  Thank you Columbus for discovering America so that I could have this three-day weekend 500 years later, or should I say thank you Native Americans for already being here? I have come out here and met up with SDSU alumnus Bryce Drefke.  Let me paint you a picture of Drefke.  He stands at 6’, weighs 226 lbs, used to be an amateur cage fighter, played football for SDSU, wrestled for SDSU and has been alive for 22 years of better than you.

Once upon a time Drefke mocked us rock wall climbing “hippies” as we tied him up to the rope.  It’s a weird sight to see a guy who has been an athlete of athletes since middle school struggle up a 25-foot wall that seven-year-old girls climb.  He was humbled to say the least.  Drefke was instantly hooked, he had found a sport that didn’t come so naturally to him and it gave him more of a rush than standing toe to toe with a guy that wants to turn his face to applesauce.  Before long Drefke was a rock wall employee and to say he fit in was an understatement.

I have successfully gotten completely off track; let me bring you back to the Black Hills.  Ben Ekeren and I have driven out here to do some climbing and biking with Drefke and another SDSU alumnus Kristen Wiles, who has journeyed in from Colorado to join us.  It’s a crisp evening in Rapid City as we leave Bryce’s apartment and his Nursing School studies behind to go enjoy some watered down, $1 pints at a local bar.  The sky is perfectly clear as I gaze up to notice the sliver of moon and stars hovering over the chipper mood of the night.  I lay my head down on the pillow a couple of hours later knowing that I’m climbing in the most secret, yet world class crag (climbing area), the next morning.

This Saturday morning is no ordinary morning of climbing endeavors.  Every year the Black Hills Climbing Coalition (BHCC) hosts a special event in the astonishing Needles of the Black Hills.  The Needles Pumpkin Party.  The Needles are a well-kept secret that us South Dakotans enjoy without the world knowing.  If this area were discovered by the outside world it would attract climbers from all reaches of the globe.  The BHCC protects this area’s secrecy with the intensity of a T-Rex with kidney stones.

The idea behind climbing in the needles is to have giant cahones.  The routes are terrifying, at best.  A lot of the classics here are followed by an R (runout/dangerous) or an X (injuries/fatalities possible) rating that visiting climbers shy away from.  If you look close though, the locals also rate these X and R rated routes with 3 and 4 stars.  20-30 foot runouts without any available placements are commonplace among local climbers, and they love it, we love it.

The pumpkin party is a chance for local climbers to gather, socialize and celebrate what they have to enjoy at their disposal.  The premises is basic, show up with a pumpkin, drink beer, carve your pumpkin, drink beer, climb a spire, put your pumpkin on the spire.  Later on, after some b.s-ing with your buddies, you climb a different spire and bring the pumpkin down while others bring yours down.  The whole thing is social and provides a healthy, happy climbing atmosphere for the whole day. Not this year though, this year I’ve come which of course brings the first rainstorm in four weekends.  Yep, I definitely need to befriend Halle Berry and her weather changing abilities (that movie IS real right?).

We roll onto the Needles highway in a cold, windy rainstorm knowing that no climbing is going down today.  We meet up with Chris, the president of the BHCC in the parking lot as he solemnly updated us on the cancellation of the pumpkin party.  He drives off into the storm, but not before inviting us to lunch and beers to heal the wounded moods of the day.  We decline, because although I’m sad about the rain and thwarted climbing opportunity, Ben is stoked, because you can always bike in the rain.

After six hours of wet biking followed by a hot shower and a few movies, I once again lay down with dreams of the Needles in my head.

“YOU HAVE TO BE KIDDING ME!” I whine as I gaze at yet another storm whipping across the Black Hills.  It looks like Sunday is going to be a bike day once again.  We move slowly this morning, making a hearty breakfast and relaxing before moseying back to the bike trails.  We shred hard, being joined by Drefke mid-day after his copious amounts of studying.  We leave again after 6 hours, got another hot shower, and once again hit the hay with zero climbing on our day’s resume.

Monday morning brings saving grace.  We wake up early to a gorgeous sunshine glazed over the hills and eat a quick breakfast before heading for the Needles.  Today is the last day that the Needles highway will be open for the season, so it is a momentous day for climbing.  Wiles has left for home and Drefke has to study again, so Ekeren and I venture out alone.

We have decided on a route called “God’s Own Drunk”, 5.8+ with a solid 5.9 consensus.  It is located on the north side of the Khayyam spire in the Cathedral Spires area of the Needles.  A 170-foot ascent will bring us to the top of a formation barely big enough for the two of us to straddle.  It is cold this morning, somewhere in the 40′s, and the wind is relentless, but the sun is shining, and the rock is dry. What more could we possibly ask for?  I mean I normally would be staring at the ceiling in Public Relations class.

Big climbs like this are done in legs like a relay, called pitches.  The first pitch is the meat and taters of the route.  It is a huge open book dihedral (corner) with marginal gear options in the crack system.  At one point I look down between my legs to see a 25-foot gap between my feet and my last piece of gear, I’m standing over a 50-foot fall on a #2 cam.  I double up on gear in the next four feet and keep pushing.  I pull up to the first set of anchors and clip in and let a “Yippy ky yay” yell echo throughout the unworldly Cathedral Spires.

Ekeren follows up and meets me at the anchor where we consolidate gear again and I take off for the second pitch.  This pitch would have been scary still, but significantly easier without the added rope drag.  It felt like I was climbing with a 50lb weight attached to my waist. By the time I reach the ledge with the next anchors I can barely squat the amount of weight from my rope drag as it pulls back against my upward progression.  The rope has become so twisted that it is struggling to move through the carabiners on my gear.

After some fancy rope work and clever improvisation, Ekeren once again meets me at the anchors, a little shaken after the scariness of the last pitch. All he has to say was “You’ve got a few screws loose man.”  We both climb the last few feet to the summit.  We are 170 feet up straddling a chunk of ground that maybe 100 other people have ever sat on.

We take pics and high five on our summit as we take in the overwhelming view provided by the Cathedral Spires.  Now for the best part, we grab a rope we’ve been trailing and start hauling our pre-carved pumpkin up the face.  It may not be the official Needles Pumpkin Party, but that pumpkin cost $3.38 and we’re not wasting it.  We relish in the idea of a pumpkin on this tiny little summit and then we make our way down.

Before long we are headed back to the car with the biggest grins on our faces. I am more content than a bed bug in a Serta warehouse.  Six hours later we’re back in Brookings feeling like we were a little bit radder than the rest of the population.  Remember, no matter the weather or the circumstances, Adventure Is What You Make It.

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