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Corner Pocket

By Mark Anderson

The small town of Ouray, in southwest Colorado, is one of my family’s favorite places to visit. The town has everything we look for in a vacation spot—good climbing, endless rest-day activities, and a place for the kids to swim. With extra sweeteners like a great bakery, plentiful ice cream, the best scenery in Colorado, and heated pools, it’s the perfect road-trip destination.

The 4th of July parade in downtown Ouray. If you stand on the sunny side of the street, expect to get soaked!

This year our climbing focused around the aptly-named Pool Wall, an angling cliffband that looms above Ouray’s legendary hot springs pools. The rock appears to be stuck somewhere in the geologic process between sandstone and full-on quartzite (which is metamorphosed sandstone). It looks like the former, but feels and climbs like the latter. The rock quality varies a fair bit depending on the sector, but where its good the rock is quite good.

The Pool Wall. The Bay of Pigs sector is the clean lower wall in the center.

We primarily spent our time at the killer Bay of Pigs sector, which features a number of super-high quality face climbs. The Ouray community seems to have a proclivity towards stiff grades, and this was certainly on display. Some of my favorites were Empire of Dirt (5.10d), which culminates in a classic but no-joke slab crux right below the anchors, and the namesake Bay of Pigs (5.12b) which has excellent rock and weaves up the center of the sector on generally crisp edges (and a few committing slaps).

High on Bay of Pigs.

The highlight of my first day was scraping my way up Matt Samet’s standout route Breaking the Waves (5.13a) on my first try. The crux climbs over a Rifle-esque blocky bulge with powerful underclings that lead to a committing dyno, but the upper headwall is stacked with desperate stabs to thin edges. It’s easily one of the best sport climbs in the Ouray area, and perhaps the best of the grade.

For my next climbing day, I set my sights on an open project on the far left end of the Bay of Pigs sector. According to Jason Nelson’s fantastic book “Climbs of the Million Dollar Highway,” the route was bolted by my friend Luke Childers but never sent, and features a “small, sharp pocket” at the crux. When I stumble on opportunities like this, I’m both intrigued and apprehensive—I would love to contribute a first ascent to an area I enjoy so much, but I also don’t want to “waste” a few precious vacation burns on a route I may not be able to finish.

Pulling onto the headwall on the “open project.”

With a few good sends in the bag I figured it was worth the risk, especially considering how good the route looked from below. After an easy approach, the route climbs a slightly overhanging arête with well-spaced, rounded edges. The rock was a bit “muddy” from neglect, but with a light brushing, it cleaned up really well.

The business is a 12-foot bouldery stretch along the prow. In the middle of this section is a slightly incut mono pocket that angles to the left, creating essentially a PIP-joint-deep sinker sidepull for the right hand. This pocket was actually pretty easy to pull on, but it was also a “Keeper.” Meaning, if you fall with your finger in that pocket, you better yank it free before your weight comes onto it or else that pocket is going to “keep” your finger!

Yarding off the keeper mono.

The opening boulder begins with a big incut edge, but then nothing for the next 4 feet except an out-of-view, sloping 2-finger dish. Right off the bat I struggled to get off the ledge and established onto the prow. It’s really important to be patient in situations like this. When you know a route has been climbed, and you know the approximate grade, even if you can’t figure out how to do a move, at least you know the move goes (and should be within a certain range of difficulty, or else you’re “doing it wrong”). With a first ascent, you really have no idea. Maybe it’s been left undone because the move is V14?

Pulling past the sloping dish on the lower arête.

Fortunately having gone through this countless times gave me just enough confidence to keep at it until I figured out the right footwork to snag the dish. The upper boulder, yarding off the mono thread, is probably a bit more physical (certainly more finger-strength intensive), but much more straightforward to figure out. After sussing the final panel I gave the route a final brushing and rested for a redpoint attempt.

