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Germany Part III: Chasing Waterfalls

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

After a stellar day of climbing at Rabenfels, we crammed our gear into the station wagon and commenced the long drive south. We’d been staying with my sister Christina’s family in a town called Weiden on the far east side of the Frankenjura. Having access to a real house—and a free one at that—made the trip way more manageable with kids. Frankly, we wouldn’t have come if not for the lure of a free place to stay and a chance for our kids to spend some quality time with their cousins. We are extremely grateful to Christina and her husband Eric for opening their home to our family and showing us such great hospitality.

Amelie's cousin Lauren takes her for a ride in Weiden.

Amelie’s cousin Lauren takes her for a ride in Weiden.

That said, staying in the same spot the entire time was unusual for us. Normally we migrate around a country to see all the sights. SO far we had been limited to day trips from Weiden, so we were anxious to branch out a bit. For the next two days we were headed south into the Bavarian Alps, along the border between Germany and Austria.

Our route through the Bavarian Alps.

Our route through the Bavarian Alps.

Our first destination was a picture book hamlet—set in a broad cirque, and surrounded by soaring, glaciated peaks—known as Berchtesgaden. Stunning knives of limestone pierce the deep blue sky, waterfalls cascade down the lower slopes, feeding lush green pastures and sparkling lakes. At night the air is crisp and dry, and in the morning you wake to the sound of distant cowbells echoing around the hillsides. The Huber brothers, Thomas and Alex, grew up a short distance from here, and they cut their teeth on the many peaks and cliffs adorning the valley.

The Kleiner (L) and Grosser (R) Watzmann stand sentry-like above the hamlet of Berchtesgaden. At 2713m, the Grosser Watzmann is the highest peak located entirely within Germany (and the third highest period.)

The Kleiner (L) and Grosser (R) Watzmann stand sentry-like above the hamlet of Berchtesgaden. At 2713m, the Grosser Watzmann is the highest peak located entirely within Germany (and the third highest period.)

The first evening we enjoyed crepes and gelato along the shore of the Konigsee (King’s Lake), and then took a fantastic star-lit stroll around the village. My time here really reminded me how much I love the mountains. I’ve been to Europe three times, but other than a few gondola rides I’ve never been up any mountains. Some day I’d love to come to the Alps and climb something big!

Konigsee

Konigsee

Walking around the streets of Berchtesgaden.

Walking around the streets of Berchtesgaden.

The next morning we headed west, into Austria, towards Innsbruck. Along the way we stopped below an impressive limestone massif known as the Wilder Kaiser. Hidden in the foothills below the jutting fins of rock is an easily-overlooked limestone cliffband split by a dramatic waterfall. In the late 1980’s, Tyrolean climbers realized the amazing potential for sport climbing on the steeply overhanging cliffs surrounding the Schleierwasserfall (“veil waterfall”).

Wilder Kasier.  The Schleierwasserfall is hidden in the pine-covered foothills.

Wilder Kasier. The Schleierwasserfall is hidden in the pine-covered foothills.

In the early 1990’s, Alex Huber arrived on the scene and began to leave his mark. The Huber brothers are interesting characters, and somewhat under-rated in my view. Alex especially has mastered nearly every discipline of the sport. In fact, you could argue he has been the best in the world (at one time or another) in at least three different disciplines.

  • As a sport climber, he established the route Open Air in 1996, which some now consider to be the first 5.15 in the world (originally given .14d, it was unrepeated for over a decade until Adam Ondra finally got around to it, and suggested an upgrade to 9a+/5.15a).
  • Soon after, he decided it would be fun to do some trad climbing, and subsequently became hands-down the world’s best big wall free-climber, making first free ascents of El Nino, Freerider, Golden Gate, El Corazon, and Zodiac on El Capitan, and Bellavista (5.14b), as well as many other big routes, in the Dolomites
  • In the mid-2000’s Thomas suggested they try speed climbing, and after a few seasons of practice (and a long delay to rehab a broken ankle) the two set the speed record on The Nose.
Alex Huber in the V12 crux of Open Air.

Alex Huber in the V12 crux of Open Air.

…Not to mention a 5.14 free solo, an ascent of an 8000m peak, and world class aid climbs in the Karakoram and Antarctica. Their ability to excel in many different facets of climbing is extremely impressive. I like to think of myself as an all-arounder, but more of a “jack of all trades, master of none”. Alex Huber is a master of all trades when it comes to climbing.

The Schleierwasserfall.  There are routes all along the cliffband, but most of the famous lines are on the right side of the falls.

The Schleierwasserfall. There are routes all along the cliffband, but most of the famous lines are on the right side of the falls.

Another aspect of my fascination with the Hubers is the brother dynamic. Alex’s autobiography The Mountain Within deals with this topic extensively. Having a brother (in my case, a twin brother) to train with and learn from is an amazing gift that few share. But it’s not always easy. There is rivalry, outright competition, and envy. I would argue the primary theme of Pepe Danquart’s documentary film Am Limit (which follows the Huber’s efforts to set the speed record on The Nose) is their struggle between the desire to be there for each other, and the conflicting desire to follow their own path. I can relate to that very easily, but I think it resonates with anyone whose had a dedicated, long-term climbing partner. Mike and I have each done things on our own that we’re extremely proud of, but looking back I would still say my best “ascents” were the product of our partnership.

Schleierwasserfall

Schleierwasserfall

Although I wouldn’t be climbing, I really wanted to hike up to the cliff and check out a few of Huber’s standard-setting climbs from the ground. The hike to the cliff was brutal—50 minutes uphill, and quite steep at that. The views were breathtaking, and the waterfall was quite impressive. It shoots out from the cliff top to land a good 30 or 40 meters from the base of the cliff. Despite a huge amount of water coming down, the cliff behind the waterfall seemed perfectly dry (although seepage was a problem in many places).

Kate standing below Alex Huber’s two most significant routes, Weisse Rose (L, in yellow) and Open Air (R, in blue). Originally given .14c and .14d (respectively) by Alex, Adam Ondra suggested an upgrade to .14d and .15a when he repeated them in 2008, to align with the “new school” grading. In Ondra’s words: “Now when Action Directe is 9a, Open Air should be 9a+.”

Kate standing below Alex Huber’s two most significant routes, Weisse Rose (L, in yellow) and Open Air (R, in blue). Originally given .14c and .14d (respectively) by Alex, Adam Ondra suggested an upgrade to .14d and .15a when he repeated them in 2008, to align with the “new school” grading. In Ondra’s words: “Now when Action Directe is 9a, Open Air should be 9a+.”

The Schleierwasserfall is huge, allowing enormously tall sport routes, but the rock, especially through the big roofs, looks somewhat chossy and dank. Large sections of the cave were unclimbable when I was there in late September. I would love to have a cliff like this near my home, but I don’t think I would travel to Europe to climb here (historical significance notwhithstanding). There are definitely better-looking cliffs—with much easier access, and more dependable conditions—all over the continent (still, when I was standing below the cliffs, I was wishing I had brought my climbing gear).

The lower sections of the Weisse Rose/Open Air wall from the right side.

The lower sections of the Weisse Rose/Open Air wall from the right side.

It’s interesting that Alex chose to direct his impressive talents towards this crag, especially since he was living in Munich at the time and the crags of the Frankenjura were likely easier to get to. After quite a bit of research, I’m not aware of him making any significant ascents in the Frankenjura. [It’s worth noting that Alex’s time as a dedicated sport climber was actually quite brief. He started as an alpinist, and when he decided to try sport climbing he ascended through the grades quickly. He climbed his first X+ (~5.14a) in 1989, and by the end of 1996 he decided he had done enough and made a pretty clean break from the discipline.]

The green line notionally depicts Kommunist, a 5.14a that Alex Huber free-soloed in 2004. It’s a linkup that begins on a .13c called La Pulce d’Aqua, and ends on a .14d called Mongo. The steep lower panel appears as though it was cleaved by glacier action—it’s extremely slick, and all the pockets are downward sloping. I imagine the climbing demands lots of shouldery underclinging on extremely insecure footholds. At least the landing is pretty good!

The green line notionally depicts Kommunist, a 5.14a that Alex Huber free-soloed in 2004. It’s a linkup that begins on a .13c called La Pulce d’Aqua, and ends on a .14d called Mongo. The steep lower panel appears as though it was cleaved by glacier action—it’s extremely slick, and all the pockets are downward sloping. I imagine the climbing demands lots of shouldery underclinging on extremely insecure footholds. At least the landing is pretty good!

My guess is that he preferred the super long, consistently overhanging endurance routes of the Schleierwasserfall to the relatively powerful and fingery climbing of the Frankenjura. In his autobiography his states that the Wilder Kaiser was as much his spiritual home as the Berchtesgaden Alps, so perhaps this area felt more like “home”. Many of the climbers he grew up with remained in the Bavarian Alps and spent their time here. Perhaps he felt a responsibility (or at least a preference) to push the grades in his home region.

The view south, towards the Kitzbuheler Alpen ski region, from the Schleierwasserfall.

The view south, towards the Kitzbuheler Alpen ski region, from the Schleierwasserfall.

I wonder if he also felt it was better to pave new ground, at a new crag, than attempt to follow in the footsteps of his “guru” (his word) Gullich. I could easily understand that. I know for me personally when it comes to new-routing, I’m more inclined to seek out new crags, or crags that have been overlooked, where I have a blank canvas and my choice of the best lines, as opposed to trying to find something worthwhile at a crag that’s been extensively picked over.

The Bavarian Alps

The Bavarian Alps

After checking out the Schleierwasserfall, we continued west, through Innsbruck, and back into Germany to the mountain town of Garmisch.  There we took a train and cable car system to the summit of the Zugspitze, Germany’s highest peak.  Logan loves trains, so it was very exciting for him.  We started on a regular train, and then transferred to a cog railway for the steep ascent to the summit.  The last section of track travels 5km through a tunnel inside the mountain, depositing riders at a subterranean train station just below the summit ridge.

Logan on the cog train, with the snow-plastered Zugspitze looming out the window.

Logan on the cog train, with the snow-plastered Zugspitze looming out the window.

Above ground we were suddenly in an alpine setting, with magnificent views all around.  We still had to take a short cable car ride to the actual summit at 9,718 feet.  While not very high (my house in Colorado is at 7400 feet), the vertical relief is stunning.  The valley floor is more than 7,000 feet below the summit, and the walls of the mountain are steep and plastered with rime ice.  From the summit plaza we could see clear to the Dolomites (in northern Italy).  There’s an extremely popular via ferrata that leads to the summit, and a nearly nonstop parade of climbers inched their way to the top before relaxing for a beer and pretzel at the concession stand (and the best part–taking the cable car down).

 

On the summit plaza, with a climber nearing the actual summit of the Zugspitze.

On the summit plaza, with a climber nearing the actual summit of the Zugspitze.

I’m never quite sure how to feel about developments like this.  In my younger, Ed Abbey-reading days, I would have thought it was a monstrosity.  On the other hand, it was a really cool experience, one that my family wouldn’t have been able to have with mechanical assistance.  If every mountain summit had a cable car, that would be a travesty, but I think one out of ten-thousand is probably not the end of the world.  I’m glad that people who otherwise wouldn’t have access are able to experience places like this.  It’s possible that if more people are able to experience the beauty of wild places (even a Disney-fied version of it like this), it will help establish a broad base of support for protection of such places.

The view to the southeast from the summit of the Zugspitze.  Amazingly the Marmolada (in the Dolomites) was visible from here, just out of the frame to the right.

The view to the southeast from the summit of the Zugspitze. Amazingly the Marmolada (in the Dolomites) was visible from here, just out of the frame to the right.

