Category Archives: 5.13

The Ruchert Motion 5.13a – Grand Finale at the NRG

This fall has featured some pretty goofy weather conditions.  October was hot, November was wet, and December is…perfect?!?  Our NRG season typically wraps up before Thanksgiving.  After that, the days are so short, with frigid mornings and evenings, and nighttime temps that drop below our enjoyable-camping-with-kids threshold.  It’s also not uncommon to contend with snow, so even a stray warm day can end up wet.  Not to mention the holidays are coming, and we want to focus on that!  But Thanksgiving  weekend brought fantastic weather we couldn’t pass up…and we both put good work in on The Ruchert Motion 13a.  And when we saw that the forecast was just as good for the following weekend, we had to go back and bring our try hard.

The press out move…thankful for every inch!

But the kink in our plans was poor CragDaddy, who rolled his ankle punting off a gym boulder problem just one move away from sending a sick new V13 in our backyard no one knows about and never will because it imploded back into earth upon CragDaddy’s impact. 😉 Thankfully the “incident” turned out to be just a minor sprain, and by the time the weekend rolled around, he was pain-free with just an annoying amount of swelling.  He could toprope all day long…but going “a muerte” on his project still didn’t seem wise.  So unfortunately for him (but very much appreciated by me), the only things he was able to bring to this NRG double bonus weekend were superior belay skills, encouraging pep talks, and camera management skills.   Actually, before you feel too sorry for him, he DID manage to sneak in some try hard on his toprope burns, and I’m confident that he’ll be ready for Ruchert Motion next spring.

But all joking aside, I am very grateful that CragDaddy was still up for making a trip that was undoubtedly more fun for me than it was for him.  I definitely owe him some “support services” time back out there this spring.  

And thankfully, I made it worth his while.  It took 4 go’s, but I finally put it down at the end of Day 1.  My confidence was a rollercoaster all day.  The first burn was a warm-up, and I yarded through all the hard moves – the opening move, a tipped out move in the middle that is hard on my wrist, and the entire crux.  There’s another kinda hard sequence after the crux but it’s not tweaky, so I went for it but came up a little short and took a fall on an extended right shoulder that did not feel great.  It hurt for a few minutes but then seemed fine (and left me thankful that I’ve been doing all those little stabilizing exercises on the regular!)  Once I clipped the chains, my fingers were a lot warmer and I rehearsed all the hard moves as I lowered.  

My favorite kidcrushers.

My 2nd burn felt awesome.  I made it all the way to the crux without too much difficulty. Things were actually going so well that I unknowingly got my left foot up higher than I had been, which threw off my balance at the end of the crux, and my right hand slipped off a split second before I could move it to the next hold.  After a quick hang, I finished it up, and lowered off feeling very optimistic.

But my 3rd go I didn’t even make it to the crux.  I fell in the reachy 11+ section on the move that is hard on my wrist.  This particular move has me completely pressed out to my fingertips, then making a desperate pop to a jug.  I played around with some different beta, and found a sequence that was a little higher percentage.  The only down side to the new beta was that it was harder on the skin, which at this point, was at a premium thanks to that sharp little hold I dry fired off of on my previous burn.  Rather than exfoliating my finger tip any more by trying the crux on a non-send burn, I opted to just come down rather than rehearse it again, since splitting a tip would mean game over for the day.  Confidence plummeted.  

Big C in action.

4th go.  The opening move, the one that thwarted me all but twice last weekend, continued to go well.  I winced as I cranked out the new beta for the press out move, but was relieved when I glanced down at my finger tip and didn’t see any blood.  There’s a great rest stance after that, and I stayed there a good long while.  I moved through the next moves smoothly, made the clip, and entered the crux traverse.  The holds are heinously small, so I went as quickly as I could.  I was red-lining as I got my feet up to make the big exit move to the jug, but I held on for all I was worth and stuck the hold!  

Exiting the crux

All that was left between me and the last 20 feet of 5.10 land was the kinda hard traverse I’d fell at the end of on my warm-up.  The move getting into this traverse is never smooth for me.  The holds are an easy reach for CragDaddy, but it’s very awkward for me to get both hands established on the traverse holds, so I have to smear my foot on a very slippery hold and do a weird move that we christened the “donkey kick.”  Every time I do it, I’m afraid that foot is going to blow off, but it never did…until this time!  Luckily, it was just after both hands were on, so I managed to hang on.

