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Category Archives: 5.14

Walk Tall Or Not At All

By Mark Anderson

Technical edging low on the “Brown Scoop Wall.” Photo Mike Anderson.

Once I finished up the Switchblade projects, the next objective on my list was a massive fin of granite called “Sidewalk in the Sky.” This formation is about 100 meters wide, and rises a good 70 meters from the ground. It peters at the summit to a narrow strip of dizzying granite, hence the crag’s name. The wall is slightly concave, such that the lower pitches are steep slabs, the middle bands of stone tend to be vertical, and the upper reaches are slightly overhanging. While there are a number of multi-pitch lines on the cliff, the wall is split at the waist by a massive ledge system that makes accessing the upper “pitches” much more convenient.

The impressive west face of Sidewalk in the Sky.

I first visited The Sidewalk with Tod Anderson in May to try a project he had started on the far left end of the wall. We finished equipping the line and sent it a few days later. Third Twin is basically a super-steep slab of tiny edges and divots to an 18”-deep roof. The slab is composed of impeccable cream granite, hands-down the best I’ve seen in Colorado. The business is oozing up this slab—great training for El Cap free-climbing. There’s a hard slap pulling the roof, followed by a few bolts of sustained patina edging before the difficulty eases.

Tod nearing the slab crux of Third Twin.

With Third Twin in the bag, I turned my attention to a stunning panel of stone in the center of the Sidewalk, which I informally & un-creatively dubbed the “Brown Scoop Wall.” This impressive swath of stone is covered in dark-molasses patina, and steepens ever-so-slightly with height, yielding a swelling wave of rock that curls over at the lip on the right-hand side.

The “Brown Scoop Wall”

I prepped a trio of lines on this feature and set to work unlocking the moves. All three lines are excellent and compelling in their own way. The left-most line, Groposphere, has the best rock and most consistently difficult climbing, offering three distinct crux sections split by no-hands stances. The difficulties begin with balance-y, technical climbing up an unusual swath of water-polished granite. The next and hardest section involves a burly, dynamic roof pull, followed by sustained, sequential edging up a subtle pillar. The final panel hosts a pumpy dash through gently overhanging patina.

Groposphere, groping through the crux.

The central line is the most consistently difficult of the three. It begins easily, but is more sustained in the upper third, with two hard extended boulder problems split by an active rest. The climbing through the penultimate panel is technical and insecure, with big reaches to sharp edges and tenuous footholds. The final band hosts a powerful, precise, and dynamic crux, followed by many sustained moves of pumpy climbing on bomber patina.  Both these lines are in the 13+/14- range.

The final crux of Groposphere.

Unquestionably the best of the three is the right-most line, an awesome directissima that climbs right up the steepest part of the wall to the lip of the cresting wave.   The climbing becomes steadily more difficult with each inch of progress, culminating in an improbable, soaring throw to the lip of the scoop.

Thin edging on the right-most of the trio.  Photo Mike Anderson.

I figured the latter would be the hardest, but I vastly underestimated just how hard it would be. The “approach” came together quickly, but the final move was not only improbable, but incredibly difficult and finicky. It’s a move that demands 100% belief at the outset, followed by impeccable execution of all four limbs, hips and core. If you move flawlessly, the conditions are good, and your skin is thick, you have a chance, but only if you give maximum effort and attention to latching the target hold.

Attempting the burly throw that caps off the wall. Photo Mike Anderson.

It took several weeks of frustrating failures to perfect my timing. By the end of the process, the move was essentially trivial from a hang, but my confidence was severely eroded by repetitive failure. Then on my 7th day of redpoint attempts it finally happened—negative progress. For the first time in several days I failed to reach the dyno on redpoint. Up to that point I had plowed through each monotonous rest day by agonizing over every speck of beta, every finger placement and hip shift, in hopes of optimizing my chances for the next climbing day, when I would get two or three opportunities to stick the move and slay this beast. But on the 7th day I got zero chances. That was devastating.

Photo Mike Anderson.

The next climbing day was not particularly cool, but there was a persistent breeze and the rock felt (I hate this word, but…) tacky. The approach was easy, but that wasn’t surprising. I arrived at the dyno feeling good, nearly completely fresh, something I had experienced several times. But this time I made a point to hesitate. I stared down the hold, took a couple breathes, and thought about what I needed to do with each hand and foot. I coiled and slapped.

Latching the throw. Photo Mike Anderson.

I latched the hold and wiggled my fingers into the sweet spot. I matched the jug just over the lip, shook out for a few seconds and chalked up before cranking out the mantel onto the slab. Walk Tall Or Not At All combines outstanding rock, position and movement. I reckon it’s at least hard-14b, or possibly light-14c.  Considering together the quality of the finished product and effort required, I can’t think of another first ascent I’m more proud of.

Rocking over the lip. Photo Mike Anderson.

Aggro Diablo: New Hard Lines at Devil’s Head

By Mark Anderson

In 2015 I crossed paths with prolific route-developer Tod Anderson (no relation). Tod has been a major player in Front Range route development for decades, but he is probably best known as the Devil’s Head crag patron—discovering countless crags, opening hundreds of routes, establishing positive relationships with land managers, replacing old hardware, and authoring multiple guidebooks.

For those unfamiliar, Devil’s Head is a complex maze of heavily-featured granite formations about an hour outside of Denver, CO. It’s known for jutting knobs, chicken heads and incut patina plates. The scenery is stunning, with impressive views of the South Platte and Pike’s Peak. Furthermore, the crag’s high-altitude makes it the best venue for summer sport climbing along the Front Range.

The labyrinthine spires and blades of Devil’s Head offer something for everyone. Photo Boer Zhao.

Thanks to the tireless work of guys like Tod, Derek Lawrence, Paul Heyliger, Richard Wright, and too many others to list here, Devil’s Head offers well-over a thousand excellent sport climbs and is certainly one of the best climbing destinations in Colorado. When we first met, Tod regaled me with tales of towering, slightly overhanging walls of crisp edges, just begging to be climbed. I soon discovered we shared a common passion for exploration, and we made vague plans to head up to the crag during the following summer. Unfortunately the Shadowboxing escapade prevented me from going in 2016, but this summer was wide open.

The first cliff Tod showed me is a jutting fin of granite called The Switchblade. The west face of this incredible formation is roughly 50 meters tall, overhanging about 5 degrees, and covered in small edges. This gob-smacking cliff already featured one world-class route, Blade Runner (5.13b), bolted by Tod and freed by his son Gordy back in 2013. It’s easily one of the best 5.13s on the Front Range, though perhaps among its least well-known.

The Switchblade, with Tod Anderson on the classic Blade Runner, 5.13b.  Photo Tod Anderson collection.

