Category Archives: Kids

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).

The International Climber’s Festival

This week’s article introduces a new author to our team; Mike’s wife, Janelle Anderson. Janelle has been climbing alongside Mike for 15 years now. She consistently climbs in the 5.12+ range, and occasionally 5.13-, despite often generously sacrificing her goals to give Mike the best chances on his projects. Janelle will be a regular contributor, so if any ladies out there have specific questions, send them her way….

Team Trango set off for Lander, WY last week to attend the International Climber’s Festival. This was the 21st annual festival and it has grown into something tremendous. This year’s lineup did not disappoint! I was overwhelmed with the prospects of meeting some of my heroes: Super strong women like Lynn Hill, Angie Payne, Paige Claassen and Sasha DiGiulian – all in one town – I was ready to be inspired!

Friday Sunrise at the Aspen Glades.

Friday Sunrise at the Aspen Glades.

In true Anderson fashion, we tried to find a nice balance between work and play. We had a busy schedule of Trango shoe demos, trade fair events, parties and climbing clinics so it was imperative to get out to the crag early. The alarm clock stings a little at 5:00am but the incredible sunrises and cool temps sure make for great limestone climbing. Not to mention, the hike to the crag was just gorgeous!

Approaching the Main Wall Friday rain yet!

Approaching the Main Wall Friday morning…no rain yet!

The wild flowers were stilly hanging on to the season.

The wild flowers were stilly hanging on to the season.

Normally, we would avoid climbing at a super-powerful crag like Wild Iris this late in our season (we’re about in our 6th or 7th week of our performance phase). In fact, we would normally have started our next training cycle by now. However, our Fall performance goals dictate starting our next cycle a bit later (early August), so we can stretch out our current cycle a little longer, and we plan to take some much-needed rest as well. As for Wild Iris, we were careful to avoid tweaky routes because this scenario (an extended performance phase) is when injuries are most likely. We stuck to routes we could redpoint in a couple goes, and avoided the monos. We had a great time climbing early Friday morning at the Main Wall before the biggest July rainstorm in memory hit around noon. We had a wet hike back, but otherwise climbed a lot. Mark and Kate were not so lucky, and were rained out at the Zorro Wall.

The "Rode Hard Wall" at Wild Iris - perfect Dolomite limestone.

The “Rode Hard Wall” at Wild Iris – perfect Dolomite limestone.

After climbing, it was time for business.

The crowd lined up to hear about the Rock Prodigy Training Center! j/k

The crowd lined up to hear about the Rock Prodigy Training Center! j/k

The rain didn’t stop any of the fun at the Trade Fair at the Lander City Park. The Trango tent was up and running right in the thick of things. The Rockprodigy Training Center was a huge draw and it was fun to talk with people who had never seen it before. It was definitely fondled by many…I mean, why not?! It’s a good looking piece of equipment! We really enjoyed meeting new people and sharing Trango products with them. Trango had prime real estate to witness all the fun; the crate stacking, tug-of-war, arm wrestling, table bouldering , dyno comp and everything in between.

The dyno wall, ready for the rain that poured all day.

The dyno wall, ready for the rain that poured all day.

Kate and Amelie enjoying the Trango tent.

Kate and Amelie enjoying the Trango tent.

Mike discussing training (what else?) with legendary climber and coach Steve "The Chosen One" Bechtel.

Mike discussing training (what else?) with legendary climber and coach Steve “The Chosen One” Bechtel.

The "Trango Tango" clinic at Wild Iris.

The “Trango Tango” clinic at Wild Iris.

The Trango Clinic was held Saturday at the OK Corral at Wild Iris. With four kids in tow, we set off with the clinic crew to get started. We had a great group, with a range of different abilities, and no one wasted any time getting started. We focused on basic techniques tips, as well as, long term goals and training advice. Listening to Mike and Mark with the people attending the clinic I was quickly reminded just how awesome the Rockprodigy Training Method is. It really can provide training for just about anyone willing to give it a try. Beginners to experts can learn smart and efficient ways to train in order to realize that continuous improvement throughout the climbing seasons. I sure wish I would have jumped on to the training bandwagon earlier in my climbing career. My mistake, I assumed training was only for the advanced climber. In my world, that was only for Mike, not me. That’s not the case, even people new to the sport can benefit from training.

Discussing the merits of training, especially for those with limited climbing time.

Discussing the merits of training, especially for those with limited climbing time.

Everyone at the clinic had a positive attitude and giving them the reassurance that they can become better was fun to watch. It was also a great opportunity to explain the importance of good gear and sticky Tenaya shoes!

Here Mike is explaining how certain grips (especially small, shallow pockets) MUST be held with a crimp grip, which is why it is essential to train for it.

Here Mike is explaining how certain grips (especially small, shallow pockets) MUST be held with a crimp grip, which is why it is essential to train it.

I decided to get the kiddos involved too and set up a top rope for them to get their climb on. With Timmy O’Neill and his Paradox Sports clinic nearby, there was plenty of motivation for these boys to get on the rope

Logan getting some "expert feedback" from his Dad, Mark.

