Category Archives: Performance

Guest Article: See the Send — Use Visualization to Up Your Climbing

This is a guest article by long-time Rock Prodigy enthusiast Philip Lutz. Phil has had tremendous success recently at applying the Rock Prodigy Method to his climbing, particularly bouldering.

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Bishop 2009 050

Heather cruising The Bowling Pin, in the Buttermilks.

Over the past six months, I have been obsessively working my projects to death in the least physically demanding way. On rest days, while lounging around in the sun or on nights before a hard redpoint while curled up in my sleeping bag with homemade skin salve slathered all over my hands, I meticulously visualize climbing my goal route.  From the point in which I take one final glance at my knot and give my shoes a quick wipe against my pant leg to when I am relaxing into my final clipping stance and dropping my rope smoothly through the quickdraws at the anchor, I use my mind to live and practice everything I need to perform during the send go.



Looking down the Eastside of the Sierra Nevadas after a tiring day at the Happy Boulders. Photo by Philip Lutz

I don’t know exactly what motivated me to start rehearsing my intended climbing performances over and over in my head. It could be that I spent the last five years of my life preparing for classical guitar performances.  The associated habitual practicing and eventual performance is similar to climbing in that you must memorize a ton of information, execute all the cruxes correctly and consistently, and then bring a whole performance to life at a particular moment in time.  While I could practice guitar at any hour of the day or night in a prominent music conservatory where you are expected and encouraged to practice at least five hours every day of your life, I could not endlessly rehearse the moves of my climbing projects which were six hours away in Kentucky.

Besides the physical distance and limited time that I had in my life, it also wasn’t an efficient use of skin and physical energy to “remember” and reacquaint myself with a project when I only had a day or two to send.  I realized the more information I could keep fresh in my mind while I was away from the project, the easier it would be to recall those moves and then bring that experience into reality.


Overlooking Bishop from the Druid Stones. The views and bouldering at the Druids are definitely worth the uphill trudge (if you ever get sick of simply jumping out of your car at the Buttermilks and instantly being at amazing boulderfields).  Photo by Philip Lutz

Regularly running through the correct beta through visualization is not only a great way to make sure that you won’t forget a key foothold mid-crux after paddling past 20 meters of power-sapping pockets; it also builds mental confidence. While many people are putting in the hours “working out” and possibly training (if they have the discipline, patience, and organization) in order to build their physical ability, many are not performing a critical step; putting in the work needed to believe the goal is possible.  In my mind, the easy part of getting better at climbing random pieces of rock that were never intended for people to be on is the physical training.

THE Training Manual clearly and specifically describes all the exercises that you need to do to prepare your body to climb the routes of your dreams.  If you get organized, do the exercises (while trying as hard as you can), rest even harder, and repeat following the structured training plan, then you WILL be physically stronger.  This is one of the most valuable features of the RCTM and was what lured me into the program in the first place. However, the real treasure of the RCTM is the full suite of tools presented that work together to assemble the ultimate climbing machine.  Climbing performance is highly dependent on one’s mental ability, and the mental preparation discussed in the RCTM is a great way to navigate the abstract adventure through your own mind.  The confidence built through mental training like visualization, or positive self-talk, is what I seek to gain during my performance phase and is what I need to send.

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A technical training goal of mine is to use heel-hooks more effectively. I have always avoided them when I could and I never felt totally comfortable on them.  A large part of this is mental, and physically feeling the positions and movements are a way for me to overcome the lack of confidence.  I think I made some progress this season, but there is still a ton of room to improve.  In this photo, I’m about to pull the lip crux on the characteristically crimpy Milk the Milks, V6.  Photo by Charlie Marks.

After weeks spent hanging off a plastic edge and hopping between wooden rungs, visualization is a common homework assignment that gets me ready for the final exam. When I visualize a route, I sit down, close my eyes, and actively climb the route in my mind.  I do not imagine watching myself climb; I go through each move exactly how I perceive it in reality.  Stick the right hand edge, readjust it to a crimp, look down at that ticked pocket to my left, highstep my foot…  Just like repeating a difficult section while learning a route, repeating moves in your mind will make you “stronger” and allow you to do them more consistently.

This is where my approach differs slightly from what is presented in the RCTM. In the RCTM, the Andersons suggest that some may benefit from taking a third-person view during visualization (imagining you are a spectator, watching yourself climb the route), yet I have avoided this as I think it would create a meta-distraction in my climbing performance.  My climbing is purely between me and the rock.  I feel the best when I am completely self-motivated.  If I created a third-person presence that would expect me to send the route, I would simply be annoyed and probably become detached from the present during the performance. On the other hand, you might perform better with an external presence created from visualizing in the third person view, and this is dependent on each climber’s unique personality.  It is important to spend time learning about yourself in order to figure out what will improve your mental game.

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Upon arrival in Bishop and during my hangboarding phase, I managed to do some easy outdoor mileage and enjoyed classics like the Buttermilk Stem, V1. Outdoor mileage specific to your goals is a great opportunity to improve your mental abilities for later in your training cycle.  Photo by Charlie Marks

A little over three months ago, I moved to Bishop, California to gain access to world-class climbing, beautiful weather, and a relatively low cost of living while working a simple job and figuring out what I want to do with the rest of my life. Because I want to greatly improve my power while I am somewhat young and because I have an abundance of quality bouldering within 30min of driving, it seemed like an obvious choice to devote at least a few months (maybe seasons) away from ropes and bolts.

Due to the high arousal level needed to complete powerful moves at your limit and a limited amount of quality attempts on seriously abrasive rock, visualization is an incredibly useful tool for bouldering around Biship.  In between redpoint attempts, I can build my mental confidence while ensuring that I take a moment to slow down and adequately rest.  For example, if you don’t trust that you can prevent your feet cutting as you hit that sharp two finger pocket, what is the point of getting all “agro” and grunting your way up a route? You’ll probably just end up with a bad flapper and wasted time spent training.  A fear of success, or rather an inability to believe that a goal is attainable, can be just as crippling as a fear of climbing above the bolt or fear that your spotters won’t protect you.

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Soul Slinger Right, V8. The problem that ended my bouldering season. I missed the pads and sprained my ankle, but before swelling set in, I gave it another burn and sent.  I failed on this problem in January when I first visited Bishop, and this send was more satisfying than my Thanksgiving turkey. Photo by Charlie Marks.

I recently finished my first bouldering-focused training cycle, and I was very impressed with my resulting performance. Due to a variety of factors, my main projects were in the Volcanic Tableland.  I managed to send my first two V10s, and visualization played an important role in the redpoint process of each problem.

The first one I sent was Acid Wash, which begins with a crunchy, tweaky, and powerful drop knee move to a huge slot jug.  Consensus seems to be that, from the jug, the climbing is around V7. From my initial impression of the problem, I knew I could send it.  The first move was very inconsistent, and I only stuck it 10% of the time.  Visualizing the whole problem calmed my nerves and eliminated all the thoughts that separated me from the present moment when I would stick the opening move.  There were three attempts when I stuck the first move and my mind would begin to race as I continued to climb.  Those attempts ended up with me being very distracted and eventually I would fall off at the reachy bump move to a crimp jug.  Moments before my send go, I had one of these attempts, and after a nice yell (letting the whole canyon know my frustration), I stepped away from the tiny cave to relax and collect my thoughts.  On the send, thanks to my visualization routine, I didn’t have any doubts, and the moment I hit the initial jug, I kept climbing, feeling calm and focused.

Video of Phil sending his first V10, Acid Wash, The Happy Boulders, CA:

Deep inside a more secluded section of the Tableland, I found myself getting cozy on cold, windy evenings after work in the Ice Caves. Despite the constricted corridors and an exceptionally high risk of dabbing at any moment, the Ice Caves have many steep and difficult lines including Beefcake, V10, a power-endurance roof problem.  Figuring out and internalizing the sustained 8 hand-move (and at least twice as many foot and hip moves) sequence was steady and physically draining work.

On one really good evening, despite getting shut down in the Buttermilks earlier that same day, all of the pieces of the problem began to come together as I flowed to the last hard move of the problem, a large cross-over move to a jug pocket.  I fell on the final move from the start three times in a row, and despite the immense progress, I could not have been more pissed off.

Over the course of two rest days (yes, you can be in Bishop and take rest days), I climbed the problem countless times in my mind.  I had it wired, and I was just waiting for the moment when my body was ready to fight again.  On the next evening out at the Ice Caves, I went through my usual warm-up circuit and then very briefly warmed up the moves of Beefcake.  With all the holds brushed and ticked appropriately, I sat at the start and laid down on the crashpads to mentally climb the problem one more time.  I topped it out, opened my eyes, and then pulled up into the sloping undercling.  Sending Beefcake felt like V3, and it was one of those rare moments when climbing was perfect and effortless.

