Category Archives: Climbing history

Exploring the Tre Cime

By Mark Anderson

As we wandered over the many passes and marveled at the gob smacking peaks of the Dolomites, I definitely got “the itch” to climb something big. I’ve become a true sport climber over the last decade, especially since my kids arrived, but it hasn’t always been that way. I was first drawn to climbing by a love of the mountains and a desire to stand on top of the snow-capped volcanos I could see from my childhood home. That led to many adventures on the big walls of Yosemite, the alpine peaks of the Canadian Rockies, North Cascades and more remote areas of Alaska and Canada.


The Tre Cime di Lavaredo from the VF De Luca/Innerkofler tunnels.  From left to right: Cima Piccola, Cima Grande, and Cima Ovest.  Also known as the “Drei Zinnen” (in German).

I wasn’t prepared to do any proper multi-pitch climbing, nor was I interested in ditching the family for an entire day, but the Via Ferrate offered the opportunity to do something that would normally require a partner and a long day in just a couple of hours. Hands-down my favorite day in the Dolomites was the day we explored the Tre Cime di Lavaredo. These “three summits” are notorious among adventure climbers, and have figured notably in the history of alpinism across many decades.

Cima Grande, the central and tallest of the trio, was the first to acquire notoriety with Emilio Comici’s 1933 ascent of its North Face, which is now regarded as one of the six “Great North Faces” of the Alps (along with the north faces of the Eiger, Matterhon, Dru, Grandes Jorasses & Piz Badile). The incomparable Walter Bonatti left his mark in February 1953 with back-to-back winter ascents of the Cima Ovest and Cima Grande. In 2001, gymnastic free-climbing took center stage on Cima Ovest when Alex Huber established his gob-smacking roof climb Bellavista (5.14a) , followed by Pan Aroma (5.14b) in 2007. More recently, the peaks featured briefly in Solo: A Star Wars Story.


Early on the trail to Rifugio Lavaredo.

We had a big day planned with lots of hiking, exploring, and some Via Ferrata. We arrived at Rifugio Auronzo at sunrise and struck out for the Rifugio Lavaredo and the Forcella Lavaredo pass just above. The trail winds around the unremarkable southern sides of the Tre Cime, and is more like a graded road with a few patches of snow here and there. Some liability-minded authority had barricaded the road with a small hand-written sign that warned: “Danger Street.” Fortunately I thought to bring an ice axe and helmets for all, so we were pretty much prepared for anything (ironically, on the return hike a washing machine-sized boulder spontaneously cut loose from the steep scree slope above and tore through the “danger street” only a few hundred yards in front of us—fortunately Kate thought to yell “ROCK!” and nobody was hurt).

IMG_1713 Danger Street_a

The “Danger Street” warning sign.

We made quick progress to the pass where we got our first clear view of the north faces, and they were incredible! We hung out for a while snapping pictures and assessing the snowpack. Our ambitious “Plan A” was to complete the VF De Luca/Innerkofler. This uber-classic route cuts along, over, and through the Tre Cime-adjacent Monte Paterno (thanks to a series of war-time tunnels and lots of wire).

IMG_1671 Monte Palermo

Monte Paterno, just left of center, from Forcella Lavaredo.  The Rifugio Locatelli is barely visible on the left.

The standard approach is to traverse the west slope of the mountain to the Rifugio Tre Cime-Locatelli, then clip into the wire for the return trip over and through the mountain. This slope, and pretty much the entire basin below the Tre Cime, was packed with snow, so we ditched Plan A. The usual exit route from Monte Paterno was only a few hundred yards from where we sat, so we roped up, strapped on our helmets, and set off to do the route in reverse, out-and-back.


The Tre Cime in profile, from the start of the VF DL/I tunnel system.


In one of the tunnels on VF DL/I.

The route is immediately interesting with a 50-foot stretch of dark tunnel (and in this case, somewhat snow-packed, with an icy floor and wet, dripping roof). The tunnel ends with long stretches of exposed ledges that were carved in the rock. We snaked around several ridges until we were stopped cold by a couloir filled with snow. We decided this was a good spot for the kids to turn around, but Kate generously encouraged me to continue.


On the wire after the first tunnel section.


Kate and the kids at the exit of a short tunnel (in the lower left).  The snowfield to the left is actually part of a snow-filled couloir that forced them to turn around.

Beyond the couloir the terrain eased again, then turned the ridge to the east side which was spectacularly bathed in morning sun. I made quick progress until I came across a big steep snowfield several-hundred feet high. It was pretty hard to follow the path at this point (and impossible to clip in since the cable was buried), so I just front-pointed straight up the slope using my icetool and surprisingly-effective hiking shoes with “ice cleats”.

Eventually I topped out the snowfield and got a nice view down the northern slope to Rifugio Tre Cime-Locatelli, which, predictably, was even more snowy! There was no way we could have completed the loop-route as planned in these conditions. However, if not for the snow, I think the kids would’ve had a good shot of making the summit, at least as an Out-and-Back the way I did it. The climbing is loose in places but never very difficult and the vertical-ish sections are only a few feet long.

From the col, it was only a couple hundred feet of snow-free climbing to the glorious summit. The views of the Tre Cime were phenomenal—it’s the perfect vantage point to admire these legendary north walls. I snapped a couple pics then hustled back down the route, even enjoying some glissading on the way down.


The Tre Cime from the summit of Monte Paterno.

When I returned to Forcella Lavaredo the family was gone, but I could make them out at the Lavaredo Hut a few hundred feet below. By then the place was teeming with tourists, a stark contrast to the solitude we enjoyed at 6am. I wasn’t ready to return there quite yet—I still wanted to get a climber’s view of the big north faces, especially the massive roofs of Cima Ovest.


The Tre Cime from Forcella Lavaredo.

Half-running, I traversed rapidly across the snow-covered slope.   Like most big walls, they weren’t quite as intimidating from directly below, but I was stunned by the poor quality of rock. Cima Grande in particular was a spider web of fractures, towering like a brick skyscraper without any mortar. I could see how face climbing on this wall could be both unlimited and terrifying at the same time. There’s a neo-classic 8a free climb on the left side of this wall that I can only imagine would be mentally ravaging.

On the right side, the classic lines of the Comici route and its variations weaved between ledges, linking weakness to reach a massive and drenched chimney. Physically, it was easy to see how a route here was possible, but it was hard to imagine venturing up on such a face with 1930’s-era equipment and techniques. Even with modern equipment, I cannot honestly say the route looked appealing. Still, I’d love to do it someday, with a Gore-tex jacket!