Logan getting some “expert feedback” from his Dad, Mark.

Lucas roping up to show off his skills to Timmy.

Lucas roping up to show off his skills to Timmy.

Notice how Axel watches his foot as he places it on the hold...something many of us could improve on.

Notice how Axel watches his foot as he places it on the hold…something many of us could improve on.

The highlight of the trip for me was hearing the speakers on Saturday night. Lynn Hill recapped her incredible climbing career paving the way for women in the climbing world. Her strength and experiences are mind blowing. Angie Payne Wowed the crowd with her very thought out, insightful and hilarious journey of discovery. It focused on the battle of what she thought her future should be versus what it has become, and balancing all of that with external expectations – something I’m sure we can all relate to. In the end, I believe life is much easier and more enjoyable if you’re passionate about your lifestyle. For some, that means travelling the world to climb full time, but for many of us (especially the Anderson crew), we’re passionate about raising a family as well, so we create that balance in our lives.

Sasha DiGiulian shared a recent tragedy and brought forth some wonderful ways for dealing with a loss. She described coming to terms with this new void in her life and learning how to fill that void in a positive manner. Truly inspiring around the house! The other speakers were just as tremendous and it was an event not to be missed. I walked out of the auditorium with a new sense of purpose and tons of excitement for the next training cycle and climbing season! Those projects lingering out there better watch out! This temporary Florida girl is back and will emerge next season as a stronger than ever Colorado Climbing Mama!

Lander Days

Typical June weather at Wild Iris, but it's always temporary.

Typical June weather at Wild Iris, but it’s always temporary.

The family and I just got back from a great week in Lander. If you’ve never been, Lander is a throw-back; it’s a small community at the foot of the Wind River mountain range in Wyoming, so the pace of life is a little slower, and life is a bit simpler. When we’re in Lander, for whatever reason, there is no TV watching or any of those distractions. Instead, we’re outside a lot, and we spend time with great friends. On this trip we were fortunate to stay with Steve and Ellen Bechtel, and BJ and Emily Tilden. Thanks for the hospitality!

Lucas's favorite time of the day...heading home!

Lucas’s favorite time of the day…heading home!

When we first arrived, I was in the midst of my Power phase, so I sought out powerful routes to supplement my training. That’s a big reason we were in Lander in the first place, to climb at the Wild Iris. I think there are only a few crags in the US that are suitable for honest-to-goodness training on rock, and Wild Iris is one of them, when it comes to Power (The Red is great for endurance training). Also, early in your season, it’s a great idea to get some easier (for you) routes under your belt to get the rust off, and build confidence going into more difficult projects. To that end, I picked out a couple 13+ routes to try to tick off quickly. The first was Adi-Goddang-Yos, a short, powerful 13c at Rising from the Planes wall, made famous in Eric Perlman’s epic film, Masters of Stone. A hold had broken since the filming, but the route had been re-climbed at least twice since then, at a slightly harder grade. It now requires a pull off a small crimp (my specialty 🙂 ), followed by a very powerful undercling move. I was fortunate to send on my second burn, and was able to play around on some harder routes for the future.

I was lucky to be the first person in the Western Hemisphere to try the super hot Tenaya Terifa, an aggressive high performance shoe that will excel on steep terrain. It has a chiseled toe that is great for pockets. I also like that it is a lace up because I can get on a tighter fitting shoe and still get it on over my grotesquely oversized heels.

I was lucky to be the first person in the Western Hemisphere to try the super hot Tenaya Tarifa, an aggressive high performance shoe that will excel on steep terrain. It has a chiseled toe that is great for pockets. I also like that it is a lace up because I can get on a tighter fitting shoe and still get it on over my grotesquely oversized heels.

My next climbing day, I targeted White Buffalo, a short crimping test-piece on a 30 foot boulder in the campground. You probably remember Mark’s account of this route from last fall: Roped Bouldering in Cowboy Country

I had been intrigued by this line for years (as I’m sure everyone who’s ever camped at the Iris is too), and finally had the opportunity to try it with the right fitness and good weather. We got an 0500 start in Lander to ensure good conditions, and an opportunity to get a couple burns before the sun warmed the face too much (it gets morning sun).

The day before I had just watched BJ Tilden trying his latest sick project at Wolf Point (see below). It was incredibly inspiring. He hasn’t sent yet, but on that attempt you could tell he was really going for it 100% on every move, even though the moves were really risky, low-percentage dynos to small one and two-finger pockets. There were probably five separate occasions when the crowd was sure he was falling, but he hung on and kept moving! It was quite an example.

BJ Tilden on his super-sick Wolf Point project. This think might be 9a+!