Video of unknown climber sending Beefcake, V10, the Buttermilk Boulders, CA:

Visualization is a very important exercise for my climbing performance. It allows me to keep a large amount of information fresh in my mind; builds confidence in my ability to complete moves and achieve goals; and eliminates doubts and distracting thoughts that cloud my brain while climbing.  When climbing routes, I find it most convenient to visualize on rest days and right before going to sleep on nights before a performance day ( I don’t think my climbing partners would appreciate me as a completely spaced out belayer). When bouldering, I find it helpful to visualize between attempts in addition to my nightly mental rituals.  There seems to be much more inactive time while bouldering, and often, it is beneficial to take a little more rest than you think you need.  Visualization can be a good use of this time, and it will hopefully prevent you from hastily returning to your project.  The “smarter, not harder” mantra/theme throughout the RCTM has become an integral part of my personal improvement, and visualization is one of many ways discussed in the book to train the mind, and thus, train smarter.  Like any training program, attention to detail and commitment to quality are essential to visualization, and the results can be extremely satisfying.

Spain Part 2: Cobblestones & Milestones at Montserrat


Montserrat climbing


Barcelona! What an incredible city full of life, people, culture, food, history and so much more. It has to be one of my new favorite cities of all time and we just scratched the surface. We will get into Barcelona highlights in a future post, right now I want to focus on climbing.

First, I want to tell you about a real gem, Montserrat. From a distance, Montserrat looks like a multi-peaked jagged saw tooth mountain, which lends to its intricate rocky maze.  As you approach and drive up the windy road, you can see that hundreds of rounded, cobblestone towers, domes and cliffs create this beauty of a climbing destination. Besides the climbing, Montserrat is also a very popular tourist stop and once you reach the parking lot at the end of the road, you’re ripped from your dream-like state of amazement. The touristy stuff is pretty obnoxious and it seems to go on for a mile full of cars, huge buses, people and souvenir stands. Don’t let this deter you. Press on past the tourist stops, and you will be rewarded just as we were!

We were aiming for the sunny tower in the middle of this photo.

We were aiming for the sunny tower in the middle of this photo.

The reason for the tourists; nestled on the hillside about 1000 feet up from the base but beneath the towers is an old Benedictine Abbey, Santa Maria de Montserrat. Our goal, however, was to sample some of the moderate multi-pitch climbing that it is world-renowned for. We only had a few hours of day light so we had to move quickly, hiking up the narrow valley past the abbey. The hike to the base of the route was literally one stair case after another winding up between these towers. It was absolutely beautiful and provided wonderful views of the surrounding area. We were aiming for one of the more prominent summits, Gorro Frigi, and the Stromberg route seemed like a good choice. At the base of the route, we quickly geared up while admiring the colorful cobbles we were about to climb. The rock was gorgeous, and we were eager to test out these cobbles. Mike took the lead while I took out the camera.




lots of stairs!


The stairs eventually turned to trail as we neared the base


Pitch one up the sea of cobbles


Trango was representing in Spain!



Mike starting the second pitch. The Monastery is in view nestled in the rocky canyon below.

Sport climbers remembering their rope management at the belay


Pretty amazing view of the abbey


Final pitch


Janelle taking in the summit views.


Mike next to the summit cross

The climb was very casual, super fun and the views were tremendous. I loved the Catalonian conglomerate cobbles and definitely want to go back! Doing a mutli-pitch climb as a couple is very rare these days, and not something we do with kids in tow (well, not yet anyways).


Hazy air on the way down made for a cool photo highlighting the pillar we had climbed

We finished before dark and headed straight into Barcelona during rush hour. This was a completely fun and terrifying experience on it’s own. However, with Mike’s defensive, confident driving and maneuvering, we made it to the hotel in one piece. It was time to  head to the Sports Engineering conference in Barcelona, but I don’t want to waste any time getting to the most exciting climbing day of our entire trip! Therefore, we’ll describe Barcelona and the conference in more detail in our next post.  Instead, here’s the exciting conclusion to our Montserrat climbing….

After our first taste of Montserrat, we knew we would need to go back during this trip. The relatively easy one hour drive was perfect for an early morning out on the rock. We left Barcelona before dawn one morning and were rewarded with an incredible sunrise on tall towers above us. Mike had a spring in his step while I hobbled along on my bum ankle. I could tell he was psyched! Today was going to be a great day!!



Gorgeous view in the first morning light

I want you to hear it straight from Mike…this not only was a great day, it was one for the Anderson history books!! Here’s Mike to tell about his incredible experience, and reaching a goal he has had for years and years!

I came to sector Guilleumes at the recommendation of Jonathan Siegrist aka JStar. It wasn’t covered in our guidebook, so we got some sketchy beta at a local shop in Barcelona and hoped we’d be able to find it. On the way to the crag, I had a wave of psych come over me as I watched alpine glow on the cliffs above and just thought about how awesome it was to be here in Spain.


More morning light making the cliffs glow. Check out that cool thumb rock too…the Caval Bernat. There’s a long multi-pitch climb on that tower we wanted to do, but the hike was too much for Janelle’s hurt ankle. Next time!

When I reached the cliff, I was instantly impressed because it reminded me of my favorite home crag, Smith Rock, but with slightly steeper walls full of pockets and edges. It was extremely inspiring. I did a warm-up (Catximba – “Bong”, 11c) and got on what I thought was another 12a (Diedru – “pipe”). After a little climbing, it was clearly a little more than I bargained for. I realized I was on an 8a (Bolita Moruna), not a 12a (7a+) so I decided I would save it for an onsight. I kept going until the climb got a little too hard then I climbed down.


La Catximba (“bong”), 6c+ (11c – though the polish made it feel WAY harder 🙂 ). A nice warmup, covered with cool flowstone.


Higher on Catximba.

After belaying Janelle, I got on the 8a (Bolita Moruna) again, gunning for the on-sight. I felt very smooth and strong, the climbing came naturally to me as I cruised from pocket to pocket. I had trained for this a long time. I reached the crux section, shook out and thought about the moves. I figured out a sequence and went for it. I had to trust some pretty polished feet but I did it and stuck the moves. From there, it was just  managing the pump through some small but positive pockets. A short tufa took me to the chains and I was very psyched to get another 8a onsight!


At the chains of Bolita Moruna, 8a (13b) after nabbing my second 8a onsight of the trip!


Mike celebrating his on-sight of a “Grade 8” route at Montserrat.

Now, I had to decide go for another 8a or push myself and try for an 8a+ (one was located just to the right.) Though I have come close a couple times, I have never on-sighted an 8a+ (13c) before, and it has been a goal of mine for years. It was one of my goals for this trip, but there is always the risk that you blow it and wreck the remainder of your climbing day. I took a moment and decided that “I would only live once” and this was my opportunity, so I went for the 8a+. The route looked really cool, following a solitary gray streak from top to bottom with small pockets reminiscent of France. This was what we came to Europe for!


Rastafari, 8a+ (13c) follows the prominent gray streak up the center of the photo, then up over the roofs to the left.

The route had no draws, and little chalk, so this would be the real deal…no crutches…I didn’t even have a guidebook description (not that Spanish guidebooks have descriptions anyway 🙂 ). What I would have given for a Smith Rock/Alan Watts-esque  play-by-play run-down with accompanying crux-by-crux topo map? In retrospect, this was the perfect situation. No info, and no preconceptions!

The pocket sequence at the start was much harder than I anticipated, and I had to really go for it on some small but positive pockets, making long reaches . I also thought I would be able to get many rests in the opening sections but I was wrong. I had to manage the pump, stay relaxed and pace myself. At the end of the long grey streak, I reached a roof at about  the 2/3 height and was able to shake. To my horror, this is where the real business began! Over the roof I was instantly slapped in the face with hard moves. Long lockoffs to small pockets with bad feet and over-hanging. I had to do a hard mono move with my right hand to reach a good pocket. I stuck it though (yeah hangboard training!), then I got a horizontal crack that I thought would be a great rest, but it turned out to be very slopey. I milked it as best I could for a long time. This climb was taking forever! (maybe an hour to send it?) I was starting to worry I would flame out, but I tried to remain calm and optimistic.

I climbed above the poor ledge and was instantly in panic mode. The holds were too small and I could not see them because there was no chalk. I climbed into a sequence that I was certain I would not be able to do, and thought I would certainly fall . However, I was able to down climb enough to get a good heel/toe cam in the horizontal crack that allowed me to shake enough to recover. I had been here in Spain long enough that I was FINALLY able to recover at rests.  I shook again for probably ANOTHER 10 minutes. I had enough back and had stared at the wall long enough that I had an idea of what to do.  I pulled up on some good pockets with bad feet.  Above me, but a long way away, was a tufa under cling. I reached far, as far as my tired little toes would let me, and I was able to grab it! I was thrilled! I pulled up my feet and locked into the under cling.  I clipped, and was able to shake a little. I moved on, did a couple slopey crimps and slabby moves with decent feet. I was able to reach a sinker pocket…finally something GOOD to hang on to! The angle was rolling back now, so I knew I had it in the bag at this point, but I kept my wits about me. I climbed deliberately to the next bolt where the angle eased significantly. From there it was cruising to the chains. I let out a whoop, clipped the anchors and was totally stoked! My first 8a+ onsight while hanging the draws and with no chalk to boot!


