Thursday, March 15, 2018

Pulling Down in the Old West, Roy NM!

Every February, as the Canadian winter starts to seem dreary and overly long, I start to look southward for a climbing respite.  With the Canadian spring still weeks away, the sunshine, warmth, and beautiful landscapes of the American southwest become incredibly appealing.  I've been to several climbing areas in the American west, and they have yet to disappoint me.  The enormous pale-blue skies, the orange sandstone, the junipers, yucca, and cholla; I can never get enough!

This year, my climbing wanderlust (and love of the desert!) had me seriously considering a trip to Roy, New Mexico.  I had been hearing about the sandstone boulders of the canyons surrounding Roy for a few years, and when my friend Owen Summerscales published New Mexico Bouldering in 2016 (the new guidebook for the state), it contained all the information I needed to entice me to the area.  When I talked to Owen, he described the climbing enthusiastically using phrases like "SO much better than Kraft" and "arguably the best sandstone boulders in the west".  I was sold, and started thinking about a trip to New Mexico.  Kyle (with his deep love of both sandstone and steep roof climbing) was also eager to check the area out.  A trip to the desert is always a lot of fun, so we recruited Justin for a little exploration, and also convinced Alissa (who was already bouldering in Nevada) to come along as well.  A fun group for a trip to the southwest!

Desert plants are amazing!  Yucca is common in the canyons surrounding Roy.

The greatest drawback of a trip of this sort is, of course, the drive across the United States.  Packing the car, we began the predictably long drive across southern Alberta and four states.  Though Google suggests that the drive would take about 19.5 hours, driving through the northern states in winter is rarely straightforward.  After battling bad roads in Montana, fog in northern Wyoming, and (literally) gale-force winds in southern Wyoming, we were relieved to finally encounter dry roads with great conditions in Colorado.  We picked up Alissa at the airport in Denver (she flew from Las Vegas to extend her climbing trip for another eight days), and then headed south into New Mexico.  Driving through the enormous and empty grasslands of New Mexico through the evening, we finally arrived at our destination, the Mills Canyon Rim Campground just outside of Roy.  It's a small campground run by the US Forest Service, and was very well-maintained and tidy.  Quickly setting up our tents, we settled in for our first night in New Mexico.

Campfires keep the cold night at bay, at least until you go to bed (n.b. bring a better sleeping bag next time...).

After my first night in the New Mexico high desert, I learned one lesson very well; the nights in the high desert can be very cold!  After one very chilly night it became apparent that my sleeping bag wasn't up to the task of camping in the desert, and so I got up early the next morning to go for a walk and warm up.  I hiked down through the boulders and brush of Mills Canyon, marveling at the amazing texture of the rock as the dawn sun turned the walls of canyon bright orange.

Back at camp, we read through the guidebook, and decided that we'd spend our first day in Roy climbing in the middle section of Mesteno Canyon, which features a large concentration of sandstone blocks known as The Jumbles.  On our hike down into the canyon we saw a large green-and-gold rattlesnake (a Prairie Rattlesnake, it rattled at us as we walked by), but it was so cold that the snake was barely able to move (and posed little threat as we kept our distance).  Arriving in the canyon bottom we wandered among the blocks, excited to see the variety of problems present; steep compression lines, featured slabs, aretes, and highly textured blocks featuring big pinches and pockets.

Kyle getting his first taste of New Mexico sandstone on the Herbie the Love Bug Wall, Middle Mesteno Canyon. 

After exploring for an hour or so, we settled down to the business of climbing some of the amazing boulders we'd seen.  We warmed up on a fun hueco-covered wall low in the Jumbles (the Herbie the Love Jug Wall), and soon Justin, Alissa, and Kyle were keen to attempt Try Angular (V6), an amazing angled arete with a high crux move.  I didn't really feel as though I was warmed up enough to try anything hard, but decided to join in to see what the problem was like.  We all made quick progress on the bottom half of the problem, only to realize that the second half of the line was where the difficulties lay.  As we worked the problem, it occurred to me that the line was a lot like Squamish's ATD (V7); but unfortunately I couldn't remember the funky movement required for that problem (it's been awhile...).  Eventually Kyle linked to the lip of the boulder, but couldn't quite figure out how to approach the next moves onto the hanging slab.  On my next try, everything clicked as I remembered the weird heel-toe beta for ATD, and I reached up to the lip, reset my left foot, and did a funky (and scary) press on to the slab.  Success!

Trying a little harder on the classic Try Angular (V6), Middle Mesteno Canyon.