Looking up at the North Face of Cima Grande, from the couloir between Cima Grande and Cima Ovest. The classic Comici route roughly follows the series of gray/black ledges, up into the long, wet black streaks.

The toe of Cima Ovest’s north face is a couple hundred feet lower than that of Cima Grande, and figuring the kids must have been getting restless, I stopped short of traversing all the way to its base. From the couloir between the two peaks I had a nice profile view of the big roof of Bellavista, and it looked spectacular. This wall is also known for poor rock quality, but from this vantage point it looked significantly better than the stone on Cima Grande. I could only imagine what it would feel like to pull into the roof, some 50m out from the toe of the wall, and a couple hundred meters off the deck. Nothing else compares to it in the world, and someday I have to figure out a way to try one of these routes.


Cima Ovest in profile.

If there is a key take-away from my time in the Dolomites, it’s that I have to go back! This is not the sort of place that can be absorbed in just two weeks. For the time being there are other places to explore, but I will definitely return here, in the fall, with a rack on my back and adventure in mind.


New Routes at Shelf Road

By Mark Anderson

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

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

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

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

Apogee Pending.

Apogee Pending.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Training for 9a – Preface

by Mark Anderson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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



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

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

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

A looong way to go....

A looong way to go….   Photo Mike Anderson

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

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

Mark Anderson Sends Shadowboxing, 5.14d

by Mark Anderson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Below Shadowboxing after the send. Photo Shaun Corpron.

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

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

Video: Drew Ruana Establishes 14d at Smith Rock

On February 13, 2016, Drew Ruana made the first ascent of “Assassin” (14d). “Assassin” toppled the classic “Just Do It” (14c) and the unrepeated “Shock and Awe” (14c) as the toughest route at Smith Rock. The first ascent of the Aggro Gully linkup pushed Smith Rock’s highest grade upward for the first time in 13 years (the FA of “Shock and Awe” – still unrepeated).

Drew Ruana on the First Ascent of Assassin

Drew Ruana on the first ascent of Assassin (14d), Smith Rock’s hardest route.

Here’s a quick route synopsis and send footage from Drew:

More New Routes and the Paradox of the First Ascent

After I finished Born on the 4th of July there were two more unclimbed lines remaining at The Bunker. The first, dubbed “Charlie Don’t Surf” by Rock Climbing Clear Creek Canyon author Kevin Capps, was one of the five lines bolted by the crag’s original clandestine developer. It was presumed to be un-sent. The other was a line I bolted at the end of last summer, the last obvious line at the crag—a directissima climbing straight up the center of the cave between Valkyrie and Full Metal Jacket.

Charlie Don’t Surf

Charlie Don’t Surf

With Born finished, my next priority was Charlie. I attempted Charlie many times over several days in June 2014. It was the route that first lured me up to The Bunker, rumored to be 5.14, and with the best rock of the legacy lines. The route is fairly short, beginning with big jugs on gradually steepening rock. There’s a steep bulge at mid-height, where a finger-tip seam emerges, running vertically, eventually flaring into a big right-facing corner. The left face of the corner is composed of brilliant quartzite, laced with incut dinner plate jugs (this is where Apoca-Lips Now! joins Charlie).

Charlie Don’t Surf is the on the left, the new addition is on the right.

Charlie Don’t Surf is the on the left, the new addition is on the right.

The climbing is probably in the 5.11 or low 5.12-range, except for the steep bulge in the middle. The rock is starkly unfeatured over this steep, 6-foot section. The obvious feature is the seam, which is flaring and slick, with rounded edges. It offers few useful fingerlocks, all of which are incredibly painful due to a sharp-edged layer of patina coating the crack walls precisely at cuticle depth. There are a few face features, but they are well-spaced.

Attempting Charlie in June 2014.

Attempting Charlie in June 2014.

I was never even close to doing the route last summer, but I felt there were just enough features that the route should go. I was no longer in top shape by that point, and conditions were on the warm side, so I decided to leave the route for a later time, when I was fit and the rock was cool. As I suspected, when I tried the route this spring, with a fresh perspective, better fitness, and crisp conditions I was able to suss a new sequence and put it together over the course of three days.  Situations like this always leave me scratching my head over the grade. I typically grade things based on the time it takes me to send, which I believe is the typical method. However, if some portion of that time is spent on a dead end, how should those days be counted?

Finishing up the brilliant quartzite panel on the first free ascent.

Finishing up the brilliant quartzite panel on the first free ascent.

The current trend seems to favor only considering the physical difficulty in the grade, ignoring any technical skill or creativity required to solve the movement puzzle (especially now that beta for everything under the sun is easily found on Youtube). First Ascensionists aside, there is no way to know who has made the effort to deduce a sequence, and who has scammed it from someone else, so how can such effort be rewarded in the grade? Yet once you pare away the skill element, all that remains to consider is the bare minimum amount of strength required to execute the moves (with perfect beta, which required no effort to attain). Free climbers have been struggling with this conundrum for decades. It explains why uber-beta-dependent crags like Smith Rock seem sandbagged, and mindless jug-hauling crags (pick one) seem soft. Regardless, it strikes me as a sad state of affairs, and I can’t help but feel like we are failing to capture an essential element of climbing difficulty. I long for the simpler, pre-internet days of John Gill, John Bachar and Jerry Moffatt:

I was trying a Bachar problem at Cap Rock one day and getting nowhere. The man shows up.

‘This is hard, John, how do you do it?’

He wouldn’t tell me.

‘What? What do you mean you won’t tell me?’

He wouldn’t tell me. Bachar reckoned he had got this trait from John Gill; never tell anyone how to do a problem. Let them figure it out, because it’s part of the problem. I kept trying different methods and getting nowhere. All the time Bachar stood there in silence, watching me flail. I couldn’t believe it. A few days later I was there again with a friend of Bachar’s, Mike Lechlinski.

‘Oh yeah,’ Mike said. ‘Bachar hooked a heel around the corner there.’

I tried it. With the heel hooked, supporting some of my weight, the holds all worked, and I soon did the problem. Later that week, I went up there again. Chris was there. He had heard me talk about the problem and had fancied a go.

‘Hi Jerry. How do you do this, I can’t quite work it out?’

‘Can’t tell you, I’m afraid, Chris.’


I wouldn’t tell him. What an idiot. Sorry Chris. It was the only time we fell out in six and a half months.