Whoot! He did it!!! He really did it!

Two climbers from Spain showed up right after Mike topped out. We needed photos of this climb and luckily, they agreed to belay so I could take a few photos.


Mike “re-enacting” the final moments of his on-sight of “Rastafari” 8a+ (13c). A new milestone for him.


Another action shot of Mike “re-enacting” his on-sight of “Rastafari” 8a+ (13c).

This day was one for the record books! After Mike’s onsight of the 8a+, he went on to onsight another 8a, “Xilum” making the grand total 3 – 8a’s in one day!!!!!!! Probably his best sport climbing day yet. There was something in that Spanish air of Montserrat…maybe a little magic? It was very magical it was the years of dedication to training, focusing on his weaknesses and setting goals that sealed this deal!


A local climber, Guilleme, trying “Xilum” 8a (13b). This is the third 8a Mike did that day. Doesn’t this remind you of Moonshine Dihedral at Smith Rock?



Super psyched…what a day!

Coming soon…details of our travels in Barcelona, and the Sports Engineering Conference, complete with VIDEO of Mike’s presentation on hangboard training with the Rock Prodigy Method and RP Training Center. For now, enjoy these teaser photos….



Scooters and motorcycles dominate downtown and seem to be the preferred mode of transportation. Watch out pedestrians!


Local school


Downtown soccer field


Mediterranean Sea with beautiful toasty brown beaches


Tight streets


Incredible buildings like the Cathedral of Barcelona

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Mercat La Boqueria


So, Spanish eggs don’t need refrigeration 😉


The not so “secret” secret Iberico jamon was EVERYWHERE!


Cool exotic fruits


Seafood and sea-critters I didn’t know one could eat



New Indy Pass 5.14

by Mark Anderson

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

The crux of Captain America, Independence Pass, Colorado.

Captain America, Independence Pass, Colorado.

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

Logan swinging from the lip of Calamity Jane.

Logan swinging from the lip of Calamity Jane.

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

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

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

Black Bear in Grand Teton National Park.

Black Bear in Grand Teton National Park.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Logan crushing in Cascade Canyon, Grand Teton NP.

Logan crushing in Cascade Canyon, Grand Teton NP.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Logan in Jackson Lake (Tetons)...

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

…Taggart Lake (Tetons)…

…Taggart Lake (Tetons)…

…String Lake (Tetons)…

…String Lake (Tetons)…

…Weller Lake (Indy Pass)…

…Weller Lake (Indy Pass)…

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

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

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

Dressed for the occasion.

Dressed appropriately for Captain America.

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

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

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

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

Thunder Strike – Part 1

Upping the ante at Thunder Ridge - Mike Anderson established "The Spark, 5.13c" at Thunder Ridge in April.

Upping the ante at Thunder Ridge – Mike Anderson established “The Spark, 5.13c” at Thunder Ridge in April.

Thunder Ridge is a beautiful, but tiny climbing area just West of my home in Colorado Springs, Colorado. It is somewhat of a backwater crag these days, frequented by locals who know how good it is, but ignored by most. The rock is impeccable granite – possibly the best quality granite in the entire Rocky Mountains (if not North America?) with extremely fine, tight crystals that make for pleasant and bomber climbing, and its walls are covered with gorgeous brown patina that forms wonderful handholds. Unfortunately, this magnificent rock is concentrated in a very small location in the South Platte region of Colorado. By some geological quirk, Thunder Ridge has this impeccable stone, while most of the South Platte region ranges from fair to horrible granite.

Thunder Ridge - before the fire.

I am one of the lucky ones, living only an hour’s drive from the trailhead. Thunder Ridge was discovered in the late 80s, and most of the routes were developed by the mid-nineties under a shroud of secrecy. It wasn’t in any guidebook, and they wanted it that way. Those who knew about it were sworn to secrecy, amidst fears that the sport climbing masses from would descend upon it with their rap bolting tactics and destroy the “traditional” character of the climbing. (The South Platte region of Colorado had long been considered a “traditional” area, with no rap-bolting allowed. Many people felt, and still feel, that it should always be that way.)

The major developers climbed what they could in that time span, and eventually stopped putting in new routes. When all was said and done, hundreds of brilliant routes were established throughout its maze of canyons and walls. The most difficult climbs topped out in the 12+ and 13- range owing to the geology of the rock, such as the cliff angles and hold sizes.

I was extremely lucky to first visit Thunder Ridge in 1998, when I was a cadet at the Air Force Academy. A friend of the “officer in charge” of our climbing club, who was an F-15 fighter pilot living in town happened to be neighbors with Kevin McLaughlin – the driving force behind TR climbing. He knew where the crag was and offered to show it to us. I enjoyed the climbing a lot that day, but I was really too inexperienced to really appreciate what a gem it was as a crag. I never went back until just this past spring.

Climbing in Thunder Ridge's Wasp Canyon in 1998, when I was a USAF Academy Cadet.

Climbing in Thunder Ridge’s Wasp Canyon in 1998, when I was a USAF Academy Cadet.

Last summer Jason Haas published a new guidebook to the area, and he got me fired up to take down some long-standing projects in the South Platte, among them a few lines at Thunder Ridge. We ventured out in April to have a look, and were immediately blown away by the potential for high quality, hard routes. I dusted off my drill and a bunch of stainless steel bolts, and got to work at The Brown Wall – Thunder’s biggest and most dramatic wall. Normally, I would try to climb through the grades at a new area, getting to know the climbing style, and getting a feel for the grading, but I was so psyched on the potential first ascents, that I did very little of that.

The spectacular Brown Wall at Thunder Ridge.

The spectacular Brown Wall at Thunder Ridge.

The first order of business was a line that had reportedly been tried on toprope and Jason had recommended to me. It was a perfect, vertical swath of granite painted with dark brown patina. If this could be free climbed, it would be absolutely brilliant! I decided I would go along with the tradition of the area and establish these routes in the ground-up style. It was something I hadn’t done in awhile, and I thought it would be fun. So, I piled on the gear and I launched up the wall. First bolt…the threads got stripped while it was pounded into the hole because the rock is so hard (and good). I couldn’t tighten the bolt, and I was going up on lead, so I couldn’t do much about it. I clipped the manky bolt and continued. As I went, I could tell the climbing was going to be awesome, and HARD – my dream come true!

My first project would explore the brown indentation just right of the green rope.

My first project would explore the brown indentation just right of the green rope.

I got three more bolts in, covering most of the crux when my old Hilti battery died…shucks! I still had about 40 feet to go before I could get good gear, and I wanted to do this route now, not wait for another trip! It looked like I could get a marginal piece of gear another ten feet up, so I decided to punch it on some easier climbing. I sketched through this and made it to a point where the face rolled over to a heavily featured slab, covered with crazy “chicken-head” holds. I was able to place plenty of gear, and I cruised to the chains. I lowered down, brushed some holds and rehearsed the crux. At the crux, you have a couple nice handholds formed by a 2″ wide ledge, then a long patch of featureless rock. Higher, there is a rounded seam feature, so I thought I might be able to lock off from the ledge and reach very high to a Gaston in the seam. If I latched it, I would be very stretched out and tenuous, so I needed to work out the foot moves to unwind from this. I discovered a possible sequence and lowered down to go for the free ascent.

On redpoint, the moves turned out to be more challenging than I had first envisioned, and the long reach, that had seemed fairly straightforward on the hang, turned out to be quite hard. My first try, I fell, then rehearsed the sequence again. It was getting late, but I decided to give the route a second redpoint attempt. I fell again! I rehearsed the move yet again, and lowered down again. The third try was the charm, and I was able to get through the crux sequence. I had only managed to get four bolts in, so I had to climb the upper part again with no protection, but I knew the moves fairly well by now. The extra fatigue added some spice, but I made it through, for the first ascent of The Spark. At 5.13c, it was now the hardest route at Thunder Ridge. The name is an allusion to what I hope will be the start of a long love affair with Thunder Ridge climbing.

Psyching up for the crux at the mini-ledge.

Psyching up for the crux at the mini-ledge.

Bearing down on the tiny crimps in the crux of The Spark.

Bearing down on the tiny crimps in the crux of The Spark.

Continuing the taxing, technical climbing exiting the crux sequence.

Continuing the taxing, technical climbing exiting the crux sequence.