Feeling a bit warmer, I circuited around for a few hours, climbing several easier lines, and looking at problems I might try later in the week.  Whenever I visit a new area, I like to climb a large volume of easy-ish problems for the first few days, to get used to the features of the area, and to assess how much pressure the texture of the rock will bear.  One of the best easy lines I did was the fantastic pocketed slab Thimblerigger (V1), though there are a lot of short undocumented slabs throughout the Jumbles (unlike the other areas, I would find out; only the Jumbles is slab-rich).

As I was cruising around on easy problems, Alissa got psyched to try It's V-Five (V4), a crimpy line with a huge sloping start hold.  Alissa and Kyle were making the start look funky, so with my interest piqued I headed over to join in.  By turning my hip into the wall, I managed to do the first tricky cross-through, and flashed the problem.  Certainly a great start to the trip!  After doing a few harder slabs, we packed up and headed back to camp for dinner.  With the sun down and temperatures falling, we built a fire and chatted about what the upcoming week would bring.

Looking down into Mesteno Canyon, just outside Roy New Mexico.  All the sandstone blocks you could ever want fill the canyons around Roy.

The next day we headed into Roy to look for water, groceries, and (hopefully!) a cup of coffee.  It's a little hard to find information about Roy online, but we knew there was (at least) a coffee shop, a restaurant, and a grocery store.  Stopping to buy bread and canned goods at the Harding County General Store, we asked about coffee and water and were pointed towards Ma Sally's Mercantile and Claudia's Coffee Shop by Sandy Ray, an unbelievably friendly and helpful Roy local.  Sandy introduced us to the town of Roy, including a tour of her La Casita Guesthouse (which is a fantastic deal for groups of climbers up to 8 people; I know where I'll be staying on my next trip...).  Sandy also introduced us to Claudia, the charming proprietor of Claudia's Coffee Shop, which would quickly become our go-to place for coffee on those mornings we headed into town.  We had a fantastic morning drinking coffee, eating burritos, and talking with Roy locals about the area and their enthusiasm for the development of the area as a bouldering destination.

 When you're in Roy, and you feel the need for coffee, a burrito, and a pie...

...and to meet some of the friendliest townfolk anywhere!  Alissa getting caffeinated with Sandy (in the red hat) and Claudia (filling a coffee cup) at Claudia's Coffee Shop, in Roy.   

Sandy gave us a tour of her Casita Guest House, just outside of town.  It's a fantastic place, sleeps eight, and is a great price; a great base for a climbing trip to Roy!

Properly fueled, we were keen to head down into Upper Mesteno Canyon which we knew held a number of huge caves which held scores of problems.  When we arrived at the Mega Roof (the largest of the five roofs), I was unprepared by how steep and deep the cave was.  In Owen's guidebook New Mexico Bouldering the problem Dust Bowl (V7) is described as being a 30-foot roof, but I assumed that this was an exaggeration.  It wasn't.  A line of chalked holds stretched from the lip of the cave way back into its dark recesses.  Thankfully, almost every hold was a sculpted jug (pocket, slot, pinch, or rail), which makes for a fantastic roof-climbing experience.  However, both Dust Bowl and Batman (a 24-foot V7 roof to the right) share the same crux; the last three moves of the roof feature incut edges rather than comfortable buckets.  With my legendarily poor endurance, I knew it would be a battle.

Kyle staying clean as he battles through the Dust Bowl (V7).  The biggest sandstone roof problem I've ever seen...

Luckily, the fantastic Keep Boulder is just a few steps away.  The Keep has some of the most beautifully patina-ed faces we saw in Roy, and features some of the best easy problems, including Momo (V1), Wet Socks (V0), and Burned Feet (V1).  After we climbed these fun highballs, I continued warming up by climbing some of the easy highball (!) lines on the canyon rim immediately opposite the Keep.  Warmed up, I finally turned my attention back to the Mega Roof Cave.  Kyle, Alissa, and Justin were already trying Dust Bowl, but after climbing through the beginning of the problem a few time I decided that it wasn't for me.  Although Dust Bowl has great holds, I hate falling off long problems simply because I'm pumped (Dust Bowl, with it's 27 feet of V4 before the crux, definitely falls into that category).  Batman (V7), with its bigger moves and more powerful (but thankfully a little shorter!) start, interested me more, though I had to spend a little time  finding a way through the pockets that wouldn't hurt my left hand.  Alissa was working Batman as well, and it was exciting to watch her work through the moves, finding clever sequences that allowed her to statically work through the big reaches on the roof.  Though we were having a lot of fun, eventually we ran out of time, and headed back to camp as the sun sank below the canyon rim.

