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Category Archives: Clear Creek Canyon

Delivered From Purgatory

I’m a big fan of puzzles. Crossword puzzles, brainteasers, jigsaw puzzles. Without a doubt, my favorite part of project climbing is solving the sequence puzzle. The more baffling the sequence, the more rewarding it is to solve. This challenge is magnified on first ascents, which typically lack obvious clues like chalk and rubber marks. Furthermore, there’s no guarantee a new line will provide a free solution.  For me, there’s nothing quite like the Eureka Moment when I finally convince myself the route will indeed go free. It could be the first time I execute a particularly cruxy move, the first time I complete a certain link through the crux, or even the first one-hang. In any case, that realization is followed by a renewed belief that the project is viable.

But there’s a downside to the Eureka Moment. It’s only a small leap from there to assuming the redpoint is all but assured—a mere formality. That assumption is often wrong, and the mindset it yields is counter-productive at best. If the send doesn’t follow promptly, each ensuing attempt is weighed down by a few more ounces of anxiety. Thoughts about the next objective creep in, I wonder how many more times I will need to line up a partner, and if the days turn into weeks, concerns about when to start my next training cycle add a bit more weight. This ballast is indiscernible at first, but over time, it adds up. This is purgatory—the prime malady of the projecting process.

To be in sport climbing purgatory is to know unlimited misery. It’s like being locked in a cage, with everything you desire just out of reach of your extended arm. Each morning you walk to the crag, passing other routes you might climb, if only you could send your project. Each afternoon, you walk back, trying to reason your way into believing you’ll send it the next day, but knowing deep down that you probably won’t.

Purgatory looks something like this. Bystanders will say it looks beautiful. From the inside looking out, all you see is pain.

Purgatory looks something like this. Bystanders will say it looks beautiful. From the inside looking out, all you see is pain.

The past 40 days have been the longest continuous purgatory of my career. After finishing Double Stout, I was eager to try another long-standing open project in Clear Creek Canyon. This one was prepped by my friend Scott Hahn around 2008, and opened to all comers in the spring of 2009. It’s located at The Armory, a small crag with an unusual concentration of great routes, including Ken T’ank, The Gauntlet, and Beretta. The Gauntlet was established in 2006 by Darren Mabe at 5.12+. It starts up a leaning dihedral, and then moves left onto a steep face of impeccable orange stone to climb a splitter finger crack capped off by a challenging roof encounter. Scott’s line was essentially a direct start to The Gauntlet, avoiding the dihedral by climbing straight up to the finger crack.

The Gauntlet follows the red line, Scott’s direct start follows the icy blue line.

The Gauntlet follows the red line, Scott’s direct start follows the icy blue line.

The direct start is all business from the moment you step off the ground until you reach a pair of bomber fingerlocks at mid-height. Scott described the difficulties reaching the crack as “roughly V10 into V12”, with the caveat that “a good wingspan is a must or you won’t be able to reach the holds”.

My first day on the route I was completely perplexed. There were many holds, but I couldn’t surmise how to use them. It’s one of those routes with such non-positive holds that just pulling onto the rock, while hanging from the rope, is quite difficult. There are many sidepulls, underclings, and slopers, and I could see the key was going to be figuring out the right combination of opposing holds and body position to stay on the rock. It would take time to learn how to move between those positions, and momentum to execute those moves.

One of many big spans, this one near the start of the upper boulder problem.

One of many big spans, this one near the start of the upper boulder problem.

For two more days I attempted to solve the puzzle, but there were still moves I couldn’t do, particularly in the reachy “V10” entry problem. There was an obvious “tall guy” sequence for this lower section, but I needed to come up with an alternative. I had done all the moves in the upper “V12” section, but it was much longer, very sustained, and I was far from linking the entire sequence. On the fourth day I finally uncovered a Napoleonic path through the first problem, and I managed to do the V12 bit in two sections with a hang. Now I knew the route would go. Great news, right?

Precarious crimping near the end of the direct start.

Precarious crimping near the end of the direct start.

The month of February is a blur of steady progress, devolving into near misses, clouded by a haze of fickle weather forecasts. The route started to come together in mid-February. I got my first one-hang, and then it seemed I was climbing up to the last one or two hard moves on redpoint more often than not.

Then the entire country was engulfed in historically heinous winter weather caused by an extremely cold air mass referred to by meteorologists as the “Siberian Express”. Record cold temps infiltrated the Eastern Seaboard—typically mild places like Tennessee and Kentucky were ice-bound, and Niagara Falls froze long enough to enable Will Gadd’s stunning ascent.   In Colorado, the phenomenon manifested itself as massive amounts of snow. During the last two weeks of February alone Denver received enough snowfall to shatter the record for the entire month.

This graphic is from February 27th. It snowed more that night, and again on the 28th.

This graphic is from February 27th. It snowed more that night, and again on the 28th.

Through the bars of purgatory, it seemed like it snowed every day. I like cold weather for hard climbing, and normally I can operate in the 20’s if it’s calm, but in late February The Armory rarely experienced temps above the teens. I managed to find one day each week in which the weather was barely tolerable for climbing. It wasn’t warm enough to send, but it allowed me to keep the moves fresh in my mind, and keep the candle of hope flickering ever so dimly.

