The Raffs are back on the road following our â€œpauseâ€ in SW Utah. After much conversation and a little encouragement from all of you guys, we decided to continue to blog about our travels. Thanks for following us along on this adventure. It has been nice to hear from home along the way, especially now that we have been on the road for a whole year!
Before heading to City of Rocks, Idaho, we decided to do a quick tour through Southern Utah. Our first stop was a quick repeat of Bryce Canyon National Park. We somehow missed seeing Thorâ€™s Hammer on our first quick trip, plus we wanted to check out the park minus the snow. It was a little busier with more out of state plates, but we were able to do a nice hike and social distance.
From Bryce, we headed to Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. Our original plan was to drive the Hole in the Wall road for 25 miles to a picturesque slot canyon, but after 2 miles of bumpy, slow driving, we opted for the Zebra slot canyon only 8 miles down the road. It was scenic but very hot. I was happy for my sun hoodie and everyone stopped to ask us what we were wearing. Guess we werenâ€™t around climbers here!
On our second day, we drove the Million Dollar road connecting Escalante to Boulder; the road was built by the CCC. Before the road was completed in 1940, they would use mule trains to deliver mail and supplies. These were the last towns in the US to get mail via mule! They would also transport fresh cream between the towns via mule. Sometimes, it would get too hot, and the cream would ferment and explode! This was also the last uncharted area of the lower 48 and wasnâ€™t fully mapped until the late 1800â€™s. The road was built through a sea of sandstone domes in red, coral, and white offset by green trees and shrubs!
We did stop for a great hike to Calf Creek Falls. It was hot and a little busy which took away from the enjoyment, but the falls themselves were spectacular. They also acted as a natural air conditioner, so it was a nice reward to cool down before our hike back to the van.
Our last stop on our tour was Capital Reef National Park. The night before exploring the park, we camped high in the Boulder mountains, which was 30 degrees cooler than below. We were rewarded with a splendid sunset over the brilliant red water pocket fold and Henry Mountains in the background.
The park itself was a little disappointing, but we did enjoy a nice walk through the Grand Wash â€“ one of only 2 washes that go all the way through the reef. It was an easy hike following the wash between the towering walls, 800+ feet tall. At one point, it narrowed to 20â€™ wide.
With more time and a 4wd vehicle, I would have enjoyed traveling on the gravel roads through more of the back country. We will just have to come back someday.
From here, we pointed Cragginâ€™ north and left the Utah desert behind. We desperately needed a shower, so we stopped at a Loveâ€™s Truck Stop. The showers were super clean with nice hot water. It was a great tip from my folks after their road trip a few years ago.
We also stopped at the local REI to pick up some new gear. I was happy to see that the worker was wearing a KEEN mask. After chatting, she gave us masks too. So now, I can continue to spread brand awareness with my new mask.
Our destination for the next 2 weeks was City of Rocks, which was the place that we kicked off this trip almost a year ago. Idaho was one of the first nearby states to open campgrounds to out-of-state residents and being familiar with the climbing there, we felt we could responsibly social distance at the crags.
It turned out to be a great decision, and it was really nice to camp again in the van. Waking up every morning to Elephant Rock out the window and seeing spectacular sunsets every evening was a real treat. We felt enormously privileged to enjoy this special spot during this time. Plus, the climbing is pretty darn awesome!
The town nearby, Almo, is small with just 2 places for touristsâ€¦ a general store and a pizza joint. The two took different approaches to protecting themselves from Covid-19. The pizza joint built a take-out window with a microphone and minimal contact with their customers. They still had amazing pizza and even Breakside beer (our favorite beer from Portland!). The general store had no precautions in place with employees not wearing masks and no capacity limits. For the most part, we stayed up in the park only dropping to town for pizza/beer and to check emails.
We did have one stormy weekend, where we ended up at an Airbnb. It was a good thing as it snowed and stormed for 2 straight days. It was nice to do laundry, shower and stay cozy in our little house with views of the storm raging over Castle Rocks.
We were too early to see a cow drive this year, but we did see 3 days of endurance horse racing through the park. There were 2 courses per day, 25/50 mile. We would see them trotting by in the morning and then throughout the park as we were climbing. What a beautiful place to ride!
If you want to read about climbing highlights see below, otherwise skip to the last paragraph😊
Elephant Rock is one of the most iconic rock formations in the city. We had a perfect view from our campsite and would watch climbers from morning until dusk climbing the high-quality routes. We spent one morning in the area, and the climbing really was amazing. Mike led Wheat Thin (5.7T) which is a long crack that has a very thin section. I led Rye Crisp (5.8T) which follows this crazy flake to the top which requires a lot of fun laybacking and big gear! There was also a brand-new sport route called Strawberry Fields (5.9S) that had a variety of moves and some amazing surprise jugs at the top. Highly recommend giving it a go!
Jacksonâ€™s Thumb â€“ Theater of Shadows (5.7S) â€“ 4 pitches of fun, rompy, slab climbing. Very well protected and just fun. Plus, the views from the summit were outstanding looking down into the center of the park.
Batwings (5.8T) â€“ I scoped this route out last year and even watched a few people climb the crux, but I wasnâ€™t ready to commit to the runout. This year, I decided to give it a go. It is 150â€™ long with a 15â€™ slab runout crux low and another 20â€™ easy slab runout at top. But in between, it has the sweetest hand crack dihedral that will have you grinning from ear to ear. The climbing wasnâ€™t hard, but it was a mental challenge. When I got through the crux, I yelled to Mike I would never climb it again, but by the top, I knew I would!
Skyline (5.8T) â€“ Skyline is aptly named as it climbs the left ridgeline of a small rock feature right in the heart of the park. You can see the line from the road and often will see a climberâ€™s profile. The climbing is awesome, and the exposure is spectacular. Plus, the view from the top is pretty darn amazing! After my lead, Mike decided to push himself and lead it a few days later. I was happy to climb the route again and the exposure still got my attention!
Lost Arrow (5.7T) â€“ This route had never been on my radar, but after talking to a few other climbers and needing a more off the beaten trail to climb on a Sunday, we decided to give it a go. It is a 2-pitch climb that ends on the top of a rock tower. The climbing felt very alpiney, even clipping the original pitons! I led the first pitch with another airy traverse and Mike led the runout slab to the summit. The views from the top were stunning and the free-hanging 35m rap was the icing on the cake! If you like a little adventure, do this climb!
Tribal Boundaries (5.10b S) â€“ I loved this climb as it was delicate, crimpy, and balancey the entire way with a little slab at the top. This is my favorite type of climbing and this line was beautiful!
Bloody Fingers (5.10a T) â€“ I have been eyeing this climb since my 2018 trip with Karen. I never felt like I was ready, and since I havenâ€™t led a trad route at this grade, I wasnâ€™t sure it was a good idea to lead a 120â€™ pitch as my first attempt. However, the line is so beautiful and after watching several people work through the crux, I decided to give it a go on our last day in the City. The crux is the first 20â€™ and takes gear well. Finger jams and small hands with foot smears. It was a bit burly, but I made it through to the first rest clean! From here, it is amazing hand jams and finishes on a delicate slab to the anchors. I was overjoyed with this route! It was perfect, and I grinned from ear to ear for the rest of the day!
City of Rocks once again exceeded expectations on this trip.Â It was the perfect place to start climbing and camping again.Â I love the laidback vibe, beautiful scenery, and the friendly climbers.Â It also has a lot of variety allowing you to choose your own adventure.Â From here, we will again retrace our Summer of 2019 steps and head to Ten Sleep, WY for some limestone cragging.Â Thanks for following us along on this adventure for the past year!