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Tactics for getting it done. Aka. Stacking the odds in your favor.

Anyone who has read my blog or talked to me knows that I’m straight forward with my motivations for climbing. Climbing is my life and I work very hard to climb as hard as possible.
 
Sticking the crux on “The Beast in Me” 5.12a R.  Photo Jared Musgrave

I will note that I am referring to sport climbing and bouldering. When I gear climb I will typically try to climb the route “well” as in not be a chuffer with my gear, climb efficiently etc.

Here are a few tips to stack the odds in your favor: 
  • Work out beta; Look around too.  Don’t just follow the tick marks, look for new holds and new beta.  Especially at the Red River Gorge, I’ve found “new holds” many times.
  • Stack gear for dangerous sections.  If you are placing small gear, place more than once piece.  The extra energy is worth the headspace.
  • One sporty sport routes, consider hanging really long slings on bolts so you can clip, and then clip up. With some smart sling-work you can put a “bolt” anywhere you want it.
 
David Statler with the extended sling on “Harlequin” 5.12b.  Endless Wall, New River Gorge.

For a hard start and dangerous second clip, just stick-clip the second bolt.

Climb in good to ideal temperatures/conditions

For a difficult lead, especially a trad climb, work out all the gear and the moves, then try to send the rig.  Once you’ve worked it out, visualize the movements; chalk and tick key holds (I know people talk smack on tick marks…so brush them off when you’re done.)  When you’re climbing, you don’t want to have to think, but just connect the dots.  A great way to mess up a techy sequence is to try and change beta, or forget your beta half way through the crux.

For sending routes at your limit (grade-wise) pick stuff that is your strength.

  • If you’re in bouldering shape, then pick short, but hard routes.
  • If you’re good on pockets, then pick a route with pockets etc.
  • Stick to the steep juggy routes (if you’re good at those.)

Temperatures and conditions are huge. Ideal conditions make hard routes easy and bad conditions make easy routes miserable!  I will typically try to send the hardest routes (peak my training) during the ideal conditions window for the area.  Based on day-to-day conditions I follow:

  • When it’s cold, climb slopers
  • When it’s low humidity, climb crimpers
  • When it’s hot, go swimming and climb jugs!
 
Slopers on a cold day.  Chronic – V7 at Stone Fort, flashing the problem.  Photo Lauren Goff

I decided that I would try to climb the route: “The Beast in Me” 5.12a R at the New River Gorge this spring. I don’t think this route gets the “R” rating in the newest book, but by most definitions, it should.   The crux has a bolt but there are two cruxes before it (V3 or so) with long falls on good, but must-not-fail gear.

We set the route up on TR and I loaded up my harness with gear. I climbed the route as if leading placing the gear and I works out all the gear beta my first go (and the moves).  I figured out the crux sequence and brushed all the holds.  

 
“The Beast in Me” 5.12a R.  Photo Jared Musgrave
  

As I attempted to lead the route after top roping it, I had the gear on my harness in order with the draws already on them. I also sorted the gear on the left and right side of my harness based on the placement.  The plan was to have no extra gear and as I clipped the anchor I had no gear on my harness!

I was poised to “slam dunk” the crux before the crux. I was waaaaaaay over my last piece of gear, a good cam in a horizontal, and for a split second imagined what would happen if I shorted the long move. I quashed the thought and went hard!  Sticking the hold. ……woah boy !!!!…..that was a pretty sketchy 1/4 of a second.   If that cam were to blow, it’s would likely be a fatal or serious ground fall from about 40+ feet.  Climbing is dangerous.

I didn’t get it, I fell at the crux.  I didn’t listen to my own advice and tried to do a different sequence.  My buddy Neal was also working the route and between the two of us, we refined the beta (finding a key foot.)  I wasn’t going to try the frightful lead a third time so I sent the rig on Top Rope to get some confidence and muscle memory.

I wrote down the gear and sent the route my next trip out, once again clipping the anchor with no gear on my harness. I topped out and enjoyed the view before downclimbing and lowering.  I’m not sure if this is my hardest trad line, though it was definitely exciting.  When I climbed the route, it went pretty easy for me, but I was on edge the whole time.  As I went through the dangerous section, I once again imagined what would happen if I fell there.  On Neal’s previous attempt, he figured out better gear beta; we stacked two cams into the horizontal instead of the one.  Cutting the chances of death by falling on V3 in half is a good idea. 

