Cragging at Little Cottonwood

May 23-30, 2007

We had ice climbed in Utah but never never rock climbed in the Wasatch. Never got around to it. Too far from home for a week-end trip and climbing routes not long enough to justify a two week vacation. Stopping near Salt Lake on our way to the Cascades for some mellow cragging seems like a great way to kick-off the trip! Plus, I am still recovering from carpal tunnel related problems and I need some nice and easy cragging to try to get back into climbing. Eric has not climbed much these past months either and is eager to sample easier routes on the gorgeous Little Cottonwood granite.

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Driving up Big Cottonwood Canyon.
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At the Spruce Campground.
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White granite, what Little Cottonwood is about (The Gate Buttress).
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Starting "Bushwhack Crack" (5.8).
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Eric on "Callitwhatyouplease" (5.8).

May 23rd is our first day of climbing on this trip and in the last several months. It's a cold and windy day. We decide to go check out the climbing on the Schoolroom Wall on Gate Buttress, one of the most popular areas at Little Cottonwood (LC). After warming up on "Bushwhack Crack", (5.8, 2p), we climb "Callitwhatyouplease" (5.8, 1p) and "Mantle Route" (5.9, 1p). The rock is gorgeous. The lines are not so striking though: a lot of discontinuous cracks, and not-so-straightforward descents (it does not help that we do not have a decent guidebook...). The first pitch of "Bushwhack crack" is great (sort of reminscent of George's Tree at Lumpy Ridge in Colorado, including the painful foot jams), but we should have rapped from there since the descent from the second pitch is tricky and slow. "Callitwhatyouplease" is really fun, with intricate moves and good pro, and a tricky crux at the top. "Mantle Route" is nothing special (and could use an anchor at the top). We finish the day on "Schoolroom Direct" (5.7, 4/5p), hoping for a nice cruise on 5.7, but we're in for more excitement than we have planned... 1st pitch is steep and fun, 2nd and 3rd pitches are easy and fun, but then... Eric tries the 5.10b direct exit pitch and has to bail off the second bolt... just not up to that thin and not-so-well-protected slab climbing!. We then go up the regular 5.6 chimney! 5.6 it is not! In our opinion, this turns out to be a serious 5.8 squeeze, and of course no pro... Eric is usually pretty good at chimneys... maybe we're just rusty. The pitch finishes with an easy but long traverse under the roof. The 5th pitch (last) is a fun 5.6-ish on flared cracks. The descent is not too bad; a bit of exposed downclimbing (we short-rope), to a ledge with a chain anchor. We make a double rap to the ground, then scramble down around the base of the buttress and back to the base of the climb. We're tired and out of water at this point and hike back to the car. Eric's pack - even though it did not contain any food- has been raided and trashed by huge squirrels (we could see them at work from the top of the 1st pitch of "Bushwhack Crack"; they are ferocious). We climbed a total of 8 pitches today, not bad for a first day.

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"Schoolroom Direct" (5.7) - 3rd pitch.
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The traverse on pitch 4.
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Looking back at the 5.6 chimney of pitch 3 which follows the corner.
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Hiking to Dog Lake on a rest day.
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Views on the way down from Dog Lake.

After a rest day (featuring a hike to Dog Lake), we spend our second day climbing at LC in the Green Adjective Gully area. The area classic is a 2 pitch climb: "Perhaps" (5.7). It follows the most obvious feature on the wall: a laser-cut lieback and undercling corner/roof. Great climb. The traverse at the end of 1st pitch is a bit spicy. The rest of the climb is a beauty, continuous but never hard, and with terrific pro. On the way down, we top-rope the "Green Adjective", a good, thin route, which feels hard for 5.9. The pro is bit iffy on the 1st third (crux) then bomber on small nuts above that. Just make sure to bring the right gear for the direct start (lots of small nuts, and a Lowe ball/slider nut/micro-cam), which we later find out is actually 5.10a. After a break and some water and fuel, we hike all the way up the gully to go climb "Wheels of Fire", a sustained, 150' pitch of sandbagged 5.8 (guidebook admits it's really 5.9). Very slippery start to a flared crack with tricky climbing but fortunately very good pro. Then comes a lieback, an undercling left under a flake, then more liebacking up the left-facing corner to the top. No anchor here; it is 15' lower at the end of the direct finish. Wow! Never been whipped like this on a "5.8"… We both feel really tired throughout the climb, barely able to move… but the route is very good! That is enough for today. We hike back down and drive back to the campground. The hosts are being pains in the a#$ again… campground Nazis for sure! The camp is now full of weekenders, burning wood as fast as they can. It's memorial day WE…

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Perhaps (5.7), on Green Adjective Gully.
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On the second pitch.
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Higher up on the same pitch.
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Looking back toward Salt Lake City.
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The very sandbagged "Wheels of Fire" (5.8 MA)