– Jerry Moffat, Revelations p. 62-3

I happily accept that a more difficult climbing experience is part of the first ascent process, but it doesn’t solve my practical desire to select a grade that will capture the effort required, and yet stand the test of time. So with this massive, spineless caveat, I estimate the bare minimum amount of strength required to execute the moves is typical of that required by many a short, bouldery 5.14a. Don’t expect it to feel so “easy” if the periodic seepage washes away my chalk marks and you have to suss the sequence yourself 🙂

Next I moved on to the final un-finished route in the cave. When I put in the bolts I knew it would be good. The rock is great, and I expected it would yield a hard, continuous line, perhaps in the 14a-range. After a brief slab approach, the route stems up an overhanging corner to a good ledge rest. The business begins just above, with big reaches, kneebars, a few dynos and even a handjam to clear a series of steep overlaps. After this section you get another great rest below a 12-foot, curved ceiling. The ceiling is the kinda thing I used to abhor, but now quite enjoy, requiring huge, committing moves, funky footwork and a fair bit of inverted crawling. It seems that just about every move on this route is hard enough to be interesting, and yet there are no stopper moves. Despite a number of great rests along the route, the pump builds and builds throughout, culminating in an exciting finish on slopey jugs, in a stratospheric position.

Pulling through the sustained overlap section at mid-height.

Pulling through the sustained overlap section at mid-height.

On my first attempt I sussed all the sequences fairly quickly, which left me a bit disappointed. This is the grand paradox of the first ascensionist. When attempting to climb an existing route, the grade is essentially a fixed quantity. When you begin the project, you typically have an idea of how long the campaign should take, based on your past experience with routes of the same grade. If you send more quickly than you expected, you feel like a rock star, with the satisfying feeling that you must have improved recently, and are now a better climber than you realized. If the send takes more time than expected, you wallow in self-pity over your pathetic skill and fitness 🙂 Most grade-chasers (myself included) are constantly developing and re-enforcing this ego-gratifying mindset, which encourages us to pull out all the stops to send things as quickly as possible.

The first ascent situation is completely reversed. You have no (legitimate) preconception of the grade when you begin the campaign. It is totally undefined, and as discussed earlier, will be determined largely based on the amount of time required to send. The longer it takes to send, the better justification you have for proposing a high grade. So if you want the route to be hard, the longer it takes, the better.

Sticking a long dyno near the start.

Sticking a long dyno near the start.

This is a major advantage of new-routing. If your underlying desire is to constantly improve, then you should seek challenges, and revel in encountering them, but the standard route-repeating mindset is at odds with this attitude. When trying to repeat routes as quickly as possible, if you encounter a route that is more challenging than anticipated, you are often disappointed when you realize the route will take more time and effort than expected (possibly impacting other plans for the season). That mild disappointment is harmful enough, but it gets worse. Occasionally we go way out of our way to select routes we expect to be less challenging because we want to increase the odds of an ego-pleasing quick send. So while we should be seeking challenges, we sometimes make it a point to avoid them.

Beginning the final obstacle, a 12-foot concave belly-shaped roof.

Beginning the final obstacle, a 12-foot concave belly-shaped roof.

Conversely, when I’m doing a new route, with no grade attached or pre-conceived notion of how long the effort should take, I’m genuinely happy to find the route is more challenging than expected. “A hard route is good to find”, I frequently remind myself. It’s a much more constructive approach to the redpoint process, but it has the potential to inspire less than optimal effort towards completing the first ascent, assuming you want your first ascents to have relatively “hard” grades, which I certainly do (for example, one might drag their feet during the redpoint process so they can later say, “this took X days, therefore it must be at least Y grade”).

The Zen-Climber would not care what the grade ends up being. He would make an honest effort throughout the process, and let the grade take care of itself. But we all know certain grades are just plain better than others. The local 12a gets way more traffic than the 11d next door. And so it goes for 12d/13a and 13d/14a. All first ascensionists want their routes to be popular, and it’s a simple fact that the d’s don’t get the same attention as the a’s. I surely make too much of this distinction, but once you’ve put up enough 13d’s it becomes hard to ignore.

Groping for better holds near the top of the cave.

Groping for better holds near the top of Fury.

I can’t claim to be a Zen climber, but I will say that the ego-gratifying, send-as-fast-as-possible mentality has been so firmly pounded into my skull that I couldn’t “throw” a redpoint attempt if I wanted to. Once I’m on the sharp end, a different Hulk-Mark takes over and my conscious self is just along for the spectacular view. So for better or worse, I sent Fury on my second go (over two days), resulting in what could not be fairly called any harder than 13d (and may end up at ‘c’), no matter how badly I wanted it to be 5.14a.

Despite this mild (and undeniably shallow) disappointment over the grade, I was completely stoked on Fury’s quality. It’s a mega line, long and sustained, with heaps of interesting movement, great rock, and a peerless position. It’s a great addition to the canyon—easily one of the best 5.13+’s—and one of the best lines I’ve discovered.

Topo of The Bunker with “my“ routes highlighted in yellow.

Topo of The Bunker with “my“ routes highlighted in yellow.


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.

The Original Campus Board

As soon as Kate and I committed to a trip to Germany, I started looking for information on “The Campus Center”, the birthplace (and namesake) of the Campus Board. Legend has it that Wolfgang Gullich was looking for a new way to train explosive power for a new cutting-edge route he was trying in the Frankenjura. He developed a ground-breaking new training tool that would allow him to apply the concepts of plyometric training to climbing. The “Campus training” worked, Wallstreet was born (the first 5.14b or 8c in the world) and the rest is history. [read more on this here]

My obsession with campus training, and in particular, campus board specifications, is well-documented. I absolutely had to get a look at the original campus board, if it was still in existence. At the very least, I wanted to take a few measurements, especially rung-spacing, rung depth, and the angle of the board (steepness). It was a long shot, but it was worth looking into.

Unworthy author about to be chewed up and spit out by Wallstreet.

Unworthy author about to be chewed up and spit out by Wallstreet.

The Campus Center was an upscale fitness center for regular people (not a climbing gym), located in Nuremberg, Germany. We just so happened to be flying in and out of Nuremberg, so if it was still standing, I was going to find it. One of my early climbing partners Bobby Gomez once called me a “climbing detective” for my persistence in uncovering all manner of random historical trivia and beta about various climbing objectives. I put all my powers to the test and (after a few missteps) entered “The Campus Center Nuremberg Germany Wolfgang Gullich” into my Google Machine. This is what I found.

Not only did the Campus Center still exist, they have a website, including a page dedicated to the Campus Board, with pics of Wolfgang Gullich and Action Directe! This was going to be easy. They had a picture of the board in 2010, still intact, so there was a great chance the board would still be there when I arrived. Still, I was nervous. How long could a regular fitness studio possibly keep an old relic like this hanging around before someone decided to remodel?

