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Climbing City of Rocks, ID: Live Your Dream Grant Trip Report by Sara Casey

Posted on: January 23rd, 2014 by lhummel

AAC member Sara Casey embarked on a climbing trip to City of Rocks, Idaho last summer.  In the heat of the swelter, Sara and her climbing partners, Jana Coulter and Tania Reitz, toughed it out and Lived Their Dream in City of Rocks, ID.  With much preparation in and around the Southeast, this team successfully accomplished their objective to climb routes in City of Rocks, progress as climbers, and embrace comradery within their group.

You too can Live Your Dream!  Apply for the Live Your Dream Grant before March 1! 

By AAC Member Sara Casey:

Queens of the City: City of Rocks Trip Report

“Success is not counted by how high you have climbed but by how many people you brought with you.” – Wil Rose


Our dream to climb the unique rock formations of City of Rocks, Idaho was hatched during a drive back from the beaches of North Carolina. While the car pointed west towards home, so did our thoughts. My friend, Janna, had recently been accepted to a graduate program at Colorado State University. Feeling slightly threatened by the looming deadlines, papers, and obligations that accompany grad school, we began discussing the possibility of a BIG trip before Janna would have to report to school. The questioned loomed, where would we go?

Prior to this point, I had been climbing on and off for the past six years and spent a few summers guiding. Rich in climbing knowledge and technical skills, I’ve struggled to maintain climbing partners and to consistently climb outside. This was largely due to my propensity to live far away from the mountains and spend most of the year playing nationally competitive Ultimate Frisbee.

Once I moved to Carrboro, North Carolina, I realized my Ultimate teammates could become my climbing partners. My teammate Janna wanted to get back into climbing, and soon another teammate, Tania, was tagging along. During a trip to the New River Gorge, Tania and Janna got their first taste of the joys of outdoor climbing, and I rediscovered mine. Climbing was a passion I could no longer put on the back burner.

Over the next year, Janna and Tania honed their climbing skills and grasped an understanding of basic climbing systems including anchors, cleaning, and sport leading. Teaching them and watching them work through the grades brought back the joy I once had from being a guide on the granite slabs in western North Carolina. I no longer needed to search for the perfect climbing partner; my friends were growing into experienced climbers with time.

So back in the car, dreaming of the BIG trip, I realized that a great next step in Janna and Tania’s climbing development would be learning to climb multi-pitch routes. We were not quite ready to be leading trad lines from off the ground, but a recent article about moderate multi-pitch sport climbs in City of Rocks, Idaho sounded like the perfect fit. I recalled great stories about the City from a former mentor, and the destination for the BIG trip was cemented. We would swing leads up the nicely protected moderates laid down by Kevin Pogue and also climb several of the classic single pitch routes the City had to offer.



Sara belayed by Janna teaches the team necessary multi-pitching skills on the “Townhouse Traverse” on a rainy day in April. Photo credit: Tania Reitz

In the months before our trip we all needed to be dialed on every aspect of multi-pitching: leading, building anchors, changeovers at the belay, and rappelling. I attended a clinic with Seneca Mountain Guides called “Chicks with Nuts” that pairs women climbers with guides and teaches them trad and multi-pitch skills. The clinic taught me great rope management and changeover techniques when climbing off the ground with 3 people. I took these lessons back to Janna and Tania and we practiced them on the stairs of the townhouse where I was living. My roommates would roll their eyes and giggle while the three of us seriously practiced commands. “Off belay, Tania,” I would shout once I was “safe” on my “anchor” (read: sliding X attached to the dowel of the closet) at the top of the stairs. Once we had our systems dialed inside, we took them outside to practice on the moderate mixed climbs of Table Rock at the Linville Gorge in North Carolina.








Living Our Dream


Live Your Dream Grant recipient, Sara Casey, takes a look at the objectives for the week after a scramble to the top of Bath Rock. Photo credit: Janna Coulter.


