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It’s Nice When the Work Pays Off.

 We don’t get a very big “awesome” window in West Virginia.  This spring, we got more awesome days than one can expect – maybe a month’s worth of cool temps and low humidity.  Then it started raining.  And it really didn’t stop raining.  In-fact, over the past month and a half, its only stopped raining enough for me to cut grass twice.  Pretty bad right?
Sarah Canterbury on “Tar Baby” 5.12b – 1st Buttress, Kaymoor, NRG
Last Sunday we actually got an awesome day of climbing.  The temperature/humidity gauge read 55 degrees and 45% humidity.  That’s unheard of for May!
My past few days out had been pretty bad – conditions were terrible.  The previous Tuesday was our election day in West Virginia and being the good citizen that I am, I went climbing!  The roads in Charleston (WV) were dry, but as we got closer to Fayetteville, things got worse and worse.  By the time we were at the parking lot, the roads were soaked, even though it hadn’t rained.  That pretty much means that the rock will be soaked – even under the roofs – condensation – the worst for climbing.  Falling rain will typically leave a lot of routes dry, especially the steep ones, but condensation is the devil. 
Thankfully enough “The Tantrum” 5.12d was “dry enough” and the holds on it are pretty good anyways.  Despite all the holds feeling “sort of wet,” I was able to do all the moves off the hang and I hit it pretty hard.  Why try hard when the conditions are bad?  A fluke change in weather, and good conditions will make the route go down easy (at least, that’s what one would hope.)
David Statler at the slab crux of “The Tantrum” 5.12d, 1st Buttress, Kaymoor, NRG.
Saturday night was my bachelor party.  I don’t really drink; you know – empty carbs etc though we stayed up pretty late – which isn’t my norm (I’m usually in bed by 9-930 – I’m so boring) but what the heck right?  We slept in a bit and then hit the crag feeling pretty awesome.
I’ve talked in the past about how just “warming up on your project” is the way to go for getting routes done.  I did that, hanging the draws on the route.  Hanging the draws on “The Tantrum” is pretty tough, though once hung, especially with some long draws, clipping is pretty easy!
The route starts with a pretty rude and height-discriminating move right off the ground.  With my 6-foot wing span, I can make the long move over the low roof to an OK hold, scamper up and then get some good holds.  From here, there’s a few easy moves to a good stance and jug below the second clip.  This is where it gets crazy.  Now, the 5.14 climbers just grab some really bad slab holds and crank off of those.  Me not being a 5.14 climber, I have to use some tricky beta. 
From the ground, the slab looks “easy” and the roof looks “hard as crap,” but its really the other way around.  Though…maybe the roof isn’t exactly… “easy.”  An awkward undercling move leads to a key knee-bar and a hard stand-up move to a bad hold.  With my height and choking up on the undercling, I can then make a hard span move to a good hold.  Boom.  For me that was the crux.  I had done the move twice on the bad conditions day off the hang, so I was feeling pretty confident that I would be able to do it.  That just left the 10-foot horizontal roof and some ridiculous moves.
Ryan Smith on “Blood Raid” 5.13a, the Hole, Kaymoor
I’ve heard a lot of people argue that the Red River Gorge has the best stone in the country.  Those folks say that the stone at the red river is clean and super solid, the movement world class.  I would agree the movement there is excellent, but I can’t think of any route where you have to monkey out a roof, helicopter your feet out over my head, get a hand-jam, hand-foot match a foot-jam and hand-jam, then unwind from it.  That’s right.  You heard me right.  It’s perfectly ridiculous, though really, if this were the crux, I bet the route would only be 12b or so.  It REALLY does look ridiculous to watch someone do it…but it works.
Knowing what to do, I took a big long rest under the roof (and kicked off my knee-pad,) then launched into the sequence.  It went pretty easily for me, though I definitely grunted some and boom.  Another check mark in the book.  At the chains, I thought…you know, those check marks are pretty tough sometimes!
Matt Fanning on the crux of “Blood Raid” 5.13a, the Hole, Kaymoor
My current life goal is to hit 500 career 5.12s.  Its getting hard because I’ve done just about every 5.12- at the NRG. Also, a few years ago, I started climbing 5.13s too which don’t count toward the 5.12s.  Right now, I’m up to 473.  Maybe a fall trip to Rumney or somewhere else new will give me a new pool of 12- routes to climb!

