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The Eclipse Corridor – Mini Guide

By Mark Anderson

Totality, 5.13a, on the steep west face of Southern Sun Spire.

My final objective for the 2017 summer Devil’s Head season was to investigate the intriguing west face of Southern Sun Spire. This is the next major fin of granite west of the Switchblade, and like that cliff, it’s slightly overhanging, shady till early afternoon, and covered in beautiful red patina. The next fin to the west of Southern Sun is less that 2-meters away at the north end of the wall, gradually widening to about a 10-meter gap at the south end, creating a narrow, shady corridor. This, along with the crag’s position high on the ridge keeps it breezy and cool.

 

The west face of Southern Sun Spire from the south.

Blister in the Sun, 5.13b

Unlike the Switchblade, the Eclipse Corridor is best approached from the north side of Sawblade Ridge. There are currently 12 lines on the east side of the corridor (which is the west face of Southern Sun Spire, and the left side of the corridor when entering from the north), and 3 lines on the west or right side of the corridor.

 

Syzgy, 5.13

Boer onsighting Chromosphere, 5.11

Boer pulling on the second ascent of Diamond Ring, 5.12b

The 12 routes on the east side are all slightly overhanging. The rock on the far north end is impeccable, but less featured. As you move to the south end of this wall, the rock becomes slightly steeper and often much more featured, resulting in some patches of really fun jug hauling on sculpted huecos.

 

The opposite wall is basically a huge knob-covered slab with the 5.8-ish Cookie Bite climbing the southeast prow of the wall, an interesting 5.10 (Spicules) in the center, and a vertical-to-slightly overhanging 5.11- (Occultation) climbing stacked blocks on the far north end.

Occultation, 5.11-

Spicules, 5.10.  Photo: …Let’s be real, nobody would want credit for this photo.

Eclipse corridor etymology (with definitions excerpted from “Eclipse Chaser Terminology”):

  • Chromosphere – a shell of the solar disk located just above the photosphere or brightest part of the sun. The chromosphere is the transition from the photosphere to the corona.
  • Cookie bite – a description of the initial appearance of the partial eclipse. It really does look like something took a bite out of it.
  • Corona – a shell of the solar disk that extends deep in to the solar system. The corona (or crown) is the white glowing material seen around the eclipsed sun. The corona is only directly visible during totality.
  • Diamond Ring – at 2nd and 3rd contacts when just a point or small sliver of the photosphere is visible it appears as a bright gem with the corona as the ring around the dark moon.
  • Edge effects – the shadows on the ground just before and after totality, when the sun is over 50% obscured.
  • Limb corrections – eclipse circumstance calculations are based on simplified geometry which produces results that are fairly accurate. However, the lunar limb profile is not a simple geometry. It is comprised of valleys and peaks. Valleys will shorten the time of totality while peaks will increase it. If you want to get the most accurate possible timing for the contacts, then the lunar limb corrections need to be applied.
  • Occultation – when one object passes in front of another.
  • Prominence – an eruption from the photosphere into the corona along the edge of the sun. Appears the same color as the chromosphere, bright red.
  • Shadow bands – fast moving crescents caused by atmospheric scintillation that appear in the moments before and after totality.
  • Spicules – the smaller spikes of the chromosphere.
  • Sun spot – a form of solar event that appears darker against the photosphere. Sun spots are commonly associated with prominences when near the edge of the sun.
  • Syzygy – an alignment of three or more celestial bodies.
  • Totality – the brief period in time when the sun is completely eclipsed.
  • Umbraphile – In terms of eclipse chasing, it means one who is addicted to the glory and majesty of total solar eclipses.

Shadow Bands, 5.12-

Totality, 5.13a

Walk Tall Or Not At All

By Mark Anderson

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

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

The impressive west face of Sidewalk in the Sky.

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

Tod nearing the slab crux of Third Twin.

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

The “Brown Scoop Wall”

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

Groposphere, groping through the crux.

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

The final crux of Groposphere.

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Mike Anderson.

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

Latching the throw. Photo Mike Anderson.

