“Unforgettable Moments” in Rifle Mountain Park, CO

On Friday Dustyn and I set out from Vail for Rifle Mountain where we had our sights set on some world-class sport climbing routes. That evening we jumped on three different pitches, perplexed by the cryptic rock and incorrect intel from a local. Nevertheless, we put in work that we could build off of over the weekend.

In the morning, we drove out to find cell service so we could get in touch with Oliver and Moon, who would each be driving in to climb with us. Oliver ended up seeing us on the drive and just followed us back to Rifle with his friend Caroline. Moon showed up a little bit later.

‘Peace, Dude’ taken in Rifle Mountain Park

Dustyn and Oliver go way back but hadn’t seen each other in about a year. It was my first time meeting Oliver and Caroline, but we all became fast friends. We got to climbing quickly — trading belays and burns on the rock. On his second attempt at each, Dustyn sent the 5.11s that we were working the night before. Together, Moon and I worked Winter’s End (a great 11b) but neither of us could get it clean. Caroline and Oliver got their stoke high on all sorts of routes, and Oliver even onsighted his first 5.9 on lead.

‘Through the Trees’ taken in Rifle Mountain Park

We broke for lunch, and while we were eating I saw some brook trout in the adjacent stream. Overly enthusiastic, I rushed to grab and set up my fly rod. Moon followed suit. We spent the next couple hours walking up and down the canyon trying to tempt the fish to bite with mild success; Moon caught one, I caught none. My technique for rainbows in Virginia has no carryover out here, it would seem. Meanwhile, Dustyn, Oliver, and Caroline were continuing to put in work on some more pitches.

‘Skull Cave’ taken in Rifle Mountain Park

Dustyn and Moon jumped on Pile Driver in Skull Cave, a super polished 5.11c. I’d wandered around seemingly forever trying to find them, but when I did I caught Dustyn trying hard.

‘Yeah, I Guess I’ll Coil It’ taken in Rifle Mountain Park

At the end of the day, we were all pretty exhausted. We packed up and set out in search of some free camping that Oliver had the beta for. From here on, the evening would only get weirder.

We passed through the canyon, which eventually flattened into national forestry land. As the gravel road grew more precarious, wild forest children waved us onwards with pool noodles. Just as dusk was falling, the road opened up into the meadow we’d been in search of. What we hadn’t anticipated was the army of cows standing guard.

‘Triptych’ taken somewhere outside Rifle Mountain Park

We honked our way through the herd and eventually joined ranks with the other cars at the edge of the field. The standoffish bovines greeted us coldly with wary glances and expressive moos, arranging themselves in a row while they watched us set up camp.

As night settled, the cows seemed to disappear — inaudible and unseen, though traces of them remained scattered all around, much to Caroline’s misfortune and our amusement. Several moments that night I laughed harder than I have in as long as I can remember.

The night became truly surreal when, near midnight, some thrill seekers decided to fire up their ATVs. I counted four, each racing by behind the other across the meadow in a cloud of dust, silhouetting what seemed like a hundred cows in the foreground from the warm radiance of their headlights. There’s never been a moment I regret not having a camera in hand more.

The weirdness continued in the morning when I sat up to find myself face to face with a cow right outside the screen my tent. Wildly uncomfortable, I periscope around to find that our entire camp is surrounded; hungry cows at our dinner table, curious cows by our cars, forest cows in the bordering aspen grove. I cautiously scamper out of my tent and foolishly make eye contact with a bull passing by. It paws the ground viciously with its hoof and lowers its head, eager for a challenge. I avert my gaze and crawl back into my abode, fearing imminent trampling, but manage to survive another hour until everyone else is up and moving.

We reflect on the strangeness of life over breakfast before saying our goodbyes and heading our separate ways. Moon and I would fish a bit more before he left for work, while Oliver and Caroline peaced out for a hike in the Rockies.

‘Hop on Board’ taken in Rifle Mountain Park

My work in Rifle remained undone, however. Eager to get the send on Winter’s End, I convince Dustyn into giving me a catch on a few burns before we leave the canyon.

My first attempt I fall just before clipping the fourth bolt. Determined, I work the sequence a bit and have Dustyn dirt me; each burn would be a redpoint burn.

I rest up and give it another go. I remember my sequence and clip the fourth bolt this time, but realize I don’t have the next sequence as dialed down as I thought. I fall again, work that sequence, and once more get Dustyn to dirt me.

‘Send Train, No Take’ taken in Rifle Mountain Park

Frustrated and possessed, I decide I’ll give it one final burn — promising to walk away afterwards successful or not. I cruise through the crux but dry fire at a jug. Even though I thought I was falling, I manage to readjust and somehow hang on. I work up to and through the fourth bolt, but I’m pumped to the max. I feel like I’m going to fall any moment, but in the meantime decide to just keep climbing — one move at a time. Somehow, I stick enough moves to come out of the overhang and into the slabby finish. Before I know it, I find myself eye to eye with the anchors. Clipped one. Clipped two. Done.

Woke up in Vail, CO.

Slept in Rifle Mountain Park, CO.

83 miles.

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