There was still more potential on this cliff, so after a month on the hangboard I returned in late June to begin work on several Switchblade projects. The main event is a 45-meter long line in the center of the west face (though due to some scrambling at the start, I reckon the business is “only” 30-meters). It starts with a short, slick slab crux to reach an awkward shake below a 4-foot-deep roof. The roof is burly, with a couple campus moves on half-pad crimps (perhaps V9 or so?), then the climbing eases for a couple bolts, including a great rest. Next comes the redpoint crux—a 20-foot section of thin crimping. After that you have another 40-feet or so of technical, sustained 5.12 edging on phenomenal patina, split by a couple taxing rests, to reach the top of the wall.

On day one I could tell this was going to be long and involved. In order to shake the rust off of my redpointing skills, I shifted focus to a potential linkup that would start through the roof of this route, but then veer right to finish on the upper third of Blade Runner. This line includes the aforementioned slab and roof cruxes, plus a reachy, thin crimping section moving past a cool hueco, and finally Blade Runner’s technical and shouldery upper crux. It is quite sustained and varied, but with some active rests along the way. It took me several days of work to link the committing roof sequence on redpoint, but once through this obstacle I found just enough rest along the upper wall to get through each crux and clip the anchor. I’d guess that Filleted Runner is about 14a, and certainly one of my better-quality FAs at that grade, with good rock, lots of climbing, continuous movement and outstanding position.

Latching the V9-ish roof crank. Filleted Runner, 5.14a, continues straight up through the hueco above my head (at the very top of the frame), then veers right to join Blade Runner.

With a good send under my belt, I returned my attention to the Switchblade’s central line. Within a few days I was repeatedly falling at the same move, an awkward slap to a thin, sharp crimp. The lower sequences were becoming automatic, and I was consistently arriving at this crux feeling completely fresh, yet I still failed to latch this frustrating hold. On day 6, out of desperation I experimented with a different sequence that was higher-percentage but more powerful (essentially a burly, almost-static reach in place of a precise dynamic slap). I did the move several times in a row and felt this new option must be superior.

Interestingly, I had tried this method my first couple days on the route, but was unable to pull it off for some reason. Perhaps at that point, so early in my climbing season, I lacked the recruitment and/or coordination to crank such a powerful move. Or, perhaps I was too timid (and my skin too tender from a month on plastic) to really bear down on the sharp holds in this section. Regardless, the lesson is pretty clear: it’s best not to be overly committed to your beta, especially if you’re stuck failing in one spot—continue to try different options throughout the process. For some reason I insist on learning the same lessons over and over again.

Nearing the crux.

As I headed up for the last attempt of the day I was feeling quite worked. Typically I try to keep the first-go-of-the-day fairly light to save power for a second attempt, but on this day I burned a lot of skin and strength sussing and rehearsing the new sequence. The effort was worth it—I felt assured I would send soon with this new beta, but I didn’t have high hopes for this burn.

Fortunately I knew the lower sections well-enough to sketch through in a state of fatigue. There are a couple of really good rests before the crux, so I took my time recovering completely and waiting for the wind to cool me down. I nailed the crux edge with my new beta, and gritted my teeth through the next few crimps to reach a decent rest. As I cycled through the shake, my feet level with the Blade Runner anchor, I gazed up at the 30 ensuing feet of hard 5.12 edging, and numerous opportunities to fall. Why did I place the anchors so high?! My Smith Rock roots strike again. With patience all around, savoring the stellar patina and knobs that pepper the upper cliff, I worked my way steadily to the top.

Above the crux of Stiletto, 5.14b, with another 30-feet of stellar crimping to go.

I’m really proud of Stiletto. The movement is stellar, though there is a 2-bolt section of rotten rock above the roof. Fortunately the climbing is relatively easy through this section, and the rock is solid in the hard bits. If the rock were bomber throughout, this would be hands-down my best FA. Even with the bit of poor rock, I think it’s one of my best, considering its length, stature, continuity and movement.

I wrapped up my Switchblade duel with a pair of hard 5.13 FA’s on either end of the wall. The far left line, Sliced & Diced, begins with a long stretch of tedious scrambling (due to its proximity to the adjacent fin of rock), but once you get on the west face of the Switchblade proper, the rock and climbing are incredible. The climbing involves some huge moves riding along the edges of massive, molasses patina plates. There are several cruxes, generally getting harder the higher you go, culminating in a technical thin crimping crux just below the anchor.

Sliced & Diced, 5.13c, ascends stellar stone on the far left edge of the Switchblade. Photo Boer Zhao.

On the far right end is David’s Bowie, beginning with some easier vertical climbing to another tough slab section to reach the same roof system as the others. Reaching this ceiling is likely the crux, but huge jugs just over the lip take the sting out of pulling the lip. There’s still a tough, campus slap to get established over the lip, but it’s not nearly as hard as the Stilleto roof. The route really shines in the final half, with fun, interesting 5.12 edging on great stone. While the rock on David’s Bowie is not as solid as the other lines on this wall, the route involves the least shenanigans to approach, with a good 30+ meters of continuous climbing.

The first ascent of David’s Bowie, 5.13c, turning the roof on big jugs.

Though not as broad, this wall reminds me of Smith Rock’s Aggro Wall—a great hang, slightly overhanging, with shade that lasts till about 1 or 2pm, some minor slab shenanigans at the base, a few patches of choss here and there, but generally stacked with great hard lines (and a few silly linkups). The routes go forever, but are set up to allow climbing in a single pitch with a 70-meter rope (though a double-lower is required for Sliced & Diced, Stiletto and Ultra Runner). It’s a great venue for hard summer sport climbing for those who are tired of the I-70 parking lot. To get complete beta on the Switchblade, including approach details, topos, and descriptions of the 60-some other routes from 5.7-5.12d within a 5-minute walk, check out Tod’s guidebook on Rakkup.

 

Kitty’s Back (in Clear Creek)

By Mark Anderson

Topcat, one of three new routes atop the Catslab in Clear Creek Canyon, CO.

Over the winter I bolted three routes on the steep visor that sits high above the “Catslab” in upper Clear Creek. This feature looks like a roof from the ground, but it’s more like a convex bulge, gradually sweeping from about 60-degrees overhanging at the base up to ~30 degrees at the top. The business overhangs right around 45-degrees.

Once we returned from Europe I finally got around to trying the routes. In a nutshell, all three of them offer really fun movement in a spectacular setting on subpar rock. Like most steep routes in Clear Creek, you have to weave around some mungy ledges and cracks to reach the goods. Fortunately the rock improves steadily once on the visor, and notwithstanding the typical Clear Creek exfoliating flaky stuff, the rock is pretty good where it counts (and totally bullet on the headwall above the visor).

Each of these routes has a distinct character. The first line I climbed is the middle route, Kitty’s Back. This line is incredibly fun, pretty much a complete jug haul. The line follows a system of exfoliating flakes, with super steep off-balance/barn door-y liebacking. The flakes end with one long huck right at the top of the overhang, followed by more fun jugs up the beautiful headwall. The rock at the start is marginal, but it improves substantially and is bomber in the crux and beyond. I reckon this goes at about 13a, and would be classic if the rock were consistently good.