 

I had a lot more on this, but figured I’d make it a “part two” where I talk about temperatures and bouldering! 

The Big Year Part 3: Upping the Ante

Two in the afternoon, and I’m shaking uncontrollably.  One second I’m freezing, the next I’m burning up.  It hurts to move, to breathe, to blink my eyes!  I reach for the phone, and call for life support.  Uncle Stu, in his warm apartment in Bishop picks up the phone.

“Stu,” I meekly say, “The flu has me in a death lock.  Can you get me some Gatorade and chicken soup?”

Sitting in the campground, all alone in my van, the big year has come to a screeching halt.

I think to myself: What am I doing with my life?  I don’t have a job, I don’t have a girlfriend. Climbing feels like a chore.  Gosh, this is the unromantic and difficult part of the big year.

March slowly passes into April, and before I know it, I am about to leave for Alaska to tackle my next big alpine objective.  Just prior to departure, I manage to completely and totally throw my back out traversing an undercling pitch. Laying on the ground and writhing in pain, I wonder how I will manage to recover in time. I’m supposed to be landing on the glacier in a weeks time!

Days later, with the help of some muscle relaxers, I manage to pack my bags and hobble onto the Alaska bound aircraft.  To my good fortune, a storm is ravaging the Alaska range.  My partner Alik and I hole up with my good buddy Mad Dog in Anchorage for seven days while the storm settles and my back mends.

As we crest one of the final hills en-route to Talkeetna, we can see the entirety of the Alaska Range.  Suddenly, like a strike of lightning, my stoke is rekindled!  As we pull into town, you can feel the excitement in the air.  Climbers from around the world have come to test themselves on Denali and neighboring peaks.  We fill up on coffee and a lumberack’s breakfast at the Road House Cafe and waddle over to Talkeetna Air Taxi to manifest ourselves.

1.  the Alaska Range

The Alaska Range

We land on the Buckskin Glacier, at the foot of the massive and incredibly imposing East Face of the Moose’s Tooth.  With 5,000 feet of vertical relief, we are left staring in awe and admiration.  Alik, in his always calm and casual demeanor, comments.  “Looks good.”  I take a gulp, try to act cool, and respond: “Yup, sure does.”

The East Face of the Moose's Tooth Our route takes the most direct path directly up the center of the headwall

The East Face of the Moose’s Tooth Our route takes the most direct path directly up the center of the headwall

The next morning, drinking my coffee in the Alaska sunshine I have to turn and face away from the Moose’s Tooth.  My stomach is doing somersaults and I’m nauseous with uncertainty and fear.  Alpine climbing at its best.

Our eyes are set on a new route:  2,500 feet of snow, rock and ice, leading to a 1,200 foot rock headwall, sequining to another 1,500 feet of snow and ice to the summit.  We hope the rock will go free at a reasonable dry tooling grade.  Our first attempt proves solid, but we are thwarted by heavy snowfall and forced to retreat in a gully of torrential spin drift and powder avalanches.  Character building at its best.

Retreat from the storm

Retreat from the storm

Once back in camp, we make a few satellite phone calls to family, gorge ourselves on steaks, chicken, and bulky carbs, and patiently wait for the weather to clear.  As luck would have it no more than 48 hours after returning to camp we get the all clear.  Back up the mountain we go, fatigue still deep in our legs.

The first two days go well, and we are established half way up the face.  The morning of the third day onward melt into a blurry haze.  Alik and I push ourselves far into our reserves.  We opt to employ El Capitan speed climbing tactics to the headwall.  The leader short fixes climbing in blocks, while the second jumars.  Eighteen hours later, exhausted and with no good bivy platform in sight we employ our bat hammocks.  They prove almost non useable, I am too cold to sleep, after two hours we opt to continue.  Looking out across the Alaska horizon in the near 24 hours of light, I feel as if I could be high on a Himalayan face.

