By Matt Wilder
I wanted to write a short article about my recent trip to Joe’s Valley over the Thanksgiving week. It’s taken a while to write this because I needed time to get the chill fully out of my bones. It was a frigid week with highs in the low 40s and a constant humid cold fog that penetrated even the thickest puffy. The boulders were covered with snow and the rock felt as cold as ice. It was a fight just to warm up.
We weren’t the only ones out there though – there were many religious climbers willing to face these adversities just for the chance to pull on the near perfect sandstone of Joe’s. The never-ending psych of climbers always amazes me. People were out shoveling snow off boulders, gathered around propane heaters warming their hands, and supporting their friends giving send burns on projects. That individuals are willing to go to these extremes for climbing really says something about the sport.
Our crew, including two toddlers and a baby, had our own set of challenges. Nevertheless, we bundled the kids as much as possible and went out to play in the snow with everyone else. The trip was challenging for me because most of the climbs I was planning to try were completely covered in snow. I’ve spent lots of time in Joe’s over the years and consequently have tried or done most of the climbs in the popular areas. When we first arrived, I was somewhat bummed because it seemed like I wasn’t going to climb on anything new. The prospects were looking lean until I remembered a classic south-facing highball in the left fork that I’ve always wanted to do but never tried. I suspected it might be climbable because of it’s aspect.
Prince of Thieves is a formidable line up slightly overhanging perfect black sandstone. The problem starts with a crux down low and continues on challenging moves over a worsening landing to a technical mantel at about 17ft. I had eyed the line from the ground in the past and knew I wanted to climb it. With not much else to do on this trip, I decided to drop a rope on the problem to clean and chalk it. I suspect it doesn’t get done often which explains why only the starting holds had chalk on them. I figured out the technical mantel and most of the face moves leading up to it. Alone and with only one pad, I was ready to pull on but could only safely try the first few moves. After a several attempts, I figured out a sequence I liked and was ready to commit to the full package.
I hiked down the hill and rallied the rest of my crew with a good collection of pads. With everything set up, I pulled onto the wall, executed the crux just as planned and cruised to the mantel. Suppressing some rising jitters, I committed to the technical highstep and rockover. All went smoothly… I was on top and had climbed this amazingly beautiful and scary classic. I was super psyched.
I didn’t get on much else for the rest of the trip but I had climbed this amazing problem and it made it all worth it… One is enough.
– Matt Wilder