Kyle on the crux of Dust Bowl (V7), three small holds after 25+ feet of roof climbing (top), and Alissa on the first crux of Batman (V7) (bottom).  The roofs of Roy will certainly satisfy those who love steep climbing!

Tuesday morning we decided to head back into the canyons, despite having already climbed for two days.  We hiked into middle Mesteno Canyon to climb in and around The Jumbles, and as we arrived at the valley bottom I saw a great-looking block half-hidden among the pines left of the trail.  Looking at it more closely, there seemed to be a great-looking line on the downhill face of the boulder; a matched start on a long edge led up to more edges and slopers, and an engaging topout at a just-less-than-highball height.  I climbed up and down a few times to warm up a bit, then climbed up to the fun topout; another great moderate line in Roy! (Apparently, this was a first ascent, which I've decided to name Daybreaker (V1) after the Louis L'Amour western novel set in northern New Mexico).

(top) Daybreaker (V1), one of the great new problems I put in Roy, the line essentially climbs up the shaded face in the middle of the photo, and (bottom) the fantastically shaped (and solid) Dakota sandstone for which Roy is becoming famous.

From there I wandered down-canyon to see what Kyle, Alissa, and Justin were up to, and found them warming up in the sun on the Beautiful Pig Boulder.  Beautiful Pig features a ton of fun short(ish) warmups, as well as a handful of taller lines on its downhill and north faces (including the eponymous and somewhat spooky-looking Beautiful Pig (V6)).  We climbed a half-dozen shorter easy lines (V0-V2), and I also did the highball Black Tar Heroin (V1).  The rest of the day flew by as we tried a handful of lines spread across the Jumbles; an unnamed hard compression line on the hillslope, the weird and hard Thumbelina (felt much harder than V4 since a break; none of us could do all the moves, but as a group we managed to do it all...), and a handful of easier slabs.  We really wanted to try the stellar-looking Puddle Jumper (V6), and with only a few hours left in the day I headed up to try it.  It has great movement and beautifully sculpted holds, and because it wasn't too difficult to decipher I was psyched when I did it in just a handful of tries.  Justin was keen to try the powerful compression line Storm the Castle (V7), so we headed over to session on it as the day drew to a close.  Everyone made progress (most of us were linking it in pieces; I did all the moves but one but found it very hard), but by the end of the day we were feeling beat (I had done 18-20 problems!), and as the sun set we headed out of the canyon and back to camp, feeling beat and ready for a rest day.

Kyle soldiering away on Storm The Castle (V7), one of the hardest things we tried on our trip.

The next morning, we woke up and headed into town for coffee and breakfast.  Arriving at Claudia's Coffee Shop, we spent a very sociable hour not only with Claudia and some of the Roy locals, but also with local entrepreneur and dairy farmer Shariyf.  Shariyf would not only prove to be friendly and entertaining, but also a trip-saver when he found out I was out of Climb On hand salve (he gave us samples of hand balm that his family makes, which definitely helped our hands out for the rest of the trip).  I've been to a lot of small towns over the course of my climbing career, but never have I experienced such an amazingly warm reception as I did in Roy, New Mexico!  After coffee we headed across the street to Lonita's Cafe for a big western breakfast (huevos rancheros for me!), then we filled our water jugs and headed back to camp.

If you're from Canada (like me), and you want to hit up regional cuisine where you climb (like I do), then this is the place for you in Roy.

The next morning, as we packed up for the day, Kyle noticed that one of his tires was quite low.  Being prudent, he decided to drive in to Roy to get it repaired.  Since Mill Creek Canyon is very close to the campground, we decided to head there for the day (Kyle had his tire fixed and was back within an hour).  Alissa, Justin, and I hiked down the road into the canyon, and began our day by doing all the problems on the nicely featured Cuban Boulder, including the funky Melvin's Mill (V3; Alissa flashed it, which was her hardest flash to date, congrats Alissa!).

Alissa flashing the techy Melvins Mill (V3), Mills Canyon.

