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Ten Sleep Canyon Part 4 – Superfly 12c/d

So after a patriotic day at the rodeo on the 4th, the next day was back to the canyon for business as usual.  As I said in Ten Sleep Recap Part 2, the 3rd day on in our 3 day chunk was spent scoping out the moves on Superfly 12c/d at the Slavery Wall, so let’s rewind back to there for a minute.  The main difference we noted between Slavery Wall and everywhere else we had climbed was that it was WAY hotter in the morning, due to the lack of tree cover at the base of the cliff.  Thankfully though, our main objective climbed an east-facing corner, so it went into shade earlier than everything else.  

Some new found friends on the 11a beside Superfly

On our reconnaissance day, we warmed up on a route everyone that ever climbs in Ten Sleep Canyon simply must do once – Beer Bong 10b.  The face climbing on it is pretty polished in places, and the movement is just okay.  But the exposure and position out over the chimney in the last 15 feet is what earns this route its stars.   For a more interesting perspective than the typical crotch shot at the finish, we decided to take the drone up to capture some better angles while waiting for Superfly to go into shade (video here.)  

Beer Bong 10b

Hanging draws on Superfly was exhausting – 100 feet of technical climbing that demanded focus for almost every move.  After an hour (and a lot of stick clip hauling), I gave up two bolts from the top.  CragDaddy took a turn, and while he was able to clip chains, it wasn’t without aiding through the crux lurking right before the anchors.  To be honest I was a little discouraged tying in again, this time on toprope so I could work the crux more efficiently.  But my second run went awesome – I actually linked most of the lower section.  And though my initial attempts at the final sequence were pretty dismal, I ended up finding a pocket that CragDaddy had missed before – it made the move juuuuuust doable enough for me (though I had my doubts as to whether that beta would work coming in hot on a redpoint burn.)

Big C shakin’ his money maker

Knowing that a 3rd burn on a 3rd day on would likely do nothing but further rip my skin to shreds, I opted to quit while I was ahead, in the hopes of coming back a muerte on our final day in the canyon.  So fast forward past the rodeo, and past another day at FCR.  Last day equals last chance, so nothing like a little pressure, right?  The morning dawned sunny and hot, as the temps had steadily been rising since we’d arrived 10 days prior.  Although it would for sure be much cooler in the canyon, highs in the town were forecasted at 100!  That said, no one was in a rush to get up there right away, considering the lack of shade.  So we took a nice drive through the old road in the canyon, stopping here and there to play with the drone and take some token Christmas card pics.  

When we finally made it up there, we opted for the Red River Gorge strategy of warming up – a bolt to bolt run on the project.  Superfly is not a terrible warm-up option – the difficulty builds very gradually, with nothing harder than 11a in the first 40 feet.  Then come two back to back cruxes, the first being a hard lock off, the second using a series of insecure feet.  More long moves on decent holds leads to a pretty solid rest stance at 80 feet , followed by a little more hard 5.11 filler before setting up for potential heartbreak at the anchors.  

Having only had one run at it before, and therefore needing more beta refinement than me, CragDaddy offered to hang draws.  A welcome gift, especially considering that a lot of my tick marks had washed away during the freak deluge of rain from the night before.  Using the new hidden pocket I’d found the previous day, he also was able to do the final sequence, and lowered down feeling more optimistic about his send potential.

Down low on Superfly

My strategy for the first run was to climb like I’m sending until it becomes apparent that I’m not – ie, don’t get sloppy, and don’t get flash pumped.  I executed well, remembering most of my beta.  I got stalled out in the 2nd hard sequence, but managed to make it through and up to the rest.  After getting as much back as I was going to, I proceeded, til I was one bolt from the top, staring down the gauntlet of the final sequence.  I took a breath, pictured the moves then executed – Crimp, crimp, pocket, mono, make clip.  Done.  Get feet up and reach high for the hidden pocket – got it!  

I was almost out – all I had left was to bump my left hand to a better hold, smear my feet really high, and toss to a flat hold where I could then mantle to the chains.  But in my haste to hit the hidden pocket, my feet were lower than they were supposed to be.  Also, my right finger was sliding out of the shallow mono, and I was way too insecure to re-grip.  Not to mention that ever present pump clock.   Despite the fact that one of the cardinal rules of redpointing is to STICK WITH YOUR BETA on a send attempt, I just knew my original beta was done for.  I needed to go Rogue.

Now Rogue Beta is a slippery option that can only end in one of two scenarios – you either feel like a genius for making a wise, in the moment choice, or you feel like a chump because you hesitated and didn’t execute correctly.  Honestly it’s usually the latter, but I felt like I had no choice.  Instead of going left hand to the better hold, I went right hand, which allowed me to leave the mono early.  However, the hand mix-up cost me.  Not only was the mantle more awkward, it also left me out of reach of the finishing holds!  Panic started to set in again – the chains were literally at eye level, but too far to the right to clip.  True confessions – I thought about grabbing the quickdraw, but I knew I would hate myself for it on the ground, and that after all the effort I’d just put in, I couldn’t count on getting there clean again.  It really was now or never.  I held my breath, stepped my right foot level with my right hand, and precariously started to rock over, praying a gentle breeze wouldn’t blow me off.  Right when I thought I was about to tip backwards, I felt my center of gravity settle over my feet, and I could stand up.  Clip chains = DONE!  

