UPPER BLAIR is literally bursting with high quality climbs – if you know where to find them. When I first started trying to make sense out of it (mid eighties), I was blown away by the unruly disorganization of the place. One look at the ‘Upper Blair Topo’ indicates just how crazy it is. I knew there were some great climbs ‘up in here’ and a few talented climbers were ‘quietly at work’, but there was no truly definitive material available. Using a combination of USGS Topos, an early overview photo, mental notes from prior conversations and a brief tour with one of the ‘old guard’ from Laramie who had summited some of the formations, I set out to ‘decode’ the place mostly devoid of trails and well-known landmarks. Yes, many knew where the ‘8 Ball’ and ‘John’s Tower’ were (they are hard to miss), but how about ‘South Corner’, ‘Medium cool’ or ‘Little Creatures’? No answers! Then Scarpelli’s opus ‘The Cracksmen’ appeared (’87). Here was a compilation of detailed, hand-drawn ‘route topos’ of lines put up mostly in Blair until that time. So if I could find the route – it would confirm the formation.
The incomplete results ended up in “Heel and Toe” (’94), however it also became apparent there was still lots of virgin territory to be explored. Despite what is stated elsewhere, nearly 1/3 of the climbs in Upper Blair were put in during the nineties, an effort that continued to a lesser degree after 2000. Even today, with high resolution satellite information, GPS and new guidebooks, there are some climbs that continue to defy one’s ability to find them. Perhaps the fabled ‘Spectreman’ is one of the most sought after climbs located here, yet there are many other climbs of (nearly) similar quality. There are thin fingers to hard offwidth in one climb (Ultraviolets), lengthy offwidths (SS Maywood), fun yet challenging climbs (Baobab Tree), big roofs (roofinit), finger cracks that will really push you (What the French Girl Said), fine bolted routes (Easter Island), mixed climbs (trad+bolts = Disappearing Act) and other interesting concoctions (Inebriation Confabulation). No matter what your comfort level is, you will find adventures here that will keep you coming back again and again. The topo was drawn as a basic guide to the formations and locator for some of the more well known climbs. Using this and one or more of the existing guidebooks, you can zero in on your chosen destination.
Jeb Steward jamming up SS Maywood
(10a, on North Corner)
Topo info and abbreviations:
Two main trails exist in Upper Blair (all trails in light green). One that is more commonly used nowadays (#1) basically bisects the area and can be used to access all the formations. There is another main trail leading into the area from the 8 Ball (#2). Each of these trails spur off into many smaller trails that lead to specific formations and/or climbs.
*NOTE: There is/was a direct trail, recently turned into an ATV raceway, that leads from the 8 Ball around the east side of the HEAP, allowing quicker access to Spectreman Buttress and perhaps the Four Corners which is not shown.
Formations are indicated in red and climbs are in yellow. The FORMATIONS are: EC=East Corner, H=The Heap, JT=John’s Tower, LJT=Little John’s Tower, MC=Middle Corner, NC=North Corner, SC=South Corner, SMB=Spectreman Buttress, WC=West Corner. The CLIMBS are: bh=Big House, bs=It’s Bloody Solid, bt=Baobab Tree, dd=Down in Dixie Land, ei=Easter Island, fg=What the French Girl Said, sm=Spectreman, sr=Slab Route, ss=SS Maywood, ta=Tips and Asps, uv=Ultraviolets, wp=West Corner Pump Station.
Refer to the directions for Blair, including directions for Upper Blair. No need to reiterate it here. Worthy of mention is that during this year (’14), due to the temporary closing of Road #707a, people have been accessing Upper Blair from a ‘new’ turnoff from Road #707 slightly downhill (w) of the usual turnoff (#707a) near an obvious cattle guard. A makeshift parking area is forming here and the hike in is shorter than following the usual roads.
SOUTH CORNER is part of the FIVE CORNERS AREA in UPPER BLAIR.
A small, compact formation, it sits atop a promontory west of East Corner and overlooks Lower Blair in the picturesque valley below. The shot above left was taken from the West flank of East Corner looking westward. South Corner is shown at the arrow. The history of South Corner goes back to the fifties (see below), but because of its remoteness and apparent difficulty to locate (check out the map above right), several lines were not climbed until more recently. With short, unique routes of many grades, South Corner is a fantastic place to spend the day.