We took way too many pictures, watched the clouds roll in and threw a few snowballs.  The highlight was certainly the dramatic cable car ride down the terrfying north face of the mountain.  The gondola drops with impressive speed–the train ride up took almost 45 minutes; the ride down was lest than 5.

The view down the north face. Garmisch is at the top, center. The lower cable car station is visible on the far left (follow the line formed by the two red and white cable towers), and a red gondola is visible at lower center.

The view down the north face. Garmisch is at the top, center. The lower cable car station is visible on the far left (follow the line formed by the two red and white cable towers), and a red gondola is visible at lower center.

Back in town we found a park for the cooped up kids and grabbed a quick dinner.  My one and only schnitzel of the trip was about how you would expect: not bad, but not exactly good either.  The next morning we did a cool hike through a limestone slot-canyon (made tourist-friendly with copious amounts of TNT and steel railings).  Water was streaming down the canyon walls, creating intermittent waterfalls.  The river running through the gorge had that milky hue that comes from glacial silt.  That and the ubiquitous moss reminded me a lot of New Zealand.  It would be awesome to descend a natural Alpine slot canyon but I imagine it would be super cold!  Definitely dry-suit territory.

Partnachklamm Gorge. Kate and Logan are on the lower left.

Partnachklamm Gorge. Kate and Logan are on the lower left.

The final stop on our journey was the medieval city of Fussen and its two incredible castles, Schloss Hohenschwangau and Schloss Neuschwanstein (the so-called “Cinderalla Castle” that Disney’s version was modeled after).  The first was the boyhood home of King Ludwig II, “the fairytale King”.  He was obsessed with medieval times, and built numerous elaborate castles and palaces around Bavaria to satisfy his fantastic imagination.  The second was perhaps this greatest of his many creations.  He was intimately involved in the design and construction of what is surely the most famous castle in the world.

Schloss Neuschwanstein

Schloss Neuschwanstein

It started raining just as we arrived, but with no sign of improving conditions we decided to go for it.  We all got quite soaked on the 30 minute hike, but it was a warm rain and everyone was in good spirits.  Neuschwanstein was impressive for sure, but I found the fact that it was built purely for show, and never used as an actual fortification, to detract from the mystique a bit.  Not to mention the insane hoards of tourists swarming around the place.  I really wanted to go inside, but there was a four hour wait!  No way were we waiting for that.  Still, we had an awesome time, and in my experience castles look the best from outside.

Schloss Hohenschwangau

Schloss Hohenschwangau

Somehow our two rest days were anything but restful.  No matter, I was eager to get back to the Frankenjura and sample some more limestone….

 

Check back here soon for Germany Part IV: Blitzing the Classics

Germany Part II: Getting Blasted!

Editor’s Note: This is Part II in way-too-many-part series on Mark’s trip to Germany.  If you missed Part I you can check it out here.

The next day was our first sight-seeing day, which we spent visiting a trio of so-called “Medieval Villages”. Nördlingen, Dinkelsbühl, and Rothenberg have been fastidiously preserved to maintain the look and feel of a walled city from the middle ages. The narrow, twisting, cobblestone streets are lined with quaint buildings and Gothic churches from as far back as the 1300’s. By dumb luck it so happened that each village seemed more interesting than the last, culminating in Rothenberg’s elaborate fortifications.

Wandering around Dinkelsbuhl, which is “impossibly charming” according to Lonely Planet. We agreed.

Wandering around Dinkelsbuhl, which is “impossibly charming” according to Lonely Planet. We agreed.

Kate, Logan, and Amelie peeping through the city walls of Dinkelsbuhl (look closely).

Kate, Logan, and Amelie peeping through the city walls of Dinkelsbuhl (look closely at the window closest to center).

The family exploring Rothenberg.

The family exploring Rothenberg.

The highlight for Logan was running along the top of the fortress walls. I was looking forward to a taste of the famous “Schneeballen” (snowballs) pastries: strips of dough balled-up, fried, and coated in various frosting or powdered sugar. Structurally these are impressively tough, and so the beta for eating these treats is to smash them up into crumbs inside the bag, and then eat the crumbs. Most shops have a hammer on-hand for this purpose, and Logan was quite keen to help with the smashing (and eating). They looked delicious, but the taste turned out to be fairly bland and dry. I didn’t go back for seconds.

Schneeballen

Schneeballen

After getting worked on Wallstreet, I had a consolation prize in mind. I was stoked to visit a free-standing limestone tower called Rabenfels (“Raven’s Rock”). My first exposure to the Frankenjura, some 15 years ago, was a 90’s climbing film by Michael Strassman titled “Rock”. The film follows Hans Florine to Arco, Italy in 1994 to defend his World Speed Climbing title. Along the way he visits the Frankenjura, the Dolomites and Elbsandstein climbing areas. One scene shows Austrian Wolfgang Leeb climbing a 5.13b called Westside Story on an otherworldly limestone pinnacle.  Leeb tops out the route, then casually plops down on a hand-made bench on the summit!  I thought the tower looked beautiful, and for some reason I got a real kick out of the bench gag. I really wanted to climb something on Rabenfels (and find out if the bench is still there).

The southeast aspect of Rabenfels.

The southeast aspect of Rabenfels.

In 1986, after a winter spent writing the landmark Sportklettern Heute, Wolfgang Gullich left his mark on Rabenfels with his ascent of Ghettoblaster, hailed as the first upper-tenth grade route in Germany, and one of the hardest routes in the world at the time (Gullich had established Punks in the Gym, the first X+ or 5.14a precisely 51 weeks earlier). Ghettoblaster follows a streak of 1-pad deep water pockets up a 6-meter stretch of 25-degree overhanging limestone on the west face of Rabenfels.

Ghettoblaster (with the green rope) climbs the steep west face of Rabenfels.

Ghettoblaster (with the green rope) climbs the steep west face of Rabenfels.

Ghettoblaster was my back-up plan, but I was more than a little intimidated by it, especially after my experiences over the first two days. According to Gullich’s biography, around the time of its first ascent, prolific Frankenjura route developer Mylan Sykora said that Ghettoblaster “was a route on which no other German climber [besides Gullich] had even the slightest chance.” This was apparently due to the extremely powerful crux, a huge lock-off/deadpoint between a pair of monos. I love pocket climbing, and I love monos, but I’m really not all that good at climbing on them.  That is to say, pocket climbing is not really one of my strengths. I’m much better on crimps and technical sequences than I am with pure pocket power. Sykora’s assessment gnawed at me. Would I have the finger strength to do this move? Maybe the Frankenjura style of climbing was way over my head.

Belayer’s view of Ghettoblaster, which follows the pink fixed draws up the right margin of the gray streak.

Belayer’s view of Ghettoblaster, which follows the pink fixed draws up the right margin of the gray streak.

We showed up bright and early on Tuesday morning. We were finally adjusted to the European timezone, and we were anxious to get going because we had a long drive planned for the afternoon (for two days of sightseeing in the Bavarian Alps). The tower was big and ominous, but the surrounding landscape was much different from what I pictured in my head. The pillar extended from a steep hill, and the back or north side of it was surrounded by dense forest. The south side was clear-cut some time ago by the industrious and prolific Franconian logging industry, and was now partially re-grown.

Rabenfels

Rabenfels

We dropped our packs below some moderate-looking lines, and I scrambled around the corner to locate Ghettoblaster. It looked stellar, but much shorter than I imagined. The tower is maybe only 50 feet tall at the west buttress. The first 20 feet was a slab and the last 10 was easy scrambling up the cap rock. This was going to be bouldery for sure! The forest was quite damp, but the route looked completely dry. Unfortunately the cliff base was super muddy and steeply sloping—no place for kids—but higher up, maybe only 30 feet away, I found a covered hiker’s shelter, the perfect playground for the kids.

The perfect hang for Logan and Amelie. Amelie (in the red on the lower right) is practicing her favorite pastime: climbing up and down stairs. Logan is mesmerized by the Kindle.

The perfect hang for Logan and Amelie. Amelie (in the red on the lower right) is practicing her favorite pastime: climbing up and down stairs. Logan is mesmerized by the Kindle.

We did a number of outstanding warmups on the south and east faces of the tower, including a 3-star 5.11 named Katalysator and a Kurt Albert 12a called Auerbacher Weg. Both routes consisted of long glorious cranks between sinker pockets. Something about this place was special—all the routes seemed to be fantastic. The rock was much more featured than the other crags we had visited, the position was great, and we had the whole place to ourselves (that turned out to be the norm for our trip). It has a slightly adventurous feel with the looming summit, and it was one of my favorite crags of the trip.

Warming up on the classic Katalysator. Auerbacher Weg is immediately to the right.

Warming up on the classic Katalysator. Auerbacher Weg is immediately to the right.

Once I was ready we moved the crew around to the northwest side of the tower and I jumped on Ghettoblaster. After a slabby and then somewhat technical start, the difficulties hit abruptly as the wall kicks back. The climbing is in your face, with burly cranks on shallow, sometimes sharp pockets. This was still only my third day on real rock since early July, and it was clear that I wasn’t mentally ready to try hard on sharp, tweaky holds. Perhaps this timid attitude contributed to my earlier shortcomings. I was struggling just to get established on the overhanging panel, and I realized I needed an attitude shift. I needed to get aggro. I gritted my teeth and tried to ignore the pain. I knew I was strong enough to do these moves, I just needed to try harder.

The intense opening moves of Ghettoblaster.

The intense opening moves of Ghettoblaster.

It seemed to work, or maybe I just needed a bit more warmup, but whatever the case, I started going for it more, committing to moves, and as a result my accuracy improved and I was suddenly latching pockets that I previously struggled to reach. I worked out the lower bit and was soon at the crux. The sequence is pretty straightforward. From a good stance at a pair of two-finger pockets, with the third bolt at chest level, you make a big reach right to a good two-finger, stand up, and then place your left middle finger into a deep, but not terribly positive mono. Hike up your feet, grab a shallow intermediate 2-finger with your right hand, hike up your feet again until your hips are about level with your left hand, and then stab at full extension into the high mono pocket, which is also deep but neutral.

Beginning the crux with a static reach to a left hand mono.

Beginning the crux with a static reach to a left hand mono.

If you stick that move, you shouldn’t fall. After matching your left hand to a shallow two finger pocket, you have to make a desperate slap to a horizontal break, but it’s a good hold. From there, jugs lead to the anchor, just below the cap rock.With the beta sussed, I took a break, watched uselessly while Kate fed the kids lunch, and went through the beta in my mind. There were a lot of tough, low percentage moves just to reach the crux. It was a boulder problem, but it was a fairly continuous one. Honestly, I would be lucky just to reach the crux.

Setup for the crux move:  a big deadpoint between monos.

Setup for the crux move.

Eventually it was time to go again. I waltzed up the scoop to a good stance just below the steep wall. I took some deep breaths and summoned my inner rage. With my jaw clenched, I launched up the wall, climbing with controlled fury. It was perfect. I hit every hold just right. My skin was screaming—I felt the pain, but I didn’t let it affect me. I just kept trucking, moving from one bad hold to the next. I couldn’t hang out on these holds, but I could just barely scratch and claw my way past them. I reached the crux, bounced in my left hand, stood up high, and slow-motion stabbed precisely into the pocket. I bounced, matched and slapped to the horizontal break. YES!

Latching the high mono.

Latching the high mono.

Once I clipped the anchor I continued up onto a vegetated ledge. There’s a 5.8-ish route to the summit of the tower on the north side, but it was soaking wet, so this was my big chance to top out. There’s no gear past the anchor, so I gingerly ran it out up wet holds and bushes. Twenty feet above my last piece of pro I mantled onto the summit. The bench was still there! The backrest was missing, but I took a brief sit and admired the view. It was the perfect place to be.

