|Leading the Traverse Pitch on Moonlight|
|Adam Baxter and I sweating it out.|
Buster and I finished the route in 4:07…Buster’s first time! Yesterday was a full attempt at Touchstone, we completed it in 3:21! Super stoked!
Knock on wood, but I’m hoping that this is my last biceps update, and future posts will be about fun things like rock climbing or gangster meals (had to add that link: It ranks as the most awesome thing I’ve found on the interwebs this week).
Okay, back to biceps. Now fifteen weeks out from surgery, my recreational life is beginning to resemble normal. I’ve been climbing and training for four weeks now, which has been quite fun. In the last two weeks, I’ve even been able to try hard on occasion. I don’t say “climb hard,” mostly because I’m still not back to the same level as before my injury and because that isn’t the point. The satisfaction of having a properly working body comes from being able to explore its potential, not just ticking routes that may or may not actually be all that hard.
That said, in terms of climbing performance, I’d put myself somewhere around 80% of my personal best, which means there’s a lot of stuff I can climb (that is, assuming the snow in Boulder ever melts).
Not to brag, but I’m kind of proud of my recovery. From reading other people’s accounts of their rehab, I think mine has been about 15-20% shorter, and I’ve been able to return to aggressive training more quickly and with fewer complications. I thought I’d share the factors that I speculate have facilitated this great recovery.
1. The best doctor possible. When I knew I needed surgery, I sought out the best doctor I could find and the one who seemed to have the most experience with performing this surgery (and similar ones) on high-level athletes. The whole process was easier because he and his team knew exactly what I needed my arm to do in the future and respected my need to stay active and return to sport-specific training as efficiently as I could.
2. Integrated Manual Therapy. Here in Boulder, I saw Kathleen Eakins, an IMT practitioner, for several sessions in the first six weeks after surgery. She helped reduce inflammation, improve circulation, and heal scar tissue. I would guess that her work helped my healing process by at least a week or two in terms of helping my arm go from the basic healing stage to the strengthening stage.
3. Trigger-point Dry Needling. Dry needling is awesome, if you’re up for it. I’ve had it done many times in the past for other injuries, and I was fairly persistent in finding a PT who would perform this treatment as much as possible. I started getting needled at six weeks (had to get doctor approval), and I’m still going in for weekly sessions. It keeps my muscles firing properly as I increase the training load on my body. You can get dry needled preventatively if you find the right PT; it essentially works similar to deep tissue massage, only it more effectively re-sets the muscle through stabbing a needle into the muscle’s trigger points. It is not like a relaxing massage.
4. Hangboarding. I could start weighting my fingers way before I could climb, so I got a good 4-6 weeks of finger training before I returned to climbing at all. The trick was to load my fingers and not my arm. The thing that worked the best was doing way less than bodyweight (i.e. feet on the ground), but hanging on very small holds and sometimes only one or two fingers at a time. This put huge loads on an individual finger but didn’t require putting lots of weight on my arms.
5. Getting a climbing/rehab plan from a PT who was himself an elite rock climber. Once I was cleared to climb, I couldn’t just go out and starting climbing hard again. Nico Brown, a PT at Howard Head in Vail, was able to make me a great plan for building back up to full strength climbing and continuing to heal my biceps in the process with very specific guidance on when to push harder and when to be careful with different types of climbing and even individual moves.
6. Cheating. This comes with equal doses of listening to my body, but the idea here is that I always focused on progress. If one workout went well, I would rest a day and then do a slightly harder workout, even if that isn’t totally in line with the protocol. By gradually increasing load in controlled ways, I’ve retrained my arm to deal with the stresses of climbing, and now it is holding up well. At this point, I’m putting fairly high climbing and strength loads on my arm (like bouldering) and then taking plenty of rest afterward to let the tissue recover. Aside from minor noticeable weakness, quicker fatigue, and some soreness, my right arm feels about the same as my left.
Next week, I head to the desert to lead a canyoneering trip, which will be a good break from climbing on my arm. After that, I’ll continue progressing with climbing loads and hopefully transition back to simply going out and trying my hardest with a month.
