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The Eclipse Corridor – Mini Guide

By Mark Anderson

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

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

 

The west face of Southern Sun Spire from the south.

Blister in the Sun, 5.13b

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

 

Syzgy, 5.13

Boer onsighting Chromosphere, 5.11

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

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

 

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

Occultation, 5.11-

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

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

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

Shadow Bands, 5.12-

Totality, 5.13a

Hidden Valley Sendage

Lately the Southeast has felt more like “June-tober” than “Rock-tober,” much to the chagrin of every climber that I know.  What’s up with this?!?  This is supposed to be our prime time, with conditions cool and crisp…but instead we all feel like gorillas in the mist.  That said, we knew that the elevation at Hidden Valley would make for cool(er) temps than the surrounding areas, and considering we’ve spent the past four weekends at the New, we figured we could use a change of pace.  And it turned out to be awesome!

“I’m off!” Photo: Jaron Moss

Our plan for Day 1 was for CragDaddy to get a little bit of revenge on Blues Brothers 12a, a route that should’ve gone for him back in August, when he got some awesome photos thanks to Bryan Miller at Fixed Line Media, but unfortunately no send.  However, worthy lines are always worth coming back too, so I was happy to oblige CragDaddy, especially since I was interested in a route that shared the same starting crack – Coneheads #2 12c.  I didn’t really expect 12c to go for me in just one day, so when CragDaddy also walked away empty handed after the first day, it was pretty easy for us to talk ourselves into another Round at the Saturday Night Live wall for Day 2.  And guess what – we both sent!  CragDaddy on his very first attempt of the day (even hanging draws!), and me on my 3rd and final attempt of the day.  

Dinner with these three goofballs back at camp.

This send meant a lot more to me than most – while not my first of the grade, it’s been almost a year and a half since I’ve sent 12c.  And as I look back at the (small) handful of 12c ticks to my name, I think this one is on the harder end of that spectrum.  

I was interested in Coneheads for a couple of reasons.  First of all, thanks to Blues Brothers I knew I could do the start.  Secondly, I knew a female friend of mine was working it, and I’m always more inspired to get on stuff other ladies are doing.  Part of it is a girl power comraderie thing.  It’s also encouraging to know that a route goes for someone that doesn’t have a 7 foot wingspan…

Anyway, Coneheads is an awesome line, and it taught me a lot about the process of redpointing.  The line boasts a little bit of everything – a technical crack with a little bit of burl to it, a weird block move, some juggy overhang, some powerful, bouldery overhang, and a loooooong, exciting crux sequence to the chains on some of the funkiest crimp features I’ve ever seen.  Seriously, one of the key holds was a “thumbercling” using a quartz crystal that looked just like a cigarette had been glued to the wall.  

Enjoying the jugs while I can…

After my first burn I felt so trashed (even on toprope!) that I almost took it down.  Thanks to the encouragement of my crew, I pulled the rope and gave it another go, this time on the sharp end.  I have found that many times the most accurate gauge of “how close” you are on a route comes from the second go, as opposed to the first.  On the first burn, advantage always goes to the rock, because the climber is more or less coming in blind.  But on the second attempt, the playing field is a little more level, and you can get a better assessment of how you stack up against the rock now that you know what to expect – what the moves are like, what the falls are like, where the crux is, where the rests are, what the clipping stances are like, etc.  By the end of the day, I was delighted to have this route down to a two-hang, and to be able to link the entire 10 move crux sequence after a hang.  

On every subsequent burn until the send go (so attempts 2-5), I made subtle but significant changes to my beta to make it flow more efficiently.  The final move of the crux became much more doable while carrying a pump with the addition of 2 intermediate holds.  The bouldery, overhanging section just before the crux was made more efficient by using a different hand hold, and refining EXACTLY where my feet needed to be.  I was able to find two “not good, but hopefully good enough” rest stances that allowed me to lower my heart rate a bit and get a brief shake out.  And of course, taking a LOT of big whippers working the runout crux got rid of the fear factor, which allowed me to fully commit without hesitation when the time finally came.  

Same route, different day. CragDaddy on Blues Brothers, fabulous photo by Bryan Miller of Fixed Line Media

And amazingly enough, “that time” came on the last burn of the weekend.  I was feeling tired, but after attempt number 5 was a solid one hang, I knew I owed it to myself to try one more time.  Even though the crux lasts pretty much until you reach the chains, the hardest move for me always seemed to be the second hand move of the sequence, bumping my left hand from a sloping crimp to a shallow, and dismally sharp, quartz rail.  I had a feeling that if I could just stick that move, I’d have a good shot at a send.  

