We arrived at the base of Ancient Art. The steep sandstone tower right in front of us, blocking out the spectacular view of Castle Valley below. It was all we could see. In this giant corridor made of sandstone, we could only look up. And that was where were headed…was up.
We were actually going to climb this thing? I had never been that high on anything I climbed before… I had only done two multi-pitch climbs before this -both in Garden of the Gods. I wasn’t feeling fear at all, I was letting myself experience every moment, every rush of emotion I felt. I don’t think I have ever been that perceptive to my physical, emotional, and intuitive senses before being in this moment.
Mollie lead the way up “Pitch 1” which was really only a class 4 scramble, so we didn’t rope up or anything. We were on a time crunch. The sun was setting. We got to the giant belay ledge to start the real 1st pitch, and Dakota asked for the lead. This short, and sweet, but truly awkward and tough pitch is rated at 5.10, and is typically aid-climbed or at least French-freed. Dakota was trying to completely sport climb the pitch, and got into a crazy drop-knee-mantle position. It was wonky to say the least. Dylan I were all excited and giving him props for his great use of sport-climbing techniques that Mollie hates so much. She was calling him a ‘sport-wanker’ and it was great. Finally, and surprisingly, Dakota grabbed onto a quickdraw which was his absolute last resort. He was apologizing and asking us not to judge him. The irony was in the fact that he was probably the strongest climber out of us. So he french-freed the remaining 5-10 feet of the pitch and put Mollie on belay with a GriGri.
Mollie began working her way up, trying to sport climb it also for the the fun of it. Dakota looks down and asks Mollie how she would feel if he lit his ‘Gandalf’ pipe while belaying her. We all thought he was joking for some reason.
Silly us. Mollie continued working her way up the pitch, and I look up at Dakota and see him lighting his pipe and I just start laughing and point it out to Dylan.
“Dakota!?” yelled Mollie.
“GriGri!” Dakota yelled back.
That same dialogue continued until she reached the top. Dylan and I took several pictures. Dylan and I get up by solely french-freeing the pitch, while Mollie starts her way up the beautiful chimney pitch.
I reach the top, and Dylan points out the view of Castle Valley we can now see. I’ll never find words to describe the amount of detail in every single formation, bush, or the dirt on the ground. The sun was getting lower, and I swear there is no better place to view a sunset than in the desert. The light is different. The colors are different. The experience is different. The vastness is incomparable.
I looked around at everything. I felt everything. I experienced every second of it. The chimney of Ancient Art is not your typical chimney. I’ll just say it’s wonky. It’s muddy sandstone, so the formation of it is anything but flat or lacking features. Dakota following Mollie, and had the greatest time figuring the chimney out. I started singing ‘Tiny Dancer’ to him while he climbed. Dylan and I sat in silence for the most part, looking at everything, truly taking in what I feel like I can’t simply call a ‘nice view.’
Once Dakota got up, Dylan began climbing. He had the same degree of fun figuring out the chimney as Dakota did. Dylan reached the top, and put me on belay. It was my turn. And damn I was excited. The chimney was so long, so sustained and everything on it just felt awesome. The features were like a puzzle that you had to figure out where to put your body and maneuver through. My head was quiet, and ecstatic. The climbing was just fun. To simply but honestly put it, the chimney pitch of Ancient Art is fun climbing. There were two parts where I realized how exposed I was. I had to go right outside the edge of the chimney, and face outwards. The very last move definitely got to me. It was exposed, and I had to completely stem, get my feet high and get out of the chimney that provided so much fun and comfort.
I reached the top after what felt like forever climbing in the chimney. It was sad to stop climbing that rock. I could run laps on it all day long. In the time I was climbing, Dakota had reached the summit and smoked his pipe, like he had dreamed of doing. I waited on the ‘party ledge’ as Dylan climbed up the exposed bolt latter section to reach the catwalk and corkscrew summit. From the party ledge, I couldn’t see much besides the drop off on the East side of the tower. Dylan climbed up, and was rappelling by the time Dakota put me on belay to come up to the catwalk.
Somehow just getting up that bolt latter really got in my head. I was french-freeing and my brain was just not having any of it. No matter how simple the climbing was at that point, my mind was not at ease with what I was doing.
I saw Dylan come down and come back across the cat walk and was just in shock. I could not believe how thin the catwalk piece was, and I had finally seen the ‘diving board’ everyone talked about. A moment I’m not proud of, is right here. I actually thought to myself, ‘I don’t want to do this, I’m fine here, I’m scared.’ The thoughts just kept coming, but I knew the people I was with wouldn’t let me not do it, so I kept them to myself. They could tell I was scared already, I didn’t need to make it worse.
I had them just put me on top-rope since I was already panicking, and I already knew I wasn’t going to even attempt to walk upright across the catwalk. I walked up to the start of it, and just straddled it and humped my way across! I had it in my head that I would do this, no matter how ugly it would be. And boy it was ugly. I got to the diving board, and tried to get on top of it, but it came up to my chest, and I didn’t have it in me to mantle it. After enough strife over the diving board, Mollie convinced me to go down and around. The first move of actual climbing completely shut me down, I had no idea how to get up this thing and my brain was absolutely not even trying to figure out how to climb. After enough dawdling, I pulled on a quickdraw so hard, and pinched the only thing I could find, pulled my knee up super high against the rock, and got my other foot as high as I could. Then I was able to move on top of the first blob thing, and was on to the next one… Which would prove to be just as difficult. After that first bit of struggle, I sat on the little ledge and focused on breathing so I didn’t pass out up there. I was looking up at this next blob I had to get over, and it looked even worse. There was another alpine draw up there to use, but it was a bit high for my reach, and the shape of the rock just made it awkward to get around. Again, after enough struggle and hollering, I was able to get up with the price of a few scratches on my legs. Then I faced getting on the tiny summit…which meant going above the anchor point. All the thoughts ran through my head of things that could possibly, even not possibly happen if I fell. I moved along, knowing they weren’t going to let me get here and not get to the top of this crazy thing. I got on the capstone piece and just kind of froze sitting on my knees. I tried convincing them all that I was happy there, but they wouldn’t have it. Mollie’s rational was that it might not be here next year to do it. And that got to me. I had to do it. These sandstone towers and arches throughout this desert were eroding away. I had to do this, otherwise I’d regret it for the rest of my life. Mollie hardly knew me, but she made one of the best arguments that I had absolutely no response but to surrender and buck up. Dylan told me to just look at his face the entire time, and I did, and I put my hands in the air and waited for them to take a picture. I wish I would’ve stopped looking at Dylan’s face for a second and actually taken in the view. Looking back on it all, I’m convinced that’s what I did wrong. I never once truly took in the view, I don’t remember taking a moment to look at it all, to rest my head and be amazed. My mind was racing a mile a minute, thoughts and worries bouncing around in there… I truly think if I looked up, looked around and taken everything in that I would’ve felt calmer.
I’ll just have to climb it again to find out.
Climbing Ancient Art has absolutely changed my life. I’m now aware of the things I can do, that everyone can do if they just want it. Whatever you want to do in life, whatever is your happiness is truly obtainable.
There are no boundaries.