Our Lewis and Clark Journal – Day 16
Day 16: Sylvan Lake Rock Climbing (Sunday, August 11)
Today we climb rock!
By 8:00 AM our family was beside beautiful Sylvan Lake with our guide, Chase, who will take August and I out for a full day of climbing. August and I were quickly fitted for shoes, harnesses and helmets; we signed our liability waivers; and we were on our way to Rhino Rock, our instructional climb.
August and I discovered rock climbing last summer when we were visiting Central Park in NYC, and August said “I’d like to do that.” A few weeks later we tried out an indoor climbing gym, and the following week we had memberships. We have been bouldering near our home, but today is our first time top-roping on real rock. We have been looking forward to this for some time.
August was so excited to get going … once he was on belay he just took off. Straight up. No hesitation. The needles are granite, which makes for fairly easy climbing, and we pretty much stuck to 5.7s, but we had a great time. As the problems grew higher, he would occasionally say that he’d gone far enough, but with a little encouragement to “try a few more steps” he would shrug his shoulders and keep going. Impressive for a seven year old.
And he loved repelling – just lying back and walking down, or hopping down, the wall. By this time I was doing the belay work for him, while chase worked with me.
Late in the day Chase gave August the opportunity to entirely control his own descent (though Chase also had a back up rope on him). Again without hesitation August learned what he needed to do and was in complete control of himself going down. He was really proud. (He is the youngest climber Chase has ever let belay him/herself.)
Chase and I were still at the top of the rock, seen below, which was the penultimate climb of the day. This is Fangorn Rock in an area called Middle Earth by local climbers. It is hard to appreciate from this photo both how high we are and how narrow the top of this rock is. It is straight down in every direction – and stunning views. We could even see the road and tunnel where we were almost stranded two nights ago.
Though August looks nervous and concerned in this picture, he was not. I think he is taking the measure of our guide who was hanging from the rock (because there was not enough room for him with us on the top) and holding Noelle’s iPhone.
We finished our day as a very unusual storm threatened us. (Noelle was very relieved when we were both back on the ground.) The storm followed us down the mountain, dropping blinding rain, then hail, and ultimately a tornado. The storm siren drove us out of the camper (we made it down the mountain) and into a local pub for some burgers from Black Hills beef and a local brew.
Leaving the Black Hills we drove the narrow, winding Highway 16 past Jewel Cave National Monument. Again, beautiful. We are going to miss this area, but are already talking about coming back. Our goal tonight is a campground at the foot of Devil’s Tower, Wyoming. We met a wonderful family at the campsite, and August spent several hours playing with the children – giving Noelle and I an almost unique period of quiet.
Recommended Reading: Today was also Sunday, so it seemed appropriate to use the few hours of quiet at the end of the day to finish reading a book that has been my (non-LewisandClark) companion this week. Belden Lane’s The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality interrogates “the impulse that has drawn seekers into the wilderness for centuries and offers eloquent testimony tot eh healing power of mountain silence and desert indifference.” Lane writes both as a scholar and as a pilgrim – the book interweaves historical and symbolic investigations with personal explorations (his mother was dying during the course of the writing, an experience punctuated by depression and the death of a friend). Powerful stuff on every single page that has (and will) fill reflective moments for a long time to come.
After this day, I particularly enjoyed the reflection of St. Basil and Egeria on their experiences of climbing rock. 🙂