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Front Range Fridays: The Best Area No One is Talking About

Welcome to Front Range Fridays. Over the next few weeks, our athletes and staff will be sharing their beta on the best routes, favorite areas, and hidden gems in the Front Range. This week, we explore the crags that no one is talking about.

  1. The Bunker (Clear Creek). Steep, overhanging jugs on great stone in a spectacular setting. – Mark Anderson
  2. The Dungeon/ Tan Corridor, Staunton State Park – Ryan Gajewski, Sales Coordinator
  3. I agree – Staunton State Park – though it’s getting more and more crowded. Though the long-ish approaches help keep crowds at bay – beta is to ride your bike in, there’s a bike rack located where one of the climbers’ trails branches off from the main trail. – Justin D’Altorio, Trango Purchasing Lead
  4. Thunder Ridge. If this blog post makes the place over crowded I’m going to unfriend you guys at Trango. ‘Nuff said. – Jason Haas
  5. I haven’t been yet, but I hear Dude’s Throne is LEGIT. – Alton Richardson
  6. Thunder Ridge! It’s a geologic anomaly resulting in the best granite on the Front Range, in limited supply. Beautiful, challenging climbing in a secluded area. – Mike Anderson

Flashback Series #4: Freerider – The Forgotten First Flash of El Cap

By Mark Anderson

Every so often somebody asks me for beta on Freerider. Freerider is a ~35-pitch ~5.12d free route up the Southwest Face of the world’s premier granite wall: El Capitan in Yosemite. Mike and I climbed Freerider in Team Redpoint* style in May 2004, making the 9th ascent of the route and becoming the 24th & 25th people to free El Cap. Many of the details of that ascent have faded from my memory, but I do remember a few key events and specks of beta, which I will try to capture here for those who are interested. This is not an exhaustive trip report or accounting of every aspect of the climb, but a summary of my general recollections, followed by whatever random details of beta I was able to extract from various emails sent between 2009 and 2016.

*Team Redpoint style means both climbers free every pitch, taking turns in the lead, with the leader onsighting, flashing or redpointing and the second following free.

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El Capitan. Freerider more or less climbs the clean pillar of right just right of the vertical shadow on the left end of the cliff.

We climbed the route “ground up”, meaning we climbed all the pitches in order, and we didn’t rappel in from the top to inspect any of the climbing or stash equipment. We did return to the ground twice, once after climbing up to the start of the Hollow Flake traverse (~pitch 14?), and again after climbing up to the big broken ledge below El Cap Tower (~pitch 19?), so that Mike could fly home to Salt Lake City to take final exams for his Master’s degree in Robotics. Once Mike returned to the Valley, we jugged to our highpoint, and then climbed the rest of the wall in a single 3-day push.

Easily the most notable aspect of our ascent was that Mike accomplished it WITHOUT FALLS! Mike climbed from the ground, to the summit, without a single fall, without rehearsal. This fact has been largely forgotten (or ignored?) due to the fact that in 2002 we aid-climbed the Salathe Wall, so “technically”, Mike’s ascent “doesn’t count” as a proper Flash*. I’ve always found that rather tragic. I was with Mike for every pitch of both ascents, and although I can’t deny my biases, I can attest that our Salathe aid climb in no way benefited what was for all practical purposes the first Flash of El Capitan. At the very least, it was unquestionably the first “Unrehearsed No Falls Ascent” of El Cap, which admittedly, doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but was certainly a major milestone in the history of free climbing.

[*Perhaps to a lesser extent Mike’s accomplishment has been overlooked because we were climbing in Team Redpoint style, so Mike wasn’t leading every pitch—however, this was the common, accepted style at the time, as it is today, and the most natural way to climb a long free route—the tactic of dragging a full-time belayer along is far more contrived. Furthermore, Mike led all the crux pitches in my opinion—the Monster OW, the Huber Variation to the Teflon Corner, and the second pitch of the Dihedral.]

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Mike traversing out to the start of the Monster Offwidth on Freerider, May 2004.

For my own part, I fell in two spots (the .11c slab pitch above Heart Ledge, and the crux Huber-detour-around-the-Teflon Corner), onsighting or flashing every other pitch. I’m confident I deserved to fall on the Huber detour pitch, but the other fall has always gnawed at me, since it only happened because I foolishly decided to break in a brand-new, out-of-the box pair of climbing shoes on this pitch. I sagged on one of the bolts because my feet were screaming. Had I known I was only going to fall in one other spot I never would have risked climbing in new shoes!

All told, freeing El Cap was one of my proudest moments as climber, and it still makes me smile almost 15 years later. For me it was a graduation. I never really enjoyed climbing in Yosemite but I felt obligated to master it. Virtually all of my big Yosemite climbs to that point had been suffer-fests, for which I was under-prepared and over-matched.

Our Freerider climb was not like that. It was tough for sure, but we obsessed over it, spent months in preparation, and arrived well-equipped for the challenge. The climb itself was joyous, with nearly everything unfolding better than expected and a wave of momentum pushing us towards the summit. Once I stood on the summit of El Cap, having freed 3000+ feet of the world’s premier granite crucible, there was nothing left for me to prove, either in that particular arena or in that style. It “freed” me mentally to focus on my true love—sport climbing.

And now, the grizzly details…

General Thoughts:

  • If your goal is to send the route, you should be a pretty solid 5.13 sport climber, a solid 5.12- granite slab climber, and experienced with off-widths. At the time I did it, my hardest sport send was 5.13b, so its not like you need a huge margin of power like Alex Huber (who had climbed 5.15a when he freed El Cap). It helps if you can send “hard” pitches quickly; I was sending 13b in 3-4 days, or 13a in 2 days or less. Same for Mike.
  • It’s not a crack climb; all the really hard stuff is face climbing (and all the miserable stuff is OW!).
  • Good footwork is paramount, probably more important than good jamming skills. IME, good footwork gets you up big walls. In Mike’s words: “On granite, footwork trumps everything. If you have good footwork, there are footholds everywhere on granite. If you don’t, you’re f-d.”
  • Most of the route is not too bad grade-wise, but there are a ton of 5.10 & 5.11 off widths that sneak up on you. If you’re not solid on OW, they will wear you down really fast. Furthermore, efficiency with trad skills in general and granite cracks in particular will help a lot. The more time, skin & strength you can save on the 5.10/11 pitches, the more effort you’ll be able to expend on the cruxes.
  • It helps to have some experience on El Cap, so you are somewhat used to the idea of being up there, the exposure, and the commitment. If you’ve never done a grade VI route, it’s probably a good idea to spend a few nights on a wall to get a feel for it.
  • You have to maintain a positive attitude. I think that’s why we were successful despite the tremendous odds against us. Our Freerider ascent was easily the most fun I’ve ever had on a wall, not that it was super fun, but we had a great attitude the whole time, and generally things went better than we expected, which made it easy to stay positive.
  • The key to the entire route is to have a solid plan for logistics: how much water/food to bring, etc. It helps to pace yourself, figure out how much effort you need for each day and plan accordingly. I once said “Freerider is 90% logistics, if you have a good plan the climbing is not too bad.” Decide for yourself if that’s true J

Specific Logistics:

  • As I mentioned before, we didn’t rappel in from the top to rehearse or stash anything; we hauled one modest-sized haulbag and a poop tube. We didn’t bring a portaledge; instead we planned our climb to sleep on ledges. We did fix a few ropes though.
  • We really hate climbing in heat, so we planned our days so we could climb all the hard stuff in the shade. That meant a lot of sitting around and some pretty short climbing days. The route has tons of great bivies so its pretty easy to take your time and enjoy it.
  • I have no idea how much water or food we brought, what our rack was, or whether we shared a toothbrush (pretty sure we didn’t bring any toothbrushes).
  • Retreat: We never bailed, so take with a grain of salt, but we did aid the Salathe, so I have some idea of what would be involved if you wanted to aid your way off the route. Aiding the Salathe is a piece of cake if you have to bail before the traverse to Excalibur. I hear Excalibur is a fairly straightforward aid route, but you would want some #3.5 and #4 Camalots (and you’ll probably want them even more if you free it, haha). The crux of aiding Freerider would probably be the traverse from the Salathe to Excalibur, which would not be a trivial aid pitch in my opinion. But, it would probably make more sense to just finish up Salathe if you had to bail prior to the traverse.

Schedule:

  • Pre-Push Day 1 we climbed Free Blast then continued up to the last good stance before the slab traverse to Hollow Flake. We rapped and slept on the ground. (There were somebody else’s fixed lines all the way up to the top of Hollow Flake.)
  • Pre-Push Day 2 we climbed to the alcove below El Cap Spire and fixed our own lines from there back to the top of Hollow Flake, then rapped to the ground again. We took a few days off at this point (Mike had to fly home to take a final exam). We may have hauled a bag and stashed it at the alcove on this day; I don’t remember.
  • Push Day 1 we committed to the wall, jugged and hauled(?) all the way to the alcove. Our plan was to just bivy and start climbing the next day but we were pretty fired up when we got there and had plenty of daylight. Long story short we sent through the Huber variation to the Teflon Corner (we didn’t do the Teflon corner) then rapped back to the alcove very psyched.
  • Push Day 2 on the wall, we sent to the end of the “5.12a” traverse over to Round Table Ledge, then fixed ropes back to The Block and bivied there (thinking we had climbed all the hard stuff and the last day would be a cruise, haha).
  • Push Day 3 we climbed to the summit. That was by far the hardest day. Shit-tons of OW climbing. Pretty much every move, and we were quite tired by that point.

Notes on Individual Pitches (note, I haven’t kept up with all the pitch nicknames or numbers):

  • Hollow Flake Traverse: one of the harder pitches is the slab leading to Hollow Flake. That was the hardest technical climbing we had to do; the rest of the route is relatively steep with bigger holds. Fortunately, you are down-climbing most of the way so you have a toprope. I don’t recall any specific beta, except be prepared to smear a lot. It’s pretty tenuous. The topos at the time were kinda misleading on this pitch. My recollection is you climb pretty far up a ramp to the pendulum point, then you basically traverse (with a small bit of downclimbing) around the arete to a corner with a bomber crack. Then you cruise really far down the crack to an easy traverse into Hollow Flake. The crux is getting to and around the arete to reach the crack. The way Stephen Glowacz originally tried to work it out is not the best way (basically you want to down climb farther than that).
  • Monster Offwidth: At the time Rob Miller gave us a key tip, which I assume is common knowledge now–to skip the Ear Pitch (and the left-wards traverse from the Ear) by heading left earlier, directly into the very base of the Monster OW Crack. The Monster OW itself is just plain suffering, it’s not really hard technically. It’s more of a mental struggle than physical, because it just goes on forever without much to look forward to and progress is very slow. It only has one move, you just have to do that move 200 times, gaining about 3 ” each time you do it. If I ever do that again I would wrap tons of tape around my ankle knuckles. I still have scars on both ankles from that. Of note, according to Rock & Ice editor Dougald MacDonald, Alex Huber apparently quipped that this pitch would never be on-sighted. Well, at least not until Mike showed up, haha. Make sure you have a #6 Friend or equivalent for the Monster Offwidth. Perhaps multiples would be best–we had one that Mike dragged along as he climbed, with lots of are between that and the belay.
  • Teflon Corner/Variation (aka Boulder Problem?): I’ve heard the Teflon Corner isn’t too terrible if you have good footwork, but we didn’t try it. Instead, we avoided the Teflon Corner by climbing the ‘Huber tufa variation.’ Basically its pretty easy climbing to a hard Right-to-Left traverse. Back in the day you could do a huge span to reach a protruding tufa thing, but we weren’t long enough for that, so we had to match on a really small crimp on the face and then bump out to the tufa. I understand the tufa feature broke sometime after our ascent, so since then everybody has had to use what used to be the “short person” beta (the beta Mike and I used). Matching on the crimp was definitely the crux for me. I guess for a while the grade of Freerider was upped to 5.13a because of the tufa break on this pitch (perhaps it still is 13a?). I don’t know if that’s true or if people still climb this pitch (I’ve heard the Teflon Corner has become more popular).
  • Sous le Toit: The pitch to Sous le Toit was really cool, kinda heady but not really hard; perhaps my favorite pitch, I really like that kind of climbing. I recall dealing with some seapage and silverfish in this section above the block, but nothing too bad.
  • Dihedral aka Picture Book Corner: The dihedral pitches weren’t super bad. There was tons of fixed tat, especially in the 2nd pitch, so it was almost a sport climb. For me it was just a frantic sprint against the pump. If you have decent power endurance and can just keep moving you’ll be fine. We did these pitches in the late evening, so it was shady, which I’m sure helped. I led the first dihedral pitch and Mike led the 2nd. I recall a lot of fixed pins, since its kindof flared and bottoming. Considering the length of the pitch he didn’t place much gear (Mike clipped a lot of fixed pieces). I basically lie-backed it. I suppose you could stem, though it was pretty casual for me to just lieback as quickly as possible, then swing around to place gear. Of course the fixed stuff can be clipped from a lieback. Mike notes that he stemmed the 2nd pitch, and felt like there were footholds “everywhere.” He also said he placed a few micro cams on this pitch. For me, it was just a race against the pump, and the first pitch of the corner was the perfect warm up. In retrospect I feel like our desert climbing, especially doing Moonlight Buttress, paid off on this feature more than any other.
  • Traverse to Round Table Ledge: The traverse pitch was really memorable. It’s crazy exposed, because you start in a dihedral where you’re somewhat walled in, then you come around the corner, you can’t see or hear your belayer anymore, and you’re pretty much isolated from the entire SW Face of El Cap; suddenly you’re in a new world, with new views and unfamiliar features. Very spooky! This is another spot where different topos provided wildly different grades (from 12a to 12d), so we didn’t know what to expect. I was pretty intimidated by it since it was my lead, but I actually found it to be pretty easy (physically). It’s just a traverse along a pretty juggy rail. There’s some weaving involved but I’m pretty good at that kind of thing. The gear can be tricky but I remember quite a few fixed pegs. No hard moves, just pumpy and there are lots of rests along the way, so you can take your time and think about things. The rope drag was heinous, so bring lots of slings, though I don’t know if it would really help. We were able to fix from the Round Table Ledge to Sous le Toit with one 60m rope, which was key. That was really committing because we weren’t totally sure we would be able to get back to our bivy without having to “down” climb. This was one of the hardest pitches mentally, so have a plan for reversing this pitch if you get stuck midway through it (like trailing a tag line and/or bringing tiblocs or prusiks). It would be hard to get back on the rock on that pitch if you were to fall.
  • Round Table to the Top: Expect a lot of shitty offwidth (OW). I reckon from Round Table Ledge to the summit is about 500 feet of OW, no joke. To be fair, the climbing is pretty good, the rock is great, the features and geometry are cool, but by that point we were totally over OW climbing, and furthermore we didn’t know it was coming, so it was a pretty big shock. We were just looking at the topo thinking ‘ oh ya, 5.11, 5.10, no problem’. I’ve always been able to thrash my way up stuff so I didn’t think too much about it. We got up everything just fine, but with hindsight I’m sure the route would have been much more fun had I spent the time to work on my OW technique. Specifically, bring at least 2 #4 Camalots for the pitch above Round Table, you won’t regret it! I recall it starting with a thin hand crack that slowly widens to #4. It’s not flaring or weird, just long and enduro.