Screen grab of Wolfgang Leeb on the summit of Rabenfels, from the film "Rock".

Screen grab of Wolfgang Leeb on the summit of Rabenfels, from the 1996 Michael Strassman film “Rock“. Note the vintage wardrobe: Boreal Vectors, skin tight shorts, tank top, and mullet!

Check back soon for Germany Part III: Chasing Waterfalls

Germany Part I: Hitting the Wall

After months of planning, weeks of training and many days of anxious packing, it was finally time for our journey to begin. The flight to Germany turned out to be pretty uneventful. We were really worried about flying so far with two young kids, and perhaps all that worry, and the resultant preparations, paid off. Kate packed an impressive collection of toys and other distractions which really helped keep her entertained.

Kate and Amelie exploring the Nuremberg market below Lorenzkirche, the first of countless churches we would see.

Kate and Amelie exploring the Nuremberg market below Lorenzkirche, the first of countless churches we would see.

Once we arrived in Nuremberg we went for a short sightseeing walk around the Nuremberg Altstadt (old city), and then we headed north to scope out the approach to the crags for the next day. The Frankenjura is notoriously complex, with a maze of tiny winding roads, and finding your crag can sometimes be the crux of your climb (in the end, we were always able to find what we were looking for, but we made a few wrong turns here and there).

Logan and me exploring the walls of Nuremberg’s Kaiserburg Castle.

Logan and me exploring the walls of Nuremberg’s Kaiserburg Castle.

After some shenanigans getting out of the city we found ourselves cruising the luxurious autobahn. The Autobahn is pretty much like any US freeway, but with a much nicer road surface (no potholes) and no slow drivers in the left lane. The German drivers are very courteous in this regard, frequently sacrificing their own speed to avoid delaying faster drivers. Driving was one of many surprising pleasures of the trip. The landscape is a patchwork of rolling hills, farms, forests abundant with colorful fall foliage, and compact villages. Smooth roads twist and turn through an ever-interesting vista of medieval churches, rainbow-colored houses, hidden limestone walls, and lush vegetation. We made good time towards Plech where we saw the first signs for the “Frankische Schweiz” (literally “Franconian Switzerland”, aka, “Frankenjura”).

Finally some rock!  Streitberger Schild above the village of Streitberg.

Finally some rock! Streitberger Schild above the village of Streitberg.

The first crag was easy to find. Weissenstein (“White Wall”) is right on the main road, and when they say a crag is good for kids they aren’t exaggerating. There were easily 10 kids there already, including several who were climbing and one in a pram. The rock looked outstanding, and the holds, while polished, had a nice gritty texture to them that made me think polished holds wouldn’t be much of a problem. [In hindsight, we came across quite a few polished routes, but we were going way out of our way to climb the most famous routes in Germany. Even then, polish was far less problematic than I found it in France and Spain. Most of the time the rock is so featured and the climbs so steep that you don’t mind the polish at all—if anything it’s a plus. On thin vertical routes it can be a bit of a problem on footholds, and I’m certain a few of the routes I did have gotten more difficult over the years as a result of traffic. However, thin vertical routes aren’t very common in the Frankenjura.]

The left, vert-ish side of Weissenstein. The rope is on an uber-classic 5.8 jug haul called Boulderwandl

The left, vert-ish side of Weissenstein. The rope is on an uber-classic 5.8 jug haul called Boulderwandl

Next we headed for Krottenseer Turm, home to Wolfgang Güllich’s legendary testpiece Wallstreet. Wallstreet was the world’s first 5.14b (11- on the German scale, or 8c in French terms), and I was really anxious to check it out. My primary climbing objective for this trip was to gain some appreciation for what Güllich was capable of in his prime. I also wanted to visit a broad selection of crags and climb a ton of routes. With those competing goals in mind, I set aside my first two climbing days for an attempt on Wallstreet. By this point I had already decided I didn’t want to spend my entire trip camped out under one route, but I was committed to at least trying it. After those first two days I would re-evaluate my priorities.

I headed into the mossy, damp forest and walked toward the towering wall. It was impressive. The sloping hillside makes it even more formidable, looming like a castle facade, with little curved turrets on either side. I flipped through the guidebook and identified all the major lines. I was really amped to come back and try Wallstreet, but it was getting late and we still had a good hour of driving to reach my sister’s house in Weiden.

Wallstreet begins up the central black streak, then veers right at mid-height to climb the left section of the high bulge.

Wallstreet begins up the central black streak, then veers right at mid-height to climb the left section of the high bulge.

After a surprisingly good night of sleep, we awoke early and fairly well-rested. Our plan was to warm up at Weissenstein before heading to Krottenseer Turm. In all my travels, Weissenstein is the best cliff I’ve ever been to for climbing with kids. It’s one of the best cliffs I’ve been to period. The cliff has routes of every grade from 5.6 to 5.13a, and literally, all the routes are world class (for their respective grades). The rock is flawless and extremely interesting, heavily pocketed limestone. The cliff base is flat and grassy, the approach is 30 seconds, and there’s a mix of shade and sun. The best domestic comparison I can think of is Chuckwalla Wall in St. George, Utah, but with twice as many routes, infinitely better rock, and half the approach. It’s a true climber’s paradise.

The right, steep side of Weissenstein, with unknown climbers on Damphammer (“Steam Hammer”, lower) and the aptly named pump-fest Panische Zeiten (“Panic Time!”, upper)

The right, steep side of Weissenstein, with unknown climbers on two Kurt Albert classics, Dampfhammer (“Steam Hammer”, lower) and the aptly named pump-fest Panische Zeiten (“Panic Time!”, upper)

Every route we did was stellar, culminating with two lines on the right “steep” side of the wall. The first route, a Kurt Albert 12a called Dampfhammer, was climbed via huge, sequential reaches between perfect jugs. We accidentally stranded some draws on the upper slab, so rather than climb it again I decided to try the Wolfgang Güllich 13a to its left. Normally I don’t try to onsight 5.13 as part of my warmup, but I really wanted to get those draws back! And I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try a Güllich line. This became a theme throughout the trip.

Doulbe-mono warmup on Krampfhammer.

Doulbe-mono warmup on Krampfhammer. Photo Logan Anderson

The crux was supposed to be low and bouldery, so I figured it would be a good warmup and not too taxing. After a few technical moves, I arrived at the Krampfhammer crux, a blank wall with several mono pockets. Welcome to the Frankenjura! The first few moves weren’t too hard, but then I was in the bulge, with my left hand in a high mono and nothing else within reach. I hiked up my feet, uttered the predictable “watch me”, and lunged high and right for a hidden patch of chalk. Jug! After that more 5.11 jug-hauling led up the steep wall to the chains.

About to make the crux lunge on Krampfhammer.

About to make the crux lunge on Krampfhammer. Photo Logan Anderson

We packed our stuff into the car and raced towards my rendezvous with Wallstreet. The route starts with an easy slab, and then gets progressively harder as you ascend, culminating in a crux roof encounter a few meters below the anchor. The climbing up to the roof was beautiful, with technical moves on mostly sinker pockets. There’s a powerful move just below the roof, and then a long reach out to a good clipping jug at the lip. The headwall is relatively monolithic, with a few shallow, well-spaced two-finger pockets.

Rose move! The technical lower bit of Wallstreet.

Rose move! The technical lower bit of Wallstreet.

The crux boulder problem begins at the lip of the roof with a reach to a three-finger dish, and then a difficult stab to an incut but shallow (3/4-pad) two-finger pocket. The hardest individual move is pulling off this pocket. Güllich apparently placed his right hand in this pocket (shown in the Wallstreet poster), threw his left foot super high to the lip of the roof, and then made a big reach to another shallow, sloping, two-finger pocket. Another option is to take the incut two-finger with the left hand, get the left foot up, back flag and lunge desperately for a thin three-finger crimp. There are also various other divots and dishes with smatterings of chalk that didn’t seem too promising. Above here, two or three difficult, but not desperate moves lead to easier ground and the anchor.

Reaching for the jug at the lip of the roof.

Reaching for the jug at the lip of the roof.

I spent about 45 minutes trying the various options. I could get the incut two-finger but I couldn’t realistically pull off of it. With the undercut roof, and the slick, featureless nature of the stone at the lip, you basically need to suspend your entire body weight from that pocket. It felt incredibly tweaky and painful, and I gained new respect for the few climbers who have done this sequence on redpoint. I gave it two burns on Friday and one more on Sunday, but I was pretty well-convinced after the first burn that it was not going to happen.

Latching the incut two finger. Now I just need to throw my foot up to my armpit, lock-off the pocket to my kneecap, and dyno precisely into a half-pad mail slot!

Latching the incut two finger. Now I just need to throw my foot up to my armpit, lock-off the pocket to my kneecap, and dyno precisely into a half-pad mail slot!

I’m really glad I got the opportunity to try it, and that I was able to try it at a time in my career when I was strong enough to appreciate it. I was actually very relieved that it was just plain unrealistic for this trip. My biggest fear heading into the trip was that I would fool myself into thinking I could do it, spend the entire time flailing on it, and still walk away empty-handed. The outcome was pretty clear-cut, and that freed me to enjoy other routes without any regrets.  Still, it makes me wish I lived nearby, because it’s precisely the type of route I would really enjoy training for and working as a long-term project.  At the same time, I realize I live in a great place too, with plenty of awesome climbs to keep me busy.

Kate climbing 40-meters of gently overhanging 5.10 pockets at Roter Fels

Kate enjoying 40-meters of gently overhanging 5.10 pockets at Roter Fels

Before we left Krottenseer Turm on Sunday there was one more route I desperately wanted to do. In 1981, the great John Bachar visited Germany to participate in an international climbing festival. During his visit he claimed the first ascent of an open project on the right side of the cliff. The line followed a discontinuous groove with an intermittent crack that climbed over several steep bulges. I would imagine it seemed very futuristic for the day, considering its steepness. He graded the route 5.13a, which made it the hardest route in Europe at the time, and one of the hardest in the world [ultimately the route was downgraded to .12d, but it would easily rate 5.13 and any of the world’s modern vacation crags]. He called the route Chasin’ the Trane, the title of a John Coltrane album.  Many have taken this to be a not-so-subtle dig at the European climbing scene, although others have alleged that Bachar denied that. According to Güllich’s Biography (the must-read A Life in the Vertical), Bachar’s ascent was a huge deal in Germany. It made Bachar an instant star, and the route an instant test-piece.

Chasin' the Trane climbs through the dihedral, under the big roof and then back left onto the headwall.

Chasin’ the Trane climbs through the dihedral, under the big roof and then back left onto the headwall.

By the time I cleaned my gear off Wallstreet, it was pouring down rain and the top of the cliff was soaked. I waited in vain for the rain to stop, as the various waterfalls inched their way lower and lower down the cliff. The route was still mostly dry, so eventually I decided I was going to take my chances and deal with whatever moisture came my way.

Waiting for the rain to stop at Krottenseer Turm.

Waiting for the rain to stop at Krottenseer Turm.

