Sunday, October 6, 2013

My story rock climbing at Chandler Part--the uncut version

Just west of downtown  on a hill overlooking the lazy Arkansas River lies Chandler Park. This park has many assets including a picnic shelters and restrooms, a public pool, several ball-fields, a disc golf course, a recreation center, and some of the most impressive bluffs and boulders in NE Oklahoma. These giant chunks of limestone are a playground for area rock climbers and rappellers.
There are trails meandering through the labyrinth from one end of the park proper to the other, and newcomers would do well to leave a trail of bread crumbs to find their way out. Being a trail runner, I run through the winding hallways at Chandler, and have led the TATUR group (Tulsa Area Trail Ultra Runners) on a couple of field trips, and recently helped put on a trail race through the maze.

But rock climbing (or bouldering) is the main draw to the these rugged trails. Climbing has always fascinated me. In the 1989 movie Star Trek V, where Captain James T. Kirk free solos the rock face for what he called the most important reason for scaling a mountain: because it is there. I like that. Then in the 1993 Stallone movie Cliffhanger,  Gabe Walker drops a fellow climber in the opening scene, and that cooled my jets somewhat--at least for 1000 foot cliffs. These 20-30' walls at Chandler are just my speed. This area offers dozens of short but sweet pocketed limestone ascents. Most routes, regardless of difficulty, are no longer than 40 feet, and the descent or approach is usually a third or fourth class scramble. Nearly every climb offers a tree or boulder to tie top-rope anchors, and some route have bolted anchors. Be wary if three leafed plants unless you like a good batch of poison ivy, and watch out for the 4 inch long orange centipedes, which sport a very painful sting.

It does not take a lot of gear to get into bouldering. I have scrambled up a semi-vertical face with my running shoes, my signature cargo shorts and a tech race shirt. Some more daring boulder scalers use a crash mat to cushion a fall. Bouldering is done closer to the ground and generally does not require ropes.
Rock Climbing includes bouldering, and can go to nose-bleed heights. You can spend bank on climbing gear. A climbing harness consisting of a waist-belt and leg loops, rock climbing shoes (the coolest looking yet most uncomfortable shoes ever), a climbing helmet, carabiners (and lost of them), ropes, and a belay device (used for securing the rope in order to secure a climber's progress, catching a fall, lower a climber, or reel in the rope to provide tension.)  A chalk bag, which makes climbers look even cooler,  is also necessity if you have sweaty hands.
The most important thing to have with you when trying bouldering or rock climbing, is a good spotter. Someone on the ground can steer you to good gripping slots for your hands, and good footholds. Hanging on like Spiderman may keep you from seeing a good series of grips which can get you to the top, but a friend on the ground can be your second set of eyes. The buddy system is always a good idea.
Last time I tried my hand (and feet) at bouldering, I visited with Jen Fraley, a transplanted Coloradoan, who was 30 feet up one of the more vertical climbs an Chandler Park. She was climbing with a friend, and was crawling back and forth the face of the wall with ease.
She asked me to un-snag her rope as I was heading back to my car after a trail run/boulder scramble outing. She reached the top, and then changed ropes and rappelled down the side in three hops. "wanna give it a try?" she asked.
"No--I am not quite ready for that--not yet anyway," I sheepishly answered. I told her she looked like a monkey climbing all over the face up there, and that even a short climb just zapped me out. She grabbed a Mountain Dew and gulped half the can in one swig, and changed out of her rock shoes. I was thinking they looked a lot like the minimalist shoes I was wearing, when she said "Nice shoes--hike in those too?"
"Yeah--these are actually running shoes, but they work pretty well for what climbing I do." She told me that this is the best climbing she has found since she moved here.
I told her she looked like a monkey climbing all over the face up there, and that even a short climb just zapped me out. "You know people think climbing requires really strong arms and fingers, but actually the real power in climbing comes from your legs," she said. "If you keep the weight on your feet instead of gripping and holding yourself with your arms, you won't tire as quickly."  That sounded like good advice to me.
Jen went on, "This should be a state park--here and especially the cliffs further down the road." (Avery Drive.) I agree. We talked for a few minutes about climbing, trail running, and how people who live in Tulsa and Sand Springs have no idea how amazing the views and rock formations are in Chandler Park.
There are several trail heads that take you right to the bluff trails. There is plenty of parking on top just north of the main road, and another trail entrance is on the lower level. Pack a picnic lunch, and take a hike at Chandler Park. And if you're daring, do some bouldering!

The heavily edited publication can be viewed here

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