Typically when a project gets out of hand I retreat, re-train, and return in a following season, usually completing the project with relative ease the next time around. I didn’t want to do that this time. For one reason, I felt extremely close to sending—much closer than I normally am when I bail. For another, I was concerned that the unpredictable Front Range weather would not provide another window of solid redpoint conditions until next winter. This is the sort of route you want to climb when it’s cold (well, to a point), and it would be difficult to get back to the route with good fitness before excessively warm weather arrived in Clear Creek. Finally, I had started to worry that my “retreat, re-train and return” strategy was becoming a crutch. I wanted to know if I had the mental fortitude to see this one through in a single campaign.

Fitness-wise, I was in danger of falling badly out of shape. I completed my last hangboard workout of the season on December 31st. With climbing in the V12-range, this project was right at my power limit, so I needed to maintain a power peak for as long as possible. Normally a nice long power peak lasts 3-4 weeks. To make it to the far end of the Siberian Express I would need to sustain my power for at least 8 weeks. Fortunately I could see early in the process that this project would take some time, so starting in late January I made a point to dedicate at least one session each week (and two per week during the worst weather) to sustaining my power and building power endurance through the use of Non Linear Periodization (NLP). As detailed in the RCTM, these sessions consisted of:

  • Warmup Boulder Ladder (20 minutes)
  • Limit Bouldering (25 minutes)
  • [5-10 minute break]
  • Campusing (Basic Ladders for warmup, then Max Ladders, 20-30 min total)
  • [5-10 minute break]
  • 4 sets of 34-move Linked Bouldering Circuit (Duty Cycle progressing from 1:1 to 2:1)
  • [10 minute break]
  • Supplemental Exercises (2 sets each of shoulder & core exercises)

This strategy worked astonishingly well. On February 15, I did 1-4.5-8 on the Campus Board for the first time (which seems to be slightly harder for me than 1-5-8, which I had done once before). On February 27th, the first day of my 9th week of power training, I did 1-5-8 and touched 1-5-8.5. I also completed my LBC with a duty cycle of 2.3 to 1 (1:45 set length with 45 seconds of rest between sets). I was strong and fit. I just needed some decent weather.

March arrived towing with it the first hint that snowpocalypse was waning. The first full weekend would bring highs in the 40’s and 50’s. By now I had everything dialed. The sub-optimal weather had forced me to fine tune every move, so I could stay on the sloping holds even when friction was poor. My warmup felt klunky and strenuous—usually a good sign. Once prepared for my first attempt of the day, I wandered down the hill to look at the river. The Armory is one of my favorite Clear Creek crags. It’s located across the river from a tunnel that mercifully muffles most of the road noise. There are a handful of massive pine trees that provide a beautiful backdrop, and the crag is sparse enough to escape the crowds of the nearby Primo Wall.

Midway through the second boulder problem.

Midway through the second boulder problem.

It was time to start. By now the entry problem, which took four days to unlock, was trivial. I flowed effortlessly up to the direct start’s one pseudo-jug. I quickly clipped the second bolt, chalked my right hand, and continued. From this point each of the next 12 or so hand moves is a dyno. I had fallen on redpoint on virtually all of these moves at one point or another, and not necessarily in progressive fashion. The climbing is so insecure and complex that the actions of each limb must be carefully coordinated. If your attention wanders for even a split second you can pop off at literally any point.

The last hard move, a big slap to a rounded edge.

The last hard move, a big slap to a rounded edge.

This time I made no mistakes. I performed each move in exacting fashion, and I flowed from one into the next. Breathing heavily, I lined up for the final slap, this one to a sharp horizontal water groove on the edge of a protruding horn—the last hard move. I had fallen on this move on redpoint seven times, but I had never arrived at this move feeling as strong and confident as I did then. I lined up the hold, colied and slapped. By the time I realized what I had done I was sinking my second hand into the bomber finger crack. I clipped and exhaled. The final 30 feet were a sweet victory lap, and I was released from my self-made prison.

Almost to the finger crack!

Almost to the finger crack!

The effort was a revelation for me. I’ve never maintained peak fitness for so long. All my knowledge of training, strategy and tactics contributed. I’ve never stubbornly persisted on a route for so long in a single season. I doubted the virtue of that persistence each day, and even knowing the outcome I’m not entirely convinced it was prudent, but it’s empowering to know I can fall back on that option in the future.

Finishing up The Gauntlet, just above the merge point.

Finishing up The Gauntlet, just above the merge point.

I’m calling the route Siberian Express.  Based on my maintenance training I can confidently say that I was in top shape when I did it.  The weather likely extended the outcome somewhat, but considering my fitness and the twelve days required, I suspect it’s the hardest route I’ve climbed and warrants a 5.14c rating.  More importantly, it’s a great route.  It doesn’t have the towering height of the lines on the Wall of the 90’s, but where it’s hard, it is incredibly sustained.  It certainly doesn’t climb like a short route or a roped boulder problem.  With few exceptions the rock is impeccable–truly some of the best in Clear Creek.  The setting is serene, and the movement is fantastic, once you figure it out.

