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Category Archives: Alpine

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.

10 Alpine Climbing Tips

Are you dreaming of high alpine peaks? Beautiful sublime faces of rock and ice? Surreal corniced ridges and crimson sunsets? Alpine climbing is one of the most committing and unforgiving forms of climbing, but with a little practice and solid game plan it can be safe and extremely rewarding!

Here are a few tips that will help make your next alpine adventure enjoyable and fun!

1. Pick your partner wisely.

It’s one thing to go cragging for the day with someone. But going to Alaska for 21 days to attempt a nail-biting alpine climb is another story. The last thing you want is to argue and bicker like an old married couple. You might be the best of friends at sea level, but after a few days shivering on icy ledges, tensions can spin out of control quickly! I like to do some warm up climbs with potential partners–see how our personalities mesh, and how the vibe goes. I seek partners that are solid as a rock, cool under pressure, and can find comedy even in the most rugged and challenging of situations.

2. Leave your comfy lightweight inflatable mattress at home.

As tempting as it is to splurge on the expensive blow up mattress with a high R-value, you’ll be left trying to care for it like a fine piece of china. It will more than likely pop when you need it most, and leave you shivering and sleepless all night. Take a closed cell foam pad cut down to just provide coverage for your body.

3. Take extra gloves

Your glove quiver is the single most critical item on the mountain. By day’s end, after brushing off snow and belaying wet ropes, your gloves will be wet and soggy. And if your hands get cold, frostbite can set in quickly, rendering you almost useless, a very dangerous place to be. Gloves never dry out, not even in your sleeping bag, and will freeze over night. It seems ludicrous to bring 5-8 pairs of gloves for a 5 day alpine mission, but I do!
4. Drink your water cold to save critical fuel

Water is very important when you’re working 12-16 hours a day. It will help prevent cold injury and ensure maximum athletic performance. As delicious and soul-warming as it is to sip hot tea at every stop, save your hot beverage for the bivy. Remember fuel is heavy! I ration one medium 250 gram can of gas per day for two.

5. Mitigate objective hazard

I scrutinize a route for hours, days, even months! I am careful to note potential terrain traps and loose rock, keeping in mind prevailing winds and snow pack. I do my best to avoid climbing under seracs and am always considering my retreat options.

6. Bring at least one adze for the team

After climbing all day, the thought of spending two hours chopping a bivy platform is agonizing. But comfortable sleep won’t come until you do. Having an adze will streamline your efficiency and get you off to dreamland sooner so you can be fresh for your next day of adventure.

7. An iPod Nano or Shuffle can boost moral like no other!

I usually download half hip-hop and metal to get me fired up, and than some mellow reggae to cool me down. Additionally, my small point and shoot camera goes on a tether off my micro zipper and lives in my left chest pocket near my skin in a base layer. This ensures the battery stays warm and functional.

8. Take a lightweight sleeping bag and wear all your layers to bed

Sure, I strip off wet Gore-Tex if need be, but often I just crawl right into my bag with my whole kit on excluding my boots. This provides an extra layer of warmth and saves precious time. Often I want to stay tied in, so I sleep in my harness or use a sling around my waist. I sleep with my boot liners in my bag to keep them from freezing.

9. Master the art of the descent

Rappelling a 5000-foot face can seem daunting and downright terrifying. But with creativity and ingenuity, descending can be fun and rewarding. Often it’s safer then slogging down avalanche prone slopes. Slings and cordelettes can be cut up and equalized. Nuts, if placed correctly, can be bombproof and much cheaper than leaving a cam. V threads in the ice are the most efficient and low impact. I simply tie a loop knot in what ever I’m rapping off to avoid leaving costly carabiners. And remember, the Prusik back-up is paramount in the event you’re hit by falling stones or must fidget with your next bombproof anchor.

10. Most importantly, bring your positive attitude and be ready to adapt and overcome to what ever is thrown at you

The mental challenge is what I like most about alpine climbing. Like in life, things do not always go as planned. Successful people are good at improvising and can stay motivated even in uncomfortable and difficult situations. Stack the odds in your favor before going, and practice pertinent skills – ice and snow climbing, dry tooling, aid climbing, rope ascension, self-rescue, and first aid. And remember, if things start to go wrong, and you feel like you’ve gotten yourself in over your head, retreat and come back to fight another day!

Putting the Project on a Pedestal

by Mark Anderson

A recent discussion got me thinking about some of the mental impediments to advancing to the “next level.” Whether the next level for you happens to be 5.11a or 5.15a, many of us encounter a feeling of inadequacy when pondering the next jump in difficulty—a sense that “I’m not worthy of [insert grade or route].”   Nearly every time I’ve dared to attempt any sort of advancement from one level to the next (be 12a, 12c, 13a and so on) I’ve faced self-doubt. When it came time to try 5.14 it became a serious problem. I had decided that only legends climb 5.14, and I’m not a legend, so logically I couldn’t climb 5.14.

To Bolt Or Not To Be sits in the middle of Smith's "Main Area". Not a good place to hide from the crowds. If you're wondering, "will Mark ever tire of posting pics of himself on To Bolt?" the answer is "no!"

To Bolt Or Not To Be sits in the middle of Smith’s “Main Area”. Not a good place to hide from the crowds. If you’re wondering, “will Mark ever tire of posting pics of himself on To Bolt?” the answer is “no!”

Even after I convinced myself to try (and eventually send) my first 5.14, I was still self-conscious about being seen on other routes of the same grade. When I travelled to Smith Rock to attempt the legendary line To Bolt Or Not To Be, the crux of the campaign was just getting up the nerve to drop my rope below it on the first day (a Saturday no less)! The route is smack dab in the middle of the park, in plain view of hundreds of other climbers. I sheepishly felt that maybe I didn’t “deserve” to be on such an historic climb, or perhaps other climbers would think I was a “poser” [Note to millennials: a “poser” is someone who pretends to be good at something they are not. In the 1990s, it was important to NOT be a poser. Social media has made this term obsolete, since now everybody is posing all the time 🙂].