Nuremberg is a town of roughly 500,000, located in the heart of Bavaria and roughly an hour from the heart of the Frankenjura. The Campus Center is located on the east side of town, in a commercial district with a variety of storefronts. After our flight landed on the morning of September 18th, we picked up our rental car and headed straight there. My quite-rusty German was going to get tested almost immediately.

The Campus Center, Nuremberg, Germany

The Campus Center, Nuremberg, Germany

While I was still in Denver I scripted a few lines using my phrasebook in the hope that I could explain my intentions to the Campus Center personnel. Things like “I would like to see the Campus Board” (“Ich mochte das Campusboard gesehen”) and whatnot. I walked bravely through the automatic door, looked the gentleman at the desk square in the eyes, chickened out and mumbled “Sprechen sie English?” Yes, a little. I explained why I was there. He was not surprised. I was lead upstairs and introduced to another gentleman who spoke fluent English. Clearly I was not the first foreigner to make this pilgrimage. Still, it was also not an everyday event, and he was quite curious to know where I was from and why I was so interested. He led me down the hall and into a large room filled with modern-day Nautilus workout equipment. There, at the far end of the room, suspended from the ceiling, was the original Campus Board. I asked if it was still original, if it had been moved or altered in any way. He confirmed that it was all original. It certainly looked original, and comparing the video of Gullich using the board (above) to my photos further confirms that it hasn’t been moved.

The Campus Board

The Campus Board

The wood was glassy and polished. It had clearly been here for quite a long time. On the front side were rungs of three different depths running from bottom to top, and the four lowest of the largest rungs had pairs of two-finger pockets roughly carved into them. All three sets of rungs were spaced at the same interval. The medium-depth rungs had a big, slopey radius on them, and the shallowest rungs were slightly incut with a moderate radius. They looked very similar in shape to the Metolius small campus rungs. The rungs were much wider than Metolius rungs, and vertical lines had been drawn on the rungs in black marker, presumably to measure horizontal or diagonal (typewriter-style) moves.

Thre front or business side of the Campus Board.

Thre front or business side of the Campus Board.

On the back side was an old hangboard, and an even older set of hand-made wood holds cobbled together in the shape of a pseudo-hangboard. Was this the world’s first hangboard? It wouldn’t surprise me. There were also some sloping, quarter-cylinder rungs on both the front and back of the board that looked like they’d been added more recently.

The back of the Campus Board.

The back of the Campus Board.

Once we got talking my escort shared all kinds of interesting details. The board was still used by climbers in the area. He showed me a sequence between a set of pockets and said that was the first move of Action Directe, and so on.

Two-finger pockets carved into the largest rungs.

Two-finger pockets carved into the largest rungs.

I took a bunch of pictures, posed for a pic in front of the board, and then I think I set myself apart from the other pilgrims when I pulled out my tape measure and inclinometer 🙂  I explained how much things like steepness and rung-spacing make a difference, and the value of comparing the configurations of different campus boards with the original. He understood but I suspect he thought I was taking things a bit too far 🙂

Measuring the spacing from the top of the fourth rung to the top of the first rung (63.5 cm).

Measuring the spacing from the top of the fourth rung to the top of the first rung (63.5 cm).

My first measurement was puzzling: 63.5 centimeters from the top of the first rung to the top of the fourth. I also measured the distance from the top of the second rung to the top of the first: 23.5 cm. That doesn’t make sense. I stood back and noticed the spacing between the first and second rungs was larger than the rest of the spacing. This is partially because the first row of rungs was aligned (“justified”, if you will) along the bottom edge of the rung, and the rest were aligned along the top edge. Upon further inspection I realized the spacing between rungs 2 thru 10 was 20cm per rung (on center, or from top edge to top edge), with the spacing between the first two 23.5cm.  According to Jerry Moffatt’s book, Wolfgang Gullich was able to do 1-5-8 using only his two middle fingers.  Presumably that was done on this board, so his 1-5 was 84cm and his 5-8 was 60cm (and his 1-8 has 144cm).  That is insane!  I can’t even deadhang a small Metolius rung with my two middle fingers.

The distance from the top of the fourth rung to the top of the second rung: 40 cm.

The distance from the top of the fourth rung to the top of the second rung: 40 cm.

I measured the rung depth: 2cm, which confirms Jerry Moffat’s recollection from his autobiography Revelations. That’s within a millimeter of .75 inches (the depth of a Metolius small rung). The depth of the carved pockets was also 2cm. The angle of steepness appeared to be about 12 degrees. It was hard to be certain since I didn’t have a level with me, but I think it’s in the ballpark. I had previously guessed the angle was 11 degrees from analyzing old photos of the board, so I think that’s pretty close.

Original Campus rung on the left, Metolius small rung on the right.

Original Campus rung on the left, Metolius small rung on the right.

Campus Board steepness: approximately 12 degreees overhanging.

Campus Board steepness: approximately 12 degreees overhanging.

In its current state, the Campus Board is really slick and polished. I’ve heard people say that wood becomes more textured over time, as the soft pulp wood wears away and the tougher grain becomes exposed. That may be true to a point, but there’s also a point where it just gets so polished it’s almost like glass. I’m really glad this board hasn’t been altered for the purpose of preserving its historical value, but I wouldn’t want to train on it!

The Campus Board in profile.

The Campus Board in profile.

In conclusion, the key specs of the Original Campus Board are 20-cm rung spacing, and 12-degrees overhanging. If you use small Metolius rungs you’ll be close-enough in terms of rung size and shape (the Metolius small rungs are slightly shallower). I’m really glad to have this data point, however, I would still recommend using “Moon-spacing” (22cm on center). I think at this point Moon Spacing is much more established and universal, at least in the English-speaking world, even if it’s not original. Using Moon Spacing doesn’t change the fact the Wolfgang Gullich was insanely strong, which I was able to confirm every time I tried one of his routes! I’m really happy I took the time to track down the Campus Center. Seeing the original Campus Board in all its glory was well worth the effort and one of the highlights of my trip.

Thank you Campus Center!

Thank you Campus Center!

Germany Part V: East of Weiden

Editor’s Note: This is Part V in a way-too-many-part series on Mark’s trip to Germany.  If you missed Parts I thru IV you can check them out here:

 We were nearing the end of our trip, and the fatigue of “maximizing fun” was beginning to take its toll, but we still had one major excursion planned, and I was really looking forward to it. “Saxony” sits to the northeast of Bavaria, sharing its southern border with the Czech Republic and its eastern border with Poland. For tourists, Saxony’s main attraction is the breathtaking city of Dresden, in the heart of Cold War East Germany. For climbers, the main attraction is the “Sachsiche Schweiz” (literally, Saxon Switzerland), known to American climbers as “Elbsandstein” (literally, Elbe (river) sandstone).