Double Stout

Roof climbing is my nemesis.  As someone who “grew up” climbing at Smith Rock, I always gravitated towards clean, monolithic faces that sweep skyward in one continuous plane of consistent steepness. My best angle is probably plumb vertical, and the steeper it gets after that, the more I struggle. The climbing on the Colorado Front Range tends to be far more varied, with undulating walls, short steep overhangs and jutting roofs.  When I moved to Colorado it was clear that I would need to adapt my style if I wanted to have success on the local terrain, so over the last several years I’ve made a conscious effort to attack that weakness. I began the process by focusing more attention on Whole Body Strength Training, as described in The Rock Climber’s Training Manual.  In addition to that, I dedicated more and more performance time to attempting routes that didn’t suit me. It was an “arranged marriage” at first, but I’ve since come to really appreciate all the intricacies and limitless options that my local crags have to offer.

I decided to dedicate the long winter to further targeting this weakness by adding a handful of new exercises to my winter Strength Phase (I’ll get much more into that in a series of future posts we’re working on that discuss core training).  Two weeks ago I finally emerged from my training lair ready to scuff up my fingers.  To gauge my progress, and further practice my roof-climbing skill development, I decided to try a long-standing project in Clear Creek Canyon called “Double Stout.”  Double Stout was envisioned, cleaned, and equipped by my friend, all-around great guy, and author of Clear Creek Canyon Rock Climbs, Darren Mabe.  It’s a towering 35-meter line, rising front-and-center up the proudest section of Clear Creek’s premier sport cliff, The Wall of the 90’s.  It sits just left of my route American Mustang (which itself is a variation to another of Darren’s routes, Wiled Horses), and the Mission routes, so I’ve had plenty of time to gaze longingly at it while hanging at various cruxes.

Double Stout begins up the near-vertical wall, darts out the big roof, and then weaves through tiered overhangs to the top of the cliff.

The climb begins with 20 meters of absolutely brilliant technical face climbing up an 85-degree slab.  Others have noted that this slab of stone seems to have been transplanted from the NRG’s Endless Wall.  The rock is magnificent and breathtaking, with fabulous orange and black swirls reminiscent of Quinsana Plus. The climbing is intricate, insecure and fantastic.  The slab ends at a 2-meter, slightly-steeper-than-horizontal roof.  The crux is surmounting this daunting beast.  Above, another 10ish meters of cerebral and pumpy climbing snake through a series of small, tiered roofs, to the apex of the cliff.

The brilliant calico slab.  Photo Mike Anderson.

After equipping the line in 2009, Darren quickly sussed and sent the slab.  I think Darren wouldn’t mind me saying that he put his heart and soul into freeing the entire line to the top of the cliff, but after a valiant effort, he graciously opted to open the project to other suitors in the summer of 2010.  Darren moved to Flagstaff a couple years later, but interest in the route has remained high.  Since the route was opened, the slab has been enjoyed by many as a great 5.13b route in itself, and is now regarded as one of the best 5.13s in the canyon (if not the best).

Smearing up the first slab crux on miserable bumps.  Photo Mike Anderson.

As for the continuation through the roof, more than a few great climbers have taken a stab at it since it was opened.  The word on the street was that the roof was significantly height-dependent, and likely impossible for those below average height.  I was well aware of that rumor, and it certainly discouraged me from trying the line sooner.  That, and the fact that regardless of wingspan, it just looked plain hard! But with more likely projects sent or out of condition, it was finally time for me to investigate.

Finishing up the slab.  Photo Mike Anderson.

My first attempt was less than inspiring.  The roof crux begins with a long reach to an incut flake in the roof.  This has to be grabbed as a gaston, with the left arm in an Iron Cross position, followed by a shoulder-wrenching negative contraction to sag onto the hold.  The first time I tried that move I felt like my shoulder was going to explode.  From there, you need to work out to a slopey, 1-pad edge at the lip of the roof.  The other climbers I had seen on this were able to reach the slopey edge with their feet still on the ledge at the top of the slab. My 67” frame was unable to bridge that distance, but I found a small foothold in the roof that provided a decent setup for a precise dyno to it.  I wasn’t able to do the move on my first burn, but I felt confident that I could eventually.

The iron cross move into the roof.  Photo Mike Anderson.

I was more concerned about the next move.  The standard beta was to campus from the slopey edge to a big, slanting rail above the roof (with the left hand still on the first roof hold, the incut flake).  To make this reach I had to turn my head to one side and paste my ear into the wall!  It seemed doubtful I would be able to do that, without hanging on the rope, on redpoint, or that I would be able to “unwind” from it if I did manage to stick the slap.  After exploring the headwall a bit I lowered with mixed feelings.  I debated packing it in and looking for another project.  I often experience these crises of confidence, which is really kinda silly considering how many times I’ve lived through the exact same scenario, lowering in defeat, only to later redpoint the route in question.

After reminiscing over such recoveries, and realizing there was no upside to quitting early, I tied in for another attempt.  This time I was able to stick the dyno to the slopey edge at the lip of the roof after a few tries.  Then I discovered some sneaky over-head-heel-hook trickeration that completely disarmed the presumed crux.  After practicing a few times and refining my sequence I was ultimately able to do the move statically.  For all my endless rambling about finger strength and training, I really think my greatest asset is my knack for devising whacky beta to get around “impossible” moves.  There were still a few transition bits to work out, but now I knew the line was within my abilities.

Controlling the violent swing after cutting my feet off the ledge.  Photo Mike Anderson.