I’ve done all the other routes at 1st Buttress at Kaymoor except for two, both of which I think I will never be able to climb, so I spent the rest of the day taking pictures.  Its nice when you send your project early right?.  I never seem to get climbing images of myself since I’m the one always taking the pictures….Maybe I’ll get some pictures of me at my own wedding coming up this weekend!

What to Do When the Rain Just Won’t Quit!

Its been a pretty hard going spring season here in the east.  The first half of spring was awesome – lots of great climbing days, low humidity and no rain.  But we are paying for it now.  I swear, it has rained almost every day and heavily for the past three weeks, making climbing outside quite unpleasant.  Between rain storms, the humidity has been so oppressive that conditions would just be terrible.
Bouldering at Moore’s Wall.  (I’m working on the guidebook.)
So what do you do?  Well, there area a few options.  Gym climbing aside, when the season turns on you, its good to focus on another aspect of training and health.  Myself, I’ve been running.  Running a lot.  You can run in the rain, and I have been.  I’m tentatively planning on running a half marathon in August.  Not that I really care one way or another about it, its just an excuse to put in some miles (well I run kilometers.)  I got a new Garmin watch.  My old one finally bit the big one…but after using it for 5 years, I didn’t hesitate to get a new one.
Here’s a log from Seneca Rocks:
And another from Coopers Rock:
Me personally, though, I’ve been route developing.  I equipped a line at Area 51 at the Meadow River in West Virginia on one rainy spring day (before the current rainy stretch.)  There’s been a lot of debate recently about gear/sport routes and mixed routes.  I’ve never been much of a gear climb climber myself, but I love equipping and sending clean, hard, technical face climbs.  The routes I bolt typically have little enough gear to bolt on, let alone, climb safely on.
Walking down the cliff, I noticed an excellent, blank-looking section of white rock.  Exactly what I look for in a new route.  Though blank-looking from the ground, the rock here in West Virginia typically has enough features to go, albeit in the 5.12 or harder range.
I equipped the route and had some doubts about whether I would be able to do it.  The crux itself was located in the white rock; All the holds seemed to be facing the wrong way, positive, yet small.  It turned out that the crux section comprised of 3 distinct sections.  Two of the three cruxes turned out to just be “really technical” and once I figured out the sequence on them, I was able to do them maybe 2/3 or 3/4 times off the hang.  The third crux, however alluded me the day that I equipped the route.  I just simply couldn’t figure out how to do the moves!  Nor be able to brute strength my way through it.
I knew I was pretty beat up though.  Equipping the route itself takes as much out of me as would climbing half a dozen routes.  Bolting routes is hard work! 
I came back the following weekend.  It felt like it was going to be the last good spring day so the pressure was on to send the route. I warmed up by going bolt-to-bolt up the route and was able to do the first two cruxes fairly easily off the hang, and I spent a good 20 minutes working the third crux.  I just linked two draws together and clipped directly into the bolt so my belayer could just chill and not pay attention.
The sequence was really balancy and technical; the feet were mostly good.  However, no matter hard I tried, I couldn’t find a static way to finish the crux – a move to a ¼ pad crimper.  I finally gave up trying to climb static and settled on the plan:
A right hand gaston on a good hold, an ok right foot.  The sketching part – standing up on a terrible, off-kilter left foot smear and a precision dead-point (more like a jump) to the ¼ pad crimper.  I was able to do that move 1/10 times off the hang…actually…I tried it about 15 times, got it once and kind of half got it once.  Not very good odds….
I took a long rest, waited for the route to go into the shade, then tied in for what I thought would be a long shot attempt.  I even tied a project tag on the first bolt as I climbed up it.
I managed to make it through the first two cruxes fairly easily (Oh….boy…really put the pressure on myself.)  I was so surprised to even be at the crux on red-point…. poised to set-up for the crux, got into it and got to the point of the jump…amazed I was even there…..  I looked at the hold…focused all my attention down to that pin-point moment…..and was like…please get it, please get it, please get it….My heart was fluttering and I was really nervous, almost shaking.  I really had to focus to not shake myself off….. I put my trust into my left Tenaya Iati.   It held and I went hard for the crimp, sticking it perfect…oh so perfectly….I screamed of course, but it was my “I know I got it, but TRY HARD.”  I did. I matched, and then did several more moves to a good jug.  Boom!  I figured it would be exciting to have a bit of a run-out on 5.12- climbing after sticking the crux jump…well…I usually curse myself for that sort of thing, but this go it went no problem.  The final roof pull was a little difficult from what I remember but I just tried as hard as I could and did it fairly easily.
The grade on this route was pretty hard for me to determine.  I would previously just have called it 13a or maybe 12d, but a recent discussion among locals here at the NRG has me starting to question route grades.  I don’t want to be soft, so I figured I’d just say 12c and call it good.  How do you grade something that you feel like is impossible for you?  I still can’t believe I got so lucky as to send that route. Everything went right.  I feel like my MAX is like 12c or 12d (V5 or V6.)  But how much should I include luck?  The first boulder problem, the odds were 2/3, the second 3/4, the third 1.5/15.  I just always feel like I get lucky on stuff like that…
I equipped another route at Cotton Top on a rainy Friday morning.  This route is short, but climbs up this really neat arête feature.  Coming down the route, I wasn’t sure if I was going to equip it, but once I saw the features, I knew I was going to love it!  The route starts with an easy/broken start (ledge) but immediately fires out a body length roof (pretty easy.)  A really tough power move establishes the climber on the left side of this really pointy arête.   There are so so to OK holds on arête (right hand), but there is hardly anything on the slab for the left and and very little holds to pull down on.  After the big power more, the route does maybe half a dozen really balancy and techy, core intensive high-step and body position moves.  I was able to climb this one second go with the help from my friend Ryan who told me that he was going to take me off belay if I fell (just kidding, he gave me great beta!)  I decided to call this one “Two Girls, One Tomahawk” 5.12a (or b?)

