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NRG Sport Climbing Superlatives – 5.12 and Up

Thunderstruck 12b Photo: Dan Brayack

If 5.11 is where things really start to get good at the New, then 5.12 land is nothing short of heaven.  Whether you’re looking for one-move wonders or sandbagged classics, spooky slab or straight up roof thuggin’, the New has more than a few 5.12’s for you!

GOOD “FIRST OF THE GRADE” CANDIDATES

LOW BROW 12a (Meadow) – First NRG 5.12 for both CragDaddy and me.  It is a slab, which not everyone likes, but if you have good footwork it shouldn’t be too bad.  Great rests + lower angle means there is not a big pump factor, although there’s a move at the chains that will keep you honest.
FIRED FOR SANDBAGGING 12a (Bubba City) – Seems like everyone migrates away from Bubba City once they graduate past 5.10, but there are several harder gems if you are willing to look!  This one features one very well-protected hard move down below, the rest is no harder than 11a.  Work the opening sequence, then pull the rope and fire for the send!
HOMERECTUS 12a (Endless) – This route can either be a super hard 11b, or a pretty easy 12a.  Keeping the line at 11b requires a long but easy traverse at the 8th bolt to avoid pulling a bulge.  Going direct here will make it 12a, and if you aren’t blessed with a giant ape index, the 12a move will likely feel only slightly harder than the 11b crux down low.  A great way to get experience both ways is to climb the 11b way, then try out the 12 moves on the lower, then pull the rope and go for the 12 send.
STARRY 12a (Meadow, Third Buttress) – Loooong route, but the first 2/3 are no harder than 10a. Be on the lookout for the lay down rest!
MINISTRY 12b (Butcher’s Branch) – Crux is pretty thin, but short-lived.  The majority of the route is 5.10, with a great rest before the business at the finish.

First big move on Lost Souls 12a

While I don’t have a ton of experience at the harder grades here at the New (more on that below), the following were my firsts of the grade here, so they are probably good entry level routes.
GREEN ENVY 12c (Beauty)
BOSNIAN VACATION 12d (Fern)
THE RUCHERT MOTION 13a (Beauty)

MUST DO’S

NEW WORLD ORDER 12a (Endless) – Full value climbing, with a lot of variety!
PREPARATION H 12a (Kaymoor) – Delicate arete climbing that, in my opinion, deserves more action than it’s neighbor around the corner, Pockets of Resistance.
LOST SOULS 12a (Butcher’s Branch) – I couldn’t decide whether or not to put this one in the above category….it’s giant, monkey swinging moves definitely cater to gym rats looking to bag their first 12, but if you’re not a great “gym climber” you’ll probably find the opposite – that was CragDaddy’s and my experience.  But regardless whether you think it’s hard or soft, it’s still a fantastic rock climb that is worth waiting in line for!
FREAKY STYLEE 12a (Endless) – Technical face to a big-whipper potential crux move at the top.
HELLBOUND FOR GLORY 12a (Endless) – FA Doug Cosby likes to say that this one was once known as “most flashable 12” in the gorge.  That statement might be a bit of a sandbag, but it’s a great route for sure – once you get past the awkward start, that is.
RECKLESS ABANDON 12a (Summersville) – The position out over the water is spectacular!
BLACKHAPPY 12b (Endless) – Everything you could want out of rock climb – thin, technical crux, big moves to big holds, and a spicy (but clean) runout to the chains.  Yee-haw!
MODERN PRIMITIVE 12b (Endless) – Due to it’s orientation, stays in the shade til late in the day, unlike the rest of Endless Wall. Good candidate when the rest of Endless is too hot.
LE FUTURISTE 12b (Endless) – The “optional but recommended” dyno mentioned in the guidebook is not optional for me…but I can see why it’s recommended regardless!

Mid-crux on Le Futuriste 12b Photo: Javier Licon

BIG FAT SANDBAGS

‘Nuff said.  Transport these routes to another crag and they would probably receive at least another letter grade. These are all amazing.  And also amazingly hard for the grade.

JESUS AND TEQUILA 12b (Endless) – This one has sentimental value for me, see here for more.
THUNDERSTRUCK 12b (White Wall)
HARLEQUIN 12b (Endless)
THIEVES IN THE TEMPLE 12b (Fern)
CHUNKY MONKEY 12b (Beauty)

ROUTES FOR THE TALL NOT SMALL

I don’t like the term “height-dependent,” because I don’t want to limit what we small folk are capable of.  However, unless you’re at least 5’10”, don’t expect these to feel the grade the guidebook gives it.

STRETCH ARMSTRONG 12a (Bridge) – After trying this several times off and on over the years, I finally sent  the day after sending my first and so far only NRG 13.  Honestly the crux of this felt almost as hard for me!  CragDaddy, however, found some amazing beta that almost turned this line into a one move wonder.
FLY GIRLS 12a (Fern) – Also a great candidate for a first of the grade if you can make the reach.  If you can’t, you’re campusing on crimps.
TECHMAN 12c (Endless) – There are some intermediates in the crux, albeit pretty terrible ones, but if you can’t reach a key foothold at the end of the traverse, the exit move of the crux will be pretty low percentage, and will quickly turn this tweaker into “hard in a not fun way.”
MACAULEY’S IRISH STOUT 12b (Meadow, The Other Place) – Most dyno at the crux, but I’ve seen it go static…unfortunately the static beta is just as reachy.

CragDaddy on Modern Primitive 12b

If you are sub par when it comes to height, don’t get discouraged.  Most routes in your grade range can still go down for you at the New, provided you are willing to get creative and try harder than you think you should have to at times.  That said, the following are great options for smaller people, either because the typical beta involves a compact body position that caters to a smaller frame, or because of multiple intermediate options for hands and feet.

ROUTES THAT ARE SWEET FOR THE SHORT

PSYCHOWRANGLER 12a (Cottontop) – Be ready for a queue on a weekend day.
BULLET THE NEW SKY 12b (Endless) – If you can get your feet up on small holds, this route will feel LESS reachy to you than it will for your taller counterparts!
POCKETS OF RESISTANCE 12a (Kaymoor) – Yes that last move is big, but if you can get your feet high early you’ll be able to use the undercling better.
NARCISSUS 12a (Summersville) – Plenty of intermediates and multiple ways to go at the crux.
GIFT OF GRACE 12b (Endless) -Be super careful clipping the 3rd bolt.  Safest way to do it is to sling it really long so you can clip early.  Your ethics may vary.
JUST SEND IT 13b (Fern) – I’ve only been on this route once, and it definitely shut me down…but certainly not because of height!

Me going “full blowfish” on Ministry 12b

AVOID THE CROWDS

As mentioned in the 5.11 post, none of the “must-do” lines listed are a secret.  If you’ve done most the classics, or are looking for a way to avoid the queue, here’s your list.  These routes are all good solid rock climbs, and most rarely have any takers.

AUDIOPHERING 12a (Cottontop) – A little weird in places, but definitely worth doing.
POWERFUL OPPOSITION 12a (Bubba City) – Prepare to get funky on this one.
MICHELIN MAN Variation 12b (Bubba City) – Fabulous steep jug hauling to a delicate, reachy traverse.  There’s an 11d version that I’ve never done with a different finish, that’s probably good too?
FINE MOTOR CONTROL 12a (Endless) – Power moves down low, classic Endless face up high.
CONTROL 12a (Butcher’s Branch) – Powerful little boulder problem traverse to better holds and a giant sit-down ledge, followed by more moderate climbing.
FANTASY FACE 12a (Endless) – If Aesthetica and Blackhappy are at Rush Hour, take this back road of technical slab fun.
KAOS 12c (Butcher’s Branch) – Much harder neighbor to the aforementioned Control.
THE STRATEGEM 12a (Bridge) – Did you know there were sport climbs at Bridge Buttress?  Most other people don’t either.  Check out this one, TEAM MACHINE 12a, and STRETCH ARMSTRONG 12a (described earlier) for a sweet bolted trifecta.
UNBROKEN CHAIN 12a – The view is spectacular and the approach can’t be beat.  Plus you’ll never run into anyone else…but bring your A-game because this thing is hard as nails.
WALL DRUG 12c and it’s next door neighbor BOSNIAN VACATION 12d (Fern) – A little sharp, a little tweaky, but cool movement, great views, and I’ve never seen anyone else on them but us!