After one more day to refine my sequence, I returned last Friday for another set of attempts.  On my first burn I gingerly worked up the relentless slab, barely staying in contact in numerous spots due to completely numb fingers.  I was able to warm my hands at the no-hands stance in the crook of the roof, and then I climbed with surprising ease out to the lip.  I latched the heel hook, but as I reached for the slanting rail my flagging foot, which I had neglected to place in the correct spot, suddenly popped off, with the rest of me in tow.  After dangling for a couple minutes, I pulled back on and continued to the top.  It was my first one-hang but might have been a send.  I wasn’t expecting it to go nearly that well, so I was quite psyched despite the foot flub.

The key campus move to the slopey edge.  Photo Mike Anderson.

I took a short walk to warm up my toes, and then started back up.  With my fingers properly warmed up the slab felt much more solid.  After a nice long shake atop the slab, I quickly moved out toward the lip of the roof, and then threw my feet overhead to setup for the heel hook.  Just as I got my feet set I realized I had forgotten the campus move out to the slopey edge!  My first thought was that I was hosed and needed to take.  I quickly decided to re-set and continue climbing if I could.  I reversed the front lever, took a deep breath and slapped for the edge.  I didn’t hit it quite right, but was able to bounce my hand into the correct position.  I pulled my legs back up over my head, and walked them out to the lip to snatch the heel hook.  As I arranged my hands for the decisive move, I noticed my biceps were quickly fading from so much extra footless dangling.

Pulling the lip, feet first and almost completely inverted.  Photo Mike Anderson.

This time I put my flagging foot into the correct position.  I no longer had the lock-off strength to reach the rail statically, so I took a deep breath and coiled.  Bracing for a fall from an inverted position, the thought of slipping out of my harness briefly flashed through my brain.  Stupid brain!  I was committed and determined, so I went for it.  I stuck the rail, gingerly allowed my hips to swing into balance, and removed my low hand to clip.  After matching the rail I made one final campus move and then swung my left foot over the lip.  I lunged for a jug, threw my other foot up, and manteled onto the headwall for a much-needed no-hands rest.  My heart was beating out of my chest, but I knew it was in the bag.  After a long rest I weaved up the headwall, clipped the chains, and Double Stout was free!

Working along the lip to reach better holds.  Photo Mike Anderson.

I owe a great deal of thanks to Darren for envisioning and creating the line, and for encouraging me to try it.  Dave Montgomery also put a lot of effort into the route, and the video of his attempts helped get me started.  People like Darren and Dave keep Colorado climbing fresh and relevant with their imaginative and inspiring creations.  If you take a good look at the history of Clear Creek climbing, the top end was really starting to stagnate in the early 2000’s. Darren and his like-minded partners re-invigorated the scene with a slew of great new routes, including selflessly cleaning and equipping futuristic lines like Mourning Glory, largely for the benefit of other climbers.  As a result, Clear Creek now stands head and shoulders above the rest of the Front Range when it comes to hard sport climbing.

Beginning up the excellent tiered headwall.  Photo Mike Anderson.

As for Double Stout, it’s really an awesome route and a great addition to the varied assortment of hard Clear Creek sport climbs.  I think a typical climber (read: someone who doesn’t have a demented fascination with razor sharp edges and miniscule footholds) would find it to be the most enjoyable of the many stellar hard lines on the Wall of the 90’s.  For those who enjoy routes that offer a little bit of everything, there are few routes on the Front Range that compare.  With the right beta, it’s not as cruxy or reachy as advertised.  That said, it’s a tough line to grade because I do think it is height-dependent (but not height-excluding, at least not at my height).  I can only say that for my dimensions, with my beta, it felt about 5.14a.  I suspect climbing out to the lip of the roof would be easier for a taller climber, but how much easier, and how much taller, I have no clue.  We will have to wait for such a climber to do it and let us know.  Darren tells me he’s training for a re-match, so I’m sure we’ll have at least one more opinion to go off of in the near future.

The top of the Double Stout headwall.  Photo Mike Anderson.

Independence Day

In honor of our nation’s liberation from the tyrannical tax policies of King George*, we hope you take the opportunity to free something that was, for you at least, previously subjugated by the oppressive bonds of “A0”.

In other news, we have a bunch of random announcements to make.  First, if you haven’t already, please check out our Podcast Interview with Neely Quinn over on TrainingBeta.com.  We discuss a number of fascinating topics, including:

  • How we got into training
  • Our biggest accomplishments in climbing
  • How much we train, and how little YOU need to train
  • Balancing work, family, training and climbing
  • Training in Afghanistan
  • The best training tools, and who should use them
  • JStar’s training program
  • Running and climbing
  • Diet
  • How to polish off a long term project

If none of those topics interest you, you can make a fun 4th of July drinking game out of trying to guess which one of us is talking at any given point in the interview.

Second, the entire Anderson clan will be in Lander, Wyoming next weekend for the International Climber’s Festival.  If you’re in the area come say hello, or sign up for our clinic.  We will be at the Trade Fair Friday afternoon at City Park (look for the Trango tent), then at Wild Iris (the crag, not the shop) Saturday morning for the shoe demo and clinic.  You may also see us around the crags before or after the official events.  You’ve been warned 🙂

Keith North trying my new 13b-ish line Apoca-Lips Now.