It looks like another week of rain here in West Virginia….So running, gym climbing and route developing.  Life is hard.

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:

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.


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.

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.

2016: What’s in Store

In a follow up to our final post of 2015, we asked our athlete team what they’re most proud of from 2015 and what they hope to accomplish in 2016.

Erik3-Johnny Coe

Erik Eisele

I have two favorite memories from climbing in 2015. One is in an arena I have limited experience in—bouldering—and the other is in the mountains.

This spring I was spending a lot of time wandering through the New England woods with a pad, shoes and no idea what I was climbing, where I was going. But I was finding boulders. Grades didn’t matter; I was just climbing whatever I came upon. I would throw myself at problems until exhausted or I stood on top of them, no numbers, no ego. It was like rediscovering climbing, that version back before redpoints and onsights and grades and ethics and all that other nonsense. It was amazing.

Then a few months later that same spirit came to life again in the Caucus Mountains of Georgia. I was there on a climber exchange through the AAC, and we had very little information about what we were looking at. They were 13,000 to 16,000-foot summits streaked in rock and snow, but that was all we knew. Unpainted canvas. I was with Americans, Armenians and Iranians, and we just threw ourselves at climbs, exploring blindly. I soloed a 2,500-foot snow line to a summit on the Russian border and amid swirling fog climbed a scrappy exposed face to a knife-edged peak I didn’t know the name of. It was raw exploration, a chance to fall into the unknown without pretense. It was awesome.

That is what I’ll be looking for in 2016—chance discoveries, adventures that remind me climbing isn’t about numbers or ego, but about the unknown, about practicing for all the other unknowns to come. Walking towards each mystery with openness and curiosity. Seeing perfection in the movement, not the outcome. The outcome will always only be the same.

Delaney Comp

Delaney Miller

Favorite 2015 accomplishment:

Making it in the top 15 in my first complete World Cup circuit. It was a long, exhausting season, but It was also one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I’m excited to do it all over again (and hopefully do it better!) in 2016. I plan on focusing more on my training this year as well as perfecting my routine.

