Monday, 14 October 2013

Cowboy Up or go sit in the Truck (by Karen Varga)

'Project Wall crag' at Rifle 
Rifle wasn't on our original American road trip plan, I actually hadn't even heard of it before.  But I had emailed some climbing buddies that I knew had done climbing trips to the US and Rifle was one of the spots recommended.  So of course I jumped on Google to check if it appealed to me, and to see if it would be feasible to include in our trip.

Rock and sunshine ... heaven ;)
Rifle is in Colorado, 200 miles directly east of Boulder.  The town is pretty small, but the climbing is big :) It's all situated in Rifle Mountain Park, roughly 12 miles out of Rifle town.  The park is basically a narrow gorge (varying from 50m to a maximum of 100m wide) with a single dirt road running all the way through.  Both sides of the gorge are lined with stunning limestone rock faces, with varying degrees of angle and difficulty and height.  A river runs down the gorge too, frequently meandering from one side to the other. The crags run on both sides of the gorge with so many routes to choose from, and so much potential for even more development.

Porta-potti luxuaries
The park is extremely well maintained, and offers rustic camping (no showers or water supply), picnic tables and chairs, and porta-pottie toilets at every parking pullout (of which there are many and close by to each other).  You do pay for these luxuaries though at a cost of $7 a day park fees.  However if you are staying for more than 4 days then get an annual pass which is only $30.

Belaying in style 1 meter from the road - Project Wall crag
Rifle has by far the shortest walk-ins I have ever experienced in my 14 years of climbing!! The longest walk-in that we had to endure was probably as much as 200 meters (all flat), and the shortest was 3 meters (there are actually signs at the crag saying you are not allowed to belay out of your car :).  The biggest novelty of all is walking just a few meters from the crag to a porta-pottie for a luxuary toilet experience! Never before have I sat on a proper toilet while at a climbing crag :) 

Rone Thompson on Irie Meditation (5.11d)
Now onto the juicy stuff ... the climbing! Rifle has an awesome selection of routes, lots and then lots more :)  Unfortunately, as is the nature of limestone, many of the routes were pretty polished, some of them to the point of being unpleasant and almost unclimbable (at least not without adding a couple grades to the original number). However that said, there were plenty of non-polished routes to do too, it was just a matter of looking in the right places, and avoiding some of the over-climbed classics.

The style of the climbing varies from crag to crag, but predominantly you looking at an obscene use of kneebars on the steeply overhung routes (bring your kneepad!), with large moves between flat or sloping laybacks. On the vert or off-vert the crimpers start to kick in, but it's still a lot about them laybacks. There are no tufa features on this limestone, and not many pockets either.  For me I definitely needed a bit of time to build up some crimper strength, and to get used to the layback-dominant style of climbing, which often means tricky footwork and off-balance slapping between grips.  It was super fun though, and the routes were all well bolted.

The Royal Seat at Anti-Phill Wall crag
Rifle has a mind-boggling number of 5.13 and 5.14 routes, compared with many other climbing destinations, so if you're cranking those sort of grades you'll be kept well entertained.  But the dominant grade range is 5.12s, with decent selection of 5.11s.  There are limited 5.10s and not much below that, but if you are climbing those grades then there are still sufficient routes for at least a few weeks worth of climbing.

Our campervan which we hired in Los Angeles

I found the grading to be quite solid and you really had to work for a tick.  As I got more familiar with the rock and the style of climbing this did ease up a bit, but the grades still felt pretty hard.  I chatted with a number of other first-time-Rifle'ers from all over the world and it seems to be consensus that Rifle's grading is quite staunch.

However it's not all about the grade, at least not for me, and Rifle offered some really stunning routes with great climbing, so it was just good times!

For travel in the US I would definitely recommend a car.  Well, to be honest that's all we used so I couldn't really comment on feasibility of getting around using train and bus.  If you don't have a car, but can manage to get to Rifle town, then it would be possible to hitch out to the park and camp there. There was always climbers around, even mid-week, so you might even manage to hitch a ride into town and back to get supplies.

Feeling da rock in Yosemite National Park
Denver and Salt Lake City are your closest big airports, but there are plenty other options like Las Vegas (we drove there after our climbing in Rifle) and Albuquerque.  You can even fly in to Los Angeles or San Francisco and drive out from there.  We drove out from San Francisco, stopping along the way at Yosemite National Park and Bryce Canyon, both breathtaking spots that I highly recommend seeing!

Our camp at Rifle Gap State Park
As mentioned above, Rifle Mountain Park offers rustic campsites from which you can walk to the crags.  I think they are only first-come-first-serve, so you cannot pre-book.  Alternatively there are 2 campgrounds to choose from outside of the park: Rifle Gap State Park and Rifle Falls State Park.  

We stayed at Rifle Gap and it was perfect.  Price was $16 for a primitive site, which means no electric or water hookup.  Each site had a picnic table with roof shelter overhead (more for the sun than rain!) and a fire pit. There was running water and treated drinking water, and the showers cost $1 for 4 minutes.

Bryce Canyon National Park - absolutely breath-taking
From what I read on the internet, Rifle Falls State Park is the more popular one for climbers.  However that was fully booked up so we stayed at Rifle Gap instead, so I can't really comment on Rifle Falls except that I'm sure it will be of similar quality to Rifle Gap.  Rifle Falls is about 4 miles from the climbing, and Rifle Gap about 6 miles. The one thing to warn you about is that you have to pay a daily fee for all State Parks in the US.  For Rifle this is $7.  So remember to bear that in mind and add that to your daily camp expense.  However, if you are there for a decent length of time then it's better to get an annual pass which was $60.  

If you have the dosh then there are a number of motels in Rifle, prices ranging from $64 to $99+ a night.  

The Rifle Mountain Park guidebook by Dave Pegg seems to be the best one out there.  If you're only there for a short time, or if you're traveling like we were and couldn't afford to add another book to an already overweight backpack, then you can get the guidebook on your mobile phone through the Rakkup app.  It's a lot cheaper, especially if you go for the 2-month subscription book at only $9.99. This is what we used and the app was great, with good pictures and descriptions for finding the routes, and good beta on the routes (length, bolts, stars, general features etc). 

Yosemite National Park - To infinity and beyond!
There is a large City Market supermarket in Rifle town which has everything you need at good prices, plus a bakery which produces some very tantalizing goodies which maybe you don't need but will definitely want :) The town also has a few liquor stores, laundry, post office, and other bits of bobs.  It's also got a movie theatre and various take-away joints.  

The one thing to note is that you cannot buy any climbing chalk in Rifle. The closest outdoor shop that we found that sold it was in Glenwood Springs, about 30 minutes from Rifle (Summit Canyon Mountaineering).

From what I've heard, Rifle is a popular summer destination crag.  This is because you are guaranteed to be able to find shade no matter what time of the day it is ... with one side of the gorge having shade in the morning and then it moving over to the other side of the gorge for the afternoon.  It's also at a slight elevation so the temperatures are slightly cooler. I'm not actually sure about what conditions are like for the rest of the year, since we were going in summer I just researched that. You'll have to do your own bit of Googling to find out.

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