The only other issue came in 5.10 land when I thought CragDaddy was short roping me, but it turned out to be my tail knot stuck in the bottom biner of the quickdraw.  ?!?  Never had that happen, never heard of it happening, but thankfully it was an easy fix. 

And…woohoo!  A perfect end to a fabulous fall climbing season!  Actually to be accurate, it wasn’t quite the end yet.  We climbed the next day too – CragKiddo got a chance to crush at the Meadow, and I got a chance for revenge on Stretch Armstrong 12a, the route I’d chickened out on the previous week.  CragDaddy looked longingly at Team Machine 12a, the route he’d “toprope sent” the previous week, but decided not to risk a lead fall, especially on that particular line, as its scary even with two good feet.

It’s pretty difficult to get good pictures when it’s just us and the kids, but CragDaddy did manage to set our camera up in a nearby tree to get some video footage.  Full disclosure, it’s not great – in order to get the whole route we had to shoot vertically.  And I climb painfully slow so it’s not exciting at all.  But it at least captures the moves and rad-ness of the line.  The zoomed in crux shots were taken on the sending go, but the rest of the footage is from other burns throughout the day.  We put it to music to make it less boring and also drown out the kids talking a little bit.  If you’d like to check it out, go here.  (And please excuse the try hard sounds on the opening move…)

I hope everyone had a great climbing season, and since it’ll probably be pretty quiet on the blog around here until after the new year, I’d like to wish everyone a very happy holiday season!  See you in 2018 and thanks for reading! 🙂



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NRG at Thanksgiving

Did your post-Thanksgiving plans include shop til you drop or #optoutside?  As you might have guessed, ours involved the latter.  The forecast was beautiful for the early part of last weekend, so we squeezed in a quick visit to our favorite east coast climbing destination for a half day Friday and full day Saturday.  

Reachy 11+ section on Ruchert Motion 13a

All we had time for on Friday afternoon was a couple of pitches each at Bridge Buttress, and despite our best efforts, we just couldn’t pull anything together.  I tackled an old nemesis of mine – Stretch Armstrong 12a, while CragDaddy tried his hand at Team Machine, also 12a.  I’d been on Stretch before a handful of times, but never felt close to sending it.  The route is very appropriately named, and my crazy beta was far too desperate to link on point.  This time however, I was able to work out a slightly different sequence that felt a lot more doable.  It was very committing, and felt every bit of 12b/c, but it seemed like it would work.  Unfortunately, when my turn was up again, I just couldn’t get the job done.  The kids started arguing, the sun never quite came around so my hands got really cold, one kid started crying, I wasted a lot of energy trying to remember a sequence down low, other kid starts crying, and so on and so forth.  By the time I got to the crux, my head was far too distracted to commit to the moves.  I hung, then did the moves first try.  Ugh.  

The 1st world problem woes continued with CragDaddy’s turn on Team Machine.  Due to fading light, cranky kids, and several scary sections, he opted to toprope rather than lead it.  The crux had taken him forever on round 1, and he figured it was still so low percentage he might as well toprope it…but of course he did it clean, earning him the dreaded “toprope-send.”  Womp womp.  

CragDaddy, aka “toprope toughguy”

But despite the fruitlessness of our Friday endeavors, everyone woke up Saturday in good spirits, ready for the main event.  For over a year, we’d been eyeing The Ruchert Motion 13a out at Beauty Mountain.  With newfound confidence from our last couple of trips to Hidden Valley, I was ready to give it a whirl.  Conditions were darn near perfect – low 40’s in the morning, low 50’s by afternoon, plenty of sun at the base of the cliff for the kids to “bask” in.  (During the morning hours, they laid around on the rocks pretending to be king cobras waking up from hibernation.)  

My first run, however, was far from perfect, and I was actually pretty discouraged.  In hindsight, it probably would have made more sense to warm-up on something else first, but psych was high so we jumped right in, knowing it would take us a while to get the draws in. The Mountain Project entry describing the first few bolts as “reachy 11+” also played heavily into our decision to skip a proper warm-up…but that description proved to be wildly inaccurate, at least for CragDaddy and me.  