5.11-ish face climbing after the crux. This bolt and the next one were not present during the FA, but I was able to get a weird cam placement in the horizontal crack feature above the next bolt.

5.11-ish face climbing after the crux. This bolt and the next one were not present during the FA, but I was able to get a weird cam placement in the horizontal crack feature above the next bolt.

Some funky slab moves.

Some funky slab moves.

Finished with the hard climbing, and ready to enjoy the cruiser chicken heads that lead to the chains.

Finished with the hard climbing, and ready to enjoy the cruiser chicken heads that lead to the chains.

While working on The Spark, I realized there could be two routes here. The section of stone to the left appeared much easier…maybe a nice 12- route, but further inspection revealed the potential for something much harder. This would be the next order of business. I borrowed a friends brand new Bosch, so this route went in much easier…no hijinx were required to get the bolts in. I enjoyed the lead bolting because it made the puzzle a bit more complicated, even if it sometimes leaves the bolts in weird spots.

The route, which I’m calling “Game of Drones” (for reasons that will soon be revealed) turned out really nice. It’s not as cruxy as The Spark, making for a nice sustained face climbing with hard, but not stopper moves that build a nice pump:

Psyching up to try for the first free ascent of Game of Drones.

Psyching up to try for the first free ascent of Game of Drones.

Check out the sculpted incut holds!

Check out the sculpted incut holds!

Getting into the cruxier moves, with long reaches between less-positive holds.

Getting into the cruxier moves, with long reaches between less-positive holds.

A crazy-long undercling move to a good edge.

A crazy-long undercling move to a good edge.

Nearing the big flake that leads to the neighboring "Schmausser Traverse" route...the FA is in the bag now!

Nearing the big flake that leads to the neighboring “Schmausser Traverse” route…the FA is in the bag now!

After these two successes, I was psyched, and a little obsessed with the power of Thunder Ridge. Jason had turned me on to another potential route, also on the Brown Wall. It was listed in the guide as “Kevin’s Mega Project”, and reported to be quite hard. This would be next on the agenda. Was I up to the task? Stay tuned to find out….

Delivered From Purgatory

I’m a big fan of puzzles. Crossword puzzles, brainteasers, jigsaw puzzles. Without a doubt, my favorite part of project climbing is solving the sequence puzzle. The more baffling the sequence, the more rewarding it is to solve. This challenge is magnified on first ascents, which typically lack obvious clues like chalk and rubber marks. Furthermore, there’s no guarantee a new line will provide a free solution.  For me, there’s nothing quite like the Eureka Moment when I finally convince myself the route will indeed go free. It could be the first time I execute a particularly cruxy move, the first time I complete a certain link through the crux, or even the first one-hang. In any case, that realization is followed by a renewed belief that the project is viable.

But there’s a downside to the Eureka Moment. It’s only a small leap from there to assuming the redpoint is all but assured—a mere formality. That assumption is often wrong, and the mindset it yields is counter-productive at best. If the send doesn’t follow promptly, each ensuing attempt is weighed down by a few more ounces of anxiety. Thoughts about the next objective creep in, I wonder how many more times I will need to line up a partner, and if the days turn into weeks, concerns about when to start my next training cycle add a bit more weight. This ballast is indiscernible at first, but over time, it adds up. This is purgatory—the prime malady of the projecting process.

To be in sport climbing purgatory is to know unlimited misery. It’s like being locked in a cage, with everything you desire just out of reach of your extended arm. Each morning you walk to the crag, passing other routes you might climb, if only you could send your project. Each afternoon, you walk back, trying to reason your way into believing you’ll send it the next day, but knowing deep down that you probably won’t.

Purgatory looks something like this. Bystanders will say it looks beautiful. From the inside looking out, all you see is pain.

Purgatory looks something like this. Bystanders will say it looks beautiful. From the inside looking out, all you see is pain.

The past 40 days have been the longest continuous purgatory of my career. After finishing Double Stout, I was eager to try another long-standing open project in Clear Creek Canyon. This one was prepped by my friend Scott Hahn around 2008, and opened to all comers in the spring of 2009. It’s located at The Armory, a small crag with an unusual concentration of great routes, including Ken T’ank, The Gauntlet, and Beretta. The Gauntlet was established in 2006 by Darren Mabe at 5.12+. It starts up a leaning dihedral, and then moves left onto a steep face of impeccable orange stone to climb a splitter finger crack capped off by a challenging roof encounter. Scott’s line was essentially a direct start to The Gauntlet, avoiding the dihedral by climbing straight up to the finger crack.

The Gauntlet follows the red line, Scott’s direct start follows the icy blue line.

The Gauntlet follows the red line, Scott’s direct start follows the icy blue line.

The direct start is all business from the moment you step off the ground until you reach a pair of bomber fingerlocks at mid-height. Scott described the difficulties reaching the crack as “roughly V10 into V12”, with the caveat that “a good wingspan is a must or you won’t be able to reach the holds”.

My first day on the route I was completely perplexed. There were many holds, but I couldn’t surmise how to use them. It’s one of those routes with such non-positive holds that just pulling onto the rock, while hanging from the rope, is quite difficult. There are many sidepulls, underclings, and slopers, and I could see the key was going to be figuring out the right combination of opposing holds and body position to stay on the rock. It would take time to learn how to move between those positions, and momentum to execute those moves.

One of many big spans, this one near the start of the upper boulder problem.

One of many big spans, this one near the start of the upper boulder problem.

For two more days I attempted to solve the puzzle, but there were still moves I couldn’t do, particularly in the reachy “V10” entry problem. There was an obvious “tall guy” sequence for this lower section, but I needed to come up with an alternative. I had done all the moves in the upper “V12” section, but it was much longer, very sustained, and I was far from linking the entire sequence. On the fourth day I finally uncovered a Napoleonic path through the first problem, and I managed to do the V12 bit in two sections with a hang. Now I knew the route would go. Great news, right?

Precarious crimping near the end of the direct start.

Precarious crimping near the end of the direct start.

The month of February is a blur of steady progress, devolving into near misses, clouded by a haze of fickle weather forecasts. The route started to come together in mid-February. I got my first one-hang, and then it seemed I was climbing up to the last one or two hard moves on redpoint more often than not.

Then the entire country was engulfed in historically heinous winter weather caused by an extremely cold air mass referred to by meteorologists as the “Siberian Express”. Record cold temps infiltrated the Eastern Seaboard—typically mild places like Tennessee and Kentucky were ice-bound, and Niagara Falls froze long enough to enable Will Gadd’s stunning ascent.   In Colorado, the phenomenon manifested itself as massive amounts of snow. During the last two weeks of February alone Denver received enough snowfall to shatter the record for the entire month.

This graphic is from February 27th. It snowed more that night, and again on the 28th.

This graphic is from February 27th. It snowed more that night, and again on the 28th.

Through the bars of purgatory, it seemed like it snowed every day. I like cold weather for hard climbing, and normally I can operate in the 20’s if it’s calm, but in late February The Armory rarely experienced temps above the teens. I managed to find one day each week in which the weather was barely tolerable for climbing. It wasn’t warm enough to send, but it allowed me to keep the moves fresh in my mind, and keep the candle of hope flickering ever so dimly.

Typically when a project gets out of hand I retreat, re-train, and return in a following season, usually completing the project with relative ease the next time around. I didn’t want to do that this time. For one reason, I felt extremely close to sending—much closer than I normally am when I bail. For another, I was concerned that the unpredictable Front Range weather would not provide another window of solid redpoint conditions until next winter. This is the sort of route you want to climb when it’s cold (well, to a point), and it would be difficult to get back to the route with good fitness before excessively warm weather arrived in Clear Creek. Finally, I had started to worry that my “retreat, re-train and return” strategy was becoming a crutch. I wanted to know if I had the mental fortitude to see this one through in a single campaign.

Fitness-wise, I was in danger of falling badly out of shape. I completed my last hangboard workout of the season on December 31st. With climbing in the V12-range, this project was right at my power limit, so I needed to maintain a power peak for as long as possible. Normally a nice long power peak lasts 3-4 weeks. To make it to the far end of the Siberian Express I would need to sustain my power for at least 8 weeks. Fortunately I could see early in the process that this project would take some time, so starting in late January I made a point to dedicate at least one session each week (and two per week during the worst weather) to sustaining my power and building power endurance through the use of Non Linear Periodization (NLP). As detailed in the RCTM, these sessions consisted of:

  • Warmup Boulder Ladder (20 minutes)
  • Limit Bouldering (25 minutes)
  • [5-10 minute break]
  • Campusing (Basic Ladders for warmup, then Max Ladders, 20-30 min total)
  • [5-10 minute break]
  • 4 sets of 34-move Linked Bouldering Circuit (Duty Cycle progressing from 1:1 to 2:1)
  • [10 minute break]
  • Supplemental Exercises (2 sets each of shoulder & core exercises)

This strategy worked astonishingly well. On February 15, I did 1-4.5-8 on the Campus Board for the first time (which seems to be slightly harder for me than 1-5-8, which I had done once before). On February 27th, the first day of my 9th week of power training, I did 1-5-8 and touched 1-5-8.5. I also completed my LBC with a duty cycle of 2.3 to 1 (1:45 set length with 45 seconds of rest between sets). I was strong and fit. I just needed some decent weather.