Elbsandstein, from the Schrammsteinaussicht overlook

Elbsandstein, from the Schrammsteinaussicht overlook

As we approached the Sachsiche Schweiz region, a thick layer of fog enveloped the countryside, so we decided to delay our planned recon hike by visiting the imposing Festung Konigstein. Construction of this impressive fortress began in the 13th century, and it’s said that the structure is so intimidating that nobody ever bothered to attack it.

One of the more remarkable watchtowers at Festung Konigstein

One of the more remarkable watchtowers at Festung Konigstein.  Kate, Logan, and Amelie are standing on the bridge.

It was easy to see why. The fortress featured a series of tiered walls, the tallest of which were easily 100 feet high and quite sheer. Of course, as a climber visiting castles, I’m always envisioning lines of weakness and routes through stone walls that were meant to be impossible to climb. The fortifications were entwined with the sandstone that makes the region famous to climbers, further enhancing the fantasy.


The hybrid cliff and stone wall fortifications of Festung Konigstein


This was the only castle that we paid to enter on the trip, and the interior was not particularly impressive, but the views from the fortress walls were unparalleled. The fog gradually cleared as we explored the extensive courtyard, revealing first the Elbe River, and then various distant spires of sandstone. The castle was awesome, but we were getting the itch to explore the natural stone fortress of Elbsandstein.


The Elbe River through the fog.

It’s hard to describe the scale of a place like Elbsandstein, but it’s rumored to contain more than 17,000 routes. That’s an insane number! Mountain Project lists 18,951 routes in the state of Colorado (granted, not every route in the state is listed, but the vast majority of them are). Colorado isn’t exactly know for restraint when it comes to route development. The entire country of Germany is only 31% larger (in terms of land area) than the state of Colorado, and the Sachsiche Schweiz is only a tiny fraction of that area.

The Schrammsteine area of Elbsandstein.  The thin spire at center is Tante (Aunt) and the formation to the right is Mittlerer Torstein.  The furthest left spire is the Schrammtorwachter.

The Schrammsteine area of Elbsandstein. The thin spire at center is Tante (Aunt) and the formation to the right is Mittlerer Torstein. The furthest left group of spires includes the Schrammtorwachter.

To get a sense of the place, we picked a loop hike known as the Schrammsteinaussicht. This passage twists and turns through a narrow labyrinth of sandstone spires, utilizing a series of ladders, catwalks, and not-quite-enough railings for a family with two small kids. Think of it as Saxony’s version of the Angel’s Landing hike in Zion.

Logan negotiating one of many ladders on the hike to Schrammsteinaussicht.

Logan negotiating one of many ladders on the hike to Schrammsteinaussicht.

The hike started in dense forest, but we were progressively introduced to more and more rock. First a narrow canyon coated in velvety green moss, and then a viewpoint that revealed distant sandstone spires. After more woods, we passed through a grove of towers on the order of 100 feet tall.  The most impressive tower in this are was a broad, twin-summited spire known as Schrammtorwachter (which means something like “Schramm Gatekeeper”—a fitting description).  At this point I spotted the first sign of rock climbers—an iron ring bolt located about 20 feet up the Schrammtorwachter’s south face.

Kate peeking through a narrow chasm below the north side of the Schrammtorwachter.

Kate peeking through a narrow chasm below the north side of the Schrammtorwachter.

Elbsandstein is legendary for its strict ethics. No metal protection is allowed, except for the rarely placed iron ring pitons. The cams and nuts that we consider essential to traditional climbing are not allowed for fear they will damage the soft sandstone. The primary form of protection is nylon cord, slung around natural features when possible, or tied into elaborate knots and slotted into constricting cracks (in recent years new types of “soft” protection have been introduced, like nuts made out of layered nylon webbing). Needless to say, this protection is dubious at best, especially when placed by neophytes.

A pair of experienced locals approaching a route in the Bastei. Note the elaborate “Monkey Fist” knots dangling from the Frau’s harness. These are slotted into cracks for “protection”. Apparently they work to some extent.

A local climber approaching a route in the Bastei area. Note the elaborate “Monkey Fist” knots dangling from her harness. These are stuffed into cracks for “protection”. Apparently they work to some extent.

A typical protection ring.  Apparently these were scrounged from railroad yards during the Cold War.
A typical protection ring. Apparently these were scrounged from railroad yards.

The rings, on the other hand, seemed quite solid. The piton blade is easily an inch wide and a quarter inch thick, and the ring material is beefy as well. However, all rings must be placed ground-up, and may be placed no closer than 3-meters apart. No three rings can be within 10 meters. It’s definitely not sport climbing, even on routes that offer ring protection.

Once I picked out a ring, I started seeing them quite frequently. Even the blankest, steepest looking walls seemed to have rings in the most inconceivable places (although the stone was rarely overhanging, except in the case of short roof sections). It was hard to imagine what it would be like to lead up these features with nothing but some nylon cord and a drill bit.

We continued snaking around rocks and through gullies until we reached a series of ladders and platforms that led to the summit. Logan loved it and was really psyched to climb the ladders himself.   Right as we reached the summit we saw a nearby climbing party beginning to descend from the tiny “Tante” (Aunt) spire.

The Schrammsteinaussicht.  Somewhat sketchy for toddlers.

The Schrammsteinaussicht. Somewhat sketchy for toddlers.

The view to the north, with a climber (in white) rappelling off Tante.

The view to the north, with a climber (in white) rappelling off Tante.

On the way back down I made several detours to inspect various features up close. The rock looks very similar to the vertical walls of the Red River Gorge. Extremely featured in places, and quite blank in others. Some if the rock even had iron dike intrusions like those found all over the Left Flank (and other crags) at the Red. The rock was also frighteningly soft in some places. Much of the light gray stone was so soft you could probably dig into it with a small stick. The best stuff was the dark black patina, and some of it formed impressive horns, shallow pockets and incut crimps. The catch was that this patina was quite brittle in spots and frequently hollow and filled with loose sand. Holds could easily snap off or crumble under load. So not only was the gear sketchy, but the rock was suspect.

Kentucky or Saxony?  Hint: if this were Kentucky, the wall would be covered in fixed draws :)

Kentucky or Saxony? Hint: if this were Kentucky, the wall would be covered in fixed draws 🙂

A more typical example of Elbe sandstone.

A more typical example of Elbe sandstone.

Seeing all this amazing rock, all these unbelievable features, and some climbers in action, set off a chain reaction inside of me that grew into an obsession. I had to climb something here. I knew I was ill-equipped—I didn’t have a guidebook , the skills to place protection here, or the time to acquire either, but surely I could find something relatively moderate, with enough fixed rings, to keep me off the deck. I didn’t bring any gear on the hike, so it would have to wait until tomorrow, but the plan was set in motion. Until then it was time to get some dinner in the mythic city of Dresden.

