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Spur of the Moment

When Sunday morning violently forced itself upon me, the wake of the previous evening’s events was still surging through my brain. Birthday celebrations chocked full of daytime climbing binges and twilight revelry fueled by craft beer and scotch are quickly becoming tradition during stays with the Crowders.

I rolled over to see the my girlfriend’s peaceful face, mind still deep in slumber, and wondered what jettisoned me into reality, one I’d hoped to delay for a few hours. Then, as if on cue, my questions were answered.

“It’s ten to six?! Soccer practice starts in twenty minutes. Dammit Mom!”

Apparently Hollis, Paul and Joni’s daughter of 17 years, had set sail with me on the ship of rude awakenings. Ah, the theatrical life of teenage girls. By that time, Nicole had joined me to unexpectedly greet the Colorado morning. We have a chuckle at the melodrama, reminiscing about our own time as young adults, and Joni already begins the apologetic ritual, as would be expected from our accommodating hostess.

Over those two days, Joni and her husband Paul surrendered their home to invading climbers. Perhaps I should rephrase. Invading is too forceful a term, for were welcomed with open arms to their Louisville, Colorado residence – not a proposition to be considered lightly for two people receiving filthy climbers into their newly renovated home. The hospitality of the Crowder family is something to marvel. Not once were we greeted in the morning by anything less than hot coffee, fresh fruit, warm bagels, and encouraging words to send you off to a day of climbing with a the zen-like focus for success on the rock.

For so many reasons, the Crowders’ home is a perfect launching pad for a weekend of climbing. First you’re a measly five-minute drive from the gates of Eldo. But more importantly, the immersion in stories and artifacts and the ubiquity of accomplished climbers combined with just enough Scotch, wine, and coffee to stimulate fantastic goals does well to get your head in the right place for the weekend.

Our goal for that day was Yellow Spur. A few of us had a longstanding feud with the route. A route that is not prone to longstanding feuds, by the way. For the confident leader, the route wholly presents itself, with pitch after pitch of perfect sandstone satisfaction. But as you could imagine, with such excellence come equally excellent lines at the base. The popularity of the route, along with finicky Colorado weather, had on more than one occasion thwarted the efforts of we who aspire to climb it.

But no, that day would be met only by success. I don’t want to give away the ending, but I have to say the thought of the flawlessness of that day still springs a well of delight. Unfortunately, we had to start the day by seeing off our friends; those who succumbed to the burden of (ugh) WORK. But a quick goodbye and a final sip of coffee sent us on our way, bound for Redgarden Wall. With such perfect weather, that culminated four chilly days, we will surely not be the only ones in the Front Range with intentions of an early start.

We arrived to find only a handful of other cars in the parking lot, most of which were either devoid of bumper stickers or proudly brandishing Mercedes or BMW shields, a sure sign that they were not climbers.

Packs already prepared, we bore the loads and began up the trail. It was a crisp morning, the kind where you almost want to wear a jacket for the hike, but know you’ll take it off in 200 yards. These are the mornings climbers dream about during the eternal Midwest winters. Climbers know it will keep the rock cool, tacky, and primed for effortless ascents.

We were surprised when we reach the base to find no one even within earshot, so we racked up, not wanting to lose the golden opportunity. We were four strong that day. Al Provorse, a native flatlander with an unassuming demeanor and sense of humor that will sneak up on you like a puma and leave you rolling in agonizing laughter, was paired with Simon. Our friend from Austria, who only a week earlier had made is return to Nebraska, was the ideal compliment to Al’s personality.

My partner was my friend, Justin. Justin is exactly the person you want in a climbing partner. He is willing, capable, and built like a brick s#*t-house. But more importantly, Justin’s answer to nearly any proposition is “yes.” Hey Justin, let’s go on a three week road trip (on non-paid vacation) – “yes.” JLo, let’s drive to Jackson Falls, arrive at 4 AM, climb until it rains, and drive home to be back to work on Monday – “Absolutely!” Hey big guy, you don’t mind taking the sharp end for this entire route do you – “Try and stop me…like it was your idea or something!”

And so he did. Without full knowledge of the breadth of the undertaking, but confident in his abilities, Justin led the whole of Yellow Spur. And with me bringing up the caboose and the two of us fluidly managing the belays, we cruised through the route.