Front Range Fridays: The Best Moderates in the Front Range

Welcome to Front Range Fridays. For the next 5 weeks our athletes and staff will be sharing their favorite test pieces, best winter crags, and top secret spots in Colorado’s Front Range. Today, we start with the top 4 moderates in the Front Range.

Best Moderate Route in the Front Range

  1. Does it get any better than the Flatirons? I mean you got the east face of the Third Flatiron and the east face of the First Flatiron. You got Winky Woo – the steepest, easiest jughaul in the country. You got phenomenal linkups like The Regency to Royal Arch to Anomaly to Amoebid – 1,200 feet of spectacular scrambling. Others that standout in my mind is Gambit in Eldo (far better than Bastille Crack in my opinion). Bishop Jaggers is a sick 5.9 slab climb and Center Route on Cynical Pinnacle is one of the best multipitch 5.9 jam cracks around, both of which are in the Platte. Dude there’s a ton of good moderates in the Front Range. We’ve got a lifetime of rock here and you didn’t give me enough space to write about all the classic moderates! – Jason Haas
  2. Topaz, 10d, Devil’s Head. (Probably not THE best moderate, but you want lesser-known stuff.) Super long, engaging jug haul on really cool hueco’d rock. It’s on The Headstone, high up on Devil’s Head with beautiful views of Pike’s Peak and the South Platte valley.  –Mike Anderson
  3. Rewritten &  Yellow SpurRyan Gajewski, Sales Coordinator
  4. I’ll second the Third Flatiron East Face. It’s the perfect introductory multi-pitch climb.  It has perfect rock, interesting moves, great views and a free-hanging rappel. – Mark Anderson
  5. I like PlanB (12b) at Upper Security crag. Also, it’s a great south facing crag for winter climbing. – Melissa Love
  6. Super Slab (5.10d), Eldorado Canyon – Alton Richardson

 

Image by Josh Perez

Kid-Friendly Via Ferrata in the Dolomites

By Mark Anderson

When Kate and I were debating European vacation options last spring, a big factor in the decision was Via Ferrata. During our last trip (to France) I introduced Logan to the activity and it was one of the highlights of the trip. What I love about it is that it provides a practical way to take the kids up something relatively big.  Why not just climb a multi-pitch route? To do that the follower (who is at-best seven years old in this scenario) would need to belay the leader (me). With Via Ferrata, I can belay myself using a VF lanyard to a logical stopping point, then belay the kid(s) up.

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Leading Amelie up the final section of “stemples” on VF Sass de Rocia.

The Dolomites were an obvious destination for our trip, since they are literally the birthplace of Via Ferrata. The first “iron ways” were installed during the grizzly Mountain War—the battleground between Austria and Italy during the first World War. Confrontations occurred all across the Dolomites, and various relics of that horrific conflict are dotted throughout the range. Both sides created VFs to enable troop movements, and the work that went into them is incredible. In some cases, troops tunneled through miles of rock, to the summit of mountains, to little effect. The Mountain War was one of the most futile ventures in the history of armed conflict, resulting in the death of ~600,000 Italian and ~400,000 Austrian troops without achieving any strategic objectives (despite the fact that Italy was “awarded” significant lands from Austria at the end of the war, which explains why so many towns in the Italian Dolomites look, sound and feel Austrian).

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Presumably a Machine Gun nest, near the trailhead for Lake Sorapis.

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A Mountain War bunker and trench system at Cinque Torri.  These fortifications were primarily used by the Italian side for long-range artillery operations against the Austrian lines on the Lagazuoi peaks, which are the distant mountains across the valley in the upper right corner.

In preparation for our trip I got a pair of proper Lanyards for me and Kate* and rigged up a temporary VF to the top of the Gaudi Wall for the kids to practice on. I learned early in the planning stages that Dolomite VFs are much more utilitarian than the designed-for-kids route we did in France—they are generally designed to get people to a destination, not necessarily to provide a Type-I-Fun experience along the way. Generally they involve big spaces between rungs, a high element of adventure, and long, steep hikes to approach (especially in early summer when most lifts are closed). It took quite a bit of sleuthing to track down some kid-friendly options, but they are out there if you know where to look (and come prepared to hike!) [*Standard VF lanyards are not safe for kids, because kids don’t weigh enough to activate the built-in shock absorption systems–kids should be belayed on a dynamic climbing rope].

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The Schuss is the steep snow slope between the towers.  The left tower is Ra Pegna. The VF route starts in the vertical shaded gulley on the left, then traverses up and right along the obvious cleft, then zig-zags up the bushy ledges on the right side.  There’s also a VF on the right tower (Ra Bujela), but by the time we finished Ra Pegna we had had enough for one day.

The first VF we did was located right outside of Cortina on a famous ski slope called the Schuss, which is often used as a World Cup Downhill race course. The Schuss is a narrow chute between two steep rock towers, and our objective, “VF Ra Pegna,” ascends the east face of the southern tower. I learned of this route from Guidedolomiti.com, which turned out to be a key resource for our trip planning. It was designed to be family friendly, and would have been a great introduction for our kids if I didn’t totally hose up the approach beta.

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Amelie leading the descent from the summit of Ra Pegna.

We didn’t have any driving directions, so we just drove to the base of the ski run and attempted to drive up the service “road”. This was basically like trying to drive up a black diamond ski slope, and fortunately we quickly realized our two-wheel drive rental car, with it’s 8 cm of clearance, was seriously out-matched. We parked along the track and walked the rest of the way, which was still quite difficult given the steepness of the pitch. We arrived at the start of the climb already exhausted, but after a short break we were ready to conquer the tower.

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Logan on the last vertical stretch of the descent from Ra Pegna.  Frankly, the descent was more interesting than the ascent, and if I were to do it again I would consider climbing up the descent route instead.