We arrived in City of Rocks via a long gravel road that passed roaming cattle. Our excitement grew as we tilted our heads at the peculiar ‘out of this world’ rock formations and first laid eyes on the multitude of routes. The next morning we embarked on our first objective, Theatre of Shadows (5.7, 4 pitches). For this climb, Tania and I swung leads and Janna had the “pleasure” of being in the middle tied into both ropes. Tania cruised through the climbing, took her time while building secure anchors, and successfully belayed us up behind her. At the final pitch I belayed us all to the very pinnacle of the climb.



Team member, Tania Reitz, belays Sara up one of their multi-pitch objectives. Photo credit: Janna Coulter.

Standing on top of the small perch, we each reacted in funny ways. Looking out over most of the City, I had a quiet Zen moment where I casually raised my hands and fist pumped the air, reminiscent of the ending of the classic movie, Blue Crush. Janna, feeling powerful and mighty up on the summit shouted out, “City of Rocks, I am your Queen” while Tania whispered something about a “first step for womankind.” Our reactions might have been odd, but they prove that achieving a new milestone in climbing can feel akin to the grandeurs of monarchy or walking on the moon.

Once down from out first objective, we looked at the week’s weather report with dismay. Highs of 101, 102, and 100 were the projection, but we were determined to send our dream routes despite the weather outlook. We toughed it out using our experience with sweltering summer weather in the Southeast and a few tactics to avoid the midday heat. This meant a daily race with the sun, hopping on a multi-pitch climb at dawn and getting down before noon. We spent the afternoons hiding out in the visitor’s center learning about the history of the Oregon Trail, swimming at the Dufree Hot Springs (wishing it was an actual pool not a hot spring), or hiding underneath the trees at our campground until the temperatures cooled. At around 5 or 6 o’clock we would head out to climb again and get in at least one single pitch sport climb in before cooking dinner. Eat. Sleep. Repeat.

The heat was so brutal we had to cut out some of the longer multi-pitch routes we had initially planned. We decided to climb Cruel Shoes (5.7, 3 pitches), mostly based on the fact that we could rappel in the shade. This climb was Janna’s turn to take the sharp end, and she carefully moved herself through the climbs crux and yelled down, “I know why they call it Cruel Shoes!” Janna would also go on to crush the 150 foot Too Much Fun (5.8) and belay the rest of us up in our 3 person multi-pitch style.


Team member, Janna Coulter, getting ready to use her leg power while leading the ultra-long and ultra-classic Too Much Fun (5.8) pitch. Photo credit: Sara Casey.

On each trip there is the climb that sticks out and captures the essence of a trip. For us, this was our evening session on Tribal Boundaries (5.10). The line was aesthetic and provided challenging movement over thin holds. While going for an on-sight attempt I was constantly baffled by the small size of the crimps available and almost devastated by the time I reached the upper slab portion. Sweat was dripping down from my helmet and I thought; now I have to friction climb. I dropped my knee and reached for a tenuous sloper, managing to snag one of my favorite climbs to date. Afterwards, Janna and Tania got their chance to battle the same crimps and slopers, loving the challenge of the climb. Afterwards, we sat around on a huge ledge looking out at the funky rocks of the City taking goofy pictures and dramatically reenacting our antics on Tribal Boundaries.


Sara Casey makes her way through the slabby section of Tribal Boundaries (5.10) on a hot afternoon in July. Photo credit: Janna Coulter


Our trip to City of Rocks was critical for our development as ‘all-around climbers.’ We toughed out a heat wave and grew more confident in our multi-pitch and leading skills. We became familiar with a classic climbing area that we will no doubt try to return to one day. Watching my friends belay me up to the summits of City of Rocks, I realized my friends were no longer my climbing trainees; they were fully solidified climbing partners.

We also realized that we were a unique group, three female friends who could go climb multi-pitch routes together and all share the lead. After this trip, we travelled to several popular climbing areas across the West and not once did we see another all female climbing group. So ladies, let’s get off the ground! I believe the all-female team from Annapurna said it best, “A Woman’s Place is On Top.”


Live Your Dream Grant recipients, Sara Casey, Janna Coulter, and Tania Reitz re-rack after a week climbing in City of Rocks. Photo credit: Janna Coulter.]

To learn more about our adventures, visit


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