Joe's Valley Bouldering / by Ray Phung

Sam working the pumpy moves of Planet of the Apes, V7 in New Joe's.  You can see our campspot at the Sewer Absorption field in the background.

Several months ago, my friend Chris approached me at the climbing gym, psyche-level at an all-time high. "Dude, we need to recreate the Bishop magic, and I need you there!"  Of course, I give a verbal, purposely half-committed, "Sure, that sounds fun! I could get down."  I mean, Bishop was a lot of fun.  And I love climbing.  But October was several months away, and I am a chronic non-planner.  "How about Joe's Valley?" Chris continues, confirming that, with my half-ass commitment, there would be at least three of us going.  Little did I know this was just the start of amassing an entire crew of Portlanders to head out to the Utah desert.  I am not sure how a random group of 15 people all got off of work the same random week in October.  With different jobs and life activities, I thought it would be impossible to reunite everyone.   I believe this shows how the sense of adventure ties all of us together.

Scott, fighting the pump on Low Tide, V6 in Joe's Valley Utah.

To be honest, I was actually pretty excited to visit Utah.  I have never done any adventuring in Utah, other than driving through a few years go.  At that time, I was on a time crunch and couldn't stop at all.  Add the fact that all these Utah 'Life Elevated' tourism commercials were teasing me with beautiful arches and narrow slot canyons.  I have only heard good things about Joe's Valley too:  the bouldering destination in Utah, local stomping grounds for Salt Lake City boulderers. Plus, my dear friend Leanne who has been on the road all summer, was planning on being in Utah and was joining us.  I was fully committed now, so I packed up my car and made the 14 something hour trek.

Joe's Valley is located in central Utah, just outside the tiny town of Orangeville.  It's about 2.5 hours southeast of SLC in the high desert.  Strewn along roads that wind up few steep valleys are large sandstone boulders that have calved off the valley cliff faces.  The drive between areas are pretty short, and approaches are generally less than 5 minutes from the road.  The camping here is pretty unregulated, and is first come, first serve.  For such a large crew, we opted to stay in a Sewer Absorption Field, which I assume outgases the waste from the now decommissioned Cottonwood mine.  

Orangeville itself is an interesting place.  At the end of each valley at Joe's is are old coal mines that have been shut down for nearly a decade.  The population of around 1500 people are still sustained by a nearby coal-fired power plant (seen clearly from our campsite), but the town itself is definitely in a state of decay.  With Joe's Valley becoming a popular climbing destination, the influx of climbers seems to be boosting the economy some.  The only grocery store and deli, the Food Ranch, seemed quite busy on a Friday night, with the friendly clerk marketing her own homemade climbing salve.  We even checked out the only alcohol serving establishment, Chick's Rock N' Roost.  

The boulders here are beautifully colored and highly featured, forming cool huecos and pockets, interesting tufas, and every other type of hold imaginable.  Climbing here is notoriously punchy and athletic, reminiscent of gym climbing.   Landings are pretty flat and easily protectable.  Plus the rock is sandstone.  I frequently liken it to grabbing onto sticks of butter.  There were seven days of potential climbing, and I only took one rest day in between.  Usually the lack of skin is the limiting factor, but the sandstone almost pumiced my hands, making them smooth and leathery.  

Chris working the top-out moves on three-star problem The Angler, V2 in Joe's Valley

John-Paul heel hooking on the rail of the Angler, V2 in Joe's Valley

During our week here, we checked out many of the different areas in Joe's, seeking out the classic climbs on everyone's tick-list.  My plan was to seek out and work some of the classic low double digit problems, as well as try whatever else looked fun.  The first one I got really psyched on was Nerve Extension (V10).  It works up a featured seam on a large beautiful roof.  The moves up to the glued jug is Big Joe (V7) and the V10 works the next two moves, culminating in a dyno to another jug.  I got it after a full day of working the moves.  

The rest of the trip I spent scoping out some other hard problems, but couldn't make most of them go.  Most had hard (and sharp!) dead-point moves that I couldn't quite figure out.  I did make some inroads with Resident Evil (V10), which will definitely go next time. 

Nonetheless, we got on some classic problems.  Everyone had several goes on the compression-y arete problems of Lowtide (V6) and Planet of the Apes (V7), cruised our way up the rail of the Angler (V2), and fought to stay on the perfect holds of the steep angled Wills of Fire (V6).  

Chris working on the classic line Wills of Fire, V6.  This is a beautiful problem that works up a steep, tall face with nice holds.  Really great problem.

I even ate shit pretty hard as I popped feet on the exposed, opening moves of Worst Case Scenario (V9), making its namesake almost come to fruition (thanks again David for saving my tail!).  Other notable climbs people seemed stoked on were Kill by Numbers (V5), Lowtide (V6), Wills of Fire (V6), Heatwole (V7), Chips (V7), They Call Him Jordan (V8) and Playmate of the Year (V9) to name a few.  

It was a very fun week, camping and climbing in the Utah desert.  A lot of this crew were originals from Bishop, but there were also several new faces. Several times on this trip, I thought to myself how lucky I was to be climbing with such a fun and funny group of people.  During this week, I have never consumed as many cookies (and M&M's, and Mike n' Ikes) or been covered in as much dust and dirt.  I find it fascinating how a such diverse group of people can coalesce around a common passion, and have an absolute blast with each other in the desert. Who knows where the next big trip will take us all, but I know there will be another one in the future.  

Hanging out between climbing and spotting.

Most 35mm photos were taken with a Nikon FM2n on Fuji NPS Pro 160s.  6x6 was taken with Hasselblad 500cm with Fuji Pro 400H.  I even took a couple digital on my Canon 7D, with a light reflector modifier that I temporarily lost in the creek for 3 days.