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Category Archives: Devil’s Head

Tenaya Mundaka: First Look, First Ascent

My latest climbing project—a 5.14 wall of thin edges that gently steepens into a cresting wave of granite at Devil’s Head, CO—presented me with a significant dilemma.  The climbing is 80% Smith Rock, precise edging on micro-chips with your hips plastered to the face and most of your weight on your feet, followed by 20% Rifle, gymnastic moves on steep rock with feet toeing in and hooking on glassy features.

I began the campaign in my trusty Tenaya Intis.  These are the ideal edging implement, with a stiff and precise forefoot that excels on credit card chips.  I was crushing the lower sections, routinely climbing up to the lip of the steep wall, but struggling to make progress on the wildly dynamic exit.  I decided to switch to Tenaya Oasi’s, my go-to shoe for gym-style climbing, where sensitivity and flexibility facilitate monkey-style pulling with your feet.

My progress in the steeps improved instantly, but it came at a price.  Though I could still climb through the technical start in Oasi’s, I had to pull a bit hard with my hands, compounding the wear on my already heavily-worn finger skin. I needed a shoe that could excel on both types of terrain—technical thin walls and gymnastic overhangs.

At that pivotal moment I had the opportunity to test-drive Tenaya’s ground-breaking Mundaka.  It was just the shoe I was looking for.  The Mundaka is perhaps best described as a sock with rubber on it, although that’s not doing it justice.  The toe box is tight and stiff—ideal for thin edging.  Yet the rubber sole ends at the forefoot, creating a nearly-bare arch that is completely flexible (you can easily bend the shoe in half at the arch).  This enables tremendous toeing power on steep incuts, allowing the climber to wrap the fore foot around features and pull with your feet.  It’s almost like getting an extra pair of arms delivered in a 12” cardboard box!  Throw in a perfectly sculpted heel cup and it’s got everything a serious climber could ask for.

When I slipped the Mundakas on for the first time at the base of my project, I joked about how tightly the shoes formed to my feet, promising my toes would only tolerate a brief burn.  Yet amazingly I climbed happily for well over an hour.  The Mundakas are so well-shaped, pain was never an issue, and if anything, the shoes became more comfortable and sensitive the longer I climbed.  Also worth noting is the vastly improved Velcro tabs at the end of the adjustable closure system (similar to that of the roundly lauded Tenaya Iati closure system).  The new tabs offer so much sticking power I had trouble removing them as I lowered off the route.  There is zero chance of these coming un-stuck mid climb!

My new footwear gave me the confidence and peace of mind to focus on my climbing.  In a few more tries I finally stuck the burly dyno to the lip, mantled onto the lime green lichen-covered slab and waltzed up to the summit, finally completing the first ascent of Walk Tall Or Not At All, the hardest route at Devil’s Head at 5.14c.

It’s hard compare Mundakas to anything else I’ve climbed in.  Most shoes excel in one aspect and fall flat in another.  Not the Mundaka.  These shoes easily matched the performance of my best edging shoes and far exceeded the toeing/hooking power of my best gym shoe.  They will definitely be my new go to shoe!

The Eclipse Corridor – Mini Guide

By Mark Anderson

Totality, 5.13a, on the steep west face of Southern Sun Spire.

My final objective for the 2017 summer Devil’s Head season was to investigate the intriguing west face of Southern Sun Spire. This is the next major fin of granite west of the Switchblade, and like that cliff, it’s slightly overhanging, shady till early afternoon, and covered in beautiful red patina. The next fin to the west of Southern Sun is less that 2-meters away at the north end of the wall, gradually widening to about a 10-meter gap at the south end, creating a narrow, shady corridor. This, along with the crag’s position high on the ridge keeps it breezy and cool.

 

The west face of Southern Sun Spire from the south.

