Friday, July 24, 2009

My Complete, Unabridged Log for "Wolf Rock Challenge."

Wolf Rock Challenge: Geocache Find #1600 for Pablo Mac.

Where do I start? How about the first time I saw Wolf Rock, almost exactly 5 years ago, from atop Iron Mountain. From there, my eyes were fixed on a massive rock monolith a few miles to the south. I was new to geocaching back then, when jobthedog and Cache Dawg told me, "That's Wolf Rock. There's a cache up there, too." From that point forward, I knew I had to answer the call of Wolf Rock Challenge, and, since it's the 4-year anniversary since the geocache was found, today was the day.

I had originally planned to go for this cache with deulist, but his plans changed, causing him to have to miss out on this trip. He assured me there would be no hard feelings if I continued as planned, so I went for it. With less than a week to go, jaynes4jesus contracted Wolf Rock Fever, and he was on board with the plan.

We left home in time to start the hike/climb at 0815 (next time we'll start the climb even earlier, as in 0600). When we parked, we immediately realized we were only .25 miles from the cache… well that plus 900 feet of elevation, but we thought, "How hard can that be?" Two days later, as I finally begin to draft this log, I should let my quads tell you how hard it is.

We spent a few minutes looking for Odder's nearby cache, but, wanting to beat the heat on the summit as much as possible, we put that cache on hold until our main objective was in hand. Just a few feet up the trail from her cache (less than ten minutes from the parking area), we met our first "Uh-Oh" moment: the exposed rock runout from the Amphitheater…

… where we had to traverse a steep slope (well, what we thought was steep at that point) across to try to rejoin the trail. After we somehow made it across that first obstacle, we couldn't find the trail, but it wasn't until our return trip that we realized we should have made that traverse straight across the runout, rather than gaining elevation as we crossed it. More simply: when you cross the first rock slope below the Amphitheater, go straight across, and you'll rejoin the trail in the opposite woodline, unlike us, who made it much more difficult by scrambling & scratching our way up, until we stumbled back onto the trail… just before it ended at waypoint #4: the bottom of the only non-technical (but barely so) gully on the entire rock.

Waypoint #4 was where the real challenge started to become evident to us. It didn't seem so hard at first. It seemed like it would only be a matter of making sure of each handhold & foothold all the way up. The problem came from how the slope slowly became less and less steep as we climbed. That may not seem so bad as you sit in your air conditioned home reading this log, but when you're on that rock, climbing deliberately and methodically from hold to hold, and you can see neither where you started the climb or the top, you don't have much to go on. We couldn't see the top until we were almost at the top, at which point we were pretty much freaking out about just how the heck we were going to get back down.

About a quarter of the way up the gully, my Garmin 60CSx got plucked from out of the clip on my waist, and bounced & tumbled about 30' down. I scrambled down to get it, and it was turned off. It turned on just fine, and only suffered a minor scratch in the replaceable screen protector (note to self: install GPS clip on backpack shoulder strap). About halfway up, jaynes4jesus shouted from about 100' above me, "ROCK!" I looked up toward him, and, sure enough, a rock about 2/3 the size of my head was bouncing toward me! It looked like it was going to stay to my left, and I considered just ducking into the mountain and hoping it wouldn't hit me. I'm glad I changed my mind and watched it roll down, because it changed course and went right for my face! I was able to toss my head right and parry the rock away with my left arm (dang - it didn't leave a scar!), sending it out and away from me. I immediately turned my head to watch and listen to it hit below me, but I never saw, or heard it hit anywhere below me (gulp!). I turned uphill and shouted to jaynes4jesus, "That was so cool! Do that again!"

We grabbed a bite to eat directly above the gully climb, then took a few minutes to scope out our scramble along the knife-edge to the cache. We nervously shared a little discussion on whether we would need a helicopter rescue (we were only half joking), and started traversing the slope, just below the knife-edge and directly above the Amphitheater, taking in the unparalleled views all along the way. When we reached the pinnacle a couple hundred feet shy of the cache, the trail ended with a 30' drop to the east. Not wanting to even consider negotiating the 70ยบ bare granite slope above that dang Amphitheater, we crossed over the edge to the much steeper north face and scrambled down a little section of trail that easily (and I use that term loosely) put us at the bottom of that pinnacle, with the cache almost in sight.

The rest of the way to the cache was as straightforward as the previous knife-edge trekking, and we found the cache in terrific shape. The hiker & climber logs were absolutely fascinating to read, and really served to allay our nervousness about getting back down off the rock: if they could do it, we could do it!

We took our time on top, but not as long as we had originally discussed. We wanted to get on with whatever the descent had in store for us, as much ahead of the heat of the day as we could. We got to the top of the gully and immediately realized the potential to miscalculate the approach and wind up descending the wrong gully. We hugged our GPS units and paid close attention to our track log to make sure we went down the only non-technical gully on the monolith.

When we hit the bottom of the gully (waypoint #4), we took a short break in the shade, and continued down, this time staying on the trail. The traverse across the bottom of the Amphitheater that had intimitated us on the climb now seemed like something we could do cartwheels across. As much as we craved the level ground of the parking area, we put forth the effort to find Odder's cache, and jumped into the truck to find a few more caches.

I have travelled challenging terrain before, but Wolf Rock represented a new level of risk that forced me to focus long and hard on each and every step along the way, because the only alternative is great injury or death (or just staying on the couch to begin with). That may be hard for an armchair cacher to comprehend, but this experience is extremely invigorating and energizing.

Wolf Rock Challenge did not disappoint: this is my 1600th geocache find, and it blows every other cache I have ever found out of the water. Thanx for the fun & adventure!

Get the GPS Track Log here.

1 comment:

D. Gudger said...

Wow. that's pretty cool. Just found stage 1 of a 5 star multi here in Denver. The latter two stages are pretty vigorous hikes - the kind of caching I enjoy most.