Shaking out on New World Order 12a

BOMBS

While there are very few true NRG “black holes” at this grade (you know, routes that are so bad they take stars away from other neighboring routes), there’s one that comes close.  One of these is LET THE WIND BLOW 12a, found on the right side of Bridge Buttress.  There are a few reasons why folks end up on this line.  It can be toproped from an awesome full value hand crack – HIGH TIMES 10c, and it stays dry in a downpour.  Don’t waste your time on it though – it’s overchalked, polished, and the holds are sharp and tweaky.

WORTH NOTING:

As opposed to a pretty even spread throughout the grade range in prior posts of this “best of” series (5.10 and under here, and 5.11’s here), you might notice that my 5.12 recommendations are a little bottom heavy.  As in, mostly in the 12a and 12b range. Looking at my tick list, the reason for this is pretty obvious.  Counting only routes I’ve sent at the New – 15 are 12a, 7 are 12b…and then I have one each of 12c, 12d, and 13a.  I’m slowly but surely working to rectify this imbalance, but for now the 12+ and higher recommendations will be grossly underrespresented.  In the mean time though, you’ve got plenty to keep you busy from this list!

CragDaddy sticking the dyno on MacCauley’s Irish Stout 12b

Oh and one more thing.  The following is a list of routes that probably should be on this list but I can’t personally recommend because I’ve never touched them.  A few of them may or may not also be on the list of potential fall projects (hence the obvious technical face climbing slant!)

PUDD’s PRETTY DRESS 12d (Endless)
SLASH AND BURN 12d (Kaymoor)
LIBERTINE 12d (Endless)
STEALTH AND MAGIC 12d (Endless)
BLACK RIDER, aka POCKET ROUTE 13a (Endless)
QUINSANA PLUS 13a (Endless)

If anybody else has any recommendations for hard 12’s and easier 13’s, especially ones that hypothetically might be a good fit for a 5’5″ frame, please let me know in the comments!

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NRG Sport Climbing Superlatives – 5.11

Mutiny 11d…the water makes for a big crowd deterrent! Photo: Dan Brayack

Ah, 5.11.  While the New has some of the best climbing on the planet at any grade, 5.11 is where it really starts to get good.  Whether you are looking to bag your first one, rack up a list of classics, or avoid crowds, look no further, because this post can help.

GOOD “FIRST OF THE GRADE” CANDIDATES

WILD SEED 11a (Fern) – The business section of this one is about as gym climb-y as you’re gonna get at the New.  The opening slab moves will keep you honest if you are a true gym rat, but are probably only 5.9 or so.
DELIRIUM TREMORS 11a (Bubba City) – One move wonder that is short but sweet – if all else fails and you can’t do the move, use the tree behind you to avoid having to leave a biner.
MR. CUTE 11a (3rd Buttress, Meadow) – The opening traverse will leave you scratching your head thinking, “Is this really right?!?” but by the time you get to the top, all you’ll be thinking about is pump management.  No 11 moves, just pumpy.
EURONATION 11c (Endless) – Stem off the tree to reach the 1st bolt (stick clip recommended) for a fantastic, rarely traveled 5.10 warm-up.  Eliminate the tree and all you’ve got standing in your way of claiming 11c is a crimpy V3 boulder problem.
SLAB-O-MEAT 11d (Endless) – One move wonder down low makes this one a great option for those looking for a first 11d.  Note:  The crux is well-protected, but after the business you’ll launch into a long slab with not a lot of bolts on it – it might feel a little heady, but there are no moves harder than 10-.

CragDaddy on the pumpy traverse of Flash Point 11d

MUST DO’s

LEGACY 11a (Endless) – Might be the best of the grade in the whole gorge.
SATISFACTION GUARANTEED 11a (Summersville) – The other contender for best of the grade in the whole gorge.
MASUKO 11a (Whipoorwhil) – Spectacular climbing with a spectacular view!
CROSS-EYED AND BLIND 11a (1st Buttress Meadow)  This one wants to Pump. You up. (You have to say it in a Schwarzenager voice.)
DISCOMBOBULATED 11b (Endless) – Right beside Legacy.  Knock them both out and you’ll have had a great day!  (If you’re a shortie climbing with tall folks, be ready to be annoyed with their beta around the 2nd or 3rd bolt.)
FLAMING PELLETS 11b (The Other Place) – Both tech and pump for your climbing pleasure
QTIP 11b (Cottontop) – Technical face climbing, with the right amount of weird to be fun.
COFFINDAFFERS DREAM 11b (3rd Buttress, Meadow) – Textbook NRG lockoffs all the way up this super fun face.
STIM-O-STAM 11c (Endless) – Burly boulder problem to techy pocket crux, with a grand slab-with-a-view finale!
S’MORE ENERGY 11c (Endless) – You’ll deserve a campfire treat after ticking this one!
AESTHETICA 11c (Endless) – Worth the hike, even if this is the only route you get on in the area.  Multiple options for climbers of different heights, but you’re everybody’s gonna have to reach and try hard on this one.

Crux clip on Scenic Adult 11c – make your friend hang your draws for you 😉

SANCHO BELIGE 11c (Kaymoor) – In good conditions you will love these slopers…in the summer, not so much.
SCENIC ADULT 11c (Kaymoor) – Don’t let the crazy beta pic in the guidebook talk you out of this one, you don’t have to do it that way.  But you do have to bring your lead head with you.
DISTURBANCE 11d (Beauty) – Can you get your foot at your face and launch?  If so, you’ll love this one.
FLASH POINT 11d (Endless) – My fave of this grade in the entire NRG.  3 cruxes – each gets progressively easier if you’re tall, progressively harder if you’re short.  Leisurely start, aggro in the middle, zen at the finish.  Brilliant piece of stone!
MENSA 11d (Beauty) – As the name implies, this one is a thinker that requires a little creativity.
OUT OF THE BAG 11d (Kaymoor) – Best route on a wall filled with fabulous rock climbs.
UNDER THE MILKY WAY 11d (Summersville) – You can’t beat the position on this one, with a finish high up over the lake.
TOXIC HUECO 11d (Lower Meadow) – Full disclosure, I’ve never actually touched this one, but everyone I know who’s touched it gives it about a million stars..  At one point I was saving it for a flash attempt, and realized recently I’d forgotten about it!  Should probably add to the fall bucket list!

Initial roof on Bourbon Sauce 11d

5.11s LESS TRAVELED

The one drawback to all of these fabulous 5.11s the NRG has to offer is that there are a heckuva lot of other people who want to climb them too.  So if you are looking to get away from the crowds, check the following ones out.  They aren’t quite as good as the ones listed above, but they are still darn good rock climbs, but won’t draw the crowds the way the others do.

MUCKRAKER 11a (Endless) – It’s right by the Honeymooner Ladders, so you’d think it’d get more action than it does.
OH IT’S YOU BOB 11b (Kaymoor) – Beware a couple of mega reaches on this sucker if you aren’t tall!
MOON CHILD POSSE 11c (Kaymoor) – Usually the only folks getting on this one are taking a quick warm-up lap before hopping on the White Wall 12’s.  This one is shady, tall, and a lot of fun!
COTTON THE ACT 11d (Cottontop)  Most folks never venture this far down the cliff, but this line is a great option for when Cottontop elevates to circus status on a Sunday afternoon.
HOT AND BOTHERED 11d (Summersville) – Right there living in the shadows of MILKY WAY lurks this beauty.  The climbing is just as good, although the position is not.  (Note: Another great neighboring 11 is MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE 11c, and I’ve heard FLIRTIN WITH E 11d is great too, though I’ve never been on it.
BOURBON SAUCE 11d (Kaymoor) – While everyone else is queued up for Sancho Belige 11c and Lost Souls 12a, this unassuming line is usually empty.  I don’t know why though, because it’s so good!
MUTINY 11d (Summersville) – Unlike the previous route, I DO know why this one never has a line – it’s completley off by itself away from all the other walls.  To reach it, turn right towards the water shortly after entering the woods post stream crossing.  You’ll scramble down to a peaceful little cove, where this proud line will be waiting.  Make sure to catch it in low water – late fall through early spring, or else your belayer will need some floaties!