March arrived towing with it the first hint that snowpocalypse was waning. The first full weekend would bring highs in the 40’s and 50’s. By now I had everything dialed. The sub-optimal weather had forced me to fine tune every move, so I could stay on the sloping holds even when friction was poor. My warmup felt klunky and strenuous—usually a good sign. Once prepared for my first attempt of the day, I wandered down the hill to look at the river. The Armory is one of my favorite Clear Creek crags. It’s located across the river from a tunnel that mercifully muffles most of the road noise. There are a handful of massive pine trees that provide a beautiful backdrop, and the crag is sparse enough to escape the crowds of the nearby Primo Wall.

Midway through the second boulder problem.

Midway through the second boulder problem.

It was time to start. By now the entry problem, which took four days to unlock, was trivial. I flowed effortlessly up to the direct start’s one pseudo-jug. I quickly clipped the second bolt, chalked my right hand, and continued. From this point each of the next 12 or so hand moves is a dyno. I had fallen on redpoint on virtually all of these moves at one point or another, and not necessarily in progressive fashion. The climbing is so insecure and complex that the actions of each limb must be carefully coordinated. If your attention wanders for even a split second you can pop off at literally any point.

The last hard move, a big slap to a rounded edge.

The last hard move, a big slap to a rounded edge.

This time I made no mistakes. I performed each move in exacting fashion, and I flowed from one into the next. Breathing heavily, I lined up for the final slap, this one to a sharp horizontal water groove on the edge of a protruding horn—the last hard move. I had fallen on this move on redpoint seven times, but I had never arrived at this move feeling as strong and confident as I did then. I lined up the hold, colied and slapped. By the time I realized what I had done I was sinking my second hand into the bomber finger crack. I clipped and exhaled. The final 30 feet were a sweet victory lap, and I was released from my self-made prison.

Almost to the finger crack!

Almost to the finger crack!

The effort was a revelation for me. I’ve never maintained peak fitness for so long. All my knowledge of training, strategy and tactics contributed. I’ve never stubbornly persisted on a route for so long in a single season. I doubted the virtue of that persistence each day, and even knowing the outcome I’m not entirely convinced it was prudent, but it’s empowering to know I can fall back on that option in the future.

Finishing up The Gauntlet, just above the merge point.

Finishing up The Gauntlet, just above the merge point.

I’m calling the route Siberian Express.  Based on my maintenance training I can confidently say that I was in top shape when I did it.  The weather likely extended the outcome somewhat, but considering my fitness and the twelve days required, I suspect it’s the hardest route I’ve climbed and warrants a 5.14c rating.  More importantly, it’s a great route.  It doesn’t have the towering height of the lines on the Wall of the 90’s, but where it’s hard, it is incredibly sustained.  It certainly doesn’t climb like a short route or a roped boulder problem.  With few exceptions the rock is impeccable–truly some of the best in Clear Creek.  The setting is serene, and the movement is fantastic, once you figure it out.

Flashback Series Ep. 2: The Totem Pole

125 miles off the southern coast of Australia, pummeled on all flanks by the Tasman Sea, lies an otherworldly landscape of temperate rain forest perched upon a mountain of granite and dolerite.  This untamed and rarely visited corner of the world is known as Tasmania, and Tasmania is known to climbers for its fantastic sea cliffs.

The Acropolis, one of many fantastic dolerite peaks in central Tasmania.

The Acropolis, one of many fantastic dolerite peaks in central Tasmania.

The rock upon which the island sits is totally unique within the context of climbing.  Dolerite bears a striking resemblance to the prolific basalt columns of North America, but its plentiful features and gritty texture allow climbing on the sheerest surfaces.  Furthermore, the dolerite exists in towering cliffs of unbroken rock, allowing routes many hundreds of feet in length.  Most noteworthy is the dolerite’s unparalleled ability to withstand the forces of gravity and erosion, resulting in the most formidable and gob-smacking sea stacks on the planet.

The stunning sea cliffs along the Tasman Peninsula.

The stunning sea cliffs along the Tasman Peninsula.

I spent several months in the fall of 2004 traveling and climbing around Australia, and I made a point to visit this amazing land, and try my luck on a few of its infamous towers.  No tower in the world inspires as much awe among climbers as the notorious Totem Pole.   It burst more than 200 vertical feet out of the shark-infested Tasman Sea, supported by a base of stone no more than 10-feet wide.  The angular arêtes of the column corkscrew counter-clockwise as they rise, tilting the upper half of the needle into a precarious overhang.  Any climbers who dare to stand on the tiny ledge beside its base will be engulfed by bone chilling waves from the heaving sea.  The fact that this precarious sliver of stone has withstood the chronic force of the tides, the thundering gales of Cape Hauy–even the pull of the moon’s gravity–completely defies comprehension. shit!  The first pitch starts up the left side of the central arete, traverses the dark gray rock (crux) to reach the right arete, then climbs around the arete to the hidden face, ending on the obvious ledge on the left arete.  The second pitch climbs the left arete and the hidden face to its left.

Ya…no shit! The first pitch starts up the left side of the central arete, traverses the dark gray rock (crux) to reach the right arete, then climbs around the arete to the hidden face, ending on the obvious ledge on the left arete. The second pitch climbs the left arete and the hidden face to its left.

And so, it had to be climbed!  The first ascent was magnificently accomplished with aid in 1968 by the legendary Australian climber John Ewbank.  British hard man Paul Pritchard visited the Cape in the ‘90’s hoping to free climb ‘the Tote’.  After aiding to the summit, Pritchard rapped down the tower to scout for free climbing possibilities but dislodged a micro-wave-sized boulder that struck his head and nearly ended his life (his rescue and painstaking recovery are documented in his book The Totem Pole). In 1999, the great free-climbing protagonist of Australia Steve Monks finally established a free solution to the summit, creatively named “The Free Route” (with two pitches of 5.12b), and eventually an alternative 5.11d first pitch dubbed “Deep Play” (the title of Pritchard’s Boardman-Tasker Award-winning first book).

In 2003, Australian sport-climbing ace Monique Forestier made the first on sight free ascent of the tower via Deep Play.  An on sight of The Free Route had thus far repelled all comers, including Lynn Hill (whose attempt was stymied by a broken hold).  Realistically, I doubt very many people had tried the route since the first ascent.  The Totem Pole is about as far from the beaten path as a climber can get.  It’s located on the extreme end of Cape Hauy, itself isolated from the main population centers at the southeastern tip of the Tasman Peninsula.  Just to lay eyes on the Tote requires a 90 minute trudge (each way) and a fair bit of scrambling.  Few climbers have beheld this magnificent structure, and fewer still have known the feeling of roping up below its base.

Kate, Andrew (Kate’s brother), and I arrived in Tasmania just before Christmas of 2004.  The Totem Pole was our sole reason for visiting, so we headed straight for Fortescue Bay to establish a damp and uninspiring basecamp near our objective.  Our first day on the island was cold and blustery, so we made the long hike to Cape Hauy to get a look at our prey.  Perhaps that was a mistake, because the astonishing view was more than a little intimidating.  We swallowed deep and didn’t talk much on the hike back to camp.  I had climbed in a lot of places–I’d covered a lot of loose ground in the Canadian Rockies and the decomposing volcanoes of the Cascade Range.  I’d summited more than 30 towers on the Colorado Plateau.  But I’d never seen anything like the Totem Pole.  The situation gives the term “remote” a whole new meaning.  We were hours of walking and several more hours of driving from the nearest town, before the age of ubiquitous cell phones.  If a rescue were required, was there even anyone on the island capable of executing one?

Kate's look of skepticism at this moment pretty well says it all.

Kate’s look of skepticism at this moment pretty well says it all.

I decided a few warmups were necessary.  We headed north the next day to try our luck on The Moai, Tasmania’s second most famous sea stack.  The situation on the Moai is far less intense, with a relatively mellow approach, a completely dry belay stance, and a comparatively inviting 5.10- free route to the summit.  That said, it was still an adventure, with a non-trivial approach and a complicated rappel to reach the base.  Andrew was not a climber at the time, but he came along to watch and snap some photos from the mainland.

The Moai sits at the opposite end of Fortescue Bay from Cape Hauy.

The Moai sits at the opposite end of Fortescue Bay from Cape Hauy.

