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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!

Auf Wiedersehen!

I’m off to Deutshland morgen!  I’m bursting with excitement (and a fair bit of justified anxiety about our 12-hr airplane extravaganza).  I’ve had my best-ever summer strength phase, a really good two weeks of power training and I feel like I’m in outstanding shape.  I’d still like to lose a few pounds, which may be tough in a country that’s known for its breads, pastries, sausages and of course, beer.

A proper castle in Spain.

A proper castle in Spain.

We have a whirlwind itinerary planned with lots of sighseeing and even more climbing.  One of my favorite things to do is wander around the old villages and just take in the experience of being in a strange land.  I think Logan will get a big kick out of all the castles and romantically shaped houses.  Plus, like his dad, he loves a good pastry!

I have a huge list of routes I’d like to try and crags I’d like to visit, and I surely won’t make it to all of them, but I’ll be happy just to sample some of the most legendary routes in the world.  The climbing looks beautiful and powerful.  I expect it to be just plain hard, but I’m confident I will enjoy it.

I really like to have a project in mind when I’m training.  It helps you decide which tradeoffs to make in your schedule, when to shoot for your peak, which grips to focus on, etc.  However, when you’ve never laid eyes on the goal, let alone the crag where the goal is located, you have to make quite a few educated guesses.  When you’ve approached a goal route in this manner, there’s nothing quite like tying into your rope at the base for the first time.  So much effort and obsession has been directed at this patch of stone that you’re finally going to touch.  So many questions that have kept you awake for weeks or months are about to be answered.  Did I train the right grips?  Do I have enough power?  Do I need more endurance?  Is this thing even within the realm of possibility for me?

Climbing in Germany adds an extra dimension of mystery because they use the UIAA grade scale.  This scale is less discrete than the YDS or French system, making conversions tricky at best.  It’s one thing to train for a route where you at least know the grade, so you have some ballpark idea of the range of attempts or days it might take to send.  With the grade itself ambiguous, there’s an added shadow of doubt that the route might be completely out of the realm of possibility, given the time constraints of an overseas trip and a fixed itinerary.

As I finish up the Herculean task of stuffing 4 people’s worth of clothing and supplies for three weeks into two checked bags, these are the thoughts that occupy my mind!  I can’t wait, and yet I’m nervous.  I’m confident, yet prepared to be flexible if things don’t go the way I want.  Regardless I know it’s going to be an awesome experience.  Wish us Viel Glück!

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).

Unfinished Business – Part 1: Beretta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The burly and perplexing start.

The burly and perplexing start. Photo Mike Anderson.

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

Smith Rock: Arete Paradise.

Smith Rock: Arete Paradise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just above the crux.

Just above the crux.

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

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

Nearing the top of the arête.

Nearing the top of the arête.

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

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

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

Finishing up the outstanding arête.  Photo Mike Anderson.

Finishing up the outstanding arête. Photo Mike Anderson.

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

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

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

Bonus Climbing

Since the books arrived last Thursday it’s been a non-stop whirlwind of hauling, signing, packaging and shipping books. It’s been frantic, but I kinda like that, and it’s really gratifying to see shipments going out every day and watch the stack of books steadily shrink. If you haven’t gotten your copy yet you can order one here. We’re really excited to hear what people think of the book, so if you’ve received your copy and you’d like to provide some feedback, please do so here. In the calm before the book storm arrived, I managed to do a bit more climbing to cap off what has already been an extremely rewarding climbing season.

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

Reach for vertical rail

The beautiful wall left of MIssion Impossible.

There’s a great rest about 50-feet up Mission Impossible, and each burn I would spend 5-10 minutes at this perch trying to de-pump and regain feeling in my fingertips. Just left of this rest is an enormous, 10-foot horizontal roof. Above the roof, a 20-foot-wide swath of stone runs up between the parallel cracks of .30-06 (“Thirty-aught-Six”) and Roadrunner. Darren Mabe first freed this intimidating roof by starting up the left crack, tackling the roof directly, and then traversing above the lip of the roof to finish up the right crack. While shaking out, my eyes often wandered to the beautiful burnt-orange wall between the cracks. This gently overhanging panel of virgin stone looked magnificent, but it was difficult to tell from that viewpoint if it had enough holds to go free. I hoped that it would, and I wanted to be the person to free it. After Mission Impossible was in the bag, investigating this wall was my next priority.