Hot and Bothered 11d Photo: Dan Brayack

GOOD FOR KID-CRUSHERS

As mentioned in my NRG Crag Profile, the New is notoriously reachy.  There is a reason why all the strong climbing team kids flock to the Red (and it’s not because the rock is better there!!!)  However, there are a few diamonds in the rough.  While at 5’5″ I am by no means a giant, I’ve still got about a foot over your average 10 year old, so just because a route is doable for me doesn’t mean it’s a great fit for a kid, even a super strong one that likes to dyno.  Thankfully, the McDermott family has several small crushers at their house, and they were gracious enough to recommend some routes that cater to those under 5 feet tall.  So if you are a pint-sized beast looking for 5.11s, check out SATISFACTION GUARANTEED 11a, Q-TIP 11b, and UNDER THE MILKY WAY 11d, all listed as classics above, ironically all out at Summersville.  Also check out NO WAY JOSE 11b – I didn’t list it above because I’ve never been on it, but I’ve heard good things about it, and it also is apparently short-person friendly.  You can look forward to more input from the McDermotts on hard kid-friendly routes as this series progresses!

So there ya have it for 5.11s…now it’s your turn – if 5.11 is your jam, what are the absolute must-do’s?!?

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Corner Pocket

By Mark Anderson

The small town of Ouray, in southwest Colorado, is one of my family’s favorite places to visit. The town has everything we look for in a vacation spot—good climbing, endless rest-day activities, and a place for the kids to swim. With extra sweeteners like a great bakery, plentiful ice cream, the best scenery in Colorado, and heated pools, it’s the perfect road-trip destination.

The 4th of July parade in downtown Ouray. If you stand on the sunny side of the street, expect to get soaked!

This year our climbing focused around the aptly-named Pool Wall, an angling cliffband that looms above Ouray’s legendary hot springs pools. The rock appears to be stuck somewhere in the geologic process between sandstone and full-on quartzite (which is metamorphosed sandstone). It looks like the former, but feels and climbs like the latter. The rock quality varies a fair bit depending on the sector, but where its good the rock is quite good.

The Pool Wall. The Bay of Pigs sector is the clean lower wall in the center.

We primarily spent our time at the killer Bay of Pigs sector, which features a number of super-high quality face climbs. The Ouray community seems to have a proclivity towards stiff grades, and this was certainly on display. Some of my favorites were Empire of Dirt (5.10d), which culminates in a classic but no-joke slab crux right below the anchors, and the namesake Bay of Pigs (5.12b) which has excellent rock and weaves up the center of the sector on generally crisp edges (and a few committing slaps).

High on Bay of Pigs.

The highlight of my first day was scraping my way up Matt Samet’s standout route Breaking the Waves (5.13a) on my first try. The crux climbs over a Rifle-esque blocky bulge with powerful underclings that lead to a committing dyno, but the upper headwall is stacked with desperate stabs to thin edges. It’s easily one of the best sport climbs in the Ouray area, and perhaps the best of the grade.

For my next climbing day, I set my sights on an open project on the far left end of the Bay of Pigs sector. According to Jason Nelson’s fantastic book “Climbs of the Million Dollar Highway,” the route was bolted by my friend Luke Childers but never sent, and features a “small, sharp pocket” at the crux. When I stumble on opportunities like this, I’m both intrigued and apprehensive—I would love to contribute a first ascent to an area I enjoy so much, but I also don’t want to “waste” a few precious vacation burns on a route I may not be able to finish.

Pulling onto the headwall on the “open project.”

With a few good sends in the bag I figured it was worth the risk, especially considering how good the route looked from below. After an easy approach, the route climbs a slightly overhanging arête with well-spaced, rounded edges. The rock was a bit “muddy” from neglect, but with a light brushing, it cleaned up really well.

The business is a 12-foot bouldery stretch along the prow. In the middle of this section is a slightly incut mono pocket that angles to the left, creating essentially a PIP-joint-deep sinker sidepull for the right hand. This pocket was actually pretty easy to pull on, but it was also a “Keeper.” Meaning, if you fall with your finger in that pocket, you better yank it free before your weight comes onto it or else that pocket is going to “keep” your finger!

Yarding off the keeper mono.

The opening boulder begins with a big incut edge, but then nothing for the next 4 feet except an out-of-view, sloping 2-finger dish. Right off the bat I struggled to get off the ledge and established onto the prow. It’s really important to be patient in situations like this. When you know a route has been climbed, and you know the approximate grade, even if you can’t figure out how to do a move, at least you know the move goes (and should be within a certain range of difficulty, or else you’re “doing it wrong”). With a first ascent, you really have no idea. Maybe it’s been left undone because the move is V14?

Pulling past the sloping dish on the lower arête.

Fortunately having gone through this countless times gave me just enough confidence to keep at it until I figured out the right footwork to snag the dish. The upper boulder, yarding off the mono thread, is probably a bit more physical (certainly more finger-strength intensive), but much more straightforward to figure out. After sussing the final panel I gave the route a final brushing and rested for a redpoint attempt.

I climbed quickly to the ledge below the prow, bouldered up a couple moves to clip, and down-climbed to rest and chalk one last time. I powered easily up to the big edge, moved my feet onto the prow, and slapped for the 2-finger dish. I came up empty-handed, but got enough friction from my grating right hand to stop my descent before I sagged onto the rope. Try again: same result, still managing to arrest my fall with a hard left arm lock-off. I took a deep breath, leaned back to get a better view of the target, and tried one last time. This time I got just enough of the dish and bounced my fingers in. I made a quick slap to a rounded edge, snagged the mono thread and gingerly clipped.

The next crux is moving off the clipping stance with a huuuge reach off the mono. Fortunately due to its orientation I could lock it off below hip-level. My Mundakas did their job and I snagged the distant edge with minimal drama and all fingers intact. After a brief shake I snaked up the brilliant 5.11 headwall (well, 5.10 by Ouray standards, haha) and clipped the chains.

Unwinding from the big mono reach.

People often ask something to the effect of “The places I climb don’t have pockets, do I still have to train pockets?” Obviously, we don’t have to do anything in the context of training, but I try to encourage people to train a wide variety of grips and this route is a perfect example of the reason. If you aren’t training comprehensively then you are training weaknesses into your climbing. I haven’t had a goal-specific reason to train pockets for at least 5 years. Had I decided not to train pockets over that time I seriously doubt I would have been able to do that route, and certainly not 2nd go.

Logan enjoying another of Luke’s routes, California Stars (5.10a) at The Alcove sector of the Pool Wall.

Grade-wise, I always struggle to grade tweaky routes, but comparing it only to the mono-intensive routes I’ve done, I’d say its much harder than Manly Bulges at Shelf or One Love at Sinks, about the same as Todd Skinner’s Smoke Shapes (13d), and maybe a bit easier than Ghettoblaster (13d/14a) in the Frankenjura.

Many thanks to Luke for putting the route in. Luke’s done a tremendous amount of development all around Colorado, including at the Pool Wall, and we enjoyed a number of his routes during our trip. We always have a blast in Ouray and this trip was no exception. I can’t wait for our next opportunity to visit.

The northern San Juan mountains from the summit of Wetterhorn Peak.

Corner Pocket

By Mark Anderson

The small town of Ouray, in southwest Colorado, is one of my family’s favorite places to visit. The town has everything we look for in a vacation spot—good climbing, endless rest-day activities, and a place for the kids to swim. With extra sweeteners like a great bakery, plentiful ice cream, the best scenery in Colorado, and heated pools, it’s the perfect road-trip destination.