Keith North trying my new 13b-ish jug haul Apoca-Lips Now.  Photo Mark Anderson

Finally, we’ve been climbing a fair bit over the last few weeks, uncommonly so.  I’ve been fortunate to help out with the development of a new eye-popping crag in Clear Creek Canyon.  This crag will be described in Kevin Capps’ upcoming Clear Creek guidebook, published by Fixed Pin, which should be available sometime this Fall**.  The crag is unusual for Clear Creek in that the routes are super steep, relatively juggy, and yet, quite continuous.  It reminds me a lot of the Arsenal (at Rifle).   The rock quality is “mixed”, to put it nicely, but the best rock is outstanding, reminiscent of the best quartzite at the Gunks.   If you’re willing to climb through short sections of flaky pegmatite there is some really fun climbing to be had.

Kevin Capps near the lip turn on Apoca-Lips Now.

Kevin Capps near the lip turn on Apoca-Lips Now. Thirty feet of horizontal climbing on mostly massive jugs! Photo Keith North.

Thanks to Keith North for providing a few of the photos.  You can check out more of his shots of this crag on his blog.

Figuring out the foot sequence before the FA of Full Metal Jacket, 5.13c.  Photo Keith North.

Figuring out the foot sequence before the FFA of Full Metal Jacket, 5.13c. Photo Keith North.

Video still of me on the FA of Valkyrie, 5.14a?

Video still of me on the FA of Valkyrie, 5.14a? The green fixed line is attached to the Valkyrie anchor, and is directly “behind” me, providing a good indication of the crag’s steepness.

*To our many readers residing in the UK or the other realms of George’s descendants, we say, “Solidarity brothers (and sisters)…and sisters! 🙂

**I don’t have the best track record when it comes to predicting publication dates

 

 

 

 

 

Lander Days – New Post on RCTM.com!

Check out Mike’s new post on “Lander Days” over at RockClimbersTrainingManual.com:

“The family and I just got back from a great week in Lander. If you’ve never been, Lander is a throw-back; it’s a small community at the foot of the Wind River mountain range in Wyoming, so the pace of life is a little slower, and life is a bit simpler. When we’re in Lander, for whatever reason, there is no TV watching or any of those distractions. Instead, we’re outside a lot, and we spend time with great friends. On this trip we were fortunate to stay with Steve and Ellen Bechtel, and BJ and Emily Tilden. Thanks for the hospitality!  When we first arrived, I was in the midst of my Power phase, so I sought out powerful routes to supplement my training. That’s a big reason we were in Lander in the first place, to climb at the Wild Iris…..”  Continue Reading

Lander Days

Typical June weather at Wild Iris, but it's always temporary.

Typical June weather at Wild Iris, but it’s always temporary.

The family and I just got back from a great week in Lander. If you’ve never been, Lander is a throw-back; it’s a small community at the foot of the Wind River mountain range in Wyoming, so the pace of life is a little slower, and life is a bit simpler. When we’re in Lander, for whatever reason, there is no TV watching or any of those distractions. Instead, we’re outside a lot, and we spend time with great friends. On this trip we were fortunate to stay with Steve and Ellen Bechtel, and BJ and Emily Tilden. Thanks for the hospitality!

Lucas's favorite time of the day...heading home!

Lucas’s favorite time of the day…heading home!

When we first arrived, I was in the midst of my Power phase, so I sought out powerful routes to supplement my training. That’s a big reason we were in Lander in the first place, to climb at the Wild Iris. I think there are only a few crags in the US that are suitable for honest-to-goodness training on rock, and Wild Iris is one of them, when it comes to Power (The Red is great for endurance training). Also, early in your season, it’s a great idea to get some easier (for you) routes under your belt to get the rust off, and build confidence going into more difficult projects. To that end, I picked out a couple 13+ routes to try to tick off quickly. The first was Adi-Goddang-Yos, a short, powerful 13c at Rising from the Planes wall, made famous in Eric Perlman’s epic film, Masters of Stone. A hold had broken since the filming, but the route had been re-climbed at least twice since then, at a slightly harder grade. It now requires a pull off a small crimp (my specialty 🙂 ), followed by a very powerful undercling move. I was fortunate to send on my second burn, and was able to play around on some harder routes for the future.

I was lucky to be the first person in the Western Hemisphere to try the super hot Tenaya Terifa, an aggressive high performance shoe that will excel on steep terrain. It has a chiseled toe that is great for pockets. I also like that it is a lace up because I can get on a tighter fitting shoe and still get it on over my grotesquely oversized heels.

I was lucky to be the first person in the Western Hemisphere to try the super hot Tenaya Tarifa, an aggressive high performance shoe that will excel on steep terrain. It has a chiseled toe that is great for pockets. I also like that it is a lace up because I can get on a tighter fitting shoe and still get it on over my grotesquely oversized heels.

My next climbing day, I targeted White Buffalo, a short crimping test-piece on a 30 foot boulder in the campground. You probably remember Mark’s account of this route from last fall: Roped Bouldering in Cowboy Country

I had been intrigued by this line for years (as I’m sure everyone who’s ever camped at the Iris is too), and finally had the opportunity to try it with the right fitness and good weather. We got an 0500 start in Lander to ensure good conditions, and an opportunity to get a couple burns before the sun warmed the face too much (it gets morning sun).