The VF itself was uneventful, but a bit tedious due to a long traverse in the middle. Traverses are the bane of any VF-with-kids. It’s really easy to belay kids on straight-up pitches, and even haul them up if necessary, but not so on traverses. When traversing, our kids clipped into the cable (in addition to the rope belay) to protect against pendulum falls. This works great when the kids can reach the cable easily, but most of the time the cable is placed such that an adult can stand on the best footholds (usually some kind of ledge) and easily reach the cable, around chest-height. That puts the cable well out of reach of a 5-year-old girl most of the time. Despite these challenges, we made it to the top, but we were VF’ed-out for the next few days.

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Entering the first slot canyon on the VF Sass de Rocia.  Yep, still wearing the same shirt!

The next adventure was the perfect objective for a family on a sport climbing trip. The outstanding sport crag Laste is in fact a big plateau of limestone with a series of slot-canyon-like chimneys weaving through it. VF Sass de Rocia ascends these slots to reach the top of the tower. I got my fill of sport climbing in the morning, then the whole family did the VF at the end.

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Kate and Amelie heading up the first set of stemples on VF Sass de Rocia.  You can see one of the route’s bridges in the upper left.

VF Sass de Rocia was pure fun with zero approach and all the elevation gain spent on the wire. There were some wooden steps, several sets of metal rungs (aka “stemples”) and a couple of bridges. The round trip adventure took about an hour and culminated in a great view from the top of the broad tower. It is exactly the level of commitment you want for VF with young kids.

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From the top of the ladders, looking up at the first stemples and Kate on the first bridge of VF Sass de Rocia.

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Amelie and I descending VF Sass de Rocia.

We saved the best for last, but not by design. VF Grotte di Volpera wasn’t described in any of my guidebooks or online. I figuratively stumbled upon it while researching sport climbing destinations. The Cortina tourism board put out a series of short videos touting the various sport crags around town. In one of these videos I spotted a fun-looking ropes course in the background, so with some sketchy approach information I wandered through the forest until I found the crag.

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Logan on a long section of stemples on VF Grotte di Volpera.

The ropes course had been replaced by a proper VF, presumably installed by local guiding companies to introduce newbies to VF, because it was perfect for Logan. It had several sets of ladders, some exposed ledges, a slack line crossing and a “monkey bridge”, all zigzagging across the same small gorge, making the descent trivial. Logan had so much fun on it that he did the slack line 3 times, once as a zipline. As soon as we finished he asked if we could do it again. It was a great father-son experience and the perfect way to end our trip.

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Logan on his first trip across the VF Grotte di Volpera slackline.  After this he went back across walking the line, and then back to me using the safety cable as a zipline.

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The VF Grotte di Volpera Monkey Bridge.  This is the last obstacle before the easy descent path.

All told, I can’t say the Dolomites are an ideal destination for kid-friendly Via Ferrata. To be fair, there were a few routes we were interested in that were inaccessible due to snow pack (if you are looking for more options in high season, others that sounded plausible and interesting include VF Grotta di Tofana, SA Galleria del Lagazuoi, & VF De Luca/Innerkofler, described in this post).  On the bright side, we never ran into another VF party on any of the routes we did.  Apparently crowding can be a big problem on VFs in high season, but not in May!

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Logan near the start of VF Grotte di Volpera.

If kid-friendly VF were my primary consideration I would probably start with some of the newer VF setups in other parts of Europe (such as in the Haute Alpes of France, which, based on my research, appear geared more toward providing a fun and low-commitment experience for adventurers of all-ages). However, with some digging and careful selection it is possible to string together some great itineraries that kids will enjoy in the Dolomites.

VOTE!

Tuesday, November 6 2018, is Election Day in the United States.  Please vote!

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Doing my civic duty.  Yes, it’s a bit like homework.  I’m happy to do it, but do we really need so many judges?

In the last national election (in 2016), ~60% of eligible voters cast ballots.  If you’re young, it gets worse–less than half of those aged 18 to 29 voted last time! Amazingly, it gets even worse!  Tuesday’s election is a “Mid-Term” election, meaning the President is not up for election.  Historically, only about 40% of voters show up for mid-term elections.  The good news?  That makes your vote 50% more valuable!

You may not care about politics.  You know what, politics doesn’t care about you either, unless you vote.  Whether you care or not, there are numerous critical political issues that will effect your life, now and in the future.  Quite literally, the future of climbing is at stake.  Right now, our government is deciding if it can sell our public lands to the highest bidder (note: climbers are not the highest bidder).  Right now, our government is deciding if it can ignore Climate Change.

Our nation’s founders created a government with three independent branches (the executive, legislative, and judicial branches) in order to provide a system of checks and balances–to ensure no one group could amass too much political power.  Right now, one political ideology controls all three branches of our government.  Our only opportunity to restore some balance ends at 7pm on Tuesday.

Regardless of your politics, voting sends a strong message to your elected officials that you are paying attention and you do care about the future.   Please join me in showing our leaders that we care by casting a ballot on (or before) Tuesday.

See here for details on how to vote in your state.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Just In – Conditions Matter…A LOT!!!!!

Were you aware of that?  You probably were.  For some reason, I’d forgotten.  Maybe because it’s been so long since I’ve touched rock as dry and crisp as it was this past Saturday.  Or maybe because I’d never experienced such a direct one to one comparison before on such a hard route.  But before I get ahead of myself, let’s rewind it back a few months to where this story actually begins.  

I initially got on Death by Chocolate partly because it looked kinda cool and mostly because it was the only thing dry over Memorial Day.  Then, as usual with a good rock climb, I got sucked in.  I worked it hard right up until a few days before we left for Ten Sleep, before finally conceding to the summer heat.  At that time I would have told you the powerful crux sequence contained the hardest moves I’d ever successfully been able to do on a rope.  My wingspan wasn’t long enough to do the crux the most obvious way, and the only beta that worked for me involved using a bad sloping pinch in combo with a desperate toe hook to fight a seemingly hopeless barn door at full extension.

That left hand…on a previous, significantly warmer day.

I had every other move on lock down – technical crimps down low, check.  Exciting and insecure finish, check.  But after 6 days and 20+ tries on it, I just couldn’t keep the barn door closed mid-crux when I was on point.  My success rate on those moves was probably around 20%.  Not great odds, especially for a route featuring such skin-shredding holds.  

I had several reasons for wanting to get ‘er done before Ten Sleep.  Obviously, it would have been a great confidence boost going into my trip.  And sending “now rather than later” meant coming into fall with no loose ends to tie up.  But mostly, it was because I knew if I waited til fall came around, I wouldn’t care about it as much.  It is, after all, just a piece of rock, and I knew once a couple of months went by, I wouldn’t feel nearly as intensely about it as I did then.  My motivation level is very emotion-based, and I had a feeling that if I didn’t tick it then, I wouldn’t want to summon all the effort to work it again another time, and would instead opt to move on to other stuff.  Especially since CragDaddy had already sent, and we really enjoy working on projects together.  So when it didn’t go down, I chalked it up to just being the one that got away.  

But somehow in the 4 days between the events in this post and the event’s of my last post, climbing conditions had gone from summer to winter.  We literally went from tanks and shorts straight into puffy jackets.  The previous week’s high was 85…and this past weekend I’m not sure it ever got above 45.  

