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Category Archives: About Me

How Craig DeMartino Became a Climber

When I started climbing 30 years ago, all I wanted was to BE a climber. I wanted to be strong in every climbing discipline: trad, sport, big wall, ice, and bouldering. I wanted to be able to move seamlessly between them and practice those arts at the highest level I could. After doing it for 15 years, I was pretty solid in the arts. Then one day I wasn’t.

They call them accidents for a reason. Not one person to really blame, really just a bunch of small, insignificant actions that resulted in a catastrophic failure that got me to a hospital bed clinging to life after a 100 foot ground fall. After surviving the fall and following days in the ICU and orthopedic care, my life went from one of action to one of reaction. My movement was stifled. For the next year I would react to what doctors told me and make a design on how to best “save” what I had left. They fused my spine in the Lumbar region, my neck at the C5/6 level, and finally, I found myself back in the hospital to amputate my right leg. A reaction to the fact I couldn’t walk without a cast. The reality was that climbing and my life would never be the same with the limb I had left. After the surgery, I fought to find out what was left of my former self. I loved my wife and kids and that would never change, but being a climber was a huge part of WHO I was and it seemed I was back to square one.

I was back to wanting to BE a climber, so that’s what I put my mind to. With the help of my wife and friends, I began to build back the climber and person I was before. The setbacks and fear were huge. Most times I climbed I wanted to quit and find something new. But if you climb for a while it becomes part of who you are and what you are. It’s very hard to ignore. For me it was like denying my DNA.

The first climbs were small, but I kept moving. Movement was what felt best. Even 15 years later, sitting still makes me stiffen and have trouble moving. As the climbs got harder, so did my adjustment to my new body. My windows of opportunity were small, so I pushed hard and tried to capitalize on them. This left me completely destroyed and needing rest and recovery. Improvements came slowly, but four years after the accident I found myself climbing El Cap in under a day and actually feeling like a climber again.

As with any journey, this one was not without its setbacks. Stump infections from a shower fall kept me in and out of the hospital for months last year. It cut into my crag time as you can imagine, but through it all, my wife Cyn and I would load the van, hit the road, and keep moving.

I’ve been really lucky to climb some amazing routes first as a disabled climber, to team up with other adaptive athletes and climb El Cap unsupported, and have strong finishes in the adaptive competition scene over the years. Through it all, the idea of being a climber is what keeps me going. Today, I remember my friends and partners much more than I do the routes and comp results. To be honest, I remember very few of my podium finishes, they are fleeting moments in time. Cyn keeps a record of her proud sends, and I often don’t even remember if I DID a route. But I DO remember the climbers I’m with. The connections I’ve made over the years with other climbers and places are what drives me forward. It’s the act of being in a space where everyone understands what you are talking about, where living in a car for a period of time is normal, where being a climber is what everyone is trying to do.

Getting hurt so badly ended up being one of the best things to ever happen to me. It’s changed how I live, work, and play. In short, I wouldn’t trade it or give it back for anything. It has taught me that there is more than me in this world. It has taught me to help others and stay humble. Its shown me the depth a relationship can have. It’s made me a better human by crushing the old one.

It’s what made me a climber.

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.

Be a Climber: Quitting (and re-creating) Your Day Job

The juxtaposition of my life does not go unnoticed by my closest friends and family. On one hand I love order, control, routine. Type A personality stuff. On the other hand, the well-defined and fully explored bores me to death and I crave adventure, the unknown, something new and ever-changing where the outcome is uncertain.

While those seem to be at great odds with each other, they come together in perfect harmony for me in the form of calculated risk. It’s the best of both worlds really. Let me give you a few examples. Before children, I free soloed and did X-rated routes up to 5.12. I can’t actually think of a single case when the route wasn’t an onsight. It had adventure, the terrain was unknown (to me) and the route was new (again, to me). But anyone who has done much of that kind of climbing also knows if it’s too adventurous, too unknown, and the outcome is too uncertain, well then, you can’t do it for very long and live to tell about it. Free soloing for me was equally about control and order. I was intimately familiar with the rock type and the climbing area. I felt, tested, and retested every hold before committing. I never climbed up something I couldn’t climb down. In fact I’ve backed off 5.7s as many times as I’ve backed off 5.11s. Yes there was risk. Yes I could have fallen. But those odds were slim. They were calculated risks.

Here’s another example. I received my Master’s degree in Special Education and found a knack for working with students with emotional disabilities in impoverished neighborhoods (the “ghetto” to you layman folk). Real-deal gangbangers with rap sheets and weapons charges that were known for violence. Most had given up on them so in turn, these types of students were quick to dismiss others (often violently). Calculated risk. I had the educational training – the strategies to diffuse the situation. I also have the personality to relate to them on their level, gain their trust, and push them toward a more positive direction. But it’s not without challenges and sometimes real dangers. I’ve had students get extremely angry – try to punch me, throw chairs at me, and worse. But I had the tools and mindset to get out of those situations (mostly) unscathed. The flip side is that teaching in a public school offers security and routine on some levels, yet every day was different. What worked with a kid yesterday won’t work with that same kid tomorrow. You must always adapt, constantly learn and improve. It kept me on my toes and was a good balance for me for a long time.

Fast forward and here I am, smack-dab in the middle of my thirties. I crave a change – a massive life shake up. Perhaps just ahead of the curve on a mid-life crisis. My mom always said I was advanced for my age. Anyway, teaching has given me so much and I hope that in return I have given something back to the kids I’ve worked with over the last 12 years. But it is too routine now, too “safe”, too familiar. My adult obligation of financial security I owe my family pulls me in one direction while the desire to take a risk and choose a new career path pulls me in another. I could not find balance between the two.