I think we all aspire to “climb like Sharma”, really going for it on every move, no matter how desparate.  Sometimes we pull this off in the gym, but for whatever reason many of us seem to hold back when we’re on rock.  Perhaps its the sharpness of the rock, fear of incurring a skin injury (or a real injury), or just fear of falling or failing.  Further complicating this is that certain types of climbing, like long enduro routes or technical on sights, punish over-gripping, and so foster a “don’t try too hard” mentality that can be difficult to overcome when we switch climbing styles.  While the RCTM advocates a “Smarter, not Harder” approach, we all need to remember that often the great climbers are great because they really do try harder than everyone else.  Just trying hard in the moment of the redpoint will not make the difference between climbing 13d and 14d, but all the opportunities along the way, over many, many years, of trying just a little bit harder in the gym, on the campus board, every time you’re on the rock, can eventually add up to that difference.  While Mark and I are not always brawlers on the rock, we are in the gym, and we try extremely hard in training, day-in, day-out, which is one of the reasons we’ve had success with our training.  And though we aren’t at BJ’s level, when the moment is right, we are able to whip out some pretty concerted efforts on a rope every now and then (just yesterday I belayed Mark on the send of his newest Clear Creak 5.14, and it was pretty cool to see him dynoing five times in a row, between insecure holds, eight feet above the last bolt, especially since I was around in the early days when he was much more timid).

So, when I got to White Buffalo, which has some painful and powerful crimp moves, I channeled my inner-BJ…I wasn’t going to pace myself, just give 100% effort on every move, ignore the pain, or thoughts of failure and just try like hell! It worked, and I sent on my second go. It’s the first 13d-in-a-day I’ve done, and my first 2nd try. I’ve done a few in 3 tries, so this was a minor break through. More importantly, I had some confidence to head into some harder projects.

I’ll let my photos do most of the rest of the talking….

America's latest Super-Crag, Wolf Point.  This was my spring goal, that I had been dreaming of and training for for months.  Finally made it!

America’s latest Super-Crag, Wolf Point. This was my spring goal, that I had been dreaming of and training for for months. Finally made it!

I decided to try a beautiful 14a that BJ had put up called King Thing. It’s a commanding line, on a flawless sweep of limestone up the center of the cave. The moves are outstanding, without a stopper crux, but no opportunity to shake in the first 50 feet or so. You can watch BJ climbing it at about the 48 min point of this film, Wind and Rattlesnakes.


Steve Bechtel climbing on Remus, 13b.

Steve Bechtel climbing on Remus, 13b.

One of the best parts of the trip was making a couple new friends. First was Rob Jensen, shown below. It turns out, I grew up about 45 minutes from him (he’s from Springfield, Oregon), and we lived in Colorado at similar times, yet I’d never met him. He is also another proud owner of an Ascent Rock mechanized climbing wall, so we had much to talk about. He is a pillar of the Las Vegas climbing community, and hosts numerous climbers in his “garage” for epic training sessions.

Las Vegas climber, and all-around awesome dude, Rob Jensen climbing "Dominant Species" 5.11d.  That's Red Canyon in the background.

Las Vegas climber, and all-around awesome dude, Rob Jensen climbing “Dominant Species” 5.11d. That’s Red Canyon in the background.

I also met and climbed with Kyle Vassilopous. He moved to Lander last year from Bozeman, MT, and he is super-psyched to put up new routes. He was a pleasure to climb with because he is extremely psyched, and didn’t balk at my desire to start early for good temps!

Recent Lander transplant Kyle Vassilopolous warming up at Wolf Point.

Recent Lander transplant Kyle Vassilopolous warming up at Wolf Point.

Dr Tom Rangitsch has been the driving force behind new route development in Lander the last few years. He’s hiked more cliffline than anyone in town and discovered lots of new crags. He put up many of the best routes at Wolf Point, including this new addition, Full Moon, 5.13b, a 40 meter pitch that overhangs about 6 meters over the length. It started as a 30 meter 12c called Bark at the Moon, and this is an extension to that route. The first anchor is at the first draw visible in the photo. In this picture, he’s at the crux of the extension which is a really cool sequence on small crimps. I was lucky to get to belay him on the FA, then he belayed me a couple days later when I tried it. I wanted to go for an on-sight, and Tom did a great job of biting his lip as I flubbed the beta…luckily I was able to recover, and made the first on-sight of the route. It’s a great route Tom, thanks for the hard work!!!

Dr. Tom Rangitsch going for the FA of Full Moon, 5.13b.

Dr. Tom Rangitsch going for the FA of Full Moon, 5.13b.

Thanks everyone for the hospitality, we’ll be back soon to finish off our projects!

Unfinished Business Part 2: Insurrection – New Post on!

Check out my new post on “Unfinished Business Part 2: Insurrection” over at

“In July 2012, Mike and his family took an extended road trip through Colorado, visiting a number of crags, included the ultra-scenic and oft overlooked Independence Pass. I spent that entire summer re-habbing an A2 Pulley Strain, so I was not climbing, but the family and I visited the Pass one weekend to hang out. Mike was working a classic 5.13+ face climb established by Tommy Caldwell called Before There Were Nine, located on the right end of the overhanging central shield of the Pass’ proudest cliff, The Lower Grotto Wall.  I wandered up to the wall, and between burns Mike and I gazed at the large swath of flawless, unclimbed granite to the left of his project, fantasizing about a potential directissima through this shear and stunning wall….”  Continue Reading

Unfinished Business Part 2: Insurrection

In July 2012, Mike and his family took an extended road trip through Colorado, visiting a number of crags, included the ultra-scenic and oft overlooked Independence Pass. I spent that entire summer re-habbing an A2 Pulley Strain, so I was not climbing, but the family and I visited the Pass one weekend to hang out. Mike was working a classic 5.13+ face climb established by Tommy Caldwell called Before There Were Nine, located on the right end of the overhanging central shield of the Pass’ proudest cliff, The Lower Grotto Wall.