I climbed quickly to the ledge below the prow, bouldered up a couple moves to clip, and down-climbed to rest and chalk one last time. I powered easily up to the big edge, moved my feet onto the prow, and slapped for the 2-finger dish. I came up empty-handed, but got enough friction from my grating right hand to stop my descent before I sagged onto the rope. Try again: same result, still managing to arrest my fall with a hard left arm lock-off. I took a deep breath, leaned back to get a better view of the target, and tried one last time. This time I got just enough of the dish and bounced my fingers in. I made a quick slap to a rounded edge, snagged the mono thread and gingerly clipped.

The next crux is moving off the clipping stance with a huuuge reach off the mono. Fortunately due to its orientation I could lock it off below hip-level. My Mundakas did their job and I snagged the distant edge with minimal drama and all fingers intact. After a brief shake I snaked up the brilliant 5.11 headwall (well, 5.10 by Ouray standards, haha) and clipped the chains.

Unwinding from the big mono reach.

People often ask something to the effect of “The places I climb don’t have pockets, do I still have to train pockets?” Obviously, we don’t have to do anything in the context of training, but I try to encourage people to train a wide variety of grips and this route is a perfect example of the reason. If you aren’t training comprehensively then you are training weaknesses into your climbing. I haven’t had a goal-specific reason to train pockets for at least 5 years. Had I decided not to train pockets over that time I seriously doubt I would have been able to do that route, and certainly not 2nd go.

Logan enjoying another of Luke’s routes, California Stars (5.10a) at The Alcove sector of the Pool Wall.

Grade-wise, I always struggle to grade tweaky routes, but comparing it only to the mono-intensive routes I’ve done, I’d say its much harder than Manly Bulges at Shelf or One Love at Sinks, about the same as Todd Skinner’s Smoke Shapes (13d), and maybe a bit easier than Ghettoblaster (13d/14a) in the Frankenjura.

Many thanks to Luke for putting the route in. Luke’s done a tremendous amount of development all around Colorado, including at the Pool Wall, and we enjoyed a number of his routes during our trip. We always have a blast in Ouray and this trip was no exception. I can’t wait for our next opportunity to visit.

The northern San Juan mountains from the summit of Wetterhorn Peak.

Corner Pocket

By Mark Anderson

The small town of Ouray, in southwest Colorado, is one of my family’s favorite places to visit. The town has everything we look for in a vacation spot—good climbing, endless rest-day activities, and a place for the kids to swim. With extra sweeteners like a great bakery, plentiful ice cream, the best scenery in Colorado, and heated pools, it’s the perfect road-trip destination.

The 4th of July parade in downtown Ouray. If you stand on the sunny side of the street, expect to get soaked!

This year our climbing focused around the aptly-named Pool Wall, an angling cliffband that looms above Ouray’s legendary hot springs pools. The rock appears to be stuck somewhere in the geologic process between sandstone and full-on quartzite (which is metamorphosed sandstone). It looks like the former, but feels and climbs like the latter. The rock quality varies a fair bit depending on the sector, but where its good the rock is quite good.

The Pool Wall. The Bay of Pigs sector is the clean lower wall in the center.

We primarily spent our time at the killer Bay of Pigs sector, which features a number of super-high quality face climbs. The Ouray community seems to have a proclivity towards stiff grades, and this was certainly on display. Some of my favorites were Empire of Dirt (5.10d), which culminates in a classic but no-joke slab crux right below the anchors, and the namesake Bay of Pigs (5.12b) which has excellent rock and weaves up the center of the sector on generally crisp edges (and a few committing slaps).

High on Bay of Pigs.

The highlight of my first day was scraping my way up Matt Samet’s standout route Breaking the Waves (5.13a) on my first try. The crux climbs over a Rifle-esque blocky bulge with powerful underclings that lead to a committing dyno, but the upper headwall is stacked with desperate stabs to thin edges. It’s easily one of the best sport climbs in the Ouray area, and perhaps the best of the grade.

