Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Rifle - The Best Trip of My Life

OK, so we actually left Rifle about two months ago and have been back home for a month, but I've been preoccupied with getting myself a job, catching up with family, doing boring things like DIY and all that 'real life' stuff so I've been slack about writing this. Plus, having had two weeks of rest I now find that every time I climb it takes about a week to be able to use my arms again, even for typing.

Our chilled out campsite and 8 person tent

Rewind to the start of September (oh but we could!), and following a torturous journey from Cape Town we found ourselves rolling into Rifle Mountain Park late Friday evening on Labor day weekend - kinda like rocking up in Pembroke on August bank holiday, but a Pembroke where there's limited camping. Fortunately, as we were to find out over the next 6 or so week, everyone here is really nice and friendly so the camp host Marty (picture an American Father Christmas with a gun) sorted us out with an overflow spot until things got a bit quieter. By 10pm everyone around us was in bed and all you could hear was the little stream running past our camping spot - perfect for anti-social professiodulls like us.

Colton on Deity in The Wicked Cave

Rifle is somewhere I've heard about, seen videos of, read news stories about and generally be keen to go to for a long time. Sometimes places you've not been get inside your head more than they 'should', so when we switched up our American plans to head there I started to get quite excited, if only for the chance of experiencing Colorado Kneebar School. Being 'blocky, chossy limestone' it gets mixed reviews, and I can see why some people wouldn't be so keen on it. It doesn't have the aesthetics of Margalef or the immaculate rock quality of Ceuse. It's kinda more like Kilnsey on a cocktail of illicit party drugs whilst snorting spary-glue. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, we both loved it.

The climbing there is in the canyon of Rifle Mountain Park, about a 30 minute drive north of Rifle itself. The town is big enough to have everything you need (assuming that what you need is a City Market, Walmart, laundry, a pizza shop and a nice library to get free wifi and do job applications from), whilst being small enough that things like traffic are never going to be a hassle. At the top end of the canyon lies the camping ($10/night for a site), which is spread out enough that you'll always have space and it never seemed noisy. It's got portaloos but no water so fill up in town (40c/gallon at City Market or 25c/gallon at the car wash just down the road from there). Rifle is convenience climbing epitomised: the climbing is about a 2 minute drive from your campsite; walk-ins are all of about 30 seconds in most cases, so you and your partner can easily climb at different sectors; there are portaloos in the parking areas; and most of the steeper routes are fixed up with perma-draws, and not only that but proper permadraws usually - good solid metal that won't be fucked from UV, unlike in Spain. 

Rifle Gap
The style at Rifle varies quite a lot between the different sectors. A lot of the 6s and low 7s involve fairly vertical climbing on left facing laybacks and grooves, whilst harder stuff revolves around large amounts of knee trickery and burl. The Wicked Cave in particular is like a slightly smaller version of Santa Linya - thuggy, chossy and loads of fun. For me this mix was perfect - I could warm up on technically interesting and educational feeling routes and then go redpointing on a style that I really enjoy and that suits me. Arriving feeling strong from all the bouldering in Australia and South Africa, having managed to hold my sub 11 stone lightness from Australia (more on that in a future post), and being totally psyched out of my mind to be route climbing again I managed to have a few weeks where everything clicked, the killer instinct engaged and I got up Bad Girls Club (9a), Waka Flocka Flame (8c+) and a couple of 8c's. Waka FF was probably actually my favourite route of the American leg of our trip. It wasn't the hardest and it wasn't the best line, but the climbing was brilliant. It felt like a long journey through different styles from Yorkshire-esque undercuts to knee-scum trickery, basic burl, stressful shake-outs and gradually easing into lower angled more technical climbing at the top. I climbed the headwall trying to savour every move, greedily hoarding away the perfect memories.

The people at Rifle are awesome too. There weren't that many other foreigners around, which was great for meeting locals, semi-locals from places like Boulder, and not-locals-but-almost-local-by-American-standards from places like Salt Lake. All-in-all it made for a great scene. Marty, who looks after the camping and the park, even invited us up to his cabin in the middle of nowehre for a traditional Southern breakfast of biscuits and gravy (like stogy savoury scone and cream/pepper sauce) which managed to fuel me up the kneebar intensive La Cucaracha (8c+).

Hanging out at Marty's for breakfast
Despite our growing weightbelts provided by peanut butter and protein bars we did some more ace climbing, drove through a lot of corn fields to The Red, did a bunch more awesome climbing and generally enjoyed our dwindling time in The States. Actually, it's surprising how much the central bit of America which all the Americans describe as totally flat and boring reminded us of the South of England... or maybe that's not surprising when you write it like that.

Beneath The Arsenal

Before we left for Kentucky there was one more thing to do... At the end of an uneventful rest day Ella and I took a little walk up a hill to see the sunset. On the way we passed a wishing stump from an old tree - hammer in a coin and make a wish. I did, and at the top of the hill it came true when Ella agreed to marry me :)

My lucky green shorts pay off