You know, just bassssking around at the crag.

After flailing around for about 15 minutes, I skipped the opening moves and THEN climbed through a couple of bolts worth of what I could see described as reachy 11+.  Then came the crux, and my first attempts were dismal.  I stick-clipped my way through, then flailed through the next sequence that, while easier than the crux, was still pretty hard.  The last 20 feet was really fun 5.10 climbing (the kind that makes for a great, actual warm-up), but by the time I got to the top I was more exhausted than warmed up, and lowered straight down without trying any of the moves again.  

CragDaddy’s experience was similar, and when he got down, we took a nice long break to eat leftover pizza and “bask” with our King Cobra children.  The kids then moved to a different game involving catching “crabs” on an island boulder stranded in a sea of leaves, so at CragDaddy’s encouragement, I took the opportunity to have second go on Ruchert.  This run was decidedly better.  I still couldn’t touch the first move, but my fingers were a lot more warmed up by this point, and and I WAS able to do the crux moves. 



I was feeling very encouraged after my 3rd burn, especially when I actually was able to do the first move when I tried it again on the way down!  My 4th go, however, was the best yet – I only hung in two spots!  (And it should have been just one, but I botched a foot in one of the reachy moves before the crux.)  When I got to the crux I was pretty tired and starting to get a little sloppy with my feet, but I managed to get through it after a few tries, and was then able to shake out enough post-crux to finish the climb clean.  

The weather was forecasted to be drastically colder and cloudier on Sunday, so we headed back home Saturday night.  Judging by how wrecked my arms felt when I tried to rake leaves the next day, it was the best decision!  But that said…it feels awesome to have something “in the hopper” at the New again!  So many times I feel like I have such a love/hate relationship with the New because of all the times I get shut down on long moves.  But this one is gonna go down!  And hopefully sooner rather than later! Fingers crossed for this weekend, because if it doesn’t go down Saturday or Sunday, I’m gonna have to wait til spring!  


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Breaking the 5.13 Barrier!

Rodent’s Lament 13b (although pic was taken last spring by Nick Hitchcock)

This past weekend I hit a huge personal milestone for me.  Though my climbing journey has more or less featured slow and steady improvement over the last decade (“more” during times of focused training, “less” during times of pregnancy/newborns), it has been FIVE WHOLE YEARS since I have broken into a new number grade.  But that all changed this weekend! 

It actually started this past spring on our kid-free anniversary weekend at Hidden Valley, VA.  We had decided that sans kids was the perfect opportunity to test out the hardman(woman) waters, so we went project shopping.  I was drawn to Rodent’s Lament 13b, a line on the Falcon Wall, home of everything technical and vertical…aka my favorite wall at Hidden Valley.  The crux was pretty short-lived and really boils down to one singularly desperate move  – a long launch to a good slot off a terrible sloper crimp (aka “slimper.”)  I could barely initiate the movement before popping off, and I walked away inspired to include hangboarding in my summer training regimen.  

Hangboard I did, but to be honest, I hadn’t given Rodent’s Lament very much thought again until recently.  Conditions took forever to get good this fall, then when they did, we spent a lot of time at the New.  When we did end up at Hidden Valley we were side tracked by the bounty of other awesome lines that are all a much shorter hike than the Falcon Wall (first world problems, right?!?)  CragDaddy, meanwhile, had slowly but steadily been putting in work on his project out at the Crazy Horse Wall (the 13a slab start of the 5.10 classic Spurs), and he was pushing for us to each have a project day.

Not a bad view from the clifftop!

I was “cautiously cool’ with the idea.  Three weekends ago my psych was out the roof after sending Coneheads 12c…but since then we’d had a gym weekend at home, and then I’d gone on a girl’s weekend that had involved far more eating and drinking than it did exercise.  I had no idea what to expect performance-wise.  But what harm could it do, right?  

If you’ve never tried s’mores with your leftover Halloween candy, you’re missing out!