But I’m not a risk taker. While what I wrote above would seem to contradict that to some – what I mean is I’m not an “unknown outcome” kind of risk taker. Imagine this scenario for a minute: You flip a coin. Heads I win a dollar, tails you win a dollar. I do not see it as a 50/50 chance of winning a dollar. I see it as me losing a dollar. The odds are too unfavorable – there is too much risk. I would never agree to flip the coin. The risk must be low. I’ve built too much of a life to gamble any of it. Yet to some degree, there needs to be a little risk to entice me. Where is the balance? It’s different for each of us and it’s taken me a long time to finally find it.

I’ve been a rock climber for more years of my life than not. I’ve worked in gear shops, climbing gyms, for gear manufacturers, and even own a climbing publishing company called Fixed Pin. I have no formal education in “climbing business” but I know it better than anything else, perhaps better than I even know teaching. Climbing is my religion. I’m not a zealot but it is how I decompress, how I commune with nature, and how I rebalance myself. When I’m out of whack, my wife tells me to go climbing and I come home happier, more patient, and a better life partner and father overall. Some drink, some pray. I climb. Climbing is all I want to be around. I want to talk about it, write about it, and well, just do it. Enter Gravity One Climbing + Fitness.

I had always thought starting a climbing gym would be incredible but it seemed a bit too unrealistic for me. They cost millions of dollars to start up after all. But I have found that, perhaps through happenstance, I have been building up to this moment my entire adult life. I have the right experience (work and personal), the right connections, the right motivation, and the right amount of risk tolerance to venture off into the unknown – quit my government job as a public-school teacher that I virtually could never be fired or downsized from and start my own business where I am my own boss. All decisions directly affect me, good and bad. I could win big or I could lose it all. But it’s calculated. And isn’t that what being a climber means? Taking calculated risks. Isn’t that the lesson we all experience every time we go out to the crags? We leave the safety of the ground, where yes, we could fall back down to it. But we have ropes and protection and a trusted belayer to catch us. Things could go wrong – a piece could pull, a clip could be botched, a belayer could give too much slack. But rarely do we experience any of those things. We fall but only a little bit. We take comfort in both the risk itself as well as knowing that those risks have been greatly mitigated. Our partner has us. Our rope and gear will catch us. We push ourselves sometimes to places that are uncomfortable but we revel in that feeling once back on the ground, sometimes hours, days, or even weeks later. We retell those events over beers and around campfires trying to recapture that feeling. To me, that’s what it means to be a climber. Leave yourself exposed just enough to feel uncomfortable but not be in danger. I just feel so fortunate that I’ve finally learned how to carry that over into my professional life and to be able to experience a feeling of balance of calculated risk outside of climbing itself.

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.

 

Climbing in Italy – Finale Ligure Part 2

By Mark Anderson

Pyro, 7b, at Grotta della Strapatente.

Messalina, 7a+, Domus Aurea.

For our last climbing day of the trip, we chose the region around the village of Boragni. This area has a wide selection of crags within a small area, and also seemed to offer some of the best tufa climbing in Finale. It also offered another spelunking adventure for the kids, with two crags connected by a 100m-long cave (fortunately this cave didn’t require any fixed lines or scrambling).

Commuting between Domus Aurea and Grotta della Strapatente.

The first crag we visited is called Domus Aurea. This was a small crag with only a few routes, but it has a nice curtain of steep tufas. After warming up, we headed to the phenomenal Grotta della Strapatente. This cliff is famous for an 8b+ (5.14a) called En Attendant Berhault that climbs through a horizontal roof on big stalactites, but we were here for the amazing wall of flowstone to the right. I climbed some truly fantastic tufas on this trip, but these were the most fun.

Climbing Pyro, 7b, on the amazing wall of tufas at Grotta della Strapatente.

My favorite route on the wall was a snaking 7b called Pyro. The route flowed seamlessly—just when one tufa ends, an incut pocket appears to link the movement into the next tufa. The route was never super hard, but continuous and sequential. The tufas on this route were incredible—it seemed like each drip was sculpted with a climber’s hand in mind. It was easily the best route I did in Finale.

Memobox, 7b, another great tufa line at Strapatente.

Kate enjoying the heavily-pocketed start of Memobox.

After a few more of the wall’s stellar tufas, we packed up one more time and headed back down the hill to a stacked cliff of moderates called “Bastinata sinistra Boragni.” The cliff is enormous, with pitches reaching 40m, a few multi-pitch lines, and over 70 routes from 5.8 to 5.12. It was a great hang for kids, with a nice open base, and they both fell fast asleep as soon as we arrived.

Where’s Waldo…?

…there he is. Copping a rest in one of the many pockets of Panorama, 7a+

The climbing varied from steep slabs to very-slightly-overhanging walls covered in pockets. Some of these pockets were huge incut jugs, some just looked like that from below. Silt from runoff was problematic on some of the routes, but most of the lines were long and clean. The best route we did was a popular 40m 5.10 called Change the World. I had to scrounge up every draw and sling, back-clean a few bolts, and skip some others, but it was a fun and airy journey.

Kate at the bulging crux of Change the World, 6b, at Bastionata sinistra Boragni.

Of all the places we visited, I find myself most inclined to return to Finale. Not because the climbing was the best—it wasn’t, but because the lifestyle was so relaxing. Minimal driving, a wide variety of routes, and very few crowds. Even when the climbing is bad (it never was), you can look forward to capping off the day with a casual stroll along the beach and enjoying a delicious meal. It would be a great place to live as a retired climber—lifetimes worth of routes to climb, with none of the hassle of other venues.

Higher on Change the World’s endless sea of pockets.  The anchor is still out of the frame!

All told, it was an awesome climbing vacation.  We visited a ton of new crags, saw some amazing sights, and had a great time.  Generally we fizzle out at the end of these trips–ending up exhausted and longing for home.  That never happened on this trip.  The kids were really well-behaved the entire time, and relatively self-sufficient.  At 6 and almost-4, it feels like we’re through the tunnel from a “climbing with kids” perspective, and our horizons are broadening once again.  They managed many long days (and long approaches) with few complaints.  Another important improvement over previous trips was that we rented houses in both destinations.  I wasn’t sure how that would pan out, but it worked really well and was surprisingly affordable.  It made everything less stressful and eliminated the problem of finding food outside of normal business hours (the crux of our earliest trips).  The downside of this approach is that it restricts your travel range, but fortunately we found two base camps with a wide variety of incredible sights and crags.  It seemed like we could have stayed forever, and I’d be happy to return to either.