The magnificent Lower Grotto Wall.

The magnificent Lower Grotto Wall.

I wandered up to the wall, and between burns Mike and I gazed at the large swath of flawless, unclimbed granite to the left of his project, fantasizing about a potential directissima through this shear and stunning wall. The nearly featureless cliff was traced with discontinuous rails and random edges—perhaps just enough to support a free sequence someday.   I filed away my impression of the wall and went about my usual business for more than year.

In October of 2013, fate intervened. The Federal Government Shutdown left me with plenty of time on my hands and no partners, so with ‘nothing better to do’, I threw some gear in my trunk and drove the two-and-a-half windy hours to inspect this wall a bit closer. I found some of the best graniteI’d seen in Colorado, and a conceivable sequence. It would be hard, but I thought it would go—eventually. I hurried back to the top of the cliff, this time with my drill.

"The Indy Pass Project"

“The Indy Pass Project”

The route begins with a desperate, balancey V9/10-ish boulder problem right off the bat, liebacking powerfully up a suspended dagger of stone. A gymnastic 5.12 traverse heads left to a large eyebrow, and then straight up to a decent stance below the next crux. A devious sequence spans a pair of opposing rails, leading to a strenuous clip off a sharp crimp. The redpoint crux begins here, with a series of dynos to reach the Crimp Rail—a ¼”-deep, right-facing flake. The hardest single move is matching this feature, followed by two more difficult moves to reach a marginal shake at the fifth bolt. This stretch is around V11/12 by itself. About ten more 5.12 moves lead to the only really good rest stance on the route. You can camp out here on a pair of large jugs and contemplate the final thin, reachy boulder problem that guards the chains.

Just above the Crimp Rail.

Just above the Crimp Rail.

I pushed all my other projects aside, and obsessed over this new line for the next month. On October 30th, nine days into the campaign, I finally stuck the match at the crimp rail on redpoint. This was my first new highpoint in several days of work. And then I fell on the next move! Still, I was very close. At this point in the climb each move is slightly easier than the move before it, so it’s theoretically possible to sketch through with a moderate pump to reach the jugs 15-feet below the anchor. I could sense that after so many days away from the gym, my fitness was beginning to fade, but I had a good feeling that the next day would be the day.

The summit of Independence Pass sits at a dizzying 12,095 feet, making it the highest paved through-road in Colorado. The weather on the pass can be epic, and so the highway department closes the road for “winter” (typically closing the road on November 7th and re-opening on the Thursday before Memorial Day each year). Time was running short, but I figured I had at least a few climbing days left.

Nightmare anyone? Artwork along Highway 82, just outside of Twin Lakes

Nightmare anyone? Artwork along Highway 82, just outside of Twin Lakes

After a rest day, I returned with Kate on November 1st. The drive from our home in Evergreen is scenic but occasionally terrifying. On more than one occasion we passed overturned vehicles on Fremont Pass, the connector route from Interstate 70 to the tiny village of Twin Lakes, nestled at the east end of Independence Pass. After two anxious hours in the car, we turned onto Highway 82, just outside of Twin Lakes, and beheld the flashing hazard sign that deflated all my hopes:


Frowny Face!

Frowny Face!

I pulled off the road to consider my options, and after a few incredulous minutes, I hatched a plan. Aspen sits at the west end of the pass, and it’s accessible via a 4 hour drive from our house along I-70 through Glenwood Canyon. The closure point on the Aspen side is just under 4 miles from the Grotto Wall. We could drive around the Sawatch Mountains via I-70 to Aspen, and then hike up the road to the cliff. It would be difficult to pull off this approach and still have enough left in the tank to climb at my limit, but I couldn’t accept quitting when it seemed I was so close. I had to try. Fortunately Kate is always willing to support (perhaps mostly for the morbid curiosity of observing my insanity in action). It was already too late in the day to implement this harebrained scheme, so we headed home to make arrangements for the coming weekend.

Rigged to tow Logan up to the Grotto Wall.

Rigged to tow Logan up to the Grotto Wall.

After 4 hours of driving and over an hour of hiking with a heavy load, I was pretty well spent. I put in two attempts, but I was unable to match my previous highpoint. We stashed whatever we could, and then headed back down the road to Aspen. The next day the hike was more of the same. Clearly this approach would not work, but having tried, I could finally accept that my dream to free this wall would have to wait a few months….