Due to the potential rain that was forecasted in conjunction with the low temps, we opted for Hidden Valley over the New.  And since I didn’t have anything else “in the hopper” so to speak at Hidden Valley, I’d told myself that if I felt good, I would give Death by Chocolate another whirl just for kicks.  Then if it still didn’t feel any closer, I could move on and forget about it for a while.  Now while I’ve always been a big proponent of the “sun’s out, gun’s out” rule, I am NOT a fan of cold and dreary, which is how our first few hours of climbing began.  My toes got so cold on the warm-up I thought about declaring myself done for the day.  But climb number 2 required a little more effort, which heated my body up just enough that I could take note of how absolutely perfect the rock felt. 

Ah, there was that amazing friction that by this point has pretty much achieved unicorn status in the South.  Just like that, project time was here!  As we hiked over to the Chocolate Wall, clouds gave way to sun, and our whole crew just soaked up what it felt like to be rock climbers in October. 

Kiddos having fun in lots of layers

 

“Here we are again!” said my son cheerfully as he and his sister threw their packs down and went off in search of acorn caps, mushrooms, and cool leaves to make a fairy house over on the rocks at the base.  The line looked as intimidating as ever, and a big part of me just wanted to walk away.  I thought back to one of my favorite lines from The Dawn Wall, which I’d seen just a few days prior, when Kevin Jorgeson was in the midst of struggling with Pitch 15 after Tommy Caldwell had already sent.  “Everything was perfect, and I still couldn’t do it,” he had said authentically at what seemed like his lowest point on the wall.  I laughed to myself as I thought I would probably be saying the same thing at the end of the day.  But we were all there so I at least had to try, right?  (I mean, it worked out pretty well for Kevin in the end too, so why not?!?)  

Of course all of my tick marks were gone, so my first run up felt decidedly unsmooth as I struggled to find all the holds in the filtered sunshine and remember all the beta.  But when I got to the crux and made the big move to the sloping pinch, my hand stuck exactly where I put it, instead of sliding into place.  I was so surprised that I fell.  I pulled back on, ticked and brushed all the crux holds, and got back on.  The moves felt more doable than they ever had.  The finish, which had seemed so scary and “it won’t be over til I clip chains,” felt straightforward and I daresay almost casual.  Who had swapped out all these holds?!?  

Letting go of this right hand to catch a micro-crimp before opening up is the crux.

I lowered, letting a slight amount of optimism creep in, but not too much.  But when it was my turn again, lo and behold, I sent!  It was weird – no desperation, no try hard sounds, no exciting, go for it moments.  I just did the same beta I’d been doing all along, and this time it worked.  In that moment, everything came together in a completely anti-climactic way, as if the route was actually 5.10.  

It went down so easily I almost feel guilty claiming the grade.  Why on earth couldn’t I make that move last June?  Yet had I sent 3 months ago, I would have without a doubt said that for me personally, the crux on this route was substantially harder than anything I’d done before, despite being a slightly lower grade than my highest redpoint. 

While I suppose it’s possible that my power has improved some since my previous bouts with this route, I don’t think that can account for how drastically different the route felt this time around – I think it’s pretty obvious that conditions were the real star of the show here.  I’d always known that cold temps = sending time…but I don’t think I’d ever realized just how much of a difference it makes.  I guess because I generally don’t start trying anything hard until the weather is already pretty good, so I’ve never gotten a true comparison on something close to my limit.  Who wants to hop on a project when it’s hot outside?  Not me.  

So that said…is it 12d?!?  Looking just at Sunday’s performance, I’d say no way.  But looking at the sum total of work I’ve put into it, I’d say that it very well could be, and I managed to show up at just the right place and right time to pull it off.  Either way is good with me, I’m just happy I finally did it!  Cheers to hopefully more sending weather in the coming weeks!  

 

 

 

 

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NRG Rounds 1 and 2…aka “Hey Fall, No One Likes A Tease.”

Desperate Egyptian-move beta on Bourbon Sauce 11d

Our first fall forays at the New a couple of weeks ago actually ALMOST felt like fall.  Then this past weekend was back to summer.  Autumn is such a tease here in the Southeast.  I’m over it.  It’s hard on the psych.  And it’s hard on the skin. Considering conditions the past couple of months can be summed up by the phrases “hot,” “wet”, or “hot and wet,” CragDaddy and I both came into the NRG with low expectations.  Aside from a sweltering Labor Day weekend at the Red in Amazonian rainforest conditions, we’ve pretty much been gym rats since we got back from Ten Sleep in July. I know for me personally, it always takes me a while to get my lead head back on straight when I haven’t been climbing outdoors a lot.  But despite a somewhat inconsistent start, it seems like fall is finally getting underway.

Our first weekend out was probably the wettest I’ve ever seen the gorge, even though it wasn’t actually raining.  (Hurricane Florence is the gift that keeps on giving.)   Trails were mudslides, and trickling streams were raging waterfalls.  So a lot of our initial options were nixed due to wet conditions, but we found plenty of dry rock at Summersville.  On our first day out we managed to get in 3 pitches – Baby’s Got a Bolt Gun 10c, Strong Arming the Little Guy 10b, and Orange Oswald 10a before moving over to Long Wall once the crowds all descended.  Our afternoon was spent at Long Wall, where CragDaddy was finally able to put down Under the Milky Way 11d, a line that he’s for some reason always waited to get on until the end of the day when he’s tired. And after a very poor showing on my first attempt at Maximum Overdrive 11c, I pulled myself together and sent 2nd go without sucking too much wind.

Sunday was my turn to pick a route, and I chose Morning Dew 12a, a route that so many people say is soft for the grade but I just couldn’t pull together on point the last time I tried it a couple of years ago. It’s such a long hike that we never made it back, but a weekend without an agenda seemed like the perfect opportunity to get some closure on it. But after an hour of hiking, we rounded the corner and….it was a waterfall, the only wet line at Fern that day. Dangit.

He didn’t get much farther than this…but he still had fun 😉

So we dropped back and punted over to a route that was a good deal harder than we’d initially wanted for a first weekend out in a while, but had been on our bucket list for a long time – Thieves in the Temple. It gets 12b in the guidebook…but has a reputation as the hardest, most sandbagged 12b in the gorge.  Without a warm-up other than an hour and a half of hiking, CragDaddy hopped on it, with stick-clip at the ready. I’ll spare you the details, but we both got annihilated on our first attempts. It’s 90 feet of nonstop V4 climbing, with a V5ish crux on the upper face.  The movement is varied and super technical, with a little bit of everything. Burly start, crimps, long reach off a mantle, big deadpoint that goes straight into a pumpy, scary traverse…then the crux starts on the face, and doesn’t really let up til the chains.  Despite the struggle, I was able to do all the moves on my first go, and on my second go gave a valiant effort linking the first 5 bolts before petering out and hanging on all the remaining bolts. The thought of actually putting it all together was pretty overwhelming, but it felt like the kinda thing that might be doable later on in the season after some more power endurance training. 

Psych was high coming home from that trip, and after a couple of really good training days at the gym during the week, we found ourselves back at the New again, this time starting out at Butcher’s Branch.  The only bad part about Butcher’s Branch this time of year is the crowds.  Lucky for us, at this point we’ve done all the popular routes.  So after getting down there early to put up Flight of the Gumby 5.9 for Big C, we were able to relax and take our time the rest of the day because no one wanted a piece of Bourbon Sauce 11d.  I’ve been climbing there for over 10 years and I literally don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone on it. 

