Take a Hike: A climbing route for the birds

Words and photos by SMG Co-Owner and IFMGA Guide Erik Leidecker

Warming up on Elephant Rock.

Sometimes life just gives you a moment. That moment came for me most recently on a climbing trip to the City of Rocks. I managed to carve out a few days to climb with one of my most longstanding climbing partners, my mom Jody. And as I often do when I go climbing, I had an agenda.

About seven months ago I set a goal to climb a route called Take a Hike. The route is graded 5.13a and located on the west face of the Checkered Demon near Elephant Rock. I’ve tried the route a few times over the last twenty years and then got more serious about it a year ago. After a few days of effort, I realized that I wouldn’t be able to redpoint it (climb from bottom to top without falling) without some hard work. I’ve climbed other 5.13’s over the years, but this one seemed harder, or maybe I’m just older!

Walking the dog. A lot.

So I set a goal and got to work. I signed up for a climbing-specific online training program. I started practicing yoga several times a week. I purchased lots of finger strengthening equipment and kept up with general strength and core training. And I walked the dog. A lot.

All this training seemed to be working. By early summer I was making good progress on the route and I felt stronger and more fit than at any time in my life! In the first week of June I managed a 1-hang ascent, which meant I was close. I could envision success and felt like I had one good shot in late June before the busy guiding season and warm temps would shut down any more efforts until the fall.

Erik’s mom, Jody, on “Nameless Ape” 5.8 Nameless Tower, North Fork of Circle Creek.

Erik and longtime SMG guide and climbing partner on the day of “1-hang” attempt on Take a Hike.

So on June 26th my mom and I warmed up at Elephant Rock and then walked around to the back of Checkered Demon to get on Take A Hike.

“Oh no, oh no,” I said as the climb came into view. Swallows—and lots of them—were swarming around the climb. As I looked closer I could see that the birds had built nests in the route’s many huecos and on some key handholds. Mamas flew in and out of the nests bringing bugs and food to their chirping babies. “Well, I guess that’s that,” I thought to myself.

Swallows nest seasonally so they’ll be gone soon enough. And it won’t take much to clean the abandoned nests off the route in the fall. But the irony of the situation was not lost on me, or my mom. A longstanding project, something for which I’d been working hard was thwarted in an instant by nesting swallows!

In all reality, I only had a one in four chance of sending Take a Hike that day. I was mentally prepared to continue training for an ascent in the fall. And I’ve already regrouped mentally, reestablished a training program, and am I’m reinvigorated for trying again in October.

It was a poignant reminder, however, not to get too attached and that the process is as important as the goal. In the end, my mom and I had a great day checking out some new routes deep in the North Fork of Circle Creek!