Blister in the Sun, 5.13b

Unlike the Switchblade, the Eclipse Corridor is best approached from the north side of Sawblade Ridge. There are currently 12 lines on the east side of the corridor (which is the west face of Southern Sun Spire, and the left side of the corridor when entering from the north), and 3 lines on the west or right side of the corridor.

 

Syzgy, 5.13

Boer onsighting Chromosphere, 5.11

Boer pulling on the second ascent of Diamond Ring, 5.12b

The 12 routes on the east side are all slightly overhanging. The rock on the far north end is impeccable, but less featured. As you move to the south end of this wall, the rock becomes slightly steeper and often much more featured, resulting in some patches of really fun jug hauling on sculpted huecos.

 

The opposite wall is basically a huge knob-covered slab with the 5.8-ish Cookie Bite climbing the southeast prow of the wall, an interesting 5.10 (Spicules) in the center, and a vertical-to-slightly overhanging 5.11- (Occultation) climbing stacked blocks on the far north end.

Occultation, 5.11-

Spicules, 5.10.  Photo: …Let’s be real, nobody would want credit for this photo.

Eclipse corridor etymology (with definitions excerpted from “Eclipse Chaser Terminology”):

  • Chromosphere – a shell of the solar disk located just above the photosphere or brightest part of the sun. The chromosphere is the transition from the photosphere to the corona.
  • Cookie bite – a description of the initial appearance of the partial eclipse. It really does look like something took a bite out of it.
  • Corona – a shell of the solar disk that extends deep in to the solar system. The corona (or crown) is the white glowing material seen around the eclipsed sun. The corona is only directly visible during totality.
  • Diamond Ring – at 2nd and 3rd contacts when just a point or small sliver of the photosphere is visible it appears as a bright gem with the corona as the ring around the dark moon.
  • Edge effects – the shadows on the ground just before and after totality, when the sun is over 50% obscured.
  • Limb corrections – eclipse circumstance calculations are based on simplified geometry which produces results that are fairly accurate. However, the lunar limb profile is not a simple geometry. It is comprised of valleys and peaks. Valleys will shorten the time of totality while peaks will increase it. If you want to get the most accurate possible timing for the contacts, then the lunar limb corrections need to be applied.
  • Occultation – when one object passes in front of another.
  • Prominence – an eruption from the photosphere into the corona along the edge of the sun. Appears the same color as the chromosphere, bright red.
  • Shadow bands – fast moving crescents caused by atmospheric scintillation that appear in the moments before and after totality.
  • Spicules – the smaller spikes of the chromosphere.
  • Sun spot – a form of solar event that appears darker against the photosphere. Sun spots are commonly associated with prominences when near the edge of the sun.
  • Syzygy – an alignment of three or more celestial bodies.
  • Totality – the brief period in time when the sun is completely eclipsed.
  • Umbraphile – In terms of eclipse chasing, it means one who is addicted to the glory and majesty of total solar eclipses.

Shadow Bands, 5.12-

Totality, 5.13a

Walk Tall Or Not At All

By Mark Anderson

Technical edging low on the “Brown Scoop Wall.” Photo Mike Anderson.

Once I finished up the Switchblade projects, the next objective on my list was a massive fin of granite called “Sidewalk in the Sky.” This formation is about 100 meters wide, and rises a good 70 meters from the ground. It peters at the summit to a narrow strip of dizzying granite, hence the crag’s name. The wall is slightly concave, such that the lower pitches are steep slabs, the middle bands of stone tend to be vertical, and the upper reaches are slightly overhanging. While there are a number of multi-pitch lines on the cliff, the wall is split at the waist by a massive ledge system that makes accessing the upper “pitches” much more convenient.

The impressive west face of Sidewalk in the Sky.

I first visited The Sidewalk with Tod Anderson in May to try a project he had started on the far left end of the wall. We finished equipping the line and sent it a few days later. Third Twin is basically a super-steep slab of tiny edges and divots to an 18”-deep roof. The slab is composed of impeccable cream granite, hands-down the best I’ve seen in Colorado. The business is oozing up this slab—great training for El Cap free-climbing. There’s a hard slap pulling the roof, followed by a few bolts of sustained patina edging before the difficulty eases.