I just assumed it must not be that great of a route, but I was pleasantly surprised!  It’s every bit as good as the other hard 11’s on the wall.  It shares a start with Control 12a (another good line that no one ever does!), then traverses left for a burly roof pull.  The climbing eases up until you reach another roof, where a final (and super fun!) boulder problem awaits before the chains.  My first go I struggled down low but found the upper crux flowed really well for me.  I was not confident tying in second go, but I managed to send.  It wasn’t a sure thing – I almost fell at least 3x pulling over the initial roof, and on the first move of the upper crux my feet went flying off unexpectedly.  While the grade alone might not be that impressive, I’m pretty psyched about it – if you wanted to set a route that exposed my specific weaknesses, it would probably look a lot like Bourbon Sauce, so I was pumped! (Both literally and figuratively ;)).  

The fall critters are here…but where are the fall temps?!?

After a confidence boosting start to the weekend, it was back to Fern for another duel with Thieves in the Temple.  I linked the same 5 bolts again, but then fell in the same spot again.  The traverse went a little better, but my left hand kept sliding off the crux crimp, and eventually I had to just pull through.  I did find better beta for the last couple of moves though, and the finish felt the best it’s ever felt.  Physically, I’d say the battle ended in a stalemate.  Mentally…my psych level for getting on this route again is potentially lower now.  That thing is going to be a monster to link, and it’s not worth trying again until the temps are no longer 85 with 100% humidity. #whereareyoufall

Also worth noting is that I (still) can’t do the move on Fly Girls, and that Quickie in the Molar would’ve been an okay route minus the weird traverse, bad bolts, and chossy rock up high.  Sometimes the obscure routes are worth doing, sometimes not…

That said, I’d say our season as a whole is getting off to an unexpectedly decent start.  The only extreme lack of success so far as been in the photography department…our first weekend we didn’t get a SINGLE shot that had anything to do with actual climbing.  This past weekend we were only slightly better.  Sorry about that. We’ll try to get our photo game going, hopefully happy sooner rather than later, as the weather seems like it finally wants to shift in the right direction.  (Fingers crossed.)  

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Sport Climbing in Canada Part 2

By Mark Anderson

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The impressive east face of Mt. Lefroy.

The primary purpose of our short trip was to share this beautiful place with our kids and reacquaint ourselves with the range—the backdrop for many of our fondest adventures. After the Grand Sentinel day we took the kids to Lake Louise and up to the Plain of Six Glaciers.  It ends just below the massive hanging glacier on the east face of Mt. Victoria, and the scenery was just plain spectacular.

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Near the end of the Plain of Six Glaciers hike. Lake Louise and the Chateau are visible at center.

The hike was ~17km roundtrip, with ~2000 feet of elevation gain. Amelie did the entire hike without any assistance—easily the highest and longest hike she’s ever done (which got the wheels in my head spinning about options for higher objectives on future trips!)  On the way back I got a chance to route-stare at the legendary “Back of the Lake” crag—a big cliff of super-high-quality quartzite, offering both sport and trad lines.

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At the turn-around point of the hike, with Abbott Pass to the left.  The Abbott Pass hut is a popular jumping off point for the ascent of Mt. Victoria (the big broad glaciated peak on the right).  Mt. Lefroy is left of the pass.

Besides dragging our kids up a bunch of endless hikes, I also wanted to scope out the Bow Valley rock climbing scene, which has really exploded since I last visited. I had climbed at Back of the Lake a couple times, as well as Grassi Lakes, but that was it.  There were now many lifetimes of new sport crags around Canmore and I wanted to get a feel for the options.

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Passing “Back of the Lake” on our way to the Plain of Six Glaciers.

Once we returned from Lake Louise, I scoped out the hike to a new-ish crag called “Planet X.”   The wall is super tall, apparently over 40m in places, with angular limestone fins reminiscent of Rifle, though generally not super steep—in other words, perfect for me!  My favorite aspect of the cliff is that the approach passes some 20 other crags along the way, with a nice, non-threatening creek trickling along the base of most, which would make a great hang for the kids. The climbing itself looked fantastic too, and definitely worth many trips despite the somewhat heinous approach (“heinous approach” is a relative term—Canmore climbers are not at all deterred by 1-hour-plus, uphill approaches to sport crags, which is quite a contrast to the endless whining I hear from compatriots about the 20 minutes needed to reach crags like The Bunker or Aftermath.). We only had one day budgeted for sport climbing, so I chose not to spend it there, but certainly plan to climb there on future trips.

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Acephale is the angling band of limestone.  This is typical of the last half of the approach.  Steep and rocky!

For our sport climbing day I decided to visit Acephale. This is a world-renowned crag, recently making its way back into the news thanks to Adam Ondra’s visit in July.  With the promise of flawless, Euro-style limestone, I had wanted to check this crag out for a long time.  The crux of the day was the approach, which was really easy to follow thanks to detailed instructions, but super long and involved for our weak Colorado legs.  It took 70 minutes to get there, which was definitely a record for longest-approach-to-sport climbing-with-kids, and made for a very disappointing “rest day” for Logan and Amelie.

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Where’s Mom, 5.12a, Acephale.

However, it was well worth it! It took me a while to get warmed up to the style, but the climbing was phenomenal.  It was easily the best limestone I’ve climbed in North America.  Every route I did was excellent, although not always super fun, if that makes sense.  The rock is not terribly well-featured, which can result in really technical and sometimes insecure climbing, often on polished slopers.  The rock is quite hard to read, making for difficult onsights but really engaging and rewarding redpoint climbing.

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Deal With It, 5.12c, Acephale.

The more I climbed, the more familiar I became with the style and the more I liked the climbing. The movement involves lots of crimping, pinching, and thin footholds—all things I really enjoy.  Highlights of the day were Where’s Mom and Last Dance, which is one of the best limestone 5.13s I’ve climbed in a long time (and I think my first Canadian 5.13!)  I haven’t been this stoked about a crag in a while and I really look forward to returning and trying some of the harder lines.

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Last Dance, 5.13a, Acephale.

That night Jeff and his family had us over for dinner. It was a great time talking climbing and getting to know each other, highlighted by a delicious meal of home-made lasagna courtesy of Jeff’s charming wife Christa.  Jeff and Christa also have a boy and a girl, a few years ahead of Logan and Amelie, but they all got along great despite the age differences.  Jeff was an incredible host to us and I feel really fortunate to know him.  After climbing Grand Sentinel, on the hike back up to Sentinel Pass we ran into a pair of young bucks from BC hoping to climb the tower.  We talked about conditions and gear, and Jeff noticed they didn’t have any gloves, which we felt were critical to our success.  He literally took the gloves off his hands and gave them to these young kids so they could have a shot at the spire—that’s the kind of guy he is.

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Bow Lake.

We tried to keep the next day “easy,” but that’s always tough when there are so many incredible things to see. We opted for Bow Glacier Falls, which is the source of the Bow River and about a 45-minute drive north of Lake Louise.  The hike offered a nice mix of scenery, skirting Bow Lake, hiking through the flood plain of Bow Creek, and passing a nice little slot canyon before climbing up onto the Bow Glacier moraine.  The hike ends in a big cirque with curtains of waterfalls, the coolest of which spring right out of the middle of the cliff.