My first attempt started out great – the initial V4ish crux felt a lot easier than I’d remembered.  But the one (and a half) move wonder crux still felt ridiculously hard.  I probably tried the move 5 different ways 50 different times, but nothing.  Not even really close.  I decided to pull through and take it to the top just to give my fingers a break, then practice some more on the way down.  The upper bit is easier but more sustained, with a long sequence directly after the crux that probably goes around 11d/12a.  That part went really well, so when I lowered back down, I decided to battle with the crux one more time 30 more times before giving up.

This time, however, I actually started making progress, first getting my fingertips even with the slot, then in it just a little, then a little more, until finally, I was able to hang on.  Shocked at this surprising new development, I started trying the sequence from a few moves earlier, coming in from the not-quite-hands-free rest 3 moves before.  It was hard…really hard…but I could do it!  Feeling good about both the start and finish of the climb, I now knew that if I could juuuust make that move once, I’d be able to send!  

All smiles on Pony 5.8

I was ecstatic that my next go was a one hang.  Even more exciting was that when I tied in for a final attempt, conditions were the best we’d seen all day.  No more cold mist, just fading light and dry, crisp air.  And apparently that’s all it took!  The crux felt the smoothest it had felt all day, and despite an adrenaline-induced elvis leg that started kicking in post-crux, I managed to keep my breathing under control and made it to the chains!

An interesting clipping stance…

We celebrated Saturday night with an epic campfire and Halloween candy s’mores, then went out for CragDaddy’s project the next day.  He made decent progress before splitting a hole in his fingertip – while there’s still one move he can’t do down low, he’s now got the upper slab dyno on lock down.  (Ironically I found a great sequence that worked pretty well for me on the lower moves, but I got nothing for the slab dyno…if only I could tag him in and we could go for a team send!!!)  Day 2 was also a great day for Big C – he got in 4 pitches, with 2 of those even being “mock leads.”  (He’s been dying to learn how to lead climb, so we allowed him to tie in to the other side of the rope so he could practice hanging quickdraws and clipping in while still safely attached to a toprope belay.)

I am of course ecstatic to break a new number barrier!  I’m also, if I’m being honest, wondering if the route is a little soft.  In many ways, while none of the individual moves compared to the crux on Rodent’s Lament, something like Coneheads seemed harder to actually link together for a send.  That’s why one-move wonders are so hard to grade, because there’s hardly any “putting it all together” work that needs to be done – basically once you can do the move, you can do the route!  (And this particular move on this particular route suited my skill set and height perfectly)

But soft or not, I’m going to (re)take the advice that an old climbing mentor gave me a long time ago when I was first breaking into 5.12’s and down grading them all simply because “if I could do it, it couldn’t be that hard.”  He gave me some wise words that I’ve since passed his along to many people – “TAKE THE GRADE GIVEN IN THE GUIDEBOOK AND CALL IT DONE!”  His point was that grades are completely subjective, and that one person’s “softie” is another person’s “sandbag”, and that it all evens out in the end anyway.  Don’t downplay a route simply because it potentially plays well to your strengths, and don’t automatically assume a route is underrated just because it feels hard to you.  

So there you have it – a 5.13 for me, and some words of wisdom about not going crazy analyzing grades, all wrapped up into one post.  Because despite how much we all love to debate climbing grades with fellow climbers (don’t act like you don’t!), at the end of the day it’s all just a bunch of arbitrary numbers.  But that said…5.13 is pretty rad! 😉

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Sending Spree: Drew Ruana takes on The New


Wow. I can truly say that the New River Gorge was one of the most beautiful areas I’ve ever been to. I feel so blessed to have opportunities to visit special places like these. My dad had learned to climb at the New; he had always talked about it to me, telling me I needed to go there sometime with him. Until I actually went, it was hard to visualize just how stunning the area is- not just the climbing. The wildlife, the scenery, everything about this area is just beautiful. Day one back home, and I already can’t wait to go back.


Before I got here, I didn’t really have specific goals. I wanted to play around on some hard stuff, but when I got off the plane on the first day and got to the wall, all I wanted to do was climb. Climb climb climb. I decided that I would have a much more rewarding and fulfilling trip if I did more mileage- so I did that. I think I averaged around 9 pitches a day? Something like that. Most of them new routes, and in new areas. I managed to send 20 new 5.13 routes, and 4 5.14s in my 6 days of climbing there.