CragDaddy high on Superfly 12c/d Photo by @izzyjams

CragDaddy sent on his next go as well (with far fewer dramatics.)  After a nice long break, he got some revenge on another near miss from 2015 – Strut Your Funky Stuff 12a.  Even Big C got on the send train with his toprope onsight of Shake Your Money Maker 5.7.  I was hoping for a similar effect on Momma’s Mental Medication, also 12a…but I fell going for the final pocket.  Womp womp.  That said, nothing could dampen our day too much.  It was a grand ending to an even grander trip!

Me with my favorites.

Initially, we had thought that this 3rd time to Ten Sleep might be our final time.  After all, there is so much rock to climb in the United States, it hardly seems fair to keep our pilgrimage in the same spot…but guys, I just don’t know if we can give up going to this place!  Especially now that the kids are older and are so vocal about how much they love it.  One advantage to growing children however, is that road trips are a lot easier now…and with homeschooling, it’s pretty darn easy to take our show on the road.  So who knows, maybe next time we’ll drive?  Anyone got any fun ideas for stops along the way?  For now though, it’s good to be home.  See you at the New this fall!  

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[See image gallery at cragmama.com]

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Ten Sleep Canyon Part 2 – Superratic

Big C crushing Boy Howdy 5.9

Our typical “vacation climbing” (ie, more than a weekend) strategy involves a smattering of rest days in addition to climbing days, so that we can climb as close to our best as possible whenever we are on the wall.  We generally try to avoid crowds by planning rest days for a Saturday, when the crag would be most crowded from local day trippers.  For this trip we also wanted to make sure we were in town for the 4th of July celebrations, so we ended up climbing in 3 “chunks” – 2 days on, 1 day off, 3 days on (with the 3rd day being short), 1 day off, 2 final days on, then home.  

The first two days of that middle “chunk” were spent at Superratic Wall, an area that, while absolutely stacked with classics, we’d not spent much time at prior to this trip.  Our 2015 trip had featured Tricks for You 12a, and Great White Behemoth 12b.  So for this time around, we started at the other end of the wall, with a relatively short but seemingly holdless line called Black Slabbath 12b

Now sometimes the routes at Ten Sleep, especially the very popular, classic ones, are accused of being soft at the grade, and sometimes I would agree…but not this one!  This one packed quite a punch in only 50 feet – starting with just getting onto the wall.  The holds were microscopic, the feet were barely there at all, and the climbing was so insecure it seemed as though the slightest hint of a breeze would blow you right off.  On my first go, I think my stick clip hung more draws than I did, but I rehearsed the harder sequences on the way down and managed to rally for a solid 2nd go send!  CragDaddy took a few more tries, but eventually put it down (video of his send here.)  In between his redpoint burns, I gave Tetonka 13a a couple of toprope tries.  Boy was that thing sharp!  It wasn’t pretty, but I did get up it, and I did do all the moves – although I have no idea how on earth I’d ever make the 3rd clip.  

Working on my ninja moves on Black Slabbath 12b

Big C’s climbing highlight of the trip was Boy Howdy 5.9, a juggy but steeper-than-it-looks little number that he got on both days, and was psyched to “toprope send” on the second day (video found here!)  His motivation for climbing can sometimes be hit or miss, and we certainly don’t want to push, but there was no question he was having a blast on this route.  Mental note – find more just like this for that boy!!!  

Same route, different climber!

Our second day at Superratic was even better than the first.  We decided to up our game a little bit with Walk the Dog 12c – while significantly longer than Black Slabbath, this one did have both better holds and better rests.  We both thought the grades should be switched?  It was CragDaddy’s turn to hang draws, and I was psyched that his tick marks left me a pretty good road map to follow.  My first attempt featured some hangs, but I was able to methodically figure it all out, and on the way down, I rehearsed the moves in chunks between rest stances.  And…we both sent! (video of me sending here.)

This much fun is exhausting….

We still had some time left, and CragDaddy wanted to take a turn on Tetonka since he’d missed out the day before, so I volunteered to hang draws.  I wanted to see if it felt any more doable now that I’d worked out the moves.  I actually was able to link a surprising amount of the bottom section, making it through the first crux section clean, but my power meter struggled hard around the 3rd bolt, and I ended up having to jug through to finish. In hindsight, considering how shredded my skin was after this end of day attempt, I probably should have left this one alone and opted for something easier, but it ended up being fine.  CragDaddy had a similar experience…

Sending smiles!

The close of our second day at Superratic marked that we were somehow already over halfway done with our trip.  We decided that our 3rd day on would be a reconnaissance mission to the Slavery Wall, so we could suss out the beta for Superfly 12c/d, a route that had been recommended to us earlier in the trip.  More on how that went later, but the next post will be all about our rest day shenanigans!  