Roof Lip

Campusing out Darren Mabe’s “Wiled Horses” roof.

I rigged a toprope for a recon mission. The wall was beautiful, and it looked like it would go. On my first run up the wall there were three sections I failed to unlock. The first two had ample holds (albeit small holds), and I was confident I could work out a solution once the bolts were in. The third section was more troubling.

The wall steadily steepens as you ascend, and the climbing becomes desperate just below the top of the wall. At this point the wall itself is essentially blank, except for a left-angling water groove. As the holds trend left, you are eventually forced within a few feet of .30-06. There were useable features in the water groove, but I couldn’t figure out any way to link them without bailing left into the bomber hand jams of the crack. Doing so would eliminate the upper half of the redpoint crux, but it would also mean abandoning my goal of climbing the wall between the cracks. I was a bit bummed after this initial recon.

Bread Loaf move.

At the ‘Bread Loaf’, entering the vertical water groove.

I came down for a rest, and then decided to give it another look. This time I was able to find a solution that avoided bailing into the crack—by stabbing my right toe into the scoop over my head I was able to slap into an improbable lieback along the left lip of the groove. This beta brought my hips even closer to the crack, but at least it provided a way to climb the wall without using the crack. I realize not everyone will accept this–I suspect many climbers will use the crack, or dismiss the route entirely for this reason—but I’m ok with that. I was inspired to climb the wall and I wouldn’t have been satisfied with an ascent that used the crack.

I still had two sections to work out, but I was certain these sections would go, so I lowered to the ground and raced around to the top of the cliff to install the first batch of lead bolts. A few days later I got the rest of the bolts installed, and then I was back the following day with my friends Jon and Adam to work out the rest of the moves. With the advantage of being on lead and a marathon 90-minute belay (thanks Jon!), I was eventually able to work out the rest of the beta.  On the next go I surprised everybody, especially me, by climbing mid-way through the redpoint crux to fall at the second-to-last bolt! I was making great progress between goes. 

Crimp Crux

The hardest moves on the route come just above the roof, negotiating a slightly overhanging wall of thin edges.

After some well-earned rest days I was back with Kate to hopefully put it all together. It’s almost always windy on spring days in Clear Creek, but this day was especially so. On my first burn I felt great but had a hard time staying warm. By the time I reached the redpoint crux my toes were completely numb, and I bobbled the foot stab entering the groove. The next go I made a point to shake out my feet–as well as my hands–at the rest above the roof. The redpoint crux culminates in a precision lunge into a gaston slot. Once the slot is latched, each subsequent move is easier than the last. I expected to fall going for this gaston at least once on redpoint, but when I reached the move I managed to hit the hold just well-enough to stay on. I bounced it in, threw my heel onto the Bread Loaf, and raced through to the top.

I named the line American Mustang (also the name of a documentary film) in keeping with the theme of Darren Mabe’s Wiled Horses. I think those that choose to skip the crack will find difficulties very similar to that of Mission Overdrive.  Either way the wall provides some of the best rock in Clear Creek, fantastic movement, and an unrivaled position several hundred feet above the river.

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.

Roped Bouldering in Cowboy Country

Logan enjoying the Fall foliage along the Loop Road

Logan enjoying the Fall foliage along the Loop Road

We recently spent a few days in Wyoming to take advantage of the last week of Kate’s maternity leave. Sinks and Wild Iris are among our favorite crags.  I can’t ever recall having a bad day at Wild Iris.  Even when I get bouted by a project there (which happens often enough), the warmup climbs are so fun and the setting so magnificent its hard to leave the crag without a smile.

The weather on our trip turned out to be a bit schizophrenic, varying from highs in the 80′s to snow and a high of 40 only a few days later.  This kept us bouncing from crag to crag in search of bearable conditions, but we were able to spend a gorgeous day at Wild Iris and a few at Sinks Canyon. This was our first serious climbing trip with two kids, so we weren’t sure how things would go.

