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Category Archives: Colorado

Slice of Time—New Eldo 5.14b

By Mark Anderson

Injuries suck. Last October I (partially) tore my forearm flexor muscle. At first the injury was relatively minor, but like a climber, I kept climbing and training hard on it for several weeks, and so it evolved into something more troublesome. I spent the next five months or so rehabbing the muscle, thinking I was close, aggravating it, and starting over again (over this process I eventually developed a solid rehab approach which I will describe next week).

By early April I was starting to feel healthy again. My latest batch of hangboarding ended strong, I was campusing without restrictions, and my bouldering was progressing rapidly. It was time to shake off the rust with some actual rock climbing, so I started considering options.

Eldorado Canyon

I hadn’t trained with a particular goal route in mind—the goal was to get 100% healthy. I decided I needed a route hard enough to inspire a proper effort, but not so hard as to be overwhelming or beyond my current, not-exactly-tip-top shape. Mike was coming to Boulder the following weekend, and we wanted to take advantage of the rare opportunity to work a project together, so we tried to find a worthy objective nearby.

I scoured my Black Book (actually a spreadsheet—nobody reads books anymore), and was reminded of an old abandoned line in Eldorado Canyon.  Eldo is a narrow canyon composed of colorful Fountain Formation sandstone, and stacked with thousands of multi-pitch trad climbs, including legendary classics like Bastille Crack, Yellow Spur and The Naked Edge.  It was the epicenter of Colorado climbing for many decades, until the sport climbing revolution took over and the best climbers moved on to other crags.

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Slice of Time climbs the center of the shaded, left-leaning panel.  Nobody wants credit for this photo.

The line we had in mind follows a sheer panel of slightly overhanging stone on the upper end of Redgarden Wall. This incredible panel first caught the attention of Christian Griffith and Chris Hill, who made the initial forays onto the wall, but the big prize remained unclimbed. I first noticed it in 2008 while climbing nearby classics Ruper and Green Slab. A few years later I finally got around to hiking up to the wall to properly scope out the line from the ground, but other priorities kept it on the backburner for several more years.

Now was my chance—for the first time in many years, I was relatively fit with no particular objective in mind. I had no idea how hard it would be, but I was willing to waste a day to find out. Mike was up for it too, and so we dusted off our trad gear and set out.

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About half-way up the towering wall. Photo Mike Anderson.

We were instantly impressed with the quality of the route. Its literally 40-meters long, almost to the centimeter. It overhangs about 5 meters in that length, and except for a single 1-meter-deep bulge, it is sheer and continuously around 5 degrees over vertical. It’s a beautiful panel of clean stone that begs to be climbed, and the rock is among the highest-quality I’ve encountered on the Front Range.

The movement is outstanding, albeit rather 1980s in style—precise technical edging with grippy holds and challenging footwork. It generally gets harder as you ascend, interspersed with numerous rests. The climbing opens with fun 5.11 jugs, then engaging 5.12 climbing that makes for a nice chill warmup, to a good shake below the bulge. The business is the final headwall.  This headwall begins with a couple bolts of easy 5.13 to clear the bulge and gain a crescent-shaped, right-facing arête/dihedral feature that offers intricate liebacking and arête-style movement, reminiscent of the mid-section of Smith Rock’s uber-classic Scarface.  The headwall culminates in a desperate forearm-bursting boulder problem 120-feet off the deck. Simply put, it’s a King Line.

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Low on the Headwall, just over the short bulge, traversing into the shallow dihedral. Photo Mike Anderson.

Between the two of us we were able to work out all the moves on the first day. It’s really helpful having an engaged partner to work these things out with—especially one who is pretty much the exact same size and shape, has the same climbing style, and similar strengths and weaknesses! We felt the route was possible, and we were both completely stoked. We set our heads to the primary challenge of shuffling our increasingly busy schedules to dodge the erratic spring weather and find enough opportunities to put it all together.

While we felt it was feasible, we were both a little concerned about the low-percentage nature of the crux moves, and the fact that the crux was so high off the deck. It was hard enough to do these moves off the dog, how would they feel after 120+ feet of climbing (and rope drag)? As we made the long trudge back to the car, we reminded each other of similar climbs, with low-percentage, distant cruxes, that we had each overcome in the past. It’s easy to forget that the process works, especially if you haven’t been through it recently. Over the next few days we eventually convinced ourselves, for the Nth time, that routes really do become easier with practice.

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Mike working up the shallow dihedral. Photo Mark Anderson.

Despite some interference from the weather, eventually it all came together. We were consistently waltzing up the lower wall, arriving at the headwall “without the hint of a pump” (as our hero Alan Watts would say). Once we added a couple servings of Try Hard, the route went down.  After putting our heads together we’ve settled on the name “Slice of Time” for the full panel.