 

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[See image gallery at cragmama.com]

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Ten Sleep Canyon, Part 1 – French Cattle Ranch and Valhalla

CragDaddy working through the opening boulder problem on Pussytoes 12d

Not sure about your summer, but ours has been nuts – especially the month of July. Last Friday I had vocal cord surgery (don’t worry I’m fine), and the week before that we were at the beach with extended family. So it’s hard to believe that it was just a little over 3 weeks ago that we were living the climber’s dream out in Ten Sleep, Wyoming! Since Ten Sleep is one of my very favorite places in the world, I could go on all day about it, but I’ll spare you the day’s work, and try to limit myself to just 4 blog posts – 3 parts for the areas we concentrated our climbing efforts on, and 1 part for our around town/rest day shenanigans. Sound good? Here’s part 1…

FRENCH CATTLE RANCH ~ 
FCR offers some of the best rock in the canyon, but as for most areas in Ten Sleep, you gotta work for it to get there.  Make no mistake, this hike is long.  Guidebook suggests 45 minutes, which seems about right if all members of your party have grown-up sized legs and hike with purpose.  But if you add in a pair of 8 year old legs, along with some 4 year old legs, and your focus is more intent on meandering through fields of wildflowers, plan on around an hour and a half to get up there.  It’s worth it though, trust me!

Now the way most people do the south-facing side of the canyon is to sleep in late,  show up around lunchtime when the wall goes into shade, and climb until late, as the sun doesn’t set til around 10 in the summer.  But coming in with kids on East Coast time didn’t provide us with that luxury – ie, our first morning began at 430 (630 EST).  Our strategy was more of a get-out-early-and-suffer-through-the-warm-up, then enjoy the shade until 5 or so.  As my fellow east coasters know,  heat WITHOUT suffocating humidity is really no big deal.  Besides, the base of the cliff in most areas has plenty of tree cover for shady hang outs, and often times even filtered shade on the lower part of routes.  

Beauty as far as the eye can see!

We’d tackled all of the super classics on the Shinto Wall on our last trip, in 2015, so our main goals for day 1 at FCR was to shop around for potential projects later in the trip.  (CragDaddy also wanted to wrap up some unfinished business with Center El Shinto 12b/c from last time.)  But getting accustomed to the limestone was harder than we anticipated – on previous trips, we’d always climbed somewhere else first to get acclimated, either Spearfish, or Wild Iris, and were always feeling great by the time we rolled into Ten Sleep.  This time around, we probably should have factored in a little more adjustment time.  

Jedediah 12a

I did manage to send a 12a on Day 1 called Who the F*** is Jedediah?  And let me tell you, I don’t know who he is either, but this route felt pretty darn hard.  Multiple long, sustained cruxes without a hint of chalk…probably would have felt different by Day 10, but this one took me 4 valiant efforts to put down.  Other routes of note were Tutu Man 10d – a fabulous warm-up that climbs a shaded corner, and Euro Trash Girl 10b – a decent warm-up that unfortunately didn’t climb as good as it looked.  

As far as project shopping, we tried a few, but more or less struck out on Day 1.  We did end up going back to FCR on Day 8 with a little more success.  CragDaddy was able to put down Center El Shinto first try of the day, but still got shut down on Pussy Toes 12d.  Second time around I found I could in fact do the boulder problem on Zen Garden 12c, but it also felt very sharp and tweaky, and by that point I wanted to save my skin (and tendons) for our final day.  I bailed on it in favor of an onsight attempt (and success!) of Crazy Wynona 11d – I’d done 2 of the other 11’s on the wall during our 2012 trip, and this one was just as good as I’d remembered the others! 

 

 

Big C on Macaroni 5.8

VALHALLA ~
The 2nd day’s main goal (along with more project shopping), was Cocaine Rodeo, one of the few five-star 12a’s we’d yet to touch.  The hike was a good deal shorter (estimated family hiking time = 50 minutes.)  After warming up on the super fun Heroin Hoedown 11a, we got down to business.  CragDaddy onsighted like a boss!  I unfortunately blew my flash by getting sucked into his tall man beta at the 2nd bolt, but was wisely told to come back down, wait a few minutes, and start again.  I did my own thing the next go and got through, and with the CragDaddy beta hose spraying me down for the rest of the route, the next go send came easily enough…although I did get stalled out for a hot minute in the middle, as the big mono move was NOT a sure thing!  (Had I not been on point, I probably woulda hung!)  

Also worth mentioning from Day 2 –Dicken’s Cider 12c and Last Dance with Mary Jane 11b/c.  After waiting out a freak hailstorm in the middle of the day, we attacked both of these in the afternoon.  I was psyched to nab the flash on the latter, but the former kicked both of our butts.  Great movement on some really cool holds, but didn’t feel doable for a short term trip.  

If you’ve followed us at all on here or social media, you are probably aware that in addition to being climbers, we  are certified nature dorks.  One of our favorite things to do on any hike is to identify any flora/fauna that we see, then go home and draw it in our nature notebook.  We were looking forward to being in a new environment with new critters and wildflowers to observe.  In fact, my 8 year old has such an exciting memory of us stumbling upon a moose on one of our hikes here in 2015, that he said the one thing he absolutely wanted to see was another moose.  And, wouldn’t you know on our hike out Day 1 from FCR, we almost literally ran smack dab into a mama moose with her “teenager” looking calf!  We kept our distance, but they didn’t seem bothered by us in the slightest.  We shared the trail with them for at least 5-10 minutes, until they finally got tired of us following them and loped down off trail into the meadows below.  Amazing experience, and one that I hope both kiddos will remember (at least via photos) for the rest of their lives.  

There are moose on the loose!

Part 1 = done!  Stay tuned for our adventures at the Superratic Wall coming up next!