Not a bad view back at camp…

On my sending burn, I focused really hard on resting the correct amount of time (rush, and you don’t get enough back, linger too long, and you start getting pumped again!), and on making my footwork absolutely perfect setting up for the move that kept spitting me off.  I pasted my foot on the wall, hit the sloping crimp, looked down to hop my right foot up an inch higher…and made the bump successfully!  The rest of the sequence I was on auto-pilot and before I knew it, I was clipping chains on what is probably going to end up being the highlight of my fall season!  

I’d love to hear from everyone else – how’s your fall tick list coming?  For those of you in the Southeast, it looks like we might FINALLY be getting the good stuff from the weatherman soon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How Craig DeMartino Became a Climber

When I started climbing 30 years ago, all I wanted was to BE a climber. I wanted to be strong in every climbing discipline: trad, sport, big wall, ice, and bouldering. I wanted to be able to move seamlessly between them and practice those arts at the highest level I could. After doing it for 15 years, I was pretty solid in the arts. Then one day I wasn’t.

They call them accidents for a reason. Not one person to really blame, really just a bunch of small, insignificant actions that resulted in a catastrophic failure that got me to a hospital bed clinging to life after a 100 foot ground fall. After surviving the fall and following days in the ICU and orthopedic care, my life went from one of action to one of reaction. My movement was stifled. For the next year I would react to what doctors told me and make a design on how to best “save” what I had left. They fused my spine in the Lumbar region, my neck at the C5/6 level, and finally, I found myself back in the hospital to amputate my right leg. A reaction to the fact I couldn’t walk without a cast. The reality was that climbing and my life would never be the same with the limb I had left. After the surgery, I fought to find out what was left of my former self. I loved my wife and kids and that would never change, but being a climber was a huge part of WHO I was and it seemed I was back to square one.

I was back to wanting to BE a climber, so that’s what I put my mind to. With the help of my wife and friends, I began to build back the climber and person I was before. The setbacks and fear were huge. Most times I climbed I wanted to quit and find something new. But if you climb for a while it becomes part of who you are and what you are. It’s very hard to ignore. For me it was like denying my DNA.

The first climbs were small, but I kept moving. Movement was what felt best. Even 15 years later, sitting still makes me stiffen and have trouble moving. As the climbs got harder, so did my adjustment to my new body. My windows of opportunity were small, so I pushed hard and tried to capitalize on them. This left me completely destroyed and needing rest and recovery. Improvements came slowly, but four years after the accident I found myself climbing El Cap in under a day and actually feeling like a climber again.

As with any journey, this one was not without its setbacks. Stump infections from a shower fall kept me in and out of the hospital for months last year. It cut into my crag time as you can imagine, but through it all, my wife Cyn and I would load the van, hit the road, and keep moving.

I’ve been really lucky to climb some amazing routes first as a disabled climber, to team up with other adaptive athletes and climb El Cap unsupported, and have strong finishes in the adaptive competition scene over the years. Through it all, the idea of being a climber is what keeps me going. Today, I remember my friends and partners much more than I do the routes and comp results. To be honest, I remember very few of my podium finishes, they are fleeting moments in time. Cyn keeps a record of her proud sends, and I often don’t even remember if I DID a route. But I DO remember the climbers I’m with. The connections I’ve made over the years with other climbers and places are what drives me forward. It’s the act of being in a space where everyone understands what you are talking about, where living in a car for a period of time is normal, where being a climber is what everyone is trying to do.

Getting hurt so badly ended up being one of the best things to ever happen to me. It’s changed how I live, work, and play. In short, I wouldn’t trade it or give it back for anything. It has taught me that there is more than me in this world. It has taught me to help others and stay humble. Its shown me the depth a relationship can have. It’s made me a better human by crushing the old one.

It’s what made me a climber.

Walk Tall Or Not At All

By Mark Anderson

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

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

The impressive west face of Sidewalk in the Sky.

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

Tod nearing the slab crux of Third Twin.

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

The “Brown Scoop Wall”

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

Groposphere, groping through the crux.

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

The final crux of Groposphere.

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Mike Anderson.

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

Latching the throw. Photo Mike Anderson.

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

Rocking over the lip. Photo Mike Anderson.