The 4th of July parade in downtown Ouray. If you stand on the sunny side of the street, expect to get soaked!

This year our climbing focused around the aptly-named Pool Wall, an angling cliffband that looms above Ouray’s legendary hot springs pools. The rock appears to be stuck somewhere in the geologic process between sandstone and full-on quartzite (which is metamorphosed sandstone). It looks like the former, but feels and climbs like the latter. The rock quality varies a fair bit depending on the sector, but where its good the rock is quite good.

The Pool Wall. The Bay of Pigs sector is the clean lower wall in the center.

We primarily spent our time at the killer Bay of Pigs sector, which features a number of super-high quality face climbs. The Ouray community seems to have a proclivity towards stiff grades, and this was certainly on display. Some of my favorites were Empire of Dirt (5.10d), which culminates in a classic but no-joke slab crux right below the anchors, and the namesake Bay of Pigs (5.12b) which has excellent rock and weaves up the center of the sector on generally crisp edges (and a few committing slaps).

High on Bay of Pigs.

The highlight of my first day was scraping my way up Matt Samet’s standout route Breaking the Waves (5.13a) on my first try. The crux climbs over a Rifle-esque blocky bulge with powerful underclings that lead to a committing dyno, but the upper headwall is stacked with desperate stabs to thin edges. It’s easily one of the best sport climbs in the Ouray area, and perhaps the best of the grade.

For my next climbing day, I set my sights on an open project on the far left end of the Bay of Pigs sector. According to Jason Nelson’s fantastic book “Climbs of the Million Dollar Highway,” the route was bolted by my friend Luke Childers but never sent, and features a “small, sharp pocket” at the crux. When I stumble on opportunities like this, I’m both intrigued and apprehensive—I would love to contribute a first ascent to an area I enjoy so much, but I also don’t want to “waste” a few precious vacation burns on a route I may not be able to finish.

Pulling onto the headwall on the “open project.”

With a few good sends in the bag I figured it was worth the risk, especially considering how good the route looked from below. After an easy approach, the route climbs a slightly overhanging arête with well-spaced, rounded edges. The rock was a bit “muddy” from neglect, but with a light brushing, it cleaned up really well.

The business is a 12-foot bouldery stretch along the prow. In the middle of this section is a slightly incut mono pocket that angles to the left, creating essentially a PIP-joint-deep sinker sidepull for the right hand. This pocket was actually pretty easy to pull on, but it was also a “Keeper.” Meaning, if you fall with your finger in that pocket, you better yank it free before your weight comes onto it or else that pocket is going to “keep” your finger!

Yarding off the keeper mono.

The opening boulder begins with a big incut edge, but then nothing for the next 4 feet except an out-of-view, sloping 2-finger dish. Right off the bat I struggled to get off the ledge and established onto the prow. It’s really important to be patient in situations like this. When you know a route has been climbed, and you know the approximate grade, even if you can’t figure out how to do a move, at least you know the move goes (and should be within a certain range of difficulty, or else you’re “doing it wrong”). With a first ascent, you really have no idea. Maybe it’s been left undone because the move is V14?

Pulling past the sloping dish on the lower arête.

Fortunately having gone through this countless times gave me just enough confidence to keep at it until I figured out the right footwork to snag the dish. The upper boulder, yarding off the mono thread, is probably a bit more physical (certainly more finger-strength intensive), but much more straightforward to figure out. After sussing the final panel I gave the route a final brushing and rested for a redpoint attempt.

I climbed quickly to the ledge below the prow, bouldered up a couple moves to clip, and down-climbed to rest and chalk one last time. I powered easily up to the big edge, moved my feet onto the prow, and slapped for the 2-finger dish. I came up empty-handed, but got enough friction from my grating right hand to stop my descent before I sagged onto the rope. Try again: same result, still managing to arrest my fall with a hard left arm lock-off. I took a deep breath, leaned back to get a better view of the target, and tried one last time. This time I got just enough of the dish and bounced my fingers in. I made a quick slap to a rounded edge, snagged the mono thread and gingerly clipped.

The next crux is moving off the clipping stance with a huuuge reach off the mono. Fortunately due to its orientation I could lock it off below hip-level. My Mundakas did their job and I snagged the distant edge with minimal drama and all fingers intact. After a brief shake I snaked up the brilliant 5.11 headwall (well, 5.10 by Ouray standards, haha) and clipped the chains.

Unwinding from the big mono reach.

People often ask something to the effect of “The places I climb don’t have pockets, do I still have to train pockets?” Obviously, we don’t have to do anything in the context of training, but I try to encourage people to train a wide variety of grips and this route is a perfect example of the reason. If you aren’t training comprehensively then you are training weaknesses into your climbing. I haven’t had a goal-specific reason to train pockets for at least 5 years. Had I decided not to train pockets over that time I seriously doubt I would have been able to do that route, and certainly not 2nd go.

Logan enjoying another of Luke’s routes, California Stars (5.10a) at The Alcove sector of the Pool Wall.

Grade-wise, I always struggle to grade tweaky routes, but comparing it only to the mono-intensive routes I’ve done, I’d say its much harder than Manly Bulges at Shelf or One Love at Sinks, about the same as Todd Skinner’s Smoke Shapes (13d), and maybe a bit easier than Ghettoblaster (13d/14a) in the Frankenjura.

Many thanks to Luke for putting the route in. Luke’s done a tremendous amount of development all around Colorado, including at the Pool Wall, and we enjoyed a number of his routes during our trip. We always have a blast in Ouray and this trip was no exception. I can’t wait for our next opportunity to visit.

The northern San Juan mountains from the summit of Wetterhorn Peak.

Maui Mixed Plate—Part II: Pacific Heat

By Mark Anderson

When we planned the Maui trip, I assumed it would be my climbing off-season, and I would be content to spend a week laying around in the sand and sipping mai tais. Silly me. Various factors contributed to me being smack in the middle of a particularly productive hangboard phase when we departed Denver, so I was desperate to get some type of climbing in during the vacation.

If anything, the Hawaiian Islands are known for their lack of climbing. However, Maui has, by far, the best climbing opportunities, thanks to prolific author and former Rock & Ice editor (and current Editor-at-Large) Jeff Jackson. Jeff moved to Maui a few years ago and has been scouring the island for climbing potential ever since. You will rarely encounter a more dedicated lifer than Jeff. He eats, sleeps and breathes climbing. His positivity and drive fuels the stoked and resilient Maui climbing community and I felt incredibly fortunate to climb with him.

Climbing in Hawai’i? It’s even better than it looks! Photo Jeff Jackson.

After a morning of snorkeling that included close-up encounters with a reef shark and several sea turtles, I joined Jeff and his buddy “Coco” Dave for an afternoon of climbing. We hopped in Dave’s pickup for a bouncy, twisting, white-knuckle drive on one of Maui’s many under-developed highways. I was never quite able to extract the latch for my seatbelt, and spent most of the drive wondering if the next corner was the one that would send me through the windshield. The scenery was gob smacking as usual, and before I knew it we were on the trail.

The hike flew by as Jeff excitedly pointed out various boulder problems and aped crux sequences. The narrow canyon was lined with bullet basalt and stacked with Jeff’s inventive problems, from obvious classics on free-standing blocks, to hundred-foot traverses and even a 30-foot roof crack. A raucous heard of feral mountain goats observed our march from above, and provided questionable entertainment throughout the evening, complete with loud farting noises and a high-speed demonstration of their procreation methods.

Raucous goat party.

The cave itself is a basalt/lava rock* version of the Arsenal at Rifle, with big tiered, stair-stepped roofs and corners (*Wikipedia tells me that 90% of the Earth’s “volcanic rock” is technically basalt, so I’m assuming all the black rock you see on Maui is basalt. That said, calling it “basalt” is a bit misleading since it feels and climb so much different from most mainland US basalt). The climbing is quite steep, physical, long and pumpy, with many burly undercling moves and long reaches or throws to generally big holds, often split with strenuous rests. The rock was incredibly solid and formed a wide array of novel shapes. Typically lava rock comes in two flavors: Razor Sharp and Just-Go-Ahead-and-Order-the-Blood-Transfusion-Now. For whatever reason, the rock here was far more—well, I’m not gonna say “skin-friendly,” so let’s just go with “climbable”—than typical lava. There was the odd spiky hold, but for the most part the rock was smooth-but-featured, and I didn’t get any flappers or cuts the entire trip.