Alik taking in the veiw, 3rd pitch on the headwall

Alik taking in the view, 3rd pitch on the headwall

The climbing is loose, sharp and tedious at a grade of 5.9, A4.  Topping out the headwall in light snow flurries at 4 pm, we push onwards through 1,500 feet of fantastic moderate snow, ice, and rock to the summit plateau in a 48 hour push!  We take in the view, snap a few pics, and relish in the moment – but our peace is short-lived.  Worried about a encroaching storm, we’re determined to keep moving, and thus begin the 32 hour decent back down to the valley floor.  Sometime on the third day, I drop my ATC and am forced to finish the rappel with a carabiner brake rack!  Our timing is perfect. Snow began to fall the second we touched flat ground.

Arriving back in back in base camp, we had been on the move for 80 hours.  Sipping hot toddies and frying up some meat and pasta, Alik and I savored finally being at rest.  Endorphins, exhaustion and sleep deprivation had us feeling incredible, but also talking gibberish to each other.  I’m sure we looked like drunken fools!  Some time later, we realized that we had both been hallucinating the squawking of ravens for much of the route.  Hence a route name was born:  Illusions of the Raven. (Read the full story here: http://www.alpinist.com/doc/web15s/newswire-new-route-on-east-face-mooses-tooth)

Upon my return to civilization I felt like I had endured the Spartan battle of 300.  I was totally and complete wasted.  For two weeks I holed up, slept, ate and kept good company with friends.  It would take months to recover mentally from this effort.  The mountain had required much more of me than expected. The Moose’s Tooth had given Alik and I an experience of a lifetime – an opportunity to look far inside ourselves.  Adventures of this magnitude settle deep into one’s inner core and radiate out.  Reflecting back now, I find that I have been sculpted by my most challenging experiences.

Coming back from this adventure, I often think of what Ammon McNeely, says:  “There is a fine line between bad ass, and dumb ass!”  In my mind, the line is there for us to creep up to.  It feels incredible to get close to it, but it’s up to each one of us to decide how far under (or over) the line to go.  The freedom to explore these boundaries is intoxicating and exhilarating, but also humbling when things go wrong.

Weeks after Alaska, I hobbled back into Yosemite Valley.  A good friend of mine (and current women’s El Cap Nose speed record holder), Libby Sauter, suggested we climb the classic East Buttress of El Cap.  Chatting like song birds and swinging from holds like monkeys, we simul-climb the route with smiles and an extra helping of laughs!  But as fate would have it, this climb would be the straw that broke the camels back or, in this case, my back!  I had eked out the Moose’s Tooth, but now I was paying the heavy price and my back was injured.  I sat in the cafeteria at the Yosemite Lodge, grimacing in pain, angry that I was showing weakness, depressed that I needed to rest.

 Enjoying a great day out on El Cap with Libby Sauter

Enjoying a great day out on El Cap with Libby Sauter

I opted to try new things and relax.  Whale watching, hiking, cycling, sea kayaking.  I started physical therapy and tried to mend.  Six weeks came and went, and still no relief.  Instead of setting up a tent in the Dolomites and pushing my rock grades, I rented a room in Bishop from a good friend and focused on PT, lots of cycling, and top rope climbing.  Instead of climbing El Cap in a day or linking high Sierra peaks to prepare for my upcoming expedition to Nepal, I was doing mini traxion laps in the Gorge.  I found if I climbed with perfect upright form like a stiff robot, it didn’t hurt.  This is not how the big year is supposed to go, I thought.  But in life things do not always go to plan.  Sometimes we are served up a plate of humble pie.  I remained optimistic.  The months passed, the MRI came back negative, and slowly I regained form.

 

Victor Garcia Joins Team Trango

Trango is proud to announce the addition of Victor Gacria to Team Trango. Victor is based in Salt Lake City, Utah and spends much of his time exploring Joes Valley and other climbing areas closer to SLC.

“I am very excited to be joining the Trango family!   The talent and overall stoke that the team is comprised of is awesome and it is a blessing to be apart of it!”, says Garcia.