Tod nearing the slab crux of Third Twin.

With Third Twin in the bag, I turned my attention to a stunning panel of stone in the center of the Sidewalk, which I informally & un-creatively dubbed the “Brown Scoop Wall.” This impressive swath of stone is covered in dark-molasses patina, and steepens ever-so-slightly with height, yielding a swelling wave of rock that curls over at the lip on the right-hand side.

The “Brown Scoop Wall”

I prepped a trio of lines on this feature and set to work unlocking the moves. All three lines are excellent and compelling in their own way. The left-most line, Groposphere, has the best rock and most consistently difficult climbing, offering three distinct crux sections split by no-hands stances. The difficulties begin with balance-y, technical climbing up an unusual swath of water-polished granite. The next and hardest section involves a burly, dynamic roof pull, followed by sustained, sequential edging up a subtle pillar. The final panel hosts a pumpy dash through gently overhanging patina.

Groposphere, groping through the crux.

The central line is the most consistently difficult of the three. It begins easily, but is more sustained in the upper third, with two hard extended boulder problems split by an active rest. The climbing through the penultimate panel is technical and insecure, with big reaches to sharp edges and tenuous footholds. The final band hosts a powerful, precise, and dynamic crux, followed by many sustained moves of pumpy climbing on bomber patina.  Both these lines are in the 13+/14- range.

The final crux of Groposphere.

Unquestionably the best of the three is the right-most line, an awesome directissima that climbs right up the steepest part of the wall to the lip of the cresting wave.   The climbing becomes steadily more difficult with each inch of progress, culminating in an improbable, soaring throw to the lip of the scoop.

Thin edging on the right-most of the trio.  Photo Mike Anderson.

I figured the latter would be the hardest, but I vastly underestimated just how hard it would be. The “approach” came together quickly, but the final move was not only improbable, but incredibly difficult and finicky. It’s a move that demands 100% belief at the outset, followed by impeccable execution of all four limbs, hips and core. If you move flawlessly, the conditions are good, and your skin is thick, you have a chance, but only if you give maximum effort and attention to latching the target hold.

Attempting the burly throw that caps off the wall. Photo Mike Anderson.

It took several weeks of frustrating failures to perfect my timing. By the end of the process, the move was essentially trivial from a hang, but my confidence was severely eroded by repetitive failure. Then on my 7th day of redpoint attempts it finally happened—negative progress. For the first time in several days I failed to reach the dyno on redpoint. Up to that point I had plowed through each monotonous rest day by agonizing over every speck of beta, every finger placement and hip shift, in hopes of optimizing my chances for the next climbing day, when I would get two or three opportunities to stick the move and slay this beast. But on the 7th day I got zero chances. That was devastating.

Photo Mike Anderson.

The next climbing day was not particularly cool, but there was a persistent breeze and the rock felt (I hate this word, but…) tacky. The approach was easy, but that wasn’t surprising. I arrived at the dyno feeling good, nearly completely fresh, something I had experienced several times. But this time I made a point to hesitate. I stared down the hold, took a couple breathes, and thought about what I needed to do with each hand and foot. I coiled and slapped.

Latching the throw. Photo Mike Anderson.

I latched the hold and wiggled my fingers into the sweet spot. I matched the jug just over the lip, shook out for a few seconds and chalked up before cranking out the mantel onto the slab. Walk Tall Or Not At All combines outstanding rock, position and movement. I reckon it’s at least hard-14b, or possibly light-14c.  Considering together the quality of the finished product and effort required, I can’t think of another first ascent I’m more proud of.

Rocking over the lip. Photo Mike Anderson.

