“Cobble, cobble, cobble,” Alex Honnold said. I wondered when Alex had turned into a Utah turkey. His hands pantomimed the moves on a route in the Pipedream cave. He wasn’t a bird, he was just grabbing the cobbles and playing out the beta.
Maple Canyon, located in central Utah, features some of the best summer sport climbing in the United States. A canyon of conglomerate stone covered by the large pines provides cool temps and ideal summer sport climbing. Brown mud cements the cobbles, which range from golf balls to water melons, to each other and the wall. For the past decade climbers from Salt Lake City, which sits a mere ninety minutes away, and other first ascentionists from around Utah have developed a few hundred routes in the area ranging from 5.6 to 5.14c. The well bolted, steep climbs provide great fitness.
“I’m so pumped!” I told Honnold after lowering off the 5.12 “warmup”. For a week Alex had cracked the whip. He excels at the endurance style of climbing in Maple. The individual moves on the routes are never difficult but the sum of the moves make the pitches impossibly hard to hold on for. We had both improved in the nine years we had climbed together but the gap between our abilities remained the same. I was pumped and he was wondering why.
The Pipedream Cave sits at the top of the Right Fork of Maple Canyon. The cave offers a few 5.11 warm ups and a series of 5.13 to 5.14 horizontal routes out to the lip. The unrelenting steepness provides shade to the area and makes the Pipedream one of the premier venues for hard sport climbing. Of course, this was where Alex wanted to climb. My forearms hurt just looking at the cave.
“My fitness came back fast,” Alex said. He had just finished Pipedream, a 5.14a route that climbs the enormous roof. An hour before he had also climbed Divine Fury, a 5.14b and the hardest route in the cave. I had just barely finished the “easier” 5.12 warmups outside of the cave. After a month of bouldering at Ironworks, I remembered I left my my fitness back in California.
Some climbers brought their fitness with them though. Bay Area climber, Connor Herson pet the dogs hanging at the base of the cave, smiling as he untied. He had just lowered off of Sprout, his first 5.13a outside. While most people kneebar and often vainly attempt to keep their feet on the wall, Connor campused out the entire roof, grabbing tiny foot chips and launching to the buckets. The twelve year old pulled off the ascent by tapping into a nearly limitless supply of endurance. His forearms barely look worked.
After our forearms exploded, Alex and I went back to the campground. Maple Canyon offers a number of drive in campsites with fire pits, toilets and picnic tables. The temps of the canyon, which sits at 8,000 feet, attracts summer climbers from across the states. A number of families, like the Hersons, head out to the crag during the summer school break. The crags take just a few minutes to hike to and the majority of them stay dry in the rain due to the steepness.
“Gobble, gobble, gobble,” I heard. I looked up, expecting to see Honnold crushing some obscure route next to our campsite. Instead a dozen turkeys ran along the side of the road. I still had a few days left to get fit and gobble some cobbles.