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Category Archives: Kids

Climbing in France – Baume Rousse

by Mark Anderson

World class tufa climbing at Baume Rousse, France. Photo Logan Anderson.

As mentioned in the last post, it rained heavily during the first part of our trip, so for our second climbing day we picked a crag called Baume Rousse, somewhat sheltered in a natural cirque, and close to our home base of Buis-les Baronnies. Before getting into the climbing, Buis deserves a short description. This village of about 2500 people is nestled in an incredible valley, surrounded by impressive peaks and limestone cliffbands. There are three extensive limestone sport crags within walking distance of town (Baume Rousse, Ubrieux, and St. Julien), and another five or so within a 30 minute drive. There’s literally a lifetime of climbing opportunities with an hour’s drive.

Buis-les-Baronnies from Baume Rousse, with the limestone fin of St. Julien just above town, and the snow-capped Mount Ventoux in the background. St Leger is nestled in between Ventoux and the next ridge behind St. Julien, about a 25-minute drive from Buis.

The piercing limestone fin of St. Julien dominates the skyline above Buis-les-Baronnies. The crag features ~100 routes, including many multi-pitch lines and a network of via Ferrata.

A pair of climbers low on St. Julien (in yellow and blue, near the bottom of the cliff, in the center of the frame, at the same height as the tallest tree).

Baume Rousse is a smaller crag with only about 100 routes, but the hardest of those routes climb some of the most amazing tufas I’ve ever seen! Besides its amazing orange & black streaked limestone, Baume Rousse is unusual because it was developed in order to host a climbing comp in the 1990’s (fortunately the rock was not chipped to engineer the comp routes like at some other outdoor comps of the era).

The view towards Buis from the base of St Julien. The V-shaped diagonal limestone ridge behind the village is the crag Ubrieux (which we did not visit). The limestone cirque of Baume Rousse is visible just beyond the ridge, directly above the center of the “V.”

The left half of the Baume Rousse cirque.

Looking straight up at the tufa curtains on the back wall of Baume Rousse.

By far the best route I did on the trip was an 8a called Rigpa ou la Nature de l’esprit (Google doesn’t seem to know what “Rigpa” means, but the rest of it has something to do with “the nature of the mind”). The route follows a phenomenal tufa fin which juts out from the wall as much as 16” but is never more than 2” thick. It’s a classic pumpfest, maybe 15 degrees overhanging, with strategic exotic rests. The tufas fade near the top, requiring some big reaches between features.

Rigpa ou la Nature de l’esprit. Photo Logan Anderson.

Nearing the crux on Rigpa. Photo Logan Anderson

Another pic of Rigpa. Photo Logan Anderson

Just to the right of Rigpa is another tufa-laden 8a. I tried that line next, but just as I finished it started raining heavily. Thanks to strong swirling winds we found the little cirque was not quite as sheltered as we hoped, so we decided to pack it in for the day. The entire back wall of the cirque is covered in awesome tufas curtains, and if I had one more (dry) day in Buis, I would head straight to Baume Rousse to try more of these amazing climbs.

Amelie enjoying the best rope swing of the trip

One of the highlights of the trip for me (and I think Logan as well) was a short, entry-level via Ferrata I did with him at the base of St. Julien. Like most things at this age, it took a bit of prodding to get him interested, but once we got started he was instantly stoked. I think the pictures illustrate best how much fun we had. Before we were finished he started campaigning to do another, harder, higher via ferrata, and he kept bringing it up throughout the rest of the trip. Unfortunately these are engineered with a certain minimum height in mind, and there wasn’t another one around that was suitable for 6-year-olds.

Starting up the first few iron rungs of the via ferrata. The look of half fear/half excitement in Logan’s eyes says it all.

 

Still not clear if he’s happy or terrified. I think just really excited. I learned later that I was supposed to hook the rope through the metal hook-thing above Logan’s head as a directional. (St. Julien in the background.)