Fingerlocking onto the steep visor on Catlong.

The next route I tried is the right-most line, which follows a seam through the steep wall. Catlong is pretty unusual for Clear Creek in that the crux requires some gymnastic finger locking (if that’s a thing). Although it has its fair share of exfoliating flakey stuff to either side of the seam, the handholds are all solid, generally large features. Unfortunately you have to weave through a 6-foot-tall band of dusty ledges just below the start of the overhang. There are solid hand jugs through this obstacle but your feet will be pasting on scaly, sandy stone. Above, the climbing is really cool and exotic if you like crack climbing. It begins with a long reach from a finger lock to reach a big jug rail, then the crux comes next with sequential moves and an overhead heel hook to set up another bomber finger lock. Next you get to do some hip scums, wild stemming and even a kneebar, all with a steadily building pump. The climb ends with large but well-spaced crimps on the headwall, checking in around 13c.

Steep, fun pretzel climbing on Catlong.

The final route, Top Cat, is the furthest left. Against all odds it turned out to be the best, with good rock throughout, and really fun, athletic climbing. It’s also the hardest, with two difficult dynos. The most powerful move is a burly stab to a half-pad crimp at the second bolt, after which heel hooks and big lock-offs between good-for-the-grade holds lead into the redpoint crux–a crossing drive-by to reach the 4th bolt. Although it’s short, it’s completely sustained from the moment you step off the slab. I think its at the low end 5.14a.

Powerful lock-offs on Top Cat, 5.14a.

Meow if that doesn’t get you stoked for rock climbing, perhaps this will:

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:
5.14b
Still Life 2nd go
Journeyman 3rd go

5.14a
Mango Tango 2nd go
Sword of Damocles 4th go

5.13d
Natural Progression 2nd go

5.13c
The Project OS
In the Flat Field 2nd go
Satanic Verses 2nd go

5.13b/c
B.C. 2nd go

5.13b
The Racist 2nd go
The Pod FL
Crossing the Line OS
SR-71 OS
Against the Grain OS
White Lighting OS
Fuel Injector OS

5.13a
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

Training for 9a – Part III

By Mark Anderson

This is the final installment in a multi-part series about my training for Shadowboxing. For the first installment click here.

Wolfgang Gullich famously exclaimed “climbing is so complex!” after a winter of hard training failed to yield the desired results. Many factors need to come together simultaneously to complete a route truly at your limit (that’s one reason it’s often more productive to operate below your true limit, because it provides some margin for sub-optimal weather, power, skin, shoe rubber, fitness, etc).   By the end of the May/June season I felt like I was capable of attaining the power and endurance needed to climb the route, but I needed them to better coincide. My power had come and gone too early, while my endurance arrived too late.

Standing below the world's first 9a, Wolfgang Gullich's legendary "Action Directe."

Standing below the world’s first 9a, Wolfgang Gullich’s legendary “Action Directe.”

This illustrates how difficult it is to perfect your fitness for a totally unique route when there are so many variables at play. After 15 years of practice I still managed to screw it up. The challenge is to optimize your physical ability for the moment when your technical knowledge of the route’s moves is sufficient to send. My friend Lamont Smith calls this “The Race.” Initially on a long project, your knowledge of the route, and ability to execute the moves is poor, but these increase steadily as you attempt the route more and more (eventually your rate of technical improvement slows and then stagnates, and then often reverses as resting for a presumed send takes priority over rehearsal, and you spend less and less time practicing the moves).  As you learn the moves, spending more and more time on the rock, and less time in training, your physical power typically declines. Late in the campaign, as you approach technical proficiency on the route, your power may be rapidly fading.

In order to “win the race”, you need to learn the moves well-enough to send before your power declines to the point that you can no longer execute them regularly. This is why I’m often willing to end a campaign when my progress stagnates—I know that when I return in the ensuing season, with tip-top power, the send will come much more easily. Obviously body weight, environmental conditions, and Power Endurance (PE) are enormous factors in The Race as well. PE generally improves throughout the campaign, improving as power fades. Environmental trends depend on how you’ve scheduled your season, and may or may not be in your control depending on other life factors. Ideally everything goes according to your plan, and your technical knowledge of the route, power and PE are optimized during a window of good weather.

In June 2016, my timing was off. By mid-June I finally achieved sufficient technical knowledge and PE to send the route, but by then I no longer had sufficient power or suitable temperatures. However, that season and the previous taught me how to execute the moves and how to develop the power and PE I would need. I felt confident I would be technically able to send very early in the fall campaign, thanks to previous experience and copious film study. I could count on suitable and steadily improving sending temps. I just needed to re-vamp my early-season training so that my power and PE peaks coincided better.

My approach wasn’t radical, I simply adjusted the timing of the Non-Linear Periodization strategy I had been using as maintenance training for the last several years. Typically at the conclusion of my Strength Phase I would complete a 3-4 week Power Phase (that included no significant PE training). At the start of my PE/Performance Phase I would gradually introduce PE training following Limit Bouldering sessions. I experimented with moving this up slightly during the May/June 2016 season, and for the Fall 2016 season I began PE training just before the start of my Power Phase.

Fall 2016 Training Schedule.

Fall 2016 Training Schedule.

Initially my Strength Phase was pretty much completely normal (ideally I would have started a few days earlier, but a work trip prevented that). The end of the Strength Phase and beginning of my Power Phase was quite unusual. I decided I wanted to be fit-enough to send by the second outdoor weekend of the season (23-25 September), and then backed out a PE training “start date” by analyzing my May/June schedule to estimate how many weeks it would take to get my PE up to standard. During that season, I got my first one hang 31 days after my first PE workout, so I scheduled my first Fall 2016 PE workout for August 26th, 30 days before September 25th and roughly three-quarters of the way through my Strength Phase.

That first PE workout was just a primer (consisting of only one set)—an opportunity to see where I stood and re-learn the moves of the circuit, hopefully without digging a big hole that would undermine my remaining hangboard sessions. I planned to do my first full-blown PE workout the following week (on September 1), but bizarrely high humidity that dampened the holds in the barn prevented me from completing the first circuit. Instead I moved the workout to September 5th, the day immediately following my last hangboard session. Taken in isolation, that workout wasn’t spectacular, failing 50 moves into the third set with 4:00 rest-between-sets. In retrospect I should’ve been happy to do as well as I did less than 24 hours after a hangboard workout.

I began my brief Power Phase three days later, including one NLP workout per week (consisting of the same activities and timing I used in May: warm-up followed by ~80 minutes of Limit Bouldering and Campusing (total), then finishing up with 3-4 sets of the 52-move circuit (and Supplemental Exercises)). I noticed immediately that my PE had hardly declined at all over the summer. As such, I was super aggressive in reducing the rest-between-sets from workout-to-workout—merely eight days after the first full-length PE workout I had slashed the rest period in half (to 2:00), matching my best effort from June! I dropped it again to 90 seconds the following week, just a few days before my target Fit Date.