Kate on the hike back down from Schrammsteinaussicht.

Kate on the hike back down from Schrammsteinaussicht.

Dresden is known for its stunning architecture. The city was completely destroyed during World War II, but it has since been painstakingly rebuilt. I’m not really one for cities, but I would have to say Dresden is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen. Unlike Barcelona (one of my other favorites) the scenic part of Dresden is really dense and compact. The Altstadt is almost entirely unspoiled and you can easily see the most impressive sights entirely on foot (even with two small kids in tow).

The towering Frauenkirche from the Fest.

The towering Frauenkirche from the Fest.

Our hotel was right in the center of things, so we were able to walk right out our door for a self-guided tour as the sun was beginning to set. A few blocks down there happened to be a Herbst Fest in progress, so we got a quick meal and a beer, Logan got a train ride, and Amelie played in the fountains. After dinner we waltzed through the plaza below Dresden’s most iconic landmark, the towering Frauenkirche.

Logan during the happiest moment of his life (about to start a train ride).  The saddest moment of his life is two minutes away (the end of the train ride).

Logan during the happiest moment of his life (about to start a train ride). The saddest moment of his life is two minutes away (the end of the train ride).

The magnificent Frauenkirche was completely obliterated during the notorious Allied fire-bombing campaign in 1945. I’m a big fan of Kurt Vonnegut’s writing, and surely his most famous book is the semi-autobiographical novel Slaughterhouse V, which follows the non-linear travails of an American soldier imprisoned in Dresden during the air raid. It was sad to think that such a beautiful place was once completely destroyed, but even worse to contemplate the terrible forces that led to it. Apparently the city was also completely destroyed by a Prussian siege in 1760, and suffered serious damage during the German Revolutions in 1848, only to be re-constructed each time. Vonnegut would say “So it goes.”



For decades after World War II the Frauenkirche was left in rubble as a war memorial, but after Reunification of East and West Germany it was rebuilt to look exactly as it did before the war. In any case, it looked amazing, and the evening light gave all the buildings a glorious yellow glow.

"The skyline was intricate and voluptuous and enchanted and absurd.  It looked like a Sunday school picture of heaven" - Kurt Vonnegut, describing Dresden in Slaughterhouse V

“The skyline was intricate and voluptuous and enchanted and absurd. It looked like a Sunday school picture of heaven” – Kurt Vonnegut, describing Dresden in Slaughterhouse V

The altstadt skyline from the Augustusbrucke.

The altstadt skyline from the Augustusbrucke.

We continued our stroll through the old city, crossing the Elbe River to watch the city skyline fade into darkness before returning back through a maze of architectural masterpieces. Every corner was captivating—it’s the sort of place you could never tire of.

Walking across the Augustusbrucke back into the Altstadt.  The central building is the Residenzschloss (palace) and a cathedral is to the right.

Walking across the Augustusbrucke back into the Altstadt. The central building is the Residenzschloss (palace) and a cathedral is to the right.

The Semperoper Opera House.

The Semperoper Opera House.

The next morning we headed out bright and early to the tourist mecca known as The Bastei (literally “bastion”, or fortification). This is one of those places with a constant stream of tour buses coming and going, and between the hours of 10am and 4pm the place is completely packed with crowds. We were able to beat the rush and get a brief unspoiled glimpse of the beautiful sea of sandstone spires that tower over the meandering Elbe.

The Basteibrucke (bridge) after the crowds arrived. This infamous structure was constructed in 1851.

The Basteibrucke (bridge) after the crowds arrived. This infamous structure was constructed in 1851.

The centerpiece is the multi-arched stone bridge (known as the Basteibrucke) that leads to an old mini-fortress hidden quite well within the rocks. However, the real attraction is the magnificent views. Once again there was a dense layer of fog, which I think really added to the mystique. The fog slowly lifted throughout the day, revealing more and more spectacular towers and expansive views.

More sandstone towers at the Bastei.

More sandstone towers at the Bastei.

This time I brought my kit with me, and I was on the lookout for rings. There’s a nice loop hike that drops down around the Bastei, and I quickly spotted a short, slightly detached tower of stone with a series of rings leading up a blunt prow. With three rings in 50 feet, this was a sport climb by local standards.

The small pseudo-tower I chose to climb. The line began up the white, left-facing flake, then veered right onto the black-streaked face.

The small pseudo-tower I chose to climb. The line begins up the light gray, left-facing flake, then veers right onto the black-streaked face.

Kate was super-not-psyched about my plan, especially after I spent the last 48 hours talking up the danger of the Elbsandstein’s climbs and the unparalleled boldness of its climbers. Now I had some serious backtracking to do to convince her that it really wasn’t that bad and I would be fine. There was a time when I was quite a bold climber, but we’ve been strictly in sport climbing mode since the kids came along. She wasn’t too re-assured by my assertion that the worst-case scenario was a few broken bones.  Apparently “it’s not like I’m going to die” isn’t a very compelling argument.

Passing the first ring.

Passing the first ring. Photo by Logan Anderson

Despite her reservations, I unwrapped my rope and racked up. I was pretty confident when I left the ground. The first bit of climbing to reach the lowest ring was really straight-forward, up a highly featured slab on the left side of the prow. After the first clip, the climb trended right onto a steeper face with dark gray incut edges.   Just as I was passing the first ring a solid looking edge crumbled under my left foot. I was in a good spot and easily avoided coming off, but it really got me thinking about the rock quality. The hold that dissolved under a fraction of my body weight looked completely bomber, like the black patina of Red Rocks. I didn’t have the experience with this type of rock to really judge which edges were solid and which were suspect, so I decided to avoid all the small incuts and instead use larger slopers and other low-profile holds that were less likely to break. This approach made the climbing much more tedious and much less fun, but it kept me on the rock.

The second ring is still a body-length away.

The second ring is still a body-length away. Photo by Logan Anderson

After several minutes I reached the second ring, and from that point I felt pretty confident that Kate could keep me off the ground in the event of a fall. I was able to relax a bit as the angle lessened gradually near the top. With growing confidence I made quick progress to the last ring. I found a highly dubious thread a body-length above the third ring, but I clipped it in hopes that it would re-assure Kate (it didn’t). Soon I was at “the summit”, which luckily had a nice big beefy rap ring. This was probably just the end of the first pitch of some multi-pitch route, but I was temporarily satisfied with my brief sample of the Elbsandstein climbing experience.