This particular route was designed specifically with kids in mind, more like a vertical park than a mountaineering objective, with closely spaced steps and a number of fun “obstacles” to look forward to (including a suspension bridge, “monkey bridge,” cargo net, and balance beam). It even climbs through a natural stone arch. It was super fun, even for jaded me. It really made me wish we had more via ferrata in the US; it’s a great way to introduce beginners to the mountains and creates no more impact than the typical hiking trail.  It’s pretty awesome the way the local European communities embrace climbing, marketing it as an attraction and encouraging participation.  There was a huge kiosk in the center of Buis describing in detail all the via ferrata, how to reach them, what equipment was needed and so on.

The suspension bridge.

So-called Monkey Bridge.

Climbing through the arch.

The cargo net, with Buis, etc in the background.

Castle of the day – Logan playing with a Trebuchet at Chateaux des Baux.

Julienne Salad Days

By Mark Anderson

My family and I are heading to France (with a few days in Italy) at the end of the month for spring break. I spend the vast majority of my outdoor climbing days working redpoint projects, but on this trip I expect to focus on climbing routes first go, so I’ve spent the past few weeks tuning up my fitness accordingly and practicing on-sighting. All the crags on our itinerary are limestone, so we made a point to visit Shelf Road to climb on similar stone (albeit of much, much lower quality–or so I hope).

Earlier in the winter I bolted 4 routes (and a linkup) on a nice cream-colored panel of rock in the “Tropical Wall” sector of Shelf’s North Gym, which offered the perfect objective. Granted, these would not technically be on-sight attempts since I had rapped all the routes while bolting them. However, I don’t really possess the capacity to remember the details of four random lines I bolted a few months ago, since all my memory banks are filled to the brim with song lyrics and movie quotes. So I expected it to provide good practice nonetheless.

The main feature on the wall is a 3-feet-deep roof about halfway up. Four of the five lines involve this obstacle in some way. The first line I tried (“Booty Sweat”) follows a fairly continuous crack system that skirts the left side of the roof with powerful underclings (for the grade). While basically a crack climb, there are a lot of nice pockets sprinkled around to spice things up.

Shaking out below the undercling roof exit on Booty Sweat, 5.11b. Photo Amelie A.

The most intimidating line on the wall climbs out the center of the roof. Thanks to a few sinker pockets I climbed fairly easily up to a good shake at jugs below the ceiling. Just as I arrived, Amelie announced she needed to pee and she couldn’t hold it. Fortunately there was a bolt right at my waist, so I clipped a loose sling straight in to the bolt so Kate could help Amelie. This gave me plenty of time to contemplate the imposing obstacle above. Once I was properly on belay again, I charged up to the lip and groped my right hand over to a shallow 4-finger dish. I couldn’t see an elegant way to get established over the lip, so I coiled and hucked my left hand for what appeared likely to be a big jug. It was, and I stuck it, but it was incredibly prickly. My feet swung out wildly as I stuck the jug, and Kate shouted up “that was sick!”, which is incredibly rare—usually she is completely and justifiably unimpressed by my climbing antics (having seen the sausage being made, so to speak). I replied with, “what’s sick is what happened to the skin on my hand.” My palm was torn up and bleeding in a few places, but it turned out to be nothing serious, just enough to warrant the name “More Shredded Than A Julienne Salad.”

Working up the headwall after surmounting the big roof on …Julienne Salad (5.12b?) Photo Amelie A.

Perhaps the best line turned out to be the 5.11- linkup that joins the bottom half of Booty Sweat to the top-half of More Shredded…, climbing through the left side of the big roof via a bubbly pancake flake. It’s a classic jughaul with no hard moves to speak of. I’m generally not a fan of linkups, and I had no intention of bolting this line when scoping the wall from the ground, but once I rapped the wall and saw the line of jugs I couldn’t resist.

Scoping holds on The Boy Everybody Was Jealous Of, 5.12a. Photo Logan A.