From a PE perspective, things went perfectly, but there is a downside to this approach. In my experience it doesn’t allow enough time, energy or focus to really improve power. First, you have to limit the length of your Limit Bouldering and Campus sessions so you have enough time and energy for the PE work, and second, you enter each subsequent workout a bit more fatigued than usual (from the PE training). These impacts make it difficult to advance during the power portion of the workouts (I feel like by the time I’m 100% warmed up, it’s time to move on to the next activity). Thirdly, power and endurance are mutually exclusive from a muscle-fiber-recruitment perspective, so training one will necessarily inhibit the other. In short, with so much emphasis on PE during the Power Phase, you’re fortunate to re-attain your previous power peak.

For example, during September my first power workout (on September 8th) was excellent, probably my best first-power-workout-of-the-season ever. The next workout was lackluster, but the third workout (on September 13th) was stellar, easily among my best power workouts ever. I crushed many of the Lazy H’s testpiece boulder problems and matched my campus board PR on only my second try of the session. However, by September 20th I was complaining in my training journal that my left elbow was beginning to ache and I “didn’t seem to have a lot of pop.” I regressed in my bouldering and campusing, eventually cutting both activities short to save energy for PE training.

Based on my experience, I wouldn’t recommend this approach for short-term power-intensive goals, nor for long-term power improvement. NLP works well for re-producing simultaneous peaks of various types of fitness, but it is far from ideal if you want to actually improve upon previous peaks. Had I not spent the winter and spring improving my PE peak, it’s highly doubtful I would have reached that level of fitness so quickly, and with so few sessions, in September 2016. Personally I think the winter/spring PE training was critical, and this approach would not have worked without it.

The same goes for power—I already had sufficient power for the route when I first tried it in 2015, so each season I just needed to re-create that power, rather than reach a new level. This allowed me to sacrifice some effort in that area and re-direct it towards PE. The catch is that power-wise, I essentially coasted through the latter half of 2015 and the entirety of 2016. That is, my power did not improve at all for ~18 months as a result of this approach. That was a tremendous sacrifice, and generally not a wise one for the long-term thinker (although my strength, as measured by hangboard workouts, improved substantially over this period, so I may have a new reservoir of power potential to exploit during future Power Phases).

Another oft-overlooked downside to NLP is that it takes a lot of time and energy. It’s exhausting and hard to sustain for more than a few weeks. If you want to experience that ambiguous phenomenon referenced by all training books known as “burnout”, try NLP for a while.   It’s probably best left to youngsters with boundless energy and few serious commitments, and should only be used sparingly by grown-ups. In my view the type of NLP schedule described here makes the most sense for those who are near their lifetime peak, working a lifetime goal route with no margin, already have their route dialed, and are prepared to send in a short window. If you need to work out moves and sequences, you’re better off with a more typical periodization approach, at least initially. Once you feel you’re within striking-distance of a send, switch to NLP to get that last little bit of PE you need without neglecting power entirely.

The other major risk in this strategy was that my Fall 2016 season was engineered to produce a very sharp, but necessarily very short performance peak. The entire season was an enormous gamble. I wouldn’t have 6 weeks of consistent fitness to work out sequences, wait for weather, or get my lead head in order. If I weren’t technically ready to send, or the weather didn’t cooperate, or I bobbled all my opportunities, I could count on my fitness crashing back down to baseline within only a few weeks. If I couldn’t capitalize on my fitness, I’d have to wait another 7 months to try again.

Mark Anderson making the third ascent of Shadowboxing, contender for Rifle's hardest route.

Mark Anderson making the third ascent of Shadowboxing. Photo Mike Anderson

Fortunately during the Fall 2016 season events unfolded according to my plan. On my first go back on the route I matched my previous highpoint.  Aside from a bit of technical rust, it seemed like I picked up right where I left off endurance-wise, along with much better power.  It still wasn’t easy, but I sent the route on September 23rd, one climbing day before my target Fit Date. It took every ounce of technique, power, endurance and effort I could muster to send it on that day. Was it worth the cost? That’s a great question….

Aftermath

by Mark Anderson

Fall 2016 probably would have won the title “Best Season Ever” even if it ended after the third day (the day I finished off my year-long bout with Shadowboxing). After that send I spent a night celebrating, which for me entails eating a bunch of food I normally wouldn’t, in this case a greasy double cheeseburger, fries, chocolate shake, onion rings, several donuts…(you get the idea).

High on my new jughaul Aftermathematics, 5.12a, at Aftermath. Photo Nicholas Zepeda.

High on my new jughaul Aftermathematics, 5.12a, at Aftermath. Photo Nicholas Zepeda.

Normally after a big send, and especially after a landmark send such as that one, I’m content to quit for the season, or at least dial back the intensity significantly. Actually, I often find it very difficult to climb at a high level successfully in the aftermath of a big send.  This is most likely because it’s hard to mentally re-engage with another challenging goal after experiencing the euphoria, relief, and letdown of completing a major goal. But I had trained incredibly hard for this season, in anticipation of another extended battle. To give up my hard earned fitness and slim physique after only three climbing days seemed foolish.

So while I was itching to let myself go, scarf up my “9a Cookie” in one sitting and follow it up with a dozen Krispy Kremes, I felt like I owed it to myself to at least try to eke a few more results out of my new climbing level. Thanks to my late-2015 bolting frenzy I had a long list of potential projects to choose from.

About a week after sending Shadowboxing, this "9a Cookie" (complete with boxing gloves) showed up at my house, courtesy of my friends at Trango. Trango has meant a lot more to me than just free gear, and I really could not have made it to this level without their support and motivation.

About a week after sending Shadowboxing, this “9a Cookie” (complete with boxing gloves) showed up at my house, courtesy of my friends at Trango. Trango has meant a lot more to me than just free gear, and I really could not have made it to this level without their support and motivation.

One such line is perched high on Clear Creek’s Wall of the 90s. When I was working the twin roof-climbs Harlot and Hellcat, I was regularly distracted by an attractive swath of molasses stone heading up the extreme left end of the large roof system on the north end of the cliff. This looked to be the “last great roof problem” at the Wall of the 90s (which was already home to four roof routes in the 13d -14b range). I imagined the line would climb easily out to the lip of the roof along an incut flake, and then follow a series of small crimps up the slightly overhanging headwall.  I bolted the line in November 2015, as soon as I heard that new bolting restrictions would go into effect for 2016.

As steep lines go, it was impossible to inspect the rock in the roof without bolting my way down to it. When I arrived at the roof I found the flake I was counting on to support my body-weight was barely stable enough to support itself.  Once it was cleaned, there was no clear path out the roof.  But, since I had already bolted 90% of the route, I decided I might as well finish the bolt job and hope I could find another free sequence.

The Wall of the 90s' "last great roof problem" climbs out to the swath of dark brown stone ten feet left of Harlot.

Attemptiong the Wall of the 90s’ “last great roof problem,” which climbs out to the swath of dark brown stone ten feet left of Harlot.  Photo Mark Dixon.