I spent the intervening months preparing, like Rocky holed-up in a snowy cabin, training to face Ivan Drago. I trained and I climbed. I selected Mission Impossible as a stepping stone, for its similarities to the Indy Pass Project, and so I might be calibrated to eventually grade it. I sacrificed climbing opportunities at the end of my winter and spring seasons so I could be in peak condition on the day Independence Pass finally opened. And I watched as record snowfall hammered Colorado’s high mountains.

Finally, at noon on May 22nd, 2014, the Pass re-opened, two hours ahead of schedule! Of course, I still had one barrier to overcome, which I put away on May 23rd. Normally I hate climbing on back-to-back days, but I couldn’t stand another day of wondering, so we headed out to the Pass early on May 24th.

Indy Pass Open Pic_lo


My first go was typical—spent trying to re-fresh my muscle memory. I have many gigabytes of video and detailed text describing the route’s beta. I spent countless hours studying film during my layoff, so I knew the moves on a conscious level, but it would take some effort to get back to the point where my subconscious could take the reins.   By the last go of the second day back, I reached the crimp rail with my left hand, and nearly stuck the match move. I was more or less back where I left off in the Fall. I felt very solid on this sequence, and much like my second Mission Impossible campaign, I was making huge leaps in progress between attempts. My skin was getting hammered by the sharp crimps, so I was happy to take a couple rest days before returning.

We arrived early on May 29th, with the cliff (and seemingly the entire Pass) to ourselves. I didn’t sleep at all the previous night, straining over what may come, so I wasn’t feeling super confident. My warmup went smoothly, hiking the first pitch of Victims of Fashion and then the uber-classic Scene of the Crime. After 30 minutes of pacing below the object of my obsession, I couldn’t take any more delays and began to rope up.

Finishing the opening boulder problem.

Finishing the opening boulder problem.  Photo Adam Sanders.

The opening boulder felt desperate. I snapped a hold here on the previous day, making the third move just that much harder, but I was able to scrape through. I flowed through the next section to a brief shake before the crux. I was pumped, no doubt, but the sort of pumped where you can still produce power when you need to. I launched into the crux, climbing quickly and efficiently, the best I’d felt on this section. I was able to move my left hand to the crimp rail statically—a good sign. I placed it carefully and paused a moment to adjust and ensure it was in the perfect spot. I wrapped my thumb over, shifted my hips and prepared to match. I stuck the match, and while the pump was steadily growing, I was still in control. I moved out left, positioned my feet, and made a long stab for a flat edge. I matched and clipped, the crux behind me, and tried to shake on the sloping ¾” shelf.

After a few cycles of chalking, I decided the situation was deteriorating, so I better push on and hope for the best. Trusting my beta, I thrutched through each move, ignoring my complaining forearms. Finally I reach the jugs in the black streak. This was a great rest, but I was quite pumped. I had never been this pumped at this point on the route, so I didn’t know what to expect. I camped out for several minutes, slowly regaining my strength. With the sun creeping higher, and the temperature noticeably rising, I set off up the final headwall. My arms felt dull as I paddled toward the anchor. One last, gnarly crimp move guards the chains. I placed my fingers on the edge and cranked.

Stretching for the sloping edge at the end of the redpoint crux.  Photo Adam Sanders. 

As I clipped the chains, I felt a strange sensation—almost melancholy. Not the euphoria I was accustomed to. It’s taken me some time to understand this feeling, but I think it was a sense of loss. The Indy Pass Project has been my companion, my motivator, for a long time, and now it’s finished. With many projects, I tire of the route long before I complete it. That never happened with this route. I enjoyed the “commute” right up to the end. The crag is quite beautiful and great for the kids. I was looking forward to spending more time there. We often had the entire cliff to ourselves, and when we didn’t the people we met were friendly and encouraging. The style of climbing is my absolute favorite, and I enjoyed every single burn on the route.

I think Insurrection is the hardest route I’ve climbed. After so much time on the route, and the long layoff, it’s easy to lose perspective on a route’s difficulty. First ascents in particular are hard to grade because the beta is a complete mystery. The project took me 14 days over two seasons.  Based on the math, I would have to say that for me it was a bit harder than Mission Impossible, somerwhere in the 14c range. The two routes are similar in many ways, though MI is much more bouldery with excellent rests. The moves on Insurrection are not as hard, but you’re more pumped when you climb them.

Nearing the good rest.

Nearing the good rest.  Photo Adam Sanders.

More importantly, Insurrection is the best route I’ve established. The line is pure and continuous. The movement on the route is fantastic, linking a maze of discontinuous and barely-there features in a snaking line up the wall. It’s unlike your typical crimp ladder; you need more than just brute strength. The Pass has some of the best granite in Colorado—and the rock on this section of the cliff is excellent. A remarkable collection of legends have established routes on this wall, including Harvey Carter, Henry Barber, John Long, Lynn Hill, Charlie Fowler, Michael Kennedy, Kurt Smith, Tommy Caldwell, and Matt Samet. I feel extremely fortunate to be able to add a line of my own.

