A peek at Penitente Canyon

In Penitente CanyonOur plan is to climb in Penitente Canyon on our way to Pagosa Springs on Ann’s birthday. We get there late, though, with just enough time to tour around a bit on foot. The canyon is has an intimate feel, with piñons and Douglas fir scattered amongst a treasure trove of interesting walls of volcanic tuff. It’s quiet. Taken with the place, we decide to return in the morning to climb.

It’s snowing hard on Wolf Creek Pass, but only lightly when we reach Penitente Canyon again. It’s not encouraging weather. I scope out conditions and get some pictures of the canyon, and we decide to give the rock a try.

Ann is excited by a good lead of The Serpent 5.8, a varied climb with slab, face, and even a bit of finger crack climbing at the top. Encouraged, she gets on the lower rated but more sustained Mr. Wind 5.7. On this one she has to fight hard not to give up and fall, or grab a quickdraw. When she finally reaches a rest she expresses the sort of relief that is unique to a challenging lead. It’s great fun to see. Charged up, we head up a side canyon to How the West Was Won 5.9, a steep route up a hueco-covered arete. The first bolt is high, but the holds are good. I have a blast on it.

Unfortunately, the light snow turns to rain at this point. It’s too wet to keep climbing. We’re disappointed, but figure we’ll come back tomorrow (which we try, but find it raining again). As a consolation, I get this sweet little video of Ann descending some wet rock. (Rated PG for strong language.)

Both us would like to return to Penitente. Most of the routes (it’s predominantly single pitch sport climbing) are harder than we’re climbing now, but it seems like there is enough protection to push the grades safely.

Another change on this trip is that Ann did all the navigating and route finding. She enjoys this, but I’ve taken it over. I hope this summer to give it back. She clearly enjoys it, despite the moments of frustration it entails.

5 responses to “A peek at Penitente Canyon”

  1. Way-to-go Ann! Great leads and navigation! Nobody got lost in the desert… this is always a plus!

    The pictures you took are awesome, but they seem so different from the canyon I’ve visited. It’s crazy what sun and some leaves can do to transform a place.

    Too bad about all of the rain, but that’s cool that you had the canyon to yourselves! We’ll have to go back with you sometime this spring.

    Oh, if you’re curious, here’s what the canyon looked like on our first trip, and our second.

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