Summer Recap, September 27, 2017 - Mark Rafferty
Climbing Joshua Tree 2015

Summer Recap, September 27, 2017

Obviously, it’s been a while since my last post, which means a lot has happened. This summer was a summer I’ll remember forever. Sounds cheesy to say, but I will. Beginning this summer John and I got a job working at Custer State Park. Making friends with the management we could stay in the park all summer for free. As far as camping spots go, there is no other place I can think of that your able to camp just 30 second walk from the climbs. I suppose the only other place I can think of is Camp Four in Yosemite Valley. The spot isn’t as luxurious as Camp Four but we didn’t care. The area they let us stay in used to be where the manager cabin was. Years ago, the cabin was torn down and the area turned into a storage shed for the lodge. This season they remodeled a few individual cabins, which brought in a large construction style container for waste. With the high winds being pushed into that area, carboard and plastic was blown all over the parking area. Aside the container stood broken down rusted picnic tables. The place looked like a dump. A dump in the middle of a climber’s paradise soon earned its name “Garbage Wonderland.” Garbage Wonderland very quickly became more and more popular for local climbers. John and I were getting a little nervous. We didn’t want to overstep out boundaries with the management, so we came up with an idea to pick up the area little by little each day. When the manager came down and saw how we were picking up the area, he responded by saying “If you climbers keep cleaning this place up, you can stay as long as you like.” So, we did, and now we have a local climber’s campground that has running water, a fire ring, electricity, and flat lots to park our rigs. It truly became a paradise.

The rest of the summer consisted of climbing in the mornings before work, putting up routes, taking the kayaks out on the lake on rest days, large cookouts, and even a temporary sweat lodge. Yeah…it was badass. Before school started in late August, our group planned a climbing trip to the Cirque of the Towers in the Wind River Range, Wyoming. I think this trip was hands down the best climbing trip I have taken. My partner Alex and I got so much climbing in and the venue made it that much better. Alex spent a couple seasons ago working and living in the hills, which is where I got to know him and climb with a little bit. This season he moved to Moab, UT where he was bartending and diving into the climbing scene of the desert. When he came back to the hills for about a month he came back super strong, and to me seemed like the perfect partner for the Winds. Alex and I went in a day earlier than Ryan, John, and Brandon came in. With food distributed between all five of us our pack still weighed well over 50 lbs. We hiked in the first 9 or 10 miles to the base of Sundance pinnacle. Dropped our packs by a little watering hole and climbed the Northeast Arete, 3 pitches, 5.10c. After eating our snacks on top, we walked off to our packs and continued the last couple miles to our camp at the base of Pingora. I think doing this route on the hike in eased Alex and I’s nerves and prepared us for mentally for the next few days ahead.

The next day was one of the best days of climbing I’ve ever experienced. Waking up, throwing on my puffy, I was overwhelmed with nervousness and anticipation to climb Black Elk, a 5.11, 8 pitches on Warbonnet. Just like any big climb, as soon as Alex and I tied in the nerves transfer into pure stoke the higher and higher we get. The route is consistent with lots of 5.10 stacked on top of one another with each pitch ending in a hanging belay on small gear. In my opinion if you were to take any of the pitches and put them in a local crag they would be classic. Such a great adventure! After this day on Black Elk I could have been completely content with packing up and heading home right then. Luckily, we had three more climbing days in the Cirque, and I wanted more. That evening we met up with the rest of the crew at camp, ate dinner, and set our alarms for the morning. That following day all 5 of us split up and climbed the Northeast Face of Warrior 1, a 5.9, 7 pitches. That day John and I partnered up while the Alex, Ryan, and Brandon followed behind. John and I took a few variations on the route that were easily pushing the 5.10 grade. Somehow as we kept getting higher up the wall, our rack turned from double to a single. Which made some of the pitches a little more runout than we wanted. Overall the feeling of summitting with the whole group was incredible! The last two days consisted of easier climbing. Due to questionable weather that third day we climbed the classic “K Crack” on Pingora, 5.8, 3 pitches. That was a good rest day for all of us and another great time summiting with the whole crew.

The last day was another insane experience and is probably some of the scarier climbing I’ve done. Alex and I woke up at 3:30 AM and set off for the Cirque Traverse. Walking to the base of Pingora for the second time was interesting. Hardly anything was said as Alex and I were hiking up with questionable cloud covering us. As we summited the Pingora we both stopped, looked at clouds, then at each other. Both with a look of concern, we paused for a moment. After those few seconds passed it was like someone drugged out water with confidence and we set off to continue the traverse. We simul climbed almost the entire traverse besides a few moderate pitches. The rappels were straight forward however some anchors consisted of 2 nuts wedged into a micro seam or even a wedged cam with its wires frayed. As we reached the ridge of Watchtower there was a huge amount of stress lifted from our shoulders. All that was left was a long hike along the ridge, tagging summits on the ridge. Reaching camp at early in the evening we tagged camp where we had left just 14 hrs. ago. None the less my body was wrecked. As we hiked out of the Cirque the following day, I was so unbelievably pumped with what we accomplished. Turning back, looking at the cirque, and seeing that I’ve been on top of every peak was cool to see. I don’t know how I’m going to be able to top that trip next time I make it into the Cirque.

So fast forward to now and you’ll find me in classes at Black Hills State University. Now I’m more of a weekend warrior and a weekly training addict. Still searching for classic new lines in the hills any chance I get. Which can be hard while juggling classes and preparing for exams. It’s my last year for my Associates degree which means I must hold off just a little longer to be climbing full time. Staying stoked!