Well, I got on the route warming up and hanging the draws, ticking and brushing holds trying to figure out the sequence. I stick clipped through the crux, not even trying it (I was warming up) then came down to belay.
My next go, I sorta half-hearted the crux first try and barely shorted the move, though I did stick the crux pretty easy the second go! I was like...woah OK this can go. The crux involves a sorta-blind dead-point move off a decent hold with bunchy feet over a bulge to a "hard to get it right" horizontal to a pad and a half if you get it right, but a lot worse if you're off by an iota. On my redpoint burn, I sorta shorted it, but managed to get a couple half pad fingers on the good hold. I really grrrrred hard for it and managed to chock up on it to wrap the thumb and matched it. The angle is slightly overhanging - maybe 15 degrees.
The next two moves aren't hard, but you can definitely blow it. Higher percentage at least. You go to another "hard to get your fingers in it" hold get the feet up and do a big deadpoint move to a good hold then its butter! I really had to try as hard as I could but was stoked that I sent the rig on my third go!!
Saturday, we headed to Fern Buttress. Warming up on Wild Seed, I was feeling super good!! My friend and gym owner Julia Statler and my bro Ryan Smith both talked me into a bit of a hike to heck out this route "Morning Dew" 5.12a. Now. I've been climbing at the New River Gorge for about 12 or 13 years now and have tried just about every route...so there are very few routes of the 12a grade that I have no tried. This was one that I have NOT tried so I had a good opportunity to onsight.
The route climbs this vertical to bulging face. The route is short and joins a 5.10 at 3/4 height as well. The crux is really early - A good hold to two terrible edges (just a bump for me) to another good hold. Voila! There is a second "hard" move on it, which involves a long move over a bulge, but consists of a "good-hold to good-hold" move. I was definitely stoked to get the onsight on this one, though it did feel kind of easy for someone with my reach.
Next, we hiked over to "Fall Line 5.12b", a route which is completely out of place at the New River Gorge. This steep route (maybe 25-30 degrees) climbs good holds out this WILD wall which is right next to the Fern Creek water fall. The falling water and beautiful creek ad to the "out of mind" experience on the route. I belayed Ryan on the route, gathering all the beta I could then, having Ryan feed me the beta, send the rig! The climb was essentially a flash, though I had tried the route about 5 years ago and I don't want the 8a police on my tail...so 2nd go it is!
The crux on Fall Line takes a break of the common theme - long move to good hold by making a long move to a "BAD!" hold, then to another good hold. The route feels like an enduro route and, without the crux move, would probably be mid 5.11. Super awesome route....
I think I'll post about Sunday separately.
|Dan Brayack - Fall Line 5.12b. Photo Julia Statler|
|Ryan Smith - Fall Line 5.12b - Photo Julia Statler.|
I’m heading out to Smith Rock in a few days for a two-week trip. The climbing at Smith is extremely thin and technical — and difficult to prepare for. I believe strongly in taining and I generally feel that using indoor tools is superior to “just climbing” outside (for building strength, power, and endurance). That said, indoor training is far from ideal for developing or polishing technique. For highly technique-dependent climbing, like that at Smith, some amount of outdoor skill practice is essential. Outdoor training can also help prepare your finger skin if its done wisely (in moderation).
In 2008 I spent two weeks at Smith working and sending To Bolt or Not To Be, perhaps the most technical single-pitch climb in America. My training strategy for that season was pretty unusual, but very effective. I lengthened my Base-Fitness Phase by adding more ARC workouts, and I ordered a bunch of really tiny crimps to add to the Lazy H. I did a standard Strength Phase (but I added a thin, closed-crimp grip to my hangboard routine). After 8 hangboard workouts I immediately transitioned to outdoor climbing 2 days per week (normally I would have a 2-4 week transition period of bouldering and/or campusing). I climbed in the Lazy H a third day each week, doing thin, power-endurance linked bouldering circuits.