Sending The Urchin, 5.13a

Sending The Urchin, 5.13a

We started at the Killer Cave, and I managed to climb a number of great routes, including a pair of classic 5.13s.  I attempted an onsight of The Urchin, a short, gymnastic roof climb right at the top of the approach trail.  I fumbled the roof sequence, which was probably a blessing because I doubt I could have kept it together on the tricky finishing slab.  I also sent Virga, a super fun, super reachy .13c or d (d in my experience, at 5’7″).  Quite a fine effort back in the day by the frequently underestimated Paul Piana.  Virga climbs some of the best limestone I’ve seen in America, but it only lasts for about 20 feet, and the winch start is literally as long as the route itself.  Still, the climbing is super fun and definitely worth doing if you like dynamic pulls between sinker two-finger pockets. Pretty much every move on the route is burly, but the moves are so big that its over in a flash. 

One of the big moves on Virga, locking-off a sidepull almost to my knee!
One of the big moves on Virga, locking-off a sidepull nearly to my knee!

After a couple of days dragging 60 pounds of Logan-plus-climbing-gear up the steep slog to the Killer Cave, I wanted convenience.  I’ve climbed quite a bit at Wild Iris, but I had never been to the OK Corral, which is located almost on top of the car-camping area.  The cliff is about 100-feet from the road, making it the perfect choice for weary parents. 

I had heard that the rock at the OK Corral wasn’t as good as that at the rest of the Iris.  I couldn’t tell; it was way better than any other limestone I’ve climbed in the last year! I set out with two goals for the day, first to tick ten routes, a major challenge with kids in tow, and second, to try to send the elusive “White Buffalo”, an enourmous boulder with a 3-bolt mini-route on its Southeast face.  The route is given 5.13d/V11, which is a good indication of the way things are graded at Wild Iris.  At any given grade you should expect to have to crank much harder moves than you usually would.  This is presumably because the routes are often quite short, but I think it’s as much an indication of the quality of climbers that have graced the Lander community through the years. 

The Rock-over move

The Rock-over move

Based on the forecast it seemed unlikely I would get another day at Wild Iris, so I would have to give it my best shot to send the line that day.  I took my time getting warmed up, climbing a number of really fun but never trivial warmups.  White Buffalo gets sun most of the day, so I kept running between the main wall and the boulder to check the shade status.  It seemed like the sun was hardly moving at all, so I kept dragging out my warmup waiting for shade.  My final warmup climb was a brilliant “12a” buttress called “Give My Love to Rose”.  It had quite a burly mono crank on it, and to be honest it felt like about a 12c effort to get up the thing onsight…so its probably soft by Wild Iris standards!

At the slopy 1-pad edge

At the slopy 1-pad edge

Around 4pm White Buffalo finally went into the shade, so I jumped on it.  The route overhangs maybe 5 or 10 degrees, and follows tiny imperfections up an otherwise impeccable wall.  The stone is so smooth it looks more like the polished quartzite of Arapiles than Bighorn Dolomite.  The route starts out easily, but quickly gets down to business with a huge rock-over move to a diagonal, left-hand 1/4″ crimp. The crux is standing up with this left hand and moving to a pad-and-a-half-deep four-finger pocket. Its possible to reach this pocket with either hand, either with a huge windmill move with the right hand, or by using a half-pad mono sidepull for the right hand and then bumping the left hand to the pocket.  I experimented with both options for a while but couldn’t manage either.  After 15 minutes or so I moved on to the upper panel.  Relative to the crux, the finish is not too bad, but none of the holds are positive and the feet are small, so each move feels desparate and inscure.  From the 4-finger pocket, a slopy, 1-pad edge allows a clip, then a a pair of 3 finger pockets and a big high-step lead to a committing huck to the lip of the boulder.

Gunning for the lip of the boulder
Gunning for the lip of the boulder

I was a bit demoralized, having failed to do the crux move at all on my first go, but with the sun beginning to set conditions were improving rapidly.  I rested for 45-minutes, trying to cool off my skin, and debating which hand sequence I should use at the crux. Heading up a route without a clear plan leads to hesitation, and on routes like this, hesitation almost always results in failure. Certain routes, like White Buffalo, are best climbed with momentum, barreling onward, leaving the climber no time to contemplate his unlikely position, clinging spider-like to a sheet of glass. The windmill beta was less tenuous, but low percentage.  I commited to trying the mono beta and tied on for my second go.  The natives were getting restless for dinner, so it was doubtful I would get a third try.