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

Rocking over the lip. Photo Mike Anderson.

Aggro Diablo: New Hard Lines at Devil’s Head

By Mark Anderson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nearing the crux.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Extend Your Performance Peak with a Micro-Cycle

By Mark Anderson

You may recall from this post that I had an abnormally long and successful Fall 2016 climbing season. Typically after I send a hard project I take along break from climbing, but I sent my season goal-route (Shadowboxing) so early in the Fall 2016 season that I was still stoked to continue working (and hopefully sending) hard routes. In the past I’ve had great success sustaining high levels of power and fitness through regular Maintenance Training (discussed extensively here). That approach works well when you can count on many, regularly-spaced indoor training days, in which you are able to train long and hard. However, my outdoor days on Shadowboxing were too intense to permit quality maintenance training during my rare and sporadic indoor training days.

The other problem was that Shadowboxing was basically a long enduro climb, whereas most of my remaining projects were short power-fests. I had trained my body for endurance climbing and deliberately neglected power. I felt like I needed to top-off my power to have a chance at these projects, and widen my fitness base if I wanted to extend the effective length of my season into November.

After 8 weeks of training for Rifle endurance, I used a Micro Cycle to re-tune my power for short burly routes like 7 Minute Abs.

In order to accomplish those two training goals, I designed a “Micro-Cycle”—in this case a 17-day cycle (including rest days) that included Strength, Power, and PE sessions. My Micro-Cycle is illustrated below in the yellow box of Weeks 9-11 (Note, for detailed explanations of Weeks 1-8, see this post):

I started with a mini-Strength Phase, which included two full, “normal” 6-grip Hangboard workouts.  My third workout was a hybrid between Strength and Power Endurance (PE), comprised of a 4-grip Hangboard workout (including the four grips I felt were most relevant to my upcoming goals), then a 45-minute rest, followed by 3-sets of Route Intervals (for tedious details on my Route Interval, see this post).

Next I transitioned into a mini, hybrid Power and PE Phase. The “LB/C + PE” days consisted of ~45 minutes of bouldering (including Warmup Boulder Ladder, Hard Bouldering, and Limit Bouldering), then ~30-40 minutes of Campusing, followed by 3 or 4-sets of Route Intervals. The “LB/C” day included longer durations of bouldering and Campusing, without any PE training.  Note that I wrapped up every training session with 2-3 sets of my typical assortment of Supplemental Exercises.

The Micro-Cycle worked pretty well. On paper I was just as strong on October 3rd as I was on September 4th, and just as fit on October 11th as I was on September 20th. On the rock, I continued to climb well through mid-November, FA-ing the powerful 5.14b Double-O Ninja on November 4th, a full two months after the end of my initial, full Strength Phase. Normally I would be well past my peak (especially my power peak) at that point. Ultimately the limiting factor in my season seemed to be motivation—at times I struggled to stick to the training plan and continue going to the crag, especially in the wake of so much success (I realize that may sound counter-intuitive, or at least pompous, but in my case I tend to want to relax after sends, and often find failure more inspiring).

After two months of training for long pump-fests, a short and sweet “Micro-Cycle” helped re-tune my fitness for short, powerful routes like Double-O Ninja.

The next time you find yourself motivated to extend a Performance Peak, give your power a quick boost, or fine-tune your fitness to suit a particular goal route, consider a Micro-Cycle such as this. Keep in mind the workouts, frequencies, and scheduling described here are just one example. These variables can be manipulated in many ways to accommodate different goals.

New Front Range Moderates at “The Aqueduct”

by Mark Anderson

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

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

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

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

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

Kate cruising Well Done Sergeant, 11a

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

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

 

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

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

Straining through the crux of Solidarity Brother, 12b.

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

Climbing in Italy – Finale Ligure Part 2

By Mark Anderson

Pyro, 7b, at Grotta della Strapatente.

Messalina, 7a+, Domus Aurea.