The other two lines on the wall, Be Australian and The Boy Everybody Was Jealous Of, involve sustained pocket and edge climbing on great stone. They’re both worthwhile. I hiked past this wall probably 20 or 30 times while developing the rest of the North Gym in 2011, and I always intended to bolt it, but I never got around to it for whatever reason. I assumed somebody else would claim it during my 5-year exile to Clear Creek, so I was surprised and stoked to find it still untouched last November. In retrospect I’m really glad I had the opportunity to put these routes in. I’m sure some day in the future, once every route at Cactus Cliff is polished to glass and has a queue 10-ropebags deep, these routes will be well-appreciated by adventurous loners like me.

Fine edging on Be Australian, 5.12a.

Training for 9a – Preface

by Mark Anderson

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had a few ideas in mind, but there is one guy who knows the American 9a landscape better than anyone else (so much so, that he created a website for it: http://usa9a.blogspot.com/ ). I put my initial thoughts together and asked Jonathan Siegrist for his recommendations, considering where I live, my climbing style, and strengths and weaknesses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shadowboxing.

Shadowboxing.

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

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

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

A looong way to go....

A looong way to go….   Photo Mike Anderson

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

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

New Anderson Brothers Podcast

by Mark Anderson

Last week Mike and I did another podcast with our friend Neely Quinn over at TrainingBeta.com.  You can check out the podcast here.

The interview runs about an hour and covers a wide variety of topics including:

  • What went into designing the Rock Prodigy Forge, and why we think it’s the most advanced hangboard on the market.
  • What we learned at the International Rock Climbing Research Association conference, what other research we are working on, which questions need further study.
  • How I trained differently for my ascent of Shadowboxing.
  • Mike’s recent 8a+ and 8b onsights in Europe.
  • Whether or not hangboarding causes forearm hypertrophy.
  • The secret to climbing hard with a family.
  • Questions & Answers from the Training Beta Facebook community
Mike crushing at the Schleierwasserfall

Mike crushing at the Schleierwasserfall

Hope you enjoy the listen, and if it generates any questions, please share them in a comment below, or (ideally) in the Rock Prodigy Forum.

Be sure to follow us on Instagram at @Rock_Climbers_Training_Manual

 

Mark Anderson Sends Shadowboxing, 5.14d

by Mark Anderson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Below Shadowboxing after the send. Photo Shaun Corpron.

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

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

Anderson Brothers Interview at PaleoTreats

Anderson Brothers thinking about training.

Anderson Brothers thinking about training.

Earlier this week Mike and I were invited on Nik Hawks’ podcast over at PaleoTreats.  PaleoTreats is a web-based mail order company that makes delicious and nutritious desserts for active and health-conscious folks.  In their own words,

“…We’ve been making foodie-approved Paleo desserts since 2009. We are serious about flavor, texture, ingredients and Paleo. Yes, all of them. We’ve shipped around the world, from Australia to Afghanistan, and we’ve ironed out all the kinks of getting a great dessert to your door.”

Nik’s podcast isn’t really about that though.  He’s interviewed an impressively diverse group of folks covering the gamut from elite athletes, to coaches and nutrition experts, focused on a wide variety of sports.  He’s really interested in the pursuit of excellence, and the common factors that make athletes successful, regardless of their athletic vocation.  Our podcast covered a variety of topics, including:

  • Goal-Setting in life and sports
  • How to develop the ability to work hard in yourself and your kids
  • The time and place for skill development in climbing
  • What we’re most proud of (in a training sense), and what we would change about the RCTM
  • How self-esteem (or lack thereof) has impacted our motivation and success
  • The next big innovations in climbing training

(Pretty much the only thing we didn’t talk about is food)

Check out the podcast here!

This photo has nothing to do with the adjacent text. Sticking the crux dyno on Nailed It, 12d, at the Sterling Wall.

This photo has nothing to do with this blog post. Sticking the crux dyno on Nailed It, 12d, at the Sterling Wall.