The key to this approach was selecting an appropriate “training route”. That season I worked Third Millenium at the Monastery, a barely overhanging, thin, technical, and sustained 5.13d. Ironically I didn’t send Third Millenium in 8 days of work (though I went on to send it later), but then went on to send To Bolt in just 7 days (you do the math on that!). Third Millenium was the perfect route; it got my footwork dialed, my lead head in order, and trained power-endurance on the right types of holds. The point being, if you want to utilize outdoor training to prepare for a goal route, the most effective way to do so is:
1. Pick the right training routes, those that are as-similar-as-possible to the route you are training for, in terms of steepness, hold type, continuity, commitment, and length.
2. Accept that the purpose of each day’s cragging is to train for your goal, not to send! This may mean cutting sessions short to avoid trashing your finger skin, to avoid too much fatigue, or to squeeze in a bit of indoor training at the end of each crag day.
In the pre-parenthood era of 2008 I had a lot more options, whereas now there are significant advantages to staying close to home. I decided the ideal training route this time around would be “Mission Overdirve”, a linkup of “Mission Impossible” and “Interstellar Overdrive” in Clear Creek Canyon. Mission Impossible was bolted by Jay Samuelson and immediately offered to the community as an open project. Dan Woods eventually came away with the FA, calling the line 5.14d and the hardest route he had ever climbed, even hard than Jaws II (5.15a at Rumney), opening with a V12 boulder, followed by pumpy climbing to a V11 finish.
Jonathan Siegrist actually tried the line first, but didn’t have time to commit to the full route. He established the Mission Overdrive link-up before heading overseas, calling the line 14a/b. This linkup climbs the opening “V12″ boulder of MI before joining Interstellar (5.13d) for its notorious “V8″ crux. The entire line is about 70 feet long and overhangs 10 feet. The first half is basically dead vertical, with super thin, slopey edges and invisible footholds. The climbing is super insecure and there are about 10 moves in a row where you can pop off at any point. The Interstellar crux is steeper, with very tiny crimps that are fortunately incut-enough to pull out on. The pivotal move is a huge lock-off from a half-pad crimp to reach a slopey finger slot. The route is perfect for me and a great training route for Smith.
I first tried the route last Saturday. I was able to do all the moves on the lower crux but I couldn’t see how I was going to link all those moves, or even let go to clip. By the time I reached the top I was too worked to make any progress on the Interstellar crux. Then on the second go I shocked myself by climbing most of the way through the low crux, ultimately stymied by a precarious clip. At that point I knew the line was do-able and I was committed. I spent some more time on the upper crux, then headed home for a campus session.
My next outdoor day was supposed to be the following Friday, but I couldn’t wait that long so I arranged for a short outdoor session on Monday evening followed by an indoor Power-Endurance session on Tuesday. Normally I would never climb two days in a row like that, so the key was to keep Monday’s effort short and minimize any wear on my skin. I did two 30-minute burns, with the goal of working out a viable clipping strategy for the low crux, and dialing the low-percentage upper crux, which comes with a substantial pump. I was able to achieve both goals, but at the end of the day there was still a 10-foot transition section that I hadn’t really worked out. The climbing is ~5.11+, easy enough to figure out on the fly, but just hard enough to get you pumped before the final boulder problem., so I wanted to have an efficient sequence worked out.
Friday was a dedicated outdoor day, so I took my time with a thorough warmup. I climbed a rad .12b face climb at the Monkey House called The Reward. This is a brilliant thin edging climb with a committing crux. If only it were twice as long! My first burn on Mission Overdive, I sent most of the way through the low crux, but botched a foot sequence and pumped off. I took the opportunity to work out the 11+ transition section, but then I was unable to do the Interstellar crux. The move is very precise and requires the perferct coordination of all four limbs. You need to move just high enough to reach the hold; any higher and your low hand will pop off. The high hand has to slide perfectly into a narrow slot, requiring a precise deadpoint. Both “footholds” are miniscule, and must be weighted just enough to complete the move but not so much that your feet slide off. After a few tries I was able to find the right timing.
I took a 45-minute break, and then tried again. This time I recalled my sequence for the first crux perfectly. There are many subtle foot shifts, so that was not a trivial feat. I was pumped, but not overwhelmingly so. The low crux ends at a decent left handhold, allowing a clip and a brief shake. Next the route tackles an intimidating roof with a really cool highstep and dyno to reach an awesome rest. I was able to recover completely at this rest, then I cruised up the 5.11+ section. At the high crux I was notably pumped, but there is a so-so shake just below, and I took my time here and got back what I could. My forearms felt powered-down, but I reckoned I could still bear down for a few moves, so I went for it. When you hit each move just right, this crux almost feels easy, and you can understand how this could be called V8. I got the finger slot, then a few more slopey pods to reach damp jugs and the anchor.
