Traveling Part 3: Great Faces, Great Places
I graduated from South Dakota State University last year and told myself I wasn’t coming back. Here I was. Back by definition. My eyes trained up, the road became secondary while I scanned the granite spires towering above me. Every time I walk into those spires I feel like I’ve stepped into a scene from the Lord of the Rings.
I left Fort Collins early in the morning in an effort to get some climbing in after the four hour drive. I arrived at Rushmore around 1:30 to find out my partner had bailed. I went and scouted some boulder problems I had been interested in and finished the day out by soloing some easy routes I have done so many times in the past. Each sharp crystal brought back memories of the four years I climbed here. Even after a year of climbing in world class destinations all over Utah, this place still amazes me every time.
Just as this trip is about climbing, it’s also about the completely, utterly, absolutely radical people I know at all the places I’m going. Bryce Drefke….doesn’t make that list. He’s not even strong, he is a softy and can’t grow facial hair. He’s a male nurse! What a boob.
I told him I was going to beat him up if he didn’t let me stay at his place and if he didn’t make me dinner.Bryce had all of Thursday off, and he was just as stoked as me to get on some cool summits. The new Rushmore guidebook was opening my eyes even more to the endless stellar lines that are scattered throughout the forest of granite needles. One summit I was always interested in was the summit of Old Baldy. Old Baldy is the most visible large mass of stone in the Rushmore area. I chose this two pitch 5.8+ called the Grecian Formula. The first pitch is 5.8+, the crux coming in at about 90 feet up. It’s a flaring butt crack with bomber hand jams deep at the back of the crack. It’s wide enough to off width the flaring portion with chicken wings and heel-toe cams while just deep enough to get bomber hand-fist jams for progression. It was the most awkward crack I’ve ever grunted through and was worth the struggle.
Bryce is relatively new to climbing. He’s one of those guys that got hooked on the challenge and has grown to like every other aspect of climbing. Once he crushed the crux crack of Grecian Formula and joined me on our 120 foot perch, I told him he was gonna lead the second pitch. I was throwing him into a style of trad climbing that most weren’t used to. A lot of extendable draws, rope drag play and route finding are key in the Black Hills. The second pitch was 5.7, easy for Bryce but it was heady with about 5 pieces in the last 70 feet. He crushed it! We pushed from the anchors to the summit ropeless and signed the summit register. Perched on top of Old Baldy’s summit, you can see the massive open expanse of the Great Plains to the East and the rolling, dark green hills of the Black Hills to the West. All around us, small granite needles peak above the treeline. A lifetime of climbing was sprawled out in front of us.
That night Bryce had to get some homework done because he can’t even finish college like a grown up. So, I put on my big boy pants and met an old college friend (Shoutout to Brynn!) down at the bar. One trend I am enjoying the most on this trip is friends. The last few years I have kept a strong focus on climbing. Getting stronger, training more, climbing more, learning more. All of this was leading up to my imminent graduation where I had grand plans to live in SLC where climbing would be my life. Which it was. Everything came together and I climbed more than I ever imagined and loved every minute of it. But I started to realize that not only did I love climbing, I really loved the people I was with when climbing, and the people I was with after climbing. I realized one thing I love more than climbing, is people. In my own opinion, I have the best friends in the world. Being able to travel around and see all of them has quickly taken over as my number one motivation of the trip. Like Bryce, he’s actually a really good friend of mine despite all the shit talking.
Ryan (my broha) came in early Friday morning, we grabbed some breakfast and rushed out to Rushmore. It was chilly in the upper 30’s. I wanted Ryan to lead a route that wasn’t run of the muck, something that isn’t straight up. I enjoy getting Ryan out of his comfort zone with climbing. I picked an easy route called Solitaire (5.7) which was south facing and had a cool plank walking section. The route ascends a cream colored water groove before tying in with a thin fin connecting two summits. Once you hit the fin, you have to walk a 10 foot unprotected catwalk to the face of the other summit. From there you can clip a bolt where you step onto the new face and that’s the crux. Right after that is the chains. Ryan got nervous but crushed his fears and summited with style. He brought me up as the second and he got a good taste of the beautiful views of the granite sea around us.
After that, we switched places so I could lead a really awesome 5.10b on the Child’s Molar formation. It’s called Nitrous Rockcide, and it would have definitely been a classic but it had gotten really cold. After our first route the temperatures dropped and the sun disappeared behind a gray sky. About three quarters up I had lost all feeling in my fingertips and began to flail as I scrambled for holds. My tips were so numb I could’t even tell what I was grabbing. I looked like a blind man searching for brail as my hands tested everything until I couldn’t do it anymore. There I was, hanging on a 10b. I was pretty ashamed but I just couldn’t beat the cold. We summited regardless, Ryan struggling with the same finger issues. Even though we only got two pitches in, and the weather was shitty, I had a great time. Ryan is one of my favorite climbing partners and I’m bummed we won’t get to climb together much anymore.
That evening Ryan and I joined our family for a wedding rehearsal for our younger cousin, Ashten. It was great to be around family and to see everyone I had missed after college. The next morning we moved slow, only making it to a small crag just outside of Rapid City called Falling Rock. Ryan did a single 5.10c before we had to head back into town to get ready for the wedding. Ryan and I were the ushers for Ashten’s wedding. We arrived just in time to be in a few wedding photos, visit with family as they arrived and then to take our positions by the entrance.That night consisted of your cliche wedding dances, happy people, and a lot of drinks. The next morning we woke up to a blizzard blowing snow horizontally through the city. South Dakota decided to show its ugly ass by shutting down the interstates all the way across the state. Ryan and I were stranded for yet another day in Rapid City. We entertained ourselves as best as we could stuck in the hotel. The wind whipped all the way through the night and even into the morning but the DOT managed to get most of the roadways partially clear.
It was a bummer saying bye to Ryan. Of course, as we always have, we high fived, said later and without a single hint of emotion hopped in our vehicles and parted ways. Ryan plunged into shitty road conditions making his way back West, while I drove East on better roads. The farther I got from Ryan, the worse the road conditions got until I arrived in Brookings, SD late that night. My second longest home ever, Brookings, as boring as it is, will always have a special significance to me. It’s the birthplace of my love of climbing, and the place where I found my desire to chase climbing. Oh, and I got my education there and made a lot of friends too.
Back on the tangent of people. I love good people! Everywhere I’ve gone on this trip, I’ve had great friends put me up and take care of me. It’s crazy to think that after a year of absence people are so willing to let me stay at their place, cook me dinner, and entertain me. So let me just say that I appreciate everyone I’ve seen on this trip, and all of you who I haven’t seen. I wish I could see every single one of my friends, but unfortunately you all live way too far apart!
I was only planning on being in Brookings for about 48 hours. I had the privilege of giving back to the gym that gave me so much in college. I taught a route setting clinic to the current employees, which I had a blast doing. I did a little bit of climbing while I was there before heading to Nashville. I enjoyed seeing everyone again, and can’t wait to see them all again in Arkansas here in just a weeks time.