Much to our relief, the climbing turned out to be excellent and within our abilities.  We made it up the regular route with ease, and after a brief rest back on the ground I fired the newly added 5.12a bolted face climb called “Ancient Astronaught” on the tower’s south face.  It was a beautiful day and the experience was perfect.  We could see the Totem Pole looming directly to the south, but with blue skies and a shimmering sea, it no longer seemed quite so foreboding.

Kate and I atop the Moai after climbing Sacred Site, 5.10-

Kate and I atop the Moai after climbing Sacred Site, 5.10-

Climbing Ancient Astronaught, 5.12a.

Climbing Ancient Astronaught, 5.12a.

Cape Hauy in the distance.  The slender tower is The Candlestick, which sits about 20 feet east of The Totem Pole.

Cape Hauy in the distance beyond The Moai. The slender tower is The Candlestick, which sits about 20 feet east of The Totem Pole.

The next day we went exploring.  The extreme southwest end of the Tasman Peninsula is capped by a stunning echelon of dolerite spires known as Cape Raoul.  At that time, there was very little beta about this formation, and only a few established routes.  Getting to them was complicated, involving lots of bushwhacking, rappelling and traversing.  I wanted to explore these spires, but with no time for a bivy our options were limited.  With a pre-dawn start we barely made it to the base of the Power Pole, the most impressive tower at the end of the cape.  We managed an ascent of the Wedding Cake along the way and it was an exciting adventure.  We barely made it back to camp before dark, and spent the next two days recuperating and exploring the surrounding landscape. We were becoming palpably more comfortable in this extreme environment, and the towering needles of dolerite no longer seemed quite so intimidating.

The many-spired Cape Raoul.  The furthest left spire is The Power Pole, and the widest tower (a bit left of center) is The Wedding Cake.

The many-spired Cape Raoul. The two-pronged spire at far left is The Power Pole, and the widest tower (a bit left of center) is The Wedding Cake.

The back towards the mainland from the summit of The Wedding Cake.

The view back towards the mainland from the summit of The Wedding Cake.

Finally it was time.  We woke up early from our soggy tent and began the trek to Cape Hauy.  We were nervous and quiet.  We would have been happy for the hike to take several hours, but before we knew it we reached land’s end.  We had three ropes with us: a 70m to fix for the rappel from the mainland to the base of the Tote, a lead line, and a 30m static line I would use to “tag up” the 70m rap line.  The Tote is almost exactly 65m tall, so getting down, up, and back to shore is no simple matter.  Furthermore, The Free Route spirals literally all the way around the tower, climbing every surface and every arête at one time or another, so it was important to have a rope management plan.  We had ascenders, and with the 70 fixed, we had a good escape route in case we chickened out, so long as none of our cords got inextricably tangled.

Feigning confidence as I begin the descent into the void.

Feigning confidence as I begin the descent into the void.

As I began to rappel down towards the sea, I was completely apprehensive, but my attitude was simply to put one foot in front of the other until I came across a good reason to retreat.  I stopped a few feet above the ocean and watched the water ebb and flow around the base of the tower.  After so many months of wondering, dreaming, I was finally here.  What a wild place to be!

The view to the southwest from the base of The Tote.

The view to the southwest from the base of The Tote.

There’s a nice flat boulder at the base of the tower, about 1 meter square, that provides the perfect belay stance.  Above is a nice bolted anchor, so I secured myself and our gear and told Kate to come on down.  I was fixated on the sea, determined to time the waves so that I wouldn’t get myself and all my equipment dowsed in cold sea water.  That didn’t work!  I made a solid effort, but just before I was prepared to start up a big swell came in and soaked me up to my belly button.  Kate would get much worse; I was only at the base for a few minutes, she was there for nearly an hour, and got nailed by several big swells.  One of the amazing things about Kate is here willingness to support me.  Honestly, I don’t understand it.  My fear sensors were red-lining the entire day, but she was calm and relaxed.  If she had even hinted at the slightest misgiving about our objective I would have gladly retreated, but she never flinched once.

Beginning up the first pitch of The Free Route.

Beginning up the first pitch of The Free Route.

The route starts by turning the arête on the left side of the belay, and then heading up the west face of the tower.  After a few moves, the route returns back to the south face, making a rising traverse to reach the right arête and then the east face.  The crux is this traverse.  Or perhaps, protecting this traverse.

Beginning the crux traverse.

Beginning the crux traverse.

One of the oddities of Australian climbing is the infamous “carrot bolt”.  This is a machine bolt without a hanger that is permanently placed into the rock.  Oz climbers carry around a quiver of removable bolt hangers that can be temporarily placed over these machine bolts, and then clipped with a biner.  The second then removes the biner and the hanger when cleaning the pitch.  It’s a point of ethics to limit the promulgation of bolt hangers, and so Carrots are seen as more bold.  They’re certainly more difficult to clip!  It takes practice to do well.  It’s easy to scrape the hanger off when trying to work the biner onto the hanger, and I routinely dropped one or more hangers on tenuous clips.  It seems an odd place to draw an ethical line, but for better or worse I found myself at the crux, fingers tiring, shoes soaked with water, desperately trying to insert a quivering quickdraw into my last remaining carrot hanger.

The Carrot Bolt: at left is the fixed machine bolt.  The Carrot hanger is in the center, and the entire assembly is shown on the right.

The Carrot Bolt: at left is the fixed machine bolt. The Carrot hanger is in the center, and the entire assembly is shown on the right.

With Kate looking on intently, hoping I’ll be done soon so she can leave the soaking stance, I finally get the bolt clipped.  A few thin crimping moves with small smears power up to a big flat edge.  With the arête in hand I mantle up.  Around the corner I can see a line of good holds leading to a finger crack that would take good gear, and then the belay ledge.  I’ve made it through the crux!

Past the first pitch crux!

Past the first pitch crux!

The pitch ends at one of the all-time great belay ledges.  10 feet wide, five feet deep and perfectly flat.  And perfectly dry!  Relative to the last stance this feels like paradise.  At a distance of 25 meters, suddenly the sea is beautiful again.  Soon I have the static line fixed and Kate is released from her watery prison.  I tow up the 70, which gets caught on the arête in a few places but comes free with a flick.

The final pitch is long, but supposedly easier.  It was almost entirely bolted, and the bolts had fixed hangers.  Somewhere along the line I got the impression the second pitch was significantly easier than the first.  This was incorrect, but I didn’t know that at the time, so I headed up confidently, figuring the send was in the bag.

Beginning the second pitch.

Beginning the second pitch.

The climbing went by smoothly as I danced along the amazing arête.  Nearing the top, I began to notice a creeping pump.  Not yet debilitating, but steadily growing.  I continued on, eyes widening, in search of any form of recovery.  Finally I reached a pair of decent holds and slowly worked the pooling blood out of my forearms.  After one more tenuous move, I mantled onto the summit ledge.  A small tower sits atop this ledge, so I belly flopped onto this block, to ensure I had reached the summit.  I fixed Kate’s line, began rigging the tyrolean back to the mainland, and exhaled a long, satisfying breath.  The Free Route was in the bag, and on sight to boot.

Kate arriving at the summit ledge.

Kate arriving at the summit ledge.

Looking back at the Tote from the Tyrolean Traverse.

Looking back at the Tote from the Tyrolean Traverse.

Kate on the summit ledge.

Kate on the summit ledge.

Kate making the Tyrolean Traverse back to the mainland.

Kate making the Tyrolean Traverse back to the mainland.


Focus is all about summoning maximum concentration and attention at the moment it is crucially needed.  Most climbers think of this when its time to send, but the ability to summon and maintain sufficient focus is also vital during daily training.  With training cycles that last for months, often involving several weeks of training on plastic, maintaining this focus can be quite a challenge.  When I have to post-hole through two feet of fresh snow to get to the Lazy H for a workout, the moment of tying in for a difficult send may be the furthest from my mind.  Regardless, the effort & attention given to the ensuing workout, completed two months before booting up below my project, could have as much bearing on the eventual outcome as the effort put into the redpoint attempt.

Although the constant need to cultivate & sustain focus can be draining, repeatedly going through your process can help “hone your instrument” so to speak, making it much easier to manifest that vital focus when it comes time to perform on the rock.  Everyone will have a slightly different process for getting into the proper “zone”, and many climbers have different ideas on what that zone should look like.  For example, some folks prefer complete silence while others want their mates shouting encouragement.  When I’m in my “zone” I don’t hear anything at all, so you might as well save your breath 🙂

Below are some strategies you can try, some geared more towards training activities, and others more towards performance:

1. Eliminate any external distractions.  This may take some foresight, a bit of planning, and perhaps a significant amount of negotiation.  If you expect to get good results out of a training session, you can’t be answering phone calls between sets.  The rest period between sets is meant for resting.  There is no extra time built in for doing chores.  Spend your rest time analyzing the previous set, making notes in your training log, shaking, chalking and otherwise preparing for the next set–physically AND mentally.  Here are some things I do to facilitate this:

– Set up a block of time when family, etc will leave you alone.  Discuss this with significant others ahead of time and provide a weekly or monthly schedule if necessary so they can plan around your obsessive/compulsive behavior 🙂

– Isolate yourself from others (if needed).  Some training partners can be a great aid, others just want to gossip.  My wife understands that it’s best for everyone if I’m left alone during timed workouts, but I enjoy company for less rigid workouts like Limit Bouldering

– Turn off/unplug phones, laptops, etc.