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Investigating a short slot canyon along Bow Creek.

The hike was uneventful until halfway through the return when we saw a wall of snow/rain mix heading our way and decided to hightail it back towards the car. We all got wet and cold but nothing a cup of hot chocolate from the Bow Lake Lodge couldn’t solve.

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Bow Glacier Falls.

On the final day we did a relatively quick hike up Johnston Canyon, which was the only let down of the trip. The hike is unbelievably crowded with tourists, and even on a frigid Tuesday morning in September it was rather spoiled.  Fortunately once you pass the falls the crowds thin out significantly, culminating in a gorgeous view at the “Ink Pots”—springs of water bubbling up from the ground—with jagged, snow-capped peaks in the background.

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At the “ink pots”–natural springs that feed into Johnston Creek.

The highlight for Logan was stopping at the Calgary Olympic Park on the way back to the airport to experience their version of an Alpine Slide. This one was unique in our experience (having done Alpine Slides all over Colorado, and in Italy and Germany), because you aren’t confined to a narrow track that directs the sled.  Instead each driver gets to steer their cart down a 12-foot-wide, curbed concrete road that winds down the hill.  Logan thought it was the best Alpine Slide he’s done.  I think the Rodelbahn’s in Germany are also in the conversation, but that was 4 years ago so I doubt Logan remembers them.

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The alpine slide at the Calgary Olympic Park. The side rails seen here are only to corral the sled at the end of the run. The track itself is about 12′ wide, allowing for lots of maneuvering and passing of slower riders. Also visible in the background is the Olympic Ski Jump. We’ve seen 4 of these–in Salt Lake, Garmisch (Germany), Cortina (Italy) and here.

All told it was an incredible whirlwind trip! I reckon the kids hiked almost 40 miles in five days, and it felt like we crammed the best parts of a typical two-week vacation into one long weekend.  We are most stoked about how well the kids did.  They’ve never hiked so much or handled it so well.  For years I’ve been telling Logan if you want to do cool stuff you have to be willing to do a little more work to make it happen, and it finally seems like he’s starting to understand that.  He kept saying how much he loved Canada and wanted to live in Canmore.  We are really excited to return and explore more of this unparalleled region.   Now that we know how quick and easy it is to visit we expect to return often.

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Better Beta: 5 Ways to Break Through

Fall is sending season. Time for breaking into that next grade, sending that nemesis rig, and time for some good old-fashioned try-hard. Sending at your limit is all about the details – the micro beta, the mental game, and every iota of body tension you can muster.

With that in mind, here are 5 (often overlooked) tips for breaking through and sending your fall project.

TIP 1: Expose yourself to different styles

“I think exposure is the most important. If you vary the type and style you climb a lot, you’ll have a larger repertoire of knowledge to apply while climbing.” – Drew Ruana

 

TIP 2: Movement over Strength

“Focus on movement. A common misconception is that you need to be strong to climb hard routes, but being GOOD at climbing is so much cooler, and more efficient.” – Alex Johnson

 

TIP 3: Eliminate Worry So You Can Focus

“I think its a systems check. We’ve all tied a figure-eight knot so many times. We do it without thinking and yet a lot of people get nervous when the route starts getting hard above the bolt or cam and they worry about things they shouldn’t be – like their knot or belayer. Take the extra second on the ground to check your partner, have them check you, and test a piece if you need to. Make sure that when the time comes, you’re already totally confident they’ll work the way their supposed to. Who knows, you maybe would have sent through that slippery crux section if you were 100% focused on the moves and not at all focused on something else.” – Jason Haas

 

TIP 3: Practice Makes Perfect

“In general, I think climbers (both new and really old) don’t take time to PRACTICE climbing. We often tend to jump on the hardest thing we can get on, and that’s not effective. We should spend more time on slightly easier terrain, practicing the movement and other skills needed to climb well.” – Mike Anderson

 

Ari Novak Ice Climbing - Miami Ice - Cody, Wyoming

TIP 5: Master the Mental Game

“Jeff Lowe once told me 90% of climbing is above the shoulders, and I agree with him. Approaching climbing with the right mental approach and honest competency earned by learning and working the craft is key. Your greatest hopes and dreams can be achieved. If you put a climb on a pedestal it will stay there. If you put a climb on your level and work your ass off you’ll be on top of it faster than you think. It’s as much about attitude and vision as it is about the necessary physical strength to just get up something. Earn it both inside and out. To me ice climbing is not just about the external journey but the internal journey.” – Ari Novak

Sport Climbing in Canada Part 1

By Mark Anderson

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting long-time climber and developer of the Sloper Climbing App Jeff Moore. The Sloper Climbing App is the next big thing in smart phone climbing tech. It’s definitely worth checking out, but that’s not what this post is about.

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The incomparable Canadian Rockies.

Jeff lives in Canmore, Alberta, the epicenter of Canadian climbing. He visited Denver recently and I mentioned to him how much Kate & I love the Canadian Rockies and longed to visit. As kids, Mike and I traveled there several times on family road trips, and between 2001-2004 I made three climbing trips to the area, but sadly I haven’t been back since then. It seems like every year Kate & I would make vague plans to return to Canada, and every year some other trip would take its place.

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Amelie and me, with my new friend Jeff Moore on the right.

Jeff mentioned cheap airfare from Denver to Calgary, which I relayed to Kate off-hand. She took it seriously and started making plans for Labor Day weekend. I had to re-work my training schedule a bit, but within 24 hours she had the trip booked, commencing only 4 days later! That’s some seriously alpine-style trip-planning by Kate. After a two-and-a-half hour direct flight and an hour of driving we were in Canmore.

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Above Lake Louise, with Mt. Aberdeen, Mt. Lefroy and Mt. Victoria.

Kate offered to hang with the kids the first day so I could climb something with Jeff. I knew immediately what I wanted to climb. My previous forays to the Canadian Rockies all revolved around alpine climbing—ascending the big peaks, by various routes. During those trips I climbed Mt. Temple twice, by the classic East Ridge, and the neo-classic Greenwood-Locke route on the imposing North Face. Both routes descend the southwest ridge of the mountain, returning to Sentinel Pass and then down through the Valley of Ten Peaks to Moraine Lake.

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Mike following high on the North Face of Mt. Temple in 2003.

Just on the other side of Sentinel Pass stands an incredible spire of teetering quartzite dubbed the Grand Sentinel. This is surely one of the great rock towers of the world, and I would know.  There are others that are skinnier (height relative to width at the base), but considering its position, the environment in which it stands, and the quality of rock in these mountains, its truly incredible this finger of stacked choss is still standing. The fact I had climbed and descended Mt Temple twice meant that I had passed this remarkable feature twice, gazed upon it in awe twice, and longed desperately to climb it ever since!

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Grand Sentinel!

The tower is about 100m tall, involving 4 pitches of climbing, with two route options that I know of—the classic 5.9 crack route of the South Face, and the fully modern, fully bolted Cardiac Arete (5.10d). The “problem” with the route—the reason I never got around to climbing it—was that in my alpine days, it was “too small” to justify a proper climbing day, and “too big” (with ~3000’ of hiking to approach and descend) to pull off on a rest day. But it was just right for this trip, and Jeff graciously agreed to do it again (for the 5th or 6th time?)

