Posted on 09.21.2012 by Vanessa
A yearly pilgrimage
The coming of labor day weekend means the same thing to me as it does most people; its time to pack up the car and hit the road. A free three day weekend is not to be wasted, and plans were put in motion for a weekend of cragging. The problem with living in Iowa is the proximity to anything resembling good climbing. I had already spent two of the last three weekends in Colorado climbing in Eldorado Canyon and RMNP, so it was time for something closer.
When I was 12 years old I signed up for a YMCA Camp climbing trip to Devils Lake Wisconsin. Having no idea about the quality of this area compared to others or of the storied climbing history, I fell in love with climbing and The Lake and have never missed a year since.
Everyone has places that are special, and it doesn’t need to be anywhere spectacular. A mud bottomed farm pond in southern Iowa, the top of a great peak in the Tetons and a small crag in central Wisconsin all have one thing in common; they hold special meaning for me.
Up at the cliffs surrounding Devils Lake, the purple quartz reflects the suns rays like a mirror. The rock band is 300 feet up the side of a steep bluff which overlooks the lake and the great treetops below. I always do this trip with my ‘non-climber’ friends, because it has clean, vertical and exposed 5.6’s, right next to technical thin 5.12’s. The majority of the climbing at the lake is on top rope, but the leading is heady, technical and difficult.
Our group this year is a mix of all ability levels. From first timers, to a few guys just learning the art of gear placements to some guys trying their first ‘trad’ leads. And there was ample climbing for us all, including Upper Diagonal, a sustained 5.9 crack of varying size. With almost no feet, sustained hands and challenging gear, it was definitely enough to keep my attention when leading. Thoroughfare, a 5.11 crimpy face follows a series of broken seams and flakes up a perfectly vertical wall. With gear comprised mostly of offset micronuts and baby cams, the crux of the route is protected by a single cracked piton (if it failed it would be a serious fall!) Some of our group got their scare on leading Brinton’s Crack – a stout 5.6 with committing moves above gear; a proud send for someone who is new to leading on gear. The challenge for me this weekend was a route called Batman (12b). A beautiful overhanging arête with big dynamic bouldery heal hooks and dynos. Working the moves on top rope was great; it was like a long boulder problem, no fear of falling or worries about gear, just my shoes chalk harness and me. Piecing the moves one by one, they finally sequence together and it feels great.
But the moves of this route, or any other for that matter are not why I come to Devils Lake. After the climbing is done, we set up by the lake; we grill our brats and burgers, drink a few PBR’s, swim, fish and throw a Frisbee. The glow of the campfire at night inspires conversation ranging from climbing, to work, life, fishing and the stars. We screw around with aiders and ascenders, teach everybody how to ascend a line which is slung over a tree. We set up slacklines between the trees and slept under the stars in hammocks. It’s not a weekend of crushing in the mountains or pushing yourself to the limits, it’s a simple weekend of camping and fun with friends. There’s a reason that I come back year after year to climb the same routes at Devils Lake. If feels good to be back in familiar territory; I know this spot, it has a familiar comforting feel. And while there is definitely better climbing in other places in the world, for one weekend every year there’s no place that I would rather be.