26 June 2012

Return to the Falcon's Lair

The Falcon
It was a long wait through winter and spring and well worth it. The second season of the Falcon's Lair has begun.  About two weeks ago Chris Marley had made it in to the area and started digging problems out. He's been going in on a regular basis now and I've been going crazy not being able to make it. With the good news I began structuring my schedule to escape the doldrums of work and the new records of summer heat in southeast Wyoming. Unfortunately my plans in Lander did not coincide with Chris' on this particular trip, but worked well with David Lloyd and Bryan Vansickle. We made plans for Sunday and got at it. The day was a great test for what is becoming a bitch of a hot summer. The snow levels in the Lair are already at the melt out point as they were when David and I first went into the Lair on August 1st or 2nd of last year. Scary to think of the drought being that far ahead! The temperatures in Lander were predicted at 100F and did reach that by mid-day. Could the Lair be possible in such heat?
David and I walked in while Bryan was farther behind with his lady and Oscar Dog. Wanting to see some new territory and feeling motivated by the day, David and I dropped into the valley of boulders earlier than usual to inspect the Lower Lair. The heat soon found us while few good lines showed up. The talus is smaller in the lower part of the valley. As we all know, the huge blocs are the best for good boulders. We did find a few days of worthwhile bouldering on various blocs, but nothing like the Middle and Upper Lair where large boulders clog the hill side and valley bottom.
View from the Lower Falcon's Lair
Wanting to at least justify the trip to the bottom of the valley we cleaned a few problems in the sauna like heat and added two new V2 warmups and a V5 to the area. The heat was too much and we slowly trudged up valley to the Lander Boulder and middle portions of the valley. Remarkably, only a few hundred feet of elevation gain relieved the heat and the air conditioning of the snow fields blew into our red faces. Spending some time under the Lander Boulder to lower our body temperatures saved the day!
A nice short roof in the lower boulders of the Falcon's Lair
A nice boulder in the Lower Falcon's Lair with two V2s on the left side and potential for harder lines on a cooler day.
We finally met up with Bryan and Rachel who had been up valley for the morning and we all went to work on the various possibilities of a large and long face with great landings for a talus field. I'm not sure of the names of anything on the boulder, but a central line serves as a good warm up (David added a logical sit start to it), a project on small slopers is on the far right side, while a new project I cleaned and climbed goes up the middle features from the same sit start as David's problem. It is only the beginning of what is possible on the single side of this one boulder! There is a lot to do in the Falcon's Lair!
The wall of much variety

David on a problem I know not the name of.
Bryan on the line I cleaned that should have been climbed, but is now a project.
My day of bouldering came to an end after a few goes on the central line that I had cleaned and began to attempt. I had additional motivations weighing my mind. The boulders beyond the Falcon's Lair are endless and I had to see some before the day was over. Being the end of the day and we were all feeling worked I couldn't get anyone else to join me for a multi-mile talus slog into the unknown. My pads were placed in safe keeping under a boulder. With the sun descending and the day growing long I packed my new Organic Crag Pack and wished the others well. I knew I had only a few hours to get to the new rock, explore it, and get out in time to avoid the dark in a forest with possibly no trail out of the valley. Vansickle suggested it would take me an hour to the rim of the Lair while David suggested half that. Keeping my chalk bag around my waist for the steep slabs out of the valley I was hoping to beat both suggestions. I raced straight up and above the boulders 800 vertical feet out of the valley, only stopping once to snap some pictures of the Falcon's Lair bouldering areas from a new vantage point. I didn't time it, but it was fast. I was covered in sweat and heaving for air. It gave me plenty of time to explore the new rock.
The Middle Falcon's Lair with the Lander Boulder in the lower left. Notice David Lloyd standing on top of the huge split boulder in the middle right of the photo!
The rest of the Middle Falcon's Lair and the Upper Falcon's Lair still half covered in snow.
I purposely came in hundreds of feet above the new boulder field of interest to get the best vantage point and really narrow down where it is I would spend my limited time. Psych came quickly as I gazed into the new valley of rock and boulders everywhere begged my attention. The largest and easiest pile to reach with pads in the future was decided on and I looped around a huge multi-pitch wall to get the the boulders. As I worked around the corner of the large crag the new boulders came into view and only a stone's throw away. The approach with pads from the Falcon's Lair would be reasonable (taking an alternate route to my endurance slab run). The large pile of boulders perched above all the rest of the valley of boulders I called Midsummer, as it is unique to the rest of the area and found around Midsummer. The question now was how would it all work from the trail head?
First view of Midsummer
Midsummer from the approach. The huge boulder in the center of the image is around 40 feet tall for scale.
I quickly walked through the large new pile of boulders then headed back to the trail head. Unsure of the route I constantly looped and zigzagged to find the best route with pads. Eventually, as the sun went behind the mountains, a trail of cairns started to show up. One that fishermen had suggested, but we had yet to find over the past season. The fishing trail walks easy ground through a thick and dark forest, but did come out to the main trail eventually. Midsummer will be a future bouldering area, but the hike is a step up from an already long one into the Falcon's Lair. I don't see myself carrying pads into the new boulders as the approach would be too much and would pass hundreds of possible problems that should probably be developed first.
Going quickly down the trail, knowing that the others were waiting for me, I was elated to know of the new possibility. The joy of a big day in a remote and lonely valley all alone had me going too. It brought me back to the days of growing up in the big mountains of northwest Wyoming with my dad.
Then, like "WAKE UP", there on the trail right in front of me, maybe 20 yards out was a big, mature black bear. I stopped dead in my tracks and the bear stood up to smell the air. I told it to "get the hell out of here" with plenty of cussing so it knew I was serious. It dropped to all fours and lurched it's head around as it slowly walked up the trail toward me with a heavy breath. I had already backed up a few yards and picked up a large rock. I threw it into a tree next to the bear and it stopped approaching, but made heavy breathing noises, while sweeping it's head back and forth. From the same experiences growing up that I had just been reminiscing about I knew it was a male and it wanted to test dominance. I yelled with a really deep voice as I was truly mad (something that happens to me during animal encounters such as this). Another jagged rock was thrown, this time at the bear, and it was off into the forest. I did have a tree picked to climb, but bears are fast and it was close enough that the tree was not a good option with the timing of the whole thing. Once they test dominance, the tree is a poor choice anyway for a black bear (who climb tress). After the tussle, I made really good time down the trail getting the adrenaline out of the system. Once clear of the bear I actually ran sections of trail to use up some of my new found energy.
The day was a major success! It was so fantastic to get back into the big mountains and the cool air of the Falcon's Lair. The long winter wait knowing the new rock was just around the bend was rewarded with a huge amount of new rock. And the world felt huge and wild again.


  1. What a great day! Love the post, and Midsummer looks amazing.

  2. Wish I could've been there! Looks great. That's an awesome bear story too!