 

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[See image gallery at cragmama.com]

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More Sport Climbing in the Dolomites

By Mark Anderson

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Fantisilandia, 7a+, Becco d’Ajal

Now that I had figured out which characteristics to look for in Dolomite sport crags I was much more psyched for the upcoming crag days.  One crag that piqued my interest is called “Rio Gere” and was merely 4 Km from our Condo in Cortina. Though the book raved about it, a quick recon of the area left me skeptical.

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Rio Gere–a massive boulder in the forest just east of Cortina.

The cliff is a mixture of yellow, fractured stone and (at that time) heavily seeping pocketed flowstone. Since I was unsure of its quality, I left it for the afternoon of a big hiking day when I was already tired. I began the session with the old strategy of climbing the dry yellow stone, which went as expected—I sent everything, but felt dirty afterwards. I decided I would have more fun slipping out of muddy water-sculpted pockets than teetering up dusty choss, so I climbed a set of flowstone lines that all turned out to be incredible, despite the mud.

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Climbing rad (but muddy) flowstone pockets on Che Pizza, 7b+, Rio Gere.

I also learned that by taking my grade down a few notches I could pretty much climb through a shower head without falling, and when I clipped the chains I felt a real sense of accomplishment. There was no question—I was having more fun climbing the best rock, even if it was wet. That made the choice of the next crag obvious.

IMG_1774aEasily my favorite crag of the trip was Beco d’Ajal—a group of massive boulders just outside of Cortina. Of the crags I visited, this is the other contender for “best sport crag in the dolomites,” and really, the distinction would depend heavily on taste. While Laste is more of a vertical technician’s dream, Beco d’Ajal is all about the steep overhanging pockets. The best comparison I can think of is Sector Cascade at Ceuse. Though not as tall as Ceuse, the cliffs are completely covered in sculpted flowstone jugs.

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No Worries, 7a+, at Beco d’Ajal

The crag is guarded by a burly 45-minute uphill trudge, but it was well worth it. As expected, pretty much everything was wet, but by now I was quite used to climbing through it. The scenery from the cliff was spectacular, looking onto the Tofana Group and Cortina, and the climbing was incredible. If I had one day to be teleported to any cliff in the world, I would go there (when its dry!), Becco

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Fantastic, 7b+ Becco d’Ajal.

For our last day we were all pretty tuckered out, so I selected a cliff with a short drive and even shorter Approach. Crepe de Oucera (Alti) was not quite up to the level of the previous three crags, but it was really good. It’s a favorite of the Cortina locals thanks to its short approach and southern aspect. The climbing here is generally near-vertical with lots of pockets, reminding me of the more pocketed rock at Sinks or the less-featured walls at Ten Sleep. This felt like a more traditional European crag with easy access, well-worn stone and lots of options. Though only one route really blew me away (a 12b called Cuba Libre), it was refreshing to climb some high quality dry rock for a change.

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White Line, 6c+, Crepe de Oucera.

There were a number of other intriguing crags we didn’t visit due to seepage. If I return in drier conditions I would definitely make return trips to Beco d’Ajal and Laste, but based on what I saw, I’d also like to climb on these crags:

– Sass Dlacia: steeply overhanging walls of pockets

– Malga Ciapela: less-steep, techy flowstone

– Tridentina/Eiszeit: Overhanging pockets

– Cinque Torri: Well-traveled/historic collection of large boulders tilted in wild directions

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Cinque Torri

All told, I really enjoyed the sport climbing. Given the amount of rock and variety I think it’s a very worthy destination for sport climbers, certainly worth considering for those looking for a holistic vacation with options for other adventure-oriented activities. That said, try to visit in the Fall when the rock is presumably less wet!

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Fantisilandia, 7a+, Becco d’Ajal.

Coming Soon: more non-sport-climbing adventures in the Dolomites!

The Best Route I Never Sent

As climbers, we are driven by one unifying accomplishment: the send. No matter the grade or the discipline, we are all chasing the elusive top out, the chains, or the summit. Sends gained make for a good tick list, but many of the best stories revolve around the next send – the one that’s in process, on hold, or just a dream right now. We asked our athletes about the best routes they’ve never climbed, here’s what they said:

Alex Johnson

Alex Johnson Monster Skank send

Photo: Ray Davalos

Everything on my list that I’ve never gotten to. I have such a long list and each route on the list is there for a specific reason, and everything not climbed, I’ll never know what I’m missing, but I feel like I’m missing a lot. Maybe Nirvana in Red Rock.

 

Drew Ruana

Biographie, 5.15a, at Ceuse. It ascends a perfect blue streak of limestone with comfy crimps and pockets the entire way. It is also maybe the most historic route in the world.

 

Jason Haas

Photo: Jon Glassberg

Jules Verne (5.11b) in Eldorado Canyon. It’s in my backyard and I’ve shown up numerous times to climb it but something has always gone wrong – a partner is sick, flakes out, some of the pitches are wet, you name it. I’ve done almost all of it in pieces but never been able to do the whole thing. It really gets to me I haven’t done it. Actually, I forgot about it until this question. Now I can’t stop thinking about it. Thanks. Guess I know what I’m doing this weekend.

 

Mike Anderson

Something in Spain, I’m sure. I’ve been there once…climbed about 5 days and always wanted to go back. That, and Necessary Evil at the VRG in Arizona…currently my nemesis – a super incredible route that I’ve poured 2.5 years into, but conditions are so finicky, I’ve struggled with lining up the planets to make it happen. Also Just Do It at Smith Rock.