I climbed smoothly up to the rock-over move, and latched the left-hand crimp. The rock was much cooler and the tiny edge now felt much better. I carefully stood up, shifted my hips slightly to the left, and delicately placed my finger into the mono sidepull. I popped my left hand to the four-finger pocket and exhaled. After a quick dab of chalk, I reached the sloping edge, clipped, and clawed my way to the high pockets.  I brought up my feet, gunned for the lip, and mantled over the top of the boulder.

Anderson Climbing Team Version 3.0, in the Tetons

Rest Day in the Tetons with Anderson Climbing Team Version 3.0

On A Mission

I’m heading out to Smith Rock in a few days for a two-week trip. The climbing at Smith is extremely thin and technical — and difficult to prepare for. I believe strongly in taining and I generally feel that using indoor tools is superior to “just climbing” outside (for building strength, power, and endurance). That said, indoor training is far from ideal for developing or polishing technique. For highly technique-dependent climbing, like that at Smith, some amount of outdoor skill practice is essential. Outdoor training can also help prepare your finger skin if its done wisely (in moderation).

To Bolt or Not To Be, 5.14a, Smith Rock

To Bolt or Not To Be, 5.14a, Smith Rock

In 2008 I spent two weeks at Smith working and sending To Bolt or Not To Be, perhaps the most technical single-pitch climb in America. My training strategy for that season was pretty unusual, but very effective. I lengthened my Base-Fitness Phase by adding more ARC workouts, and I ordered a bunch of really tiny crimps to add to the Lazy H. I did a standard Strength Phase (but I added a thin, closed-crimp grip to my hangboard routine). After 8 hangboard workouts I immediately transitioned to outdoor climbing 2 days per week (normally I would have a 2-4 week transition period of bouldering and/or campusing). I climbed in the Lazy H a third day each week, doing thin, power-endurance linked bouldering circuits.

The key to this approach was selecting an appropriate “training route”. That season I worked Third Millenium at the Monastery, a barely overhanging, thin, technical, and sustained 5.13d. Ironically I didn’t send Third Millenium in 8 days of work (though I went on to send it later), but then went on to send To Bolt in just 7 days (you do the math on that!). Third Millenium was the perfect route; it got my footwork dialed, my lead head in order, and trained power-endurance on the right types of holds. The point being, if you want to utilize outdoor training to prepare for a goal route, the most effective way to do so is:

Third Millenium, 5.13d, The Monastery

Third Millenium, 5.13d, The Monastery

1. Pick the right training routes, those that are as-similar-as-possible to the route you are training for, in terms of steepness, hold type, continuity, commitment, and length.

2. Accept that the purpose of each day’s cragging is to train for your goal, not to send! This may mean cutting sessions short to avoid trashing your finger skin, to avoid too much fatigue, or to squeeze in a bit of indoor training at the end of each crag day.

In the pre-parenthood era of 2008 I had a lot more options, whereas now there are significant advantages to staying close to home. I decided the ideal training route this time around would be “Mission Overdirve”, a linkup of “Mission Impossible” and “Interstellar Overdrive” in Clear Creek Canyon. Mission Impossible was bolted by Jay Samuelson and immediately offered to the community as an open project. Dan Woods eventually came away with the FA, calling the line 5.14d and the hardest route he had ever climbed, even hard than Jaws II (5.15a at Rumney), opening with a V12 boulder, followed by pumpy climbing to a V11 finish.

Entering the hardest bit of the low crux.

Entering the hardest bit of the low crux.

Jonathan Siegrist actually tried the line first, but didn’t have time to commit to the full route. He established the Mission Overdrive link-up before heading overseas, calling the line 14a/b. This linkup climbs the opening “V12″ boulder of MI before joining Interstellar (5.13d) for its notorious “V8″ crux. The entire line is about 70 feet long and overhangs 10 feet. The first half is basically dead vertical, with super thin, slopey edges and invisible footholds. The climbing is super insecure and there are about 10 moves in a row where you can pop off at any point. The Interstellar crux is steeper, with very tiny crimps that are fortunately incut-enough to pull out on. The pivotal move is a huge lock-off from a half-pad crimp to reach a slopey finger slot. The route is perfect for me and a great training route for Smith.