So I wasn’t exactly optimistic when I returned to investigate the possibilities. I climbed up into the roof, and spent about 30 minutes dangling and groping for options. When I arrived back on the ground, convinced the line would not go, I started brainstorming ways to salvage the rest of the day. Perhaps I could try to onsight something, or try another open project at a nearby cliff….

Kate’s much more logical in these situations. She realizes if I were to bail after one go, I’d just end up dragging her back out there another day to try it again. And she remembers the countless times I’d lowered off a route after one try, dismayed and convinced it would not go, only to discover the solution on my second time up (in fact, that happened once on this very cliff, during my first day on Double Stout). Unable to deny her wisdom, I headed back up one more time.

Of course, the second time I found hope. I wasn’t able to do all the moves, but I could imagine how they would go, and figured I would be able to do them. The remains of the loose flake offered a couple decent underclings, from which I could make a huge reach to a sloping, 1-pad, three-finger edge just over the lip. The problem with such a reach is that it leaves you over-extended, from which it’s hard to do much of anything, but with the right toe-hooking and core tension I figured I could match near the lip, and then theoretically dyno higher to another good edge.

Reaching up to undercling the remains of the big flake. After matching the undercling, you have to make a huge reach to a 3-finger edge along the crescent shaped rail near the bottom of the lime streak.

Reaching up to undercling the remains of the big flake. After matching the undercling, you have to make a huge reach to a 3-finger edge along the crescent shaped rail near the bottom of the lime streak.

Two weeks later I made it back to the project, and this time I did the move. Once out of about 10 tries. Not super encouraging, but at least I knew now that I could do it, eventually. The rest of the route was getting much easier, and at least the crux was only a few moves in. I wasn’t able to return again until the end of October, and so I assumed I wouldn’t have the power to do the crux anymore, but I wanted to find out for sure before moving on to less bouldery projects.

My first go of the day I managed to stick the crux dyno after only a couple of tries. Anytime you’re throwing and catching all your body weight on small holds, there’s a chance of destroying your skin. I think when I had tried the move earlier in the season, I was reluctant to really commit 100% to latching the target hold, for fear of wrecking my skin. But now, nearing the end of a long season, I had little to lose, and found myself squeezing much harder on the latch.

After a short break I roped up again. I had more trouble than usual getting to the lip of the roof. These moves require my maximum strength, and doing them even a few times can take quite a bit out of me. I had to lunge the last few inches to the three-finger edge, a move I did statically on my first go. As I worked my feet into position for the throw, I could feel my hand slowing opening up on the three-finger edge. “Now or never,” I thought, unleashing myself outward and upward over the lip. I nailed the hold and somehow controlled the violent recoil of my lower body. I threw a foot up, slapped up onto the hanging upper panel, and cruised up incut crimps to the anchor.

Cranking between incut crimps on the pumpy, slightly overhanging headwall.

Cranking between incut crimps on the pumpy, slightly overhanging headwall.

I named the route “Seven Minute Abs” for its core-intensive crux. I reckon this is the hardest of my roof climb first ascents.  The crux move is much harder than the crux move on any of my other roof routes, but the climbing is quite a bit less sustained than on the others.  I put it at the low end of 5.14b, but with a relatively intense, reachy crux that makes for sketchy grading.  I find it bizarrely ironic that I’ve evolved into a roof-climbing connoisseur. I really don’t care for that type of climbing at all, nor do I consider myself in the least bit good at it, but when you want to do new routes in a place that’s thoroughly picked over, you have to work with the rock that’s left over. Clearly nobody else likes hard roof climbing either, since so many “good” roof routes have been left for me to claim.  I am grateful for that.

With my hard projects wrapped up, I was free to try easier routes (and eat donuts). I was particularly psyched to check out some routes at a steeply overhanging wall in Clear Creek called Aftermath that I bolted in December 2015, but hadn’t yet had the chance to climb.

aftermath-topo1The rock is relatively fractured, resulting in tons of jugs, jutting overhangs, and a relatively adventurous flavor (for sportclimbing). Overhanging jughauls are unusual for the Front Range, so I hoped the climbing would make up for the marginal rock quality. I headed  up there a few weeks ago with my friend Boer to check out the routes. We were lucky to have Nick Zepeda along to shoot the flattering photos you see here. Check out more of his gorgeous climbing shots on his website, https://zepedaphotography.carbonmade.com/

Just after topping out the crux mantle of Aftermathematics, 5.12a. Photo Nicholas Zepeda.

Just after topping out the crux mantle of Aftermathematics, 5.12a. Photo Nicholas Zepeda.

Certainly the crag won’t appeal to everyone, but those who don’t mind a bit of an adventure are in for some really fun, exposed climbs at relatively modest grades. The crag has five lines, ranging from 5.11+ to 5.12+. There are three routes climbing out the largest overhang, and all of these climb almost entirely on full-hand jugs. Boer and I thoroughly enjoyed the climbing, so much so that I climbed “Strapped with Lats” twice, just for fun.

The first ascent of Strapped with Lats, 5.12c, at Aftermath. Photo Nicholas Zepeda.

The first ascent of Strapped with Lats, 5.12c, at Aftermath. Photo Nicholas Zepeda.

This was by far the most successful season of my climbing career. All told I sent my hardest route ever, and still had time and psych left over to complete more than ten first ascents between Clear Creek and Shelf Road (including two 14b’s, a 14a and three 5.13’s). For the first time in a couple years I found myself wanting to extend my climbing season rather than jump back in the barn to train for the next one. I’m a bit bummed it has to end, but I have plenty to get stoked (and strong) for this coming winter.

Training for 9a – Preface

by Mark Anderson

This is the first in a multi-part series about how I prepared and trained for my ascent of Shadowboxing in Rifle Colorado. For background on the route and details of my ascent, please read here.

The decision to embark on a multi-season redpoint campaign should not be taken lightly. It’s a huge investment in time, energy and motivation. It also comes with a tremendous opportunity cost, meaning the time devoted to a single mega project could otherwise be spent working and sending many other routes, that offer a wider variety of moves and growth experiences. Not to mention the fact that even after a year or more of effort, you might not send!

I’d been stuck at 5.14c for a few years, and had been thinking for a while that sooner or later I would need to test myself on the next grade up. I wasn’t in any particular hurry—I was still improving, and so I figured the longer I put it off, the better prepared I would be. That changed in the summer of 2015, when inspiration and circumstances converged to create the right opportunity.

The first step in any major escapade is selecting an appropriate objective. Despite my admonishments to the contrary in the Rock Climber’s Training Manual, the underlying goal was to climb the grade, 5.14d (or 9a in Old Money). Routes of such grade are fairly few and far between in North America, so I didn’t have a ton of options to choose from.