– Select appropriate music.  Music can be a powerful aid for cultivating the right mood, which is key to achieving the proper state of arousal.  I prefer Heavy Metal for hangboarding, and Hip-Hop (we used to call it “Rap” when I was a boy) for bouldering/campusing.  Avoid radio, or other sources of noise that you can’t control.  Especially avoid things that will make you laugh, as this can completely ruin a workout.  A few years back I was listening to sports radio while hangboarding when Dan Patrick told a story about his child’s field trip to a local zoo.  This was just after “March of the Penguins” came out.  At one point one of the children disappeared, only to re-appear a while later drenched from head-to-toe.  It turned out this child had jumped into the penguin tank, kidnapped a penguin, and stashed it in his backpack.  The image of this soaking wet child with a stowaway penguin strapped to his back kept popping into my head during hangboard sets.  You can’t squeeze hard while laughing, and so several sets were essentially wasted.  As John Cusack said in Hi Fidelity “I just want something I can ignore” (at 1:21 in the clip below).

2. Keep mental reminders at hand.  During training, it can be extremely helpful to keep the ultimate goal in mind, to remind yourself why you are enduring this discomfort.  In addition, more specific mental cues can be equally helpful while progressing through the individual steps of your routine.  Here are some examples:

– Make permanent notes in your training plan log sheet.   These can be anything from “tape Middle finger base here” to “Remember to squeeze on this set” to “Breathe!”

– Place photos, posters, inspirational messages, etc near your training apparatus.  You may find your eyes wander during monotonous activities like hangboarding, so give them something to look at that will help direct your attention back to the task at hand. For example, friend of the show Jonathan Siegrist used a sharpie to write “Try Hard!” in the center of his hangboard.  I like to post photos of the routes I’m training for.  I have some behind my hangboard and some in the Lazy H.

– Post a list of personal bests near the apparatus.  Although the ultimate goal may be weeks, months, or even years away, give yourself something to strive for in the here and now.

– Make notes on keys to your project.  This can be anything from one or two key points, to several pages of blow-by-blow beta for an entire route.  Keep in mind that endless detailed descriptions can be overwhelming at the moment of truth, so try to come up with no more than a handful of the most critical reminders, such as where and when to shift your hips when executing the crux dyno, details on how to grasp an irregular hold in the crux, or reminders to relax in certain sections or get “aggro” for others.

– Remind yourself of good habits.  Concepts like remaining calm, breathing deeply & continuously, and trusting your beta are universal to all routes.  Keep this in your mind and repeat them to yourself like a mantra while you climb.

– Utilize verbal cues.  If you find your mind drifting, be ready with verbal cues, which can help jar your attention back to your current activity.  These can be as ridiculous as “na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na- CLIMBING!” (sung to the tune of the Batman theme), or something more specific such as repeating the name of your upcoming project or long-term goal.


3. Control your breathing.  As The Rock Warrior’s Way points out, breathing is the key to the mind-body connection, in that it is a subconscious activity that can be controlled consciously.  Utilize this link to keep your mind calm and attentive and your body relaxed and supple:

– Start your huffing and puffing before you start the training activity or performance.  Its much easier to maintain a good breathing routine once you’ve  already started, not to mention that it can help to start a strenuous activity with fully oxygenated blood.  I also find that starting this rhythmic breathing while I’m booting up helps to calm my nerves and send a signal to my belayer that I’m getting into my zone.

Rest points provide a good opportunity to re-enforce mental cues.  Think about your planned performance through the ensuing section, in terms of movement beta (“shift hips left before reaching for right-hand gaston”) as well as your mentality (“trust the beta and breathe!”).

– Re-establish a good rhythm.  Whenever you get to a rest point, a clipping stance, or while chalking up, note your breathing pattern, take a few full deep breaths, and try to maintain it.  You can practice this using the “Finding Calm” drill described on page 63 of the RCTM.

– Focus on breathing during your training.  Often while climbing difficult sequences good breathing habits are the first thing to go.  This is understandable since the mind is pre-occupied with route-finding and other critical activities.  This is often not the case while training, where movements are simple/non-existant or well-rehearsed, so use these opportunities to force yourself to breath properly under severe strain.  Hangboarding is perfect for this, but so are Supplemental Exercises, Linked Bouldering Circuits, and Route Interval where you are climbing relatively simplistic terrain that you have dialed.

4. Establish a routine.  Hopefully by now you have a reliable process that you can count on to get yourself into your “zone” when needed.  If not, observe some of your local heroes and adopt some of their behaviours.  Once you’ve figured out what works, practice it in your daily training and out on the rocks.  Most things improve with practice.  Here are some things that help me get into my zone:

– Do things in a consistent order.  The order is somewhat arbitrary, but try to keep it consistent, and try to get deeper and deeper into your zone with each step.  For example, when I show up at the crag, I usually like to drop my pack, then run over to my project to re-assure myself that it’s still there.  Half joking, but seriously I want to know that my draws are still on it, figure out if there are other suitors I will have to coordinate with, make sure no key holds are wet, etc.  Although I can’t control any of these things, having the information as soon as possible allows me to plan around any inconveniences.  If I know the draws aren’t fixed, I can incorporate a dogging burn to hang the draws into my warmup.  If the route is wet, maybe I can delay the start of my warmup to coincide with a likely time when the route will be dry.  This simple ritual helps me relax once I arrive at the crag, and allows me to focus completely on my warmup, rather than worrying about some catastrophe I can’t control.  Once I’m warmed up, I like to migrate to my project well in advance, providing plenty of time to get ready to go.  The first thing I do is verify the draws are in place, then I stick clip the first bolt if “necessary”, then I tape up if necessary, tie in, sip some water, discuss my strategy with my belayer, and then I start putting my shoes on.  I’m chalking up throughout these steps, but one finally dip and wipe is always the last step.

– While performing on rock, identify a point during your preparation where you stop the chit-chat with your belayer or other bystanders.  For me, once I start to put my climbing shoes on I’m in game-face mode.  If I have pointers on where I want the belayer to stand, direct the rope, etc, I discuss those before my hiking shoes come off.

The process of booting up provides a good opportunity to transition from recreation mode to performance mode.

–For timed training sets, get a feel for how soon before the start of the next set you need to arrive at the apparatus, chalking up, etc.  For hangboarding and LBC’s or other timed intervals, I prefer to never leave my zone once the workout starts, but if I get pulled out, I want to be back to focusing on the ensuing effort at least 60 seconds before the set starts.

5. Keep your eyes “caged”.  Vision can dictate where your mind is at, so try to keep your eyes focused on things that will re-enforce your mental focus.

– While training, stare at your fingers, the timer, the next hold, or a motivational photo; whatever you find most effective at keeping your train of thought on the current set (i.e. not at the cute blonde in the sports bra).  Same goes for rest intervals–don’t go gazing out a nearby window or flipping through your iPhone.  Focus on your training log, your apparatus, and any mental cues you have available.

–Limit your depth perception.  This trick may take some practice, but it can be very helpful.  Particularly while performing on rock, try to see no more than 5 or 10′ ahead, unless at a rest, but even then keep your eyes on the route and only on the route.  Often during a redpoint or onsight ascent, we are anxious about a looming roof or other distinct crux.  Obsessing over that point won’t help you fire the slab 30′ below it.  Keep your eyes focused on the climbing immediately in front of you.  Obviously on an onsight you need to plan ahead somewhat, but generally long-range planning should be done from the ground or from a good rest stance.

– Don’t look down!  A bit facetious, but seriously, the only thing you need to see when looking down is your last piece of solid pro and an attentive belayer.  Everything else is a distraction waiting to happen.  Granted, it may be prudent to down-climb during a challenging onsight, but at that point the way up is down.  Focus on the task at hand: the series of moves immediately in front of you.  I attribute this tactic to my earlier success as Big-Wall Free Climber.  To this day I have few recollections of the view down El Cap, but many memories of the view up.  Teach yourself to ignore things that aren’t relevant.  5.12 is 5.12, whether you are 80′ off the deck or 800′.  And the ground is just as deadly either way, so there is no need to waste attention on the added exposure.  There will be plenty of time to admire the view from the summit.

