Cars for Climbing

Part 3 in a series of articles in which we explore the relationship that cars have in the mind of the climber; their use, their frustration, what they add and what they take away. It is a journey through half a life time of climbing that sheds some light on why the use of the car is now almost synonymous with a trip to the crag. There are even a few technical details for the anoraks.

A Colt out of nowhere


We had been in the states for a couple of weeks, Bob had been getting really pissed with us. We ate his food, drank his beer and then went to the beach to check out the babes. Occasionally we would buy the Disney Daily to look for cars but generally we weren't in any rush. No surprise then that on a weekend visit to Joshua Tree, there was a screech of tyres as we pulled up outside the stereo of stereotypical car lots. It was a run down shack of a place with a row of cars ranging from some euro stick shift to redneck pick up. Given that we knew nothing about any of these cars, there was only one thing we could base our decision on; faux wood. Yep we had a choice of two station wagons with half a forest attached and decided to go with a 72'Mitsubishi Colt. It was modest in size compared to the behemoth of the Mercury Marquis next to it. But given our plans to drive half away across America we thought it was only best to go for the economic choice. The car was a dusty white with the fake wood on the side and a load of chrome, the only bad thing we could say about it was that it cost US$1500. At the time we thought this was a lot but Bob insisted that it was a great price, but I think he just wanted to make sure we got out of the state. The next morning after a frank discussion with Bob, we had to move on. We had a couple of days to get our shit together and then we had to go.


Dave had passed his test just a few days before we got on the plane, so his first drive was on a LA freeway at rush hour. He was doing well but he was concentrating so hard on not hitting anything else that he didn't really notice the blinking stuff on dashboard. As the car cut out in the middle lane, there was just a look on Dave's face and after a few comedy moments..

A Colt
"Neutral".. "What"

"Neutral".. "What"

"Put it in neutral".. "What"

"Watch the car".. "What"

"Indicate".. "What"

"No right".. "What"

slowly we cruised to a halt

"what the f*%k"... "Ok, when the little light flashes we need fuel"

Right.. that what it was

Bob was even less happy when we dragged him away from a night with his girlfriend to come and pick us up. We left the following morning. After an hour and a half we were getting close to Nevada, destination Mount Charlseton. The car was great, it did 80-90mph on the freeway and it had loads of space in the back for all our crap. The A/C didn't work very well apparently it needed a Freon recharge. It didn't have a tape player either just a radio, which after a while starts to numb the brain.

We spent a couple of weeks in the mountains and then a night in Vegas en-route to North Point on the Grand Canyon, the early morning drive was fantastic, long swooping curves, deserted road except for the odd RV. The tree lined road still had the odd patch of snow from spring flurries, we finally got to the edge at about 9 o'clock. It was serene, the air was still and the view was breathtaking. Yep, all the usual stuff you've seen on tv or have read in Lonely Planet but unless you go you'll never really get it.

So at 10 we decided that we weren't going to mess around, we were going to drive all the way to the latest US hotspot from the Hard Rock videos; RIFLE Colorado (umm sounds familiar). 800 miles later at one in the morning we fell out of the car into our bags and crashed, we were knackered.  We awoke or rather I woke (Dave doesn't do mornings) to a damp start but we were here. Now we could start climbing.

Another Colt

We spent 5 weeks ticking off everything under 7a and we both had projects, I had Vitamin H in the arsenal 5.12d and Dave some 8a he seen on the video. We both failed... on the last day I did V H about 8 times all with a rest after falling from the trigger hold, once I nearly went for the last moves over the lip without clipping the last two bolts (something I did I lot of) but I bottled it and fell off, so 7b+ was the best I got from Rifle. "There's always Wild Iris". 

After Rifle we decided to have a week's rest in Vail, Dave had a mate. So we crashed on his floor. Vail was a well earned release, we drank, we partied, we ended up on the floor of a million dollar condos. Once I woke up eye level with a white carpet wanting to be sick, all I had eaten the night before was a bowl of guacamole and nachos, worse still I was naked and I didn't know where my clothes were. After a week and with a substantially lighter wallet we decided to head off...Yee Haa.. cowboy country here we come. But cars need looking after, it's simple you look after them and they look after you. If you don't fill them with fuel they stop and if you don't put oil in them they break. The colt had been faultless it had driven nearly 3000 thousand miles but..

And it was a big but, we killed it. It didn't take long, maybe 20 miles or so. We left Vail and headed north to Wyoming to get to some cooler climbing and then it started. In a desperate attempt to avoid having to stop the car and hitch a lift to the nearest town we thought it would be ok, first there was a slight pinking in the engine note, that high note clatter when the fuel goes bang before it should. Then as the life slowly drained from the metal the sound got deeper, more painful. We knew she was hurting, we were driving her dry. If we could just get to Steamboat, everything would be fine. We would buy her some oil, and she'll come back to life.

As we crawled into Texaco we knew she was dead, we bought the oil anyway, and filled her up. For a moment after we turned the ignition, she was back, but it was just the sound of engine forced round by the starter motor. We drove on, she wailed, she chewed metal, it was as if we had pebbles in the cylinders. But we had to drive on we had to find another car.

Driving through Steamboat was like walking down the street with a knife at someones throat, people stopped and gawped in horror as we forced the car on her hands and knees through streets. Eventually on the other side of town we found a dealership, and this one was no shack. It had loads of cars, loads of new cars. 40 minutes later we had unpacked, repacked and traded in the Colt for an Eagle.