Resolutions for 2016: 

  • Make it back to finals in a lead World Cup and Not skip any clips! (as I unfortunately did in Briancon)
  • Finish academic career at CSU
  • Coffee, books, music


Mike Anderson

2015 was a banner year for my climbing, so it’s hard to decide. I had an incredible trip to Spain, did my first 13c On-sight, and developed the Trango Forge hangboard, but the highlight was definitely sending Mission Impossible, my hardest yet, at 14c/d. I was also super stoked to hear about all the breakthroughs people made, pros and novices alike, after reading our book, The Rock Climber’s Training Manual.  It was also an incredible experience taking over as coach of the City Rock Youth Team with Janelle, and watching those passionate, hard working kids exceed their goals.

In 2016 I want to help more people reach their goals by furthering my research on climbing training, developing new products with Trango, and coaching.   I have a couple climbing goals too, but I never talk about a deal before it’s signed :).


Chris Barlow

Favorite 2015 Accomplishment:

This is sort of a weird one, but I’m proud of failing a lot. I put a lot of effort and time into goals that I didn’t achieve, ones that I’ll have to continue working toward, which is motivating. I even spent the final days of the year attempting a first ascent on El Mocho in the Torre group of El Chalten and never climbed more than two pitches off the ground!

2016 Goals:

I want to work on my mental toughness and improve my ability to climb well even when I’m exhausted, scared, and dealing with poor conditions.

Wall of the 90s-25

Janelle Anderson

There’s no way to pinpoint a favorite memory or even a specific accomplishment in 2015. What I am most proud of is finding BALANCE in my life that keeps our family going strong. Between personal bests in training, outdoor adventures, climbing, volunteering at the school, training, sharing Trango love, climbing, eating delicious tacos, training, work functions,  climbing, selling the Rock Climbers Training Manual, training, landscaping, climbing,  baking cookies, training,  managing rental properties, climbing, traveling to Spain, training, coaching youth climbing team, climbing, being a kickass wife, training, spending time with family & friends, climbing and being a cooler-than-ever Mom…I’ve somehow found BALANCE in all these moving parts!

2016 goals:

#1. Continue to find BALANCE in my busy, crazy life.

#2. Continue to push myself as a climber; tackling weaknesses, gaining confidence in strengths and widdlingdown the mental barriers that can be so destructive.


Drew Ruana

One of my biggest accomplishments in 2015 was finally winning youth nationals for sport climbing. For the past 5 years I had come in second place and last year I was finally able to clinch the win. I had trained really hard all year for it and my hard work paid off. My coaches and I had planned out detailed training programs and I put in work to make it a reality. I was really stoked!

My second accomplishment happened on the last day of 2015. I climbed a v14. I had trained for a couple months to get as strong as possible to boulder hard and I accomplished my goal of climbing v13 or harder on the last day of the year.

A 2016 resolution of mine is to boulder outdoors as much as possible. Last year, I went for a trip to bishop over new year’s (2014/15 and 2015/16),  and a one day bouldering session in October. I feel like I need to start putting more effort into getting outdoors more in order to progress my climbing, both indoors and outdoors. Once I get my driver’s license hopefully this will become easier!

2015 in Review: What We’re Proud of


Ethan Pringle

Favorite Memory from 2015:

Ok so my fondest memory/most meaningful accomplishment of 2015 is predictably, redpointing Jumbo Love… Kind of anticlimactic, but it really was like, the highlight of my climbing career. It was just a perfect day with good friends, and the culmination of an eight year dream/nightmare. A close second was redpointing La Reina Mora in Siurana on my last day in Spain. That was one that I really suffered for, and tortured myself over.

Resolution for 2016:

A few New Year’s resolutions (that I’m willing to share with a public audience) are, to write (a lot) more, and waste less time staring at my phone. And eat less sugar. And drink less alcohol. And watch less… never mind.


Mark Anderson

Favorite Memory from 2015:

Not a single thing, but the the fact that I did 24 first ascents/first free ascents in 2015, and I bolted 44 more routes (that I haven’t had a chance to try yet).

Resolution for 2016:

Obviously for next year the resolution is to finish what I started and send those 44 routes!