Castle of the Day: Vernazza, along the infamous Cinque Terra trail. We hiked from Monterosso (visible along the shore at center) to Corniglia (8Km total), which Logan managed with no assistance, minimal whining, and just a wee bit of bribery (a Police Boat Lego set).

 

Climbing in France – Venasque

By Mark Anderson

Nearing the top of Vole, 7b, at the French Limestone crag of Venasque. Photo Logan Anderson.

Venasque is a little known crag outside the village of the same name, about an hour south of Buis. We first went there on one of my rest days, to give Kate a chance to climb some of the highly recommended 5.10s and 11s. Kate really enjoyed the climbing, and it looked so fun that we both agreed we should return for our last day in France.

Kate cruising Beaucoup de Bruit Pour Rien (“A Lot of Noise for Nothing”), 6a+, on our first day at Venasque.

The cliffs of Venasque don’t look remarkable (relative to other crags of the area). There are no tufas, the colors are bland relative to the orange and blue streaks of St Leger and Baume Rousse, and the scenery isn’t particularly special. But man, the climbing sure is fun! The rock is limestone, but it seems to have quite a bit of sandstone mixed in, and it’s weathered in a manner very similar to the best routes at Kentucky’s Red River Gorge. We spent most of our time at “Place de l’Ascle,” the main feature of which is a 30m wall, overhanging up to about 20 degrees, and covered in huge jugs. All the routes on this wall were spectacular 5.12 pumpfests. The routes aren’t particularly striking or cerebral, but it was definitely the most fun I had climbing on our trip.

Kate starting up Petite Marie, a gobsmacking 5.11c that charges up the right side of a towering swell of overhanging jugs.  5.11 sport climbs don’t get any better than this.

Higher on Petite Marie. Note the leaning wave of rock to Kate’s left—home to Misanthropies Therapeutiques, Aller Plus Haute, and Vole.

I started by warming up on a brilliant 7b on this wall called Misanthropies Therapeutiques, which was completely stellar, getting gently steeper, with equally growing holds, as you ascend (all the routes on this wall were like that).  It was one of the most fun sport climbs I’ve ever done. Next we moved to another sector along the same cliffband which the Rockfax guide described as a “must see wall that is the epitome of a sport crag and a must climb venue.” This cliff overhangs about 20 degrees, with a number of pockety, sequential lines from 7c-8b. I tried a route called Objectif Puree, or “Pure Objective.” This name was apparently ironic, as I soon discovered about half the handholds on the route were chipped. It was a drag, and really turned me off on the wall. I felt like I was climbing in a gym with poor route-setting. It was also rather disappointing that some people think chipped garbage is “the epitome of a sport crag.” Whether that’s a reflection on the author’s taste, or the reputation of sport climbing (or both), I don’t know. Nor am I sure which would be worse. To me it seemed like a real waste of a cliff, not to mention a waste of a climbing day in Europe.

Objectif Puree. Photo Amelie Anderson.

The upside of this revelation was that I was free to return to the first cliff and climb as many of the rad jughauls as my family could tolerate (fortunately it was also another great place to rig a rope swing, which got me at least one extra route beyond the usual quota).

Midway up Vole, 7b. Misanthropies Therapeutiques is the next route left (following the flake system), and Aller Plus Haute is the second route left. Photo Logan Anderson.

The most memorable moment of the day came as I was cleaning the 7b+ Aller Plus Haute (“Go High”). The crag is right over the road, at the intersection of a very popular hiking trail.  A crowd of about 30 hikers came through, pausing briefly to watch my acrobatics as I neared the bottom quickdraw. When I cleaned this last draw on the steeply overhanging wall, I predictably swung way out over the road, greeted by a chorus of “oohs” and “aahs” from the gathered spectators.

Logan getting in on the fun.

All told it was easily my favorite day of climbing on the trip. The crag doesn’t look spectacular, it’s not photogenic or historic, but it’s hard not to have fun on these amazing cliffs. It was a great hang for the kids, with no approach, and nestled in one of the most scenic rural regions of Provence.  It’s the perfect family vacation crag.

Castle of the Day – Entrevaux. This one was so spectacular it gets two pics….

Logan had a great time playing with the two cannons at lower right. Note also the Citadel high above, and the zig-zagging path that climbs up to it.

 

40 Climbing Lessons

by Mark Anderson

A few years ago Steve Bechtel gave me an article called “40 Years of Insight” by strength Coach Dan John.  The article is a list of 40 lessons Dan learned in his 40 years of coaching strength athletes. I liked it so much, I keep it on my nightstand and re-read it periodically.

I can’t imagine I’ll have anything interesting left to say once I have 40 years of coaching experience, but as of today I’ve been on this planet for 40 years, so I decided to write my own version—40 lessons I’ve learned about climbing in 40 years of life. Nobody will agree with all of them, but hopefully everyone can find some use for at least one of these. [Warning: this is a bit of a novel, so you might want to break it up over a few days (Mark D)]

1. Set Goals—We need to reach for the stars if we want to have the slightest chance of reaching our potential. How we do that matters. Many people confuse dreams with goals, but there is one major difference—dreams almost never happen. If you want to get things done, you need realistic stepping-stones and an executable plan to progress between them. Establish a plan, follow the plan. That’s how you get things don

2. It’s Never Too Late—to take up climbing, learn a new technique, develop new strength, rehab a nagging injury. Every few years I discover another aspect of my climbing I’ve neglected and start improving it. In my late 20’s it was power endurance, in my early 30’s it was contact strength, then it was upper arm and shoulder power, then core strength, and most recently I found I had improved so much everywhere else that power endurance was once again a (relative) weakness. Whatever it is that’s been holding you back, start training it today. There’s still plenty of time to reap the benefits.

