Monday, September 5, 2011


            An hour drive south west of the city of Delta lies Ibex, Utah.  Known for its tall red quartzite boulders and dry desert climate, Ibex spends much time untouched and untraveled.  Ibex sits behind a dry desert lake bed known as the Tule Hardpan which stretches out for miles along the Barn hills.  To the north, sitting high above the valley rests Notch Peak at 9,654 feet.  If tall, difficult boulder problems are your bread and butter then Ibex has what you’re looking for.  Not to mention a plethora of moderates and easy highballs found scattered throughout the valley.  Many popular lines that see few ascents and a number of unnamed boulders with unknown difficulties are hidden everywhere.
            The environment surrounding Ibex is unearthly and without a doubt somewhat spectral.  The arid desert climate allows for the minimal amount of plant growth.  As a result the only locals taking up residence here are copious amounts of tarantulas, lizards, and scorpions.  Seeing a hairy tarantula bigger than my whole hand sneaking its way over towards my gear is unnerving for someone who is cultured to ignore the usual suspected insects that never get bigger than a silver dollar.   Carelessness was frowned upon when lifting rocks and reaching into deep holes in the rock where scorpions take refuge from the sweltering mid-day heat.  After the first encounter, every rock and branch we moved was treated like nuclear waste, always taking care not to expose ourselves too much and alert to any poisonous organisms.
            At the helm is four time world record holder for dynoing as well as the trips recognized culinarain Skyler Weekes.  Skyler is the only one making a return trip to Ibex, and is hoping to see an ascent on a tall and very difficult dyno.  On his previous adventure he found himself and fellow climbers stuck in the desert with a dead car battery making for a huge downer in a most epic trip.  Alongside him is a diligently playful Rottweiler lab mix named Arie taking up as temporary “man’s best friend” position on the trip and was given the title “backseat dweller” for the duration.  Skyler runs a wine barrel business and is usually found racing back and forth between Utah’s numerous vineyards and his place of business in Denver.
            Holding down the front passenger seat is the tours DJ and owner of the title relentless climber is Matthew Lloyd.  Matt’s main hub is Denver and lives to climb every day.  Outside of setting routes and problems for climbing competitions for ABS, high school climbing competitions, and gyms like the Denver Bouldering Club he is traveling.  Matt recently returned from a trip to France that was unavoidably extended due to unforeseen volcanic problems in Iceland.  This is Matt’s first every trip to Ibex and though traveling maintains the goal of finding new, tall climbs while keeping it fun and never gets attached to using guide books.  Unlike my go with the flow mentality, Matt leads the charge in a constant pursuit of life in climbing.
Also very engaged with the two day jaunt is myself, Daniel Madson, a student to photography and journalism and part time free loader.  I am often perceived as too laid back and as a result am often misconstrued as being “not psyched” when I don’t appear to be brimming with enthusiasm.  Armed to the teeth, we had set out to discover the tall blocks hidden away in Ibex, Utah.  
            Upon arrival we immediately set out to nab ascents on old classic problems found in near the beginning of the area known as the Red Monster area.  Though the drive was long, running around looking for the first boulders to climb was quickly refueling our previously dulled charge to climb.  Among the first we find is the Red Monster boulder.  This boulder is in close proximity to several good warm up boulders and has itself a few straight forward, tall, very good quality problems.  The Cow boulder sits just behind the Red Monster and has some fun, short warm ups that were not bad to do in the sun.  Some problems required high foot, knee in face top out approaches but were manageable, easy, and very fun.
            I started fulfilling my need to shoot.  Matt and Skyler were trying Blue Flowers (V7) and making quick work so I began searching for the right angle.  Arie is running around, endlessly searching for nothing while the sun is disappearing so I pulled out the speed flash and got ready to shoot.  Again and again I take shots and realize not one of these came out.  The flash isn’t working.  After a trying many different trouble shooting steps I feel my good mood fading and a shroud of dread and doubt starts to grow in my mind.  Idea scrubbed, I don’t like this, next idea.
Skyler decides he wants to go check out the White Arete (V8) to see what it’s like.  Small compressive moves up a beautiful arete feature with a slopey left hand side pull near the middle section.  This looks promising.  I can feel myself being happy again.  Everyone is psyched so I climb for a bit and then return to shooting and hope everything works out.  It’s not working out.  Again, Danny is not happy.
            Once the light began to fade we took all of our climbing gear, and the now limping dog back over to Topus Mountain to find something a little bit taller.  The main boulder in the area is 25 feet tall and has easy problems on all sides.  I immediately set my eyes on Bottle O’fun which had an easy (and very obvious) line straight up the face.  Instead of climbing this myself, I put Matt on the line and explained that the light was perfect for what “I” wanted to do with this climb.  It was dark out and the glowing pink and orange sunset in the background was slowly slipping away when Matt reached the top.  I am again happy and very satisfied.