** New Routes !!
1.) Name unknown (aka Last ride to Elysian Fields) 11b/c – R Found directly opposite Currey’s Corner on the obvious shelf. Two bolts lead up this overhang, exposed and run out line about 20 feet left of #1. Actually, it is a fine line, taking advantage of small inclusions and mini-dikes and natural features. However, it needs at least one, if not two more bolts. The start is very reachy for short people (c’95). Belay at the rap station. Get pumped up for this one Mr. Aggressive. (Anon., c’97)
2.) Down in Dixieland 10d Overhanging and strenuous jamming at the grade. Starts with fingers, goes to great hands and squeezes back down – with a big, daring throw to more hands. Looks easier than it is, get it on! Belay on gear. (sh+dl, ’95)
3.) Southern Comfort 9+ Climb up to a bulging start over VERY polished rock bulges. Finishes left up uneven ground. Pour two fingers worth on top. Belay on gear. (sh+dl, ’95)
4.) Way Down Yonder 10c Another overhanging, leaning, right-facing dihedral corner. Cool jamming and finishes up a left facing dihedral near the top. Fingers to hands to fists to a couple of stacks will get you down to Bourbon Street in style. The shots below show the crux crack ‘straight in’ (A), as well as from the side. The side view (B) also shows how overhung it is, and the incipient crack on the right-hand wall that some take advantage of for pro. Belay on gear. (sh+dl, ’95)
** New Route !!
5.) Suck it up 10a – r? Short but exciting. Contort, gyrate and heel hook over two consecutive, smooth bulges before getting any pro. Have a good spotter!! Continue to the top using a well-deserved, much easier hand crack. Belay on gear. Whether its Dixie Beer, oysters or your manhood, you could enjoy it – or not. (Skip Harper, Steve Seckinger, Leanne Seckinger,’96)
One of the oldest routes at South Corner is found on a mostly separated monolith to the immediate northwest of the main formation. Both the subformation and the route are called “Currey’s Corner (CC)”. The climb ascends the southeast corner of the structure on dishouts and thin edges, moving right as one progresses to the top. It is not protectable, ie it is run out and very exposed, achieving more than a modest pucker factor. “1st ascent March 3, 1957, Don Currey and John Lund. This is a very spectacular climb as it involves instant exposure when the climber steps across from the saddle between the South Corner and Currey’s Corner. It used to be possible to protect the face, but since a flake has fallen off, little protection is available. …. Start at the NE corner from the saddle and traverse up to the right across the face. Look for T. G. (Thank God) holds. It is probably better to do this route with a rope over the top. Curreys Corner is the least climbed formation at Blair.” (Halfpenny. J., ’72) Descent (now): Rap anchors on top.
LITTLE JOHN’S TOWER
One classic route and a few others … working
1.) Baobab Tree CLASSIC 5.8
HERE’S A FEATURED CLIMB ON THE …
Jamminy Crackup (11c) is a mixed (trad and bolted) climb on the northeast corner of John’s Tower in Blair that will test your skill at gymnastic movement from the start. TAPE UP! The entry moves involve nearly inverting on good hand jams to obtain a heel hook with the right foot, enabling one to gain access to the main crack system by shuffling the jams upward enough to reach a good climbing position after several feet. Place a good cam or two (2.5 Friends) or a cam and a passive piece to protect these rather daunting beginning moves. Get a 1.5 or 2 Friend ready to slam into the crack above ASAP. Continue past a horizontal crack and protect well here because the crux section above needs to be negotiated fairly rapidly as it is very strenuous off-fingers. Proceed to jam the slightly flaring off-fingers crack section which is slightly overhanging and leans to the right. You might be able to get in a 0.5 Camalot here, but the first good pro comes at the next horizontal crack about 12 feet above. Nearing the end of the crack system about 40′ up, better edges and flakes are found and medium sized pro goes in well. A fixed stopper is found at the end of the crack near the shelf. It has been left for two reasons; first, several falls have set it well, and second, it keeps the rope from being eaten by the crack as the headwall is climbed.