3. Baby Steps—Big improvements aren’t made in big leaps, they’re made in many baby steps, over years. You can go incredibly far using baby steps, but you have to take a few steps every day, to the best of your ability, for a long time. The good news is, you have plenty of time, the rock isn’t going anywhere.

4. We Don’t Climb in a Lab—I’ll take a real-world anecdote over a laboratory study any day. The climbing studies that have been done thus far are incredibly primitive and rarely (if ever) representative of real-world rock climbing. I couldn’t care less if a training program produces great results in the lab. The point is to get better at climbing rocks, so I follow programs that produce results on the rock. If a program has demonstrated the ability to do that, it’s a good program. If someone is trying to sell you something, the only question to ask is, “how many letter grades did you improve when you used this program?” You don’t need any laboratories, scientists, or double-blind studies. If they can’t answer that question convincingly, save your money.

5. The Weekend Warrior’s Best Weapon is Good Time Management—When I first started working I got a day planner with the Ben Franklin quote: “Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.” In our 20’s, the Anderson mantra was “Maximize Fun,” which was a euphemism for waking up before sunrise, taking no breaks, and finishing after dark so we could cram as much climbing/mountaineering/canyoning into a day as possible. If it didn’t suck by the end of the day, then we failed. I don’t have many days like that anymore, but I am constantly hustling from task to task to clear space for climbing, bolting, or training. If you want to have it all (and you should), it really helps to be as efficient as possible in your daily life: plan ahead, stay on task, do simple things quickly, and do them right the first time.

Maximizing Fun on Lotus Flower Tower. We summited in the dark and got back to camp just before sunrise the next morning.

6. Big Fish Need Big Ponds—If you’re already the best climber in your gym, move! We need rivals to push us, heroes to inspire us, and mentors to show us the way. If you’re the big fish in your pond, find yourself a bigger pond that will give you room to grow. Moving to Colorado in 2008 was the make-or-break moment of my career. While I was incredibly excited about all the new rock, I also doubted my ability to ‘survive’ in a place so stacked with talented climbers. Frankly it started pretty badly. Everything seemed sandbagged, and for the first time ever I was waiting in line to try 5.14s. I enjoyed few successes in those early years, but ultimately it invigorated my climbing, forcing me to become much better.

7. Attack Your Weaknesses Directly—The best way to solve a weakness is to pick a goal route at your limit that perfectly exploits that weakness. You will have no choice but to ensure that correcting the weakness is your #1 priority in training. When I first started working 5.12’s, my footwork was terrible. I picked several projects at Smith Rock (where footwork is paramount), and although the process was initially terribly frustrating, the payoff has been enormous. Solving a weakness is not an extra-curricular activity, it has to be your primary focus.

8. Be A Maverick,—If you want to be as good as everyone else, do what everyone else does. If you want to be better than that, you have to do something different. For literally years, I was the only climber in my gym who used a hangboard (and everyone looked at me funny).

9. Invest in a Training Space—It’s ironic that as commercial climbing gyms have become increasingly prolific, they’ve also become increasingly useless to performance-oriented climbers. Second to making the decision to start training, the next ‘best-decision-I-ever-made’ for my climbing was building my own training facility. It finally allowed me to train the way I want, with no excuses about walls that are too steep, holds that are unrealistic, or poor route-setting. It puts me in complete control of my training. I don’t have to dodge birthday parties, heinous temperatures or primetime crowds. It has everything I need, and if it doesn’t it’s my own fault.

10. Keep a Journal—Preferably multiple journals. I have reams of training log sheets, detailing every rep and set of every workout I’ve ever done. I have a “Training Calendar,” in which I forecast planned training and climbing sessions, and summarize them for each day, after the fact. I have a blog where I bore you all with grandiose accounts of significant (to me) adventures. I also have a spreadsheet capturing every 5.12-or-harder route I’ve ever climbed, another one for every first ascent, and detailed notes in all my guidebooks. These are my most treasured possessions. They are invaluable for entertainment, lessons learned and most-importantly, planning future training.

Jonathan filling out his logsheet during a winter training session in Las Vegas.

11. Get Into A Routine—The trick to sticking with a training plan, or maintaining discipline in general, is to have a routine. We’re all busy, and faced with obstacles that can interfere with training. If you have to shuffle commitments and make decisions on the fly, you’re sure to sacrifice training more often than you’d like. A predictable weekly schedule with few surprises may sound boring, but it’s the best way to ensure you accomplish your training goals for each day. That’s the key to making steady progress. Once training becomes a regular habit, something you expect to do, something you plan around, rather than something you have to plan for, discipline comes easily.

12. The First Step Is the Hardest—The hardest part of every workout is taking that first step towards the gym. Everyone has days when they just don’t want to train. A good way to overcome this inertia is to commit to at least doing a little something on every training day. In my experience, once you get warmed up, you usually find the motivation to go ahead with the scheduled workout.

13. Quality Over Quantity, or Intensity Over Duration. I’m a firm believer that in climbing, power is generally much more limiting than endurance. Even when it isn’t, nobody ever complained about having too much power. So it makes sense for most climbers to favor power in their training. Additionally, intense training takes less time. But the best reason to favor it is that it takes less out of you, so you can get a lot of training stimulus without digging a deep hole that requires extensive recovery. Fortunately this can be applied to endurance training as well—one ARC set done with intention and focus beats three sets of going through the motions any day. Whatever your training goals, train the best you can, for as long as you can, and then call it a day. Piling on a bunch of junk miles at the end will only make things worse.

Applying the proper intensity during a hangboard session.

14. Stick to What Works—The people who experience the most consistent, steady improvement do the same general things for years and years. Bouncing around between plans makes it impossible to optimize your training, because you’re never doing anything long enough to evaluate its effectiveness. Find something that works for you and stick with it. For a really long time. Make subtle tweaks as you learn and grow, but a solid system will continue to produce steady gains for decades.