Selecting the optimal goal route can be critically important. A good long-term goal route will have the following traits:

  • Inspiring enough to keep you motivated through several training cycles, even when the end is nowhere in sight.
  • Logistically convenient enough to allow as many opportunities as possible to attempt the route. Factors such as typical weather, length of climbing seasons, approach and geographic proximity all come into play.
  • High quality, so you are psyched to get on the route day after day (or at least you don’t dread getting on it)
  • Non-threatening (from an injury perspective), so you aren’t accumulating injuries throughout the process.
  • Challenging, yet still possible.

I had a few ideas in mind, but there is one guy who knows the American 9a landscape better than anyone else (so much so, that he created a website for it: http://usa9a.blogspot.com/ ). I put my initial thoughts together and asked Jonathan Siegrist for his recommendations, considering where I live, my climbing style, and strengths and weaknesses.

Jonathan's masterpiece La Lune climbs the right side of the arching cave.

Jonathan’s twin Arrow Canyon masterpieces La Lune and Le Reve climb the right side of the arching cave.  Note the sloping belay stance.

The primary factor for me was logistics. Jonathan thought the most suitable routes for my style would be one of his lines in Arrow Canyon (Nevada), La Lune or Le Reve. Unfortunately those routes are about a 12-hour drive-plus-approach away, each way, with a belay off a sloping ledge that would be marginal-at-best for my kids. We also discussed Algorithm at the Fins (Idaho), which seemed perfect for my style, but is probably more difficult to reach than Arrow Canyon (and likely hard for the grade).  Eventually we narrowed it down to Colorado’s two 9a’s (at the time), Shadowboxing and Kryptonite.

The latter was the first 9a in America, and easily its most popular (based on the number of successful ascents). I’m a huge climbing-history nerd, so it was the obvious choice. It climbs out the center of a massive cave known as The Fortress of Solitude, only about 5 miles (as the crow flies) from Rifle, and similar in style—steep, burly and continuous.

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The Fortress of Solitude, with Kryptonite roughly marked.  On  the lower left you can see the top of the steep scree fields that mark the end of the approach.

Unfortunately the Fortress sits at the top of one of the most notorious, soul-sucking approaches in Colorado. I made a trip out in late July to see what the approach would be like with kids: nearly impossible without a helicopter. The crux is several hundred yards of loose scree and talus, which you ascend by “Batman-ing” up a series of fixed ropes (while your feet skate in the steep debris). I could probably devise some scheme of shuttling backpacks-stuffed-with-kids to make it work for a few climbing days, but there was no way I could expect to get them up there 10+ times per season. It was equally unlikely to expect I could arrange babysitters, or sucker other partners for the number of trips I would need. That left Shadowboxing….

Based on what I knew of the route, it didn’t seem particularly well-aligned to my climbing strengths, but I figured its proximity to home and ease of access would make up for its sub-optimal style in the long run. I decided I would commit the first four climbing days of my Fall 2015 season to attempting it, and if I felt it was a poor choice at that point, I would retreat and consider other options.

Shadowboxing.

Shadowboxing.

Through seven weeks of hangboarding, campusing and limit bouldering, I wondered about the route. What would it be like? Was I in the ballpark? Would I be able to do the moves? Would I like it? Finally my first day on the route arrived…and it was rough. There were at least 10 moves I couldn’t do (although so many of them were consecutive, it’s hard to get an accurate count). My journal entry for the day says, “Got pretty worked–many moves I couldn’t do and pretty much completely baffled by the dihedral crux and undercling crux. Pretty overwhelmed/discouraged at the end of it all.”

Typically my first day on the rock at the beginning of each season is relatively poor, and so it was this time. By the end of my second day I’d gotten good linkage through the easier sections and done all the moves but one, the infamous crimp move. I stuck that move twice on day three, and by day four I had linked the entire route in four sections. I had made a ton of progress during my 4-day litmus test, and so with nothing better to do elsewhere, I decided to continue working the route.

The rest of that Fall 2015 season included many ups and downs. One day was entirely consumed working out a single frustrating foot move. At various points I had bleeding splits on the first pads of the index, middle, and ring fingers of my right hand due to one particularly sharp crimp. I acquired a number of nagging aches and pains in my shoulders, biceps, elbows and back from the many thuggish undercling moves low on the route.  While I two-hanged the route on my fifth day, that metric never improved over the next eight climbing days. By late October my highpoint was creeping up the route at a rate of about one move per weekend. I could do all the moves consistently, and link long sections with relative ease, but I had hit a wall where my endurance was concerned.

A looong way to go....

A looong way to go….   Photo Mike Anderson

As November approached, it seemed like I still had an outside shot of sending that season, but in retrospect I realize that was naïve–I was nowhere close. I needed a whole new level of endurance, not something I was going to acquire on the route over the course of a couple weeks.  Eventually weather, illness and previous commitments mercifully converged to provide an obvious stopping point.

As we made our way east over the Rockies for the last time of 2015, I was optimistic. I had made great progress and learned a tremendous amount about the route, and my capabilities relative to it. I could to start to see myself as a 9a climber.  I would need better upper body strength, and vastly improved endurance to have a puncher’s chance, but now I knew where my weaknesses lay, and I had six long wintery months to attack them.

New Anderson Brothers Podcast

by Mark Anderson

Last week Mike and I did another podcast with our friend Neely Quinn over at TrainingBeta.com.  You can check out the podcast here.

The interview runs about an hour and covers a wide variety of topics including:

  • What went into designing the Rock Prodigy Forge, and why we think it’s the most advanced hangboard on the market.
  • What we learned at the International Rock Climbing Research Association conference, what other research we are working on, which questions need further study.
  • How I trained differently for my ascent of Shadowboxing.
  • Mike’s recent 8a+ and 8b onsights in Europe.
  • Whether or not hangboarding causes forearm hypertrophy.
  • The secret to climbing hard with a family.
  • Questions & Answers from the Training Beta Facebook community
Mike crushing at the Schleierwasserfall

Mike crushing at the Schleierwasserfall

Hope you enjoy the listen, and if it generates any questions, please share them in a comment below, or (ideally) in the Rock Prodigy Forum.

Be sure to follow us on Instagram at @Rock_Climbers_Training_Manual

 

Mark Anderson Sends Shadowboxing, 5.14d

by Mark Anderson

On Friday, September 23rd, I reached my lifetime sport climbing goal of climbing a 5.14d.  Actually it’s a bit of a stretch to call it a “lifetime goal”, since for the vast majority of my life I never dreamed I’d be capable of climbing a route so hard. That changed last summer.  I was at the International Climber’s Fest in Lander, WY, listening to Ethan Pringle’s inspiring keynote address about his journey to send Jumbo Love.  He spent seven years working the route, including 18 days during the Spring 2015 season in which he eventually sent it.  I had never spent 18 days on any route ever, even spread over multiple seasons or years.

Mark Anderson making the third ascent of Shadowboxing, contender for Rifle's hardest route.