One of the areas where Mike has always been better than me is that, at least outwardly, he seems to have much greater confidence, and a willingness to dream big. If not for his lead and example I wouldn’t have accomplished a fraction of the routes I have. Especially in our early days as alpinists and adventure climbers, Mike usually set the agenda and picked out objectives that I would have considered too difficult—routes like the Cassin Ridge, Devil’s Thumb, Mt Waddington or the Greenwood-Locke. Sometimes we got in over our heads, but most of the time it worked out, and I learned inch-by-inch that we were better than I had estimated.

MA135

Enjoying the belay on the nut-shriveling South Face of Mt Waddington in 2000. Mike talked me into many situations like this.

So what causes this self-doubt? There are many contributing factors, and they surely vary from climber to climber. Here are a few mental traps that I believe have undermined my climbing over the years:

Worshipping History: I love climbing lore. I gobble up biographies and make a point to learn the backstory on all my goal routes. I’m so frequently saying “Wolgang Gullich this…” and “Jerry Moffatt that…” you’d think I was living in 1989. I’ve spent so many years idolizing different climbers that by the time I get good enough to try their routes they seem almost forbidden. This NOT-SUITABLE-FOR-WORK clip from The 40-Year-Old Virgin sums up this mindset pretty well:

WARNING: This clip is not suitable for work:

I periodically make the mistake of putting that “next level” project up on a pedestal, treating it with excessive reverence, as though it’s some unfathomable, unattainable fantasy. Whether the next level is a landmark grade (such as 5.13 or V10) or a specific, premiere route, in reality, it’s just the next arbitrary increment on a fairly linear spectrum. There’s usually no empirical reason why it would be any more difficult than your previous increments of improvement. The only differences are superficial distractions fabricated by your reluctant mind.

If history-worship is holding you back, ponder the last time you made a jump in difficulty. Perhaps at the time you felt unworthy of those jumps as well, but you succeeded anyway. Another option for some is to try a route at the next increment when you’re on vacation. In the US, 5.12a is a “big deal” because it’s the first sub-grade of 5.12, whereas in France (and most of the rest of the Sport Climbing world), a route of the same difficulty is just 7a+ (in other words, “no big deal”). If you’re overwhelmed more by the iconic nature of a particular route than you are its grade, consider trying another, less-legendary route at the same grade. Attempting “just another route”, even if you have no intention of sending it, can build your belief that the goal route really is not such a big deal.

Margalef (127)a

In America, milestone grades like 5.12a, 5.13a, and 5.14a can seem intimidating. In Europe the same routes would be graded 7a+, 7c+ and 8b+, which to European climbers have no particular significance. Climbing Magic Festival in Margalef.

Comparison to Others: Some improving climbers may compare themselves to individuals who climb at the “next level”, and think “I’m not as good as they are, so logically I can’t climb the same routes/grades they do.” You could be dwelling on a specific difference such as, “Everyone I know whose done Route XYZ can do a 1-arm pull-up. I can’t do a 1-arm pull-up, so I probably can’t do Route XYZ.” Or perhaps you are bounding your own potential to that of your mentor. Many of us have a climber or two that we look up to because they showed us the ropes, gave us encouragement, and indoctrinated us into the sport. These people are often our heroes, and it may seem unthinkable that you could succeed where your trusty ropegun did not.

Or, as in the case of Mike and my ascent of Freerider, it could be more general. At that time every other person who had freed El Capitan was a full-time pro climber, and most of them were household names (Skinner & Piana, Lynn Hill, The Huber Bros, Yuji, Tommy and so on). I was understandably skeptical that two nobodies could roll into the Valley and free the Big Stone (the fact that Mike did it, unrehearsed, with no falls, is so unfathomable it probably explains why it has since been largely forgotten by the media). But we did it anyway. We got up the nerve to try, and once we were engaged, we just kept putting one foot in front of the other, and before we had time to hesitate over the improbability of it all, we were at the top.

Mike traversing out to the start of the Monster Offwidth on Freerider, May 2004.

Mike traversing out to the start of the Monster Offwidth on Freerider, May 2004.  Alex Huber once quipped that this pitch would never be on-sighted.  Mike onsighted it rather casually, and I followed it free on my first go.  I imagine countless others have done the same since.

If some form of comparison is a problem for you, remember that we’re all human. When looking inward, many of us have a tendency to dwell on our weakness and understate our strengths. When looking at others, we do the opposite. That’s not realistic. While it’s no secret the best climbers all have certain talents that give them advantages, the big taboo is that even the world’s elite have significant weaknesses, just like everyone else. The difference between them and the average Joe is that they don’t let their limitations hold them back. They maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. You can do the same thing.   Everyone has talents, and you likely have strengths where some of your peers, mentors, or even heroes, are weak. You may be able to compensate for a disparity in one attribute, say finger strength, by excelling in another, such as footwork. Your hidden strength might be the ability to lay out a long term plan and stick to it even when the payoff is months away. This “talent” is surprisingly rare, yet the people who achieve greatness in this world, in any field, do it because they never lose the drive to get the most out of each day. Those who have that drive will eventually outpace the vast majority of climbers, despite any lacking physical talents.

Fear of Failure: One of the unexpected side-effects of training effectively is that sometimes your body improves more quickly than your mind can really accept. This is often the case for those new to training, even more so for those who adopted training after experiencing a long plateau. Our Egos have a lot invested in our self-image, and it likes to maintain the status quo. That goes both ways–at times providing false confidence in something we haven’t done in a long time, while at other times preventing us from accepting that we’ve improved. The Ego finds comfort in sticking to grades that are well within our known ability, because success is nearly assured. The Ego doesn’t really like challenges, because they carry an inherent risk of failure. The problem is, facing challenges is essential to improving. If you want to get better, you will have to learn to overcome the objections of your Ego, including allowing for the possibility that you are stronger/better than your Ego can accept, even if that means risking failure.

TD2 RRG Dec08

In 2008, I joined Mike for a short trip to the Red. While wrapping up a nice streak of on-sights, I debated whether to “waste” my last go of the trip by attempting to on-sight a 5.13a—a grade I had never before tried on sight. Mike correctly pointed out, “one thing is certain, you will never on-sight a 5.13 if you never try one.” The route in question,Table of Colors, climbs up to and along the chalky rail in the upper-left corner (while Mike cruises The Dinosaur).

