Frogland-Red Rock Climbing

I know I haven’t written anything in some time. It’s not that I haven’t been doing anything, in fact I’ve been quite active this winter. I’ve been training really hard for a couple of ultramarathons I have coming up. One is in April and one in May and they are 31 and 50 mile runs respectively. I plan on being much better prepared than the 50k I ran last year. Last year at this time I was only running about 12-15 miles a week, while the last 5 weeks I’ve ran at least 40 miles each week. Look forward to the trip reports on those runs in the coming weeks.

We have also been climbing quite a bit this winter (“we” being myself and my friends Bruce, Brad, and Sergio). The trade off to having blazing summers, I guess, is the mild winters so we were able to get out quite a bit. I haven’t written about any of the climbs they were mainly single pitch routes that were fun and all but nothing to write home about (forgive the pun). That is until this weekend. Sergio and I climbed one of the trademark climbs in Red Rocks this past Sunday called Frogland. I know none of you know who Sergio is but he is a friend of mine I climb with that is from Italy. He is about 42 years old and has a wife and two daughters. I know Frogland is a strange name but believe it or not there are frogs in the desert. I heard them durning the climb hence the name. Similarly there is a route in Red Rocks called Birdland where we got dive bombed by birds all day, damn birds.

On Saturday I went on a 23 mile training run. I was a little worried about being tired for the climb Sunday but as it turned out I was fine. Sergio and I met at the crack of crack Sunday morning for the climb. To get to the climb we traveled down a rough 4×4 road for several miles and we picked up a couple of fellow climbers who were walking because their vehicle couldn’t negotiate the road. The approach trail to the climb was in the neighborhood of 2 miles. At 8 am we were geared up and beginning the climb.

Before continuing I think it is necessary to give a bit of background on climbing so you all know what the hell I’m talking about. Frogland is known as a “traditional” style climb. What this means is that we had to place our own protection which are cams and nuts of varying sizes. How it works is while the leader (first one up a pitch or section) is going up he must fit cams and nuts into cracks and slots. He then clips the rope or ropes to this piece. If you fall, hopefully, the piece will catch you. The catch is that if you climb 10 feet about a piece before placing another and fall you will fall 20 feet before the rope becomes taut and stops your fall. On hard sections the leader may place gear every few feet, while I’ve had 40 feet between pieces on easier ground. When the leader stops the pitch “belay” the “follower” then climbs up to him collecting the gear along the way while the leader pulls up the rope. Usually, but not always, the climbers swap leads meaning one person leads the odd pitches and the other leads the even. I know this explanation is rudimentary but it should suffice.

Anyway back to the story. I started leading up the first pitch. This went pretty smoothly. There were a couple of sections I had to think about a bit but there were plenty of places to put protection and the climbing was fun. This pitch was about 150’ and ended at a large ledge with a nice tree giving us some nice shade. The second pitch was also 150’ which Sergio, who is a better and much more experienced climber than I am, led smoothly. Being that Sergio seemed to climb pretty easily I was surprised to have a bit of trouble with this pitch. It followed a pretty steep crack and at the end I had to climb over a slightly overhanging bulge to get up to Sergio. The third pitch was only 90’ but offered some fun climbing it zig zagged across a ledge up a short crack and then right again before going up a small roof to a tiny ledge for the belay. I felt pretty confident on this pitch even though it was a little run out meaning there were some sections where there wasn’t any place to put protection. The fourth and fifth pitches were the heart of the climb and the two most difficult pitches by far. Sergio got his hard work done first going up pitch number four. He struggled with one section that had me holding my breath down below but he managed it well. My heart rate rose as I started up behind him. The scariest part was this section that I had to traverse left holding onto a ledge but there were no features to stand on. I had to push my shoes against the sandstone relying on friction to hold me up. To make matters worse this particular section was where water ran down durning rains so it was quite smooth and slippery. As one may guess it was pretty much scary, but I made it across. Then I had to make a couple of tricky moves up a bulge and a face with small holds to where Sergio was waiting for me.

As I caught my breath I tried to ready myself for the toughest, scariest, most unique, and most fun lead of my short climbing career. I matter of factly grabbed the gear from Sergio and started up the pitch. I didn’t want to stand there looking up and all psyched out. The first section was a real test on my nerves. I placed a small cam about 5 feet from the belay. Then I looked up and saw a bolt “a hanger attached to a bolt drilled into the rock” about 15 feet away. The problem was that there was nowhere to put any protection in unit I got to that bolt. To add to my dilemma this was one of the hardest sections of the entire climb. There were only tiny little features to grab onto and what seemed like tinier features to place my feet on in this section. The next thing I remember I was clipping with a sling and attaching the bolt to that sling. Ahh I could breath again. Congrats from Sergio when he heard the carabiner close shut around the rope. About 4 seconds later I realized I wasn’t out of the woods yet. The climbing above the bolt got harder and offered another 15 feet of climbing without any protection. This meant a potential 30 to 40 foot fall of bouncing off of rock. I wouldn’t have died but there was a serious risk of injury. And I thought I was scared before.

One of the reasons I enjoy climbing is the mental challenge of having to keep your emotions at bay while you overcome your fear and concentrate on the task at hand. You can’t be in the middle of a tricky section and all of a sudden get scared and have your leg start shaking because you will probably shake yourself off of the wall. The next few minutes of the climb presented this mind war way beyond anything I had experienced before. I climbed about five feet to a little rest spot where I could regroup and catch my breath. Oddly enough while climbing I rarely look down because I am so busy on what I’m doing. That damn little serpent of a rest spot afforded me the opportunity to relax slightly, but also the opportunity to break a cardinal rule of climbing which is don’t look down. Suddenly the reality of the situation was at the front of my mind. However, after a minute (actually about five minutes) with the help of some levity that Sergio brought to the situation I refocused and stated up again. In retrospect the climbing here wasn’t really all that hard but was compounded exponentially by the risk factor. I was really proud to have gotten through it. The next section was probably the most unique climbing I have ever been on (see picture above, by the way it’s not me). I had to climb up a three sided chimney about four feet wide. The face had two cracks large enough to put your fingers in on each side and I had my feet on each side wall which was pretty smooth. It would have been easier to climb with my back to one side wall and my feet on the other but I had a pack on. This went on for about 40 feet where I exited through a tunnel as in the photo above. The best way to describe this section is as a wrestling match. I was totally out of breath when I got to the ledge. Sergio finished off the climb with an enjoyable pitch that was easier but definitely got your attention. We took some time to enjoy the views from the top, sorry no camera, and get a snack before the descent down a steep trail. We got back to Sergio’s truck about 4pm.

This was a very enjoyable climb on a beautiful day that I will remember for some time.