Overall the line is fantastic, hands-down my favorite route in Clear Creek Canyon. I’m really stoked to try the full Mission Impossible, but I think that will have to wait until I return from Smith. I’m not too sure about the grade; this is the fastest I’ve sent a 5.14, so based on that logic it seems unlikely that its 14b. On the other hand, I’m in great shape on paper, so who knows? I highly doubt the low crux is V12; I’ve never even tried an established V12, so I really have no clue, but I assume V12 is harder than that! I would say more like hard V10 or easy 11; and a realistic V9 for the Interstellar crux. The real challenge of the route is keeping it together over a large number of difficult sequences.
I think it goes to show how strengths and weaknesses can affect grades. Ideally these factors should be accounted for when assigning a grade but its not simple to extrapolate and so these factors often have a big effect. There is a tendency to assume that certain climbers have an absolute understanding of the grade scale (Adam Ondra, for example) but it really doesn’t work that way. The style of route and the climber’s tastes are critical to their perception of a route’s difficulty. The bottom line is, any time you find a sequence that is hard for you, take it as an opportunity to improve, regardless of the grade. If you find something feels easy, enjoy it! The pendulum will swing back the other way soon enough.
I’m off to Smith on Thursday, with pretty thick skin, decent footwork, and high confidence. I’ll be teaching a footwork clinic (8:30am at Redpoint Climber’s Supply) and giving a slideshow (8:30pm), both on Saturday April 20th. Come out and say hi if you’re in the area.
One new adorable nephew, Henry. Congrats to my brother and sister-in-law.
One lost wallet scare...luckily just called the restaurant in Sedona where I left it.
One snowy bivy near Flagstaff and
Tons of amazing company and adventures packed into this week already!!!
I left the front range April 2nd with Randy the Forester, packed for 2 months of adventure. First stop, Indian Creek in a snowy push. Great friends, some unexpectedly, were in the area. I spent one joyous day elbow deep in the beautiful sandstone. Our posse took over the Cliffs of Insanity. I warmed up on MC's Hammer, followed by a quick and lovely lap on an unnamed 5.11 just to the left. I googled at Broken Brain as Clay and I clumsily meandered our way to his climb of choice, Lobotomy.
|Clay digging deep!|
He styled the lengthy off-width section quickly. The 150 foot splitter quickly diminishes near the finish to fingers. I top roped this climb, working on both my double fisting technique and a good grunt.
My plan was to then attempt Broken Brain. The first half of the climb starts as a not-easy finger crack before getting into a series of hand cracks through pods. This puts you at the base of an awesome head wall, and one of the steepest splitters at the Creek. Go from good hands, to thin hands, to ring locks, to hard finger stacks, all a bit offset!! I was exhausted from Lobotomy and honestly thankful that we didn't have the necessary 70 meter available. Lazily, I hopped on another short unnamed 5.11, finishing just as the sun began its habitual bedtime ritual...tucking behind the North Six Shooter. Returning this weekend to give it more than just a good look!
|The Pond, running for once!|
Chris with a big smile and blue duffel bag piled into Randy Friday afternoon. We landed at my parents house in East Mesa shortly after sunset. Saturday I woke early, excited to hit one of my favorite 4 mile runs. This run has become a "gage of fitness" trail run for me over the years. Surprisingly, I ran a personal best!!!