For my next climbing day, I set my sights on an open project on the far left end of the Bay of Pigs sector. According to Jason Nelson’s fantastic book “Climbs of the Million Dollar Highway,” the route was bolted by my friend Luke Childers but never sent, and features a “small, sharp pocket” at the crux. When I stumble on opportunities like this, I’m both intrigued and apprehensive—I would love to contribute a first ascent to an area I enjoy so much, but I also don’t want to “waste” a few precious vacation burns on a route I may not be able to finish.

Pulling onto the headwall on the “open project.”

With a few good sends in the bag I figured it was worth the risk, especially considering how good the route looked from below. After an easy approach, the route climbs a slightly overhanging arête with well-spaced, rounded edges. The rock was a bit “muddy” from neglect, but with a light brushing, it cleaned up really well.

The business is a 12-foot bouldery stretch along the prow. In the middle of this section is a slightly incut mono pocket that angles to the left, creating essentially a PIP-joint-deep sinker sidepull for the right hand. This pocket was actually pretty easy to pull on, but it was also a “Keeper.” Meaning, if you fall with your finger in that pocket, you better yank it free before your weight comes onto it or else that pocket is going to “keep” your finger!

Yarding off the keeper mono.

The opening boulder begins with a big incut edge, but then nothing for the next 4 feet except an out-of-view, sloping 2-finger dish. Right off the bat I struggled to get off the ledge and established onto the prow. It’s really important to be patient in situations like this. When you know a route has been climbed, and you know the approximate grade, even if you can’t figure out how to do a move, at least you know the move goes (and should be within a certain range of difficulty, or else you’re “doing it wrong”). With a first ascent, you really have no idea. Maybe it’s been left undone because the move is V14?

Pulling past the sloping dish on the lower arête.

Fortunately having gone through this countless times gave me just enough confidence to keep at it until I figured out the right footwork to snag the dish. The upper boulder, yarding off the mono thread, is probably a bit more physical (certainly more finger-strength intensive), but much more straightforward to figure out. After sussing the final panel I gave the route a final brushing and rested for a redpoint attempt.

I climbed quickly to the ledge below the prow, bouldered up a couple moves to clip, and down-climbed to rest and chalk one last time. I powered easily up to the big edge, moved my feet onto the prow, and slapped for the 2-finger dish. I came up empty-handed, but got enough friction from my grating right hand to stop my descent before I sagged onto the rope. Try again: same result, still managing to arrest my fall with a hard left arm lock-off. I took a deep breath, leaned back to get a better view of the target, and tried one last time. This time I got just enough of the dish and bounced my fingers in. I made a quick slap to a rounded edge, snagged the mono thread and gingerly clipped.

The next crux is moving off the clipping stance with a huuuge reach off the mono. Fortunately due to its orientation I could lock it off below hip-level. My Mundakas did their job and I snagged the distant edge with minimal drama and all fingers intact. After a brief shake I snaked up the brilliant 5.11 headwall (well, 5.10 by Ouray standards, haha) and clipped the chains.

Unwinding from the big mono reach.

People often ask something to the effect of “The places I climb don’t have pockets, do I still have to train pockets?” Obviously, we don’t have to do anything in the context of training, but I try to encourage people to train a wide variety of grips and this route is a perfect example of the reason. If you aren’t training comprehensively then you are training weaknesses into your climbing. I haven’t had a goal-specific reason to train pockets for at least 5 years. Had I decided not to train pockets over that time I seriously doubt I would have been able to do that route, and certainly not 2nd go.

Logan enjoying another of Luke’s routes, California Stars (5.10a) at The Alcove sector of the Pool Wall.

Grade-wise, I always struggle to grade tweaky routes, but comparing it only to the mono-intensive routes I’ve done, I’d say its much harder than Manly Bulges at Shelf or One Love at Sinks, about the same as Todd Skinner’s Smoke Shapes (13d), and maybe a bit easier than Ghettoblaster (13d/14a) in the Frankenjura.