At this point, Kyle returned from Roy, and while he warmed up I decided to head down into the canyon proper (not wanting to get cold).  I really wanted to try Sneaker Man (V6ish), a line I had looked at on my first day of hiking, and as it was directly in the sun I decided to try it first.  It took me several tries to get the first dynamic move sorted out (the feet are small (!) and hard to generate movement from), but once I did the move I was puzzled by the apparently enormous second move.  Sitting in the sun, I stared at the problem, and decided that I simply wasn't trying hard enough (isn't that often the case?).  The next attempt on the line I did the short jump to the first ledge, then high-stepped into a pocket and pulled smoothly (to my complete surprise!) all the way to the next hold, a sloping pinch.  From here, a few tricky but easy moves led to the top of the boulder.  I was incredibly happy - it is always nice to send a high hard(ish) line well, and feel fully in control.

Justin with his jumpin' shoes on, trying the very committing Sneaker Man (V6).

After getting punted repeatedly off the line to the right of Sneaker Man, I wanted to move up-canyon a bit and try the classic TED (V7).  TED is a short-ish line (unusual for Roy, where highballs are king), featuring a big first move to an incut slot (crux = targeting!), and then a series of sequential moves through slots and sloping pinches.  After arranging a couple mats, it took me a while to get my beta sorted for the first hard move, with lots of foot micro-adjustments before I felt good.  When I finally did the first move, however, the rest of the line went relatively smoothly (especially since it has a high high-step, love it!).  I was psyched to do one of Mill's Canyon's classic lines so quickly, and packing up I decided to move down-canyon to try the megaclassic Jewbacca (V5).

Kyle finding out what the talk is all about on the fantastic rock of TED (V7). 

Arriving at the boulder, I could clearly see that Jewbacca's reputation is well-deserved; a steep brown- and orange-streaked arete looms over the gravel streambed of the lower canyon.  I definitely wanted to onsight such a classic-looking line, so I ran though potential sequences for several minutes before stepping off the mats onto the rock. A few hard moves to good pockets led to a series of crimps, pinches, and slopers before the angle changed and I high-stepped onto the juggy slab that marks the end of the hard climbing.  Employing some fun foot trickery, the line felt fantastic, and soon I was standing on top of the boulder, whooping into the still air of the canyon. 

At this point, I felt like I should head back up-canyon to find Kyle, Alissa, and Justin, who I hadn't seen for a few hours at this point.  Just as I climbed out of the canyon, I met them as they were about to head down in.  We swapped stories about what we'd been up to, and I was curious to try a leaning arete that both Kyle and Alissa had found to be very fun.  Following their directions, I soon arrived at the problem, a cave-to-arete problem formed where a huge slab of sandstone lay half-atop another block of rock.  The line looked tricky, but the holds seemed reasonable, so I arranged the mats and pulled on my shoes.  After taking a good look at the holds, I started climbing; a couple powerful moves on juggy slots led out to the arete, where a series of surprisingly position-dependent moves on pinches and gastons allowed passage to a large ball-like feature on the arete.  Above me I could see a tiny knob and, higher, a good jug, but with my legs beneath the lip I felt unable to move.  I briefly considered a high heel-hook on the ball, but it was far too high.  Instead, I reached up and grabbed the knob before doing a move that is usually reserved for large protruding arete features - a leg hook (almost straddling the ball feature).  Feeling really locked in, I casually reached up to the final jug.  I would later find out that this funky line is called Nick Cave (V5 or 6), another fun Roy line put up by Owen.  Happy to flash the line, I headed around the back of the boulder and did the funky traverse-to-arete Cum On (V5) to round out my day.  By this point, my fingers felt thrashed, and I headed down-canyon to watch Kyle and Justin work Sneaker Man as the sun slowly sank below the horizon.  Another great day in Roy, and a really productive day for me!

Kyle reaching the "ball" hold of Nick Cave (V5/6); it's definitely tricky to move past this hold.

For the last two climbing days of our trip, we definitely wanted to climb more of the giant sandstone roofs that Roy offers.  By this point in our trip, we were definitely settling into a nice groove; wake up, stretch a bit, either eat breakfast in camp or head into town for coffee and burritos at Claudia's Coffee Shop, then as the day warmed head into the canyons to do some climbing.  On our second-last day (Friday) we followed this ritual and then headed back into upper Mesteno Canyon.  Kyle was super-keen to get back on Dust Bowl (V7), and I was excited to take a closer look at some unclimbed lines on the canyon rim I had spied during our last trip into the upper canyon.  As we arrived at the Mega Roof, we met some climbers from New Mexico (a super-friendly group who were already hard at work on the huge roof problems in the cave).  We warmed up on some of the easier lines on the Keep boulder, and then moved onto the steeper lines of the Mega Roof.  Justin climbed No One Gets out of Roy Alive (V4), and after another short session on Dust Bowl Kyle climbed through the massive 30 foot roof for the send.  Alissa and I were working on the adjacent Batman (V7), and after a little discussion about the best way to climb through the pockets without tweaking my left hand I managed to send it, while Alissa linked the entire first section of the problem (from the start to the third-last move of the roof).  The problems on the Mega Roof are awesome - we'll certainly be back!