The day before I had just watched BJ Tilden trying his latest sick project at Wolf Point (see below). It was incredibly inspiring. He hasn’t sent yet, but on that attempt you could tell he was really going for it 100% on every move, even though the moves were really risky, low-percentage dynos to small one and two-finger pockets. There were probably five separate occasions when the crowd was sure he was falling, but he hung on and kept moving! It was quite an example.

BJ Tilden on his super-sick Wolf Point project. This think might be 9a+!

I think we all aspire to “climb like Sharma”, really going for it on every move, no matter how desparate.  Sometimes we pull this off in the gym, but for whatever reason many of us seem to hold back when we’re on rock.  Perhaps its the sharpness of the rock, fear of incurring a skin injury (or a real injury), or just fear of falling or failing.  Further complicating this is that certain types of climbing, like long enduro routes or technical on sights, punish over-gripping, and so foster a “don’t try too hard” mentality that can be difficult to overcome when we switch climbing styles.  While the RCTM advocates a “Smarter, not Harder” approach, we all need to remember that often the great climbers are great because they really do try harder than everyone else.  Just trying hard in the moment of the redpoint will not make the difference between climbing 13d and 14d, but all the opportunities along the way, over many, many years, of trying just a little bit harder in the gym, on the campus board, every time you’re on the rock, can eventually add up to that difference.  While Mark and I are not always brawlers on the rock, we are in the gym, and we try extremely hard in training, day-in, day-out, which is one of the reasons we’ve had success with our training.  And though we aren’t at BJ’s level, when the moment is right, we are able to whip out some pretty concerted efforts on a rope every now and then (just yesterday I belayed Mark on the send of his newest Clear Creak 5.14, and it was pretty cool to see him dynoing five times in a row, between insecure holds, eight feet above the last bolt, especially since I was around in the early days when he was much more timid).

So, when I got to White Buffalo, which has some painful and powerful crimp moves, I channeled my inner-BJ…I wasn’t going to pace myself, just give 100% effort on every move, ignore the pain, or thoughts of failure and just try like hell! It worked, and I sent on my second go. It’s the first 13d-in-a-day I’ve done, and my first 2nd try. I’ve done a few in 3 tries, so this was a minor break through. More importantly, I had some confidence to head into some harder projects.

I’ll let my photos do most of the rest of the talking….

America's latest Super-Crag, Wolf Point.  This was my spring goal, that I had been dreaming of and training for for months.  Finally made it!

America’s latest Super-Crag, Wolf Point. This was my spring goal, that I had been dreaming of and training for for months. Finally made it!

I decided to try a beautiful 14a that BJ had put up called King Thing. It’s a commanding line, on a flawless sweep of limestone up the center of the cave. The moves are outstanding, without a stopper crux, but no opportunity to shake in the first 50 feet or so. You can watch BJ climbing it at about the 48 min point of this film, Wind and Rattlesnakes.

 

Steve Bechtel climbing on Remus, 13b.

Steve Bechtel climbing on Remus, 13b.

One of the best parts of the trip was making a couple new friends. First was Rob Jensen, shown below. It turns out, I grew up about 45 minutes from him (he’s from Springfield, Oregon), and we lived in Colorado at similar times, yet I’d never met him. He is also another proud owner of an Ascent Rock mechanized climbing wall, so we had much to talk about. He is a pillar of the Las Vegas climbing community, and hosts numerous climbers in his “garage” for epic training sessions.

Las Vegas climber, and all-around awesome dude, Rob Jensen climbing "Dominant Species" 5.11d.  That's Red Canyon in the background.

Las Vegas climber, and all-around awesome dude, Rob Jensen climbing “Dominant Species” 5.11d. That’s Red Canyon in the background.

I also met and climbed with Kyle Vassilopous. He moved to Lander last year from Bozeman, MT, and he is super-psyched to put up new routes. He was a pleasure to climb with because he is extremely psyched, and didn’t balk at my desire to start early for good temps!

Recent Lander transplant Kyle Vassilopolous warming up at Wolf Point.

Recent Lander transplant Kyle Vassilopolous warming up at Wolf Point.

Dr Tom Rangitsch has been the driving force behind new route development in Lander the last few years. He’s hiked more cliffline than anyone in town and discovered lots of new crags. He put up many of the best routes at Wolf Point, including this new addition, Full Moon, 5.13b, a 40 meter pitch that overhangs about 6 meters over the length. It started as a 30 meter 12c called Bark at the Moon, and this is an extension to that route. The first anchor is at the first draw visible in the photo. In this picture, he’s at the crux of the extension which is a really cool sequence on small crimps. I was lucky to get to belay him on the FA, then he belayed me a couple days later when I tried it. I wanted to go for an on-sight, and Tom did a great job of biting his lip as I flubbed the beta…luckily I was able to recover, and made the first on-sight of the route. It’s a great route Tom, thanks for the hard work!!!

Dr. Tom Rangitsch going for the FA of Full Moon, 5.13b.

Dr. Tom Rangitsch going for the FA of Full Moon, 5.13b.

Thanks everyone for the hospitality, we’ll be back soon to finish off our projects!

Unfinished Business Part 1 – New Post on RCTM.com!