Many thanks to Luke for putting the route in. Luke’s done a tremendous amount of development all around Colorado, including at the Pool Wall, and we enjoyed a number of his routes during our trip. We always have a blast in Ouray and this trip was no exception. I can’t wait for our next opportunity to visit.

The northern San Juan mountains from the summit of Wetterhorn Peak.

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.

Better Beta: 5 Ways to Break Through

Fall is sending season. Time for breaking into that next grade, sending that nemesis rig, and time for some good old-fashioned try-hard. Sending at your limit is all about the details – the micro beta, the mental game, and every iota of body tension you can muster.

With that in mind, here are 5 (often overlooked) tips for breaking through and sending your fall project.

TIP 1: Expose yourself to different styles

“I think exposure is the most important. If you vary the type and style you climb a lot, you’ll have a larger repertoire of knowledge to apply while climbing.” – Drew Ruana

 

TIP 2: Movement over Strength

“Focus on movement. A common misconception is that you need to be strong to climb hard routes, but being GOOD at climbing is so much cooler, and more efficient.” – Alex Johnson

 

TIP 3: Eliminate Worry So You Can Focus

“I think its a systems check. We’ve all tied a figure-eight knot so many times. We do it without thinking and yet a lot of people get nervous when the route starts getting hard above the bolt or cam and they worry about things they shouldn’t be – like their knot or belayer. Take the extra second on the ground to check your partner, have them check you, and test a piece if you need to. Make sure that when the time comes, you’re already totally confident they’ll work the way their supposed to. Who knows, you maybe would have sent through that slippery crux section if you were 100% focused on the moves and not at all focused on something else.” – Jason Haas

 

TIP 3: Practice Makes Perfect

“In general, I think climbers (both new and really old) don’t take time to PRACTICE climbing. We often tend to jump on the hardest thing we can get on, and that’s not effective. We should spend more time on slightly easier terrain, practicing the movement and other skills needed to climb well.” – Mike Anderson

 

Ari Novak Ice Climbing - Miami Ice - Cody, Wyoming

TIP 5: Master the Mental Game

“Jeff Lowe once told me 90% of climbing is above the shoulders, and I agree with him. Approaching climbing with the right mental approach and honest competency earned by learning and working the craft is key. Your greatest hopes and dreams can be achieved. If you put a climb on a pedestal it will stay there. If you put a climb on your level and work your ass off you’ll be on top of it faster than you think. It’s as much about attitude and vision as it is about the necessary physical strength to just get up something. Earn it both inside and out. To me ice climbing is not just about the external journey but the internal journey.” – Ari Novak

Striking Distance

By Mark Anderson

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Mark Anderson on the first ascent of Striking Distance, 5.14b, Gaudi Wall. Photo Derek Wasiecko

Last year I stumbled upon a rad little north-facing cliff I’m calling the Gaudi Wall (for famed Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi).  In fact the wall is not exactly “little”, with pitches up to 38 meters.  The rock is super high-quality Gneiss–I would argue some of the best in Colorado.

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Entering the burly crux of Striking Distance, 5.14b. This route has incredible stone and really rad movement. Photo Derek Wasiecko.

I put in about 20 routes on this wall in spring/summer 2017.  This is easily the best crag I’ve developed and I’m really proud of it.  Last weekend I polished off the last of my original lines–an outstanding lightning-bolt seam in a sheer, 20-degree overhang called Striking Distance.  The line starts with really gymnastic, sequential and technical liebacking to a good rest, followed immediately by a boulder problem featuring super-burly underclinging that I figure is around V11 in its own right.  My main objective over the last month was just to get some mileage on rock while passing the time until I’m ready to start training for the Fall season.  This was the perfect route for some roped bouldering, but to my surprise it started coming together despite the summer heat. On Sunday I lucked into an unseasonably cold and windy day and everything clicked on the second go.  I spent 11 days on the route spread over a year, and in that time I only linked the crux boulder problem one time–during Sunday’s send!

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Ben Lindfors climbing On Till The End, 5.13c.

