On Boulders, Climbing and Slot Exploration, Enjoyable Pastimes, Expedition Chronicle
12/06/2011 75 °F
A Morning Exploration
I was driving around the southern end of the Davis Mountains a little southwest of Ft. Davis, Texas when a gigantic collection of boulders caught my eye. I love boulders. I especially love enormous boulders that have been piled up in a chaotic jumble. Jumbled boulders make for a good morning’s entertainment.
My approach to these boulders was just like my approach to any natural area or park; I like to start by walking around the outskirts of the rocks, feeling them, jumping on them, climbing them, and getting a feel for the place. I let my senses take control taking in the scenes around me. It was sunny, but not too hot yet. The rocks were were rough offering a good grip, and I had no problems scaling them in sandals. The air was desert clean, and smelled of rock dust. There wasn’t much of a breeze. I could hear the everyday trills of songbirds foraging in the trees. I liked the look of the picnic tables hidden in the deep shade of the oaks, and knew I’d be eating lunch there in the near future.
Often, questions come to mind during my first approach, which often piques my curiosity. Are the rocks sharp? Are there climbing holds? Do I need my rock shoes, or is it better to scramble up in hiking boots? How did these rocks get here? What‘s the best line to traverse that one? As I wondered about this place, I started to climb up on the first boulder barrier, my key to the place.
The Boulder Field
The boulder field I was entering was a large one. Picture a “C” shaped, long row of oddly shaped car to house size boulders that stretches 600 yards long (that is two American football fields long). The “C” is the base of the south end of a mount that rises above to the north perhaps 150 yards away, and much higher than where I am standing at the base. Between the apex of the mount and where I am is a slope of boulder piled atop one another. They are standing side by side, stacked atop one another, crammed together and thrown together in complete mayhem.
My initial goal was to climb up to the top of the mount. I didn’t really know how to get there, but I started climbing up on one of the rocks, leaped across a crevice to another rock, and was on my way. The rock had a good grip to it, and I started up in my sandals. I had packed my rock climbing shoes in my pack in case I needed them.
I made it about a third of the way up and I crawled into a narrow crevice on top of a car-sized boulder that had a huge house sized boulder stacked on top of it. Due to the angles of the balanced rock, the crevice opened up to a decent sized cave. I stopped to get a drink of water, and check out the cave. There was a narrow slot that looked like it might lead back to daylight, and I stopped to set up a picture. I was thinking about a photo chronicle of my exploration of the boulders, but hadn’t yet made up my mind.
Beautiful Lighting of the Slot
I worked my way into the narrow slot, and it led back around a rock about twenty feet. I turned back and saw the beautiful reflected light of a narrow slot under the earth. I set up another photo, capturing the low-level light and rock. As I was about to leave, I looked up and saw a small opening in the passage that looked like it was big enough to climb through.
The Ceiling Slot
“I wonder if I can get up there?” I thought to myself, and I just HAD to find out. Incidentally, that is my favorite question I often ask myself. Though the answer is a simple yes or no, I find that the challenge of trying to answer the question much more fun than the actual answer itself.
Investigating The Ceiling Opening
I took off my sandals and put on my rock shoes. I tested the slope of the rock, and jammed my way up to the opening, as you would climb a chimney. I used opposite forces with my butt, my arms and legs to elevate myself up the sides of the slot. I found the opening small, but maneuverable and there was enough of a foothold to allow me to wedge my body into it. I looked up through the crack and saw the next pitch of the climb to be another twenty feet or so with more chimney work to get up to the exit. All told, from the bottom of the slot up to the top was about a forty-five foot climb. I had made up my mind. I would climb this crack, and document the moves and see if I could make a compelling documentary in the process.
I had left my gear down at the bottom of the slot, and began to earnestly think how I would get the shots I wanted to show the climb. The hard part would be where to place the tripod, especially once I made it through the ceiling opening. I climbed back down, stowed all of my gear back into my backpack, and began to chimney my way back up to the slot. I pushed my bag through first and onto a narrow shelf before I made my way through.
Looking Down at the Ceiling Opening
Climbing Through the Ceiling
Once inside, and through the opening, I pulled out my camera to figure out where I wanted the angle for the shot. Once that was decided, the hard part was getting the tripod to adjust for that exact location. I was setting my camera up on a tripod that was clinging to the narrowest of rock nubbins. I really really hoped my tripod would not slip, because if it did, I doubt I would have been able to save my new camera gear from a 25-foot crash onto the hard rock below.
Precarious Tripod Setup
Beginning the Last Pitch
The Final Grab
I only had one more face to climb, and it was more chimney work. I wedged my body in, and worked my way across a fifteen foot gap. Far below me was the bottom of the original slot. Above me, lay the bright desert sky of west Texas. I jammed my feet into a narrow crack and reached up to grab the lip of the rock. With two easy moves, I was up and out. I was a lot higher than when I started, and the long desert views were well earned. I sipped some water, and was completely satisfied with my efforts.
I never did get to the summit that I had set out to reach, but I did answer my favorite question once again.
Yes, you can get up there.