For our last climbing day of the trip, we chose the region around the village of Boragni. This area has a wide selection of crags within a small area, and also seemed to offer some of the best tufa climbing in Finale. It also offered another spelunking adventure for the kids, with two crags connected by a 100m-long cave (fortunately this cave didn’t require any fixed lines or scrambling).

Commuting between Domus Aurea and Grotta della Strapatente.

The first crag we visited is called Domus Aurea. This was a small crag with only a few routes, but it has a nice curtain of steep tufas. After warming up, we headed to the phenomenal Grotta della Strapatente. This cliff is famous for an 8b+ (5.14a) called En Attendant Berhault that climbs through a horizontal roof on big stalactites, but we were here for the amazing wall of flowstone to the right. I climbed some truly fantastic tufas on this trip, but these were the most fun.

Climbing Pyro, 7b, on the amazing wall of tufas at Grotta della Strapatente.

My favorite route on the wall was a snaking 7b called Pyro. The route flowed seamlessly—just when one tufa ends, an incut pocket appears to link the movement into the next tufa. The route was never super hard, but continuous and sequential. The tufas on this route were incredible—it seemed like each drip was sculpted with a climber’s hand in mind. It was easily the best route I did in Finale.

Memobox, 7b, another great tufa line at Strapatente.

Kate enjoying the heavily-pocketed start of Memobox.

After a few more of the wall’s stellar tufas, we packed up one more time and headed back down the hill to a stacked cliff of moderates called “Bastinata sinistra Boragni.” The cliff is enormous, with pitches reaching 40m, a few multi-pitch lines, and over 70 routes from 5.8 to 5.12. It was a great hang for kids, with a nice open base, and they both fell fast asleep as soon as we arrived.

Where’s Waldo…?

…there he is. Copping a rest in one of the many pockets of Panorama, 7a+

The climbing varied from steep slabs to very-slightly-overhanging walls covered in pockets. Some of these pockets were huge incut jugs, some just looked like that from below. Silt from runoff was problematic on some of the routes, but most of the lines were long and clean. The best route we did was a popular 40m 5.10 called Change the World. I had to scrounge up every draw and sling, back-clean a few bolts, and skip some others, but it was a fun and airy journey.

Kate at the bulging crux of Change the World, 6b, at Bastionata sinistra Boragni.

Of all the places we visited, I find myself most inclined to return to Finale. Not because the climbing was the best—it wasn’t, but because the lifestyle was so relaxing. Minimal driving, a wide variety of routes, and very few crowds. Even when the climbing is bad (it never was), you can look forward to capping off the day with a casual stroll along the beach and enjoying a delicious meal. It would be a great place to live as a retired climber—lifetimes worth of routes to climb, with none of the hassle of other venues.

Higher on Change the World’s endless sea of pockets.  The anchor is still out of the frame!

All told, it was an awesome climbing vacation.  We visited a ton of new crags, saw some amazing sights, and had a great time.  Generally we fizzle out at the end of these trips–ending up exhausted and longing for home.  That never happened on this trip.  The kids were really well-behaved the entire time, and relatively self-sufficient.  At 6 and almost-4, it feels like we’re through the tunnel from a “climbing with kids” perspective, and our horizons are broadening once again.  They managed many long days (and long approaches) with few complaints.  Another important improvement over previous trips was that we rented houses in both destinations.  I wasn’t sure how that would pan out, but it worked really well and was surprisingly affordable.  It made everything less stressful and eliminated the problem of finding food outside of normal business hours (the crux of our earliest trips).  The downside of this approach is that it restricts your travel range, but fortunately we found two base camps with a wide variety of incredible sights and crags.  It seemed like we could have stayed forever, and I’d be happy to return to either.

Castle of the Day: Vernazza, along the infamous Cinque Terra trail. We hiked from Monterosso (visible along the shore at center) to Corniglia (8Km total), which Logan managed with no assistance, minimal whining, and just a wee bit of bribery (a Police Boat Lego set).

 

Kitty’s Back (in Clear Creek)

By Mark Anderson

Topcat, one of three new routes atop the Catslab in Clear Creek Canyon, CO.

