May 31 - June 1, 2003
Penitente Canyon, Colorado, Sport Climbing
Author: Larry Earley
Larry Earley, Norbert Ensslin and
We left Los
Alamos early Saturday morning. Many people showed interest in this LAM trip but
only three went north to great sport climbing in southern Colorado. It is only
3.5 hours drive to Penitente Canyon. There were plenty of BLM campsites
available at $5 per night per site. We parked at the trailhead and got our gear
ready for the long five minute approach. The canyon is very special with green
pines jutting out from all shapes of rock. The walls are low averaging 50 feet,
but the thin face climbing is great. Norbert was our guide since he now claims
to have lead over thirty different climbs here. We started on Ordinary People
(5.9). The start is hard like a boulder problem. Next you walk up the slab past
two bolts to the anchors. Elizabeth does not like the run out to the anchors.
Its 20 feet of slab. Larry cruises to the second bolt and then ponders the 20
feet to the anchors. After a long time he goes for it and its not bad (9+).
Norbert shows us how he has this one wired. Next Larry is tricked into leading
Children of a Lesser Grade (10c). Norbert has the guide book and won't tell me
the rating. I stick clip the first bolt 15 feet up. Thanks. I slowly get to the
fourth bolt and look at the crux. After another long moment of deciding to fall
or lower off, I go for it and reach the anchors safety. Now he tells me its 10c.
Actually after doing other climbs, this one is probably more like 10a/b.
Elizabeth prefers to toprope this one. Norbert leads it in style with a small
lunge to anchors. We move onto Jewel of the Mild (10c). Out comes the stick clip
for that 15 feet to the first bolt. The weather is getting cold and cloudy fast.
Larry leads up to the second bolt as the rain starts. I lower off. A little
later Norbert leads and smears the crux as the rain starts again. He has this
one wired too. After a lunch break the weather clears and Elizabeth is ready to
lead. The climb is Ms. Cool (5.9). Actually that is really the name of the
climb. Elizabeth is now climbing smooth (cool) and cruises this one. Larry leads
this one with some complaining. I made it look harder than Elizabeth. Norbert
struggles a little. We find out he has never done this one so its not wired. Ah
ha. Elizabeth likes it so much she does it again. Norbert suggests Larry try
Shady Lady (10a). I look at it and I can't see the route. Where are the holds?
Norbert gives it a try. There is a lot of swearing and hanging on bolts. Did I
mention we stick clipped the second bolt. It was hard. Norbert gets to anchors
and does the on site in the free aid style. Stick clip, bolt hanging, draw
pulling and bolt stepping his way up this 11a. Larry tries it on toprope and
lowers in failure after two bolts. Its really 11a. Next Elizabeth is finally
warmed up. She climbs well on toprope and makes the climb. Wow. We finish across
the way on Banana Slugs in Heat (10b). Norbert, Larry and Elizabeth all lead
this one. Elizabeth climbs it the best. It feels like 10a. A nice climb. Norbert
is feeling tough and tries the next climb called Hip Hop (11a). What is he
doing. We clip a bolt and off he goes on another free aid epic. He makes the
anchors but at what a price. We finally head for the campground and call it a
we wake up early and put away the tents and get back to the climbing area. Our
fingers are tired but we know the weather won't last. It will be raining soon.
We warm up (in the shade) on How the West Was Won (5.9). Elizabeth is up first.
She climbs well and says its an 8. Well it looked like an 8. Norbert is next and
has a hard time. He even says he is coming off once. I am not sure who to
believe Elizabeth or Norbert. I lead but am worried. It feels like a 9 to me.
There are buckets and not buckets on the many huecos. It is a short climb but
seems worth a try. Next Norbert tries the Concupiscent Curds (10b) with four
bolts. This one is another sandbag. Norbert goes for stick clip, tension on
bolts and lots of hangdogging. But he makes the anchors. Its another 11.
Elizabeth topropes it well. Larry topropes it not so well. We move on to a
classic Tanks for the Hueco (10d). Previously (in a former life) lead in style
by the famous Jan Studebaker. The weather is getting worse earlier today. Larry
uses extreme stick clipping technique. He bolders up 8 feet. Norbert spots him
as Elizabeth hands up the stick. Its got three sections that extends to 18 feet.
At full extension on the bolder I barely clip the bolt at 25 feet. It is the
best clip ever. We are not ashamed since now we can send up Norbert. The 10d
crux is just above the bolt. But its greasey too. Norbert pulls a new trick out
of his free aid bag. Two slings make a nice aider ladder. Norbert clears the
crux. Its harder than 10d. Norbert now gets to climb the slightly overhanging
face of huecos. Its great climbing. Norbert lower off the anchors. Next
Elizabeth is up. She aids the crux and then leads the face well as the rain
starts to get really heavy. The overhang keeps the water off the huecos.
Elizabeth makes it with a little encouragement from Norbert. "If you don't make
it you will have to buy me five quickdraws". She lowers off in triumph in a
downpour. After a short break it clears up. Larry wants to toprope it. I really
do bad on the crux and take a lot of power belaying to get over the lip. My arms
are toast. I barely make it up the face which is a nice 5.9 all the way. We try
one more climb called Loony Tunes (10b/c). The start is a boulder problem
leading to a super thin arÍte. THIN! Norbert leads it for us. Nice. Elizabeth
and Larry toprope. I barely make the crux. Then edges for hands and feet. The
weather again turns bad. We pack up the gear and head for the car. Maybe my
favorite climb here.
It was a great
trip. Penitente is worth the drive. It is a little like Cochiti Mesa. There
about 10 other climbers there on a weekend with fair weather. Some guys from
West Virginia don't like the thin faces. One says he leads big overhanging
cracks at home but lowers off a thin face The Serpent (5.8). He won't trust his
feet. We drive home in more rain but clears as we enter Espanola. Great trip and
thin face climbing.