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Light shining through the upper 15 meters of the Grand Sentinel illustrates just how precarious this spire is.

We rolled out of Canmore just before 5am, anxious to beat the holiday-weekend crowds to this uber-classic route. The parking lot was already swarming with cars when we arrived just after 6, well-before dawn. Anxiously we raced up the brutal approach trail by headlamp, up and into Larch Valley. The area was experiencing unseasonably cool and wet weather, which must have dissuaded other suitors because we arrived at the icy pass totally alone.

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On the approach, looking back toward Moraine Lake and the Valley of Ten Peaks from just below Sentinel Pass.  Note all the white stuff…in August!

The tower was every bit as staggering as I remembered. We picked our way down the snow-covered talus on the north side of the pass and made our way to the base of Grand Sentinel. The weather was absolutely not what either of us had expected—Sub-freezing with persistent wind and the ever-present threat of more precipitation—in August!

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The ominous view to the north from Sentinel Pass, just after sunrise.

Jeff and I had only recently met and never climbed together, so neither was sure what the other was thinking. We kept asking every 5 minutes or so, “Are you still psyched?” The answer was always yes. Both routes can be easily rapped, and we brought gear for either option, we had raincoats, so we figured we would keep going until we reached an impasse. Personally, I was brimming with stoke. I wanted to climb this thing desperately, and if the experience itself was miserable, I figured that would only make it that much more memorable. Plus I felt like I had to represent for Colorado—show our friendly neighbors to the north that we can handle a little bit of bad weather.

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Grand Sentinel from the little pass just south of the base of the tower. The classic “South Face” route follows the obvious dihedral system at center.

Fortunately the wind was relatively calm huddled in the col below the south face. We chose to go for the Cardiac Arete. Ascending the SE prow of the tower, the arete is certainly more exposed to the elements, but also a much better-looking line (and much better quality, according to Jeff). We racked up and donned every bit of clothes in our packs. Jeff cruised up the first pitch, only stopping to shake blood back into his fingers periodically.

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Cardiac Arete pretty much follows the right skyline, with a few excursions onto the (hidden) east face.

The first pitch is pretty much an endless series of horizontal breaks, offering big jugs, with the occasional long reach between them. A small roof at mid-height is the crux. Jeff commented often about the cold rock, but it didn’t seem to slow him down much. I brazenly reasoned all my years of climbing in Clear Creek through the winter had me well-prepared, and grew eager to show my Canadian friend how it’s done.

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Jeff cranking over the crux roof on the first pitch.

I followed the 1st pitch in full-on sprint mode, figuring I could stave off numbing by minimizing my time on the rock. At the belay I re-racked the draws and then went right into leading the 2nd pitch. This pitch was much different, starting up the south face with some fingery face climbing on incredible rock, then turning the arête to the east face for some more intricate face climbing.

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Jeff cruising the second pitch.

By the time I turned the arête I was completely numb, more so than I can ever remember. It’s pretty typical for my fingers to numb out on the first cold day of each winter season, but often it’s only my finger tips and rarely an entire finger. On this pitch my entire HANDS were numb, from the wrist up! It was like climbing with clubs. I thumped my hands against the rock and felt absolutely nothing. It was like my hands were gone. I could see them, but that was the only feedback I had that they were still there.

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Jeff on the second pitch. This last stretch to the belay was desperate for my frozen hands!

To make matters worse, I was short on draws and had to skip a couple bolts at the end. I wanted to shout “Take” sooo badly, but again, I had to represent for Colorado, so I sucked it up and tried to pull through. I would grab a hold, have no idea how big the hold was, if I had it well, or if I had the strength to pull on it, and just crank up towards the next one and repeat. It was the strangest feeling—like watching someone else climb. At each move I half-expected to pitch off into the void, but fortunately the holds were big enough to scrape through. It was easily my most desperate 5.10 lead of the last decade!

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The view from the top of the second pitch into Paradise Valley.  The big broad peak is Mt. Aberdeen.

Finally I reached the luxurious ledge atop the 2nd pitch. I mumbled to Jeff that I needed a minute, curled into the fetal position, and experienced the worst case of the screaming barfies I can remember. After a minute or so of agony I could feel the blood coursing back into my hands. Within a couple minutes they were back to normal and I was good to go for the rest of the climb. Jeff came up quickly and offered to let me lead the rest of the route since he had previously led all the pitches. I happily agreed and set off for #3.

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Starting up the third pitch. Note the puffy! Photo Jeff Moore.

The third pitch is relatively straightforward except for a big roof in the middle. This obstacle is awkward and scrunchy, but ends in killer jugs, once you can reach them. I hesitated a bit, unsure how to tackle it, but eventually unlocked the sequence. The fourth pitch was hands-down the best. It climbs right on the arête the entire way, often using the arête as a hold. The exposure and setting are spectacular, and it offers a tricky crux just below the summit. It’s one of those sequences that is at first perplexing, and so that much more rewarding once you figure it out.

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Starting up the premier fourth pitch. Photo Jeff Moore.

I cruised up the slightly chossy last few feet (despite appearances, the only bit of poor rock on the climb) and balanced my way up onto the summit block. The views were spectacular, despite the sub-par weather. The route was truly fantastic, with excellent rock throughout and engaging climbing, surpassed only by the incredible setting. The stone is really varied and so is the movement, with each pitch offering something unique. It’s truly a world class route at the grade.

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Jeff on the summit (that lump of rock to the left is another formation west of Grand Sentinel.

One of the most common questions I get is whether or not I am still able to enjoy “easy” climbs. Absolutely! I just plain love climbing, and I love it at any grade. Certainly, more difficult things can be more engaging and offer a bit more to sink my teeth into, but I will always love being in the wild, moving over stone, in whatever capacity the day has to offer. This was an incredible day in the mountains, up a stellar route, on a spectacular feature, with a great new friend. I couldn’t have asked for anything better.

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Rigging the first rappel from the top of the fourth pitch, just a few feet below the summit of Grand Sentinel.

We made the descent without any issues and worked slowly back up to the pass. For one brief moment the sun peeked through the clouds to shed a glimmer of warming light onto the Grand Sentinel. It would have been nice to see the sun while we were climbing, but we were happy to have the tower the way we did—with the entire valley to ourselves and an unforgettable experience to go along with the tick.

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Also, we saw a Gorilla (the North Face of Mt. Fay).

Just below the south side of the pass I was stunned to meet Kate, Logan and Amelie hiking up. This was easily the hardest hike Logan or Amelie had every attempted, and considering the weather I was certain they would have bailed. Kate and Logan continued to Sentinel Pass while Jeff and I continued down with Amelie. A couple hours later we all rendezvoused at the Moraine Lake Lodge for a well-earned cup of hot chocolate.

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Isn’t it fun when you run into someone you know? Kate and Logan just below Sentinel Pass.

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My little geologist Amelie collecting rocks at Moraine Lake.

The vision for the Trango athlete team is to find climbers who embody our brand’s values and support them in their climbing endeavors. We focus on the character of the climber, their passion for the sport, and their desire to contribute to the community.

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