It’s great to get any First Ascent, but when you discover the line, conjure a vision of its possibility, and then put in the effort to make it real, that is another level entirely. When such a route happens to present a challenge that demands all of your ability, that is something really special.  Thanks to all the people who contributed to this project, especially Kate, who braved my driving through numerous blizzards, Logan and Amelie, who suffered through my mega-burns, Adam who came out to take photos, Mike, who led me to this wall, and Janelle who held the rope during the send.

Climbing with an Infant

Kids luv the crag! Lucas Anderson at the RRG at 4.

Kids luv the crag! Lucas Anderson at the RRG at 3 years old.

A couple of my friends recently introduced future rock stars into the world, so with them in mind, Mike and I asked our wives Janelle and Kate to help us draft a few tips on climbing with an infant.  This post assumes mother and father are climbing together with baby, and without a dedicated sitter.  Everything written here is twice mother-approved (grandmother, not necessarily 🙂 ).  This post assumes mother and father are climbing together with baby, and without a dedicated sitter. Obviously its optimal to have a third adult to help with baby, but we are realists, not optimists.  In my experience, if you only climb when you have a third adult, you won’t climb very often.  I know there are many other climbing parents reading this, some with far more experience than I have, so if you have any useful tips, please share them!  For those of you who don’t have kids (yet?), perhaps this post will take some of the mystery away and reduce any potential apprehensions to climbing parenthood.

Kids are constantly evolving, so what works one season may be obsolete the next.  As climber-parents, we need to be constantly adapting and thinking about ways to improve the crag experience for our kids.  These tips are intended for kids who haven’t started crawling.  For new parents, this will likely be the simplest time to take your child climbing for at least three or four years.  At this age, babies mostly sleep, they’re immobile, highly adaptable, and the absurd amount of “stuff” you have to drag along to the crag is relatively small and light.  As with many aspects of parenthood, it never really gets easier as your child grows, it just gets different.

Logan at Shelf Road on his 39th day.  At this age, babies sleep as much as 16 hours a day.

Logan at Shelf Road on his 39th day. At this age, babies sleep as much as 16 hours a day.

The first question to consider is how early to start climbing outside with your new baby.  Healthy babies are tremendously resilient.  What’s more, they love being outside–they like to look at trees and rocks, listen to birds chirp, and watch the clouds float by.  They don’t like being pent up inside for weeks on end any more than adults do.  I just finished reading Ambrose’s “Undaunted Courage”, a biography of Meriweather Lewis, and he notes that while the most accomplished woodsmen of their time gallantly struggled to traverse our vast continent, a teen-aged Sacagawea managed the trip, sans complaint, with a newborn baby boy in tow (and he turned out just fine).  The real question is, how soon can mother start climbing outside?

Axel RRG.

Don’t do this!

Obviously that depends on a lot of factors.  Make sure she can wear a harness safely and comfortably before committing to any roped climbing (in some cases, a full body harness can be helpful).  Wait at least until mother’s doctor gives the thumbs-up at the six-week checkup.  Even then, it’s probably a good idea for mother to stick to topropes for a few more weeks after that.  Timelines will probably be significantly longer for Cesarian deliveries (if anyone out there has a data point, please share!).

Furthermore, despite our society’s advancements in gender equality, it seems that climbing with baby is still far more taxing and stressful for mothers than it is for fathers.  If mother is psyched the experience will be much better for everyone.  Usually after a month or two of sitting around the house, mother will be antsy to get outside and do something.

Amelie climbing near Estes Park, CO at about 9 weeks old.

Amelie climbing near Estes Park, CO at about 9 weeks old.

Once the family has agreed to take the plunge, the next pressing matter is crag selection.  Mutli-pitch climbing is right out, so you can cross the Black Canyon off your list 🙂  Bouldering, Sport climbing, and single-pitch trad are all potential options, as long as you can lower-off the routes you plan to climb.  The most critical factor is rock fall (for that reason, ice climbing is not recommended).  Ideally you can find a crag with solid, monolithic stone and minimal loose rock.  Furthermore, the steeper the crag the better.  Assuming mom &/or dad will be lead climbing, the belayer will need to be near the cliff base (and baby should always be within arm’s reach of the belayer).  Usually when rock falls from an overhanging route, it lands far away from where the cliff meets the ground.  If you must climb at a vertical (or under) crag, find an overhang or alcove low to the ground where baby will be sheltered from rock fall.

Logan perched under a low roof at Shelf Road to protect from rock fall.

Logan perched under a low roof at Shelf Road to protect from rock fall.

Next, consider the popularity of your destination.  As many an internet forum has concluded, nobody wants to climb near a screaming baby, but that’s not the best reason to avoid crowded cliffs.  Once again, rock fall is the most critical factor.  Greater crowds increases the risk of rock (or other random objects) flying through the air toward your precious bundle of joy.  If all nearby crags are always crowded, consider visiting the crag on a weekday.  Dogs are another consideration.  It’s hard to predict how somebody else’s dog may react to your child, so best to remove any doubt and seek isolation.  Most parents prefer solitude anyway, because when baby inevitably starts crying, as all babies do whether they are at the crag or at home, there is nobody outside the climbing party to offend.