Mark Anderson making the third ascent of Shadowboxing, 5.14d.  Photo Mike Anderson

My takeaway from Ethan’s talk was that I didn’t know the first thing about commitment. Not on the scale that sport climbing’s elite practice it.  I routinely hear tales of top climbers spending scores of days, over many seasons or years, to send their hardest routes.  I had never even tried to do that.  I typically picked projects that I already knew I could send, and expected to do in a single season.  Never once had I clipped the chains on a hard project and thought “that’s the hardest I can climb; I can’t climb any harder”.  Instead I most often felt a deflating “well, that was easy” as I casually finished off my dialed project. Never once had I selected a goal route expecting it would take multiple seasons to send, if I were able to send it at all.  If I wanted to find my true limit, some day I would have to try something hard-enough that the outcome would be uncertain.  To have any chance of succeeding, I would have to commit to an all-out effort despite the very real possibility that it could culminate in utter failure.

I had been enjoying life at 5.14c for a few years.  While I’m still making gains through training, frankly, the pace is glacial.  At 39 years old, it’s unlikely I can count on suddenly becoming a significantly stronger or more powerful climber. If I’m not at my lifetime physical peak, I’m pretty close to it.  Furthermore, I have two young kids, and I don’t want to plan my family’s lives around hard sport climbing for much longer. It was the right time to make an all-out effort, to put my 20+ years of hard-earned knowledge and ability to the test.  I needed a worthy goal.

In the American grade scale “5.14d” may not sound much better than 5.14c, perhaps not worth an extra special, once-in-a-lifetime effort. But most of the world uses the French scale, where 5.14c is “8c+”, and 5.14d is “9a”.  The Ninth Grade is a magical threshold.  Wolfgang Gullich separated himself from the other protagonists of the sport climbing revolution with his ascent of the world’s first 9a, Action Directe.  It’s what every top sport climber around the globe aspires to, and clearly worthy of a special effort.

Shadowboxing climbs the gently overhanging sweep of porcelain limestone directly across from The Eighth Day.

Shadowboxing climbs the gently overhanging sweep of porcelain limestone directly across from The Eighth Day.

After several weeks of research and deliberation, I settled on Rifle’s hardest route, Shadowboxing, a phenomenal, slightly overhanging 40-meter wall of underclings, slopers and edges. The route was originally bolted in the 90’s by Nico Favresse, tried by many, but left to collect dust until Jonathan Siegrist arrived in 2011 to bag the first ascent. This attracted more suitors, until a key hold in the crux crumbled, leaving the route’s status in question. Jonathan eventually re-climbed the line to prove it would still go, but despite attempts by most of Rifle’s best climbers, no further ascents came until Jon Cardwell put it together in August 2015.

That history provided plenty of unnecessary intimidation for me. I don’t have a great track record at Rifle.  I’ve failed there more than at any other crag.  I’m best suited for thin, technical lines where I can stand on my feet and use my tediously cultivated finger strength.  The burly, upper-arm intensive thuggery of Rifle has sent me slinking out of the canyon with my tail between my legs more often than I care to admit. So I decided to give it four days of reconnaissance, and then re-evaluate.  At the end of those four days I was still psyched to continue, and soon after I was hooked.

Shouldery, burly climbing low on the route. Photo Mike Anderson.

I spent 13 days working the route in the Fall of 2015. I made a lot of progress, including many routine “2-hangs” but wasn’t truly close to sending. I did, however, gain some confidence that I could do it, eventually. I returned in May 2016 for another 12 days of frustration stemming from the flu, perpetually wet and seeping rock, broken holds and a tweaked back, ultimately devolving into oppressive heat. Despite my laundry list of excuses, I made significant progress, most notably a handful of one-hang ascents. By mid-June I was failing more often than not about seven hard-but-not-desperate moves from the end of the difficulties. As the summer heat squashed my chances, I could honestly say I was close. But I would need to wait several months for decent conditions to return to the canyon.

Over the summer I trained, adjusting my program so that I would arrive physically ready to send when I returned in September. It worked.  In training I was experiencing the best power of my career simultaneously with the best endurance of my career. Normally those peaks are separated by 4-5 weeks. On my first go back on the route I matched my previous highpoint.  I knew I was physically strong and fit-enough to send, I just needed to re-gain the muscle memory for the route’s 100+ moves.

Thursday night we checked into our hotel, with the Friday forecast showing a 40% chance of rain, mostly before noon. The next morning it was partly cloudy with a scant few sprinkles, but a sickly dark cloud loomed ahead as we approached the crag.  We arrived to a steady rain. Shadowboxing was still dry, except for the last two bolts of 5.10 climbing.  But based on the forecast, we expected the rain to stop within a couple hours, so we decided to wait.  Four hours of hyper-active pacing later, I was pulling out my hair to climb.  The rain seemed to be ebbing, but water streaks had streamed down the top third of the climb, soaking the thin edges and pockets surrounding my previous highpoint.  I decided the day would be a loss anyway, so I might as well get started, regardless of the wetness, figuring I could at least rehearse the lower cruxes in preparation for redpoint attempts on Sunday.

Surprisingly by the time I finished my warmup, the upper panel seemed dry. My first go of the day was solid, resulting in my 8th one-hang, but with some encouraging micro-progress on the “Crimp Crux” that ended the burn (along with the seven previous one-hangs).  The fickle move is a long rock right on a slippery foothold to reach a shallow crimp/pocket.  While certainly difficult, I realized my troubles with this move were more mental than physical.  After failing here so many times, I had trained myself to expect it–to brace for the fall instead of focusing on my execution.  After I fell I rehearsed the move a couple times, making a point to move off the hold as soon as I grabbed it, instead of bouncing and adjusting my grip until I had it latched perfectly.

At the "Crimp Crux", eyeing the shallow crimp/pocket that had eluded me on 8 one-hang ascents.

At the “Crimp Crux”, with my left hand on the “Pinch Plate”, eyeing the shallow crimp/pocket that ended eight redpoint attempts.  Photo Mike Anderson.

I rested about an hour and tied back in for my last attempt of the day. I cruised up the opening slab, over a short roof, then into the business.  I flew past a series of crux holds, each one representing the doubts and tribulations I eventually overcame to master them in previous seasons. I was going well, confident I would reach the rest at two-thirds height.  Once there, I implored myself to try hard and remain focused at the crimp crux–just keep cranking full speed ahead until you fall off.

Eventually I went for it, feeling the first wave of pump doubt about ten moves higher. I kept motoring, paddling my hands and feet toward the Crimp Crux. I stepped up to the hovering, thin panel of rippled limestone, and grabbed the sloping and thin “Pinch Plate” with my left hand.  This time I completely committed to latching the crimp–I tried hard and focused on doing the move correctly.  I hit the shallow crimp–not especially well–but I didn’t care and I didn’t hesitate.  Instead I immediately rolled it up, and proceeded, fully expecting to fall on the next move—a sideways slap to an incut slot—but I didn’t.  The key piece of beta turned out to be: TRY FUCKING HARD.  Don’t give up, and don’t hesitate. If you hit the hold, however badly, just keep going.  Assume you have it good enough, until gravity says otherwise.  That’s not always the right beta, but it was right on that move, on that day.