Skiy DeTray

Favorite Memory from 2015:

My favorite memory of 2015 is of standing on the summit plateau of the unclimbed 6500 meter North Buttress of Taboche in the Khumbu region of Nepal. My partner Justin Griffin and I had battled cold temperatures and serious technical climbing over the course of five consecutive days.  It felt amazing to set such a hard and challenging goal and than through training, hard work, and perseverance accomplish the goal!

Resolution for 2016:

In 2016 my three major goals are to have fun, train every day,  and climb over 7,000 meters on a highly technical face in Nepal!


Dan Brayack

Favorite Memory from 2015:

Seeing the benefits of training apply to bouldering here at the New River Gorge. I’m mostly a route climber, but took a break from that this year to wrestle some pebbles. I pushed new boundaries both in highball and in difficulty (for me.)

2016 Resolution:

My resolution for this year is to stretch more; to be more flexible. Also, to train harder and push through both bouldering and route plateaus as well as finishing up the Rumbling Bald guidebook that I’m publishing.


Erica Lineberry

Favorite Memory from 2015:

My main goal for 2015 was training for a 10 day family climbing trip to Wyoming this summer. My goal was to send as many classic 5.12’s as possible, and I surpassed all of my expectations by walking away with 10. (FYI the Rock Prodigy Training Method works!!!) My favorite moment of the trip was completing a “birthday challenge” on our last day in Ten Sleep – ticking my 35th lifetime 5.12 on my 35th birthday.

2016 Resolution:
I’ve got several routes on the tick list for 2016. Some are routes I’m looking forward to trying for the first time (Orange Juice 12c at the Red), others are routes that were left undone in 2015 (Jesus and Tequila 12b at the New). Regardless of what gets sent or not though, the main goal as always is to log as much family climb time as possible at our favorite crags.


Jason Haas

Favorite Memory from 2015:

2015 will be a year to remember for me. I took training seriously for the first time and saw the tremendous benefit of it on my trip to Yosemite. While weather prevented us from freeing El Capitan, it was quite special to be one of the last (maybe the last?) to do the Regular Route on Northwest Face of Half Dome before a major portion of it collapsed. On that trip, we also spent about a week in the Needles of California and I have never experienced a higher concentration of classic routes. Every time we tied in, that route or the next pitch became my favorite and I thought it couldn’t be topped. But with each subsequent pitch, each route that followed, spanning all grades, the next favorite just kept coming. If you’ve never been there, put it on your bucket list for sure.

Several proud sends occurred and many more climbing trips ensued throughout 2015, including another trip over Labor Day weekend that will become an all time favorite when we took our three-year old son and nine month old daughter to Vedauwoo for four days with four other couples that had similarly aged children. It’s become a whole new adventure trying to share this lifestyle with our kids and it’s been an incredible experience as we stumble along learning how to get all our gear to the crag, how to car camp in a very different way and so on.

But then in the fall, when conditions were best and psych and fitness was the highest, and I was ready to dispatch project after project, life took a very unexpected turn. After experiencing a mini-stroke while mowing the lawn landed me in the ER, an onslaught of tests began. The next several months became quite introspective and difficult as the doctors told me to “get my affairs in order.” Things didn’t look good and my wife and I had to seriously think about what the future would look like without me in it. I tried to maintain some semblance of normalcy during that period and was able to get out a few times during those months to rock climb but had difficulty with dizziness. I had to take or grab gear/draws unexpectedly at times when my head became to spin and I even took a massive fall off a boulder while hiking along a trail when I became disoriented. I resigned to toproping, and then, not climbing at all.

Resolution for 2016:

Now, as 2016 looms overhead, the dark cloud has dissipated and I am proud to say I will be a part of it. Even 2017 for that matter. I still have a long road ahead and my diagnosis has not been pinpointed, but it has no longer been classified as terminal and the cocktail of medications has allowed me to climb again. I even started ice climbing after a nine-year hiatus. Exercise seems to help more than the meds so my wife and I are working on creating a training schedule that works well with our lives and the kids lives and will be sustainable with family and adult life. I’m excited about some prospective trips in 2016 and hope to write a very different write up for next year’s blog – one with never ending stoke and a long list of sends, family adventures, and incredible memories.


Alex Johnson

Favorite Memory from 2015:

Branching out more into other elements of the sport.

Resolutions for 2016:

Not becoming complacent!

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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