Over the winter I bolted three routes on the steep visor that sits high above the “Catslab” in upper Clear Creek. This feature looks like a roof from the ground, but it’s more like a convex bulge, gradually sweeping from about 60-degrees overhanging at the base up to ~30 degrees at the top. The business overhangs right around 45-degrees.

Once we returned from Europe I finally got around to trying the routes. In a nutshell, all three of them offer really fun movement in a spectacular setting on subpar rock. Like most steep routes in Clear Creek, you have to weave around some mungy ledges and cracks to reach the goods. Fortunately the rock improves steadily once on the visor, and notwithstanding the typical Clear Creek exfoliating flaky stuff, the rock is pretty good where it counts (and totally bullet on the headwall above the visor).

Each of these routes has a distinct character. The first line I climbed is the middle route, Kitty’s Back. This line is incredibly fun, pretty much a complete jug haul. The line follows a system of exfoliating flakes, with super steep off-balance/barn door-y liebacking. The flakes end with one long huck right at the top of the overhang, followed by more fun jugs up the beautiful headwall. The rock at the start is marginal, but it improves substantially and is bomber in the crux and beyond. I reckon this goes at about 13a, and would be classic if the rock were consistently good.

Fingerlocking onto the steep visor on Catlong.

The next route I tried is the right-most line, which follows a seam through the steep wall. Catlong is pretty unusual for Clear Creek in that the crux requires some gymnastic finger locking (if that’s a thing). Although it has its fair share of exfoliating flakey stuff to either side of the seam, the handholds are all solid, generally large features. Unfortunately you have to weave through a 6-foot-tall band of dusty ledges just below the start of the overhang. There are solid hand jugs through this obstacle but your feet will be pasting on scaly, sandy stone. Above, the climbing is really cool and exotic if you like crack climbing. It begins with a long reach from a finger lock to reach a big jug rail, then the crux comes next with sequential moves and an overhead heel hook to set up another bomber finger lock. Next you get to do some hip scums, wild stemming and even a kneebar, all with a steadily building pump. The climb ends with large but well-spaced crimps on the headwall, checking in around 13c.

Steep, fun pretzel climbing on Catlong.

The final route, Top Cat, is the furthest left. Against all odds it turned out to be the best, with good rock throughout, and really fun, athletic climbing. It’s also the hardest, with two difficult dynos. The most powerful move is a burly stab to a half-pad crimp at the second bolt, after which heel hooks and big lock-offs between good-for-the-grade holds lead into the redpoint crux–a crossing drive-by to reach the 4th bolt. Although it’s short, it’s completely sustained from the moment you step off the slab. I think its at the low end 5.14a.

Powerful lock-offs on Top Cat, 5.14a.

Meow if that doesn’t get you stoked for rock climbing, perhaps this will:

Climbing in Italy – Finale Ligure Part 1

By Mark Anderson

Climbing Camera Con Vista (Room with a view), 7a, Finale Ligure.

Climbing in Italy has long been a mystery to me. I knew there was climbing—a lot of climbing—I just didn’t know anything specific about it. For whatever reason I knew much more about the sport crags of Germany, France and Spain. Some quick internet research revealed Finale Ligure, in the Liguria region of the Italian Riviera, was a highly recommended spot.

Playing on the Beach in Finalmarina.

The Finale region is spectacular, nestled in a set of tight valleys right on the Mediterranean Sea (some of the crags climb directly over the water). Finale is also renowned as a mountain biking destination, and the village of Finalborgo (where we stayed) was always bustling with adventure-seekers like ourselves. In the small piazza where we went for pizza, beer and gelato (not necessarily in that order) there were six different climbing shops and just as many MTB shops.

The cliff-covered valleys above Finalborgo.

Within a 15 minute drive of Finalborgo are hundreds of crags with thousands of routes. The rock is white, gray and sometimes orange limestone, covered in small pockets and the occasional tufa. The routes are entirely bolted, but there are many expansive cliffs covered in multi-pitch lines. The cliffs tend toward steep slabs with many vertical to slightly-overhanging walls, and the most appealing routes are in the French 6-7 range (5.10-5.12). According to our guidebook, polished rock is a bit of a problem at certain crags, but we never found it to be an issue.