I had finally done the Crimp Crux from the ground, but there were plenty of hard moves remaining.  I felt pumped but I kept charging. I stabbed for a shallow three-finger pocket and latched it.  As I moved my left foot up to the first of two micro edges, my leg began to shake.  I stepped my right foot up to the next micro edge, and it too began to shake.  I got my feet on as well as I could despite the vibrations, leaned right, and stabbed left for a half-pad two-finger pocket, again  expecting to fall.  I latched it and pulled my trembling right foot up.  Now I hesitated.  The next move was really hard.  While I’d never reached it on redpoint before, I’d had plenty of nightmares about falling off here.  And now there was no denying–I was absolutely pumped.  I took a good look at the target (a 4-finger, incut half-pad edge), settled in my stance, and with zero reluctance I slapped for it, putting 100% effort and concentration into the latch.  I hit it accurately, but I had a lot of outward momentum to stop.  I had it well enough though.  I bounced my fingers on, amazed that I stuck it.

Next I had to high-step my left foot into the incut slot. It felt incredibly hard for a foot move, but I got it on there, somehow.  By now my elbows were sticking straight out. I noticed I wasn’t thumb-catching with my right hand like I ought to, but it seemed too late to correct.  Now the only thing to do was huck for the jug and pray the friction was sufficient to keep me on the wall. Somehow it worked, but I wasn’t home free yet.  I was pumped out of my skull and had one more long throw to do.  As I was wiggling my left hand into the best position on the jug, I could feel the lip crumbling under my fingers.  Not good!  I kept it together despite an evil impulse to give up and jump off (saying take wouldn’t have helped, I was now ten feet above the last draw!).  I squeezed a few fingers of my right hand onto the jug so I could adjust my left hand and clear the new formed debris.  I pulled up into position for the throw and hesitated for an eternity, fruitlessly kicking my flagging left foot around in hope of some purchase.

I felt my momentum fizzling and my hips sag.  As I imagined my pathetic, sorry-excuse-for-a-climber-carcass hurtling towards the ground after failing to even try a 5.9 dyno, I heard, for the first time, the shouts of encouragement from the gallery of climbers warming up at the Project Wall. At my moment of greatest doubt, although not uttered particularly loud, I heard clearly, as though he were standing next to me, Dave Graham* calmly urge “Allez”.  I can’t explain it.  It wasn’t the word but the way he said it–like he was talking to himself, and sincerely wanted me to do it.  That was the difference, and in that moment I chose to do it.  I slapped up and stuck it.

[*the first American to climb Action Directe, and one of the first three to climb 5.15]

The end of Shadowboxing's lower crux section. Photo Mike Anderson.

The end of Shadowboxing’s lower crux section. Photo Mike Anderson.

The desperation of the last sequence and support from below forced an excited “YEAHHH!” out of me once I realized I had the hold. I rested on the jug for a long time, or rather procrastinated, terrified that the 20-feet of climbing remaining, which were exposed to the full fury of the rain, would be wet or covered in silt from the runoff. Although the climbing was only 5.10 in this section, it’s very insecure, balancy climbing on non-positive slopers. In the end it was trivial–the holds were neither wet nor dirty.  I methodically worked up towards the anchor, with no drama, clipping the anchor easily, exclaiming “Wooooohoo!  You’re my bitch Rifle!” –the last word on an up and down love/hate relationship with Rifle.  To have my greatest triumph there, even though it came at an absurd cost, was incredibly satisfying.

And it was my greatest triumph. Obviously, objectively, it’s the hardest rock climb I’ve done. I spent roughly twice as many days on it (28) as any other project, at the time of my physical peak. But the real challenge was mental. Jonathan named the route “Shadowboxing” as a nod to its lack of shade. But the name took on a different meaning for me, the dictionary definition. It became increasingly clear as the process evolved that I was fighting myself. Physically, I was able, but mentally I was not prepared to accept that I was good enough to climb such a hard route. Overcoming that barrier and sticking with it to the end was the most mentally difficult thing I’ve ever done—harder than the Cassin Ridge, finishing a marathon off the couch, Boot Camp, or the endless drudgery and starvation of high school wrestling. Never have I had to persevere through so much persistent failure, so many setbacks, over so many days and multiple seasons. So many times I could have quit, and I would have been well-justified in doing so. But I kept going. Each off-season, I looked at fat Mark in the mirror and wondered if I’d be able to regain my form in time for the next season. Each time I did. The day of the send was a microcosm of the entire campaign. So many things didn’t go perfectly, so many moments of doubt or indecision crept in to derail my focus. But I kept moving towards the goal, and I was rewarded for it.

Falling off at the Crimp Crux--an experience I was all-too familiar with. Photo Mike Anderson.

Falling off at the Crimp Crux–an experience I was all-too familiar with. Photo Mike Anderson.

When I first got to the ground, someone asked how long I’d been working the route, and I said “So long I’m embarrassed to say”.  I am slightly ashamed of how long it took.  From a performance improvement perspective, I’m skeptical that was the best way to spend an entire year of my climbing life, even though that is precisely the experience I signed up for.  Still, despite my excessive sieging, the route never really got any easier.  During the process I (or others) broke at least seven holds that I can remember.  If anything the route got objectively harder.  That difficutly forced me to train far harder, and sacrifice far more than I ever have for a sport climb.  As a result, I got significantly better. I stayed focused and determined despite countless setbacks and distractions.

That’s the great thing about a stretch goal—it forces you to stretch yourself in order to reach it. It wasn’t an experience I enjoyed, but it is was the experience I needed if I wanted to know my limit.  As I clipped the chains, I never once thought “well, that was easy”. Instead, I reflected on how hard I worked over the last year, and marveled at how hard I tried in the moment of truth. I’ve never had to try that hard during a redpoint. I’ve never successfully linked so many consecutive 50/50 moves. I doubt I ever will again. That was a special moment, the culmination of a special year. From the admittedly narrow perspective of this one moment in my life, I can truly say, that is the hardest I can climb.

Below Shadowboxing after the send. Photo Shaun Corpron.

Below Shadowboxing after the send.  I’m told hangboarding doesn’t cause forearm hypertrophy. Someone please tell my camera.  Photo Shaun Corpron.

PS, I have to thank my wife Kate. If you ever wonder how it’s possible for me to climb so much with two small kids, the answer is Kate. She takes up the ample parenting slack that my climbing creates. This project was particularly burdensome. Kate endured interminable belay sessions, interminable rest days, and my interminable whining over every little setback. I simply could not have done it without her. Thanks also to my brother Mike who constantly pushes me to be better than I ever think I’m capable of (and for the photos and belays). Thanks to Trango for supporting me despite a year of meager results, to Shaun Corpron for the belays, and to all my friends on the Rock Prodigy Forum who shared their wisdom and support with me.

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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