 

Ari Novak

Photo: Jacob Raab

The best route I’ve never climbed completely is Bridal Veil Falls WI6+ in Telluride CO. On my first attempt on the route I climbed with the late great Scott Adamson but as we left the second belay another climber in our group got ill and we had to bail to offer assistance. My second attempt was a few years later. As I left the car to begin the approach I got an international call from my dad. Normally I don’t take calls when I’m on a climbing mission but for some reason, I picked up. We had a brief conversation and then I took off for the climb. Remarkably just a few minutes up the trail Ajax Peak avalanched. It was a massive slide that took full trees down in its path. Had I not taken the call it most likely would have been my last walk in the mountains. That said I hope that my third attempt will be successful. We’ll see…

Sport Climbing in the Dolomites

 

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People Mover, 7c+, Laste.

By Mark Anderson

Despite its staggering collection of world-class, bolted multi-pitch lines, the Dolomites aren’t known for sport climbing. In fact I’d argue the sport climbing in the Dolomites is pretty much completely unknown, evidenced by the heck of a time I had finding information about it when I first set out. But I knew a range of thousands of (essentially) limestone peaks had to have a few killer sport crags sprinkled about. It was just a matter of uncovering them. As I suspected, they were there in abundance. Once I found them, the challenge was wading through the endless possibilities to identify the most-worthy crags.

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Rope-swing at Salares, with Passo Valparola on the right.

After scouring the internet, I collected a couple guidebooks. The Rockfax guide claims to be a combined Trad, VF and Sport guide. This book is absolutely stunning, and I recommend it to any climber visiting the Dolomites, for general orientation if nothing else. However, it is NOT a sport climbing guide. It only includes a handful of over-used crags, none of which seemed particularly appealing. I ended up using “Sportclimbing in the Dolomites” by Vertical Life. This book is short on details but provides the bare minimum needed to visit more than 50 distinct crags of all varieties, with text provided in three languages including English.

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Prepping the photoshoot at Salares. The cliffs of Val Badia are off to the left.

In the end we visited six different crags. I’d like to say we saw the best in the area, but it’s hard to know for sure when there are so many options. We arrived the last week of May, which is definitely early-season, and the biggest downside of this was that many of the best crags were seeping. In fact, all of the best crags were seeping. I dare say all of the best routes at all of the best crags were seeping! If you want to visit the Dolomites primarily for sport climbing, I’d guess early Fall is the best time to go, but we had to make the best of our window.

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La Chica Bonita, 7a+, Salares.

I started by looking for crags that promised to be dry. These were fairly easy to find (the yellow stone tends to be dry), but I quickly regretted this strategy. We visited two dry-ish crags in a row, Franchi (aka Scheweg) and Salares, and both were disappointing. Granted we arrived at Franchi in a rain storm, and were lucky to climb at all. Only a couple lines were dry, neither were remarkable, nor were we impressed by the appearance of the wet lines. The defining memory of that day was an interminable game of keep away we played with a local crag pup (I absolutely could not leave without my left Oasi—it was only the first day and those shoes are king on overhanging polished limestone!)

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Achtung Baby, 7a+, Salares.

Salares was a distinct improvement, but I quickly noticed a pattern—the dry yellow stone tended to be heavily fractured. I mean egregiously fractured! In fairness, I never broke any key holds, but it was unnerving to be constantly teetering on what appeared to be vertically stacked rubble. It certainly made me think twice about the alpine rock routes. The saving grace of Salares was the incredible view of Val Badia off to the left and an exciting rope swing. So after two days of disappointing rock, I decided we would go for what looked like the best stone, and just deal with whatever wetness we encountered. This turned out to be a great compromise.

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Laste.

We turned our attention to an incredible table-top of limestone below the Marmolada called Laste. Laste is in the discussion for “best sport crag in the dolomites.” The setting is idyllic, with stunning views of the north face of the Civetta, among rolling hills of lush green grass. The rock is excellent but…weird. It’s very reminiscent of the lower left cliff at Rifle’s Anti Phil Wall. The holds are generally angular pinch fins, with lots of underclinging and sidepulls, a few pockets and only rare horizontal edges.

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Trippa per Gatti, 7a+, Laste.

The rock quality was flawless, though spider-webby in spots due to lack of traffic (I even found a mini-scorpion in one pocket). The stone is very light grey making chalk virtually invisible and onsighting incredibly challenging. The west wall of the formation was pretty-much completely dry and the climbing here was phenomenal. All the routes were long, sustained, cerebral and rewarding. I really felt like I accomplished something every time I clipped the chains at Laste. This was also one of the only crags where we encountered other climbers, on a weekday no less, surely a sign of its quality.

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Cilum, 7a, Laste.

It took three days, but I felt like I finally figured out how to pick the crags. We still had most of the trip in front of us and now that I knew what to look for, I was really excited to check out some more incredible-looking dolomite crags….

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Picnicing at the Laste parking lot, with the north face of the Civetta in the distance.

Eastern Offwidths: Big Bros Take on China

When you think of climbing in China, limestone sport routes probably come to mind. This spring, Irene Yee and her crew of offwidth aficionados took on some of China’s lesser known terrain…offwidths. Donning a rack of Big Bros and tape gloves, these climbers went on an offwidth rampage through the cliffs of Liming, China.