15. Love the Process—The reason I’ve been able to get through ~400 HB workouts is that I love hangboarding (on some level). If you don’t love hangboarding, find something you do love and figure out how to make it work with your training program. In any field, those with the most staying-power love the preparation as much or more than they like the performance.

16. An Ounce of Prevention—…is worth a pound of cure -Ben Franklin. If you’re reading this it’s a safe bet you already know the importance of preparing your fingers for rock climbing. Additionally, pretty much every climber I’ve ever known has had elbow and/or shoulder problems at one time or another, sooner or later. The good news is that it takes very little effort to reduce the risk of injury to these crucial joints. The first step is to use good form in your training (especially hangboarding and campusing), keeping your elbows slightly bent and shoulders tight. Second, end each session with a few minutes of prehab exercises (for shoulders, try push-ups and internal and external shoulder rotations, and for elbows, check out this article). Finally, stretch your forearms after each climbing or training session.

17. Core Strength Costs Nothing—We all know that your fingers can never be too strong for rock climbing. The problem is that our fingers are incredibly fragile; they must be trained carefully, and then allowed to recover for long periods between sessions. While core strength takes a backseat, it is very beneficial. It’s also very easy to train without detracting from finger training, so there’s no good reason not to do it. You can train your core every day, or on off days (from finger training) if time is limited. In my experience a little bit of core strength goes a long way, opening up a new dimension of exotic and gymnastic rock climbs.

18. Take Care—I can’t remember how times I’ve hurt myself doing mundane things like unloading groceries, putting my kids in their car seats, or even sleeping in an awkward position. Be precise and thoughtful in everything you do. Don’t overgrip when climbing, or when opening doors. Sleep flat on your back. Practice precision movement and situational awareness all the time—don’t be clumsy, oafish or inattentive. Down climb when bouldering. It’s a good drill for regular climbing, a good skill to have for on-sighting, but most importantly, it will save your joints.

19. Injuries Aren’t the End of the World. When you have a serious injury, it always feel like the end of the world, or maybe just the end of your performance climbing career. Any athlete who wants to be the best they can be is going to push the limits of their body. If you flirt with the line between maximum improvement and injury, eventually you will cross it. Looking back, I’ve had four major pulley strains that could have been “career ending” had I chosen to accept that outcome. I’ve had countless tweaks in collateral ligaments, elbows, back, shoulders and knees. Many of them seemed devastating at the time, but none of them held me back in the long run. Train smart, take measures to avoid them, but if an injury occurs, remain optimistic and believe that you can recover 100%.

20. Logistics Matter—I’m a planner. I envy those who can roll up to the crag without a worry and crush 5.15, but that’s not me. I over-think everything, then think about it some more. Many great climbing projects have failed because some mundane detail was overlooked, and that’s what keeps me up at night. Mike and I scrapped our way up a lot of things we shouldn’t have because we’re really freaking good at planning. Whether you’re embarking on an alpine style ascent in the Karakoram, Nose-in-a-Day, or a weekend of sport climbing, create a detailed plan, walk through every possible outcome, and make sure it’s viable. Practice this when you’re young, and it will pay off when your life becomes more complicated. The skills I learned preparing for expeditions in the Alaska Range came in really handy once my climbing excursions become truly daunting (visiting sport crags with kids).

21. There Are No Secrets—If someone is trying to sell you the “secret” to better performance, run away. All the information you need to excel at climbing has been around for years, in books, journals, and/or the interwebs. The 80’s were the Age of Innovation, and while much knowledge was lost during the more recent Age of Grunting, you can still find the wisdom of yesterday in any number of great resources (such as: Wizards of Rock, Revelations, Beyond the Summit, Fingers of Steel, Performance Rock Climbing, A Life in the Vertical).

Photo: Nick Clement

22. Ration Your Skin—It’s literally your interface to the rock. Think about how much you care about your climbing shoes. Your skin is ten times more important. Skin care is 99% prevention. Once you have an issue, it’s probably too late (and you’ll spend ten times the effort on the “cure,” which will be one-tenth as effective). Get a skin care kit and use it daily. When on the rock, pace your efforts and conserve your skin. Check it whenever you’re hanging on the rope and quit while you’re ahead. Once its gone, it will be much more costly waiting for it to heal than it would have been to quit 5 minutes earlier.

23. Get up Early—You get the least crowds, the best climbing conditions, and the most beautiful light.

24. Invest in a Good Partner—The greatest asset for long-term success is a good partner. The best partners are dependable, provide moral support on and off the rock, and do the little things (like bringing your shoes over when you lower off). Those types of partnerships don’t just happen, they have to be nurtured. I’ve had a lot of great partners that deserve credit, including Mike, Fred, Janelle, Chris, Bobby, Ben, Marcus, Rob, Rick, Lee, Steve, Vern, Marc, Gabe, Grace, Lamont, Shaun, Adam, Mark, Evan, Boer and Kevin. My wife Kate is the very best possible partner. She’s the secret to my success.

25. Go Against the Grain—Climb in unpopular areas, at off-peak times. Once there, do unpopular routes. You get the place to yourself, you don’t have to wait in line, and you’ll be forced to learn a variety of techniques on many different types of rock. You also learn self-reliance and aren’t misled by everyone else’s bad habits (or bad beta).

Kate and I atop the Moai after climbing Sacred Site, 5.10-

26. Mileage Over Difficulty—We master moving over stone by doing lots of it, not by doing a few harder moves many times. When I was breaking into 5.12 I would routinely climb 15 pitches per climbing day and never less than 10, whether I was climbing trad or sport. I stretched my partners’ patience, but it made me a better climber. If technique is your weakness, forget about projecting routes at your limit for a few years and just try to climb as many pitches per day as possible when you go outside. Visit as many different crags as possible and climb the widest variety of routes. These routes should still be challenging, but nothing that takes more than 3 tries to send. You can and should still train systematically indoors, but when you’re outside, climb for volume.