LCC 022116 Photo 1

“I was introduced to climbing around age seven but was terrified of heights.  It was not until high school that I discovered bouldering.  Bouldering was exactly what I needed, it allowed me to be an athlete.   The first bouldering competition I participated in I came in last place and almost gave up the sport all together. I decided to stick with it and I am glad that I did”, Garcia states.

The Big Year – Part 1 (casting off)

What would you do with a full year off of work?

A few years back a friend of mine proposed that question.  Hmmm.  Like school kids we sat around and day dreamed.  Patagonia, Pakistan, Nepal, Italy, Spain…. the list went on.  About a year after this conversation, I decided to start saving my money and make this dream a reality.  Eighteen months after that, I finished up my last work stint in Western Africa and moved what I needed into a 94 Chevy van.  Late December, with music blaring and sunglasses on, I headed towards a year of adventure!   Here is a recap of 2015, my big year:

I have always had an affinity with the east side of the Sierra in California.  With countless seasons spent in Yosemite Valley, many of my friends reside in the small high desert town of Bishop.  I spent my first three weeks here, clipping bolts in the Owens River Gorge and bouldering in the Happy’s and the Buttermilks.  Rest days usually involved hanging at the Black Sheep coffee house and soaking in the local hot springs.  Amazing how easy I found it to fill days even though I didn’t have a job!

The author climbing in the Gorge, Photo credit Jean Tucky.

The author climbing in the Gorge, Photo credit Jean Tucky.

In the third week of January, I made a last minute decision to attend the OR trade show in Utah.  Expecting to be away from Bishop for only a week, I even made climbing plans for my return.  But after a great trade show I received a call from the inventor of the big year, Justin Griffin.  “Its going off up here in Bozeman,” he said, “come on up.”

Well I thought I am already half way there.  The stars are pointing me towards the north! 

About a week later, I found myself bouncing and bumping on a Montana back road with a PBR in hand, riding shotgun with Bozeman hard man Justin Griffin.  “Its going off in Cook City, stuff that hasn’t come in in years is in shape,” Justin said.  “I have my eye on a three pitch unclimbed line.”  That night we slept in his beater old tow behind travel camper just minutes from the climbing.  We were up early and stepping outside the cold bit my face hard, my eyelashes freezing together.  That day we established a new line: Thunder Bird, 600 feet M7 WI6.  It was a spectacular day out with a good friend.  As luck would have it, I would forget my ice tools below the last pitch hanging perfectly off a stone.  The second ascent (which still awaits) will receive a nice little prize!

Thunder Bird

Thunder Bird

Feeling confident after our ascent of Thunder Bird, I asked Justin for the beta for Winter Dance, a cult classic in Hyalite Canyon.  I had been dreaming about this climb for the last 15 years.  A monstrous four hour approach is required for this gem established by Alex Lowe and Jim Earl in 1998.  It’s a beautiful four pitch climb rated M8 WI6, that starts a dizzying 3,000 feet off the valley floor.   To my good fortune, a good friend of mine, Ken Kreis happened to be in Bozeman looking for a climbing partner for his first ever trip to climb in Hyalite.  “I have the perfect climb for us, Ken,” I deviously said!  The climbing proved steep and exhilarating, this combined with the interment snow flurries, gave it a big mountain feel.  Fun day in the hills, and Ken did great!

Winter Dance pitch 2

Winter Dance pitch 2

Ken Kreis atop pitch three Winter Dance

Ken Kreis atop pitch three Winter Dance

When I finally arrived back into cell reception, I got a voice message from Justin, “Get some chow on your way home.  We are climbing with Jack Tackle tomorrow.  4:30am wake up call.”  I looked at my watch.  11:30pm.  Oh man, this is gonna hurt, I thought to myself.  But, I had never met Jack before, and being a long time hero of mine, I knew I had to go!  We climbed Petrified Dreams, a climb in Yellowstone National Park that Jack had put up back in the 90’s.

Jack Tackle, Justin Griffin, and I, Petrified Dreams in the background

Jack Tackle, Justin Griffin, and I, Petrified Dreams in the background

Sadly this would be the last time I would climb ice with Justin in his home territory. Justin tragically passed away in Nepal nine months later pursing his dreams as an alpinist.

Stay tuned for my five part blog series the big year.