Afterward, we escaped the valley heat by climbing in Queens Creek at the Pond area. Shade chasing was the name of the game at this sporty volcanic climbing area. We climbed many pitches of 5.10, a few 5.11's and I hopped on a Desert Devil a 5.13a. This climb is super steep with good edges and sadly some cemented holds. I put together the lower moves quickly but was stymied after the 4th bolt or so. Big move with right hand up then cross to a pocket with your left....not sure if that right hand hold was still there? Fun to try anyway. Video shows the moves...http://vimeo.com/35871188
|Weaver's Needle from Fremont Saddle.|
Sunday, Chris and I adventured into the depths of the Superstition Wilderness area for a solo of Weavers Needle. The 8 mile hike with about ~2800 total elevation change took us 4 hours CTC. The class 5 climbing was very mellow, albeit typical Superstition chossy conglomerate. We on-sighted the bushy approach, did no running and soloed both up and down.
|Anvil Boulders, Sedona|
Monday the west was blanketed with bad weather. We both tinkered away the morning inter-webbing and sipping bailey's and coffee. As the clouds persisted, we settled on a lovely boulder session at the Anvil Boulders. We scurried about the unique sandstone boulders, some splitter cracks, intermingling push-ups between problems.
In the afternoon I went on two rainy runs.
|Soloing Anvil Rocks|
The first run followed a great single track trail for 5 miles around Courthouse Butte, outside the Village of Oak Creek. The second run, feeling like I didn't get enough in, took me on a short loop and summit of Sugarloaf in West Sedona. This town has some amazing trail systems I could get lost in!!!
Wednesday the clouds finally broke and the sandstone was dry. Through much discussion we settled on climbing the Mace. A great choice! Moderate climbing and fantastic summit. The 3 dimensional chimney/off-width on the 4th pitch was really enjoyable!!
Thursday we were back in Durango for a little work. Breakfast was a 2000 meter swim, lunch was a fantastic yoga class on main street, and happy hour was climbing at East Animas, 6 pitches (and jugging two more).
Well.. tragedy struck. Both Chris and Adam assured me that the chances of this happened (see photo) are 1 in 1000000 or something like that. Well, its a shame I didn't play any slots on the trip because we hit bank.
Grasshopper, Adam's brand spankin' new 9.4 70m Trango rope got stuck on the second rappel. Adam being the hero that he is tried to lead back up to the rope to no avail. So we used some siege tactics using the other rope to get down and then...here's where the fun part is - Adam and I decided for funzies to do a "Speed Ascent" of Cloud Tower.
Having the pitches already dialed, Adam and I started the clock at the car and hiked our butts off to the base of the climb (1 hour 15 minutes.) I took the first two pitches linking them as before, then after running out or rope, simal-climbed with Adam to the based of the third pitch (remember the gauly scramble I mentioned? Well, I built an anchor at the top of it.)
Adam was the hero and linked the next two pitches - 5.10 and A0 ;). I was on point again and ran up my favorite pitch - the 5.10 2-4" crack section, linking in the scary chimney pitch!! From there, we rapped off to rescue the fair grasshopper and thankfully, had no descending issues.
If I remember correctly, we did the entire route in about 3 hours. I think most of the time was me leading the first and third pitch (pitch numbers include the linking.) It took us 45 minutes to run back to the car and we called official time. I can't really remember what that official time was, but we were stoked! Read the rest of this entry →
The highlight of my trip was doing my first "big" route - Cloud Tower 11+. I had previous climbed a 3 pitch route with my bro Adam Sanders last time I was in Colorado - "Outer Space" in Eldorado Canyon. Just like that time, doing "Cloud Tower" I was given the "client" treatment by Adam as well as teammate "Chris Barlow".
|Chris Barlow on the Crux Pitch of Cloud Tower|
I was given point on the first two pitches - both 5.8 which I linked. I was really happy with myself being a predominant sport climber that I was able to link these two pitches climbing them both efficiently and quickly! I was sparse, but safe on the pro, and managed to get the right size pretty much right off the sling every time! The climbing on these first two pitches were excellent and what I was told "typical" for a Red Rock long route. Lots of jams up this 2-3" dihedral with a plethora of face holds, though both cruxes of the route (at least what I thought were the 5.8 cruxes) involved foot jamming.
After belaying both up, Adam got point on the third pitch. The first half of this pitch consisted of gauley scrambling which leads to a magnificent 5.10- pitch of 1-2" crack climbing and a leftward AWESOME traverse to a bolted belay anchor.