I’m working on an informal print guide for this wall and a few of the other crags I’ve been developing since 2015 (more on this to come in a few weeks, or months, but hopefully not!)  I’m apprehensive about publicizing the crag because the access route passes through a residential area which could cause conflicts. If you have the opportunity to visit this place, please be courteous to the local residents, carpool, drive slowly and keep the stereotypical obnoxious-climber-behavior to a minimum.  In the mean time, here are some photos of some of the Gaudi Wall’s best lines. Enjoy!

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Derek Wasiecko toppint out The Underflinger, 5.12b. 

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Evan Howell flashing Wrench Wrun, 5.12a.

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Mike flashing Oh Wow!, 5.12a

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Ben Lindfors in the high crux of On till the End, 5.13c.

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Derek New crushing The Underflinger, 5.12b.

More Sport Climbing in the Dolomites

By Mark Anderson

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Fantisilandia, 7a+, Becco d’Ajal

Now that I had figured out which characteristics to look for in Dolomite sport crags I was much more psyched for the upcoming crag days.  One crag that piqued my interest is called “Rio Gere” and was merely 4 Km from our Condo in Cortina. Though the book raved about it, a quick recon of the area left me skeptical.

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Rio Gere–a massive boulder in the forest just east of Cortina.

The cliff is a mixture of yellow, fractured stone and (at that time) heavily seeping pocketed flowstone. Since I was unsure of its quality, I left it for the afternoon of a big hiking day when I was already tired. I began the session with the old strategy of climbing the dry yellow stone, which went as expected—I sent everything, but felt dirty afterwards. I decided I would have more fun slipping out of muddy water-sculpted pockets than teetering up dusty choss, so I climbed a set of flowstone lines that all turned out to be incredible, despite the mud.

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Climbing rad (but muddy) flowstone pockets on Che Pizza, 7b+, Rio Gere.

I also learned that by taking my grade down a few notches I could pretty much climb through a shower head without falling, and when I clipped the chains I felt a real sense of accomplishment. There was no question—I was having more fun climbing the best rock, even if it was wet. That made the choice of the next crag obvious.

IMG_1774aEasily my favorite crag of the trip was Beco d’Ajal—a group of massive boulders just outside of Cortina. Of the crags I visited, this is the other contender for “best sport crag in the dolomites,” and really, the distinction would depend heavily on taste. While Laste is more of a vertical technician’s dream, Beco d’Ajal is all about the steep overhanging pockets. The best comparison I can think of is Sector Cascade at Ceuse. Though not as tall as Ceuse, the cliffs are completely covered in sculpted flowstone jugs.

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No Worries, 7a+, at Beco d’Ajal

The crag is guarded by a burly 45-minute uphill trudge, but it was well worth it. As expected, pretty much everything was wet, but by now I was quite used to climbing through it. The scenery from the cliff was spectacular, looking onto the Tofana Group and Cortina, and the climbing was incredible. If I had one day to be teleported to any cliff in the world, I would go there (when its dry!), Becco

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Fantastic, 7b+ Becco d’Ajal.

For our last day we were all pretty tuckered out, so I selected a cliff with a short drive and even shorter Approach. Crepe de Oucera (Alti) was not quite up to the level of the previous three crags, but it was really good. It’s a favorite of the Cortina locals thanks to its short approach and southern aspect. The climbing here is generally near-vertical with lots of pockets, reminding me of the more pocketed rock at Sinks or the less-featured walls at Ten Sleep. This felt like a more traditional European crag with easy access, well-worn stone and lots of options. Though only one route really blew me away (a 12b called Cuba Libre), it was refreshing to climb some high quality dry rock for a change.

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White Line, 6c+, Crepe de Oucera.