Climbing a stellar 13b in the big cave. Photo Jeff Jackson

Then there was the heat (which is nobody’s fault, not even the Romans). It was just damn hot, apparently unusually hot, even for Maui. And surely humid too. I would guess it was well into the 90s, but with the humidity it seemed by far the hottest conditions I’d ever climbed in. I like to think I’m training myself to be resilient so I can climb through Colorado winters, but really I think I’m just adapting increasingly towards colder temps. Jeff, Dave and Justin (who joined us at the crag) showed me what it’s like to really be tough. I took the initiative and led off the complaints, but the local hard men did their best to coddle my ego by joining in periodically (thanks guys!). If you consider the wind chill on Grand Sentinel, and compare it to the Heat Index in Maui, I suspect I’ve climbed in conditions spanning more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the past year!

Dave cruising the 12b, just about to enter the unusual crux.

Once the approach sweat evaporated it was time to climb. I started up an excellent 5.12b, the crag warmup, whose name had something to do with goats. A boulder start led to an easy middle section and a no hands stance below what appeared to be an easy exit pulling around a short roof. Not wanting to appear soft, I pretty much skipped the big rest and charged into the devious finish. I dug deep into my bag of tricks, including clipping mid-crux for extra credit, ultimately resorting to a head jam behind a protruding flake. Higher I chimneyed into the same feature and my back was so thoroughly drenched in sweat that I thought I might Slip-and-Slide right out of it. I appreciated the guys’ letting me climb first, since I’m sure my sweat upped the grade to at least 12c for the followers.

Approaching Crux #1 on the 13b. Photo Jeff Jackson.

After a nice long break to cool down, I jumped on a brilliant 5.13b that climbed out the center of the cave. This was the type of climb that would be a 4-star classic at any crag in the country, even the Arsenal. It was essentially a series of five boulder problems split by rests of varying value. The rock is nearly flawless, and sports some of the most unusual holds I’d ever encountered. The route gets going right off the ground with a burly boulder problem to reach the first bolt and a no-hands shake. In classic Smith Rock-style, the locals have elected to ignore this when considering the route’s difficulty, and instead refer to the next boulder problem as “Crux #1.” This crux comes after a questionable, scrunchy, power-sapping “rest,” and involves a big, committing move to a protruding jug and a tenuous sequence to unwind. “Crux #2” was even harder, with another long move to an incredibly featured hold, before a fun exit of interesting stems on killer rock.

Sticking the long reach in the middle of Crux #1. Photo JJ.

Before we knew it, the sun set and we made the short walk back to the truck. Dave treated us all to a round of fresh-from-the-husk coconut juice, and Justin passed out some delicious fresh lychee fruit. Mercifully, it was pitch-black on the drive home, so I couldn’t see all the road hazards we surely narrowly-missed. Before saying goodbye to my new friends, they graciously shared beta another crag I really wanted to experience, known to the locals simply as “PK.”

The left half of the incredible PK wall.

PK is a totally different experience than the cave we visited, and shows how varied Maui’s basalt can be. The cliff is more columnar and vertical, but it is covered in strange, bulbous mushrooms of protruding stone that climb a bit like tufas. The rock was impeccable and the setting was serene, right on the beach under a canopy of short trees.   The climbing here was much more fingery and less physical—right up my alley.

Warming up on the right end of PK. Some of the bulbous mushroom features can be seen to my left.

Since I was climbing with the family, time was short, but I jumped on a set of excellent routes. Each one was better than the last, with perfect stone and interesting climbing. I quickly learned the mushrooms were all a bit worse than they looked thanks to sloping topsides and generally rough textures, but they were still super fun to climb.

Climbing a 5.12(?) on the steeper, harder, left side of PK.

It’s not often I get a truly new experience on rock, so I try to appreciate it when I do. Climbing in Maui was completely unique. I feel like I barely scratched the surface and I look forward to the opportunity to return and explore a bit more.

Thanks to Jeff, Dave and Justin for showing me around and sharing their little slice of paradise with me, I hope to return again soon. Fingers crossed for a Southwest-Airlines-instigated price war!

See you next time!

 

An Addendum to the Spring Sum-Up

Entering the crux

When I wrote a re-cap of my spring climbing season 2 weeks ago, it was 95 degrees, and jungle status humidity.  Today feels similar.  But this past Saturday brought a rare respite from both heat and humidity.  And I don’t mean an “it was a few degrees cooler” kinda thing.  I’m talking, lows in the 50’s, high’s in the 70’s, and 30-40% humidity.  Such a shocking departure from the norm that it seemed almost providential that CragDaddy and I rearrange our schedules to be back at the New on Saturday – because by Sunday it was going to be summer again!  

That said, all the hectic-ness of Friday afternoon was well worth it on Saturday night when we drove back with a pair of sends in our pocket.  After a quick warm-up on Workman’s Comp 10d that morning, we went straight to the project, Bosnian Vacation 12d.  The one that I came up juuuust short on at the exit move of the crux a few weeks ago…and then thankfully stopped juuuust short of hitting the tree.  Although we initially got on it a few weeks ago because it was literally the only dry route we could find, we stuck with it because it’s actually pretty awesome. 

Mark Paulson sums it up pretty well on Mountain Project“Bosnian Vacation is a smorgasbord of NRG features and styles, cramming just about every New River trope into a seemingly compact 90′.  A V4 power problem right off the deck?  Check.  An immediate transition to a laughably thin technical crux on the tiniest of crimps? Check.  A huge horizontal where you can get it all back?  A requisite section of choss? Reachy 5.11 jug hauling? Crazy, exposed dihedral moves? A looong easy romp to the chains that protects well with anything from a blue to orange TCU?  Multiple checks.  Not a classic, but undeniably fun.”  

This cutie got to be an only child for the weekend!

Worth noting is that a VERY key part of my crux beta involved a hollow pinch that doesn’t seem long for this world.  CragDaddy felt pretty sure he would rip it off if he used it, and he was able to avoid it entirely, but with my (lack of) reach, not using it was not an option for me.  In fact, I used it multiple times – first as a right hand undercling as I’m stepping my feet through, then as a left hand undercling intermediate to help me stretch to a right hand sidepull.  So if you get on this route and find you need to use this hold, tread lightly!

Also worth noting is that the exit move out of the crux is a little scary, as implied earlier.  My beta involves cranking off a so-extended-my-shoulder-isn’t-engaged left hand sloping dish and a terrible right foot smear to a hero jug flake for my right hand.  Twice a few weeks ago that right foot slipped, swinging me closer than I wanted to be to a good-sized tree.  With an aware climber and heads up belayer, it’s probably fine – just don’t jump “out!”  The good news is that better conditions meant better friction, which meant significantly better contact strength on that sloping dish, and on Saturday I was able to stay a lot tighter to the wall for that committing move.  (FYI CragDaddy’s taller beta enabled him to get to the good flake before having to smear on the bad foot, so by the time he got into “pendulum territory,” the moves weren’t as committing.  Your mileage may vary, so just be aware!)

CragDaddy exiting the crux on a TR burn a few weeks ago.

After the crux is a big ledge traverse – endure the slightly awkward feet and the reward is a rest where you can get it all back before tackling the 5.11 face.  The face is slightly overhanging – the moves are big, but so are the holds!  Once you reach the 60 ft mark or so, the route rolls over into a wildly exposed dihedral (but first a no hands rest with a great view of the river!)  The dihedral to the top is probably no harder than 10-.  You’ll probably want some gear though – a blue Trango flex cam/.3 BD is easy to place from a pedestal under the final roof.  Make sure you sling it long.  Even with the gear you’ll probably want to avoid falling while pulling the roof.  