Adventures can sometimes start with steel and glass before they become rock and sky. Danny, @cheyeah, and Ashley, @ashleyreva head off for a China adventure.

 

Off-width Tip: choose a side. Mainly the reachable one that is not all awkwardly stuffed inside the crack. Ashley, @ashleyreva racks up.

 

Ashley, @ashleyreva, placing a Big Bro in Off-Width Research Center, trad 5.10+ Liming, China.

Photos and video by Irene Yee (@ladylockoff)

Exploring the Dolomites

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Hiking the alpine meadows below the Odle Group.

By Mark Anderson

The Dolomites are a jagged range of mountains in North-Eastern Italy, immediately south of the Austrian border. The range is composed of a form of limestone called dolomite (also found throughout Wyoming, at crags like Sinks Canyon and Wild Iris). The rock is heavily featured, and at times heavily fractured, providing unusual challenges for climbers and incredibly dramatic landscapes for sightseers.

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The Tre Cime (R) and Monte Paterno (L).

To climbers, the Dolomites are renowned for their long, dramatic alpine rock routes. The range is home to countless long classics, including one of the six “Great North Faces of the Alps” (the Comici Route on the north face of the Cima Grande). Reinhold Messner maintains they are the most beautiful mountains in the world—“each mountain in the range is like a piece of art.” After spending a couple weeks there with my family last month, it’s hard to disagree.

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On the trail to the Tre Cime, with the Cadini di Misurina group behind.

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Lago Sorapiss and the Dito di Dio spire.

There are so many ways to enjoy these mountains, its hard to know where to start. We wanted to do some sport climbing, some via ferrate (more on these subjects in the coming weeks), but mostly we wanted to explore the incredible and complex landscape.

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Routefinding….

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Climbing art in Ortesi.

For basecamp we chose the vibrant village of Cortina D’Ampezzo. This is a quintessential ski town complete with designer fashions and exorbitant prices (though to be fair, it’s not as bad as Aspen!) It even hosted the Winter Olympics in 1956. It’s got all the essentials (except a pool) and is ideally centered between several legendary climbing attractions.

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Exploring the Cinque Torri, a historic climbing crag. The Col dei Bos can be seen in the distance.

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Kate near the summit of Lagazuoi Piccolo, with Tofana di Rozes behind.

The weather in the Dolomites is incredibly consistent—it rains every day! However, in our experience the mornings were dependably awesome, usually bluebird, with clouds beginning to form around mid-day, culminating in relatively brief-but-violent thunderstorms. We never lost a day to weather, though we did postpone an activity when we awoke to threatening clouds. A typical day for us began with a dawn start, 5-7 hours of some climbing, via ferrata or hiking adventure, followed by a few hours siesta while the rain passed, then another short hike, etc and a visit to town for well-deserved gelato.

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Logan on the exposed trail to the Sorapiss Group.

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Amelie in the Odle Group, with Sassolungo obscured by clouds.

A well-maintained network of roads and cable cars makes it easy to explore, even with small kids (though the cable cars can be pricey). We were there in early season, so many lifts were not operating, and many via ferrate were impassable, but we found plenty to do for two weeks and grew to appreciate the relative solitude once the first wave of summer crowds arrived on the last weekend of our trip.

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Misurina, with the Sorapiss Group behind.

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The Haunold “Funbob.” No relation to Alex?

The kids did a great job of putting up with our insatiable desire to hike and climb. It was the most fun we’ve ever had on a vacation, but also the most exhausted we’ve been at the end. There always seemed to be one more hike, one more mountain pass, one more lake worth visiting. The only thing we failed to find was a good time to rest. Despite that, it feels like we barely scratched the surface of this marvelous place. I’m eager to go back once the kids are big enough to share a rope with me up one of the many towering alpine walls.

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Admiring the Sella Towers from Sella Pass.

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Climbing back from Cancer

June 2017

I slowly awake out of a deep anesthesia-induced slumber. I have a massive tube shoved down my throat emptying my stomach contents. My mom is there.

“What happened?” I ask her. I’m still hopeful that when they did the exploratory surgery that they wouldn’t find anything. “They found a tumor on your appendix. They removed it as well as 6 inches of your large intestine. They hot soaked all of your organs with chemo.”

I can’t control it. I start crying. Tears and emotion are flooding out of me. I’m angry, sad, afraid that my body has failed me. I hold my mom’s hand as the reality sets in. I have cancer.

Just a few months before

I’m at the top of my game, projecting hard rock climbs above the Andaman Sea in Thailand. The world is my oyster, as I traipse around the planet, only pausing for a part time job in Western Africa. I feel strong, lean, and fit.  I’m beginning to mentally heal from some recent accidents in the mountains, so am very excited when Bruce Normand asks me to attempt a new line with him in Pakistan on Gasherbrum 4 that spring.

I have a little discomfort in my abdomen, but chalk it up as a muscle strain. Over time, the pain increases. Thinking it’s due to a recently diagnosed hernia, I opt to get it fixed before considering a trip to the Himalaya. How quickly things can change in our lives. After the hernia operation, I’m dumbfounded when my surgeon says, “We found something off during the surgery. It looks like cancer.”

Three weeks later.  June 2.