6. Be your own CheerLEADER.  You know your belayer is just dying to shout at you while you climb, so give them something to shout–something specific that YOU will find helpful.  When you’re outside, get your belayer involved, or call upon the peanut gallery to re-enforce key points during the effort.  Same goes for a training partner or partners during training activities.  Some recommend cheers include:

– Any specific, subtle crux beta that you are inclined to forget (i.e. “One – Two – Three – Four, flag that leg or you’ll barndoor”, but less lame)

– Reminders to breath at points where you are inclined to stop breathing (cruxes, dynos, awkward sections, or core-intensive sequences)

– Re-assurances like “You can do this!” or “You got this!”  Avoid diminishing the objective with comments like “This rig is easy”/”you should be able to hike this thing”.  Presumably its a challenge for you, and that’s why you chose it.  It will be hard, and you should be prepared to try hard during your ascent.

– Encouragement to try hard during stopper sequences: “Allez” if you’ve been to Europe and you want everyone else at the crag to know it (otherwise “Go for it”, or “come on” works almost as well) 🙂

– Finally, if you find such things distracting, ask the gallery for silence before your start, or ask your belayer to ask them once you’re in the zone.

If you have any tips or tricks of your own for cultivating focus, please share them in a comment below!

Mission (im)Possible!

Last spring I climbed Mission Overdrive in Clear Creek Canyon, a linkup that begins up Daniel Woods’ 5.14c(/d?) test-piece Mission Impossible, and then traverses right at mid-height to catch the upper half crux of the canyon’s mega-classic 5.13d Interstellar Overdrive.  At the time I was curious to investigate the complete Mission Impossible, but the remainder of my season was already booked solid. 

Mission Impossible from across the canyon, finishing up the headwall.

Mission Impossible from across the canyon, finishing up the headwall.  Photo Adam Sanders

After returning from St. George in mid-January I decided to focus my attention on Mission Impossible.  I had worked out the first half the previous spring, so I focused on the upper half.  Where the lines diverge, an easy jug rail leads left to a great rest, followed by about 15-feet of easy 5.12 climbing.  Above this lies the crux, composed of two back-to-back boulder problems separated by a relatively big, incut horn. 

Battling shallow slopers and thin crimps on the ‘Mission’ crux – the lower half of Mission Impossible.

Battling shallow slopers and thin crimps on the ‘Mission’ crux – the lower half of Mission Impossible. Photo Adam Sanders

I was able to suss the first boulder quickly, but the second was completely baffling.  The holds essentially disappear, leaving about a 6-foot gap from a slopey 1-pad edge just above the horn, to a series of arcing horizontal slashes that traverse the lichen-streaked headwall.  There was no chalk and no hint of a sequence between these holds, only a few slippery pegmatite micro-crystals.  However, there were many footholds below the void, and a 2-foot tall depressed channel running horizontally across the left side of the wall, the bottom half of which formed a short, 75-degree slab.  This mini-slab had a few imperfections, ripples really, that provided just enough relief to offer the scantest purchase.  On a vertical wall these ‘razor crimps’ would be pitiful footholds, but situated on the slab, with good footholds below, they presented potential.

After half an hour of thrutching I discovered a desperate sequence of slaps between the razor crimps, followed by a burly rockover onto the incut horn, and finally a precision stab to the distant horizontal slash.  These were hands-down the hardest moves I’d ever climbed on real rock.  It was hard to imagine linking this boulder problem after 60-feet of pumpy climbing, but experience told me that if I could do the moves, eventually I could build the muscle memory and fitness needed for a redpoint.

Entering the ‘Impossible’ crux, with my right hand on the incut horn, and left on the lowest ‘razor crimp’.

Entering the ‘Impossible’ crux, with my right hand on the incut horn, and left on the lowest ‘razor crimp’.  Photo Adam Sanders

Over the next couple days I rehearsed and refined my sequence, battling the canyon’s fickle conditions.  Finally, on the fourth day of work I redpointed up to the lowest razor crimp, but failed to stick the second.  I was able to bag my first one hang, and then on the next burn I made it one move further, falling going for the third crimp.  Two 1-hangs in a day, I was stoked!  This was going better than I expected.  I spent the rest of the burn trying to link into and through this crux from as low as possible.  It was hot, and I was struggling, but each time I managed to pull through. 

After one link, I noticed I had sliced a thin layer of skin off my right ring finger pad.  The second razor crimp has a jutting crystal positioned between the middle and ring fingers, and it was cutting harshly into my ring finger.  I foolishly persisted, and on the next link this scalpel sliced completely through.  My journal entry for the day summed it up perfectly: “Blood everywhere.  Didn’t have any tape with me, and wasn’t ready to quit, so I tried to find another way to use the right hand there, and in the process managed to make the finger pad worse.  Totally fucked now”.    I took a few extra rest days, and then taped my mangled finger the best I could, but I struggled to match my previous efforts over the next few climbing days.  By the end of January, with bitter cold temps and snow on the horizon I decided to retreat to my hangboard and let my wound heal.

Finger pad carnage!  I can smile about this now.

Finger pad carnage! I can smile about this now.

After five weeks of solid strength and power training my skin was perfect and I was ready to get back on the horse (this time with a roll of tape threaded onto my chalkbag belt!).  At the end of my first day back on the route I shocked myself by redpointing up to the incut horn.  I struggled to repeat the razor crimp moves – perhaps my power was lacking, but my fitness was far beyond my expectations.  I felt a bit more limit bouldering and campusing was in order, so I returned to the Lazy H for one more power workout.  The next day on the route, the second of the season, I matched my previous highpoint on the first burn, and then made it one move further, to the highest razor crimp, on the next burn. 

Once this crimp is secured, I throw my right foot high onto the incut horn, and make a long stab to the first horizontal slash.  On this burn I snatched for this slash, touched it, but wasn’t close to latching it.  Still, after falling on redpoint six times at the razor crimps, I’d finally made some quantifiable progress.  Learning from the previous season’s disaster, I quit while I was ahead.  I was feeling confident, but also, quite suddenly, I felt a wave of pressure – now I knew the send was close at hand, and I would need to climb at my best over the coming days.

Perched on the highest razor crimps, eyeing the horizontal slash that marks the end of the ‘Impossible’ crux.  Photo Adam Sanders

Perched on the horn, eyeing the horizontal slash that marks the end of the ‘Impossible’ crux. Photo Adam Sanders

I spent two stressful rest days obsessing over the beta, my skin, and my diet.  Hardly a moment passed without thinking about the route or my preparations.  This kind of stress is not pleasant, but I think it actually helps.  Many athletes talk about performing their best when they feel ‘butterflies in their stomach’.  It conjures the fight or flight response that taps into our body’s ultimate strength and endurance.  But where technical precision is required, it can certainly be an impediment, resulting in jittery foot movements and poor dynamic control – it’s a precarious balance.

Finally it was Sunday, time to go climbing again, and another opportunity to clinch my goal.  It was cold with a slight breeze, nearly perfect.  I climbed smoothly up to the mid-way rest, shook out my hands for several minutes and tried to warm my numb finger tips.  Eventually I ventured upwards, latching each crimp with relative ease.  I felt great.  I latched the highest razor crimp, and rocked up on my right foot with only a moderate pump.  Perhaps I was overzealous, or just unprepared to feel so collected, but I lunged wildly for the horizontal slash, over-shooting it by a few inches.  I was able to find the hold but not control my now-downward sailing momentum.  I managed to grunt out a pair of expletives during the long descent onto the rope.  I had it, I felt fine, I should have stuck the move easily, but instead I panicked.  It was frustrating, but still, it was my best burn so far, and I was now very close.

Clearing a small roof just below the upper crux.  Photo Adam Sanders.

Clearing a small roof just below the upper crux. Photo Adam Sanders.

By the time I was ready for my second burn, the crag was teeming, and a small gallery had formed, including strongman Jon Cardwell, who was patiently awaiting his turn on the route.  Jon is originally from Albuquerque, and I watched him develop into one of the best young climbers in the country during my seven years climbing and training at Stoneage Climbing Gym in New Mexico.  It was oddly inspiring to see us now working the same route (although I imagine he’ll find it much more accessible than I 🙂 ).

The first half was merely a formality by this point, and I quickly worked up to the midway rest.  I thought through my sequence, recalling how to grip each hold, when and where to shift my weight, and preparing my mind for a struggle through the final headwall.  Once I could feel my fingertips again, I cast off.  I cruised to the razor crimps, feeling only the slightest pump.  I moved methodically from edge to edge, not statically, but with complete control.  The moves had never felt so easy.  I targeted each hold, and reeled them in, one after the other.  Finally I rocked up onto the incut horn, preparing to dyno.  I delayed for a moment, and then coolly –and statically – reached up to the horizontal slash; gotcha!  I danced powerfully up the final eight moves, my excitement building as I neared the lip.  I clipped the chains, unleashed a loud yodel, and mantled onto the summit.  Mission accomplished!

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.

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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