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Penitente Canyon, Colorado, Sport Climbing

May 31 - June 1, 2003

Author: Larry Earley

Trip Participants:  Larry Earley, Norbert Ensslin and Elizabeth Kelly

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 day.

Sunday morning 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.

 


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