Kids Climbing Wall

by Mark Anderson

Growing up, I rarely had the opportunity climb. As a teenager, I occasionally had the chance to try it, typically on the most pitiful excuses for climbing walls you could imagine (one vertical sheet of 4×8 plywood with 2x4s nailed on for holds, and the like). The small geographical area within my reach was completely devoid of rock, but the local libraries had enough books to pique my interest—Steck and Roper’s 50 Classics, Harlin’s Climber’s Guide to North America, Watts’ Smith Rock guide. I knew I wanted climb, despite virtually no experience actually doing it. It wasn’t until the end of college that I finally had sufficient freedom and transportation to really get into it.

I now have two kids, Logan (4.5 years old) and Amelie (2). I sincerely don’t care if they become climbers, but if they choose to pursue it, I want them to have the opportunities that I lacked, and that means regular access to climbing terrain. The Lazy H Barn provides them far more opportunity than I had, but it’s a bit of a hike for their small legs, and they can’t physically open the door. Not to mention, the terrain isn’t exactly designed for them, and the few vertical sections quickly become dull. I expect as they grow up they’ll find it more enticing, but currently they rarely climb in it more than about once a month.

With that in mind, I decided last year to build a climbing wall inside the house, designed specifically for the kids. This would greatly improve their access, especially during winter when our place is frequently snowbound. We have a pair of really kid-friendly gyms on the Front Range (ABC Kids in Boulder and CityROCK in Colorado Springs). These gyms have done a great job of including elements that make the experince fun and entertaining. I wanted to do the same because more than anything, I want climbing to be fun for them.

The space, in the first stages of framing. My hangboard rig used to reside in the corner in center, but now that I’ve realized the wisdom of the “just climb” philosophy, I don’t need it anymore. (J/k of course—I’ll quit climbing before I quit hangboarding)

The space, in the first stages of framing. My hangboard rig used to reside in the corner in center, but now that I’ve realized the wisdom of the “just climb” philosophy, I don’t need it anymore. (J/k of course—I’ll quit climbing before I quit hangboarding).

Complete framing. The ramp behind the wall (on the right edge of the photo) supports a slide tunnel.

Complete framing. The ramp behind the wall (on the right edge of the photo) supports a slide tunnel.

A look at the Monkey Bars that connect the two walls.

A look at the Monkey Bars and catwalk that connect the two walls.

Painting panels. I had a bunch of scrap OSB lying around, and I really wanted to maximize re-use instead of scrapping it and buying new sheets. In the end I only had to buy one new panel (but lots of paint).

Painting panels. I had a bunch of scrap OSB lying around, and I really wanted to maximize re-use instead of scrapping it and buying new sheets. In the end I only had to buy one new panel (but lots of paint).

Gluing wainscoted (whiteboard) panels onto the slide. It took as much effort to build the slide as it did to build the rest of the wall! But it was worth it—the slide is by far the most popular feature.

Gluing wainscoted (whiteboard) panels onto the slide. It took as much effort to build the slide as it did to build the rest of the wall! But it was worth it—the slide is by far the most popular feature.

Logan about to test the slide tunnel. I created the curvature at the bottom of the slide by laminating two sheets of ¼” plywood together.

Logan about to test the slide tunnel. I created the curvature at the bottom of the slide by laminating two sheets of ¼” plywood together.

Installing panels. From L to R, the wall angles are 80 degrees, 100 degrees, and vert.

Installing panels. From L to R, the wall angles are 80 degrees, 100 degrees, and vert.

The finished product.

The finished product.

A closer look at the right half…

A closer look at the right half…

…and the slabby left half.

…and the slabby left half.

Mayhem! From L to R: Ayla topping out the slab, Logan rolling a basketball across the catwalk, Mike J supervising, Xander running, Mark S contemplating a sit start, Lucian running across the high platform, and Quinn coming out of the slide tunnel.

Mayhem! From L to R: Ayla topping out the slab, Logan rolling a basketball across the catwalk, Mike J supervising, Xander running, Mark S contemplating a sit start, Lucian running across the high platform, and Quinn coming out of the slide tunnel.