Check out my new post on “Unfinished Business – Part 1″ over at RockClimbersTrainingManual.com:

“In 2011, Denver climbing activist, king of psyche and all-around great guy Luke Childers bolted a stunning arête at The Armory, a compact crag at the top of Clear Creek Canyon.  Clear Creek is quickly becoming the epicenter of sport climbing on the Colorado Front Range, largely thanks to guys like Luke who have a knack for finding great new lines on supposedly tapped out cliffs.  After finishing off American Mustang at the end of March, I had a few more climbing days to spare before beginning my summer training cycle.  I was really psyched to check out Luke’s Armory arête, which looked to me like the best unclimbed line in Clear Creek . I was stoked when Luke generously encouraged me to have at it….”  Continue Reading

Unfinished Business – Part 1: Beretta

In 2011, Denver climbing activist, king of psyche and all-around great guy Luke Childers bolted a stunning arête at The Armory, a compact crag at the top of Clear Creek Canyon.  Clear Creek is quickly becoming the epicenter of sport climbing on the Colorado Front Range, largely thanks to guys like Luke who have a knack for finding great new lines on supposedly tapped out cliffs.  After finishing off American Mustang at the end of March, I had a few more climbing days to spare before beginning my summer training cycle.  I was really psyched to check out Luke’s Armory arête, which looked to me like the best unclimbed line in Clear Creek . I was stoked when Luke generously encouraged me to have at it.

Luke’s project at The Armory.  The start of Ken T’ank is visible to the left of the wide white streak.

Luke’s project at The Armory. The start of Ken T’ank is visible to the left of the wide white streak.

The line overhangs in both planes, creating a steep prow that juts out towards the raging river.  Its located immediately right of the ultra-classic Ken T’ank, sharing the same flawless rock that makes Ken T’ank among the top three 5.12’s in the canyon.  The route begins by traversing along an undercling flake to gain the business on the arête proper (Jason Baker created the “Fully Automatic” linkup in 2012 by starting up this flake and finishing up the 5.11 “Semie-Automatic” dihedral to the right of the arête) .

This view of the arête from the right gives an idea of its steepness.

This view of the arête from the right gives an idea of its steepness.

My friend Adam Sanders was psyched to check out some potential goal-routes at the nearby Primo Wall, so we headed out one fine Sunday afternoon at the end of March to check things out.  On my first attempt I was completely shut down by the perplexing “12d” start.  The climbing here requires an unusual combination of burl and finesse.  You need to undercling along the flake, while pasting your feet on a featureless, water-polished, overhanging skirt of rock that slopes away in the wrong direction.

The burly and perplexing start.

The burly and perplexing start. Photo Mike Anderson.

However, the upper arête was outstanding!  The climbing was technical, sequential, crimpy and dynamic, everything I enjoy in a route.  I consider myself an arête connoisseur, having “grown up” at the arête capital of North America (if not the world?), Smith Rock. The crux features some ultra-classic arête climbing, utilizing both sides of the arête, hooking, flagging and slaps.  I was able to suss a sequence pretty quickly, but I could tell it was low-percentage, with a big, desparate huck capping off several strenuous moves.  That’s my Achilles Heel, and I figured it would probably take some time to put together.

Smith Rock: Arete Paradise.

Smith Rock: Arete Paradise.

Above the crux dyno, another balancy boulder problem leads to a good shake about 10-feet below the summit.  The final boulder climbs a series of insecure slopers, but is not too bad once you figure out the right sequence.

After my turn at the belay, I went back to solve the starting puzzle.  It can be pretty demoralizing to struggle with a section you expect to come easily, especially when you know even-harder climbing is looming above.  Eventually I figured out the right body English to link this stretch, and after a few days it almost started to feel easy, but the footholds are all precarious and tenuous, and I continued to pop off this section at random, frustrating times throughout the campaign.

With all the individual sections worked out, it was time to start linking.  On the third day I sent to the crux throw for the first time.  I was stoked—now I knew I could send this thing! This move is done with your left hand on a 1-pad deep, incut edge, and the span your right hand makes is about the same as doing 1-5 on the campus board.  I spent some time rehearsing the setup and the dyno until I had all the subtleties worked out.  As I set off for my standard run to the chains at the end of the burn, I placed my foot on the left hand incut edge and disaster struck—I broke the hold, the key hold of the route.

The crux throw.  My left hand is on the pivotal hold.

The crux throw. My left hand is on the critical hold.

On my way back down I inspected the damage.  There was still an edge there, but now it was only half-pad deep and sloping.  There was still enough to use, but I would no longer be able to pull out on the hold.  My original sequence wouldn’t work; I would have to work out an alternative.  After evaluating my options, I came up with a viable sequence.  With my new beta the dyno was actually not any harder, but the downside was that now the setup was much more difficult.  Still, I could do the moves, so I had every reason to believe it would go…eventually.

As fate would have it, the next day was April 3rd—the day the Rock Climber’s Training Manual arrived in Denver.  I spent 10 hours that day moving pallets, loading twenty  45-lb boxes into and out of my car, signing books, stuffing and labeling packages.  I was pretty well destroyed.  I don’t know how climbers with physical jobs manage.  I tried the route again the next day, but I was worked and my performance felt flat.

By the weekend I had all the pre-orders in the mail, so I could take a solid rest day before one final day on the route.  I have a goal for the summer season that is extremely important to me, so I figured I needed to end my spring season by the end of the first weekend of April in order to be in shape at the right time for my summer project.