Follow your pediatricians’ recommendations, but generally newborns should not be exposed to direct sunlight, especially in high-altitude environments where many crags are located.  Ideally your destination will have enough shade to keep baby out of the sun at all times, but if not, bring a white sheet (large burp cloths work well) to drape over baby’s chair to create shade.  Have infant sunscreen on-hand in case you’re unable to avoid sun exposure, but generally you shouldn’t plan on using it.

Driving time is also worth considering.  Logan would not tolerate more than 2 hours in the car until he was about 1-year old.  Your mileage may vary.  If every drive to the crag culminates in an hour of nonstop screaming, you can bet you won’t be climbing as often as you’d like.  Best to select crags within a reasonable range of home, and reduce the stress for everyone.  Feeding baby just before departure will allow you maximum range.  Finally, a few choice crags offer stroller-access.  These crags are ideal because baby doesn’t need to be awakened for the approach, or during transitions from crag to crag.

A Baby Bjorn lets you wear your climbing pack. Never leave a child with a man like this!

A Baby Bjorn lets you wear your climbing pack. Never leave a child with a man like this!

Once you’re at the crag, here are a few items we’ve found useful:

-Baby Bjorn (or similar).  Assuming no stroller access, you will need to carry baby from the car to the cliff, and front-carriers like these work great, while allowing you to carry a pack on your back.  Furthermore, if its cold you can usually zip baby up inside your jacket for added warmth.

-Baby Bunting Bag (or similar).  A “bunting” is essentially an insulated sleeping bag for your baby.  Most have a hood, with a zippered sack for the feet.  This is the key item for climbing in colder climates. Even in warmer temps, this will keep baby warm and cozy, which are two key ingredients for sound sleep.  These come in many shapes, sizes and prices.  Be sure to get one that breaks the wind.  Some have sleeves and others don’t; we’ve always used an over-sized bag with sleeves, which the kids can grow into.   We’ve had both our infants snug and happy in below-freezing temps in these bags.  That said, we generally avoid climbing with the kids in temps below 50 degF.  If you must, bring blankets and an extra down jacket to layer over baby.

An oversized "bunting" like this will work for newborns, but still fit nearly a year later.  Sleeves aren't essential at first, but once baby is 3 months old or so they're nice to have.

An oversized “bunting” like this will work for newborns, but still fit nearly a year later. Sleeves aren’t essential at first, but once baby is 3 months old or so they’re nice to have.

-Baby container.  You will likely want some device to hold baby while you’re climbing.  At steep crags with soft, flat bases, a simple blanket can work, but at rocky areas where soft sleep surfaces are hard to find, a low profile, reclined “bouncer seat” is really nice.  We’ve used one like this for both our children.  This model is very light, easy to strap on the outside of my pack, and includes some bonus features like a music box, vibrator, and dangling toys for the kids to stare at.  Although rarely necessary, it’s also easy to disassemble for packing.  Baby can be strapped securely into the chair, and then the chair can be moved around the crag with ease.  Furthermore, having baby in a slightly more upright position makes it easier to see baby’s face and allows for regular eye contact while belaying (which will help keep baby happy).  This chair is amazingly stable and durable.

Our trusted bouncy seat has served us well for 3 years.  Note the stick clip and down jacket poised to create shade in the upper left.

Our trusted bouncy seat has served us well for 3 years. Note the stick clip and down jacket poised to create shade in the upper left.

-Backup Binky.  Mommy has two pacifiers permanently attached to her chest, so this responsibility will often fall to dad.  Just bring 3 or 4 pacifiers everywhere you go.  The crag is no exception.  You won’t regret it.  Another nice accessory is a pacifier lanyard which will help keep the binky out of the hanta-virus-infested dirt and rat feces at the base of many sport crags.

The orange lanyard shown here is girth-hitched to the blue pacifier (on the right end), and then clips to baby's outfit (on the left end).

The orange lanyard shown here is girth-hitched to the blue pacifier (on the right end), and then clips to baby’s outfit (on the left end).

-Diaper Bag contents.  By the time you hit the cliff for the first time you should be an expert at changing diapers.  Doing it outside is nothing special.  It’s a good idea to bring a plastic bag to pack out dirty diapers.  Enough said.

-Sun shade, sun hat for baby, and backup sunscreen.

A make-shift sunshade protects baby Axel at the RRG, KY.

A make-shift sunshade protects baby Axel at the RRG, KY.

-Play Tent This is optional, but helps protect baby from sun, bugs, and free-range dogs. It also pens them in when their mobility becomes a danger to themselves.

A cheap play tent like this can be very useful, especially when they become ambulatory.

A cheap play tent like this can be very useful, especially when they become ambulatory.

Once baby is situated, climbing can proceed pretty much as normal, but build in some extra time for feeding, burping, and changing the baby.  If you’re accustomed to precisely timed 45-minute rest increments you can just toss that right out the window 🙂  Theoretically it’s possible to get a full climbing day in, but realistically everyone involved will tire much earlier than usual.  If you manage to tie in four times, at any interval, you’ve had a good day.  I’m usually able to get 2-3 warmup pitches and 2 longer burns on my project.  We’ve managed to pull off more on some occasions, and on others we’ve felt lucky to accomplish less.  If you’re able to climb twice your first time out, you’ve done well.