A statue of a Monk. The formation is also known as The Monk, and the tower-ette I climbed is at the base of the formation, opposite the camera.

A statue of a Monk. The formation is also known as The Monk, and the tower-ette I climbed is at the base of the formation, opposite the camera.

What I learned is that this is not the sort of climbing area you can experience in one or two days. It would be like trying to experience Yosemite in eight hours. You really need to take the time to just be here, explore the area, and work through the grades as you learn the rock and the protection. Perhaps some time in the future I will have the opportunity to do that, but for now all I really know is that I absolutely want to come back!

More towers.  The formation in far right, in the distance, is  The Locamotive.

More towers. The formation on the far right, in the distance, is The Locamotive.

If I have even the slightest ability as a writer, it should be evident by now that we had a fantastic trip. Shortly after I returned my good friend Fred Gomez (a new proud father) asked me if we would do it again considering the difficulties of traveling with two small kids. The answer is ABSOLUTELY! It was such an awesome trip, easily the climbing highlight of my year, in a year filled with worthy candidates. On the drive home from the airport Kate and I were already brainstorming ideas for future adventures to faraway places. Thanks to all the people who helped make it happen, especially Kate, Logan and Amelie for putting up with a season’s worth of climbing crammed into 17 days.  Thanks to my sister Christina, and her husband Eric for putting us up (and putting up with us) in Weiden.  Thanks to Shawn Heath and his lovely wife whose name I can pronounce but won’t dare try to spell, for showing us around the Frankenjura and insisting that we visit Dresden. Finally, thanks to the entire Trango/Tenaya team for continuing to support my climbing endeavors.

Auf Wiedersehen, und Danke!

Auf Wiedersehen, und Danke!

Germany Part IV: Blitzing the Classics

Editor’s Note: This is Part IV in a way-too-many-part series on Mark’s trip to Germany.  If you missed Parts I thru III you can check them out here:

Over the next five days we climbed at nine different Frankenjura crags, split by a day trip to Munich for THE Oktoberfest and a day of sightseeing in Bamburg. The climbing is now a bit of a blur (Oktoberfest is a bit of a blur too), but there were a few routes that really stood out.

Onsighting the uber-classic Gullich pump-fest Treibjagd, ~5.12c, on Puttlacher Wand.

Onsighting the uber-classic Gullich pump-fest Treibjagd, ~5.12c, on Puttlacher Wand.  Photo Logan Anderson

The first day I climbed one of the most famous routes in Germany. Sautanz was first freed by Kurt Albert in 1981, and it was a very futuristic type of climb at the time of the ascent, not to mention the first 5.12c in Germany. The photos of Kurt on the route made it onto the cover of Germany’s climbing mag Boulder, making Kurt and the route instant stars. It’s still the most sought after 5.12 in Germany.


The two-finger pegboard section of Sautanz.

The climbing is right up my alley, just over vertical on shallow pockets and edges. The route begins up a diminishing crack system, gaining a beautiful wall studded with one-pad two-finger pockets. With good footwork the climbing is pretty straightforward most of the way, until a cruxy leftward traverse at two-thirds height, where the holds lose their incut lips. The rock was phenomenal, and the climbing was just as good as the best 12c’s I’ve ever done (Orange Juice at the Red and Heinous Cling at Smith Rock), although not quite as long or proud-looking as either.

Beginning the crux traverse on Sautanz.

Beginning the crux traverse on Sautanz.

With Sautanz in the bag we packed up and headed a short ways south to the Obertrubach valley. This shallow valley is lined with cliffs and stacked with classic routes. The most famous crag in this area is Eldorado, a 50-foot wide, 15-feet deep roof, slanted dramatically upwards from right to left, giving the appearance of a breaching whale. It has nothing in common with the American Eldorado Canyon (Aka “Eldo”) except that it looks somewhat like the “Roof Routes” area at the lower right end of the Redgarden Wall. There is an awesome playground immediately below the cliff, which includes a mini climbing wall—the perfect place for us! The climbing at Eldorado is short and powerful , and the cliff is known for its bouldery climbs, particularly one line that became the hardest route in the country when it was first climbed.

The playground below Eldorado.

The playground below Eldorado.

In September 1983, Jerry Moffatt visited the Frankenjura for the first time, and wrote a major chapter of German climbing history. He worked through many of the Frankenjura’s hardest lines, climbing Sautanz, Chasin the Trane, and Heisse Finger (perhaps the hardest route in Germany at the time), each on his first try. Out of options, Moffatt visited Eldorado. The cliff had no routes (yet), but German bouldering legend Wolfgang “Flipper” Fietz had bolted a potential line out the center of the slanting roof. (Fietz was a key figure in German climbing, but his contributions have been largely overlooked because he never bothered to redpoint his climbs, instead considering a route finished once he had done all the moves. Later climbers were often credited with the FAs of routes he “opened”, and it’s rumored that Gullich called him the strongest climber he ever knew). Moffatt worked out the moves, and returned a few days later to redpoint Ekel (literally “gross”), the hardest route in the land.



Obviously, I had to try it! The climbing was brutal, on big but sloping jugs. Just reaching the starting holds was desperate and awkward. The route begins with an all or nothing leap to a high scoop, with feet swinging wildly over the abyss. A series of lever moves and slaps works out the overhang to a strenuous snatch to a three-finger pocket. At the lip, one last powerful lock-off from a sinker 2-finger leads to jugs and the anchor.

We finished the day with a few pitches at the nearby Dachlwand (“Roof Wall”). The rock here wasn’t nearly as pocketed, but the climbing was generally super fun thanks to a number of slashing crack systems that provided great jugs. I did a trio of Kurt Albert 5.12c’s, including Goldenes Dach, a classic pump fest on a slightly overhanging wall, and Power of Love, a cruxy number with a huge, committing dyno below a big roof. The side effect of this was that I had Huey Lewis’ song “The Power of Love” stuck in my head for the rest of the trip.

“You don't need money, don't take fame. Don't need no credit card to ride this train.  It's strong and it's sudden and it's cruel sometimes,  but it might just save your life.  That's the power of love” –Huey Lewis

“You don’t need money, don’t take fame. Don’t need no credit card to ride this train. It’s strong and it’s sudden and it’s cruel sometimes, but it might just save your life. That’s the power of love” –Huey Lewis.  Photo Logan Anderson.

After a long day of climbing we headed into the tiny village of Obertrubach to check out the Café Muller and look for Wolfgang Gullich’s final resting place. It was really heartwarming to see all the totems that various climbers from around the globe had left to honor him.

Wolfgang Gullich's final resting place, behind the church in Obertrubach.