Just above the crux.

Just above the crux.

I gave the arête two more solid attempts, but each time I fell on the setup move.  I had now fallen there four straight goes.  I decided to wrap up my spring season and start training for summer.  That’s not an easy thing to do.  When you feel victory is close you want to keep going.   Its common for me to think I’m closer to success than I actually am, and I’m often tempted to just keeping flogging my project until the stars align.  I’m sure had I done that, I would have sent the route at some point in April.  However, I figured even once I stuck the setup move, I would probably fall on the dyno itself a few times as well, so I probably wasn’t really all that close to sending, and I was not willing to sacrifice the next season’s goals for a near-term mirage.  Plus, I figured if I quit now and compressed my training schedule slightly, I could get a few days on this route before the conditions were right for my primary summer goal….

After six agonizing weeks, I was finally back at The Armory.  The weather had changed dramatically—snow was falling during my final attempt in April, but now temps were in the high 70’s.  Each cold training day during my six-week hiatus, I would stare out the window and wonder if I should be taking advantage of the good conditions.  Training can definitely be a sacrifice in that sense, but its an invenstment that can set you up for huge returns in the future.  My first burn on the route was a struggle, and I was unable to do the setup move.  This was my first day on rock in six weeks though, and such days are usually a trial, followed by massive leaps in progress.  On the next go, I stuck the setup move, on redpoint, for the first time!  Of course, as I predicted, I fell on the dyno (stupid self-fulfilling prophesy 🙂 ).   I was finally back to where I was before I broke the crux hold, and I could tell the send was close at hand.

Nearing the top of the arête.

Nearing the top of the arête.

I still had some training to do, so I took a few days away from the project.  On my next day on the route I stuck the setup move on both attempts.  Now I was discovering the difference between doing the dyno fresh, off the dog, and doing it from the ground.  When I was dogging, I had the strength to lean my head out and locate the target hold before the throw.  Not so on redpoint.  I had to learn to ‘fly by my instruments’.  I practiced the move a silly amount, and eventually got a link from so low I might as well have started from the ground!

After a rest day, I returned with Kate to try again.  If I didn’t send today I would have to make a choice to postpone this route, or my summer project.  ‘One in the hand is worth two in the bush’ and everything, but still, I really wanted to send today.  I got everything ready and stepped off the ground.  And then I fell, on the second stupid slippery move!  I lowered back down, re-chalked, and took some deep breathes.  That’s one way to deal with the nerves.

Again, I set off…  I flowed powerfully from move to move, climbing quickly and confidently to the arête.  After a quick slap and foot shuffle, I was at a precarious shake.  The undercling flake was below, and I had one last chance for a quick chalk and some deep breaths before the crux boulder.  I moved through cautiously, not as fast as usual, careful to place each hand and foot correctly.  Match hands, unwind, high step, flag.  Now I’m setup.  Trust your beta and slap!   ‘’Yaha!” Kate shouts.  For many weeks I’ve wondered what it would feel like to stick that move.  It felt good.  Solid.  But there were still plenty of hard moves to come, so I wasn’t quite relieved.  Some tricky footwork and an off balance slap to a greasy sloper lead to a good shake.  But I don’t need it.  Just chalk each hand and push on.  Big reach, toe in, shift hip and stab your fingers into the crack.  Stand up tall, false grip, high heel hook and reach for the lip.  Chains!

Finishing up the outstanding arête.  Photo Mike Anderson.

Finishing up the outstanding arête. Photo Mike Anderson.

I named the route I Don’t Know What It’s Called, I Just Know The Sound It Makes When It Takes A Man’s Life (aka Beretta), a reference to my favorite comedy Tropic Thunder.  This is my ‘best’ sport climbing first ascent to date, by which I mean it’s the highest quality route I’ve done first.  I think it’s a really awesome route!  The rock is excellent throughout, the movement is stellar, cerebral, and continuous.  There’s no contrivance or unpleasantness. I think it’s one of the top three or four hard routes in Clear Creek Canyon, depending on your tastes.  From head to toe it’s a brilliant route, and one that I feel extremely lucky to have climbed first.  I can’t thank Luke enough for having the vision to unearth this gem, and for the generosity to open it up to the likes of me.

Beretta also happens to be my hardest FA to date, at solid 5.14b.  I’m inclined to say its a hard ‘b’; it took me eight days to send, whereas Mission Impossible, at 14c, took me 10.  Granted, MI is a bit more my style in terms of length and continuity, but they both feature stopper, bouldery cruxes, the sort of thing I usually struggle with.

I wish I could savor this one for a while, but “summer”  is here and I have another project waiting for me….

Bonus Climbing – New Post on RCTM.com!

Check out my new post on “Bonus Climbing”  over at RockClimbersTrainingManual.com:

“…Lately it seems like my eyes are generally too big for my forearms; I’m continually selecting objectives that turn out to be harder than I expect, and take longer to send than I’d hoped. More often than not I have to extend the length of my seasons to send my projects, if I send at all. This season has been a nice exception from that trend! I was prepared to spend the entire season on Mission Impossible, but instead I sent on my third outdoor day. That left me with ample ‘fitness capital’ to expend on my endless list of potential objectives….”  Continue Reading

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