I’ve struggled with this constantly, delaying attempts at the next grade countless times over the years. In the end, I always tried eventually, and while I didn’t always send right away, I almost always discovered that I was closer to that level than I had expected. I still struggle with this even now, but it helps knowing that I’ve faced this dilemma many times before, and the vast majority of the time “going for it” was the right choice. With sport climbing in particular there is very little physical risk in attempting something that may be “too hard”. If you are considering attempting a next level route, the choice is simple: go for it! There really is no downside, beyond a bruised Ego, and that really isn’t so bad.  Even if you “fail”, you will surely learn something valuable in the process, such as the skills and abilities you will need to develop to reach the next level.

Fear of Commitment: For most of my career, I struggled with the first three items on this list. Now that I’ve overcome those limitations time and again, I tend to struggle primarily with a fear of commitment. I’ve persevered through many successful campaigns, including my share of protracted sieges, and I know very well the effort required. Generally I will do whatever it takes to see a goal route through to completion. Committing myself to such a route when the send is still likely multiple seasons (or even years) away can be incredibly daunting. Now my greatest mental obstacle is the knowledge that reaching my next level will require working even harder in training, making even more sacrifices in daily life, and spending even more days on the project. It’s hard enough just maintaining my current level, do I really want to up the ante? It seems that at present, I do, and that is somewhat terrifying.

Clearly making such a commitment is completely personal. For some climbers, committing to the next level might mean dedicating two weekends to a goal route instead of the typical in-a-day send. If the next level for you will require a relatively large amount of time, visit the route and give it a few tries before you decide. You may find it will go more quickly that you think. You may find that you enjoy the process enough that committing more days than usual isn’t a burden. Or you may find you’d rather get a few more training cycles under your belt, consolidate your route pyramid at the levels you’ve already reached, and save the next level for the near future.

The Big Year – Part 2: Forging a Partnership

With my sights set on a new alpine route in Alaska in the spring, I needed a partner I could trust and could also commit to the time off.  I scrolled through my black book and landed on Canadian crusher Alik Berg.  Thing was: we had never climbed together.  He recommended we do a trial run on his home turf of the Canadian Rockies.  So I loaded up the Chevy van and pointed north once again.

On arrival to Canmore Alberta, located 20 minutes east of Banff, I was immediately very intimidated by how massive the peaks were looming on all sides of me.  Wow, I thought, this is the Yosemite of Alpine climbing!

After climbing the classic The Day After Le Vacances du Monsouir Hulot on the Stanley Headwall,  Alik proclaimed we were ready for a real Alaska warm up.  He held up a black and white photo with a line going up a mountain.  “What do you think?” he asked.  I saw what looked like 3000 feet of steep snow up to a rock head wall of about a 1000 feet.  I thought to myself: Sure why not, we will figure it out.

“Sure man looks cool,” I said.

 

The red line furthest to the right is the route we would attempt the Greenwood/Locke on the N. Face of Mt. Temple.

The red line furthest to the right is the route we would attempt the Greenwood/Locke on the N. Face of Mt. Temple.

With heavy packs and back country skis, we departed the car on Feb 25th with a solid weather forecast.  The seven mile skin in was beautiful; big trees with a deep pine fragrance.  Tracks of moose and other critters dotted the trail.   We left our skis at the base and strapped our crampons on.  To our good fortune, the snow on the lower portion of the route was solid neve and we made quick time to the headwall.  Two pitches of M5-M6 brought us to our bivy platform on the first snow band.  Cuddling up in my bag I was feeling strong and confident.

“Man looks really steep up there” Alik announced.  “I bet its really run out.  We will be lucky to get any pro.”  I inquisitively peeked out of my snug bag.  It was at this point that Alik started to regale me with all of the tremendous lore of the route.  “Its turned back close to a dozen parties in winter,  only the legend Raphael Slawniski with Ben Firth have managed it.  One guy degloved his hand trying, the legend Steve House fell 80 feet and broke his pelvis.”

“Dude,” I feverishly announced, “stop talking, your freaking me out!”  Luckily, exhausted from the days efforts, I managed to doze off for a few hours of sleep.

In the early morning light we traverse the first snow band to access the Greenwood/Locke headwall

In the early morning light we traverse the first snow band to access the Greenwood/Locke headwall

We awoke early and started climbing just before sunrise.  We climbed 1200 feet of spectacular 5.10 limestone with ice tools and crampons.  The exposure was magnificent and the climbing was genuinely fun and took gear well.  The winter conditions had frozen all the loose bits in place, and we both agreed it should be a modern mixed climbing classic!

Climbing amazing M6 on the Greenwood/Locke headwall.

Climbing amazing M6 on the Greenwood/Locke headwall.

The Clam pitch on the Greenwood/Locke, one of the most amazing alpine pitches either of us have seen.

The Clam pitch on the Greenwood/Locke, one of the most amazing alpine pitches either of us have seen.

Putting the off-width skills to use high on the Greenwood/Locke headwall.

Putting the off-width skills to use high on the Greenwood/Locke headwall.

That night I spilled a half-liter of Gatorade in my sleeping bag, and had a proper freak out with the sub zero temps!  Alik, cool and calm, said, “dude chill, its gonna be fine”  I knew then and their Alik would be a great future climbing partner.  The following day we summited and had an amazing panorama of the Canadian Rockies.  It was news to us we had made the second winter ascent.  http://www.alpinist.com/doc/web15w/wfeature-mt-temple-history-winter-ascent.  We began to make plans for Alaska.

Returning to Alik’s house and standing in the hot shower with a beer in hand, I felt the warm water soak into my bones and I had a deep sense of satisfaction.  I was happy that 20 years of constant dedication to a sport I loved was finally paying off.  That we had just completed a rather difficult climb with great joy, confidence and enjoyment.  Sure, we suffered.  But with out the suffering, the shower and soft bed would not feel nearly as good.  I relished in my worn, fatigued and battered body.

Two days later I said good by to Alik and the Canadian Rockies,  and packed the van up to head south back to Bozeman, Montana.  I was slated not only to assist but also to participate in the Sierra Club veterans ice climbing week in Hyalite hosted by Montana Alpine Guides.