There were a number of other intriguing crags we didn’t visit due to seepage. If I return in drier conditions I would definitely make return trips to Beco d’Ajal and Laste, but based on what I saw, I’d also like to climb on these crags:

– Sass Dlacia: steeply overhanging walls of pockets

– Malga Ciapela: less-steep, techy flowstone

– Tridentina/Eiszeit: Overhanging pockets

– Cinque Torri: Well-traveled/historic collection of large boulders tilted in wild directions

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Cinque Torri

All told, I really enjoyed the sport climbing. Given the amount of rock and variety I think it’s a very worthy destination for sport climbers, certainly worth considering for those looking for a holistic vacation with options for other adventure-oriented activities. That said, try to visit in the Fall when the rock is presumably less wet!

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Fantisilandia, 7a+, Becco d’Ajal.

Coming Soon: more non-sport-climbing adventures in the Dolomites!

Sport Climbing in the Dolomites

 

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People Mover, 7c+, Laste.

By Mark Anderson

Despite its staggering collection of world-class, bolted multi-pitch lines, the Dolomites aren’t known for sport climbing. In fact I’d argue the sport climbing in the Dolomites is pretty much completely unknown, evidenced by the heck of a time I had finding information about it when I first set out. But I knew a range of thousands of (essentially) limestone peaks had to have a few killer sport crags sprinkled about. It was just a matter of uncovering them. As I suspected, they were there in abundance. Once I found them, the challenge was wading through the endless possibilities to identify the most-worthy crags.

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Rope-swing at Salares, with Passo Valparola on the right.

After scouring the internet, I collected a couple guidebooks. The Rockfax guide claims to be a combined Trad, VF and Sport guide. This book is absolutely stunning, and I recommend it to any climber visiting the Dolomites, for general orientation if nothing else. However, it is NOT a sport climbing guide. It only includes a handful of over-used crags, none of which seemed particularly appealing. I ended up using “Sportclimbing in the Dolomites” by Vertical Life. This book is short on details but provides the bare minimum needed to visit more than 50 distinct crags of all varieties, with text provided in three languages including English.

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Prepping the photoshoot at Salares. The cliffs of Val Badia are off to the left.

In the end we visited six different crags. I’d like to say we saw the best in the area, but it’s hard to know for sure when there are so many options. We arrived the last week of May, which is definitely early-season, and the biggest downside of this was that many of the best crags were seeping. In fact, all of the best crags were seeping. I dare say all of the best routes at all of the best crags were seeping! If you want to visit the Dolomites primarily for sport climbing, I’d guess early Fall is the best time to go, but we had to make the best of our window.

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La Chica Bonita, 7a+, Salares.

I started by looking for crags that promised to be dry. These were fairly easy to find (the yellow stone tends to be dry), but I quickly regretted this strategy. We visited two dry-ish crags in a row, Franchi (aka Scheweg) and Salares, and both were disappointing. Granted we arrived at Franchi in a rain storm, and were lucky to climb at all. Only a couple lines were dry, neither were remarkable, nor were we impressed by the appearance of the wet lines. The defining memory of that day was an interminable game of keep away we played with a local crag pup (I absolutely could not leave without my left Oasi—it was only the first day and those shoes are king on overhanging polished limestone!)

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Achtung Baby, 7a+, Salares.

Salares was a distinct improvement, but I quickly noticed a pattern—the dry yellow stone tended to be heavily fractured. I mean egregiously fractured! In fairness, I never broke any key holds, but it was unnerving to be constantly teetering on what appeared to be vertically stacked rubble. It certainly made me think twice about the alpine rock routes. The saving grace of Salares was the incredible view of Val Badia off to the left and an exciting rope swing. So after two days of disappointing rock, I decided we would go for what looked like the best stone, and just deal with whatever wetness we encountered. This turned out to be a great compromise.

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Laste.

We turned our attention to an incredible table-top of limestone below the Marmolada called Laste. Laste is in the discussion for “best sport crag in the dolomites.” The setting is idyllic, with stunning views of the north face of the Civetta, among rolling hills of lush green grass. The rock is excellent but…weird. It’s very reminiscent of the lower left cliff at Rifle’s Anti Phil Wall. The holds are generally angular pinch fins, with lots of underclinging and sidepulls, a few pockets and only rare horizontal edges.

