We stopped at the climbing shop in Twin Falls to find out more, but the people at the shop had only been there once or twice, and recalled that it was near Ketchum (which is much more than a half-hour drive from Twin Falls!). Luckily, they also provided us with the number of the climbing shop in Ketchum, and a quick call to them provided us with better directions. The area was (as we originally thought) south of the Magic Reservoir, and quite close to the highway. Armed with this information, and a solid breakfast, we headed up to the Channel to check it out.
Initially, we had no intention of spending much time at The Channel. Indeed, we weren't even sure if we would find it dry. The Channel is actually a small canyon that was created as the Big Wood River cut down through the basalt that fills much of the Snake River valley. Every winter, however, the water that usually flows through The Channel is diverted for several months for agricultural purposes. When we arrived at the Channel, we were excited to see that it wasn't full of water. It had obviously only been VERY recently dewatered, though - there were piles of dead (but reasonably fresh-looking) fish and snails in many sections of the canyon, and in the deeper pools that still held water there were many living fish as well.
After dropping down into The Channel, we were both simply blown away by both the quality of the rock and the crazily sculptured shapes of the canyon wall. To say that the canyon is filled with 'nature's sculpture' is a gross understatement; everywhere we looked were the most bizarrely sculpted shapes in the most perfectly homogeneous and bombproof rock (it almost looked like bronze in some sections). We probably hiked through the canyon for two hours, running our hands over shapes that make the best climbing holds look crude and foolish in comparison. Everywhere were shapes that were reminiscent of the works of Jean Arp, or sometimes Henry Moore, but on a monumental scale. But the best part? You could climb on them.
Eventually, we grabbed our mats and started pulling on some of the fantastic-looking lines that we saw. Smooth scoops, crazy stemming lines, sculpted huecos, too-good-to-be-true jugs - we tried them all. Many of the problems were very easy, but some were clearly very hard as well. Climbing in the Channel requires a LOT of body tension, good footwork, and a creative imagination. Never have I climbed in an area that presented problems as interesting and aesthetic as The Channel. By the end of the day, we were convinced about one thing; we were coming back the next day.
The rock in The Channel tends to be VERY smooth. While this can make footwork tricky (even 'good' smears need to be used with focused care), it also means your skin lasts forever. When we returned the next day, we were excited to try some more difficult lines. After a seemingly obligatory "run around and look at all the amazing shapes" session, we warmed up on a funky stemming line that ended with a move to a hold that looked like an enormous falcon's head. Then we turned our attention to a very cool line that featured a long and balancy move to a tunnel-hueco that perforated the lip of the canyon (Tonsillitis V?). Kyle did the line fairly quickly, and I surprised myself by doing the line quickly as well. I was excited to find that the hueco wasn't just a smooth tunnel; inside the void was another shape, an elongated blob like a smooth baby's head or short fish. Crazy!
One soon runs out of adjectives to describe the holds when climbing at the channel. 'Crimps' and 'jugs' don't cut it. We used 'shark's fin' a fair bit. 'Scoop' was also common, or 'fat fin', or 'giant fang', but they didn't really capture the shapes we encountered that well. When you start describing holds with phrases like 'torpedo tube with the sarcophagus of an alien baby lying inside it' you know you're really climbing somewhere special.
After doing a handful of moderate lines, we moved up-channel a bit to a long wall that featured what looked like (and indeed were) many amazing lines on perfect undulating rock. We spend a half-hour or so scrubbing the holds (early season Channel = brushing silt, dried algae, and snail shells off the rock), but when we were done, we were excited to climb!
One line (which I had carefully swept) turned out to unbelievably hard (impossible? I spent five minutes simply trying to get on the rock, which would have been by far the easiest move on the problem), while other adjacent gymnastic/stemmy lines were easier but no less amazing. We both did a crazy full-body stem / smear powerfully up a polished Buddha-belly line (amazing), and then both sent the 'climb a dinosaur's head' line several feet over (amazing). Have I said how amazing the lines are?
It was starting to get late, so we hurried to climb as many lines as we could. After a brief 'how do we do this' session, we both sent an improbable-looking line that involved a 'right then left "stepthrough?" kneebar sequence' (hard to describe the weirdness) that finished on a perfect sloping mega-fin. In the growing darkness, we hurried upstream to try one more problem, a 'slopey fin to huge lipped scoop crossthrough dyno to a sideways-pointing tusk-fin', which Kyle flashed then repeated several times... just because.
I don't think we climbed anything too crazily hard, but I agree with people when they say that grades don't apply well to the Channel. The movement is often so pure, and the holds so interesting, that assessments of 'that was cool!' are more appropriate than 'I think that was V5'. Climbing at the Channel is as much art as athleticism, as corny as that sounds. One thing I am certain of, however - I'll be back!
With sore shoulders (but lots of skin left!), we headed back to Twin Falls to find dinner and a cheap hotel. The next day we were headed to our next destination... the City of Rocks!
PS> I'll post a much more extensive photo series of the Channel as well; I took hundreds of photos.