Aggro Diablo: New Hard Lines at Devil’s Head

By Mark Anderson

In 2015 I crossed paths with prolific route-developer Tod Anderson (no relation). Tod has been a major player in Front Range route development for decades, but he is probably best known as the Devil’s Head crag patron—discovering countless crags, opening hundreds of routes, establishing positive relationships with land managers, replacing old hardware, and authoring multiple guidebooks.

For those unfamiliar, Devil’s Head is a complex maze of heavily-featured granite formations about an hour outside of Denver, CO. It’s known for jutting knobs, chicken heads and incut patina plates. The scenery is stunning, with impressive views of the South Platte and Pike’s Peak. Furthermore, the crag’s high-altitude makes it the best venue for summer sport climbing along the Front Range.

The labyrinthine spires and blades of Devil’s Head offer something for everyone. Photo Boer Zhao.

Thanks to the tireless work of guys like Tod, Derek Lawrence, Paul Heyliger, Richard Wright, and too many others to list here, Devil’s Head offers well-over a thousand excellent sport climbs and is certainly one of the best climbing destinations in Colorado. When we first met, Tod regaled me with tales of towering, slightly overhanging walls of crisp edges, just begging to be climbed. I soon discovered we shared a common passion for exploration, and we made vague plans to head up to the crag during the following summer. Unfortunately the Shadowboxing escapade prevented me from going in 2016, but this summer was wide open.

The first cliff Tod showed me is a jutting fin of granite called The Switchblade. The west face of this incredible formation is roughly 50 meters tall, overhanging about 5 degrees, and covered in small edges. This gob-smacking cliff already featured one world-class route, Blade Runner (5.13b), bolted by Tod and freed by his son Gordy back in 2013. It’s easily one of the best 5.13s on the Front Range, though perhaps among its least well-known.

The Switchblade, with Tod Anderson on the classic Blade Runner, 5.13b.  Photo Tod Anderson collection.

There was still more potential on this cliff, so after a month on the hangboard I returned in late June to begin work on several Switchblade projects. The main event is a 45-meter long line in the center of the west face (though due to some scrambling at the start, I reckon the business is “only” 30-meters). It starts with a short, slick slab crux to reach an awkward shake below a 4-foot-deep roof. The roof is burly, with a couple campus moves on half-pad crimps (perhaps V9 or so?), then the climbing eases for a couple bolts, including a great rest. Next comes the redpoint crux—a 20-foot section of thin crimping. After that you have another 40-feet or so of technical, sustained 5.12 edging on phenomenal patina, split by a couple taxing rests, to reach the top of the wall.

On day one I could tell this was going to be long and involved. In order to shake the rust off of my redpointing skills, I shifted focus to a potential linkup that would start through the roof of this route, but then veer right to finish on the upper third of Blade Runner. This line includes the aforementioned slab and roof cruxes, plus a reachy, thin crimping section moving past a cool hueco, and finally Blade Runner’s technical and shouldery upper crux. It is quite sustained and varied, but with some active rests along the way. It took me several days of work to link the committing roof sequence on redpoint, but once through this obstacle I found just enough rest along the upper wall to get through each crux and clip the anchor. I’d guess that Filleted Runner is about 14a, and certainly one of my better-quality FAs at that grade, with good rock, lots of climbing, continuous movement and outstanding position.

Latching the V9-ish roof crank. Filleted Runner, 5.14a, continues straight up through the hueco above my head (at the very top of the frame), then veers right to join Blade Runner.

With a good send under my belt, I returned my attention to the Switchblade’s central line. Within a few days I was repeatedly falling at the same move, an awkward slap to a thin, sharp crimp. The lower sequences were becoming automatic, and I was consistently arriving at this crux feeling completely fresh, yet I still failed to latch this frustrating hold. On day 6, out of desperation I experimented with a different sequence that was higher-percentage but more powerful (essentially a burly, almost-static reach in place of a precise dynamic slap). I did the move several times in a row and felt this new option must be superior.