Lucian on the Monkey Bars while Mark S, Ayla, Logan (and Amelie, hidden) play in the slab tunnel.

Lucian on the Monkey Bars while Mark S, Ayla, Logan (and Amelie, hidden) play in the slab tunnel.

I got a number of great holds sets for this wall from e-Grips. In addition to their outstanding collection of killer normal-human grips, they have a number of sets that are super kid-friendly. Many typical jug sets don’t work so well for kids because their stubby fingers aren’t long enough to reach into the incut part of the “jug”, effectively leaving them with a sloper. The sets described below are kid-tested and great for small hands:

Big Buttons These are the perfect thickness for tiny hands, super incut and non-slopey.

Meridian Pulls Medium-depth edges for adults, moderately-incut full-finger jugs to kids.

Pure Line Finger Buckets Full-hand buckets for small-sized climbers.

Pure Line Mini-Jugs These are actually pretty monstrous from a kids’ perspective—two full hands, but thin enough to wrap their short fingers around.

Jr. Bugguy Interesting shapes, but also plentiful kid-size features. Best on slabby to vertical walls.

Sea Food The Sea Horse and Starfish are among Amelie’s favorite holds.

Jungle Animals Easily Amelie’s favorite set. Every time she comes in the room, she runs and points out the Ape, gesticulating while say “ooh-ooh, ahh-ahh”. Holds like these really do help attract the kids to the wall. That said, this set is non-positive, so best used on a slab.

The wall has been a huge success. My kids love it, and so far, so does every other kid who’s seen it. Instead of me asking Logan if he wants to go out to the barn (to which he usually says “no”), he’s asking me to come climb with him.  Both Logan’s and Amelie’s climbing skills have improved dramatically since it was finished. I really try not to push my kids towards climbing, but if erecting a fluorescent opportunity right in front of their faces influences them, so be it. 🙂

New Indy Pass 5.14

by Mark Anderson

It’s been ages since I’ve done a proper road trip. Camping with young kids can border on misery, so we’ve made a point to avoid it since Logan came along. When Amelie turned two last month (Logan is four-and-a-half) we tested the waters with a 3-day trip to the Black Canyon and discovered they’ve magically blossomed into champion campers. With new confidence we headed north to the annual Lander International Climber’s Fest with a trunk full of camping gear and a loose itinerary.

The crux of Captain America, Independence Pass, Colorado.

Captain America, Independence Pass, Colorado.

The festival itself was loads of fun. Our friends at Trango provided awesome lodging in a rustic cabin (not that rustic—it had a shower, microwave and mini-fridge) at the Baldwin Creek B&B. We enjoyed two great days of craggin’ at Wild Iris, including the clinic on Saturday. Logan’s been getting much more interested in climbing (and rope swinging), and we found a great spot for him to practice his skills on rock, capped off with a great swing off the lip of the Calamity Jane roof. The best part of the festival for me was meeting numerous Rock Prodigies and hearing their inspiring success stories.

Logan swinging from the lip of Calamity Jane.

Logan swinging from the lip of Calamity Jane.

Another highlight was Ethan Pringle’s keynote address on Saturday night. He shared several short videos about his effort to snag the second ascent of Jumbo Love (5.15b!). It was downright hilarious and ultra-inspiring at the same time. My favorite bit was Ethan’s Seven Commandments for climbing success:

  1. Coffee
  2. Poop
  3. Safety Third
  4. Lookin’ good
  5. Food
  6. Sex
  7. Send!

Ethan spent seven years working the route and 18 days just this season. It made me reflect on my definition of a “long term” project. I’ve never spent 18 total days on a route, despite several projects that spanned multiple years. I’ve never clipped the chains on a project and thought “that’s the hardest I can climb”, either. Instead I always finish knowing I could do something harder if I could tolerate the uncertainty of a project that was seriously in doubt (and commit to the extended effort required). Perhaps it’s time for me to make a serious commitment to something.

Black Bear in Grand Teton National Park.