Volunteering has taught me one thing.  I never regret doing it!  Every time I put others before myself it feels incredible.  I get back double what ever I put into it.  It is medicine for the soul in more ways than one.  I cant explain the psychology of it, but for me it works wonders.  As a veteran myself of three tours in Afghanistan as a Air Force Pararescuman, I find great solace and personal healing when helping other vets get out side and into the wilderness.  We share a common bond, a common thread.  The intrinsic team work the 12 of us shared was unforgettable during this 5 day ice climbing course.

Veterans ice climbing week with the Sierra Club and Montana Alpine Guides.

Veterans ice climbing week with the Sierra Club and Montana Alpine Guides.

Flashback Series Episode 1: TNT!

Happy Cinco de Mayo friends!  Today is an important day for The Rock Climber’s Training Manual, the 37th anniversary of the authors’ birth.  To commemorate the occasion, here is the first in a new “Flashback Series” of tales of past adventures.   The below story was selected because it has a strong “twin” theme that we think is appropriate for our birthday.  The story is based upon actual events, but names have been changed to protect the innocent.  It was written almost 15 years ago and is essentially  unrevised.  We do not encourage or condone the activities described.  That said, we were all young and stupid once.  Fortunately through some miracle we managed to survive long enough to learn from our many foolish mistakes….

Once upon a time there were two boys, named Tommy and Timmy. Tommy and Timmy were brothers, in fact, they were twins. Tommy and Timmy’s parents thought it would be really hilarious if they gave their twin sons names that started with the same letter, and boy, they were right!!

One beautiful winter morning TNT (as they were sometimes called for short—how cute!!) were out cross country skiing in the open wilderness of Northern Utah’s Wasatch Range. Their objective was the mighty, majestic Mount Timpanogos, the highest mountain in the range, and perhaps the most well-known peak in all of Utah.

Timmy was a boy whose mind was constantly filled with dreams of rock and ice. If Timmy wasn’t actually climbing something, he was thinking about it.  And Timmy’s real passion was accomplishing “first ascents”—climbing routes that nobody had ever climbed before. Whenever Timmy had a minute of free time he would scour the backcountry in search of unclimbed routes. Although the mighty Timpanogos had seen countless ascents over the years, no route had ever been established on the remote and domineering Northeast Face [Editor’s note: This is gratuitous unsubstantiated hyperbole, and likely incorrect].  This seemed to Timmy like a perfect objective for him. Unfortunately his usual Utah climbing partner, Tommie, was suffering from an intense case of elephantitous of the testicals, so he would have to find another partner…

A typical TNT First Ascent attempt c. 2000: Unappealing, already climbed, and ultimately aborted.

A typical TNT First Ascent attempt c. 2000: Unappealing, already climbed, and ultimately aborted.  This one was in the Cirque of the Unclimbables.

Tommy, on the other hand, was a boy who mostly didn’t want to die. However, Tommy had a weak spirit and was easily convinced to do things that any idiot could see were not very safe. When Tommy’s brother Timmy explained the unbelievably amazing and awesome new route potential on the North Face of Mount Timpanogos, Tommy had no choice but to whimper, whine, and feign enthusiasm. Tommy had been through this movie before: He knew that sooner or later, his brother would drag him up the North Face of Mount Timpanogos, so he might as well minimize the complaining and just get it over with.

Now although Tommy had traveled extensively in Utah, he didn’t actually live there. And Tommy had never actually seen the North Face of Mount Timpanogos. Some people may consider that a good excuse for Tommy’s decision to go ahead and attempt the route. Most people would think that was just plain stupid. But everyone would agree, that after actually  looking at the North Face of Mount Timpanogos, nobody would actually try to climb it, certainly not by the route Timmy had in mind, and certainly not on a warm winter day with such large quantities of snow accumulated high on the route.

You see, the route Timmy had in mind follows what laymen would call an “avalanche gully.” Well-educated alpinists with extensive experience would call it a “death trap.” Timmy called it an excellent opportunity to get famous really fast…

Tommy flew into the Salt Lake City Airport late Friday night, where he was picked up by his brother Timmy. Timmy’s reconnaissance of the potential route revealed, well, very little. However, it did reveal that an early start would be imperative if it were to be accomplished in a single day. So TNT awoke at some un-godly hour and proceeded towards American Fork Canyon, and the beginning of their adventure. Among the many things that Timmy’s reconnaissance did not reveal, was the exact starting point of the route’s approach. But after a few mis-starts the two youngsters were off.

After nearly three hours of skiing, the sun began to peak over the distant horizon, and trickles of light spilled on to the heavily corniced summit ridge of the great mountain. Throughout the morning’s journey Tommy had strained his imagination for some inkling of what lie ahead. But all his relentless conjuring had revealed was a vague silhouette of the rugged peak.  Finally, with dawn at his disposal, Tommy could see what his thoughtful twin had in store for him.

The northern aspect of Mt. Timpanogos

The northern aspect of Mt. Timpanogos

The first thing the observant climber noticed was that after three hours of skiing, the two were nowhere near the base of the route, and would be skiing for quite a while longer. But the route itself? The route Timmy had in mind was nothing short of magnificent. Actually, on second thought, it was about 1000 feet short of magnificent. You see, the route was basically one to two pitches of beautiful mixed rock and ice climbing followed by roughly 1000 feet of slogging up an enormous trough of snow to the summit.  Apparently Timmy’s extensive reconnaissance hadn’t uncovered much about the last part of the route.

With renewed motivation, Timmy and Tommy returned their attention to the task at hand: several more hours of difficult skiing…

Two hours later, the sun was fully up, and the two lads were nearly at the base of the massive face. The sun was so ‘up’ in fact, that Tommy was wishing he had brought his sunglasses and sunscreen. While packing, Tommy figured he would never need such things, it being wintertime, and since the route was on the North side of the mountain (and therefore not exposed to sunlight). However the approach was such that the last hour or so of skiing would be done on a 35-40 degree snow lope that faced almost directly East, and was warmed by the intense high-altitude sunlight all morning. While traversing the slope, Tommy remarked to himself (Tommy was the sort of nutcase who was always remarking to himself) that he and his brother Timmy were skiing through classic “slab avalanche” conditions. The steep slope, the warm day, and the hard crust of snow were notorious indicators. If not for the reassurance of the current Avalanche Report (which suggested low danger), Timmy and Tommy might have been concerned.