The route begins with slabby moves on big jugs to reach a horizontal break below a steep bulge. I made a few big moves between sinker pockets to reach a pumpy stance at the lip of the bulge. At this point a thin seam appears and most of the pockets vanish. I made some strenuous liebacking moves to get established in the groove. I was able to get good shakes from some awkward stems, but the climbing was really physical and surprisingly pumpy. I could see how a California crack master would excel on this type of terrain. At the top of the seam, the route traverses right below a roof, and then clears a final bulge before following a long slab to the anchor. I got one last shake below this roof, contemplating my exit strategy. It was still raining hard, and I knew the best case scenario was a soaking wet run to the anchor. At the very top of the seam is a good incut sidepull that I was able to lever out on, allowing a huge reach to a flat jug at the top of the bulge. The jug was a puddle, but it was positive enough that with dry footholds I was able to work my way up onto the slab. Much to my relief, the finishing slab was littered with incut pockets and good footholds. I knew I wasn’t going to fall and enjoyed the early shower as I made my way to the top.

Climbing Hitchhike the Plane, 5.13b, Wolfgang Gullich’s clever answer to Bachar’s line.

Climbing Hitch Hike the Plane, 5.13b, Wolfgang Gullich’s clever answer to Bachar’s line. Photo Logan Anderson

Check back here soon for Germany Part 2: Getting Blasted!

Back in the USA!

All loaded up for the long flight home!

All loaded up for the long flight home. The pilots just get younger and younger.

After 22 straight hours of traveling which included one train, two cars, three buses, and four airplanes, we finally arrived home late Monday night. We’re all still quite jet-lagged–the kids were wide awake at 3:30 am this morning–but we had an AMAZING trip! I won’t get into specifics today, but In the mean time here are just a handful of photos (out of literally 2000) to give you a quick teaser of some of what we saw and did.  I promise over the next few weeks I’ll share the entire journey with all sorts of self-indulgent, narcissistic and tedious details 🙂 

Over the course of eight climbing days we managed to climb at 18 different crags in the Frankenjura.  We were also able to visit 16 other crags (but did not climb at them). 

Limestone spires above the houses of Tuchersfeld

Limestone spires above the houses of Tuchersfeld

I did 32 routes first ascended by Wolfgang Gullich or Kurt Ablert, including a route by each climber named Auerbacher Weg. I also did a pair of historically significant routes by Jerry Moffat and John Bachar.  They were all hard for the grade! 

Onsighting Krampfhammer (~13a?) at Weissenstein. Photo Logan Anderson :)

Onsighting Krampfhammer (~13a?) at Weissenstein. This Gullich route had three consecutive mono moves, culminating in a big dyno from the last mono to a good jug. Photo Logan Anderson

Following the Anderson Principle of “Maximizing Fun”, we managed to squeeze in a ton of sightseeing. The kids were awesome, and they put up with a lot of driving and crag time. They didn’t like everything we did but they put up with it really well and generally seemed to have a good time. They loved the parks, the pastries, and the opportunity to be outside every day. They were even impressed every now and then.

A wet hike to a fantastic castle.

A wet hike to a fantastic castle. Logan was a trooper the entire trip.

Dresden

Dresden was remarkable.  Thanks to our new friend Shawn Heath for climbing with us and insisting that we visit this part of Germany.

Germany turned out to be super kid-friendly. This time of year every town has its own version of Oktoberfest, most of which included plenty of sweets and several carnival-style kids rides. Pottenstein is the main climbing hub of the Northern Frankenjura, and this tiny town has its own mini-amusement park that was open till 5pm each day, making it easy to drop in for some quick fun after a long day of climbing.

Oktoberfest!

THE Oktoberfest in Munich.  Amelie mesmerized by a liter of Bier

Kate and Logan on the Pottenstein "Rodelbahn"

Kate and Logan on the Pottenstein “Rodelbahn”

Now we need some sleep, and I need to catch up on work, and everything else that’s been neglected over the past few weeks. Physically I’m wrecked, but it was sooo worth it and I have a lot to share.  Check back here soon for the rest of the story!

A cool summit in the Sachsiche Schweiz (aka Elbsandstein)

A cool summit in the Sachsiche Schweiz (aka Elbsandstein)

It’s All Semantics

How often have you visited a climbing forum and stumbled upon an endless debate over some trivial matter like the definition of “is”?  It seems that many of us would rather argue about training terminology than actually train.  This pre-occupation with semantics can be a real distraction from the truly important matters (like the phone number for Rock and Resole), and yet, some questions come up again and again:

  • What is the real definition of “power”?  The physics definition doesn’t seem to fit the physiology definition–which is correct?
  • Are isometric contractions really isometric?
  • Is campus training “truly plyometric”?  

Many of us (myself included) have fallen victim to this mentality in the past.  Maybe the problem is that proper climbing training requires so much recovery and down-time that all us training fiends have nothing better to do than argue about this nonsense 🙂

Castle Valley, Utah

This photo won’t make you a better climber, but it sure is nice to look at.  Castle Valley, Utah, Photo Mike Anderson.

Regardless, the answer to all these questions and many others is a resounding: WHO CARES!?  None of these things have any bearing on the practical matter of how you should train!  When consider such questions, only one thing matters:  will doing [suggested training activity] make me a better climber?  No amount of arguing grammar, spelling, syntax or word use will make you one bit better as a climber.  To improve, you need to do some work.  And no, I don’t mean the Physics definition of work (= Force x Distance).  I mean the good ol’ fashioned kind that predates even Sir Isaac Newton.

We all know what we mean when we talk about climbing power.  We all know that relative to a bicep curl, a dead hang is isometric, and it’s pretty darn close–definitely close enough–to what we do over and over again on the rock.  It doesn’t matter if campusing is “plyometric” or “gullichometric”.  “Plyometric” is a made up word used to describe an arbitrary category of exercise.  All that matters is that it works for climbers, and so you should do it! 

I like to say that sports physiology is a lot like religion.  We all agree on 98% of the dogma, but we fight endless crusades over the 2% we disagree on.  That is silly.  If you’re following any kind of training program, documenting your results, and making adjustments, you’re head and shoulders above the vast majority.  Don’t waste so much energy obsessing over which program is the best.  There is no single approach that is optimal for everybody.  Find something that works for you and tweak it as you learn more about how your body responds to training.  If you sit around waiting for armies of scientists to definitively prove which training method is ideal, you will never get anything done.  Your great-great-grandkids will be long dead before that happens.

The work being done by Sports Physiologists is certainly important, and it is certainly worth some attention.  New theories need to be tested, but there are just too many variables in climbing to expect exact transference of studies being done on athletes in the big money sports.  Anyway, it’s highly doubtful some Silver Bullet set/rep/rest protocol is going to turn you into Adam Ondra overnight.  Even if a study “proves” this or that (which never happens anyway), the “proven” method may still not work for you.  You will still need to try it out for yourself to see if it works for your body.  The vast majority of the time, things that really work have been used for decades by athletes in many sports.  These methods were discovered and refined by athletes themselves, through trial and error, not by a scientist toiling away in a lab.  If you want to find the secret to optimizing your training, get out to your gym and try something new!  Document your results and let us know how it goes.  That is the best way to discover new information, not reading Physiology Journals or arguing on internet forums.

Three cheers for Eva Lopez, Dave Mcleod, Doug Hunter, Eric Horst, Udo Neumann, Wolfgang Gullich, and Tony Yaniro!  Hooray for anybody who is out there trying new things and sharing their findings.  I like the Rock Prodigy program because it works for me.  I know that it works for many other people too, and it might work for you.  But there are other programs out there that work too.  That’s great!  Shop around if you like, try a few different things, and find something that works for you.  If you’re satisfied with the results, then stick with it, that’s awesome!  As long as you’re doing something pre-meditated and you’re tracking your efforts, you’re way ahead of the curve.

Frankenjura Dreaming

During a brief spell of temporary insanity last spring Kate and I foolishly booked a three-week trip to Germany.  As our departure date approaches (now just four weeks away!), we are becoming increasingly terrified of the prospect of spending 12 hours on an airplane with our two lovely children.  Lord have mercy on the rest of the passengers!

Germany is home to the Frankenjura, among the most infamous crags on the planet, and home to more than 10,000 routes!  My interest in the Frankenjura should be apparent to anyone who has read our book or followed our blog.  I like hard routes, I like pockets, and I like history.  The Frankenjura is known for all three.  Hard pocket routes are not all that hard to come by — the history is what sets the Frankenjura apart.  From a sport climbing perspective, it is likely THE most historically significant crag on the planet.

First off, the Frankenjura is the birthplace of the “redpoint” (or really “rotpunkt” in German).  The visionary free climber Kurt Albert authored countless classic climbs throughout the region, and in the mid-1970’s, in order to indicate which sections of cliff had been climbed, he began painting a red circle at the base of routes whose moves had all been freed.  Once the route had been led free from the ground, with no falls or hangs, he would fill in the circle to create a red dot.  And so the redpoint was born.  Some believe that this simple act marked the conception of sport climbing itself.

For those who keep track of important “firsts”, the Frankenjura is unmatched.  It’s home to the first 5.13d in the world (Kanal im Rucken, UIAA10 or French 8b), the first 5.14b in the world (Wallstreet, UIAA 11- or F8c) and the first 5.14d in the world (Action Directe, UIAA11 or F9a).  [Of course, these were all established by the same legend and hero to pretty much everyone (including Sylvester Stallone), the unparalleled Wolfgang Gullich.]  In addition to these landmark climbs, the Frankenjura is home to countless other historically significant climbs like Albert’s Sautanz (5.12c), John Bachar’s Chasin’ the Train (5.12d) and Jerry Moffatt’s Ekel (~5.13a) and The Face (~5.13c).

More than 20 years after his death, Gullich continues to inspire countless climbers, myself included.

More than 20 years after his death, Gullich continues to inspire countless climbers, myself included.

For me personally, the ultimate reason to visit is to walk in the footsteps of (or perhaps it would be more appropriate to write “stab my fingers into the pockets of”) Wolfgang Gullich.  Has any other climber had a greater impact on the sport of free climbing than Gullich?  Without question he has inspired entire generations of climbers.  Consider that more than 20 years later Action Directe is STILL a cutting edge, rarely repeated testpiece.  Besides being the best redpoint climber of his generation, Gullich made tremendous contributions to the community through his interest in training.  He developed groundbreaking new training techinques, participated in many climbing training studies, and authored a great deal of literature on the subject (especially the groundbreaking Sportklettern Heute in 1986).  I would wager that every single climbing training book authored since his death pays tribute to Gullich.  That can’t be said of any other climber.

Usually when I travel overseas I take it relatively easy, only attempting routes I have a shot to onsight, trying to visit as many crags as possible.  For this trip I hope to do some projecting, because that was Gullich’s approach.  He wasn’t much interested in onsighting.  He wanted to do the hardest moves imagineable.  For that reason, I really want to be at my best during our trip. I started my training cycle a couple of weeks ago with the hopes of creating a power peak at the end of September.

To that end, my friends at e-Grips hooked me up with a great assortment of pockets to help whip me into shape. [Little did you realize that all that rambling about my hopes and dreams was just a clever introduction to this product review, haha!]  I’m still in my Strength Phase, so I’m pretty much only training on the RPTC, but these new holds are getting me really excited for my Power Phase. I can’t wait to get some chalk on these babies!  Many manufacturers seem to be shying away from pocket shapes these days, but e-Grips is still turning out the best on the market.

Pure Power Pockets I

Pure Power Pockets I

The “easiest” set I received is the Pure Power Pockets I.  These are on average the deepest and most-incut set, and the best of them will swallow most of your finger.  One of the holds in this set can accept three small fingers, but the rest are all two-finger pockets. These are pretty much one-directional, and ideal for big moves on steeper walls.  My preference is definitely for thinner pockets on less-steep walls, and when I have to make big, precise moves to deeper pockets I tend to struggle. I’m certain I will come across many such moves on my trip, so I’m really excited to set some reachy problems with these guys on my 33-degree wall and start attacking that weakness.