Black Bear in Grand Teton National Park.

After the festival we headed further north to Grand Teton National Park. This is one of Kate’s absolute favorite places. The mountains are spectacular and for whatever reason the wildlife viewing is incredible. We saw a Grizzly Bear and a Black Bear on the slopes of Signal Mountain. The only other time I’ve seen a grizzly was 15 years ago in Alaska (which almost seems like cheating). At one point he stood up on his hind legs to scratch his back on a tree and he had to be at least 8-feet tall.

Trust me, there's a Grizzly Bear in there somewhere.

Trust me, the blurry brown blob is a Grizzly Bear.

If the last pic didn't convince you, surely this one will!

If the last pic didn’t convince you, surely this one will!

We did a nice family bike ride, took the ferry across Jenny Lake, watched climbers on the classic Baxter’s Pinnacle and hiked to several mountain lakes. Logan loves swimming and doesn’t seem to mind icy cold mountain water at all. I think he has the makings of a successful alpinist. I could stare at the mountains for days, and I was definitely feeling the itch to climb up there again. I did The Grand and Mt. Moran in my “youth”, but it’s been such a long time that I’ve nearly forgotten the alpine starts, unplanned bivies and knee-pounding descents.

Logan crushing in Cascade Canyon, Grand Teton NP.

Logan crushing in Cascade Canyon, Grand Teton NP.

Next we headed back south to Independence Pass, just east of Aspen, CO. Aspen’s one of those rare places where you can see a beater ski-bum-mobile parked next to a Ferrari. Despite its Beverly Hills sparkle the town is surprisingly kid-friendly. There are many great parks, fountains, ice cream shops, etc. There are endless things to do and sights to see in the area, from abandoned mining towns to the Maroon Bells, flow-style MTBing, whitewater and sport climbing on the Pass.

Amelie and Logan at Outrageours Overhang (Indy Pass).  For some reason Logan’s look in this pic just kills me.

Amelie and Logan at Outrageours Overhang (Indy Pass). For some reason Logan’s look in this pic just kills me.

We were there for the climbing of course. In particular I was hoping to work and perhaps send an open project that Pass local Jay Brown had recommended to me after I finished Insurrection. A couple weeks earlier we made an overnight trip to the Pass to climb with Mike’s family. I took that opportunity to check out the project and it captured my interest immediately.

Tricky footwork and burly pinching in the crux of Captain America.

Tricky footwork and burly pinching in the crux of Captain America.

The line climbs the 20-degree-overhanging arête of a shallow right-facing dihedral. I’ve long considered myself an arête connoisseur, having cut my teeth at the arête paradise of Smith Rock. The climbing involves burly pinching and slapping for 20-or-so relentless moves (and a finishing boulder problem after a sit-down ledge rest). I was bouldering fairly hard in the Lazy H at that point, and I was able to do all the moves that first day, but I was unable to link several sequences. I hadn’t done any real training since early May, so I wasn’t exactly brimming with confidence. I often feel that way early in a project, and it seems I’m constantly reminding myself to trust the redpoint process—routes do become easier with practice.

A short, insecure boulder problem guards a bivy-sized ledge rest.

A short, insecure boulder problem guards a bivy-sized ledge rest.

Once I finally got back on it the climbing went better than expected. After one burn to reacquaint myself and refine some sequences I one-hanged the project twice on my first day back. Both times I fell on the same stopper move though—a dyno into an overhead 3-finger undercling on the arete. You have to hit the hold precisely while also maintaining strong core tension. It’s the kind of move I could imagine falling on repeatedly on redpoint.

Logan swinging from the top of the classic 5.11 Thug Route.

Logan swinging from the top of the classic 5.11 Thug Route.

We spent the next day enjoying some of Aspen’s other outdoor attractions. Logan hopped in a couple more mountain lakes, we gazed at the Maroon Bells, strolled around downtown and did several short hikes. We had a nice picnic in Wagner Park and bumped into Kevin Costner (actually his grocery cart) at the Citi Market.