D-Day.I’m on the operating table for what doctors call the MOAS (Mother Of All Surgeries). I spend a week in the hospital and then five more bedridden. My climbing muscles atrophy away day by day. The combination of coming to terms with having cancer and not being able to exercise leads me into dark depression and anxiety. With the pain, I also find perspective. By chance, I befriend a Tibetan monk. He teaches me that the suffering is all in my mind. He teaches me internal peace is possible through meditation and mindfulness.

I think the worst is over by week six, and I’ll be able to start slowly climbing again. Boy, am I mistaken. Next up is oral and IV chemotherapy. For the next few months I feel like I am dying.  Fatigue, exhaustion, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal cramping. It’s pure and utter hell.

August 14th

A few of my good friends rally with me to the City of Rocks for my birthday. I am struggling something fierce on a 5.8.  But the beautiful, high desert rocky landscape inspires me.  I look at the guidebook and decide, against the wishes of all my friends, to attempt Terror of Tiny Towna beautiful 5.11 technical corner.

“To hell with cancer,” I say. I want to prove to myself that I am still strong.  I slowly make upwards progress using every trick in the book. Side pull, smear, edge, lock off. For a moment, it feels incredible to be free of the nightmare I’m living and be completely lost in the movement. My heart is racing and my breathing is out of control.  For 25 minutes, I battle tooth and nail to total and complete exhaustion. I lower down, pulsating with endorphins and euphoria.

Then I get dizzy. Then I start to dry heave. By the time I get back to camp, I am running a fever. I lie in the fetal position, moaning like an animal just hit by a car.

Once I get home, I proudly recount the story to my doctor with a big smile on my face!  She promptly scolds me!

“Look Skiy, this is life and death. You need to take it easy!”

Finally accepting that it’s all real, I start taking my health very seriouslyeating right and resting daily. It’s a few long and slow months, but finally the doctors say I’d had enough chemo and I am cleared to slowly start rebuilding.

Thirty days post chemo.

I go visit my good buddy Dave Allfrey in Las Vegas.  Dave is a bona fide hard man and all-around crusher.
“’I’m pretty under the weather” I tell him. “Oh, no problem,” he says.  “I have the perfect climb for us. A three pitch 5.6 with a short 20 min approach.” His enthusiasm is contagious and for a moment I have forgotten how low my blood counts are.  “Heck ya, perfect!” I say. I jump out of his Sprinter and for five minutes I feel like a million bucks!  Then I start to slow, and pretty soon the uphill feels like the Hillary step on Everest.

“Dave,” I say, trying my best to hold back the tears, “it’s too far.” So humbling to have to bail on the approach to a 5.6!  Dave is a trooper though, and sets up a top rope on a 5.8 nearby.  After my fourth take we are laughing hysterically at the ridiculousness of the situation!  “You’re making that look like 5.14” he says. “Trust me, I know!” I reply.

But I don’t care. It feels so good to touch the stone and to move on it.  To be tied in with a good friend.  It’s a reminder of how healing climbing can be.  But still, I am terrified with thoughts that I would be weak and frail for many years to come.  Will I ever get my life back?

A few more months go by.

Finally, I start feeling strong, exuberant, full of energy, but also restlessness. Ignoring the advice of friends and family, I buy a one-way ticket to Thailand. I need the sun. I need the ocean. I need my climbing community to help heal my mind. I land in Bangkok and promptly head for Tonsai. I spend 5 weeks clipping bolts and making new friends from around the world.

It’s strange to brush your own mortality. As scary as it is, it’s also awesome and powerful. Every time I make it through to the other side, whether in the mountains or in life, I strangely feel more alive. More in touch with my true self. More able to appreciate the simple things and not take stuff for granted. I’m always amazed how much each new experience teaches me.

It’s hard to emotionally digest what has happened, but I move forward each day with optimism and stoke. What else can I do?  I continue to follow my passion as a climber and continue to set goals. I feel lucky to live in Bishop CA, where I am able to look to the mountains that color the skyline and find continual inspiration and joy.

Today is a new day, and I will enjoy every second!

Friday is the New Saturday

What do desperate climbers do when the past umpteen weekends have had a crap-a-delic forecast?  Play hooky and make Friday the new Saturday!  While our last-minute decision to leave a day early made for a hectic start to our earlier-than-normal weekend, it was well worth it for us all – and we got plenty of rest on the back end of the weekend to prepare for the upcoming week…I think I could get used to this strategy!

Burly jump start of Headbutt 11d…cool pic, but no send.

While the New was beckoning to me like a singing siren to a delirious sailor, we ended up going to Hidden Valley so CragDaddy could get a crack at his project from last year before the weather turned too hot.  He’d been working on the 13a slab start to Spurs, a line more commonly done as a 5.9 hand crack to an awesome 5.10 jug haul.  Last spring he was able to link much of the opening crux, and after jump training all summer, was able to get the dyno crux at around 50% success rate during the fall…but then just couldn’t put the lower moves together.  But thankfully, it all came together for him this time around, and he earned his ticket to the 5.13 club in fine style!  We got a little bit of video of the send – check that out here.

That’s a 5.13 climber up there!!!

I’ve got nothing on the dyno, but lucky for me, CragDaddy was done by mid-day and we had the rest of the afternoon to spend at the SNL wall, where I was psyched to try the Coneheads Link-up line.  