Some of the "Pure Power Pockets I" are quite deep and incut, like this one.

Some of the “Pure Power Pockets I” are quite deep and incut, like this one.

The next most-challenging set I received is the Pure Pockets.  The set includes two 3-finger pockets and three 2-finger pockets.  They vary from 1-2 pads deep, but they’re generally shallower than the set described above.  Four of these are incut when the bolt hole is oriented toward the ground (the fifth hold, a 1-pad 3-finger pocket, is neutral). All of these can be flipped to make challenging neutral to sloping pockets, great for vert-ish walls. The shallowest 2-finger pocket in the set is basically neutral but has a nice little lip on it that I really like because it allows you to use it on a much steeper wall than you otherwise would‎.  I really dig this set.  The shapes are super smooth and the pockets are essentiall “straight in”, minimizing the risk of collateral ligament tweaks.  Moving between them is relatively straightforward (unlike more intricate pockets that require you to carefully thread your fingers into place).  This allows for “just plain hard” problems with big moves and dynamic latches.  I expect these to be quite challenging on my 33-degree wall.

Pure Pockets

Pure Pockets

I’m most excited about the last pocket set in the bunch.  I’ve enjoyed e-Grips’ 2Tex Pure Crimps for many years (literally among my five favorite sets of all time).  The slippery surface prevents pinching or otherwise “cheating” which allows you to set super-realistic problems.  When you set the edges as sidepulls or underclings you can essentially create a route or problem with little or no footholds — which is absolutely critical when setting difficult problems on near-vertical walls.  It’s really tough to set a pocket problem that requires challenging footwork, because pocket shapes tend to leave an enormous footprint that can easily be smeared or edged.  Enter the 2Tex Pockets….

2Tex Pockets

2Tex Pockets

These pockets have good texture inside the pocket, and a nice slick surface everywhere else.  The set includes one fairly incut mono (that can be used as a two-finger stack), a 2-finger pocket with a third finger divot that is marginally useful, and three 2-finger pockets (although really, they could all be oriented sideways for monos).  They each offer a larger/more positive pocket when set with the bolt hole towards the ground, or you can flip them over for a really sinsister, shallow and neutral pocket. For this reason, these are probably the most versatile of the three sets.  Right-side up, they vary in depth from 1.5-2 pads deep, and they’re all incut (but they’re the least positive of the three sets described here). When oriented upside down, they’re basically 1-pad deep and neutral to sloping, perfect for vert to slightly overhanging terrain. The set includes a cool double pocket that can be used as a pinch or for matching moves.

This set really shines when considering the footwork aspects of route-setting.  In most cases the bolt-side pocket lip protrudes a bit, so it can still be used as a foothold (albeit a very challenging one, especially on steep terrain).  When set the other way (upside down), you’re straight up campusing!  The pockets themselves are more intricate than the Pure Pockets, so they will still be challenging when used in relatively static situations.  I’m really pyched on the set and I plan to order another set the next time my wife is away 🙂

Note, this is not an exhaustive examination of e-Grips pockets.  Here are my thoughts on some other great pocket sets (like the killer Limestone Pockets).

Flashback Series Ep. 2: The Totem Pole

125 miles off the southern coast of Australia, pummeled on all flanks by the Tasman Sea, lies an otherworldly landscape of temperate rain forest perched upon a mountain of granite and dolerite.  This untamed and rarely visited corner of the world is known as Tasmania, and Tasmania is known to climbers for its fantastic sea cliffs.

The Acropolis, one of many fantastic dolerite peaks in central Tasmania.

The Acropolis, one of many fantastic dolerite peaks in central Tasmania.

The rock upon which the island sits is totally unique within the context of climbing.  Dolerite bears a striking resemblance to the prolific basalt columns of North America, but its plentiful features and gritty texture allow climbing on the sheerest surfaces.  Furthermore, the dolerite exists in towering cliffs of unbroken rock, allowing routes many hundreds of feet in length.  Most noteworthy is the dolerite’s unparalleled ability to withstand the forces of gravity and erosion, resulting in the most formidable and gob-smacking sea stacks on the planet.

The stunning sea cliffs along the Tasman Peninsula.

The stunning sea cliffs along the Tasman Peninsula.

I spent several months in the fall of 2004 traveling and climbing around Australia, and I made a point to visit this amazing land, and try my luck on a few of its infamous towers.  No tower in the world inspires as much awe among climbers as the notorious Totem Pole.   It burst more than 200 vertical feet out of the shark-infested Tasman Sea, supported by a base of stone no more than 10-feet wide.  The angular arêtes of the column corkscrew counter-clockwise as they rise, tilting the upper half of the needle into a precarious overhang.  Any climbers who dare to stand on the tiny ledge beside its base will be engulfed by bone chilling waves from the heaving sea.  The fact that this precarious sliver of stone has withstood the chronic force of the tides, the thundering gales of Cape Hauy–even the pull of the moon’s gravity–completely defies comprehension.

Ya...no shit!  The first pitch starts up the left side of the central arete, traverses the dark gray rock (crux) to reach the right arete, then climbs around the arete to the hidden face, ending on the obvious ledge on the left arete.  The second pitch climbs the left arete and the hidden face to its left.

Ya…no shit! The first pitch starts up the left side of the central arete, traverses the dark gray rock (crux) to reach the right arete, then climbs around the arete to the hidden face, ending on the obvious ledge on the left arete. The second pitch climbs the left arete and the hidden face to its left.

And so, it had to be climbed!  The first ascent was magnificently accomplished with aid in 1968 by the legendary Australian climber John Ewbank.  British hard man Paul Pritchard visited the Cape in the ‘90’s hoping to free climb ‘the Tote’.  After aiding to the summit, Pritchard rapped down the tower to scout for free climbing possibilities but dislodged a micro-wave-sized boulder that struck his head and nearly ended his life (his rescue and painstaking recovery are documented in his book The Totem Pole). In 1999, the great free-climbing protagonist of Australia Steve Monks finally established a free solution to the summit, creatively named “The Free Route” (with two pitches of 5.12b), and eventually an alternative 5.11d first pitch dubbed “Deep Play” (the title of Pritchard’s Boardman-Tasker Award-winning first book).

In 2003, Australian sport-climbing ace Monique Forestier made the first on sight free ascent of the tower via Deep Play.  An on sight of The Free Route had thus far repelled all comers, including Lynn Hill (whose attempt was stymied by a broken hold).  Realistically, I doubt very many people had tried the route since the first ascent.  The Totem Pole is about as far from the beaten path as a climber can get.  It’s located on the extreme end of Cape Hauy, itself isolated from the main population centers at the southeastern tip of the Tasman Peninsula.  Just to lay eyes on the Tote requires a 90 minute trudge (each way) and a fair bit of scrambling.  Few climbers have beheld this magnificent structure, and fewer still have known the feeling of roping up below its base.

Kate, Andrew (Kate’s brother), and I arrived in Tasmania just before Christmas of 2004.  The Totem Pole was our sole reason for visiting, so we headed straight for Fortescue Bay to establish a damp and uninspiring basecamp near our objective.  Our first day on the island was cold and blustery, so we made the long hike to Cape Hauy to get a look at our prey.  Perhaps that was a mistake, because the astonishing view was more than a little intimidating.  We swallowed deep and didn’t talk much on the hike back to camp.  I had climbed in a lot of places–I’d covered a lot of loose ground in the Canadian Rockies and the decomposing volcanoes of the Cascade Range.  I’d summited more than 30 towers on the Colorado Plateau.  But I’d never seen anything like the Totem Pole.  The situation gives the term “remote” a whole new meaning.  We were hours of walking and several more hours of driving from the nearest town, before the age of ubiquitous cell phones.  If a rescue were required, was there even anyone on the island capable of executing one?

Kate's look of skepticism at this moment pretty well says it all.

Kate’s look of skepticism at this moment pretty well says it all.

I decided a few warmups were necessary.  We headed north the next day to try our luck on The Moai, Tasmania’s second most famous sea stack.  The situation on the Moai is far less intense, with a relatively mellow approach, a completely dry belay stance, and a comparatively inviting 5.10- free route to the summit.  That said, it was still an adventure, with a non-trivial approach and a complicated rappel to reach the base.  Andrew was not a climber at the time, but he came along to watch and snap some photos from the mainland.

The Moai sits at the opposite end of Fortescue Bay from Cape Hauy.

The Moai sits at the opposite end of Fortescue Bay from Cape Hauy.

Much to our relief, the climbing turned out to be excellent and within our abilities.  We made it up the regular route with ease, and after a brief rest back on the ground I fired the newly added 5.12a bolted face climb called “Ancient Astronaught” on the tower’s south face.  It was a beautiful day and the experience was perfect.  We could see the Totem Pole looming directly to the south, but with blue skies and a shimmering sea, it no longer seemed quite so foreboding.

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

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

Climbing Ancient Astronaught, 5.12a.

Climbing Ancient Astronaught, 5.12a.

Cape Hauy in the distance.  The slender tower is The Candlestick, which sits about 20 feet east of The Totem Pole.

Cape Hauy in the distance beyond The Moai. The slender tower is The Candlestick, which sits about 20 feet east of The Totem Pole.

The next day we went exploring.  The extreme southwest end of the Tasman Peninsula is capped by a stunning echelon of dolerite spires known as Cape Raoul.  At that time, there was very little beta about this formation, and only a few established routes.  Getting to them was complicated, involving lots of bushwhacking, rappelling and traversing.  I wanted to explore these spires, but with no time for a bivy our options were limited.  With a pre-dawn start we barely made it to the base of the Power Pole, the most impressive tower at the end of the cape.  We managed an ascent of the Wedding Cake along the way and it was an exciting adventure.  We barely made it back to camp before dark, and spent the next two days recuperating and exploring the surrounding landscape. We were becoming palpably more comfortable in this extreme environment, and the towering needles of dolerite no longer seemed quite so intimidating.

The many-spired Cape Raoul.  The furthest left spire is The Power Pole, and the widest tower (a bit left of center) is The Wedding Cake.

The many-spired Cape Raoul. The two-pronged spire at far left is The Power Pole, and the widest tower (a bit left of center) is The Wedding Cake.

The back towards the mainland from the summit of The Wedding Cake.

The view back towards the mainland from the summit of The Wedding Cake.

Finally it was time.  We woke up early from our soggy tent and began the trek to Cape Hauy.  We were nervous and quiet.  We would have been happy for the hike to take several hours, but before we knew it we reached land’s end.  We had three ropes with us: a 70m to fix for the rappel from the mainland to the base of the Tote, a lead line, and a 30m static line I would use to “tag up” the 70m rap line.  The Tote is almost exactly 65m tall, so getting down, up, and back to shore is no simple matter.  Furthermore, The Free Route spirals literally all the way around the tower, climbing every surface and every arête at one time or another, so it was important to have a rope management plan.  We had ascenders, and with the 70 fixed, we had a good escape route in case we chickened out, so long as none of our cords got inextricably tangled.

Feigning confidence as I begin the descent into the void.

Feigning confidence as I begin the descent into the void.

As I began to rappel down towards the sea, I was completely apprehensive, but my attitude was simply to put one foot in front of the other until I came across a good reason to retreat.  I stopped a few feet above the ocean and watched the water ebb and flow around the base of the tower.  After so many months of wondering, dreaming, I was finally here.  What a wild place to be!

The view to the southwest from the base of The Tote.

The view to the southwest from the base of The Tote.

