1 week in the desert, 2500 vertical feet of climbing, 18 classic pitches
When Kennley and I pulled away from BV at the end of November loaded with 3 weeks worth of climbing and camping gear, two dogs and a cat, I thought perhaps we had lost it. The drive went well enough. There were several complicated bathroom breaks, trying to get all the pets to do their business on leashes. And Charlie literally sat up and watched the road and everything we passed for the duration of the 12-hour drive. Nonetheless, when we rolled into the campground at the Sheepshead climbing area in Cochise Stronghold, the drive had been without any major drama.
The next morning was a little different story. As we packed our bags, organized our gear and prepared for the 6-pitch, 850-foot unnamed 5.10 on the Sheepshead, Charlie became more and more anxious, realizing he wouldn’t be coming along. In these moments it feels as if we are torturing him, bringing him along to great outdoor locations only to lock him in the car for the day. His bark from within the car quickly faded as we hiked away for the day’s adventure.
Unnamed 5.10 on The Sheepshead, Cochise Stronghold, Dragoon Mountains, AZ
The climb was quite fun and stout (Jed’s word for the hard stuff!), beginning with 200 feet of sustained 5.9 slab following a dihedral. Next was a very awkward and challenging 5.10 chimney with sparse gear placements and, luckily, a few bolts (A chimney is basically a crack wide enough that you can fit your whole body into it. Climbing a chimney involves pushing your feet against one wall and your back against the other…).
Kennley led the 3rd pitch, a 5.10 slab with mixed gear and bolts for protection that turned out to be very sustained and awkward and, in typical Cochise fashion, had several long run-outs (Run-outs are sections of a climb without bolts or cam placements. Basically they’re scary because you could fall a long way before the rope catches you, risking significant injury).
The next three pitches contained the real stuff Cochise has to offer- perfect slab for several hundred feet. Slab is something that I have only begun to love and appreciate over the years. It is hard and insecure as the rock is often featureless, but it requires a balance and rhythm that no other kind of climbing demands. The rhythm and precise footwork of slab climbing are what make it so fun.
After our long day, we drove to Tucson to visit family and catch up on work for a few days. While in Tucson, we did a day trip to Golder Dome in Catalina State Park, just a short drive north of where I grew up.
“Dam Bureaucrats,” 500-foot 5.9 R, Golder Dome, Catalina State Park, Tucson, AZ
The hike may have been the crux of the day with nearly 1 ½ hours of bushwhacking straight uphill. The dome itself was definitely a backcountry, Arizona adventure climb– rarely ascended, lots of time spent figuring out where the route went, and, of course, lots of run-outs. The climbing was straight forward, but with 1 or 2 bolts on each 125-foot pitch, falling was usually not a good option.
“Days of Future Passed,” 600- foot 5.10 R, Cochise Stronghold
The next day we headed back to Cochise to climb a few more classics. The first pitch of “Days” was one of the scariest pitches I have ever led. It started with an awkward off-width (a crack too wide for hand jams but too narrow to squeeze your body into. Offwidth climbing requires lots of super unique and challenging technique) to a 5.10 traverse to more off-width. Above the off-width was a nice ledge and the beginning of the stout- a flaring and blank 5.8 chimney with virtually no protection for 30 or more feet and no option to fall (Since doing so would lead to serious injury. If you’re runout 30 feet, you’re looking at a fall of 70 feet or so- scary). Luckily, I had hauled my huge #6 Camelot along that was somewhat helpful at times and helped take the edge off, but it certainly was not good enough to withstand a big fall. The chimney went on longer than I would have liked, and I eventually surfaced out on great holds.
The last 3 pitches were plenty exciting but still paled in comparison to that scary first pitch.
“What’s My Line,” 500- foot 5.6 R, Cochise Stronghold
Feeling a little traumatized and exhausted from “Days”, the next day we did “What’s My Line?” a true classic that is known to be the finest moderate line in all of Arizona. It was my third time on the climb and it was just as epic as I remembered. Kennley led the fantastic 2nd pitch and familiarized herself with slinging chicken heads for protection (chicken heads are granite knobs around which you can wrap a piece of webbing in order to catch a potential fall. They also make good holds).
That night we went back to the camper, built a fire and enjoyed what life used to be like, before work had become such a staple.
“Night Stalker,” 5.9+, Owl Rock, Cochise Stronghold
The final day we did a short 1 pitch 5.9+ climb called “Night stalker” located on Owl Rock. It is the quintessential Cochise pitch. It has a few technical slab sections, some varied crack sections and some excellent climbing on big plates of rock with slings around chicken heads for protection. It was a perfect way to conclude the week of Arizona adventure climbing. In total we climbed over 2,500 vertical feet consisting of 18 classic pitches.
After a few days back in Tucson visiting with family and catching up on work, we packed up and headed out for two weeks of crack climbing in the desert around Moab. Another report to follow…
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