El Diablo in Grotta dell’edera. This is fairly typical of the rock in Finale—generally white to light grey, near vertical, with many small pockets. Photo Logan Anderson.

I had pretty low expectations for the climbing, based on the few pictures I’d seen. The routes looked thin, tweaky and old-school. The two days we spent climbing there completely changed my view.   Every route I climbed was excellent and many of them were outstanding. While there were some thin and tweaky routes and some runouts, we also found amazing tufa curtains and walls covered in jugs. Even the less featured lines were fantastic technical challenges on amazing rock.

However, the best thing going for Finale is the atmosphere. It reminded me of Tonsai Beach in Thailand, where you can drop your pack on the beach, climb world-class limestone, then walk 15 steps to the bar and eat a great meal with a beer for pennies on the dollar. Finale wasn’t quite that convenient, but on the other hand, you don’t need Malaria pills. The climbing in Finale is equally relaxed, with the sea never far away and a great evening on the boardwalk or piazza to cap off every day.

The best part of Finale climbing was the ambiance. Eating phenomenal pizza in our garden in Finalborgo.

Grotta dell’edera (Ivy Cave) was the one “must-visit” crag on our list. It’s a collapsed cave, resulting in a near-perfect cylinder of limestone open to the sky. There’s a “window” on the southwest side of the cylinder that forms an archway across the cylinder. If that wasn’t peculiar enough, the Grotta is accessed by climbing 50 meters through a proper cave (with some steep scrambling thrown in along the way).

Amelie and I spelunking on the approach to Grotta dell’edera.

Looking up at the roof of Grotta dell’edera.

The perfectly-named Camera Con Vista (Room with a view), 7a. The “window” is to my left, and there is another mini-cylinder (with three routes inside and a skylight) to my right. Photo Amelie Anderson.

Kate cruising Bombolo, 6b, in the mini-cylinder inside Grotta dell-edera. Photo Logan Anderson.

Higher on Bombolo, a classic jughaul with wild stemming and some tufa action. Photo Logan Anderson.

The climbing in the Grotta was fantastic in its own right, but the setting made every route extra special. I climbed several great tufa lines and set up a thrilling rope swing for the kids that the other climbers seemed to get a kick out of (the place was packed relative to the rest of our trip—there were 8 other climbers, with us making 12 people to share 14 routes). The best route I did was a dead-vertical, slightly concave 7b with small incut pockets and tricky stemming called Lubna.

El Diablo, 7b. The Climber in the orange helmet is on the mega-classic technical masterpiece Lubna. Photo Logan Anderson.

Amelie’s rope swing.

Logan getting in on the climbing.

Logan preparing to take a big swing.  The higher you climb, the better the swing.

The (hiking) approach to the Grotta was long, hot and miserable. Frankly we were all in a terrible mood when we got there. If there’s one downside to Finale, it’s that the approaches can be long, steep and complicated. Other than that, it’s the perfect family climbing destination, with routes for climbers of all abilities and lots of fun rest day activities for kids. Fortunately the rough approach was a distant memory by the end of the day. We all had such a great time between the cave, the swings and the climbing that we would love to return. Back in Finalborgo we capped off the day with literally the best pizza I’ve ever had. Logan and Amelie picked lemons from the garden and Kate made lemonade. It was the perfect climbing day.

Castle of the Day: Dolceaqua, easily the best medieval village of the trip, with a maze of narrow winding passageways. The Ponte Vecchio bridge shown here was memorialized in this painting by Monet.

 

Climbing in France – Venasque

By Mark Anderson

Nearing the top of Vole, 7b, at the French Limestone crag of Venasque. Photo Logan Anderson.

Venasque is a little known crag outside the village of the same name, about an hour south of Buis. We first went there on one of my rest days, to give Kate a chance to climb some of the highly recommended 5.10s and 11s. Kate really enjoyed the climbing, and it looked so fun that we both agreed we should return for our last day in France.