Craig DeMartino Joins Team Trango

Trango is proud to announce the addition of Craig DeMartino to the Trango athlete team.  “I’ve been a fan of Trango’s gear for years and the chance to join such an elite team athletes is amazing. I’m stoked to take the gear out on all my adventures and work with the team to spread the Trango vibe to the tribe”, says DeMartino.

craig hvar1

The Trango athlete team strives to support strong climbers, like Craig, who are good stewards and contributors to the climbing community at large. Craig returned to climbing in 2002 after a 100 foot ground fall that resulted in the loss of a leg, a fused back and neck, and a renewed love of being outside and the simple movement found in climbing. Craig’s determination to climb hard, give back and provide motivational speeches and clinics to other disabled climbers makes him an ideal addition to the team.

Trying hard(er) in the Gym

V7 at Joe’s Valley

I’m not the type of person who does the whole new years resolutions.  To me, New Years is just another day.  I understand that people need “fresh starts”; “A time to change their lives.”  I listen to NPR podcasts all the time and I see why its important for humans to try to change our bad habits and also, all those fitness gyms need their “black January 2nds.”

 
Myself, I am constantly looking for ways to improve; not just my climbing, but my life overall.  My bro Ryan and I were talking about how to improve our climbing and we had a revelation: 
 
We never try hard in the gym.  Like….ever.  
In fact, most of the time, I just half bass it (not a typo.)   The Energy Rock Gym in Charleston has been HUGE for all of us here.  Our collective climbing has gone through the roof, mine included.  I had observed how several of the folks have improved a lot faster than I had; I wondered what I was doing wrong and what I could do to improve.  We did notice that they tried REALLY hard in the gym…their entire lives for 3 hours revolve around sending the purple problem.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I agree that gyms are ruining climbing all over the country.  (Just kidding, its an inside joke.)  I don’t take gym climbing very serious; nowhere near as serious as climbing outside. When I’m climbing outside, I try as hard as I can and push myself to, and sometimes past what I think are my physical limits.  In the gym though…I’m like “meh…didn’t send the blue problem…not gonna try and hold that hold…meh…(meh.)  Its lame anyways….” 
 
I would like to say that my hang-ups are practical things like “injury prevention” or “saving myself for the weekend.”  But honestly, I’m just lazy and don’t really give ‘er.  (I do actually try and push my limits while training though.)

So I’ve decided that I’m going to start trying as hard as I can (it will be a process) in the gym.  The conclusion being that the harder I try in the gym, the more the gym will improve my climbing.   Hopefully I won’t injure myself or ruin myself for the weekend. 
I’m in my hangboard phase of my phased training, but I am also setting for our annual climbing competition.  I even ACTUALLY decided to try as hard as I could for one problem yesterday.  It’s a start.  (I’m totally going to send the purple cave problem!!)

2015 Ends in Sends – Drew Ruana Sends V14 in Bishop

Team athlete Drew Ruana finished 2015 in style by sending his first V13 and V14 in the same day. That day also happened to be December 31, the last day of a year that included  many impressive ascents and accomplishments including 1st place at USA Climbing Sport Climbing Youth Nationals and an ascent of “New World Order” (14c) at Little Si, Washington.

Drew Ruana on Direc North, V14

Drew Ruana on Direct North, V14

In addition to his first V13 (Direction, Buttermilks) and V14 (Direct North, Buttermilks), Drew put together a lengthy tick list of Bishop’s toughest and most classic boulders (see below).

Drew Ruana on Bubba Butt Buster (V11)

Drew Ruana on Bubba Butt Buster, V11

“This was by far the best bouldering trip I’ve had yet; I climbed a lot of routes that I was not capable of climbing last year, as well as finishing up old projects and getting personal bests on new routes.” – Drew Ruana

Video Highlights

Drew’s Bishop tick list:

  • Direct North (V14) – Buttermilks
  • Direction (V13) – Buttermilks
  • Bubba Lobotomy (V12) – Happies
  • He Got Game (V12) – Happies
  • Scanner Darkly (V12) – Get Carter Boulder The Bubba Butt Buster (V11) – Happies
  • Bubba: The Legend (V11) – Happies
  • Thunderbird (V11) – Buttermilks
  • North of Center (V11) – Buttermilks
  • Center Direct (V10) – Buttermilks
  • Evilution to the Lip (V10) – Buttermilks
  • Acid Wash (V10) – Happies
  • Twin Cracks (V9) – Get Carter Boulder
  • Jug Start to Acid Wash (V9) – Buttermilks
  • Last Dance (V9) – Buttermilks
  • Magnetic North (V8) – Buttermilks
  • Fly Boy Sit (V8) – Buttermilks
  • Checkerboard (V8) – Outter Buttermilks
  • High Plains Drifter (V7) – Buttermilks
  • Go Granny Ho (V7) – Buttermilks
  • Pope’s Roof (V7) – Buttermilks
  • Seven Spanish Angels (V6) – Get Carter Boulder
  • Atari (V6) – Buttermilks
  • Pope’s Prow (V6) – Buttermilks
  • Fly Boy (V5) – Buttermilks
  • East Rib (V3) – Buttermilks

*videos and photos courtesy of Matt Grossman

2016 Winter Training Season

It’s January here in West Virginia.  Normally by now, the weather is terrible, it’s snowing, everything is wet and everything will stay wet.  And it is way too cold to climb.  That makes training season easy!  Not this year though.  The weather has been unnaturally hot.  In-fact, it was almost TOO hot to boulder in December.  Things have finally cooled off though.   I finished my Fall/Winter climbing season by bouldering at Meadow Top area of the New River Gorge last weekend.
There’s No I in Illiterate V7.
After a short warm-up, I jumped right on “There’s no I in Illiterate” V7 and the companion problem “Mechanical Sensei” V5, flashing them both.  Not too bad right?  The carry-over finger strength from my summer hangboard is still with me!  I then set my sites on “Thomas Pinch-Ons” V8 and after working it a good bit, managed to send it too.  Not a bad way to finish up the season!
Now its time to train!
Thomas Pinch-Ons V8.
I’ve been running and dieting, trying to stay slim.  I find that my hangboard phase is also my best “running and dieting” phase too.  I pay a lot of attention to my weight and when I work HARD to gain 20 lbs on a particular grip, it reminds me how important being slim is for me.  (And how not-important ice cream and pizza are for me.)
Sunshine Arête V5.
 Trango has released the Rock Prodigy Forge.  This is basically a more hardcore “difficult” version of the Rock Prodigy Training Center.  I basically (what I consider) maxed out all the two finger pockets on the first board.  Some folks like to overload holds – adding 20, 30, 40 lbs per hold, but because of my climbing style, I prefer not to load up a grip more than 20 lbs.  I’m a static and slow climber, so I don’t feel like I need to gain body weight ++ on ANY grip.  That’s just me.  So long story short, I try to pick grips that I start at -30 or so lbs and try to work these to 0,5,10 etc.  I did this with the smallest pockets on the Rock Prodigy Training Center through 3 hangboard cycles.
Trango Forge
I did my initial workout on the Forge last Monday and found that the new (smaller) pockets were perfect!  My first hangboard workout of a cycle is usually pretty sloppy; its hard to know which weights to start with, but I did pretty OK on this one.  On the Forge board, I got to train the closed crimper for the first time.  For me, this is the revolutionary step in hangboarding technology.  It’s VERY dangerous to train the closed grip position on a normal hangboard.  The Forge uses a thumb bar to safely train this angle. I LOVED IT!
Trango Rock Prodigy Training Center
In the Rock Prodigy Training Manual, the Andersons present scientific evidence about how “joint angle” while training matters.  Below is the page that talks about it, but long story short, training tiny crimps in the open grip, doesn’t necessarily translate to the closed grip.  I close crimp holds all the time – including slopers (I know, I’m weird) so it will be great to get this trained!
From The Rock Climber’s Training Manual by Mike and Mark Anderson
For my supplemental training, I’ve also decided that I will start working on my flexibility.  If there’s such thing as a new years resolution for me, I guess that’s it!  BE MORE FLEXIBLE.  I’m not very flexible. I do P90x abs after every hangboard workout as well.

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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