Me hanging out on the stellar roof problem Batman (V7), Upper Mesteno.

Alissa on the Mega Roof, Upper Mesteno.

Finished with the Mega Roof for the day, Kyle, Alissa, and Justin wanted to check out the Solar Cave (another huge roof) just up-canyon.  However, I was keen to try the unclimbed project on the canyon rim I had looked at earlier, so I hiked up through the bushes and started sweeping off the holds on a perfect purple-orange wall of rails and pockets.  The problem was steep and high (!), so I didn't want to commit to topping out without first assessing as much of the rock as I could.  A view from the top revealed that the last 6 feet of climbing was on solid-looking edges, and I could see that the first 10 feet or so were on perfect 'merlot stone', but that left several feet in the middle that couldn't be easily examined without a rope.  After several tries on the line I had a good sequence figured out; perfect starting jugs prefaced two hard-ish moves on pockets, then a rail and another pocket led to a series of patina incuts.  Although I managed to climb up to this point fairly easily, it was difficult to determine which holds in the middle section were solid (although the climbing looked straightforward).  Still several feet below the exit holds, and looking at a huge fall into the brush (and undoubtedly missing my mat completely!), I decided that prudence was the better part of valor and decided to back off the problem and save the ascent for another day (when I had more mats and a spotter).  Packing up my gear, I headed over to take a look at the Solar Cave; when I arrived, however, Kyle, Alissa, and Justin were packing up, and with the sun getting low in the sky, we headed into town for dinner at Lonita's Cafe.
We definitely found some hard things to try, especially on our last day.  Here Kyle squeezes on a V10ish roof compression line on the Oogie Boogie Roof.

Saturday was our last day in Roy, and after climbing five days out of the last six my hands were incredibly sore.  We wanted to check out a few areas that Owen had given us directions but weren't in the guidebook; the Enormo Boulder and the Oogie Boogie Roof in Upper Mesteno Canyon.  Quickly packing up our gear, we headed out for one last day of pulling on desert sandstone.  After we dropped down into the canyon I had a very (!) unpleasant time warming up (my hands were very uncomfortable and painful)), but once I climbed a handful of lines they desensitized enough that I could pull on holds fairly comfortably.  Feeling strong, we headed over to the Oogie Boogie Roof to take a look.  Although it isn't as deep as the Mega Roof cave, the Oogie Boogie roof is arguably the most picturesque of all the caves we saw on our trip.  With the clock ticking, we climbed (or at least tried) almost all the lines in the cave, sending Ghost Town (V3), the amazing The Upside Down (the best V2 we climbed in Roy, certainly), and Mr. Oogie Boogie (V3).  Inspired by the amazing holds, I even climbed a new line on the Oogie Boogie Roof; starting on the start holds of The Upside Down I trended right through huecos, pockets, a very cool pinch and an amazing fin hold to top out, calling it Evil Eye (V5ish).  Kyle and I also worked The Babadook (V7), and eventually Kyle sent the line (in style!), while I came up short.  We also spent a little time working a hard (V10?) compression line, making better progress than I thought we would.  Next time!

Different views of Kyle, Alissa, and I on The Upside Down, an amazing V2 on the Oogie Boogie Roof.

By this point, unfortunately, it was late in the afternoon and it was time to start the drive back to Canada.  Long drives are not much fun, and this one was no exception.  Driving across New Mexico and Colorado was relatively uneventful, but northern Wyoming was an expanse of dense fog, and in Montana we experienced white-out blizzard conditions.  But eventually we made it back to Canada, albeit with sore hands and the desire to head back to the desert canyons of Roy for more bouldering!


Shariyf said...

I'm glad you enjoyed your stay in Roy. We really appreciate the positive comments. We are in the process of making the area more climber friendly. So, please spread the word about Roy...and if you pass on my contact details, I'll personally make sure climber's needs are prioritized! My contact details are as follows: (505-659-1457). We look forward to seeing you again.

Leigh Keith said...

I hope they respect the native history of the canyon and do not send climbers who want to bang climbing posts into boulders. they should also be given Kiowa history of locations where native americans made their homes.
I'm happy Harding County is getting some tourism from people who love rocks. Thank you for the post.