Kate cruising Beaucoup de Bruit Pour Rien (“A Lot of Noise for Nothing”), 6a+, on our first day at Venasque.

The cliffs of Venasque don’t look remarkable (relative to other crags of the area). There are no tufas, the colors are bland relative to the orange and blue streaks of St Leger and Baume Rousse, and the scenery isn’t particularly special. But man, the climbing sure is fun! The rock is limestone, but it seems to have quite a bit of sandstone mixed in, and it’s weathered in a manner very similar to the best routes at Kentucky’s Red River Gorge. We spent most of our time at “Place de l’Ascle,” the main feature of which is a 30m wall, overhanging up to about 20 degrees, and covered in huge jugs. All the routes on this wall were spectacular 5.12 pumpfests. The routes aren’t particularly striking or cerebral, but it was definitely the most fun I had climbing on our trip.

Kate starting up Petite Marie, a gobsmacking 5.11c that charges up the right side of a towering swell of overhanging jugs.  5.11 sport climbs don’t get any better than this.

Higher on Petite Marie. Note the leaning wave of rock to Kate’s left—home to Misanthropies Therapeutiques, Aller Plus Haute, and Vole.

I started by warming up on a brilliant 7b on this wall called Misanthropies Therapeutiques, which was completely stellar, getting gently steeper, with equally growing holds, as you ascend (all the routes on this wall were like that).  It was one of the most fun sport climbs I’ve ever done. Next we moved to another sector along the same cliffband which the Rockfax guide described as a “must see wall that is the epitome of a sport crag and a must climb venue.” This cliff overhangs about 20 degrees, with a number of pockety, sequential lines from 7c-8b. I tried a route called Objectif Puree, or “Pure Objective.” This name was apparently ironic, as I soon discovered about half the handholds on the route were chipped. It was a drag, and really turned me off on the wall. I felt like I was climbing in a gym with poor route-setting. It was also rather disappointing that some people think chipped garbage is “the epitome of a sport crag.” Whether that’s a reflection on the author’s taste, or the reputation of sport climbing (or both), I don’t know. Nor am I sure which would be worse. To me it seemed like a real waste of a cliff, not to mention a waste of a climbing day in Europe.

Objectif Puree. Photo Amelie Anderson.

The upside of this revelation was that I was free to return to the first cliff and climb as many of the rad jughauls as my family could tolerate (fortunately it was also another great place to rig a rope swing, which got me at least one extra route beyond the usual quota).

Midway up Vole, 7b. Misanthropies Therapeutiques is the next route left (following the flake system), and Aller Plus Haute is the second route left. Photo Logan Anderson.

The most memorable moment of the day came as I was cleaning the 7b+ Aller Plus Haute (“Go High”). The crag is right over the road, at the intersection of a very popular hiking trail.  A crowd of about 30 hikers came through, pausing briefly to watch my acrobatics as I neared the bottom quickdraw. When I cleaned this last draw on the steeply overhanging wall, I predictably swung way out over the road, greeted by a chorus of “oohs” and “aahs” from the gathered spectators.

Logan getting in on the fun.

All told it was easily my favorite day of climbing on the trip. The crag doesn’t look spectacular, it’s not photogenic or historic, but it’s hard not to have fun on these amazing cliffs. It was a great hang for the kids, with no approach, and nestled in one of the most scenic rural regions of Provence.  It’s the perfect family vacation crag.

Castle of the Day – Entrevaux. This one was so spectacular it gets two pics….

Logan had a great time playing with the two cannons at lower right. Note also the Citadel high above, and the zig-zagging path that climbs up to it.

 

Climbing in France – Baume Rousse

by Mark Anderson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The left half of the Baume Rousse cirque.

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

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

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

Nearing the crux on Rigpa. Photo Logan Anderson

Another pic of Rigpa. Photo Logan Anderson

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

Amelie enjoying the best rope swing of the trip

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

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

 

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

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

The suspension bridge.

So-called Monkey Bridge.

Climbing through the arch.

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

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

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