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Category Archives: Mark Anderson

Slice of Time—New Eldo 5.14b

By Mark Anderson

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

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

Eldorado Canyon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mike working up the shallow dihedral. Photo Mark Anderson.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tenaya Mundaka: First Look, First Ascent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The vision for the Trango athlete team is to find climbers who embody our brand’s values and support them in their climbing endeavors. We focus on the character of the climber, their passion for the sport, and their desire to contribute to the community.

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