A couple of the routes I tried stood out to me. I know I’ll remember them for the rest of my life. One of them was Puppy Chow, 5.12c- I don’t think I’ve ever had as much fun climbing on a route as I did on that. If you’re in the area, get on the route. I don’t care how hard you do or don’t climb- it is 100,000,000% recommended. Also in that area is Mango Tango. This route is the most strikingly beautiful arete I’ve ever seen. It looks and climbs like pure artwork. Although a bit cryptic, figuring out the beta and sending was one of the most memorable climbs of my life.

The thing is that trips like these aren’t just about the climbing. They are made great by the people you’re with. Piper, Miriam, Quinn, and Laura were one of the best crews I’ve ever climbed with.

I met a bunch of my dad’s old climbing buddies, which was cool to see who he grew up with. The local vibes there are awesome – shoutout to pies and pints, the pizza and atmosphere is rad there.

Special thanks to Michael Williams for being the sickest guide/guru around. Can’t wait for another trip like this!

Here’s my ticklist for this trip:
Still Life 2nd go
Journeyman 3rd go

Mango Tango 2nd go
Sword of Damocles 4th go

Natural Progression 2nd go

The Project OS
In the Flat Field 2nd go
Satanic Verses 2nd go

B.C. 2nd go

The Racist 2nd go
The Pod FL
Crossing the Line OS
SR-71 OS
Against the Grain OS
White Lighting OS
Fuel Injector OS

Quinsana plus FL
Apollo Reed OS
El Chapo FL
B-52 OS
Massacre OS
Skull Fuck Direct Finish OS
Mighty Dog FL
Next Time OS

Photos by Trevor Blanning

Alex Johnson on Projecting, Sending, and Lessons Learned

So much of climbing, especially projecting, is puzzle piecing. It isn’t whether or not you’re strong enough to do the climb, or do each individual move on the climb, but figuring out how to do each move, and configuring the most efficient way to combine multiple moves in a row while expending the least amount of energy. I think “projecting” is “perfecting.” Working something so much you get it so dialed that it almost produces imminent, consistent success.

Alex Johnson Red Rock

Alex Johnson Sending Monster Skank. Photo: Ray Davalos

That’s how it was for me working Wet Dream Right (V11/8A Red Rock, NV). When I first started trying, I could do a couple moves, but some were so inconsistent, I couldn’t link sections of the boulder in a row. By the time I wrapped it up, I had perfected the climb’s movements. I was able to do every move on its own 100% of the time, and so efficiently, that I even when I linked them, I expended very little energy by the time I got to the final hard move.

Sometimes after I send things, I feel weird. Like I don’t know why they take so long to finish… During the process, you forget where you started. By the time you send something you’ve been working for a long period of time, it’s hard to recall how difficult the climb in its entirety felt at the beginning. This is how I felt about Monster Skank.

Alex Johnson Projecting

Alex on Day 1 of the Monster Skank Project. Photo: Kati Hetrick

You spend a few days, weeks, months on something, and then when you finally do it, you could feel so inexpressibly victorious you almost cry… or you might feel unsatisfied. Like, “Hm. I wasn’t fighting tooth and nail for every move of this climb. Maybe it really isn’t that hard. Why couldn’t I just do this last season?” When in fact, it could be that you’ve so perfected each sequence, that when you eventually finish the climb, all you really had to do was execute, in exactly the way you know how—because you’ve been doing the same moves for months.

There’s also the typical cliched opinion that the more time you spend on something, the sweeter it feels to finish, and of course that’s true. But often for me, it’s the opposite, the previously stated lack of satisfaction, almost disappointment in myself for not completing the climb faster, sooner.

Alex Johnson Day 1 Monster Skank

Day 1 Try-Hard Face

And then all these other questions race through your mind (or mine, at least) like, are the temps better today? Am I stronger? Fitter? Climbing better? Is my breathing more controlled? Am I less afraid of falling?

What was it? What was the determining factor in today’s success, versus all the other days of failure?