Tommy side-hilling towards the mountain.

Tommy side-hilling towards the mountain.

Tommy paused from the march for a moment to study the beauty of a distant peak (and to take a leak). He turned his attention back towards the destination just in time to watch Timmy begin his slide down the slope, along with the 2-3 thousand cubic feet of snow he was standing on.

“AVALANCHE!!!” Timmy yelled as he struggled for mercy.

Tommy pretty much stood there starring, “Wow, I’ve never seen anything like this before!” He remarked to himself (that’s Tommy-always cool and calm in a crisis. Sidenote: When Tommy got his first car, his Dad bought him an “Emergency Kit” with road flares, jumper cables and all that good stuff. But when he gave it to Tommy he said he didn’t want to call it an ‘emergency kit,’ because he would hate to think of what sort of tragically horrible calamity would have to occur before Tommy deemed it an ‘emergency.’ Ha!). After sliding a mere 30 feet, Timmy was able to arrest his fall, and the two watched as heaps of snow continued for several hundred feet down the slope.

Any sane humans would have been worried at this point. But not Timmy and Tommy! By their bizarre logic, TNT had just proven that their only serious concern, avalanche danger, was nothing to worry about! Timmy had just survived a so-called avalanche, so therefore the two would certainly be able to survive all future avalanches, right? Once Timmy dusted off the
fresh coating of powder snow from his person, he continued steadfastly towards his objective.

Not more than 10 steps further along, Timmy felt a now familiar sensation.  Tommy could not believe his eyes. The entire hill side, a slab 100 feet wide, over 500 feet long and up to several feet thick began sliding down, with Timmy standing on top of it.

Avalanche Diagram

Tommy watched helplessly as his brother cart-wheeled his way down the slope, ski poles flailing uselessly. His first instinct was to toss his pack and ski madly towards his brother, and begin the inevitable excavation. But he realized it was far more important to keep his eyes locked on Timmy, so that he would know where to start digging.

The slide from Tommy's perspective...

The slide from Tommy’s perspective…

However, almost immediately after the slide started, Tommy lost sight of his brother as he tumbled behind a small grove of trees. Several seconds passed before Timmy popped up out of the churning river of snow, arms flailing, over a thousand feet below where he once stood. Timmy knew the textbook avalanche procedure.  He had to do everything in his power to stay above the snow. But his skis were dragging him down like two high tuned, top-of-the-line, carbon fiber anchors. Timmy felt like a mobster had tossed him off the pier with a block of cement around his ankles. As he bobbed helplessly in the current, Timmy felt the snow closing in around him. He realized that if he didn’t do something quick he would eventually be buried alive within seconds.  At long last, Timmy managed to kick off his useless skis. He began swimming madly in the snow. He could feel solid ground below, and dug in his heels to slow his descent. Eventually, Timmy was able to stop himself, and watched in disbelief as the snow continued plowing down the slope for another thousand feet.

...and Timmy's view looking back up the slope after arresting his slide.

…and Timmy’s view looking back up the slope after arresting his slide.

Tommy called anxiously to his bewildered brother. To both the boys’ amazement, Timmy was un-injured, aside from a few minor bruises (that Timmy would complain about relentlessly for days to come). The slide settled under a plume of powder snow (the best snow on earth!) as the two fools contemplated all the things in life they were thankful for.

A look at the slide from the boys' retreat.

A look at the slide from the boys’ retreat.

Timmy and Tommy decided that this would be a good time to abandon their proposed climb. After a few minutes of searching Timmy miraculously located his ditched skis (though only one ski pole) and shot a few photos for the scrap book.  The two skied calmly towards the parking lot, feeling lucky to have enjoyed such a beautiful day in the wilderness.

Timmy approximating the  beginning and end of his near-fatal journey.

Timmy approximating the beginning and end of his near-fatal journey.

THE END

[Editor’s note: The cavalier attitude displayed in the moment, and after the fact (when the story was written) was typical of our early adventures.  I can’t believe how many times we nearly killed ourselves, and then casually shrugged off the danger five minutes later.  This wasn’t the cool bravery of experienced climbers, electing to take a calculated risk—this was blissful ignorance unchecked.  I mention this in case some young gun is reading this–when that crotchety old has-been warns you to take it slow, consider just for a moment that they might actually know what they’re talking about—they might even have some first hand experience 🙂 .  Fortunately we eventually ran into a few of those guys and they talked some sense into us.]

Sport Alpine Climbing and Siege Sport Climbing

I’m currently reading Greg Crouch’s fascinating book “Enduring Patagonia”. I’ve always had this thought in the back of my mind that when the kids are grown up I’ll go climb Cerro Torre for “fun”.  After reading Crouch’s book I now realize the folly of that idea.  Crouch spent 68 days trying and failing to climb Cerro Torre’s infamous Compressor Route before he eventually succeeded.  Over the course of those 68 days he attempted the route 14 times!  I’ve pondered that number quite a bit and I’m having trouble truly comprehending it. It’s a credit to Crouch’s determination and perseverance. During my currently-hybernating alpine career, I’ve never tried a route more than twice, and even that was extremely rare.  On Devil’s Thumb we were within a few hundred vertical feet of the summit on our first attempt before the weather completely shut us down, so we bailed and returned to base camp and finished the climb a few days later.  Even considering my time as a sport climber, I can only come up with seven routes that I’ve tried 14 or more times. 

Marc Spriner (R) and I climbing into marginal weather on Devil's Thumb, Alaska.

Marc Springer (bottom right) and I climbing into marginal weather on Devil’s Thumb, Alaska.  Photo Mike Anderson. 

