Obsession and Ingenuity, Part IV: Kansas

Posted on: February 20, 2008


Will Pass (left) and Noah Hoelscher are two climbers stuck in the middle of Kansas. They have no local crag, but that doesn't seem to matter. [Photo] Adam Hofmann

Editor's Note: Part IV of this series again answers the question: "If going to the climbing takes too long, why not bring the climbing closer?" See the October 17, October 24 and November 28, 2007 Weekly Features to read other creative means of building the vertical.

Pass working his project, Kansas Reality, which includes two stretches of roof cracks ranging in size from perfect hands to fist jams. The crux is the pillar traverse. [Photo] Adam Hofmann

Lost in a Sea of Plains

By Will Pass

You're from Boulder, eh? Front Range. Nice. Local crag? Where's our local crag?

Noah and I glance at each other and grin. What in the hell do you mean? We live in Lawrence, Kansas, my friend, a small college town lost in a sea of plains. If by local crag you mean a two-hour drive to some crumbling, dripping limestone in Missouri, then sure, that's our local crag. But I've climbed more interesting routes out of bed in the morning. Real climbing? Well, for real climbing, we travel. Six hours to the good stuff. Pack a lunch. And bring some of that delicious Boulder falafel.

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It's been a long, flat winter, and—if the Kansas horizon thaws in a couple of weeks—we're going for it. We'll blow out of here like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, our quickdraws cocked, hearts pounding, cams firing, blood spilling, into the sunset. It's going to be a spectacle, and it'll feel like a miracle.

But today, it's just pull-ups. Two-arm pull-ups, three-finger pull-ups, two-finger pull-ups, offset pull-ups, fast pull-ups, slow pull-ups. Rinse and repeat. Then it's L-hangs, leg lifts, dead hangs, bent-arm dead hangs, one-arm lock offs, attempted front levers, attempted human flags, attempted one-arm pull-ups. Then it's crunches, push-ups, stretching, flexing, eating. Then it's grip ball, climbing videos, beers. Then it's talk. How to do an emergency rescue with an unconscious partner. How the double bowline is a better knot than the figure eight. Where Ouray is in Colorado. How Metolius is making a cam to replace the Alien. How Steve House isn't human and trains in Gym Jones, where all the other members are, in fact, ninjas.

Of course, there is the climbing wall at the Rec Center, but one of the reasons to climb is to be outside, to feel the wind on your fur and rock in your paws. Plastic don't scratch that itch.

On the odd warmish day (anything above freezing will do), we converge on The Climbing Garage. Well, technically, it's a parking garage.

Pass aids a sketchy unnamed corner (A1, 4m), The Climbing Garage, Lawrence, Kansas. [Photo] Noah Hoelscher

The Climbing Garage offers roughly 60 feet of crack climbing. There's a squeeze chimney, where I first learned what a squeeze chimney was. There's a short vertical stretch, but for the most part, it's a roof crack. And by crack I don't actually mean crack, in the traditional sense. The Climbing Garage is a relatively sound piece of construction, and the dispersed roof crack is actually just a seam where a concrete roof meets a concrete wall. The crack varies from around two inches up to about four, offering a wide variety of jams. I'm thinking about sending a letter to the contractors about uniformity, as we would have preferred longer stretches of solid hand jams. But contractors don't seem interested in our desires, nor do the police.

Not too long ago a couple of Kansas climbers were at The Climbing Garage when a police officer arrived on the scene. Picture a police interceptor rolling up on two shirtless climbers on a crash pad in an empty parking space. Innocently they are tying their shoes and taping their hands. The following conversation takes place:

Officer: What are you doing?

Kansas Climber 1: We're kickin' it.

Officer: No, what are you about to do?

Kansas Climber 2: We're about to have a good time.

Officer: Don't lie to me. You're about to climb.

Kansas Climber 2: I didn't lie. We're gay acrobats, and this is our sex mattress.

Gorilla Brad Miller shows off his slacklining skills on the KU campus. [Photo] Courtesy of Katrina Mohr

Apparently, this old bouldering line just doesn't cut it anymore. The police officer let them off with a warning and told them not to come back.

Currently, I am working on linking two stretches of the roof crack. Connecting them involves a pillar traverse. The cracks range from good hands to fists and then a bit wider than that. If I send it I'm going to name it Kansas Reality.

But I am not a pioneer of any sort. Mutual friend and KU alum Jake Wolf showed us The Climbing Garage. He and a few others probably have climbed my project. A few times. Kansas climbers have been around for quite a while.

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