After hanging the draws and rehearsing some of the harder moves multiple times, I was feeling great about every move but the last deadpoint on the 5.11 face – it’s a big windmill move for me, and though I don’t think I’ve ever fallen on it, it always feels desperate and lower percentage than I want it to be.  After his run, CragDaddy was feeling great about all but the very first move off the ground – which he had yet to be able to do even once.  

But after a quick lunch break and some snuggle time with the little one (the big one was away at church camp this weekend!), we both pulled the rope and sent!  Not without some excitement though – I was blinded by the sun starting up the face, and my foot almost popped while heading to the final no hands rest.  CragDaddy probably tried the starting move an additional 30+ times…then finally made it and just kept right on going up for the send (also amidst an almost fall mid-crux and a bout of sun blindness towards the top.)  The moral of his story is to never stop fighting – he only ever made that move once, but when he did he made it count! 

Burly start

Afterwards we still had some time left in our day, so I figured I’d give Just Send It 13b a try – we were there, the route was there, and multiple people had recommended it to me as a potential longer term project.  Maybe it was the previously exhausted forearms talking, but that thing is hard as nails!  I wasn’t expecting to be able to do all the moves after just one lap of course…but I thought I would at least be able to visualize the harder sequences!  I did fine until the double dihedral, when confusion and disorientation set in for a few bolts.  I’m not going to write it off for good, but I’m not itching to get back any time soon.  (Also all praise to the mighty Trango Beta Stick for getting me to the top!) 

And now I think I can FINALLY say “That’s a wrap!” on spring climbing.  Wanna know a secret?  I’m getting an SUP for my birthday (which is in August but we’re getting it early so we can use it all summer!)  So be on the lookout for some upcoming paddling posts!  

 

 

 

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[See image gallery at cragmama.com]

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Maui Mixed Plate – Part I

By Mark Anderson

In my youth I made many work-based trips to Kauai, vacationed on Oahu a few times (including running the 1998 Honolulu Marathon), and even visited the “Big Island” of Hawai’i. I never made it to Maui despite strong recommendations from several friends. Earlier this month I finally made it.

Waterfall swimming with Logan at 3 Bears Falls on Maui’s North Shore.

This wasn’t supposed to be a climbing trip; this was an opportunity for the kids to go to the beach, the pool, and back to the beach again. I mostly wanted to explore a new island, eat some Thai food, and keep my hands as dry as possible (OCD sport climber at work).

One thing I really wanted to do was ride a bike up Haleakala. Haleakala is the massive volcano that essentially created the island of Maui. What remains of its summit rises to an altitude of 10,023 feet above sea level, and there is a paved highway all the way to the summit—an obvious cycling objective. It is said that the road to the summit is the shortest climb to 10,000-feet of any paved road in the world. Perhaps this is tourism propaganda, but Haleakala is a worthy objective regardless.

My road-cycling interests revolve completely around “climbing”, which in cycling terms means riding uphill. I’ve ridden the ten highest paved passes in Colorado, and completed a number of other noteworthy “climbs”, including riding to the summit of three Colorado 14’ers. I think my friend Rob first turned me on to the idea of riding Haleakala nearly two decades ago, but as soon as Maui entered the discussion, I knew the ride was an absolute must-do.

Haleakala from the west side. It’s steeper than it looks, haha.

The “official” route starts at the ocean in the north shore town of Paia, and winds 38 miles to the summit (gaining the full 10,000 feet). As a hack cyclist, I generally couldn’t care less what is “official”, and instead concern myself with only the interesting parts of rides. An 80-ish mile ride would consume an entire day (and probably wipe me out for the following day as well), so instead I started where the climb begins in earnest, in the town of Kula. This left me with 7,000-feet of completely unbroken climbing over 21 miles—still a bit longer (in terms of both vertical gain and mileage) than any continuous climb I’d ever done.

While prepping for our trip, I learned that a popular tourist activity is to drive up Haleakala early in the morning to watch the sunrise from the summit. This has become so popular/cliché that you now need to reserve a parking spot in advance (barf). I wanted to start early to avoid getting rained on—generally in the Hawaiian Islands the weather is best in the morning, then gets cloudy (and potentially rainy) in the afternoon. Since I was coming from four time zones to the east, starting early was no problem, so I decided I would up the ante a bit by trying to get to (or near) the summit by sunrise. To illustrate my lack of commitment to this goal, I never bothered to find out what time the sun rose (but I figured it was between 5:30 and 6:00am).

I woke up a 2:45am and started riding around 4:15am by headlamp. Once above treeline, the stars were so bright that I could navigate just fine without the lamp, but I switched it back on whenever I heard a car approaching. The road surface was immaculate, with well-painted shoulders and centerlines the entire way, which made nighttime navigation a breeze.

One of the coolest things about the ride is that it features ~32 switchbacks. Switchbacks are fun, to the extent that riding a bike uphill is fun. The most famous cycling climb in the world—Alpe D’huez—is renowned for its 21 switchbacks over 8.6 miles. Though not quite as steep, Haleakala starts with an onslaught of 22 consecutive hairpins in the first 7 miles! Eat your heart out France! The opening hairpins are followed by a long straight stretch, then 10 more less-tight hairpins over the last ~10 miles to the summit.

The view to west Maui, in the National Park but still a bit before sunrise.

Since it was too dark to see mile markers or altitude signs, I passed the time and marked my progress by counting these switchbacks. I reached the National Park entrance station at 5am on the nose, an altitude of 6,800’ and almost exactly half-way in terms of mileage. The ranger seemed pretty surprised to see me at this early hour, but I reassured her that this was totally normal behavior for me.

Selfie while pedaling, just before sunrise.

The station had a sign that tipped off the day’s sunrise—5:37am. It had taken about 45 minutes to do the first (and presumably easier) half, so there was no way I would make the summit by sunrise. Instead I aimed to get to one of several lookouts on the north ridge by that time (most of the road climbs the west side of the mountain). It looked like a thick layer of clouds to the east would prevent viewing of the actual sunrise anyway.

Sunrise—just missed it.

By now I could see pretty well, and the views were absolutely stunning. The air is so clear on the islands that it seems like you could reach out and touch the shimmering beaches over ten miles away. As the sun creeped through the clouds I pulled over for the first time to snap a couple pics of Haleakala’s shadow stretching over the island of Kaho-olawe and the sunrise to the east.

The shadow of Haleakala (on the left) descending to the southwest.

The grade kicked up a bit in the last two miles, finally culminating in a leg-burning stretch over 10% a few hundred meters below the summit. Just as this section leveled off, I pedaled past a cinder cone and caught my first glimpse of the Big Island (aka Hawai’i) to the southeast. I reached the summit just after 6am—it was clear, calm, and teeming with tourists. I’m not a summit lingerer, so I took a few selfies, pulled on my windbreaker, skull cap and extra gloves, and prepared for the long and frigid descent.

On the summit. You can barely see the twin summits of Mauna Kea and Mauna Lua, on the big island of Hawai’I, just left of center. The Maui Space Surveillance Complex is on the right.

Typically, descending is the best part of climbing, but there are exceptions. If it’s “too cold” you can expect to suffer, often including uncontrollable teeth-chattering and upper body cramping as your body fights hypothermia. On one occasion—Pike’s Peak—the descent was just plain too steep, too twisty, and too packed with motorists to enjoy. Haleakala was 95% joy. It was a bit on the cold side, but I was able to stay warm enough by pedaling and drafting off the numerous cars. It was never so steep as to be scary or out of control, although often the cars were too slow for my taste. The one unpleasant bit was on the upper mountain when the northeastern cloudbank crept onto the roadway. The temps dropped to sub-freezing in an instant, and the road soon became coated in water. Fortunately, this section was brief and completed without incident.

Enjoying switchbacks on the descent.