Al Provorse at the airy belay for Pitch 6

All seven pitches passed us before noon, including the rousing 5.10 variation of the sixth pitch. Pitch five follows an enjoyable traversing roof that ends at the first truly exposed belay of the climb. Some delicate work on a 5.9 arête starts pitch six, just to get your attention after the previous five cruiser pitches. Then a quick, awkward rest pushes you to the left face of the arête and fifty feet of arête-slapping, crimptastic goodness that refuses to let up until the belay. I learned on that pitch that following can be much more alarming than leading.

We reached the summit via the airy 5.6R ridge that forms one of the edges of the tetrahedral summit of the Yellow Spur tower. It was hard to believe that a pitch four full letter grades easier than the previous pitch that managed to stimulate both leader and follower, would have any effect on us. But once you step onto the knife blade edge and gaze down at the 600’ of air on either side of you, you begin to appreciate the exhilaration that 5.6 can offer.

The Yellow Spur summit as seen from Green Spur

An efficient and uneventful rappel led us to our packs, miraculously unspoiled by Eldo’s cunning rodent scavengers. But only being slightly past noon, and still riding the high of our efficient conquest, we thumbed the pages of our guidebook looking for the next route to fall. It seemed only fitting to complete Spur Circuit and attempt Green Spur. The shorter cousin of its Yellow counterpart, Green Spur offered four pitches that would lead to the day’s second summit of Redgarden Wall.

Although easier than the crux pitches of Yellow Spur, Green Spur’s second pitch, one Justin was happy to hand over, began with a claustrophobic hand crack, that led to a right-leaning squeeze slot, and finished with a sustained 50’ of a combination of 5.9 hands and slab that left you feeling just a little sick to your stomach. It’s the kind of climbing you love to hate.

Al Provorse preparing for the final pitch of the Green Spur

The rest of the route was closer to scrambling than actual rock climbing, but sunset at the top of Redgarden and a view of the canyon, bathed in a soft orange glow made the second trip worth the while. The four of us had completed a day far better than any in recent memory, a perfect springboard to the blossoming climbing season.

We appropriately finished our day sharing beers, charred flesh (even Justin), and stories with Paul and Joni. There’s not much that’s more satisfying than the feel of a cold bottle in your tender hands and warm food in your stomach after a long day’s work – except maybe the accompaniment of good friends.

Al - Woohoo! I made 2 out of 3 photos! And such flattering compliments. But seriously Chris, your words bring back such fond memories, that was a fantastic weekend, well done. Thanks again to Paul and Joni for their accommodations, food, scotch, stories, and enthusiasm.June 16, 2010 – 1:03 pm

Adam - Great article, Chris. The writing and storytelling are fantastic. Both Yellow Spur and Green Spur have been on my list since I moved to this town – nice work. Did you check out any of the lines immediately to the West of Yellow Spur? There looks to be some amazing cragging on the ledge as well.

I know what you mean that 5.6 can be a rude awakening on a long route like this. After finishing the crux 5.10 pitch of Black Orpheus, the leader is met with pitch 11: “5.6” slab for 100 feet, including a nice 50 foot runout on nothing but crimps and smears. Just when you think you’re done and can enjoy a cruise to the top – ha!June 16, 2010 – 2:04 pm

Eli - A couple classics! Yeah, I’ve hiked up to Yellow Spur three or four times, rained off once, and behind a bunch of parties the other times, still haven’t climbed it all. Green Spur is awesome, that second pitch is unforgettable.June 18, 2010 – 11:51 am

Chris - Thanks guys for responding. Glad to know we’re not the only ones with trouble not that route. Green spur is pretty great. Wish I hadn’t been so long-winded on the first part. I definitely should have given more credit to the green meanie.June 18, 2010 – 12:12 pm

Andrew - I really enjoyed reading this!!! Reminds me of so many great climbs with great friends…. All memories that have a unfading spot in my mind. So when are you getting out to Moab to do some climbing?June 19, 2010 – 7:56 am

Simon - Chris,

Your stories should go straight into a climbing magazine, or better, a book. Not even kidding. Great writing, I could re-experience our adventure while I read this.

I also have mention another “THANKS!” for Paul and Joni for everything; you guys rock.June 21, 2010 – 12:21 pm

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