Interestingly, I had tried this method my first couple days on the route, but was unable to pull it off for some reason. Perhaps at that point, so early in my climbing season, I lacked the recruitment and/or coordination to crank such a powerful move. Or, perhaps I was too timid (and my skin too tender from a month on plastic) to really bear down on the sharp holds in this section. Regardless, the lesson is pretty clear: it’s best not to be overly committed to your beta, especially if you’re stuck failing in one spot—continue to try different options throughout the process. For some reason I insist on learning the same lessons over and over again.

Nearing the crux.

As I headed up for the last attempt of the day I was feeling quite worked. Typically I try to keep the first-go-of-the-day fairly light to save power for a second attempt, but on this day I burned a lot of skin and strength sussing and rehearsing the new sequence. The effort was worth it—I felt assured I would send soon with this new beta, but I didn’t have high hopes for this burn.

Fortunately I knew the lower sections well-enough to sketch through in a state of fatigue. There are a couple of really good rests before the crux, so I took my time recovering completely and waiting for the wind to cool me down. I nailed the crux edge with my new beta, and gritted my teeth through the next few crimps to reach a decent rest. As I cycled through the shake, my feet level with the Blade Runner anchor, I gazed up at the 30 ensuing feet of hard 5.12 edging, and numerous opportunities to fall. Why did I place the anchors so high?! My Smith Rock roots strike again. With patience all around, savoring the stellar patina and knobs that pepper the upper cliff, I worked my way steadily to the top.

Above the crux of Stiletto, 5.14b, with another 30-feet of stellar crimping to go.

I’m really proud of Stiletto. The movement is stellar, though there is a 2-bolt section of rotten rock above the roof. Fortunately the climbing is relatively easy through this section, and the rock is solid in the hard bits. If the rock were bomber throughout, this would be hands-down my best FA. Even with the bit of poor rock, I think it’s one of my best, considering its length, stature, continuity and movement.

I wrapped up my Switchblade duel with a pair of hard 5.13 FA’s on either end of the wall. The far left line, Sliced & Diced, begins with a long stretch of tedious scrambling (due to its proximity to the adjacent fin of rock), but once you get on the west face of the Switchblade proper, the rock and climbing are incredible. The climbing involves some huge moves riding along the edges of massive, molasses patina plates. There are several cruxes, generally getting harder the higher you go, culminating in a technical thin crimping crux just below the anchor.

Sliced & Diced, 5.13c, ascends stellar stone on the far left edge of the Switchblade. Photo Boer Zhao.

On the far right end is David’s Bowie, beginning with some easier vertical climbing to another tough slab section to reach the same roof system as the others. Reaching this ceiling is likely the crux, but huge jugs just over the lip take the sting out of pulling the lip. There’s still a tough, campus slap to get established over the lip, but it’s not nearly as hard as the Stilleto roof. The route really shines in the final half, with fun, interesting 5.12 edging on great stone. While the rock on David’s Bowie is not as solid as the other lines on this wall, the route involves the least shenanigans to approach, with a good 30+ meters of continuous climbing.

The first ascent of David’s Bowie, 5.13c, turning the roof on big jugs.

Though not as broad, this wall reminds me of Smith Rock’s Aggro Wall—a great hang, slightly overhanging, with shade that lasts till about 1 or 2pm, some minor slab shenanigans at the base, a few patches of choss here and there, but generally stacked with great hard lines (and a few silly linkups). The routes go forever, but are set up to allow climbing in a single pitch with a 70-meter rope (though a double-lower is required for Sliced & Diced, Stiletto and Ultra Runner). It’s a great venue for hard summer sport climbing for those who are tired of the I-70 parking lot. To get complete beta on the Switchblade, including approach details, topos, and descriptions of the 60-some other routes from 5.7-5.12d within a 5-minute walk, check out Tod’s guidebook on Rakkup.

 

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