The HEADWALL offers three different lines to the top, two are bolted and one protects scantily with a tcu and/or 2 or 3 small wires. Pick your grade to finish, 11a (leftmost, 2 bolts), 10b (center, 2 bolts) or 9 (rightmost). All three lines lead to the same Fixe Ring anchor set at the top of the headwall. Rappel 85 feet to the ground. Use caution if using a 50-meter rope as it barely stretches to reach the bottom.
Get to Jamminy Crackup, park near the 8 Ball in Blair. Take the trail heading SW out of the campsites amongst the large boulders and continue about 300 yards into a small valley separating the 8 Ball from John’s Tower. When an old barbed wire fence is reached, turn uphill (approx.SE) before crossing it and continue uphill on a winding faint trail. After about 200 yards, the trail begins to steepen and you will find a trail cutting up and right. Take this to the saddle between John’s Tower and the Heap to a high point where you should be looking south (across a valley) at the smooth north faces of North and Middle Corners. At this point, look directly to your right (west) and you will see Jamminy Crackup. (Skip Harper + Arron Spelling,’95).
NORTHEAST and NORTH FACE DETAIL
1.) Jamminy Crackup 11c See entire description here.
2.) Yellow Belly 10c Handcrack to small roof to offwidth in a dihedral. (Done long before W. Griffith claimed FA in ’01.)
3.) Funhouse 9 About 40′ right of #2, head up a ramp to a chimney, turn the roof and finish in an off width. (Done long before W. Griffith claimed FA in ’01.)
4.) Burning Man 11a About 30 feet right of #3, your forearms will burn as you ascend a neat hand crack that transitions into off hands and off width. (FA claimed by W. Griffith and B. Scarpelli, ’01)
5.) Big House 8 Harder than it seems, take wide pro. FA clear back in ’62 by D. Christensen et al.
6.) Becker 7 Climb the leftmost of two double crack systems to rap anchors. Continue on the rightmost crack to the top. FA way back in ’59 by Rick Horn and Keith Becker.
SOUTH FACE DETAIL
1.) ‘Practice Route’ FA: Originally climbed by?
2.) Clean the Brushes 5.6 FA claimed by Jacquot and Barnett, ’78.
3.) Model A 5.6 FA claimed by Jacquot and Barnett, ’80.
4.) Steppin’ Out 5.8 FA claimed by Griffith and Korfanta, ’01.
5.) Promiscuous Pink Panther 11a Orenczak, ’01.
6.) It’s Bloody Solid 5.7 SH and JJ, ’96.
7.) Scarlet Begonias 11c Friedrichs and Scarpelli, ’82.
8.) Dissension 5.8 Kelman and Duncan, ’02.
9.) Ultraviolets 10d/11a Scarpelli and Nicsitch, ’82. Total Classic! Two pitches – or supposedly as a single pitch – go ahead and try it. P1 is varied climbing to a finger seam – chain anchors here. P2 is heinous overhanging off width. If you happen to finish the second pitch ( most can’t!!), use raps shown in topo … most convenient is at top of # 12. Also raps on north side. * NOTE: See photo #c above.
10.) Soul Fire 12a Griffith and Kofantra, ’01. Nearly horizontal crack formed by two boulders leaning against one another. One piton.
11.) On The Side 10a Harper and Diamond, ’96. Merge with #12 to finish.
12.) Double Dippin’ 10c Harper and Diamond, ’96. Ring anchors at top.
13.) Roofinity 11a Harper and Thomas, ’96. * NOTE: See shot #b above for start to this climb.
14.) Jamminy Crackup 11c Harper and partners, ’95. Actually on the ‘east face’. Ring anchors at top.
NORTH CORNER and MIDDLE CORNER
Both major components of the FIVE CORNERS AREA, at least one-half of NORTH and MIDDLE CORNERS rarely sees the sun (this is where most of the climbing is located). Their yellowish, lichenous NE faces are clearly identified from John’s Tower across the diminutive valley to the north. The routes found here are each legendary in their own right, are of high quality and challenging, to say the least.
