Sunday, August 12, 2007


Penitente Canyon, in Colorado's San Luis Valley, is one of those places that, like Joshua Tree, has a cool vibe but only so-so climbing. Lots of people love Penitente because it has a concentration of closely bolted, moderate sport climbs, but to me these short climbs are too fingery and repetitive. Still, I head down there once a year or so just because I like the setting so much. The views across the valley to the Sangre de Cristos, looming over the Great Sand Dunes, are gorgeous. And the twisting, dry canyons seem to retain whispers of their mysterious past, symbolized by the faded virgin Mary painted high on the main canyon wall. This area was a center of Los Hermanos Penitentes, Spanish settlers who practiced flagellation and ritual cross-bearing as testaments to their faith. Though the main canyon is crowded on weekends, the nearby Witches Canyon and the Rock Garden are often empty and spooky, the silence broken only by the fuff...fuff...fuff of a raven flying overhead.

I find a day and a half is plenty on these routes, and by then the skin of my fingers is usually destroyed anyway. But some people can't seem to get enough of the area. Mike Anderson, who has made the first free ascents of 10 major routes in Zion National Park, earned some of his technical mastery on Penitente's testy sport routes. As of last spring, he had climbed all but two of the climbs in the main canyon, including many 5.12 and 5.13 finger-wreckers, and he'll probably finish them off once the temperature drops this fall. Talk about self-flagellation!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Alright, the Mountain World is back!