Besides a pair of sends, the process of working the route produced several really important side-effects. The first was that it gave me something to strive for again, for the first time in about six months. I’m accustomed to having tangible goals, and without them I struggle to find motivation.  Working the route made me feel like I was a climber again.

Additionally, having a legitimate objective in the balance gave me the extra push I needed to complete my recovery. Often we struggle to overcome the mental impacts of injuries—we “hold back” for fear of re-injuring ourselves. By the end of the process I was training every facet of my fitness without restrictions, and pining for a send rather than obsessing over my forearm. I recall hiking back to the car one day and realizing that, at no time during the previous session did I think about my forearm. It was the first time in six months I’d gone more than a few minutes without thinking about it. Slice of Time was exactly the distraction I needed to get back to normal, both physically and mentally.

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Mike entering the crux of Slice of Time, ~120-feet off the deck. Photo Mark Anderson.

Finally, the best outcome of the process was climbing with Mike. Despite living in the same state, we rarely climb (hard) together because we both have our own agendas that send us in different directions. We spend the odd day together on less-serious objectives, but I think the last time we worked a proper project together was literally ten years ago. It was really fun, not only to spend time together, but to geek out over micro-beta, weather forecasts and redpoint tactics.

We’re both really stoked to climb such a stellar line, especially in such a historic venue.  We’d both like to thank the many folks who put effort and hardware into realizing this route over the years.  It’s an instant classic and should become a popular testpiece for the canyon, and the entire Front Range.  The best compliment I can think of to recommend the route is: its so good, it reminds me of Smith Rock.

Thunder Strike – Part 1

Upping the ante at Thunder Ridge - Mike Anderson established "The Spark, 5.13c" at Thunder Ridge in April.

Upping the ante at Thunder Ridge – Mike Anderson established “The Spark, 5.13c” at Thunder Ridge in April.

Thunder Ridge is a beautiful, but tiny climbing area just West of my home in Colorado Springs, Colorado. It is somewhat of a backwater crag these days, frequented by locals who know how good it is, but ignored by most. The rock is impeccable granite – possibly the best quality granite in the entire Rocky Mountains (if not North America?) with extremely fine, tight crystals that make for pleasant and bomber climbing, and its walls are covered with gorgeous brown patina that forms wonderful handholds. Unfortunately, this magnificent rock is concentrated in a very small location in the South Platte region of Colorado. By some geological quirk, Thunder Ridge has this impeccable stone, while most of the South Platte region ranges from fair to horrible granite.

Thunder Ridge - before the fire.

I am one of the lucky ones, living only an hour’s drive from the trailhead. Thunder Ridge was discovered in the late 80s, and most of the routes were developed by the mid-nineties under a shroud of secrecy. It wasn’t in any guidebook, and they wanted it that way. Those who knew about it were sworn to secrecy, amidst fears that the sport climbing masses from would descend upon it with their rap bolting tactics and destroy the “traditional” character of the climbing. (The South Platte region of Colorado had long been considered a “traditional” area, with no rap-bolting allowed. Many people felt, and still feel, that it should always be that way.)

The major developers climbed what they could in that time span, and eventually stopped putting in new routes. When all was said and done, hundreds of brilliant routes were established throughout its maze of canyons and walls. The most difficult climbs topped out in the 12+ and 13- range owing to the geology of the rock, such as the cliff angles and hold sizes.

I was extremely lucky to first visit Thunder Ridge in 1998, when I was a cadet at the Air Force Academy. A friend of the “officer in charge” of our climbing club, who was an F-15 fighter pilot living in town happened to be neighbors with Kevin McLaughlin – the driving force behind TR climbing. He knew where the crag was and offered to show it to us. I enjoyed the climbing a lot that day, but I was really too inexperienced to really appreciate what a gem it was as a crag. I never went back until just this past spring.

Climbing in Thunder Ridge's Wasp Canyon in 1998, when I was a USAF Academy Cadet.

Climbing in Thunder Ridge’s Wasp Canyon in 1998, when I was a USAF Academy Cadet.

Last summer Jason Haas published a new guidebook to the area, and he got me fired up to take down some long-standing projects in the South Platte, among them a few lines at Thunder Ridge. We ventured out in April to have a look, and were immediately blown away by the potential for high quality, hard routes. I dusted off my drill and a bunch of stainless steel bolts, and got to work at The Brown Wall – Thunder’s biggest and most dramatic wall. Normally, I would try to climb through the grades at a new area, getting to know the climbing style, and getting a feel for the grading, but I was so psyched on the potential first ascents, that I did very little of that.

The spectacular Brown Wall at Thunder Ridge.

The spectacular Brown Wall at Thunder Ridge.