Yet siege-style sport climbing is hardly rare. I know plenty of sport climbers who have spent 100 or more days working a single project.  I have a special admiration for people who can stay devoted to a single pitch of rock for that amount of time.  I don’t think I have the perseverance to do that; I lack the attention span, plus I prefer to bounce around between various crags. But mostly, I prefer to avoid siege-projecting because I believe it’s not an optimal way to improve at climbing.  There’s no doubt that putting in countless days can yield impressive results, far beyond what one might normally achieve, but there is often a significant difference between achievement and improvement.  Mega-projecting can be a great tool to accomplish a goal when used sparingly, like a .13c-or-so climber going all out to climb one 5.14 before he retires. However, if the goal is improvement over the long run, I think a superior use of one’s climbing time is to climb many different routes, on different types of rock.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t reach for the stars.  I do that plenty, but my approach is to try such routes until I reach the point of diminishing returns.  On any project you will eventually reach that point where you know all the moves, you’re falling in the same spot(s) over and over, and you’re just hoping for a miraculous star-alignment to occur to facilitate a send.  At that point you are unlikely to improve much as a climber by continuing on the route.  You may get better at climbing that particular route, but not much better at climbing in general.  On the other hand, if you move on to another route, you will be exposed to an entire pitch of new moves and sequences.  If the new route is at another crag, you may also be exposed to a new type of rock, new warmups, etc.  Focusing on routes that you can send in 5 or less days will get you up 20 times more routes as the guy spending 100 days on the same 80-foot climb.

A good exception to this policy is the climber with a mental block that is preventing physical progression.  If you’re someone who constantly gets close to sending but never quite pulls it off, putting in the time to break through that barrier may pay dividends on future climbs.  For example, if you’ve been stuck at the same grade for many seasons, and you are sending routes of that grade quicker and quicker, but you just can’t manage the next grade, it may be that your mind hasn’t quite accepted the idea that you are capable of climbing harder.  Proving it just once (even through a protracted siege), can allow your head to embrace your new level, and you may find that subsequent projects at the higher grade progress much more quickly.

Grand Ol' Opry turned out to be a protracted-for-me campaign of ~14 total days spread over two seasons.  It took longer than I wanted, but it helped me overcome my mental resistance to climbing harder than 5.14a.

Grand Ol’ Opry turned out to be a protracted-for-me campaign of ~13 total days spread over two seasons. It took longer than I wanted, but it helped me overcome my mental resistance to climbing harder than 5.14a.  Photo Ken Klein.

Generally, if I’m not on the verge of sending a project after 5 days or so, I select another, shorter-term objective, then when the season has run its course I retreat to the gym for more training.  When I feel I’ve improved enough that the objective is within my 5-or-so-day target window, I plan for a block of time to try it again.  Part of this is simply personal preference; I prefer not to spend an entire season at the same crag, doing the same warmups over and over, etc.  But I also think it’s a better approach for improving.  It allows me to keep the ‘send train’ rolling even if my eyes are too big for my stomach, it keeps me moving over more terrain, and it makes my training cycles laser-focused on tangible, motivating goals.  The initial reconnaissance of the route provides extremely valuable information that I can use to tailor the next season’s training to the route.  With these details about the route, I can determine which grip positions to emphasize, particular movement sequences that need practice (which I can incorporate into my bouldering sessions), and how to design a power endurance circuit to suit the route.

The process of redpointing Scarface, my first 5.14, involved three separate campaigns of 4 or 5 days, spread out over two years. Twice I retreated to the gym for more training, and each time I returned I had improved substantially. I eventually sent after 4 days of work in March 2007.

The process of redpointing Scarface, my first 5.14, involved three separate campaigns of 4 or 5 days, spread out over two years. Twice I retreated to the gym for more training, and each time I returned I had improved substantially. I eventually sent after 4 days of work in March 2007. The process never got stale, and by the end of the journey, I had transformed myself into a climber capable of climbing many 5.14s, not just that one 5.14.

Ideally, nearly every day I’m on a project I’m learning new sequences, trying unusual moves, and making steady progress (reducing the number of hang points, or moving my highpoint steadily up the route).  From an improvement perspective, this is the most productive way to project routes.  So how do you know when to go big and when to go home? There is no precise number of days; its a matter of identifying the point of stagnation and making a decision at that time.  With anything in climbing, it gets easier to make that decision with practice.  Generally, you should be able to do all the moves within the first two days (unless a particular move is right off the ground or comes after a great rest, and you have good reason to believe the move will go with another day or two of work).  Once you know all the moves, focus on reducing the number of hangs it takes to get up the route.  Ideally that number will go down by one or more on each subsequent attempt at the route (from 4 hangs to three hangs, and so on), but at the very least try to improve your hang number at least once each climbing day.  If you find yourself repeating the same number of hangs on subsequent days, its time to make a decision.  If you’re falling in the same spots each time, it might make sense to move on to greener pastures.  If you’re falling in different spots, particularly if you’re pushing those points higher and higher up the wall, it might make sense to stick with your project.

This approach should not be allowed to undermine your commitment to your goals.  The idea is not to quit, but rather to re-group, reconsider your approach, and then return when better equipped to succeed.  This cycle of effort only works if you remain committed to the goal during the interim period between attempts. Often you will experience a feeling of loss when you retreat from such a route.  To minimize any “wasted” effort, document your attempts at the route to the extent possible.  Shoot video of the sequences you’ve worked out, create a “beta map”, and take detailed notes on your efforts. Note what worked and what didn’t, what time of year or time of day would be ideal for the next attempt, and how you would train differently in the future to better prepare for the route.  This information, combined with a sound training approach, will optimally prepare you to complete the project in a subsequent season, and there will always be plenty of other routes to send in the mean time.

I first tried Busload of Faith in 2010.  I spent 4 days working the route, before bad weather and waning fitness shut down my climbing season.  At the time, I felt like I was close to sending and I was disappointed that those 4 days had been "wasted" on a route I didn't send.  When I returned in 2011, I sent the route on my second try of that season!  Clearly the time I invested in 2010 was not wasted.  In reality, its likely I would have needed more that two additional attempts to send the route in 2010.  The time away from the route allowed me to improve significantly, and facilitated a faster send once I was able to get on the route again.