There’s a nice flat boulder at the base of the tower, about 1 meter square, that provides the perfect belay stance.  Above is a nice bolted anchor, so I secured myself and our gear and told Kate to come on down.  I was fixated on the sea, determined to time the waves so that I wouldn’t get myself and all my equipment dowsed in cold sea water.  That didn’t work!  I made a solid effort, but just before I was prepared to start up a big swell came in and soaked me up to my belly button.  Kate would get much worse; I was only at the base for a few minutes, she was there for nearly an hour, and got nailed by several big swells.  One of the amazing things about Kate is here willingness to support me.  Honestly, I don’t understand it.  My fear sensors were red-lining the entire day, but she was calm and relaxed.  If she had even hinted at the slightest misgiving about our objective I would have gladly retreated, but she never flinched once.

Beginning up the first pitch of The Free Route.

Beginning up the first pitch of The Free Route.

The route starts by turning the arête on the left side of the belay, and then heading up the west face of the tower.  After a few moves, the route returns back to the south face, making a rising traverse to reach the right arête and then the east face.  The crux is this traverse.  Or perhaps, protecting this traverse.

Beginning the crux traverse.

Beginning the crux traverse.

One of the oddities of Australian climbing is the infamous “carrot bolt”.  This is a machine bolt without a hanger that is permanently placed into the rock.  Oz climbers carry around a quiver of removable bolt hangers that can be temporarily placed over these machine bolts, and then clipped with a biner.  The second then removes the biner and the hanger when cleaning the pitch.  It’s a point of ethics to limit the promulgation of bolt hangers, and so Carrots are seen as more bold.  They’re certainly more difficult to clip!  It takes practice to do well.  It’s easy to scrape the hanger off when trying to work the biner onto the hanger, and I routinely dropped one or more hangers on tenuous clips.  It seems an odd place to draw an ethical line, but for better or worse I found myself at the crux, fingers tiring, shoes soaked with water, desperately trying to insert a quivering quickdraw into my last remaining carrot hanger.

The Carrot Bolt: at left is the fixed machine bolt.  The Carrot hanger is in the center, and the entire assembly is shown on the right.

The Carrot Bolt: at left is the fixed machine bolt. The Carrot hanger is in the center, and the entire assembly is shown on the right.

With Kate looking on intently, hoping I’ll be done soon so she can leave the soaking stance, I finally get the bolt clipped.  A few thin crimping moves with small smears power up to a big flat edge.  With the arête in hand I mantle up.  Around the corner I can see a line of good holds leading to a finger crack that would take good gear, and then the belay ledge.  I’ve made it through the crux!

Past the first pitch crux!

Past the first pitch crux!

The pitch ends at one of the all-time great belay ledges.  10 feet wide, five feet deep and perfectly flat.  And perfectly dry!  Relative to the last stance this feels like paradise.  At a distance of 25 meters, suddenly the sea is beautiful again.  Soon I have the static line fixed and Kate is released from her watery prison.  I tow up the 70, which gets caught on the arête in a few places but comes free with a flick.

The final pitch is long, but supposedly easier.  It was almost entirely bolted, and the bolts had fixed hangers.  Somewhere along the line I got the impression the second pitch was significantly easier than the first.  This was incorrect, but I didn’t know that at the time, so I headed up confidently, figuring the send was in the bag.

Beginning the second pitch.

Beginning the second pitch.

The climbing went by smoothly as I danced along the amazing arête.  Nearing the top, I began to notice a creeping pump.  Not yet debilitating, but steadily growing.  I continued on, eyes widening, in search of any form of recovery.  Finally I reached a pair of decent holds and slowly worked the pooling blood out of my forearms.  After one more tenuous move, I mantled onto the summit ledge.  A small tower sits atop this ledge, so I belly flopped onto this block, to ensure I had reached the summit.  I fixed Kate’s line, began rigging the tyrolean back to the mainland, and exhaled a long, satisfying breath.  The Free Route was in the bag, and on sight to boot.

Kate arriving at the summit ledge.

Kate arriving at the summit ledge.

Looking back at the Tote from the Tyrolean Traverse.

Looking back at the Tote from the Tyrolean Traverse.

Kate on the summit ledge.

Kate on the summit ledge.

Kate making the Tyrolean Traverse back to the mainland.

Kate making the Tyrolean Traverse back to the mainland.

Sunny St. George Part II: The Present

After sending Breakin’ the Law, I faced the kind of dilemma I always dream of: what to do with my remaining two climbing days.  I thought something in the 5.14a-range would be a good goal; something I had a good chance to send in the time remaining, but not a sure thing.  I spent the night scouring the guidebook, and the next day I left early to recon various approaches, cliffs and climbs.  I feel extremely fortunate to be able to climb as much as I do with two kids in tow, but there are constraints.  Not every cliff is safe for kids, and that must be considered when selecting a project.  After scouting the VRG and Gorilla Cliffs, the choice was clear.  The Present was absolutely stunning, had a perfectly flat crag base with no loose rock, and the climbing was short and powerful (perfect for my current state of fitness).

Gorilla Cliffs!  The Present climbs the short, steep, dark gray streak a bit right of center.

Gorilla Cliffs! The Present climbs the short, steep, darkest gray streak a bit right of center.

The Present was originally prepared by longtime Salt Lake climber and climbing-film-producing legend Mike Call. When the project turned out to be much harder than anticipated, he graciously gifted the line to Boone Speed (hence the name).  Boone is a climber I’ve long admired, at least since I first saw Call’s film “Three Weeks and a day”, about a trip to my then-home-crag, New Mexico’s Enchanted Tower, to attempt Child of Light (incidentally, the film’s heroes climb at Kelly’s Rock on their way to New Mexico).  Speed was one of the key figures in consolidating the 5.14 grade in North America.  He’s put up tons of classic hard routes, including the first .14b established by an American, Super TweakThe Present was a route that had a history, and I love to climb such routes.  I also looked forward to the opportunity to climb a Boone Speed 5.14.

Climbing my first 5.13, Goliath, on the prow of the Enchanted Tower, in 2003.

Climbing my first 5.13, Goliath, on the prow of the Enchanted Tower, in 2003.

The Present overhangs about 15 degrees, and is covered in 2 or 3 finger pockets and tiny edges.  Despite its brevity, its not really a pure power route; the challenge is linking twelve-or-so continuous moves with barely an opportunity to clip, let alone shake or chalk. None of the moves are terribly heinous by themselves, but from the ground to the slab every move is hard. Although I was in optimal shape for The Present, this type of climb has never been my strong suit, so it would be a good challenge to try to do it in just two days.

Before I could unwrap The Present (bazinga!), I had another objective.  I had my heart set on visiting the mysterious Arrow Canyon, so that afternoon we headed south towards Las Vegas.  With 2WD, the hike was 90-minutes each way and agonizing, with lots of loose sand and large river rocks. But it was worth it–the canyon was magnificent.  It’s hard to describe, but imagine a slot canyon like the Zion Narrows carved out of limestone.  The canyon walls are easily 500 feet high, and the rock has been beautifuly sculpted by the river. The walls are covered in many places by intricate pictographs.

Entering the impressive narrows of Arrow Canyon.

Entering the impressive narrows of Arrow Canyon.

Pictographs in Arrow Canyon.

Pictographs in Arrow Canyon.

Most of the rock climbs I noticed were not particularly remarkable, and my sense is that this will never be a popular crag.  The hike is long and unpleasant, and the crag is relatively isolated from both St. George and Vegas, which both have plenty of good rock that is much more convenient.   However, I saw a few lines that were simply stunning.  Jonathan Siegrist’s twin lines La Reve and La Lune appeared to me from the ground to be the most beautiful limestone 5.14s in America.  These will become must-do routes for the scant few capable of climbing them.  The Swamp Cave, at the far end of the canyon, also has a handful of intriguing lines (and room for many more).

The twin lines La Reve and La Lune climb the right side of the arching cave.

The twin lines La Reve and La Lune climb the right side of the arching cave.

The ultra-featured Swamp Cave.

The ultra-featured Swamp Cave.

We expected cooler weather for the next climbing day, so we took the opportunity to check out The Turtle Wall, which is composed of the same ultra-featured sandstone as Chuckwalla, but with eastern exposure and more route variety.  The moderates are largely thin and technical, whereas the .11s and .12s are super steep, and on par with the best jug hauls I’ve ever climbed (though relatively short).  All the routes we tried were outstanding, and I will certainly go back.

Picking plums at the  Farmer's Market, Turtle Wall. Photo Dan Brayack.

Picking plums at the Farmer’s Market, Turtle Wall. Photo Dan Brayack.

Gorilla Cliffs gets no sun in January, which wouldn’t be a problem by itself, but unfortunately the cliff forms a shallow canyon with The Snake Pit to the north, and the wind whips down off Utah Hill and whistles through this gorge.  Earlier in the week I was almost too warm in shorts and a T-shirt, but the cold was debilitating during my first go on The Present, and I was lucky to reach the chains before retreating after 15 shivering minutes.  There were three moves I couldn’t do; things weren’t going well.

We hiked around to the west end of the cliff and got the kids situated on a calm and sunny knoll.  I headed down to the car to warm up and correct my wardrobe.  The next go the wind abated a bit, I was able to climb effectively, and I managed to do all the moves.  It took a while to figure out the fourth move, a precision stab off a small, sloping pocket.  My skin was pretty worked by the end of the second burn, so I didn’t have a lot of hope for my next go.  After another 40 minutes in the sun, I was surprised to one-hang it on the third go of the day.  I was making a lot of progress between burns and I liked my chances of sending on our next and final climbing day.

Nearing the end of the redpoint crux.  The next move is a big slap to a jug.

Nearing the end of the redpoint crux. The next move is a big slap to a jug.

The climbing on The Present is stellar, and its everything I dream of in a route.  The rock is absolutely flawless, the movement is big and aggressive, and the holds are fingery.  I’ve always had a knack for standing on my feet and  finessing my way up ticky-tacky routes, but a power climb requires a basic amount of brute force which can’t be learned.  I’ve never been particularly talented at pocket climbing, big moves, or power routes.  When I first started sport climbing, I perpetually struggled with these styles of climbing.  I’ve since devoted tremendous time and energy to improving these weaknesses, and while I’m still better suited to technical enduro climbing, I find myself drawn to routes like The Present.  I guess I’m still trying to prove something to myself.

For our final rest day I took the opportunity to scope out The Cathedral in anticipation of many return trips to St. George.  I climbed at The Cathedral for a day in 2005, but many new, hard, and spectacular lines have been added since then and I was eager to get a second look.  The Cathedral is a European-style limestone cave; steep and covered in pockets of all sizes.  The routes looked amazing, perhaps even better than the world-class lines at the VRG.  Unfortunately the crag base was a complete no-go for kids.  There are literally two gaping holes in the floor of the cave, each dropping about 15 feet down to a lower level (not to mention all the belay areas are perched above exposed cliffs).  It may be some time before I’ll be able to manage the logistics for a Cathedral trip; it’s too bad because the climbing looks magnificent.

The Cathedral and the left end of the Wailing Wall.

The Cathedral and the left end of the Wailing Wall.

With a 9+-hour drive looming, we didn’t have any time to waste on our last day.  We warmed up at the Snakepit to save time, which hosts a few nice 5.12s, then headed over to Gorilla Cliffs.  The first go was disappointing;  I fell on the fourth move, a tenuous left hand stab, with the right hand in a poor, slopey two-finger pocket.  I took the opportunity to try out some different beta, then ran to the chains to make sure I could recall all the moves.  It was noon, and we needed to hit the road, so I figured I would only have one more shot. 

The fourth move: a precise stab, from a poor, right hand two-finger pocket.

The fourth move: a precise stab, from a poor, right hand two-finger pocket.