1.) Easter Island 12a Great mixed face climb on the east face of N. Corner. 5 bolts on the lower half, small pro on the upper half. It starts over a bulge that used to have a bolt, wanders left then right past a thin barn door move and follows a shallow crack system to top anchors above a blocky, red dike. (probably 1 move at the grade, mostly 5.11) Neil Humphrey, c’94.
2.) Jihad 11d Head up a dicey, thin and nearly unprotected face loosely following a lichenous orange streak left of #4 … if you dare. If you don’t, scramble up the dihedral towards the base of Maywood (#4) and traverse left whenever you want to. Now grunt and groan as you pump out following the prominent right-leaning crack to the top. Take extra big pieces. Plenty strenuous!! Scarpelli and Rangitsch, c’89.
3.) Disappearing Act 11c A crack that goes from hands to fingers and finally disappears with lots of dicey, thin face to the top. “Worked on” for years – unfortunately, someone rounded off edges, eliminated some and other strangeness went on here. Still, a challenging, mixed climb (trad plus bolts) with 2 bolts to protect the top third. Rap anchors at top. (aka Valhalla?)
4.) SS Maywood 10b A stellar, steep wide crack in a dihedral corner that never sees the sun. Perhaps a wide crack test piece at the grade. Use hands, fists, stacking, barring and any other moves you can make. Use critical edges on the right face to facilitate your upward progress or tank like the Titanic. Obviously, takes several large pieces up to 2 #4 Camalots – depending on your ability. Rap anchors at top. (Matous and Heywood, c’80)
Twin, superb right-leaning crack lines dissect the upper half of the wide, northeast face of North Corner. Both begin on a prominent shelf and are notorious for relieving hands and fingers of skin. TAPE UP!! They can be approached two ways. 1.) Climb the easier face (with a bolt) and a crack below them to get to the shelf or 2.) scramble up to the ledge from the right and traverse out to them.
5.) Calling On You Moscow 11b Left crack line. A pure trad classic fingereater with some hands. Double up your small to mid-sized cams for this one. (Piana and Cowan, ’84)
6.) What The French Girl Said 11b Right crack line. More hands, a fine, solid trad line. Double up your mid-sized cams. (Piana and Cowan, ’84)
Descent: Rap anchors (bolted Fixe Rings) at the top of the routes.
7.) Wango 10c find detail elsewhere.
8.) Girls Gone Wild 10a
Steve Bechtel recreating on the spectacular Spectreman
HEAP (HEEP) n. 1.) An assemblage of things lying one on another; a pile: a heap of stones. American College Dictionary.
“1st recorded ascent on October 9, 1953 by Tom Humphrey, Vern Anderson and John Lund. …. Since there was climbing in this area since the late 1940’s, the formation had probably been climbed before the register was placed. Route information is lacking. Russel Hynes, Cortney Skinner and Harold Cole did a route on the NE side on April 18, 1954, but the location is unknown. Chuck Read and Bob Anderson did a route on the W side on September 27, 1958, but its location is also unknown……. “. (Halfpenny, ’72)
Today, THE HEAP is a still a ‘pile’ – a heap of stones for the most part.
However several very class routes have been put in on its southeast end.
These are worth exploring!!
1.) My Clone Sleeps Alone 10a
2.) Real Men Don’t Spread Their Legs 11b
3.) Storm Watch 10c
4.) Live and Let Live 5.7
5.) Rubber Biscuit 10b
6.) Flip, Flop and Die 11b
7.) Scramble up or Downclimb/descent
8.) Country Swing 11d (aka Mystery Blocks)
9.) Call Me Barney 11c
10.) The Rookie 12a
11.) Aspen Stem 10d
12.) Repoman 11c (aka Eye of Fatima)
13.) Spectreman 11c
EAST CORNER (and West Corner)
1.) West Corner Chimney 5.5 Sticker and Lund,’53.
2.) Tips and Asps 11c Traverse in left under a roof, up thru a widening crack to hands to vertical cracks. Climbed and named while slightly inebriated. Scarpelli, Agee and McGann,’86.
3.) Pretzl Logic 11c Take the hand crack thru the roof on the right, up the left facing dihedral to another roof, hand crack to top. Scarpelli and McGann, ’85.
DESCENTS are downclimbs. (NC = North Corner)
For More Information