Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Stop Four, Tuscon, Mt. Lemmon

Friday, July 10th

I am driving into the maw of hell. Black clouds prematurely blot out the setting sun, and lightning and thunder punctuate the senses with a manic assault of percussive sound and strobe lights. The top of some distant peak is illuminated in the flashes, along with the ghost like figures of suguaro standing alongside the road, arms uplifted to the heavens collecting the moisture. Rain and wind beat sideways against my car; the drops are so big they sound like rocks against the window by my head, while the wind is so fierce the rain merely pings off the front windshield. The display is all the more impressive considering the size of the horizon—not enclosed like that of Washington, but an expansive horizon that begs you to take a deep breath and let your spirit soar to the ends of the earth. Or at least be blown west with the whipping wind!

This is my introduction to Tuscon, and adds to the wealth of experiences I've so far collected in Arizona. I like Arizona.

On Saturday morning we meet up with a large group of climbers at The Buzz coffee shop at the foot of Mt. Lemmon, while Stephanie heads out for a class taught by a local guide. The Buzz is, well, abuzz with activity—the dozen climbers are easily outnumbered by the cyclist, ready to pit themselves against thousands of feet of climbing in temperatures that are already into the high 90s.

Our group heads to the Munchkinland area, a stretch of granite wall with a number of face climbs, with many first ascents and much hardware supplied by local climber Scott Ayers. He has invested well over a thousand dollars in hardware alone, all of it first class and bomber. This wall was meant to be used and enjoyed for years to come. Thank you, Scott!

The 30 minute hike has some ups and downs, but goes quickly. Michelle, who is in the lead, suddenly makes a short jump to one side. She has spotted a good-sized rattlesnake sunning himself just off the trail. We make a wide berth while the snake slowly crawls over a log and curls up under a small bush. Much darker than rattlesnakes I've seen in Florida, the almost black snake is perfectly camouflaged and the rest of the group can barely make him out under the shade of the foliage.

Can you spot the rattler?

Large groups can be difficult, but this one works out well. There are just enough ropes and leaders to keep everyone busy and satisfied climbing at whatever level they choose. There is a 5.6 stemming route (Miss Gultch) that is incredibly fun (so much fun we repeat it the next day), and some mildly overhanging workouts at the end of the day as we all warm up to the wall. As the sun appears over the cliff just past mid-day, the clouds mercifully roll in and we spend the whole day in the shade.

Me on Miss Gultch

Brigette leads Miss Gultch

Sunday, July 12th

The next day sees us back at the same area, considering our success in keeping out of the sun on the previous day. We're a little slower today with just the three of us, a pace that suits us all just fine. I'm nursing a number of niggling injuries by now, and am content to lead at a moderate level.

We met a couple of friends of Brigette's, Tanya and Dave. Tanya's fiance is Scott, who put up many of the bolts. While talking, I mention I have friends who have just moved to Las Vegas. Tanya shouts out, “You're Brie's friend!”. As it turns out, I met Tanya and Scott in the Needles where they had camped next to Sam and Brie for a number of days. It's a small climbing world!

Back at Brigette's house, we settle down for a late dinner and a movie. It's been a great trip, all too short, and I absolutely can not wait to get back to Tuscon and see the rest of Mt. Lemmon. I've only been to one of the numerous areas, and haven't even seen the top of the peak itself!

It may be a small climbing world, but it's going to take years to see even a fraction of everything and everyplace. My goal is to take more pictures—I have no picture of the storm, of the suguaro, or of the incredibly beautiful sunset that accompanies me on the drive out of Arizona. I realize that, six weeks through this journey, my eyes are just beginning to see.

Me leading at the Munchkinland Area

Stephanie on her first rappel!

Stephanie's first time ascending on prussiks!

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