27. Figure Out the Beta Yourself—I’m all for doing things the easy way, most of the time. If I‘m loading a sack of bricks into my car, I’ll certainly take the easy way.  When I’m trying to improve myself, I’ll take the hard way. The easy way to get the beta for your project is to watch Youtube videos or other climbers. That may get you to the chains faster, but figuring out the beta yourself will make you a better climber.

28. You’ll Never Send What You Don’t Try—In 2008 I was climbing at the Left Flank in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge with Mike. I was having one of those great days of onsighting—I hadn’t fallen all day and I’d sent a number of hard-for-me routes up to 12d. I was debating out loud the pros and cons of risking my precious final onsight attempt of the day on the classic 5.13a Table of Colors (a grade I’d never onsighted before). Mike said “You’ll definitely never onsight 5.13 if you never try one.” At some point, if you want to do hard routes, you have to try hard routes. I’ve surprised myself many times, including on that day in 2008. It’s understandable to have reservations or anxiety. Anytime you try something truly challenging, your risk failing in spectacular fashion, but you have to give yourself the opportunity to succeed or you never will.

29. Less is More—Generally, climbers climb too much, train too much, and rest too little. Particularly with training in vogue and so many coaches offering new exercises, we tend to add more and more training volume without taking anything away. If you’re lacking “pop,” you’re not psyched to train, or packing for the next climbing day feels like a chore, you’re likely over-doing it. I tend to follow my training plans religiously, and the thought of skipping a workout is heresy. In retrospect, I’ve found that dropping in an extra rest day here or there has only ever helped, and often it’s made my season. Whatever climbing problem is bringing you down, there’s a good chance an extra rest day will help solve it.

30. Conserve Your Energy—It takes a tremendous amount of energy to climb at your limit (especially after age 35). The biggest jump in ability I made in the past decade came when I took a temporary break from rest-day aerobic exercise in 2011. The result of that break was so profound it’s now permanent, except for one or two months a year of cycling in the summer. I miss the daily meditation of trail running and cycling, but not as much as I like climbing a letter-grade harder. If you’re doing any extra-curricular activities, they‘re likely detracting from your climbing performance. Whether those activities are worth the impact is a judgment call for you to make, just realize its having an effect.

31. Eat Lots of (Lean) Protein—I’m not a nutrition geek. I’ve read a fair amount about it and figured out how to lose weight when I need to and feel strong while performing. If I had to summarize my recommendations in one short sentence, it would be: eat lots of lean protein. This will fuel your physical gains, provide plenty of energy for day-to-day life and suppress the glycemic response that causes over-eating. Yes, you also need some carbs and fats, but unless you have an exclusive sponsorship deal with Starkist Tuna, chances are good you’ll consume sufficient quantities of both without thinking about. You can make this pretty complicated if you want (calculating grams per body mass, ingesting at regular intervals, protein shakes just before bed time on training days), but following this simple suggestion will get you most of the way to your climbing goals.

Sea bugs are a great source of lean protein.

32. Pay Attention When You’re Belaying—Obviously you have someone’s life in your hands. Take that seriously. Furthermore, from a performance perspective, engage in your partners’ climbing. Discuss their beta, study their movement, offer suggestions and invest in their success. You will liven up the monotony of belaying, your partner will appreciate it, and you’ll learn a lot in the process.

33. Learn to like Falling—There are climbers who enjoy falling. If fear of falling is an issue for you, don’t be satisfied with barely tolerating it. Take it a few steps farther, to the point that you actually like it. Then trying hard will be second nature. This is constantly a work-in-progress for me, but when I’m climbing my best, falling is fun.

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

34. Write Down Your Beta—Once I started writing beta down, it forced me to really think about how my hips and shoulders were involved in generating movement, and that propelled my technique to a new level. Get into the habit of writing down your beta in narrative form, at least for crux sections. It will help you think through how you’re moving and why. If you have any gaps in your sequence, or limbs that aren’t contributing, that will become immediately apparent.

35. Belief is Essential—Half the benefit of all the endless training sessions I do is convincing myself I can yard on a 1/8” crimp, lock-off a 1-pad mono to my nipple, or link 30 more moves when I’m pumped out of my mind. Remember what you’ve endured in training and take it with you to the crag. The same for working a project. Build belief you can send it by sticking the crux move, doing it again, and then linking through it. It’s ok if you don’t believe at first, you can put in the necessary work to build your confidence over time. But you won’t have a prayer of sending until you really do believe you can.

Belief is essential!

36. Expect Adversity. Every climber will face adversity. How you deal with adversity will determine how close you get to your potential as a climber. That’s true for a given route or for your career as a whole. It’s easy to be psyched and work hard when things are going well. It takes a lot of guts to persevere when everything is breaking against you. The closer you get to your potential, the more adversity you will face. You’ll be closer to your physical limits, and so constantly flirting with injury, illness and burnout. You’ll also need all the external factors to go your way (they rarely will). The good news is that most of my greatest successes came shortly after crushing defeats. The failure showed me what it would take to send and motivated me to work extra hard for the re-match.

37. Don’t Solo—There’s nothing harder than trying to explain to a late-teens/early-20’s male climber that they really don’t know everything, and they really will see the world differently when they (truly) grow up. In the classic Western movie Unforgiven, Clint Eastwood’s character Will Munny says, “It’s a hell of a thing killin’ a man. You take away all he’s got, and all he’s ever gonna have.” Consider that when you solo, you aren’t just risking your present life, you’re risking your future life—a life that likely will be filled with joys and wonders you can’t yet imagine (to say nothing of the impact on those who love you). Do the future-you a favor and rope up. Even if you (absurdly) assume climbing is infinitely more valuable than every other part of life combined, think of all the climbing you’ll miss out on if you break your neck. It’s simple math, soloing’s just not worth it.