Logan in Jackson Lake (Tetons)...

Logan in Jackson Lake (Tetons).  Notice he didn’t bother to remove his shoes or pants…

…Taggart Lake (Tetons)…

…Taggart Lake (Tetons)…

…String Lake (Tetons)…

…String Lake (Tetons)…

…Weller Lake (Indy Pass)…

…Weller Lake (Indy Pass)…

…and Maroon Lake (Aspen area), the only one he seemed to think was cold.

…and Maroon Lake (Aspen area), the only one he seemed to think was cold.  He was easily the most hygienic member of our party.

By the next climbing day we had been on the road for nine days, including the last five nights in a tent. The kids were still happy as clams but Kate and I were itching (literally) for showers and a real mattress. Knowing that a send would be rewarded with soap and a fluffy clean comforter, I tied in under the leaning prow early that morning.

Dressed for the occasion.

Dressed appropriately for Captain America.

I climbed briskly to avoid exhausting my meager power endurance. This time I stuck the undercling move and managed the desperate clip at the third bolt. I barely stuck an arête slap a few moves higher, and I could feel my legs and arms trembling slightly as the pump grew. I finally reached the first shake 30-feet up and took my time recovering my breath—not a trivial matter at an altitude just under 10,000 feet. After one more insecure windmill move I pulled up onto a massive ledge.  Still quite worked, I took off my shoes and relaxed for a good 10 minutes. The short headwall above is probably V7 or 8 in its own right, requiring several committing slaps to clear a steep bulge. After an unsettling moment of hesitation searching for the proper right-foot hold I snagged the first left hand pinch, then the second. I set a high heel hook, slapped my right hand up to a good sidepull, and paddled up jugs to the top of the cliff.

Staring down the ensuing heel hook on the final boulder problem.

Staring down a heel hook on the final boulder problem during the first free ascent of Captain America, 5.14a.

 Many thanks to Wade David who discovered, equipped and cleaned the line, and thanks to Jay Brown for telling me about it.

Germany Part V: East of Weiden

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

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

Elbsandstein, from the Schrammsteinaussicht overlook

Elbsandstein, from the Schrammsteinaussicht overlook

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

One of the more remarkable watchtowers at Festung Konigstein

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

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

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The hybrid cliff and stone wall fortifications of Festung Konigstein

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

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The Elbe River through the fog.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Schrammsteinaussicht.  Somewhat sketchy for toddlers.

The Schrammsteinaussicht. Somewhat sketchy for toddlers.

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

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

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

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

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

A more typical example of Elbe sandstone.

A more typical example of Elbe sandstone.

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

Kate on the hike back down from Schrammsteinaussicht.

Kate on the hike back down from Schrammsteinaussicht.

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

The towering Frauenkirche from the Fest.

The towering Frauenkirche from the Fest.

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

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

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

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

Frauenkirche

Frauenkirche

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

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

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

The altstadt skyline from the Augustusbrucke.

The altstadt skyline from the Augustusbrucke.

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

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

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

The Semperoper Opera House.

The Semperoper Opera House.

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

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

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

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

More sandstone towers at the Bastei.

More sandstone towers at the Bastei.

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

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

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

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

Passing the first ring.

Passing the first ring. Photo by Logan Anderson

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

The second ring is still a body-length away.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Auf Wiedersehen, und Danke!

Auf Wiedersehen, und Danke!

Germany Part IV: Blitzing the Classics

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

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

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

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

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

Sautanz.

The two-finger pegboard section of Sautanz.

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

Beginning the crux traverse on Sautanz.

Beginning the crux traverse on Sautanz.

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

The playground below Eldorado.

The playground below Eldorado.

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

Ekel

Ekel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vintage beer truck.

Vintage beer truck.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The brilliant Herkules at Barenschlucht.

The brilliant Herkules at Barenschlucht.

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

(Finally) sticking the huge huck move on Herkules.

(Finally) sticking the huge huck move on Herkules.

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

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

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

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

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