Sunday, April 22, 2007

Pardise Forks

We are sitting in the tent and Hanmi is demonstrating how band-aid wrappers flash blue when you open them. She is placing the band-aid on her knee, which has become an ugly collection of poison oak bumps. Placing the finishing touches of a band-aid on top of a few wraps of flexible gauze, her knee resembles more of a runner’s injury than a spreading itch. But after a week, she’s desperate to try anything, and it seems to spread to her other leg while she sleeps.

Today we drove Northward from Prescott, Arizona to a small town called Williams. There is nothing out of the ordinary there; it is a typical Arizona desert town, full of ranchers and land subdivisions for sale, trying to continue the recent years of population spread to the area. It looks about over, from the abundant supply of For Sale signs.

Williams has a large US Ranger Station, and there we picked up several maps to the area. From studying these maps and using the hand drawn maps I made last night from our friend’s guidebook, plus the poor instructions in the Rock-N-Road book, we made it to Paradise Forks. It is here that we’ve set up camp.

Paradise Forks is about a 2 mile gorge cut into this high desert from a small river. It splits at the South into two legs, and is fed from the North by two smaller streams, each of which has cut another two legs into the gorge, making the entire feature resemble a large X on the map.

The sides of Paradise Forks are of a volcanic rock that has formed large semi-regular columns comprised of basalt. Beneath these columns is thin layer of red sandstone. Rock climbers cherish this area because it presents unique climbing compared to the rock features in other areas nearby. One arrives at Paradise at the lip of the gorge and can scramble down one of a few steep gullies, or rappel from the top of a popular climb.

The climbs are highly prized for their unique crack systems, which develop from the separation of the basalt columns as their slowly erode away from the sides of the gorge. Since the loose rocks were removed from the area by the original climbing parties, performed long ago, the climbs are of a clean and solid shape.

In Arizona, I’ve been told that crack climbing is not as prevalent as face climbing. However, from yesterday at Sullivan Canyon I’ve realized that there’s lots of crack to work on one’s technique here.

Dude – these climbs rock! Today, we found our buddy Ben in his local Prescott College rock climbing class. He had told us last night that they’d be here and we thought it was a great opportunity to meet up again (3rd time) and hit a crag along our planned route.

I set up an anchor from two stout trees at the top next to his, and rapped down to the base. Then Hanmi joined me, leaving the dogs tired to a tree at the top. I climbed first, and found it to be somewhat of a stretch in places but very exciting. It demanded full scouting for good holds, looking outside one’s typical shoulder-width climbing path, and it had solid hand and foot jams whenever you searched for them. It was slightly overhanging and in a dihedral, making some of the moves feel desperate. However, for my height, every two or three moves was followed by a solid stance. Hanmi had several more between stances, and is blessed with the ability to enjoy more technical moves from every climb than I. This also works her a bit harder, but when our day starts late and we’re taking it easy, she’ll let me climb multiple times between hers.

So I did, after she topped the route, I climbed it again – and again laughed at how fun it was. Ben and friends climbed to our left and each had a struggle on a more demanding crack climb. Crack climbing can sometimes be considered a specialized technique but eventually one must master finger locks, stacks, jams, hand jams, fist jams and so on, as the cracks widen. Fingers and larger-than-hands are both more strenuous than simply a cupped hand size, but once added to your repertoire, climbing in place like Paradise Forks are fun and exciting.

So I lowered down the next route over and Hanmi belayed me up again. This route has two starts: The direct, which is a wide stem problem with nearly no cracks or edges to help, is said to be a mid-11 grade. The easier start traverses from the first climb we did and then joins at a about one-quarter of the way up.

I tried the direct first, and made it about 5 moves before falling. The fall swung me around to the other climb, so I went there and traversed back, skipping the direct start entirely. Once on the rest of the route, it was solid hand and foot jams, with extra feature along the faces whenever you wanted them. However, the crack was a perfect size for large hands and feet, so I felt solid and jammed my way up the climb.

Tomorrow, we’ll be dropping lines down again to find climbs that interest us. It should be interesting because we won’t know what climbs are possible from looking down at them. So, we’ll probably drop one line and bring another in case I have to jug back up and drop one elsewhere. We’ll just have to see. Our entire trip so far is like that, since we have no real schedule or pressure to pack a lot of activity into a short time, we can look and play until we’re tired.

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