I heard on a (non-climbing related) podcast recently, that there’s no such thing as a failed relationship, no matter the result, how shitty it may have been, or how epic it seemed in the end. The entire time you were in that relationship you were learning; about yourself, about how you deal with conflict, emotions, etc. You were growing.

I think I want to start applying that to working projects more. I mean, I know every time I try something I learn something new, even if I don’t send it… But I get pretty in my head about things sometimes, especially when I “can’t” do something. I hate not being able to do something. It’s probably the most frustrating personal issue in my climbing life; being shut down. I’m sure I’m not alone in this.

Alex Johnson Monster Skank send

Controlled Movement on the Send. Photo: Ray Davalos

And I’m not saying that by needing to project something I’m “being shut down” on it. I’m just saying that sometimes I lose track of the amazing process in my race to success with myself. Being able to climb awesome things is a gift, and if they’re difficult they require more time and commitment. Sometimes I need a little reminder that the process can be just as fun and exciting, if not more, as the end result.

The Corrections

So it’s springtime in Colorado, and the weather has been more inconsistent than an adolescent romance (I’m an educator, so the analogy is apropos). In between the storms and heat waves (a reference to the weather, not adolescent romance), we’ve managed to get out and climb some fun stuff around Durango. I always love this time of year as the days get longer, the weather warmer, and the rock dry enough to climb. I kind of feel like a bear coming out of a long winter of hibernation in a dusty climbing gym and finally getting to stretch out the rope in the great outdoors.

On the midway sloper rail of The Corrections.

This spring has been particularly satisfying as I have finally gotten some lingering finger injuries to a manageable level. Since last August I’ve had three separate finger injuries. While none of them have been the full finger blow out (a technical medical diagnosis), they’ve all seriously limited my climbing. I’ve learned enough about injuries that they take a long time to heal, even if they feel strong, and so I’m still taking a lot of preventative measures. That said, in the last few weeks I’ve been able to really start trying hard again, which just feels so darn good.

All of my recent enthusiasm has been directed at a specific new line here in Durango. The line is obvious, one that I noticed on my very first visit to East Animas nearly two years ago. It begins up the classic Punta Magna then cuts right across a magnificent steep, streaked wall. Someone aided it many years ago leaving a fixed bashie and some old studs along the right trending rail. About a month ago, my friend Marcus Garcia went up the line on aid to investigate the free climbing possibilities. I joined him on the second day to finish cleaning and bolting the line, and then we started working out the moves. We both immediately became obsessed. The climbing was clean and aesthetic, and we quickly realized that this route could possibly be a new level of difficulty in the area.

The Corrections

On the last moves of the crux.

After several more days and attempts, I managed to stick the precise yet dynamic crux on sidepulls and crimpers to redpoint the route, a deeply satisfying accomplishment for me after a long winter and battle with injury. I’ve tentatively named the route “The Corrections,” which just so happens to be the book I’m reading right now. I like the name for several reasons. First, the route is something of a “correction,” taking an obscure aid line and bringing it to high quality free climb status. Second, I love the book, which is reason enough. I think there’s a further connection between the themes of the book and the route, or at least my experience with it. The book traces the paths of five members of an average American family through the boredom, longing, disappointment, desperation, and rare moments of satisfaction that each person’s seemingly normal yet extraordinary and often messed up life presents. The word “corrections” comes up frequently in the book in reference to how each person subtly refines their life in some way, sometimes in reference to taking drugs and others simply in terms of seeking satisfaction where they can. In a similar way, climbing has felt like a lot of work and tedium recently: lots of rehab, patience, training, and climbing with much restraint in between the even greater struggle of balancing that with other life responsibilities. In my case, the “correction” was finding an inspiring line to try hard on. This is something I’ve slowly come to learn about climbing: The exhilaration of success tends to come in short bursts connected through the process and the pursuit of goals. Ultimately, satisfaction comes from appreciating what we can get out of both of these.

Here’s a short video I put together of Marcus and I working the route. Andrea Sokolowski shot the footage, and I really appreciate her help. The disclaimer for this video is that it was our first time out shooting video, and this is my first attempt at real video editing, so it is admittedly rough. Still, the aesthetic qualities (or lack there of) aside, I think it captures the story of the first ascent of “The Corrections” pretty well.

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