After a couple of days of climbing, we feel like doing something different. It's a bit too hot, and likely too crowded to go climbing today (it is Memorial Day WE). While at REI the day before, we took some notes about a bike ride near Park City that follows an old Union Pacific railroad grade; it's been made into a State Park, and is closed to motorized traffic. It sounds like good exercise, without too much stress on the hands. We leave camp around 11AM and drove to the trailhead at Echo reservoir, about an hour away on I-80. Once at the trailhead, we lose some of our enthusiasm for the ride: it follows the interstate highway for most of its length. And it is very windy. It also looks like it's popular with families and retirees… We go for it anyway. Kind of boring at first (flat gravel road and lots of traffic noise), but then a bit more interesting once we start climbing toward the pass in a gentle but steady grade. It feels good to push through that section. Past that, it is mostly flat again, all the way into Park City. We take a quick stroll through some of the town but do not find anything interesting (maybe we missed the good part?). We do not want to wait too long before heading back as the skies have been getting very dark in the last few hours, and we even had a few drops of rain. The way back is painful. Head winds most of the way, making progress harduous. Our butts are also hurting badly. We make it back to the car in 47.3 miles… but decide to round it off to 50! So we continue part of the way around the reservoir (good views) and back again for a 50.3 mile ride! Ouch.

Back in town, we buy groceries for a barbeque (after all, it's Memorial Day!). Pork chops and corn on the cobs are on the menu. We start the charcoal and find some wood our neighbours had cut the night before from deadfall, so we decide to go all the way and build a camp fire in the luxurious fire ring (we normally frown on campsites but this is only the third campfire we've had in 11 years). We eat, drink, and stare at the fire all night. It is much colder again.

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Biking the Union Pacific trail.
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Back at the car after a 50 mile ride.
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Memorial Day BBQ at Spruce Campground.
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One of the locals.
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Smiiile!.

After a rest day, we climb in the "Pentapitch" area. It's really hot again. We get to the parking area in stifling heat and full sun. The climb looks really good from a distance, but there are many cars and it's in the sun… we look for other otpions in the guidebook, but finally decide to give it a try anyway. On our way up the approach, two guys tell us that there is nobody waiting at the base of "Pentapitch", something that is apparently fairly unusual. So we speed up, get to the base while a party of two is finishing the first pitch. The route looks really good from here (can only see the bottom half); Lumpy-esque low angle flares on really gorgeous looking rock. We take our time getting ready to give the others some space and link the first two pitches together for a super-long, really good 5.7-ish pitch (rated 5.6…). Next pitch goes up a short ramp to a treed, multi-tiered ledge. From there two more pitches (which we again do as one), go up a really gorgeous looking face , using a ramp at first then some tricky friction (5.8 PG) above the first anchor, to a thin finger crack and a bit more face climbing to the top. Good route (done in 3 long pitches)! We rap 155ft back to the treed ledge, then scrambled down to the bolted anchor atop "Sasquatch" a 5.9+ crack pitch that is reputed to be the best crack pitch in the area. We rap down to the base of that pitch, have some Gu and water, then go up again. Beautiful, Lumpy-like 5.9+ finger crack, complete with a roof move on good hand jams, and good rests at intervals. Definitely a classic. Pro is great all the way.

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Eric on the 4th pitch of "Pentapitch".
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Higher up on the same pitch.
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Views from Pentapitch.
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The great finger crack of "Sasquatch" (5.9+) in the Pentapitch area.
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Higher on the same pitch.

For our last day at LC, we go to Crescent Crack Buttress. We end up climbing a total of 7 pitches. We link "Crescent Crack" (5.7), with "Crescent Crack Direct Variation" (5.9) and the "Final Link" (5.9). The first pitch of Crescent Crack is really fun with pro all over. The 2nd pitch is more tricky - with an akward move at the start and a chimney with not much pro. The direct variation pitch is good but felt pretty stiff for 5.9. The slab pitch (Final Link) is really fun (5.9 is a fair rating); beware that the bolts are pretty widely spaced. We then rap down to the Coffin to climb "The Coffin" (5.9) - a great fingercrack with lots of footholds on the face - and the "Right Side Variation" (5.9) as a 2nd pitch. It's a double-rope rap from the top anchors to the ground. We finish with "The Viewing" (10a), a good face climb right of "The Coffin" with a scary runout at the end on not-so-positive holds. Contrary to what is mentioned in the guidebook, the start of the Viewing and the Coffin are not R; probably just PG, if that (there are some bomber small Alien placements to be found). All in all, a good day climbing, one of the best we've had in LC.

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At the start of the trail leading to the Crescent Crack Buttress (note the sign).
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Starting the first pitch of "Crescent Crack Buttress" (5.7).
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Higher on the "Direct Crescent Crack Variation" (5.9).
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Views.
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Slabby! "The Final Link" (5.9).
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Bar near the mouth of the BC canyon.
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Eric on "The Coffin" (5.9) - a great finger crack.
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Starting the second pitch.
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Local taking a nap.
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Climbing "The Viewing" (5.10a), the bolted face next to The Coffin.