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Trippa per Gatti, 7a+, Laste.

The rock quality was flawless, though spider-webby in spots due to lack of traffic (I even found a mini-scorpion in one pocket). The stone is very light grey making chalk virtually invisible and onsighting incredibly challenging. The west wall of the formation was pretty-much completely dry and the climbing here was phenomenal. All the routes were long, sustained, cerebral and rewarding. I really felt like I accomplished something every time I clipped the chains at Laste. This was also one of the only crags where we encountered other climbers, on a weekday no less, surely a sign of its quality.

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Cilum, 7a, Laste.

It took three days, but I felt like I finally figured out how to pick the crags. We still had most of the trip in front of us and now that I knew what to look for, I was really excited to check out some more incredible-looking dolomite crags….

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Picnicing at the Laste parking lot, with the north face of the Civetta in the distance.

Walk Tall Or Not At All

By Mark Anderson

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

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

The impressive west face of Sidewalk in the Sky.

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

Tod nearing the slab crux of Third Twin.

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

The “Brown Scoop Wall”

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

Groposphere, groping through the crux.

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

The final crux of Groposphere.

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Mike Anderson.

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

Latching the throw. Photo Mike Anderson.

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

Rocking over the lip. Photo Mike Anderson.

Aggro Diablo: New Hard Lines at Devil’s Head

By Mark Anderson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nearing the crux.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

New Front Range Moderates at “The Aqueduct”

by Mark Anderson

With summer in full swing, I’m always on the lookout for crags that are high and shady. I’ve had my eye on just such a crag at the very top of Clear Creek Canyon for a few years now. This chunk of rock is plainly obvious when approaching Clear Creek from the west, but its sky-scraping position roughly 1000-feet above the river (at an elevation of ~8000’) has discouraged the lazy sport climber in me from doing much about it.

High above the river on Well Done Sergeant, 5.11a, at The Aqueduct. Photo © Nicholas Zepeda

Earlier this year I finally hiked up the impressively long and steep hillside to investigate the crag. Although most of the cliff was too broken or low-angled to be of interest to me, I found a couple walls with great rock and some interesting features. Just as importantly, I discovered a much better approach.

Luckily for my knees, Clear Creek County Open Space acquired the large parcel of land between the cliff and I-70 in the spring. This allows for a much easier approach from the saddle at Floyd Hill through the Open Space (still not trivial though, about 20 minutes with ~300 feet of elevation gain).The formation is massive, and has cliffs facing in just about every direction, but the best cliffs are generally west-facing, staying in the shade till around noon. There are currently two developed sectors which are a few hundred feet apart. The lower, northern-most wall, dubbed the “Committee Wall” consists of long-ish, more or less vertical panels of solid, well-featured rock. The routes on this wall are in the 5.10- to 5.11 range, with generally consistent difficulty and fun climbing.

Climbing One Total Catastrophe is Just the Beginning, 11b, at the Committee Wall. Photo © Nicholas Zepeda

Kate cruising Well Done Sergeant, 11a

Boer nearing the chains of This Calls For Immediate Discussion, 10c. Photo © Nicholas Zepeda

The southern sector (“Wabble of Wowdy Webels Wall”) is much shorter, but overhanging, with bullet stone, littered with incut edges. These routes are all excellent despite their brevity. The two 5.12s climb on incredible rock, featuring fun, dynamic boulder problems to reach the lip of the overhang. The best line on this sector is probably Fight the Oppressors, which climbs the stunning, jutting arête on the far right edge of the wall. The prow overhangs on both sides, but thanks to perfectly positioned incut jugs, the difficulty is never much harder than 5.10.

 

Cruising the short but sweet jutting prow of Fight the Oppressors, 11a.

Boer sticking the big dyno on The Meek Are the Problem, 12a.

Straining through the crux of Solidarity Brother, 12b.

Thanks to Nicholas Zepeda for his great work shooting some of these routes. To see more of his work, please checkout his website.

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