            After setting up camp neat Topus Mountain we make a fire.  Just a few feet from the fire Skyler sits on a rock huddled over our state of the art outdoor culinary equipment.  Mixing spices with vegetables and steak he wraps individual meals in tin foil and tosses them into the fire to cook.  I imagined Skyler as a Boy Scout sitting near the fire, proudly examining his culinary efforts and smiling while eagerly handing out his russet potato, steak, garlic, butter, and rosemary creations.  We huddle up and and eat like kings while listening to the fire and the piercing silence that is surrounding us.  Ibex is quiet.  So quiet in fact that its eerie.  I recall that during the day when no one was talking it got so quiet that I could almost hear the air molecules bouncing off my inner ear.  There were no birds, no coyotes, and no humans.  Ibex, Utah is absolutely desolate.
            This far out into the desert, so far away from civilization makes for the perfect night skies.  We spread out around the fire laying down facing away from the fire that illuminates the giant overhanging boulder behind us.  Resting from climbing, driving, now full from eating, and very quickly drunk with happiness and rum.  This makes us happy.
            The following morning we stumble out of our tents, clean up camp, and drive into the Tule hard-pan until we find boulders still hiding from the sun.  We find some unnamed problems and various warm ups two or three miles down the road.  About this time we discover one more activity that we all over looked while researching a trip to Ibex, Tarantula dodging.  They are everywhere, and though they constantly plague our thoughts Arie didn't seem to mind them one bit.  The dog would sit around and ignore that there were at least two colossal spiders a mere three feet from him.  From one boulder to the next we dodged tarantulas and found some super amazing lines to climb and once again, though without forgetting about the spiders, psych was high.  
            At the foot of the cliffs of the Tule Valley grows large sage bushes each spread apart by a foot of desert ground.  The valley floor is carpeted with them turning every off road excursion into a bundu-bashing experience.  Bundu-bashing is known in South Africa as a leisurely activity where one drives their vehicle through the bushes with no regard to the integrity of the terrain or their own car.  Our SUV bounced wildly around the sagebrush while zigzagging to avoid rocks, pits, and bushes that might threaten the functionality of the vehicle.  We have fun doing this and from where I was sitting, Skyler was having too much fun romping around the dusty hill sides.
            Finally we find a boulder that actually existed in the guide book and what Skyler had recalled wanting to climb since his previous trip.  The boulder is amazing.  With a great landing and an even better angle it would make for an impressive ascent.  Once again I get set up to shoot Skyler on this amazing line.  Tripod set, remote shutter release, find the right angle, find the right setting, perfect.  Two shots later my camera stops.  “I’m of out of battery.”  I sigh and reach into my bag to pull out my backup before Skyler tries to send one more time.  I slide the battery in to my camera and it stops.  “That’s weird.”  I tell myself while I try to slide it in again.  It’s the wrong battery.  As I realize this I feel my body tremble as all the hot blood builds up in my face.  “Damn it!”  I yell.  How could I be so stupid?  I forgot the most important thing to me on the trip, a battery.  Literally trembling from my anger and what my friends might think of me at this point I turn and fill them in on the situation.  Though in the end Skyler conquered all psych immediately disappeared, collectively we are not happy.
            I may have mentioned that Ibex, Utah is desolate, off the beaten path, and far from civilization.  Well that is true, and truer still is that the closest camera store is Salt Lake City.  Any provisions and camping equipment can be found in Delta about an hour away but there are no large convenience stores for high priced items such as what we needed.  If you climb here, come prepared.  For our trip we were over prepared in some regard and less in others.  For instance we bought ten gallons of water thinking we would spend two nights here but were sadly mistaken and though we used almost all of the water we had plenty to spare upon our return.
            We make our way back to camp defeated and mildly disgruntled.  The next step is to make a bee line for home.  We kick around the idea of stopping in a town along the way and stopping at the countless climbing areas between SLC and Denver.  There are many different places to stop, lots of free camping, endless options.  While driving back I get to see all the things I couldn’t see before as a result of our over packing.  The great salt flats are amazing and almost seem like a fairy tale.  They go on forever with many different access points along the road.  A large flat expanse to drive on with no rules that I saw as an existing anarchy within a state known for a heavy population of followers of the church of latter day saints.
            Once we crossed back into Colorado we made a quick stop at a local hot spring that is only known to the locals and is hidden off the road.  Though this spring is usually populated by inebriated college students lounging about in the buck we arrived to an empty spring to have all to ourselves.  The mineral spring water was very hot, the surrounding forest held the familiar nature sounds that I grew to miss in just a couple days.  Ibex, Utah was the “nearly perfect trip” that ended far too abruptly.
“Is it worth going back to?”  I Matt asked me.  “Hell yes.”

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