I was back to my car by 7:15am and back to our house in Lahaina by 8:30. The ride was incredible, and after thinking about it for a week, I’d say it’s easily one of the top 3 rides I’ve ever done. The road surface is flawless, the views are unparalleled, and the difficulty is reasonable and consistent. Frankly it was easier than I expected, and had I known, I wouldn’t have trained so hard, haha (ya, I know—maybe do the whole thing before talking a bunch of trash, eh?). The rides in Colorado are generally not as steep or sustained as Haleakala, so I expected to be under-prepared. However, my rental bike was so superior to my home bike that it made the ride fairly casual. Surely the fact that more than half the ride was below my home altitude of 7500’ was a big help too.

The view in to the crater on the east side of Haleakala.

With Haleakala in the bag, and the kids happily splashing in the waves, there was only one thing left to do—find some rock to climb….

Spring Sum-up: Because Summer is Already Here

A little over a month ago, I wrote a “here’s where things stand midway through spring” post.  After enduring 90 degree temps in Kentucky over Memorial Day weekend, I’d say it’s time to officially close out the chapter on Spring 2019.  Despite being riddled with rain seemingly weekend after weekend, I actually had a pretty successful season.  Although the heat came way before I was ready to be done climbing hard,  I’m currently finishing up this post on the back porch of my in-law’s beach house overlooking the ocean, so life isn’t too terrible right now!  Here’s some highlights from the past month or so…

Here Comes the Rain 12b, Photo by Bryan Miller

HERE COMES THE RAIN 12b – Last time I mentioned this I was only 4 same day tries in.  Since this one is a 2hr drive and roadside approach from my house, the kids and I were able to sneak away for a couple of mid-week day trips.  On the first of those, I got in 2 beta burns before the rain ended our day early.  I figured out some alternate beta for the finish, but couldn’t decide which option was easiest/better, and I still hadn’t managed to actually clip the last bolt without grabbing a draw.  Then the next week we had a beautifully cool spring morning…but I hiked in only to discover that there was a waterfall running perilously close to my line.  The good news is that the rock that was dry felt amazingly crisp.  The bad news was that avoiding the handful of wet holds made a couple of sections a bit harder.  More good news was that the waterfall answered my “which finishing beta” question for me , and that a double draw on the last bolt enabled me to find a fairly okay clipping stance using a soaking wet but surprisingly secure toe hook.  

Ironically though, all of my clipping rehearsal was for naught, because when I got up there on the sending go, I couldn’t get into that position again.  I tried to clip, dropped the rope, and decided to keep climbing.  A couple of moves later I tried again, again no dice, and I barely saved my body from a big barn door.   I only had 3 more hard moves left and I was about 80% sure I could do them, but the more I hung out trying to clip this bolt, the faster that percentage was being depleted.  If this route was anything but a slab, I probably would have skipped the bolt in question and been at the top by now.  I decided to smear my feet up a little higher, and if I still couldn’t get it clipped I was gonna keep going. I held my breath as I tiptoed up.  The unclipped bolt was now at my knees, but the undercling I was on felt better with the higher feet, and I managed to get the rope in.  A few moves later I was at the top – a little more epic than anticipated, but hey it’s done! 

GREEN ENVY 12c – This milestone deserved it’s own post, so rather than rehash all of it, you can just go here if you missed the play by play! 

Funky footwork on Bosnian Vacation 12d

KID FREE WEEKEND – Believe it or not, prior to earlier this month, CragDaddy and I hadn’t had a kid-free weekend at the New River Gorge since 2009 – before we had any kids to bring!!!!!  True to form, our master plans of efficient and flawless crag-hopping didn’t exactly pan out.  Temps were in the high 80’s with jungle level humidity, and the 2 inches of rain in the previous 18 hours made for some of the wettest conditions I’d ever seen.  But all that aside, we managed to have a fabulous time – AND we found a new project for the fall!  

BOSNIAN VACATION 12d – I’d be remiss if I failed to admit that I’m SLIGHTLY disappointed that this one is still a project.  On the one hand, I certainly wan’t EXPECTING to send 12d in a weekend, especially a weekend with the forecast we had.  Our intentions were to just have fun project shopping  for fall, not really trying to send anything.  But after doing all the moves on it Day 1, and allowing myself to get sucked back into a second round the next day, it did sting a little to come up half an inch short on the final move of the crux at weekend’s end.  It also stung to graze my back against the wall during the crux fall, but probably not as much as it would have stung to slam into the tree, which was the other option.  That said, I’m hoping that my efforts will painlessly pay off this fall!

Big C crushing Rorschach Ink Blots 5.8+

MEMORIAL DAY AT THE RED:  Our spring season “grand finale” was a little anti-climactic.  Conditions were more reminiscent of what we’d expect in late July rather than end of May.  It didn’t stop us from trying hard, but it DID stop my sending streak…unless you count warm-ups, and even those weren’t necessarily a sure thing!  The silver lining of the weekend was that CragDaddy not only put down Hippocrite 12a, but managed to do so before lunch on the last day, which enabled us to get back early enough for me to get a head start packing for our next day’s adventure – 4 days at the aforementioned beach house.  

It’s times like these that I’m really thankful to live where we do, having both the mountains and the coast close enough to visit on a whim.  And while I’m certain we’ll get our fair share of climbing adventures in over the summer, my guess is that we’ll probably spend just as much time in the water as we do on the rock.  Tis the season for pools, kayaks, and trompin’ in the creek!  

My favorite partners in climb

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[See image gallery at cragmama.com]

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Spring Sum-up: Because Summer is Already Here

A little over a month ago, I wrote a “here’s where things stand midway through spring” post.  After enduring 90 degree temps in Kentucky over Memorial Day weekend, I’d say it’s time to officially close out the chapter on Spring 2019.  Despite being riddled with rain seemingly weekend after weekend, I actually had a pretty successful season.  Although the heat came way before I was ready to be done climbing hard,  I’m currently finishing up this post on the back porch of my in-law’s beach house overlooking the ocean, so life isn’t too terrible right now!  Here’s some highlights from the past month or so…

Here Comes the Rain 12b, Photo by Bryan Miller

HERE COMES THE RAIN 12b – Last time I mentioned this I was only 4 same day tries in.  Since this one is a 2hr drive and roadside approach from my house, the kids and I were able to sneak away for a couple of mid-week day trips.  On the first of those, I got in 2 beta burns before the rain ended our day early.  I figured out some alternate beta for the finish, but couldn’t decide which option was easiest/better, and I still hadn’t managed to actually clip the last bolt without grabbing a draw.  Then the next week we had a beautifully cool spring morning…but I hiked in only to discover that there was a waterfall running perilously close to my line.  The good news is that the rock that was dry felt amazingly crisp.  The bad news was that avoiding the handful of wet holds made a couple of sections a bit harder.  More good news was that the waterfall answered my “which finishing beta” question for me , and that a double draw on the last bolt enabled me to find a fairly okay clipping stance using a soaking wet but surprisingly secure toe hook.  

Ironically though, all of my clipping rehearsal was for naught, because when I got up there on the sending go, I couldn’t get into that position again.  I tried to clip, dropped the rope, and decided to keep climbing.  A couple of moves later I tried again, again no dice, and I barely saved my body from a big barn door.   I only had 3 more hard moves left and I was about 80% sure I could do them, but the more I hung out trying to clip this bolt, the faster that percentage was being depleted.  If this route was anything but a slab, I probably would have skipped the bolt in question and been at the top by now.  I decided to smear my feet up a little higher, and if I still couldn’t get it clipped I was gonna keep going. I held my breath as I tiptoed up.  The unclipped bolt was now at my knees, but the undercling I was on felt better with the higher feet, and I managed to get the rope in.  A few moves later I was at the top – a little more epic than anticipated, but hey it’s done! 

GREEN ENVY 12c – This milestone deserved it’s own post, so rather than rehash all of it, you can just go here if you missed the play by play! 

Funky footwork on Bosnian Vacation 12d

KID FREE WEEKEND – Believe it or not, prior to earlier this month, CragDaddy and I hadn’t had a kid-free weekend at the New River Gorge since 2009 – before we had any kids to bring!!!!!  True to form, our master plans of efficient and flawless crag-hopping didn’t exactly pan out.  Temps were in the high 80’s with jungle level humidity, and the 2 inches of rain in the previous 18 hours made for some of the wettest conditions I’d ever seen.  But all that aside, we managed to have a fabulous time – AND we found a new project for the fall!  