38. End On A High Note—Whatever your highpoint, be it a new hangboard PR, best onsight or sending a hard project, chances are whatever follows will be a letdown. For many years I would “celebrate” after big sends by attempting to onsight some route I had been longing to climb. I always struggled and I almost never sent. The worst part is that I was then bummed for failing the onsight instead of stoked for sending my much-more-significant project. Eventually I figured out that we don’t get very many “best moments,” so it’s wise to savor them.

39. Be Present—Yoda’s initial evaluation of Luke Skywalker was spot on: “This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away, to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was, hmm? What he was doing…” Focus on the task at hand, give 100% of yourself to it, whether during a hard send, while training, or life in general. If you’re watching the sunset, open your eyes and absorb every ray of light. During workouts, focus on recovering and prepping for the next set between efforts, rather than staring at text messages. When you’re struggling to figure out a crux sequence, don’t covet the next route over, wondering if it might suit you better. Absorb yourself completely in the route immediately in front of you. Make yourself available to give your best effort.

40. There’s More to Life Than Rock Climbing—I hope everybody has at least one opportunity in life to completely immerse themselves in their passion. I dirt-bagged for a little over a year in my twenties. I’m glad I did. At the time, it felt like the ultimate life, but in hindsight it doesn’t hold a candle to the life I live now. At some point it’s wise to open yourself up to other opportunities. Life will offer a multitude of diverse experiences. Shun none of them. I’ve sacrificed a lot of experiences because I couldn’t skip a workout, or I needed to rest up for a hard redpoint attempt. Looking back on roughly 25 years of this, the thing that strikes me is how few of my memories involve actual climbing. My favorite climbs aren’t the hardest climbs I’ve done, or the climbs that got the most press. The moments that stand out are the places I visited, the wildlife I saw on the approach, and the people I shared it all with.

New Routes at Shelf Road

By Mark Anderson

With the winter weather finally arriving in Colorado, I headed south to Shelf Road to wrap up a few projects I had bolted several years ago but (almost) forgotten about. Shelf is a really important crag to me. While I had done the odd First Ascent before I started climbing regularly at Shelf, that is where I really fell in love with vertical exploration and route development.

Between dynos on Treble Huck, one of my new 5.13s at Shelf Road.

Between dynos on Treble Huck, one of my new 5.13s at Shelf Road.

Returning to the North Gym after a five year hiatus was nostalgic. I bolted 20-some routes there in 2011, including establishing Shelf Road’s first 5.14, Apogee Pending. Most of my new routes are in pretty obscure locations, so I often wonder if anyone besides me will ever climb them. The North Gym is among the more obscure crags at Shelf, so when I looked through the comments on Mountain Project, I was encouraged to read of other peoples’ adventures on my creations. I was also stoked to see that some other people had started adding their own routes to the ample undeveloped rock in the area.

Apogee Pending.

Apogee Pending.

On this trip I sent three new routes, all of which turned out quite a bit better than I expected. One of the great things about climbing primarily in Clear Creek Canyon is that when you go anywhere else the rock seems phenomenal by comparison. By the end of my infatuation with Shelf it seemed like I was running out of worthwhile options, and these three routes were bolted last because they seemed the most dubious. Five years later, with my new frame of reference, I can’t fathom my previous reservations.

I never really had any doubts about the first route, Alpha Chino’s Chinos, but it’s isolated enough from the other walls that I feared it would be ignored. The rock is impeccable cream stone littered with pockets and edges. The movement is excellent, with a dynamic, sequential crux passing a 2-finger pocket on the gently overhanging panel at mid-height. I reckon it’s one of the two best 5.12s at The North Gym (along with Who Left the Fridge Open?).

Clearing the final little bulge of Alpha Chino’s Chinos, 5.12b.

Clearing the final little bulge of Alpha Chino’s Chinos, 5.12b.

The second route was squeezed in between two previously existing routes at The Tropical Wall. After climbing the adjacent lines for a photoshoot, I lowered down, imagined a potential sequence, and returned to bolt it soon after. It climbs a slightly overhanging bulge with a few diagonaling crimps that lead to a series of very thin sidepull slots. The rock is phenomenal in the crux—easily some of the best limestone at Shelf—though unfortunately the crux is rather short-lived. The rest of the line still offers excellent climbing on great stone, but it’s not hard enough to keep the outcome in doubt to the end (which is a hallmark of every truly classic route).

Enjoying brilliant limestone in the crux of Satan’s Alley.

Enjoying brilliant limestone in the crux of Satan’s Alley.

At the time I bolted it I wasn’t sure if the line would go. My first time up I was stumped, straining to move between distant gastons. Eventually I figured out a big throw from an undercling that got me through the bulge, then it was just a matter of crimping and locking off like a maniac until I reached easier ground above. At 5.13c, Satan’s Alley is one of the harder lines at Shelf, though admittedly it lacks the imposing stature of the area’s other test-pieces.

Near the end of my Shelf development spree I started noticing that many crags had really high capping roofs that offered the type of steep terrain that typically yields hard routes (but is rare at Shelf). The rock in this cap-layer is also quite a bit different (and in my opinion better quality) than the rest of Shelf’s limestone. It’s less fractured but also more featured, generally with lots of pockets. My third and final project for the trip was reminiscent of the rounded bulges and jutting roofs common to Wild Iris. It’s incredibly photogenic (and if I ever get a proper camera I might be able to back up that statement with some evidence), perched high above Four Mile Canyon with the snow-capped Sangre de Cristo mountains in the distance.

I was eager to find out if the quality of the climbing matched the phenomenal setting. I was not disappointed. The climbing is everything the typical Shelf route is not. It shoots out a dramatically overhanging prow with toe cams, heel hooks and a series of big dynos. I’ve climbed just under half the routes at Shelf (the better half, for the most part), and I have to say the climbing on Treble Huck is arguably the most pure fun in the area. It’s gymnastic, wild, and dynamic. If you’re tired of standing on tiny footholds and tearing up your skin on half-pad crimps, this is the route for you. I think Shelf still has a lot of potential for routes of this kind, and I hope this route can help inspire some more exploration of the upper bands of limestone and the dramatic features they present.