I first tried Busload of Faith in 2010. I spent 4 days working the route, before bad weather and waning fitness shut down my climbing season. At the time, I felt like I was close to sending and I was disappointed that those 4 days had been “wasted” on a route I didn’t send. When I returned in 2011, I sent the route on my second try of that season! Clearly the time I invested in 2010 was not wasted. In reality, its likely I would have needed more that two additional attempts to send the route in 2010. The time away from the route allowed me to improve significantly, and facilitated a faster send once I was able to get on the route again.

20 – 12’s in 2012

Plus one 5.13!After the June trip to Yosemite I needed an obtainable/fun goal to occupy my mind.  Summer in Estes is filled with too much work, a lot of play, and minimal amounts of sleep.  I rallied friends and co-workers, “let’s all try to climb twenty 5.12’s in the year 2012!”  Some agreed to the challenge and currently we are all working towards completing the 20.  Adam Sanders, Trango Rep. and climbing madman set this goal in 2011, trying to climb 20 5.12’s before 2012 arrived.  I stole his idea! :)So far, I have climbed 8 sport climbs and one traditional climb.  (It seems I have time for a sport wanking outing about once a week).  My one full day off each week is spent wandering the Rocky Mountains alpine splitters!

Wes Climbing a 5.12 in Boulder Canyon

So far

1.  Mistrel in the Gallery, 5.12, The Gallery, Red Rocks
2.  Days of Future Past- 5.12a, Animal World–Boulder Canyon
3.  Free Fall -5.12a, Avalon–Boulder Canyon
4.  Furious Howard Brown 5.12 a/b, Surprising Crag–Boulder Canyon
5. Threshold of a Dream 5.12-, Animal World–Boulder Canyon
6.  Wet Denim Day Dream 5.12-, Wall of the 90’s–Clear Creek (Onsight)
7.  Red Neck Hero 5.12, River Wall—Button Rock Reservoir.  
8. The Wasp 5.13-, Rock of Ages — Rocky Mountain National Park (Trad climb)
9. Rise and Shine 5.12-, Bitty Butress — Boulder Canyon
10.  The Gate Keepr 5.12a, Wizards Gate — The Crags, RMNP

My most exciting lead to date, The Wasp, occurred Wednesday.  Tuesday, I hiked out with Bronson to top rope and suss out some gear.  Previously, I had one top-rope lap on The Wasp this summer in late June.  I also have had some miserable burns on it a few summers back.  This June was the first time I top-roped it with no falls and no extreme pump.  I had to work at noon, so although I felt strong and was tempted for a lead go, I didn’t have time.

Wednesday, my girlfriend Kelly Cramer, returned with me.  Through a small debate on the hike up, WE decided that there would be no more top-roping.  I would walk up to the climb and lead the darn thing.  I fell entering the crux traverse.  BOO.  I was fully pumped.

I rested for a while, then tried again.  Feeling solid I reached the “jug” at the end of the traverse left, but had placed a piece in the way.  I shuffled around trying to jam my hand under the cam, but in my flurry ended up just grabbing it.  Double BOO.  I definitely hollered a few F-Bombs.  Irritated at my lack of mental control!!!!

 I was also worried I wouldn’t have the energy for another full effort.  I rested 20 minutes or so, then headed up for the 3rd time.  Through the traverse, I placed the cam in a better location, moved through, and stood up for a rest.  One more reachy move puts you on a “smile-evoking-foot-holds-surprise-hand-rail-of-joy”traverse right.  I placed another piece but was short a runner.  I clipped it directly and began climbing upwards towards the piton.

The Wasp, Photo taken from Mountain Project

WHEN DID THE SMALL CHILD JUMP ON MY BACK, I thought?  I just sand-bagged myself with an extreme lightening zag of rope drag.  I thought about down-climbing and taking the piece out but thought I would waste to much energy.  In hindsight, I wasted just as much energy climbing upwards with the rope drag, Elvis clipping and such.  Even with the little extra epic I created for myself, I clipped the piton, moved through the last few crimps to the jug at the lip with just enough energy!  YAHOO!!!!!!!!!

Heel hooking in the Ra’s in Boulder Canyon!  

Thanks Kelly and Bronson for hiking out there with me!

Recently, Trango has picked up Tenaya shoes, and have been testing a few.  I have always been partial to climbing with Muira’s, but am finding Tenaya’s Ra to be quite comparable.  Great rubber, stiff and comfortable.  The Masai’s are a less aggressive shoe that I am climbing in a size bigger than usual, but am loving them for long days.  They still have a great toe box and edge, but more flexibility.

Give these shoes a try!!!

 
 

Oregon Territory

I made it back “home” to Oregon earlier this month for the wedding of two of my best friends & climbing partners, Fred Gomez and Heather Wales.  “Freather”, as they like to be called, are rare examples of high school sweethearts that stuck together for the long run.  The wedding was amazing and I wish Freather the best of luck on their journey together.

When 5.14 marries 5.13, expect strong children.

Since most of my family still lives on the West Coast we had a brief but action-packed reunion, involving camping, boating, road biking, mountain biking, rock climbing and a short back pack trip.  The temps were ridiculous (high 90′s) which made rockclimbing somewhat unpleasant, but we made it out to my spiritual climbing home of Smith Rock for an evening of easy pitches.

Kate & Logan below Broken Top.

The highlight of the trip was our overnight backpack trip to Green Lake, which is perched at the foot of South Sister and Broken Top, two of Oregon’s breath-taking Cascade Volcanoes.  These volcanoes provided pivotal inspiration for my climbing career.  I could see the Three Sisters from my childhood home in Corvallis, and as a young boy I would dream of some day climbing them.  My first real summit was Middle Sister, and my first roped climb was on Mt. Washington, the next volcanic plug north of the Sisters.  These beautiful peaks were the perfect training ground; just technical enough to be interesting, but not overwhelming.  Of course I should mention the rock is horrendous.  Absolute garbage; but the plus side is that even to this day the Canadian Rockies seem solid by comparison.

Looking up towards the summit tower from the Northwest Ridge.

I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to dash up nearby Broken Top, which offers a few more technical challenges and 1000′ less vertical gain than South Sister.  My brother Mike was along with his family, and he was keen to lead his son Lucas (just shy of 7 years old) up his first “real” mountain.  I gave them a good headstart before departing from our 6500′ camp just after 6pm.  Not exactly an alpine start, but I had been riding my bike a lot at altitude so I expected to make good time.