Two-time mother Janelle Anderson cruising "Bacup Binky" in Sinks Canyon, Wyoming.

Two-time mother Janelle Anderson cruising “Backup Binky” in Sinks Canyon, Wyoming.

Each climber should be prepared to go “straight in” whenever its necessary for the belayer to attend to baby (for this reason, Sport Climbing is a bit easier than single-pitch trad).  Be prepared to sing songs or play peek-a-boo during belay duty.  I find I prefer to work projects at this stage of parenthood (as opposed to onsighting), because when projecting I’m basically on toprope most of the time, and I can quickly go straight in, so the belayer can focus more attention on ensuring baby is safe and happy.  Also, projecting allows us to spend most of the day in the same spot, with minimal shuttling of gear, etc from route to route.  Once you’re ready to send, ask a third adult to come along to help out, or visit the crag while baby is with a sitter.

Mike's son Axel at the Red at 9 months old.

Mike’s son Axel at the Red at 9 months old.

Finally, the most productive thing you can accomplish as a climbing parent is to create a safe and fun crag experience for everyone involved.  Obviously, safety is paramount.  Furthermore, if its no fun (for mother, father, or baby), it won’t last.  Consider your first few trips “reconnaissance missions”, where the goal is simply to figure out your system, rather than to send lots of routes.  Develop a system that is safe, enjoyable, and therefore sustainable.  That approach will provide your family with the most opportunities to climb outside together in the long run.

Sam climbing with his centaur dad Steve Bechtel in Sinks Canyon.

Sam climbing with his centaur dad Steve Bechtel in Sinks Canyon.

Sunny St. George Part II: The Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Entering the impressive narrows of Arrow Canyon.

Entering the impressive narrows of Arrow Canyon.

Pictographs in Arrow Canyon.

Pictographs in Arrow Canyon.

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

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

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

The ultra-featured Swamp Cave.

The ultra-featured Swamp Cave.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cathedral and the left end of the Wailing Wall.

The Cathedral and the left end of the Wailing Wall.

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

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

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

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

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

Pulling onto the slab.

Pulling onto the slab.

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

Amelie chillin at the Turtle Wall. Photo Dan Brayack.

Amelie chillin at the Turtle Wall. Photo Dan Brayack.

Sunny St. George Part I: Breakin’ The Law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hiking to Independence Monument outside Grand Junction, CO.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unwinding from the Iron Cross.  Photo Dan Brayack.

Unwinding from the Iron Cross. Photo Dan Brayack.

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

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

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

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

Logan and me at Black & Tan.

Logan and me at Black & Tan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shelf Anchor Replacement Wrap Up

The inaugural Shelf Road Anchor Replacement Weekend was a big hit.  We had a lot of volunteers and a lot of fun.  We replaced tons of mank hardware at The Bank and Cactus Cliff, and built a fence at the Bank Campground for the BLM. Anything we can do to maintain positive relations with landmanagers like the BLM is time well spent, but the main objective was hardware replacement. 

Much of the hardware at Shelf is getting to be 30 years old, so I think its really important that we take a pro-active approach to upgrading hardware whenever we can.  Fortunately there are guys like Bob D’Antonio and the American Safe Climbing Association working to make that happen.  In addition to Bob, Bruno Hanche and Derek Lawrence were instrumental in pulling off the event, providing hardware, and upgrading anchors.  Bruno in particular has spent several consecutive weekends at Shelf with Bob, working their way around the area, replacing hardware.

A fraction of the hardware replaced on Saturday

A fraction of the hardware replaced on Saturday

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to present a slideshow on Saturday night.  “Untapped: The New Wave of Shelf Road Free Climbing” detailed my efforts over the last few years to push the upper end of difficulty at Shelf Road.  It was an interesting logistical challenge, since the show was at the Bank Campground, where there is no power and basically no facilities of any kind.  Trango lent me their projector, which I was able to run using a beefy Black and Decker 500 Watt inverter hot-wired directly to my car battery.  I built a movie screen by stapling a white bedsheet from Goodwill to a rectangle constructed from four 2×4′s.  It gets really windy at Shelf, so I was worried about the screen.  I brought a pile of rope and stakes to rig up the screen, but we found we could mount it quite nicely with a few screws to the new fence we constructed that morning :)

Once we got all the construction completed the show went off without a hitch. There was a great crowd, and I got a lot of good questions and compliments after.  Unfortunately I was too distracted to get any pictures of the show.  If anyone has any, please let me know!

Kate and Logan giving back at the 2150 Wall.

Kate and Logan giving back at the 2150 Wall.

The next morning the heads of state were already planning next year’s event.  I’d love to see this turn into an annual affair, and considering the massive number of routes at Shelf, it will realistically take many years to completely upgrade all the sketchy hardware.

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

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