If only my legs were as skinny as they appear in this photo.

If only my legs were as skinny as they appear in this photo.

Training For 9a – Part I

By Mark Anderson

This is the second installment in a 4-part series.  The first installment can be found here.

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

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

By the end of the Fall 2015 climbing season, I was consistently 2-hanging the route, and while my hang points were converging, the rate of improvement was glacial. Clearly I needed to reach another plane of endurance capability. Early in the season I was training Power Endurance (PE) by completing four sets of my standard “Green Traverse” Linked Bouldering Circuit (LBC)—approximately 32 moves, on terrain that varied from 35 to 60-degrees overhanging. It would take about 100 seconds to complete a 32-move set, and then I would rest some pre-determined period before attempting the next set (and so on, until I had completed 4 sets). As my endurance improved, I increased the intensity by (first) reducing the rest time between sets, and then by adding more sets. By the end of the season I was doing 5 or 6 sets with just 60 seconds rest between sets, but my endurance was still nowhere close to sufficient for Shadowboxing.

My standard, 32-move “Green Traverse”.

My standard, 32-move “Green Traverse”.

 

I knew from reviewing terabytes of video of myself on the route that I would need to be able to endure 150 to 180 seconds Time-Under-Tension (TUT), just to climb between rest stances, where I would need to be able to recover, and then sprint another 100+ seconds of consecutive pumpy moves, and so on. To climb all the difficulties without a hang would take 250+ seconds of just climbing, plus many minutes of taxing shaking at rest stances. Clearly hammering more and more 100-second laps on my trusty Green Traverse wasn’t working, and I think the lack of continuous TUT was the reason.

My PE Log sheet from the three workouts I did using the standard Green Traverse during the Fall 2015 season.

My PE Log sheet from the three workouts I did using the standard Green Traverse during the Fall 2015 season.

By the end of that first season I started tweaking things to increase my TUT and improve the realism and specificity of my PE training. In my first experiment, I varied the rest periods between LBC sets, in the hopes of driving the rest between two sets to zero, which would result in completing two laps back-to-back. In terms of timing, the plan for the first workout looked like this:

Set 1 (TUT ~100 seconds)

Rest: 30 seconds

Set 2 (TUT ~100 seconds)

Rest: 90 seconds

Set 3 (TUT ~100 seconds)

Rest: 30 seconds

Set 4 (TUT ~100 seconds)

My Fall 2015 training Schedule, showing the programming of my PE workouts and my two PE experiments.

My Fall 2015 training Schedule, showing the programming of my PE workouts and my two PE experiments.

If I succeeded with this workout, I planned to further shift the rest from the first and third interval to the middle interval. In practice, I crushed the first two sets, and so decided I only needed 60 seconds rest before the 3rd set. I was wrong! I didn’t feel ready to start the 4th set “on schedule” so the workout ended up like this:

Set 1 (TUT ~95 seconds)

Rest: 30 seconds

Set 2 (TUT ~95 seconds)

Rest: 60 seconds

Set 3 (TUT ~95 seconds)

Rest: 60 seconds

Set 4 (TUT ~83 seconds)

Rest: 90 seconds

Set 5 (TUT ~60 seconds)

Still, I considered the experiment a success. First, it showed the workout timing could be a good stepping stone for a climber who didn’t yet have the endurance to complete a single set of a given circuit. Second, from a personal perspective, it showed I was likely ready for much longer sets.   In preparation for that, I built a down-climb at the end of the existing Green Traverse that rejoined the circuit about 12-moves in, thus allowing for a 52-move set. This new set required around 150 seconds of TUT—just what I needed.

The pink line shows the extension to the Green Traverse, brining the hand-move count to 52.

The pink line shows the extension to the Green Traverse, brining the hand-move count to 52.

I wanted to have a firm endurance-training strategy that I could believe in before I completely wrapped up my Fall season, so after my last Rifle weekend I did one last PE workout to iron out the kinks in my new, longer circuit. I was able to send the first 52-move set, but the next two were pretty rough, and it was clear I was hitting a wall around 105 seconds into each set. Even on the set I sent, I pretty much cruised the first 100 seconds and struggled on the last 50. My goal for the winter season, in addition to sending some outdoor projects near home, would be to hone my power endurance. In total I did 5 PE workouts that winter, consisting of (attempting) 4 sets of the new 52-move circuit, with TUT ~150 seconds per set, and a 4-minute rest interval.

My Winter 2016 training Schedule, showing the programming of my 52-move circuit PE workouts.

My Winter 2016 training Schedule, showing the programming of my 52-move circuit PE workouts.

I struggled with these workouts. I never once completed every set, or even the first three sets. I was close at times, often failing very near the end of each lap. During the fourth workout I crushed the first set, and so (somewhat foolishly) decided on-the-fly to drop the rest interval to 3 minutes. That resulted in sending the 2nd lap, failing near the end of the 3rd lap, and mid-way through the 4th lap. Still, it was pretty comparable to my first two workouts in terms of performance, which provided good data points on my improvement, and the qualitative difference between the 3 and 4-minute rest intervals. Even though I never sent the workout, I could tell my endurance had improved considerably from the end of the Fall 2015 season. More importantly, I felt like I had solved the problem of how to improve my endurance—I now had an effective training circuit that I could use to prepare for my next bout with Rifle.

My PE Log sheet from the winter 2016 season.

My PE Log sheet from the winter 2016 season.

My hangboarding that April was outstanding, I set Personal Records (PRs) on three grips, and tied PRs on two others. As May arrived, my Power Phase went just as well, quickly matching my hardest Max Ladders on the campus board. What surprised me most was that I seemed to carry-over much of the endurance I had gained over the winter. During my first PE workout of the season I sent the first three laps of the 52-move circuit for the first time (with 4:00 rest between sets). It seemed like everything was coming together perfectly. I was brimming with confidence and buzzing with anticipation. Surely I could send the route if everything went as planned.

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.

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