The first order of business was a line that had reportedly been tried on toprope and Jason had recommended to me. It was a perfect, vertical swath of granite painted with dark brown patina. If this could be free climbed, it would be absolutely brilliant! I decided I would go along with the tradition of the area and establish these routes in the ground-up style. It was something I hadn’t done in awhile, and I thought it would be fun. So, I piled on the gear and I launched up the wall. First bolt…the threads got stripped while it was pounded into the hole because the rock is so hard (and good). I couldn’t tighten the bolt, and I was going up on lead, so I couldn’t do much about it. I clipped the manky bolt and continued. As I went, I could tell the climbing was going to be awesome, and HARD – my dream come true!

My first project would explore the brown indentation just right of the green rope.

My first project would explore the brown indentation just right of the green rope.

I got three more bolts in, covering most of the crux when my old Hilti battery died…shucks! I still had about 40 feet to go before I could get good gear, and I wanted to do this route now, not wait for another trip! It looked like I could get a marginal piece of gear another ten feet up, so I decided to punch it on some easier climbing. I sketched through this and made it to a point where the face rolled over to a heavily featured slab, covered with crazy “chicken-head” holds. I was able to place plenty of gear, and I cruised to the chains. I lowered down, brushed some holds and rehearsed the crux. At the crux, you have a couple nice handholds formed by a 2″ wide ledge, then a long patch of featureless rock. Higher, there is a rounded seam feature, so I thought I might be able to lock off from the ledge and reach very high to a Gaston in the seam. If I latched it, I would be very stretched out and tenuous, so I needed to work out the foot moves to unwind from this. I discovered a possible sequence and lowered down to go for the free ascent.

On redpoint, the moves turned out to be more challenging than I had first envisioned, and the long reach, that had seemed fairly straightforward on the hang, turned out to be quite hard. My first try, I fell, then rehearsed the sequence again. It was getting late, but I decided to give the route a second redpoint attempt. I fell again! I rehearsed the move yet again, and lowered down again. The third try was the charm, and I was able to get through the crux sequence. I had only managed to get four bolts in, so I had to climb the upper part again with no protection, but I knew the moves fairly well by now. The extra fatigue added some spice, but I made it through, for the first ascent of The Spark. At 5.13c, it was now the hardest route at Thunder Ridge. The name is an allusion to what I hope will be the start of a long love affair with Thunder Ridge climbing.

Psyching up for the crux at the mini-ledge.

Psyching up for the crux at the mini-ledge.

Bearing down on the tiny crimps in the crux of The Spark.

Bearing down on the tiny crimps in the crux of The Spark.

Continuing the taxing, technical climbing exiting the crux sequence.

Continuing the taxing, technical climbing exiting the crux sequence.

5.11-ish face climbing after the crux. This bolt and the next one were not present during the FA, but I was able to get a weird cam placement in the horizontal crack feature above the next bolt.

5.11-ish face climbing after the crux. This bolt and the next one were not present during the FA, but I was able to get a weird cam placement in the horizontal crack feature above the next bolt.

Some funky slab moves.

Some funky slab moves.

Finished with the hard climbing, and ready to enjoy the cruiser chicken heads that lead to the chains.

Finished with the hard climbing, and ready to enjoy the cruiser chicken heads that lead to the chains.

While working on The Spark, I realized there could be two routes here. The section of stone to the left appeared much easier…maybe a nice 12- route, but further inspection revealed the potential for something much harder. This would be the next order of business. I borrowed a friends brand new Bosch, so this route went in much easier…no hijinx were required to get the bolts in. I enjoyed the lead bolting because it made the puzzle a bit more complicated, even if it sometimes leaves the bolts in weird spots.

The route, which I’m calling “Game of Drones” (for reasons that will soon be revealed) turned out really nice. It’s not as cruxy as The Spark, making for a nice sustained face climbing with hard, but not stopper moves that build a nice pump:

Psyching up to try for the first free ascent of Game of Drones.

Psyching up to try for the first free ascent of Game of Drones.

Check out the sculpted incut holds!

Check out the sculpted incut holds!

Getting into the cruxier moves, with long reaches between less-positive holds.

Getting into the cruxier moves, with long reaches between less-positive holds.

A crazy-long undercling move to a good edge.

A crazy-long undercling move to a good edge.

Nearing the big flake that leads to the neighboring "Schmausser Traverse" route...the FA is in the bag now!

Nearing the big flake that leads to the neighboring “Schmausser Traverse” route…the FA is in the bag now!

After these two successes, I was psyched, and a little obsessed with the power of Thunder Ridge. Jason had turned me on to another potential route, also on the Brown Wall. It was listed in the guide as “Kevin’s Mega Project”, and reported to be quite hard. This would be next on the agenda. Was I up to the task? Stay tuned to find out….

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