South Sister from the summit, with Green Lake below

The trail goes pretty much straight up through loose scree and pumice to the Northwest Ridge, then follows the ridge to the summit.  I caught up to Mike & Lucas just before the ridge, then pushed on to scout out the tricky summit pinnacle.  Most of the climb is pretty trivial class 2 scramble, but the final pitch requires easy 5th class climbing on putrid “rock”.  Following my nose around to the northeast corner, I reached the 9175′ summit 52 minutes after I left camp.  Not too shabby for an old, fat, bald(ing) guy.  I doubt I could have beat that time even in my college days. 

The view to the East.

A handfull of the Cascade Volcanoes

The views were outstanding, but I decided to head back down to give Mike a hand with Lucas.  I met them about a third of the way up the Northwest Ridge.  Lucas was making good progress despite lots of big steps and loose rock.  We made good progress to the top of the ridge, then Mike & Lucas harnessed-up for the top.  Lucas had no trouble with the technical climbing, but it was really nice to have two adults to spot and route-find. 

Mike & Lucas at the top of the ridge, with the Three Sisters behind.

Literally 10 feet below the summit Lucas announced he had gone far enough, and didn’t really need to go to the top.  Figuring he might regret that decision later, we were eventually able to pursuade him to continue by telling him if we sang “Happy Birthday”, he would be on top before the song was over.

Scrambling up a short rock band near the top.

Lucas was psyched to check out the ancient crater.

This is where Lucas decided to stop (I took this pic from the summit)

That seemed to do the trick, but we I had to pick him up and hoist him over my head to get his feet on the summit block just as we finsihed the final “…to you!” 

On the summit again.

The descent was a blast with Lucas bouncing from boulder to boulder like a pinball.  He was pretending to be some type of video game character I’m not familiar with, holding my hand as he literally ran down the ridge.  It was all I could do to remain upright, but I was psyched to get back to camp before dark and I enjoyed the challenge.  It was some of the most fun I’ve ever had on descending a high peak.

The Cascades (Middle Sister, North Sister, Mt. Washington, Three-Fingered Jack, Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Hood, Mt. Adams)

Goal-Setting for Climbing (Part I)

Goal-setting has been an essential tool in all athletic pursuits for decades. You could make the argument that it is an essential tool in all human endeavors. Even chipmunks set out every Fall with the intention of gathering enough acorns to make it through the winter. Goal-setting is just as important in climbing. Goals create focus, steer the training plan, and provide motivation when the going gets tough.

On the summit of Denali

Summit of Denali, 2001

Achieving the goal turned out to be the easy part

Our climbing roots in the world of mountaineering provide a great metaphor. Ultimately the goal is to get to the summit (and back home), but on the big peaks this is usually accomplished through intermediate steps. For example, this may be a typical goal-oriented strategy for climbing Denali:

Main Goal: Summit Denali via West Buttress & return home safely

Intermediate goals:1: Climb from Kahiltna Landing strip to 10K
2: Haul load to 12K, return to 10K camp, establish camp
3: Move camp from 10k to 14k, establish base camp in Genet Basin at 14k
4: Back-haul cache from 12k to 14k
5: Acclimatize with day trip to 17k, return to Base Camp
6: Establish High camp at 17k
7: Climb from 17k to Summit & return
8: Break down high camp and return to Base Camp
9: Retreat from Base Camp to Kahiltna strip, bottoms up!

In the above example, there is a main goal, and a set of intermediate goals that lay the foundation for achieving the main goal. However in this example, the entire process is completed in a few weeks. Most goals are not so quickly realized, and in truth the above goals would not suffice. If you’re sitting at home and thinking you’d like to climb Denali, setting the above set of goals will leave you overwhelmed and a bit lost in terms of how to proceed with achieving the main goal. I climbed Denali via the Cassin Ridge in 2001. In actuality the goal was set several years before I ever set foot in Alaska, and I laid out a multi-year plan to achieve the goal.

The first step is to identify the objective. That’s the easy part, though it presents some pitfalls as well (see Part II). The next step is the most critical and perhaps the most difficult: identify the gaps between the desired end-state (the goal) and your present state. In other words, my goal was to climb the Cassin Ridge. At the time I set the goal, I had never traversed a glacier, summited a peak higher than 12,000 feet, climbed ice of any kind, spent more than one night camping in the snow, experienced temperatures below 0 degrees, planned or executed an expedition, bivied over 8,000 feet… I could go on and on about my lack of credentials for such an activity.

So I developed a list of intermediate goals, each of which would help provide skills and experience that would be necessary on Denali:

Step 1: Climb Mt Rainier. This provided some more alititude exposure, several nights spent on a “high” mountain, and glacier travel experience

Step 2: Climb Mooses Tooth. This provided experience in the Alaska Range, more days (~7 days) spent on an expedition and living on a glacier, more serious glacier travel experience and more challenging alpine climbing experience

Step 3: Climb El Pico de Orizaba. This provided significantly more high-altitude experienace, with a summit over 18,000 feet, and more experience with logistical planning

Step 4: Climb Mt Waddington. This was a much more technically demanding climb than the Cassin, but at a lower altitude with less harsh weather conditions. The climb helped to improve technical skills and provide confidence, plus required 7 days on a remote glacier.

Step 5: Climb Grade 5 Ice: Knowing the Cassin would likely have nothing harder than AI4 (in reality was more like AI2 or 3), this provided more confidence in ice climbing skills and some margin for error.

High Camp on Moose's Tooth, with Denali behind

While striving towards intermediate goals,

it helps to keep the big picture in sight

It took roughly three years just to complete the intermediate goals, but once completed, I knew I was ready to give the Cassin a decent shot. In the end, the Cassin was relatively easy by comparison, which made the route that much more enjoyable.

This approach can and should be applied to all types of climbing. If you’re stuck at 5.11 and you want to climb 5.13, establish some benchmarks and a rough timeframe of when you plan to accomplish them. The benchmarks should not be arbitrary numbers. Rather, they should help you develop a specific skill or confidence that will help you achieve the main goal. Part II will go into more detail about how to select specific goals for rock climbing.

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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