Shadows on the Face of the Devil


I pitched my nylon hovel next to Rob’s at mile marker 10 on Rampart Range Road. This haven, south of Denver, can see heavy recreation use and the campground pullouts every two miles are evidence of that. From our perch on Devil’s Head mountain we could see as far as the hot day ozone would allow. The heat glossed the air miles in front of us and every consecutive range took a darker and less detailed shade of blue. The mountains out to the horizon streaked into the sky, they became an inseparable blue. The flora and fauna of Devil’s Head are remarkably different compared to the the barren plains far below us. Coming from New England, the Pike National Forest is a lot like Maine wilderness. The conifers are tall and strong and make great homes for similar sounding songbirds. The vegetation roots itself in a sandy soil mixed with lichen and moss. Many ants enjoy Devil’s Head for the soil; I have never seen so many of them in my life.


We donned our packs filled with climbing gear and water and set off up a dirt path. We were reluctant to notice storm clouds moving in from all cardinal directions. The clouds appeared just above eye level and at great distances. They moved slowly about Rampart Range and there were many of them. The evening storms in Colorado saunter through the sky like moon jellies in an aquarium. Their tendrils streaking wet into the aspen groves and twisted cedars. We crossed our fingers they would wander past us so we could climb dry rock.


We scrambled over a red sandy slab of rock and hopped down around a sharp corner to a stunning cliff. The sun drew long shadows out of the features on the face of the cliff. Two brothers had a line on the wall. One climbed nervously up while the other belayed him and offered chants of encouragement. We chatted briefly and asked them for recommendations in the area, they were happy to help us by letting us know their prized climbs. We set up next to them. Rob flaked out our newest rope and I stretched my rubbery shoes onto my feet. I was especially curious to see how my skill at climbing would be affected at elevation if my cycling skill was so impaired. I balanced delicately on small ridges and knobs while crimping edges in the rock. Slowly I made it to permanent anchors and clipped in, ready for the rappel. My muscles dully ached from lack of oxygen. It was too easy to wear out at this elevation and I was sure my performance would increase with acclimation.


Rob and I climbed until the sun set, occasionally hiding under an overhang when the storms coursed too close. We jangled our carabiners on our walk home to ward off creatures lurking in the night. Our luck ran out. The rain started up through the branches and drenched our clothes and packs. The volume of water pouring out into the land was alarming! We ran as fast as our strained lungs and legs would allow and dove into our tent-site. We waited patiently until the last drops of rain made their sound on our taught rain flys. We cooked up a particularly good batch of Ramen noodles that night. Rob & I finished the day with fervent writing or leisure reading until drowsiness pulled us to sleep.

About Clint Valentine

Clint is currently enrolled in two undergraduate degrees in Biology & Environmental Science at Northeastern University. He enjoys pursuits of endurance and distance which have included summiting many peaks in New England during winter alpine ascents, sailing the Atlantic in a vintage gaff-rigged schooner, rock climbing in five states including Oregon, and cycling 5,000 miles across North America. He has goals of pushing the envelope of his limits and combining his many outdoors interests into one big trip. He has a passion for photography and hopes to one day produce a documentary for a round-the-world tour.
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