This line connects the bottom half of Coneheads #2 (12c) with the upper half of Coneheads #1 (13a).  The former I completed last fall, and the latter I’d never touched.  The bottom half begins with a crack, which CragDaddy and I both have pretty darn dialed at this point, as the opening crack is ALSO shared by Blues Brothers 12a, which we ALSO did last fall.  After the crack is a weird sequence around a big block, which although not incredibly hard (11a?) is fairly burly and a little bit scary cutting feet with the large brown slab looming below you.  The fear factor can be neutered with a piece of gear, then the rock kicks back into a sea of overhanging bucket jugs for a couple of bolts to intersect with the upper section of Coneheads #1.  Pulling onto the upper headwall involves a big rock-over move and long toss to a jug, followed by sustained technical face climbing similar to it’s neighbor, Coneheads #2.  The headwall sequence on this link-up is a little easier though – not quite as powerful, and not quite as long.  There’s a decent row of holds a few feet from the anchors that takes the edge off and allows for a clipping stance, thus avoiding the same long runout found on Coneheads #2.  

Clipping just before embarking on the block move, Coneheads Link 12c

My first go was just okay.  The upper section was covered in dirty silt from all the recent rain, and after repeatedly getting dirt and lichen in my eye from trying to brush the holds at the extent of my reach, I ended up stick-clipping my way through the crux so I could save my sight and brush from above.  Although I rehearsed the sequence again when I lowered, I was pretty tired and the sequence was so much to remember.  I also wasn’t super confident about my beta for the scary block move down low, and due to the steepness of the middle section, couldn’t get back down to it to practice it again on lower.  So because of all that (and also because sometimes I’m a pansy ;)) I decided to toprope for my second go, figuring it would be easier to refine my beta in those questionable sections, knowing that it really wouldn’t matter since I wasn’t ready to send anyway. 

Chicken winging my way to the send…Coneheads Link 12c

But.  You guys I did it!  Only not really, because I was on toprope.  Dangit.  The bottom part was smooth sailing, and I felt like I had all day in the upper section, casually cruising through the crux (all the while bemoaning my mistake that was becoming more and more obvious with every move.)  Moral of the story – believe in yourself, and don’t be a pansy!  

Thankfully though, the story doesn’t end there, as I still had enough time for one more shot.  This time the bottom part went just as smoothly as before, but by the time I got to the big rockover move, I was a lot more pumped than I wanted to be.  I barely made the move, but I shook out best I could, told myself I only had about 8 feet before another decent hold, and launched into the upper crux.

And then a familiar feeling started to creep in…you know the one.  It’s like when you’re watching a basketball game and the team that’s been winning the whole game starts making a few mistakes, and the losing team capitalizes on those mistakes.  You can feel the tide turn as the losing team begins gaining momentum, and all of a sudden the winning team starts “playing not to lose” rather than “playing to win.” As a climber I’ve noticed a similar phenomenon in the redpoint process – when that previously pumped-but-managing-to-stay-in-control state starts to unravel and panic starts to set in a little bit, there’s a temptation to shift from “climbing to send” to “climbing not to fail.” 

Everyone had an awesome day.

My pump clock started ticking faster and faster.  I reached up for my next hold, but it wasn’t where I thought it was going to be, and I burned several seconds (and valuable forearm juice) trying to find it.  By the time I got back on track I was red-lining, and that panicky feeling had turn into desperation.  I concentrated on my foot placements and keeping as much tension as I could, and somehow still made the long lock off to the clipping hold at the last bolt.  My inner monologue had told myself it should have been over at that point.  And it should have.  Just a handful of moves left, on thin feet, but decent edges.  But coming in hot on lap #3 of this route, the battle was anything but over.  The sun was now filtering through the trees at an angle that made everywhere I looked either blindingly bright or completely shadowed, and I couldn’t for the life of me find the right footholds for the final moves.  After a few moments of panic, I just smeared my feet and hung onto the final edges with everything I had.  The finishing jug was huge…but there was so much rope drag that I almost couldn’t even clip.  I got the rope in probably only a couple of seconds from my hands completely opening up.

All smiles

While I’ve been on harder routes before, and certainly made my share of desperate moves before, I don’t think I’ve ever been THAT pumped and had to try THAT hard for THAT long…and still been successful.  I credit that success to the training I’ve been doing with Kris Hampton of Power Company Climbing.  This was the first time I’ve ever sent 12c in a day before, and in essence, I sent it twice.  Had I not given in to self-doubt and pulled the rope to get the legit send on the 2nd go, I would have been delighted with how easily the route had gone down.  But even though it wasn’t the way I would have planned it, forcing the try hard burn at the end of the day was a pretty cool experience, and showed me that maybe I’ve got a lot more in the tank than I thought.  After all, sends that are bought by sheer will power, the ones you feel like you maybe “got away with” a little bit, are always the most memorable! 

And apparently I really did leave it all out there on Friday, because when Saturday rolled around I had nothing!  My second day was filled with unsends, thrashings, and flailings of all kinds.  I’m sure it didn’t help that it’s mid-April and this was our first time climbing two days in a row all spring…thanks rain.  But on the bright side, the forecast for this coming weekend is looking like we may get a spring after all!  Fingers crossed.  

Looking forward to lots more of this in the coming weeks!

 

Related Images:

[See image gallery at cragmama.com]

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