BOSNIAN VACATION 12d – I’d be remiss if I failed to admit that I’m SLIGHTLY disappointed that this one is still a project.  On the one hand, I certainly wan’t EXPECTING to send 12d in a weekend, especially a weekend with the forecast we had.  Our intentions were to just have fun project shopping  for fall, not really trying to send anything.  But after doing all the moves on it Day 1, and allowing myself to get sucked back into a second round the next day, it did sting a little to come up half an inch short on the final move of the crux at weekend’s end.  It also stung to graze my back against the wall during the crux fall, but probably not as much as it would have stung to slam into the tree, which was the other option.  That said, I’m hoping that my efforts will painlessly pay off this fall!

Big C crushing Rorschach Ink Blots 5.8+

MEMORIAL DAY AT THE RED:  Our spring season “grand finale” was a little anti-climactic.  Conditions were more reminiscent of what we’d expect in late July rather than end of May.  It didn’t stop us from trying hard, but it DID stop my sending streak…unless you count warm-ups, and even those weren’t necessarily a sure thing!  The silver lining of the weekend was that CragDaddy not only put down Hippocrite 12a, but managed to do so before lunch on the last day, which enabled us to get back early enough for me to get a head start packing for our next day’s adventure – 4 days at the aforementioned beach house.  

It’s times like these that I’m really thankful to live where we do, having both the mountains and the coast close enough to visit on a whim.  And while I’m certain we’ll get our fair share of climbing adventures in over the summer, my guess is that we’ll probably spend just as much time in the water as we do on the rock.  Tis the season for pools, kayaks, and trompin’ in the creek!  

My favorite partners in climb

Related Images:

[See image gallery at cragmama.com]

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Slice of Time—New Eldo 5.14b

By Mark Anderson

Injuries suck. Last October I (partially) tore my forearm flexor muscle. At first the injury was relatively minor, but like a climber, I kept climbing and training hard on it for several weeks, and so it evolved into something more troublesome. I spent the next five months or so rehabbing the muscle, thinking I was close, aggravating it, and starting over again (over this process I eventually developed a solid rehab approach which I will describe next week).

By early April I was starting to feel healthy again. My latest batch of hangboarding ended strong, I was campusing without restrictions, and my bouldering was progressing rapidly. It was time to shake off the rust with some actual rock climbing, so I started considering options.

Eldorado Canyon

I hadn’t trained with a particular goal route in mind—the goal was to get 100% healthy. I decided I needed a route hard enough to inspire a proper effort, but not so hard as to be overwhelming or beyond my current, not-exactly-tip-top shape. Mike was coming to Boulder the following weekend, and we wanted to take advantage of the rare opportunity to work a project together, so we tried to find a worthy objective nearby.

I scoured my Black Book (actually a spreadsheet—nobody reads books anymore), and was reminded of an old abandoned line in Eldorado Canyon.  Eldo is a narrow canyon composed of colorful Fountain Formation sandstone, and stacked with thousands of multi-pitch trad climbs, including legendary classics like Bastille Crack, Yellow Spur and The Naked Edge.  It was the epicenter of Colorado climbing for many decades, until the sport climbing revolution took over and the best climbers moved on to other crags.

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Slice of Time climbs the center of the shaded, left-leaning panel.  Nobody wants credit for this photo.

The line we had in mind follows a sheer panel of slightly overhanging stone on the upper end of Redgarden Wall. This incredible panel first caught the attention of Christian Griffith and Chris Hill, who made the initial forays onto the wall, but the big prize remained unclimbed. I first noticed it in 2008 while climbing nearby classics Ruper and Green Slab. A few years later I finally got around to hiking up to the wall to properly scope out the line from the ground, but other priorities kept it on the backburner for several more years.

Now was my chance—for the first time in many years, I was relatively fit with no particular objective in mind. I had no idea how hard it would be, but I was willing to waste a day to find out. Mike was up for it too, and so we dusted off our trad gear and set out.

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About half-way up the towering wall. Photo Mike Anderson.

We were instantly impressed with the quality of the route. Its literally 40-meters long, almost to the centimeter. It overhangs about 5 meters in that length, and except for a single 1-meter-deep bulge, it is sheer and continuously around 5 degrees over vertical. It’s a beautiful panel of clean stone that begs to be climbed, and the rock is among the highest-quality I’ve encountered on the Front Range.

The movement is outstanding, albeit rather 1980s in style—precise technical edging with grippy holds and challenging footwork. It generally gets harder as you ascend, interspersed with numerous rests. The climbing opens with fun 5.11 jugs, then engaging 5.12 climbing that makes for a nice chill warmup, to a good shake below the bulge. The business is the final headwall.  This headwall begins with a couple bolts of easy 5.13 to clear the bulge and gain a crescent-shaped, right-facing arête/dihedral feature that offers intricate liebacking and arête-style movement, reminiscent of the mid-section of Smith Rock’s uber-classic Scarface.  The headwall culminates in a desperate forearm-bursting boulder problem 120-feet off the deck. Simply put, it’s a King Line.

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Low on the Headwall, just over the short bulge, traversing into the shallow dihedral. Photo Mike Anderson.

Between the two of us we were able to work out all the moves on the first day. It’s really helpful having an engaged partner to work these things out with—especially one who is pretty much the exact same size and shape, has the same climbing style, and similar strengths and weaknesses! We felt the route was possible, and we were both completely stoked. We set our heads to the primary challenge of shuffling our increasingly busy schedules to dodge the erratic spring weather and find enough opportunities to put it all together.

While we felt it was feasible, we were both a little concerned about the low-percentage nature of the crux moves, and the fact that the crux was so high off the deck. It was hard enough to do these moves off the dog, how would they feel after 120+ feet of climbing (and rope drag)? As we made the long trudge back to the car, we reminded each other of similar climbs, with low-percentage, distant cruxes, that we had each overcome in the past. It’s easy to forget that the process works, especially if you haven’t been through it recently. Over the next few days we eventually convinced ourselves, for the Nth time, that routes really do become easier with practice.

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Mike working up the shallow dihedral. Photo Mark Anderson.

Despite some interference from the weather, eventually it all came together. We were consistently waltzing up the lower wall, arriving at the headwall “without the hint of a pump” (as our hero Alan Watts would say). Once we added a couple servings of Try Hard, the route went down.  After putting our heads together we’ve settled on the name “Slice of Time” for the full panel.

Besides a pair of sends, the process of working the route produced several really important side-effects. The first was that it gave me something to strive for again, for the first time in about six months. I’m accustomed to having tangible goals, and without them I struggle to find motivation.  Working the route made me feel like I was a climber again.

Additionally, having a legitimate objective in the balance gave me the extra push I needed to complete my recovery. Often we struggle to overcome the mental impacts of injuries—we “hold back” for fear of re-injuring ourselves. By the end of the process I was training every facet of my fitness without restrictions, and pining for a send rather than obsessing over my forearm. I recall hiking back to the car one day and realizing that, at no time during the previous session did I think about my forearm. It was the first time in six months I’d gone more than a few minutes without thinking about it. Slice of Time was exactly the distraction I needed to get back to normal, both physically and mentally.

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Mike entering the crux of Slice of Time, ~120-feet off the deck. Photo Mark Anderson.

Finally, the best outcome of the process was climbing with Mike. Despite living in the same state, we rarely climb (hard) together because we both have our own agendas that send us in different directions. We spend the odd day together on less-serious objectives, but I think the last time we worked a proper project together was literally ten years ago. It was really fun, not only to spend time together, but to geek out over micro-beta, weather forecasts and redpoint tactics.

We’re both really stoked to climb such a stellar line, especially in such a historic venue.  We’d both like to thank the many folks who put effort and hardware into realizing this route over the years.  It’s an instant classic and should become a popular testpiece for the canyon, and the entire Front Range.  The best compliment I can think of to recommend the route is: its so good, it reminds me of Smith Rock.

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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