The crux pitch then follows: A techy, thin (but adequate to protect) tips crack up a beautiful dihedral. The crux pitch involves two separate cruxes, a balancy, techy "GO FOR THE GOOD HOLD" move over some decent pro and a bolt, then a really really thin tips section with delicate smears and thin locks....once again, good protection: lots of small cams and nuts.
|Chris Barlow on the Crux Pitch of Cloud Tower|
I was quite happy to flash the crux pitch on top-rope and was super stoked to watch Adam onsight the pitch, then also shoot images of Chris red-pointing the pitch (he had previously sent this pitch on another trip.)
I was on point again and I feel like I was given the most elegant pitch, the 5th pitch a 2-4" 5.10 crack which climbs out a small roof about 20 feet off the belay. The crux involves a smooth, no-face-hold section of 4" crack involving both lay-backs and putting both feet in the crack!
The 6th pitch is basically a 40 foot - NO PRO pitch that involves climbing a wide crack, through a chimney to the belay for the final pitch. I won't say much about this pitch, but leave it to the excitment of the reader when they climb this one...its easy trust me...but a #4 big bro would go a long way ;)
The 7th pitch (11c) is really an after-thought pitch. From the belay of the 6th pitch, you can just rap off..but, you step through this cave and what do you see??? A freaking INDIAN CREEK SPLITTER CRACK!!!! It was awesome. Unfortunately, I did not send this pitch and had to lower off, though I have all kinds of excuses, the main one being that the sun was just brutal. If you reallly run up the route, you can get to this pitch while its in the shade (the whole rest of the route IS in the shade), but taking photos and with a party of 3, by the time we got to this pitch, it was full on sun and I just got baked. Both Adam and Chris crushed it though.
And that's it??? RIGHT???? WRONNNG>>>>> Stay tuned for my next blog post title "Oh Grasshopper Why Wouldn't You Just Come Down" or "Cocoa, You Always Pulled for Me, but Why Could n't Grasshopper Just Give Me the Tug?" FYI Grasshopper and Cocoa were the names of the two ropes we used. See the last picture...
|Chris Barlow on the Final Pitch (11c) of Cloud Tower|
|Chris Barlow on the Final Pitch (11c) of Cloud Tower|
|The next day...why Grasshopper wouldn't pull.|
Over Easter Weekend the family and I flew out to San Diego to visit our good friends Rob and Julie and their toddler Samuel. The first day we headed out to JTree for some mellow sight-seeing and car camping. This wasn’t a climbing trip but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to check out JTree’s amazing boulders.
My friend Will has a house near there and he hooked me up with a few crashpads and a guidebook. It always helps to have nice tall stack of pads, and the guidebook was a huge help. I’ve heard it can be hard to find your way around the maze of boulders and jumbled rock formations, but the Miramontes guide has great maps and photos and I was able to find everything with only a small amount of aimless wandering.
The bouldering was really outstanding. I didn’t know what to expect since the rock at JTree is notoriously fickle, but all of the problems I did were amazing. I spent most of my time in “The Outback”, but also tried a few things in Hidden Valley. The rock is sharp for sure, but its not all thin edgeing and smearing. There are a lot of huecos and scoops, and even though edging is my cup of tea, I really enjoyed the steeper, thuggier problems too. I would go back in a heart beat, but probably not in late March. It was really hot for my taste (75 deg F), which limited my options quite a bit.
Here’s a little video of some of the stellar problems I did:
We also did some hiking and what I would call “wandering”–trying to get lost in the amazing landscape. Joshua tree is completely surreal. Its a great place to explore and linger. We headed out toward the Astrodomes and found some cool rock tunnels. Logan had a blast crawling around the tunnels, and managed to burrow himself into several chambers that we couldn’t reach.
Logan loves to scramble around no matter where he is: the house, the park or in the wild. I’d love for him to be a climber at some point, but I don’t want to push him into, so I’m psyched that he seems to have some inate interest in climbing.
After our all-too-brief stay, we headed back to San Diego for an obligatory Easter Egg Hunt and a beach trip. Rob is my surfing coach, so we headed out for some waves. I’m not any good but California seems like a great place to learn, in my limited experience. The surf was tiny (2-3 feet), but we were able to catch most of the waves we tried for and we had a great time.