Sunday, March 24, 2013

Closer Than Spain

By Dane Scott 
Photos: Dane Scott, John Gogas Collection

This winter Missoula climbers have been traveling around the west to find some warm climbing. A group of Mill Creek Old Dudes headed down to Cochise Stronghold to get in touch with their trad roots on desert granite. A bunch of Freestone Bouldering Boys grabbed a cheap flight to Las Vegas to test their skills on Red Rock sandstone. And, hard-men Ken and Erik met up with Missoula expats, Brendon and Sam at Smith Rocks for a few days of warm climbing on volcanic tuff. Cochise Stronghold, Red Rocks, J Tree, Smith, Bishop and Moab are some of the common places those of us in the land of the Northern Lights escape to during the winter. However, in late February I was introduced to a piece of sunny Spanish sport climbing accidentally misplaced in an obscure corner of southern New Mexico near the west Texas boarder.

Native Missoulian, John Gogas's career as a geophysicist landed him in the apparent climbing nether region of Midland, Texas. But he and his wife Carol have made the most of it. After pioneering Hueco Tanks with the likes of Todd Skinner, Scott Milton and Fred Nicole, they discovered and developed some of the best sport climbing in North America, located 3 hours from Midland in the Guadalupe Mountains of New Mexico. Taking advantage of a recent business trip to San Antonio, I was able to connect with John to sample firsthand the climbing he and Carol and a strong group of friends have developed at Sitting Bull Falls and Last Chance Canyon.

By driving to Spokane I was able to get a 3-way flight that stopped in El Paso for around $300 on Southwest Airlines. If you're willing to drive over Lookout Pass in the winter, the inexpensive tickets on Southwest make El Paso reasonably accessible from Missoula. From the El Paso Airport it is about a 3-hour drive to Last Chance Canyon and Sitting Bull Falls. These climbing areas in the Lincoln National Forest, are located near Queen, NM, which exists more on the map than in reality, 1 hour from the city of Carlsbad. Carlsbad is not much to look at, but it has a great coffee shop, Texas BBQ, and by some strange accident of history, Chinese Buffets on just about every corner. The drive from El Paso takes you past Hueco Tanks (best bouldering on the planet, according to Fred Nicole), Guadeloupe National Park, and Carlsbad Caverns National Park, a cool place (figuratively and literally) for a rest day.

After driving up from El Paso, I spent the night near Carlsbad Caverns, before meeting up with John at the entrance to Sitting Bulls Falls State Park the next day. John and Carol developed all but one of the routes at this unique and beautiful climbing area. The routes are on some of the best stone around: super steep, interesting and hard. There are some big league climbs here. It is a small area, but what it lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality. In Mountain Project's comments section for this crag, none other than Jonathan Siegrist comments: "This is an AWESOME little crag. Go there." Who am I to argue?

The following 2 days John showed me around Last Chance Canyon. The climbing is full-on power/endurance as you climb out steep caves and overhangs on mostly large, friendly holds. John, Carol and their friends have done a fantastic job cleaning and equipping these routes. We spent the majority of our time at the amazing Solstice Cave. Kevin Wilkinson, who is presently applying his craft at Ten Sleep, originally equipped the cave several years ago. John got on a wild 13b that starts in the back of the cave and climbs past 15 bolts to the lip. There are 7 or 8 climbs ranging from 12a to 13d. Be warned, this is characteristic of Last Chance. While there are good climbs at lower grades, the best climbing starts around 12a and there are loads of four-star routes in the 12a to 13b range on numerous cliffs facing all aspects. It is easy to find something out of the sun or wind if you know the canyon. This gives Last Chance a much longer climbing season than one would expect. As for me, after a winter in Freestone I had the power but not the endurance. I plan to go back in the fall to complete some unfinished business.

If Sitting Bull Falls and Last Chance Canyon were anywhere near a climbing population center they would be swarming with sport climbers seeking a taste of Cataluyna in North America. Last Chance Canyon is an obscure outpost of American climbing, but it is closer than Spain. Well done John and Carol.

Counting Coup

Swept Away - John & Carol Gogas

Flamer Solstice

Friday, March 1, 2013

DPM Stash Videos Now Free
In a recent tweet, Joe Kinder mentioned that the Stash video section of Deadpoint Magazine's site is now free. Previously, you had to pay a small subscription fee to access the higher quality videos that DPM placed in the Stash.

We just checked it out, clicking into the Stash on the video still of Kinder's new Saving Summer video, shot north of here in Canada's Bow Valley. After a short registration process to create a login, we were in and watching the high quality, 11 minute feature.

The opening up of the Stash's exclusive content was actually announced in December with this post But if, like us, you missed the news, here's your chance to sign up and gain access to a collection of quality climbing footage.