Backyard Adventures: An Active Imagination in Sinks Canyon
Editor's note: Our Backyard Adventures series kicks off today and first up is Dave Anderson from Wyoming who proves that a vivid imagination can be your best partner on an outing close to home.
Gone are the mornings spent lounging on the tailgate of my rusted-out truck, eating last night's leftover pasta with my only concerns for the day being what routes to climb. These days, I greet the morning sun from inside my bank-financed house, shuffling around in fluffy slippers while the ingredients of a smoothie churn predictably around in the blender.
As I stretch my stiff fingers, I feel a dull ache which now has more to do with long sessions with the keyboard instead of battles with hard finger cracks. Chained to my desk by deadlines and obligations, I sometimes gaze out the window feeling trapped by my new lifestyle.
As a youngster, I was trapped by birth in the white-bread world of suburbia, where families, normal behavior and the environment were all stamped out in neat, half acre cloned lots. The key to my sanity, to combat that sterilized culture, was my hyperactive imagination. Most days I was out in the “backyard” setting the new home run record (playing t-ball), mapping the vast catacombs near the road (crawling through cement culverts), exploring the uncharted secrets of the Amazon (mucking around in the small creek) or unearthing buried treasures in the deserts of Egypt (digging in the sandbox).
[While Sinks Canyon is deserving of its reputation for variety, it's most well-known for it's plentiful selection of steep limestone lines. Here, the cliffs just above the canyon road dwarf a climber, barely visible at center. Photo & caption: localcrew collection]
Luckily, as the years have passed my imagination has remained fully intact. At lunch I bolt from work and head up the valley on my mountain bike. I hammer the pedals hard as I enter the mouth of the canyon, glancing back to see if the imaginary pack of riders has gained on me since my bold breakaway during the final stage of the Tour de France. Assured of the yellow jersey I raise my arms in victory while coasting into the parking lot.
The geology of Sinks Canyon in central Wyoming is a lazy park interpreter’s wet dream. Within a three-mile stretch of road, the composition of the valley’s walls changes from sandstone to dolomite and finally to granite. For me the canyon offers an ideal lunchtime training ground for both my body and my caffeine-amped imagination.
Grabbing my climbing shoes and chalk bag I jog up to the foot of the sandstone cliff. If I squint my eyes just right these crumbly cliffs could be the endless Wingate sandstone walls of Indian Creek. With the desert varnish shimmering in the sun I place my hands deep in the crisp vertical crack and feel the cool air envelop my fingers. Soon an easy yet confident rhythm of squeezing skin and twisting feet develops, propelling me up the cliff. As I pause to brush the sandy grit from the last rainstorm out of the crack, I notice an imaginary crowd of climbers gathered at the base observing my flawless ring-lock jamming technique and my Zen-like focus as I calmly solo the 500-foot (actually only 20 feet) splitter.
Later, a sweaty hike up switchbacks leads to the base of a long dolomite band halfway up the canyon. Ironically, this limestone-like cousin was formed at the bottom of the ocean. But after a few million years, geological processes have thrust the seabed up, leaving it high and dry. As I climb up the wall, I pass by fossilized shells and other imprints of sea life imbedded in the rock. Below, in the valley floor, the previous night’s cold temperatures still hold the Popo Agie River banks hostage under a veil of mist. My imagination takes hold and I picture myself ascending the sheer limestone walls of the Verdon Gorge. Luckily my fluorescent chalk bag helps me blend in with the style of the other climbers. I continue my façade by mimicking the local technique of dabbing four fingers into the chalk bag and with an over exaggerated exhale blowing the excess chalk from my tips.
“Allez, Allez,” my imaginary partner shouts from below spurring me higher as I sink fingers into monos and execute stylish drop knees. Then deciding the humongous jugs spaced every arm length might be a safer option, I plod securely up the low angled route. At the top of the climb, I throw a heel hook on the ledge, but safely out of view and critique of my imaginary Parisian partner, I switch to a more dependable, albeit quite gauche, walrus-style mantel.
I change into my trail running shoes take a swig of water from the aid station (my hydration pack) and start up the trail toward the granite buttress at the top of the canyon. In the dust of the footpath I can see only one other set prints. I think to myself, “If I can just catch that one last runner, the Western States 100 miler is all mine.”
I feel the lactic acid burning in my quads as I enter a boulder field. Ahead perched gracefully on a rock is the leader of the race: an adult male desert bighorn sheep. He turns his head to face me swinging his large curled horns regally to the side. I see him roll his amber eyes in disgust, before a quick burst of power and speed rockets him out of sight. I follow, covering half the distance in twice the time, deciding second place might not be so bad.
At the base of the granite wall my imaginary alpine partner and I are silenced by the enormity of our chosen line (really less than a rope length). We have suffered through a month of bad weather here at the 49th latitude in Patagonia, playing cards and telling tall tales. We know each other's strengths, weaknesses and dreams so well there is no need for words. Halfway up the peak I’m at an impasse. Should I go right into a wide chimney or left out onto the face? I look down at my imaginary partner who is paying out large loops of “wishing slack” – wishing the weather wasn’t so damn cold and windy, wishing the climbing would get easier, wishing that I would just hurry the hell up. Suddenly a gust of wind threatens to REALLY tear me off the cliff and I scurry crab-like into the security of the chimney. I refocus, pressing my palms hard into the bright pink grains of feldspar locked with the granite matrix.
On the summit I hold my imaginary camera at arms-length snapping photos at every conceivable angle to ensure a good picture for the article I will write about conquering this virgin tower in the most impeccable style and speed.
During the descent back to my bike, I practice my acceptance speech in anticipation of winning the prestigious Piolet d’Or mountaineering award. Wanting to impress the audience I start out with the few French words I know, “Merci Mesdames, Merci Messieurs, Je suis…” but my limited vocabulary quickly deteriorates.
It is then, a friend of mine sees me strutting down the trail, chest puffed out, babbling random words like, “Bonjour, Eiffel Tower, Pommes Frites.”
He quickly slaps me out of my international climbing fantasy by asking, “Dave, are.. are you alright?”
“Couldn’t be better,” I reply as I hop on my bike, clip into the pedals and cinch down my helmet getting ready compete in the extreme downhill championships on the way back to the office.
Our thanks go out to Dave Anderson for sharing his story. Stay tuned for more backyard adventures from Cleanest Line readers like you – we'll be running them on and off for the rest of this month.