After another sunny rest break, I tied in and headed up.  The third move begins with a huge high step, then a rockover onto the high right foot before reaching for the slopey two finger.  As I rocked-over, my foot poppoed off and the go was over.  I was stunned.  Was this how it would end?  I lowered to the ground, pulled on my puffy and tried to calm down.  ‘Just think of it as a warmup.  This is basically a boulder problem anyway.’

After a few minutes, I started again.  This time I was sure to place my foot precisely for the rock over.  I latched the slopey 2-finger pocket and bounced it in.  I stabbed for the fourth-move left-hand pocket. My hips swung out, but my feet stayed on and I was able to reel it in.  Next a long reach to a high sidepull, where I fell on the previous day’s 1-hang.  It didn’t feel great, but I lunged for the next chert knob anyway, and somehow I latched it.  The next couple moves were casual, but then followed by a difficult long crank to pinch a jumble of pockets.  Accuracy is important here, and I managed to hit the hold correctly.  I stepped my left foot high, then worked the left hand into a deep pocket, stood up, and slapped for the jug.  Finally I was able to clip, and then I floated a few delicate moves to pull up to the slab, and the chains.  

Pulling onto the slab.

Pulling onto the slab.

Now it was time to pay our pennance.  We stuffed ourselves into my dirt-caked Civic at 1pm, and headed for home.  Two nursing stops, a 15-minute layover for fuel and take-out from the gas-station Arby’s, and we were home by 10pm.  It’s rare that everything comes together the way you hope, but it was a perfect trip, and we will definitely be going back!

Amelie chillin at the Turtle Wall. Photo Dan Brayack.

Amelie chillin at the Turtle Wall. Photo Dan Brayack.

Sunny St. George Part I: Breakin’ The Law

On rare occasions I take a short hiatus from thinking about training, writing about training, and training, to actually go rock climbing.  Over the New Year’s Holiday the family and I headed west to the warm climes of St. George, Utah for a week of climbing.  St George is home to a vast array of rock climbing possibilities, from the Grade VI Big Wall free and Aid climbs of Zion, to the bouldering of Moe’s Valley, and everything in between.  The guidebook lists more than 40 distinct crags, and the area hosts a wide variety of different rock types, including sculpted sandstone, basalt, Volcanic tuff, conglomerate, and some of the best limestone in the US.

Sunny steep stone in the capitol of Utah's Dixie.  Photo Dan Brayack.

Sunny steep stone in the capital of Utah’s Dixie.   Fencing with Tortuga, 5.12a, at The Turtle Wall.  Photo Dan Brayack.

My primary objective for the trip was a power endurance route called “Breakin’ the Law“, which climbs out the upper of two shallow limestone caves at the Black & Tan crag.  The route was the vision of Salt Lake hardman and fellow training advocate Jeff Pedersen.  However, a young Dave Graham nabbed the first free ascent, and the name is reminiscent of the confessionary “I Am a Bad Man” (now known simply as Badman), so-named by JB Tribout after his friend Alan Watts told him, ‘you can have any route [at Smith Rock] except that one’.

The Black and Tan Wall.  Breakin' the Law climbs out the subtle dihedrdal in the left side of the higher cave.

The Black and Tan Wall. Breakin’ the Law climbs out the subtle dihedral in the left side of the higher cave.

The route begins with big moves up a steep wall to reach the roof of the cave.  The crux is climbing out to the lip of the cave, then turning the lip to get established on the headwall. It would be quite a challenge for me to send a .14b in a week, but I’d heard from various accounts that the line was soft.  However, just before we set out for Utah I talked with a prominent, much-stronger-than-me climber, who assured me the route was quite hard for shorter folks.  Apparently tall climbers can get a big stem/dropknee that essentially eliminates the first, harder crux.  So as we left Colorado I was apprehensive and anxious to find out for myself.

Breakin' the Law: Midway through the first crux, a difficult traverse to the lip of the cave.  Photo Dan Brayack.

Breakin’ the Law: Midway through the first crux, a difficult traverse to the lip of the cave. Photo Dan Brayack.

We planned to split up the long drive with a break in Grand Junction for lunch and a hike out to Independence Monument.  I avoid aerobic exercise when I’m in performance climbing mode, but I like to go on “brisk walks” at least every rest day.  It helps keep my metabolism humming (for the purpose of weight management), and it allows an opportunity to clear my head.  The trail was snowy and muddy in places, but it was still a fun hike.  I’ve climbed Otto’s Route at least three times that I can remember, and I suspect I’ll climb it again with Logan some time in the next decade.

Hiking to Independence Monument outside Grand Junction, CO.

Logan and I on the hike to Independence Monument, outside Grand Junction, CO.

We spent the night in a flea-bag motel in fabulous Salina, Utah, then continued toward St. George the next day, making a beeline for Black & Tan.  We met my friends Dan Brayack and Lena Moinova at the crag, who happened to be on vacation as well.  Dan is a fellow Trango team-mate, and an outstanding climbing photographer.  A hefty chunk of the photos in The Rock Climber’s Training Manual were generously provided by Dan. Some of Dan’s images are peppered throughout this post, or you can check out his amazing gallery here. 

After warming up , I got on my presumed project.  The climbing starts out with fun, huge spans between large holds.  There’s a big jug at the crook of the roof, then the first crux comes traversing from that jug to the lip of the cave.  You can either shuffle or cross between several holds, but you end up with a good incut crimp and a tufa pinch.  Depending on your sequence you can either dyno into a big iron cross, and then struggle to climb out of it, or you can make a wild lunge to a flat edge at the lip.  I think this is where the drop knee would be used if you were tall enough, allowing either sequence to go statically.  Since I was not able to use the dropknee, I tried the two alternatives and settled on the Iron Cross solution. 

Struggling to climb out of the Iron Cross on Breakin the Law. Photo Dan Brayack

Struggling to climb out of the Iron Cross on Breakin’ the Law. Photo Dan Brayack

Once at the lip, a really hard crank off a thin, sharp crimp gets you onto the slab.  I struggled quite a bit with this move, perhaps because I was tired from working the lower crux.  I figured this would end up being the redpoint crux but I was too exhausted to really work it.  I moved on to the headwall, which was mostly fun, technical face climbing, but hosted one sinister move in which you have to high-step your right foot onto a polished block that slopes away at a 45-degree angle.  There is a faint bit of patina on this block that allows you to toe-in a bit, which is key since you next have to reach for an over-head undercling, using this dire foothold to push against.

Beginning the second crux, a heinous crank to gain the headwall.  Photo Dan Brayack.

Beginning the second crux, a heinous crank to gain the headwall. Photo Dan Brayack.

At the end of the day I had all the moves worked out.  Typically if I can do all the moves, I can send, but I had no idea if the moves would come together in the four climbing days remaining. The second crux requires a pretty hard crank after a long series of hard moves, and that is something I struggle with.

"Rest Day" hike to the West Rim of Zion Canyon.

“Rest Day” hike to the West Rim of Zion Canyon.

The limestone surrounding St. George is much more monolithic than the stone at most US limestone crags.  That means it’s not very featured, and generally quite sharp.  There are the odd pockets, but most of the climbing is on small edges.  The result is that the climbing tends to be less steep at any given grade than you might encounter at other, more featured limestone crags like Rifle, or the Wyoming crags.  This is great for technicians like me, and these crags really shine in the 5.12+ and up range.  Below that, the climbing often isn’t all that fun; it’s certainly not the type of climbing you want to do on vacation.  Fortunately St George is all about variety, and there really is something for everyone.

Jumanji is one of the better limestone 5.12a's in the area.  It's a fine route, but its sharp, polished, and so not particularly fun by holiday standards.  Photo Dan Brayack.

Jumanji is one of the better limestone 5.12a’s in the area. It’s a fine route, but its sharp, polished, and so not particularly fun by holiday standards. Photo Dan Brayack.

With this in mind, we opted to experiment with some different warmup crags over the next few days.  The notorious Chuckwalla Wall is often derided by serious climbers, but I really enjoy climbing there.  It’s by no means a wilderness setting, but the routes are just plain fun, and the approach takes about 90 seconds, which is key for climbers with kids.  The cliff is stacked with 30+ classic sandstone jug hauls from 5.9 to 5.12, and they make for great warmups and fun all around.  For the next two crag days we started at Chuckwalla, then after my last warmup we hopped in the car and raced down Highway 91 to Black & Tan, slightly frantic to get on my project before my warmup had faded (note: it took us about 50 minutes to get from crag to crag, approaches included; this turned out to be quick enough that I never lost my warmup.)

Unwinding from the Iron Cross.  Photo Dan Brayack.

Unwinding from the Iron Cross. Photo Dan Brayack.

I made good progress on the second day, primarily refining my foot sequences, and rehearsing the big dyno into the Iron Cross at the lip.  I was able to do the crank onto the headwall much more consistently, and on my second go I managed a 1-hang, which is always a nice milestone, but certainly no guarantee of future success.  We celebrated New Year’s Eve by watching Logan’s Strawberry Shortcake DVD 4 or 5 times in a row and hitting the sack at 11pm.

Spotting Logan while while hiking near the Chuckawalla Wall on New Year's Day.

Spotting Logan while hiking near the Chuckwalla Wall on New Year’s Day.

On our third climbing day we revisited Chuckwalla, then hightailed it to Black & Tan.  My last warmup route felt really soft; either that or I was just feeling really strong.  We got the kids situated (i.e., turned on the Ipad), rigged the rope, and I started up.  Often I have a tendency to sprint on short power endurance climbs like this.  Each of the crux sections involve careful foot placements and subtle pressing to stay on the wall.  Perhaps since I didn’t know the moves super well, I took my time and made sure I did every move correctly, following Alex Lowe’s adage to ‘never move up on a bad [ice tool] placement’.  I expected to pump out at any moment, but I just kept motoring, going from one move to the next until I was on the headwall.  After a nice long shake I hiked up the headwall to the chains.

Logan and me at Black & Tan.

Logan and me at Black & Tan.

The total effort took 5 burns over three days.  I think the route is comparable in difficulty to Mission Overdrive in Clear Creek (which took me 6 goes over 3 days), which is to say its a hard 14a or easy 14b, without the stem/dropknee.  I’m inclined to go with b 🙂  I’ve been crushing the campus board lately and I believe my power has reached a new level.  Occasionally periodization doesn’t work out quite like you hope, but this time I think the timing of my fitness was perfect for the characteristics of Breakin’ the Law.

To celebrate, we headed to Kelly’s Rock (named for my old friend Kelly Oldrid) and climbed “K-8″, ‘one of the best 5.11s in Utah’, according to the guidebook.  The climb includes two exciting roof pulls and some of the most amazing jugs I’ve ever seen.  Certainly a worthy line and easily the best limestone 5.11 I climbed that week. 

Tune in next week for Sunny St. George Part II!

Celebratory Double Meat with Everything (hold the cheese), add whole grilled onion and chili peppers, from In N' Out Burger. Definitely not on the diet plan but well worth it.

Celebratory Double Meat with Everything (hold the cheese), add whole grilled onion and chili peppers, from In N’ Out Burger. Definitely not on the diet plan but well worth it.

Logan stoked at In N' Out.  His new favorite food is Chocolate Milk Shakes.

Logan stoked at In N’ Out. His new favorite food is Chocolate Milk Shakes.

Tips for Effective Campusing Part 2: Going Big!

As implied here, I’m inspired by the climbing career of the legendary Jerry Moffatt.  During his prime, Moffatt was the best climber in the world, and he dominated on redpoints, onsights, boulders and competitions.  What inspires me most though, was his commitment to hard work and his dedication to training.  He was a phenom in his early years, but that didn’t stop him from putting in long hours in training rooms, on the Bachar Ladder, and the campus board.  He was near the top when 5.12+ was the world standard, and he managed to stay on the crest of the wave as the grades exploded all the way to 5.14c over the course of two decades.