I first tried the route last Saturday. I was able to do all the moves on the lower crux but I couldn’t see how I was going to link all those moves, or even let go to clip. By the time I reached the top I was too worked to make any progress on the Interstellar crux. Then on the second go I shocked myself by climbing most of the way through the low crux, ultimately stymied by a precarious clip. At that point I knew the line was do-able and I was committed. I spent some more time on the upper crux, then headed home for a campus session.

Nearing the end of the first crux.

Nearing the end of the first crux.

My next outdoor day was supposed to be the following Friday, but I couldn’t wait that long so I arranged for a short outdoor session on Monday evening followed by an indoor Power-Endurance session on Tuesday. Normally I would never climb two days in a row like that, so the key was to keep Monday’s effort short and minimize any wear on my skin. I did two 30-minute burns, with the goal of working out a viable clipping strategy for the low crux, and dialing the low-percentage upper crux, which comes with a substantial pump. I was able to achieve both goals, but at the end of the day there was still a 10-foot transition section that I hadn’t really worked out. The climbing is ~5.11+, easy enough to figure out on the fly, but just hard enough to get you pumped before the final boulder problem., so I wanted to have an efficient sequence worked out.

Friday was a dedicated outdoor day, so I took my time with a thorough warmup. I climbed a rad .12b face climb at the Monkey House called The Reward. This is a brilliant thin edging climb with a committing crux. If only it were twice as long! My first burn on Mission Overdive, I sent most of the way through the low crux, but botched a foot sequence and pumped off. I took the opportunity to work out the 11+ transition section, but then I was unable to do the Interstellar crux. The move is very precise and requires the perferct coordination of all four limbs. You need to move just high enough to reach the hold; any higher and your low hand will pop off. The high hand has to slide perfectly into a narrow slot, requiring a precise deadpoint. Both “footholds” are miniscule, and must be weighted just enough to complete the move but not so much that your feet slide off. After a few tries I was able to find the right timing.

Preparing to turn the roof.

Preparing to turn the roof.

I took a 45-minute break, and then tried again. This time I recalled my sequence for the first crux perfectly. There are many subtle foot shifts, so that was not a trivial feat. I was pumped, but not overwhelmingly so. The low crux ends at a decent left handhold, allowing a clip and a brief shake. Next the route tackles an intimidating roof with a really cool highstep and dyno to reach an awesome rest. I was able to recover completely at this rest, then I cruised up the 5.11+ section. At the high crux I was notably pumped, but there is a so-so shake just below, and I took my time here and got back what I could. My forearms felt powered-down, but I reckoned I could still bear down for a few moves, so I went for it. When you hit each move just right, this crux almost feels easy, and you can understand how this could be called V8. I got the finger slot, then a few more slopey pods to reach damp jugs and the anchor.

Overall the line is fantastic, hands-down my favorite route in Clear Creek Canyon. I’m really stoked to try the full Mission Impossible, but I think that will have to wait until I return from Smith. I’m not too sure about the grade; this is the fastest I’ve sent a 5.14, so based on that logic it seems unlikely that its 14b. On the other hand, I’m in great shape on paper, so who knows? I highly doubt the low crux is V12; I’ve never even tried an established V12, so I really have no clue, but I assume V12 is harder than that! I would say more like hard V10 or easy 11; and a realistic V9 for the Interstellar crux. The real challenge of the route is keeping it together over a large number of difficult sequences.

The end of the Interstellar crux.

The end of the Interstellar crux.

I think it goes to show how strengths and weaknesses can affect grades. Ideally these factors should be accounted for when assigning a grade but its not simple to extrapolate and so these factors often have a big effect. There is a tendency to assume that certain climbers have an absolute understanding of the grade scale (Adam Ondra, for example) but it really doesn’t work that way. The style of route and the climber’s tastes are critical to their perception of a route’s difficulty. The bottom line is, any time you find a sequence that is hard for you, take it as an opportunity to improve, regardless of the grade.  If you find something feels easy, enjoy it!  The pendulum will swing back the other way soon enough.

I’m off to Smith on Thursday, with pretty thick skin, decent footwork, and high confidence. I’ll be teaching a footwork clinic (8:30am at Redpoint Climber’s Supply) and giving a slideshow (8:30pm), both on Saturday April 20th. Come out and say hi if you’re in the area.

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