Wolfgang Gullich’s final resting place, behind the church in Obertrubach. It’s pretty remarkable the impact Gullich had on an international level, and that was evident in the tributes that adorned this spot.

The next day we took the train with my sister’s family to Oktoberfest in Munich. Our gracious tour guides, ex pat American and MP admin Shawn Heath and his wife openly mocked our interest in Oktoberfest. Apparently to Germans it’s sort of the equivalent of going to Times Square for New Year ’s Eve or going to Florida for Spring Break or something. It’s a caricature of the Bavarian culture, and packed with surly drunks. But, we had to go anyway!

Vintage beer truck.

Vintage beer truck.

We mitigated the crowds and drunks by going super early (we boarded the train in Weiden at 6:40am). Even then the train was completely packed by the time we arrived, filled with Germans in full Lederhosen and Dirndl costumes. It was pretty cool seeing the locals dressed up, and completely unaffected about it. They weren’t self-conscious at all about their attire, and we actually felt a little like we weren’t appropriately in the spirit of the event. As for surly drunks, not only were people drinking on the train by 8am, there were vendors on board selling beer! But everyone was polite and cheerful and we didn’t have any problems.

Bavarian waiter carrying a ridiculous amount of beer.  Each glass contains a liter, and the empty glass itself is pretty heavy.

Bavarian waiter carrying a ridiculous amount of beer. Each glass contains a liter, and the empty glass itself is pretty heavy.

Oktoberfest itself was fairly mellow thanks to our early arrival. We all got our obligatory liter of beer, and marveled at the talented servers shuttling massive steins to satiate the countless patrons. Oktoberfest is a festival first and foremost, and they had countless amusement park rides to distract the kids.

Prost! (that’s German for “Cheers!”)  My brother-in-law Eric and my sister Christina with her children.

Prost! (that’s German for “Cheers!”) My brother-in-law Eric and my sister Christina with her children.

The next day we went to Streitberger Schild, at the far northwest corner of the Frankenjura, to climb the Adolf Rott Memorial Route, along crack system up the leaning west face of the towering wall. Like many routes in Germany, this was originally an aid climb. In 1975 Kurt Albert freed the route, which at 5.10a was no marvelous feat. However, at that time aid climbers often painted a red circle at the base of the cliff to mark the lines that had been climbed. Albert changed the course of climbing history by filling in the red circle to create a big red dot—the world’s first “redpoint”—and some say the birth of sportclimbing.

Streitberger Schild, with a couple of climbers heading up some old-school steep slab routes.

Streitberger Schild, with a couple of climbers heading up some old-school steep slab routes.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t actually find the splotch of paint that made this route famous. The base of the climb is thickly overgrown, and the paint is now almost 40 years old. I risked tick bites and nettles to dig through the vegetation, but I still couldn’t find it. Still, the climbing was stellar, among the most interesting (and steepest) 5.10s I did in Germany.

Way up the world's first sport climb?  Adolf Rott Memorial Route.

Way up the world’s first sport climb? Adolf Rott Memorial Route.

We did a couple more warmups of the slightly terrifying slab variety, and then headed for Luisenwand, an old crag of vintage techno test-pieces from the 1980s. Gullich left his mark here with ascents of several famous climbs, especially Kaum Zeit zum Atmen and Kamasutra 218, among the hardest routes in Germany when first climbed at 5.13c and .13d respectively.

The right half of Luisenwand.  Kaum Zeit zum Atmen climbs the short line above the rope on shallow, sharp pockets and edges.

The right half of Luisenwand. Kaum Zeit zum Atmen climbs the short line above the rope on shallow, sharp pockets and edges.

My primary objective was a Gullich 13a called Team Motivation. It’s a technical masterpiece, weaving up a monolithic wall of hard, poorly featured vertical limestone. It’s quite out of character for the Frankenjura (the entire crag is), with few pockets, and generally very shallow ones at that. The climbing was super thin and the footholds were unfortunately quite polished, but I managed to get up it on my first go.

Dealing with some thin, slippery footholds on the crux of Team Motivation. Photo Logan Anderson.

Dealing with some thin, slippery footholds on the crux of Team Motivation. Photo Logan Anderson.

It’s kinda strange—it’s not what anyone would think of as fun climbing. It’s very balancy and insecure, but for some reason I absolutely loved it. It was one of my favorite routes of the trip. I really like that type of climbing, and it seemed to me like the quintessential technical route, where excellent footwork is paramount and trust in your skills is more critical than raw finger strength. It’s as if some said “give me the fewest possible holds that will allow me to send an otherwise featureless wall”. As a tourist, I think it also shows the amazing variety that exists within the Frankenjura. It’s the polar opposite of a route like Ekel, and on our trip we found everything in between as well.

The glorious upper panel of Team Motivation. Logan Anderson Photo.

The glorious upper panel of Team Motivation. Logan Anderson Photo.

The next climbing day we visited three crags around the picturesque village of Pottenstein. Puttlacher Wand, Barenschlucht and Marientaler Wande were all awesome crags, and every route I climbed I would climb again (which is really saying a lot). The one route that really stood out from that day was a steep arching line called Herkules at the uber-classic Barenschlucht crag. It‘s one of the best 5.13’s I’ve ever climbed. The route consists of unbelievable sinker pockets up a super steep wall. It’s a classic pumpfest, but it requires a little bit of power at the start, a little bit of intelligence to read the sequence at mid-height, and a little bit of footwork to climb the headwall.

The brilliant Herkules at Barenschlucht.

The brilliant Herkules at Barenschlucht.

I got stopped cold by a ridiculous (dare I say “Herculean”) huck move at the third bolt. I tried it several times with no luck. One thing that made onsighting so difficult in the Frankenjura (and on pockets anywhere, really) is that not only must you read the correct hand and foot sequence, but you also have to figure out, on the fly, the best way to grip each hold. Often the holds are extremely convoluted and a different combination of fingers, or pulling in a different direction can make a huge difference. Just as I was about to bail I figured out the proper finger position for the left hand pocket which made all the difference.

(Finally) sticking the huge huck move on Herkules.

(Finally) sticking the huge huck move on Herkules.

We visited one more crag, a paradise of 5.9 and 5.10 jughauls called Marientaler Wande. After that Kate and Logan did a couple laps on the Pottenstein Alpine Slide and then we headed back to Weiden to pack for the next days’ excursion into the former East Germany….

We finished off the day with seven pitches of marvelous 5.10 jughauling at Marientaler Wande.

We finished off the day with seven pitches of marvelous 5.10 jughauling at Marientaler Wande.

Check back here soon for the final narrative installment on our Germany trip, Germany Part V: East of Weiden

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