Moffatt notes in Revelations that his best effort on the Campus board was 1-5-8.  Since I first read that, 1-5-8 has been in the back of my mind.  That is something I might be able to do someday. Furthermore, although I haven’t been able to find anything definitive, I’m pretty sure Moffatt is at least a few inches taller than me.  He looks to be within an inch or so of Ben Moon who is 5’11″ (I’m 5’7″). Considering the obvious height dependence (or perhaps more precisely, arm-length dependence) of Max Ladders, I feel like it would be quite an accomplishment for me, to match Moffatt’s best.

[Historical aside: Moffatt also says in Revelations he did 1-5-8 statically, which begs the question, if he could 1-5-8 statically, why didn’t he do anything harder than 1-5-8?  Surely he could have.  Examining pictures of the original Campus Board and the Schoolroom Board in Sheffield, it looks like they didn’t have half-steps, so 1-5-8.5 was off the table.  Still, if Moffatt could do 1-5 statically, surely he could do 5-9 as well.  Perhaps the original Campus Board didn’t reach that high. The below pics shows at least 9 rungs, and this video appears to show Gullich campusing up at least 9 rungs on the original board (watch from 0:40 to the end). 

Original Campus Board on the left, Schoolroom board on the right.

Original Campus Board on the left, Schoolroom board on the right.

However, it’s quite possible that either or both of these boards evolved over time. Just because they have 9 rungs in these pics, doesn’t mean they had 9 rungs when Moffatt was using them in his prime.  The 9th rung of the Schoolroom board clearly looks “tacked on”; it’s not evenly spaced, and the material doesn’t match the other rungs.  The classic film The Real Thing shows footage of Moffatt and Ben Moon campusing together (beginning at about 5:00 in this clip ).  Moon does 1-5-”9″ (the 9th rung is not at the proper height for a true 1-5-9; it looks to be at about 8.5).  Moffatt does many sick campus moves in this footage, but he doesn’t match Moon’s 1-5-”9″.]

Last year I did 1-8-15 on my Metolius-spaced board, which is pretty close to 1-4.25-7.5 in Moon Spacing.  So I was somewhat close, but as soon as I switched to Moon Spacing I discovered that 1-5 is extremely difficult for me.  I could do the move, but as soon as I latched rung 5, I felt a deep ache in my low shoulder.  The pain didn’t feel threatening, just quite unpleasant, like the burn you feel in your muscles when you have a deep pump.  It was impossible to sustain this position for more than an instant, let alone try to explode upwards from this position. This is where height dependence comes in to play on big campus moves.  The distance between rung 1 and rung five is about 34.6 inches.  The distance from my finger pads (when placed on an edge in a “half crimp” position) and the middle of my armpit is 27″. So even when locking my low hand all the way down to my armpit, I still have to eek another 7.5 inches of reach out of my body to span between 1 and 5, and I’ve discovered that to do so requires significant shoulder strength.

Any excuse to post a pic with my shirt off :)  Here's me spanning from Rung 1 to Rung 5.  Note the difference in height between my two shoulders (about 3 half-increments, or 33cm/13 inches). I've found this requires a lot of strength in the low shoulder.

Any excuse to post a pic with my shirt off 🙂 Here’s me spanning from Rung 1 to Rung 5. Note the difference in height between my two shoulders (about 3 half-increments, or 33cm/13 inches). I’ve found this requires a lot of strength in the low shoulder.

I’ve tackled this weakness in two ways, and I would say each has contributed equally to my improvement.  First, several years ago I added some shoulder strength exercises to my Strength Phase.  For the 4-5 weeks preceding my Power Phase I will perform 3 sets of “Lateral-to-Front Raise” and “Shoulder Press” exercises after each hangboard workout (in addition to other exercises).  This has helped prepare my shoulders for campus exercises, and for doing big/reachy moves in general.  Furthermore, Explosive Pull-ups, Biceps Curls, and Hanging Leg Raises all strengthen muscle groups that are essential to limiting campus moves.  The pull and upper arm muscles are obviously pivotal to generating upward movement, but are also key for slowing decent, making it easier to deadpoint each move.  Not surprisingly, your abdominal muscles play a significant role, and you may notice your abs feel sore for a day or two following the first campus session of each season.  It’s tremendously helpful to prepare these muscle groups prior to beginning your Power Phase, so you have good strength to build off of when you hit the campus board. 

Second, I started trying 1-5 regularly.  About a year ago I started to introduce this move (or 1-10 on my old Metolius-spaced board) in my campus sessions (aka, “Max 1st Move”).  At first I just tried to stick the move, then drop off.  Eventually I start trying to match the high rung as my strength improved, or go to rung 5.5 or 6. 

As I was improving with 1-5, it became apparent that 1-5 is very hard to move out of, because you’re so extended the low hand can’t contribute much to the second move.   Improving your shoulder strength as described above will help a lot, but there are several other complimentary ways to improve at the second move:

1) Get ridiculously strong, such that you can do a 1-arm pull-up from a small campus rung 🙂  However, as discussed last week that kinda defeats the purpose, and there are much easier ways to do it.

2) Use momentum.  On the biggest moves, momentum becomes critical.  It’s much easier to pull up if you keep your hips moving and never stop pulling upwards.  Follow the methods described in Basic Tips, realizing their importance becomes magnified on bigger moves. 

Additionally, in the Basic Tips post I discussed aim and accuracy.  I find it’s much more difficult to accurately place my fingers at the correct depth than it is to deadpoint to the proper vertical height.  Failing to place your finger pads deep-enough on the rung can (and often does) ruin a set.  If you don’t get deep enough, you will either fail to latch the rung, or need to bounce your hand into position before proceeding, thus killing any momentum.  For this reason, I find it helps on difficult moves to aim “through the board”.  Assume you are trying to latch a rung that is a quarter-pad deeper than your rung really is.  This will often result in smacking your tips into the plywood, so don’t over-do it–try to aim for a 1/4″ or so deeper than you need.  Your tips may get slightly bruised and sensitive, so go easy at first.  With practice, you should be able to hit the correct depth on most moves without this technique, but on the most challenging sets, this can really help ensure you can keep your momentum flowing upward to the top.

3) Push with your low hand.  This is critical, and probably the biggest difference between medium and large moves.  For shorter folks in particular, once you are in the 1-5 position, your low hand will not be able to maintain a normal position for pulling for long (with your palm facing the board).  Once you’ve pulled up off Rung 5 a few inches, your low forearm will be more horizontal than vertical, and your palm will be more or less facing the ground.  Get in the habit of pushing down from this position (another reason I like the Shoulder Press is that it trains the Triceps for this motion).  Push for as long as you can maintain contact with Rung 1, before stabbing upward for the high rung (Ben Moon exemplifies this at 6:55 here.  His low hand pushes until his low elbow is nearly locked and his low arm is pointing straight down).  

This shows the action of my low hand while attempting 1-5-8 (Moon Spacing).  The left frame shows the moment of latching Rung 5.  The center frame is a point midway through the second move.  The right frame shows the right hand's last moment of contact with Rung 1. Note that my right arm is almost straight, and my hand is level with my thigh in the right frame.

This shows the action of my low hand while attempting 1-5-8 (Moon Spacing). The left frame shows the moment of latching Rung 5. The center frame is a point midway through the second move. The right frame shows the right hand’s last moment of contact with Rung 1. Note that my right arm is almost straight, and my hand is level with my thigh in the right frame.

This will help with smaller moves as well, not just 1-5-9, but it takes practice.  Dedicate a few sets each session to practicing this movement.  Do the first move of your Max Ladder, but rather than focusing on latching the second move, focus on pushing with your low hand.  Don’t even try to latch the high rung, just try to improve your ability to generate upward movement by pushing with your low hand.  Once you start to get the hang of it, then try to focus on latching the high rung.  Note that this will be easier to do on steeper boards and vice versa.  If your campus board is less than 10-degrees overhanging or so it will be difficult to push properly.

This is another aspect of campusing that translates directly to rock climbing (and something that even beginners can benefit from improving immediately).  If you watch me climb, you will notice that I’m almost always pushing down with my low hand until the last possible moment, particularly on big moves.  Many climbers ignore their low hand once the shoulder passes it.  This is a mistake, and it puts unnecessary strain on the opposing arm’s fingers and pull muscles.

Using the low hand to push on real rock.

Using the low hand to push on real rock.

There are other factors that can affect your campus training besides strength and movement:

Body Weight – As in all aspects of climbing, body weight is a significant factor.  If you’re strictly training, and not trying to perform on the campus board, there is no need to be at your fighting weight.  However, in the interest of minimizing injury risk, it’s a good idea to be within 10 lbs or so of your fighting weight.  As discussed, campusing with added weight can increase the risk of injury, and it doesn’t really matter that much to your elbows if the added weight is iron or fat 🙂

If you are trying to perform on the campus board (for whatever reason, such as to set a personal best), dropping to at, or near, your fighting weight will definitely help.  As with any weight loss, don’t overdo it, lose weight intelligently, and incorporate it into your Seasonal Training Plan to ensure you can sustain it through your performance phase.  For me, I struggle to stay at my fighting weight for more than about 4 weeks, so if I get to that weight in time for my Power Phase, I’m likely to struggle mid-way through my Performance Phase.  Most climbers are concerned with their performance on the campus board, and so would be better off timing their diet to peak later in the season.

Arousal – As with any power-oriented exercise, your mental state of arousal can play a big part.  In other types of climbing, excessive arousal can be a hindrance (like a technical route where precise footwork is required).  There is certainly a technical aspect to campusing, as discussed at length.  It’s important to work on the technique, but it’s also important to just go for it at times and see what you can do.  If you are stilling learning the technique, spend the first half of the workout going slow, working on individual aspects of your Max Ladder, and using your conscious mind to control your actions.  Then get aggro for the rest of the workout.  This is the time to get fired up and go for it.  Don’t worry about doing the movements perfectly; focus on giving each attempt your most intense effort.

Different people have their own triggers, so experiment with different methods and see what works best for you.  I like to listen to  upbeat music, usually Hip Hop or something with a strong beat.  Occasionally I’ll grit my teeth and make a “GRRR!” sound just before I start a set.  I’m not much of a screamer, but I will occasionally let out a brief ‘yelp’ as I begin the second move of a Max Ladder.  Some folks have tried external stimulants like caffeine (and who knows what else in the ’80s), but I generally avoid that kind of thing.
 
Record Keeping – One could argue you aren’t training if you aren’t keeping track.  I went many years without documenting my campus work, and it was a huge mistake.  I had no idea what my plan was, or any way of telling if I was getting better.  As soon as I started documenting my workouts I started making significant progress.   Use a log sheet like the one shown here to document each set of your workouts.  Make not of your personal bests, and strive to match, and then surpass them, each season.  Also, use the log to desribe your campus board’s specifications in case you ever change venues.

At my ever-advancing age, I’m constantly tempted to think I’ve peaked as an athlete, and my best years are behind me.  Three years ago, at the spry age of 33, my personal best was 1-7-13 (in Metolius Spacing,  which equates to roughly 1-3.75-6.5 in Moon Spacing).  I couldn’t do 1-5 at all, let alone pull off of it.  Three weeks ago, I put all these tips into action, and sent 1-5-8, Moon spacing (admittedly, with some slight dabs against the wall):

Perhaps 1-5-9 isn’t out of the question for me after all?

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