This Time it’s Endless, Not Sendless…

CragDaddy reaching tall on Gift of Grace 12b Photo: Michael Johnston

Ah, Endless Wall season.  There’s nothing like it.  Endless Wall is definitely my favorite climbing area at the New River Gorge, though on paper I’m not sure why.  From a climber perspective, the grades are stiff, the bolt spacing is spicy, and cruxes require committment from body, mind and soul all at once.  You’d better bring your try hard if you wanna climb here.  From a mama perspective, the hike is long, and giant ladders make for a difficult approach with kids.  You’d better bring your hiking bears if you wanna climb here.

As a family, it’s logistically always been hard for us to get down there as often as we’d like.  It’s not the best place for larger groups, so if we’ve got a large crew, other areas make a lot more sense.  I can think of countless times we’ve had to put projects on hold simply because we couldn’t convince anyone to hike down there with us.  Then there’s the weather conundrum – most of the wall bakes in the sun, so late fall and early spring are really best…when camping can get pretty darn cold for the kiddos.  

All that said, we were pretty psyched to see high’s in the low 60’s on the heels of our flying solo experiment from the week before.  It seemed like the perfect time to go for The Gift of Grace 12b, which would be warmed by the morning sun, but shaded by lunch time.  This proud line follows a striking arete to the top of the cliff and some of the best views of the gorge.  It’s got an intimidating reputation due to some nasty fall potential down low that can be mitigated with a long draw, so we tied in with stick clip at the ready.  CragDaddy stick clipped his way up most the route for his first attempt, and then I toproped.  We extended the draw on the 3rd bolt…I mean REALLY extended it, so that one could clip at a good stance before attempting the first crux.  (A fall during these moves without the extension would risk slamming into the lip of a low roof, your belayer, a slab boulder, or some combination of the three.)  Clipping the extendo-draw takes the risk of any of those scenarios down to pretty much zero…it seemed like a no brainer to us.  

Little Z embarking on a family rite of passage

Once we took care of the scary business, we could start working the route on the sharp end and focus on the moves…which were all HARD!  The climb starts with a burly lip traverse along the roof, to a series of long moves on incut crimps.  The first crux (the one that we neutered the fear factor on) is a very cool sequence on the arete, followed by a well-deserved no hands rest.  A few more crimpy moves, this time on bad feet, leads to another good rest on a blocky section of the arete.  Next comes the redpoint crux – a thin, balancy sequence of crimpy sidepulls culminating with a long move to better holds, with a tenuous clip thrown in the middle for good measure.  The rest of the climbing is probably no harder than 10+, with just enough shake out jugs to make the finish a probable, though not guaranteed, victory lap.  

By the end of the day, CragDaddy and I’d gotten in 3 burns each, both with a last go best go 2 hang.  We hiked out optimistic for a next day send.  However, our family highlight came at the end of the day, watching Little Z join the ranks of those that have scaled the big Honeymooner Ladders of Central Endless.  She was belayed from above by Daddy, and I climbed right below her to spot her if she slipped…and to tell her to slow down every 3 rungs so that Daddy had enough time to pull the rope up.  Surprisingly, the only other person who was more proud of her than herself was her big brother!  He gave her a huge hug at the top, and told her over and over what a good job she did on the hike out.  <3

2 ladders down, 1 to go!

Next day we found ourselves back at Gift of Grace bright and early, and since most everything else was still cold and in the shade, we opted to get down to business straightaway.  Steve still had some beta refining he wanted to do, so he volunteered to hang draws, er, haul the stick clip up.  I wasn’t entirely sure whether I was going to go for it or not on my first burn of the day, but by the time I got through the first crux and made it to the rest I was in send mode.  The next few moves went well, and the upper crux felt the best it’d ever felt.  I was carrying a little more pump than I wanted at the finish, but before I knew it, I was at the chains and taking in that New River Gorgeous view.  After somewhat mediocre performances the past couple of NRG trips, I needed this one, and I must say it felt pretty grand! 

Entering the “bad feet” section. Photo: Michael Johnston

CragDaddy sent in fine style just after lunch, then we hiked over to put up Totally Clips 5.8 for Big C, who was able to do all the moves but the crux, which is pretty reachy when you’re only 4 feet tall.  CragDaddy and our buddy Mike took advantage of having an 80m rope at the ready and climbed Fool Effect 5.9, and I ended my day on Slab-o-Meat 11d, a line I’d never even looked at before but turned out to be really nice (and FYI a great one if you’re breaking into the grade – the hard moves are all between bolts 1 and 3, followed by another 75 feet of fun (and exciting) 5.10 slabbing.  

This coming weekend will mark week number 4 in a row at the New, but this time we will be living the high life in a cabin with CragDaddy’s parents.  Hopefully the weather will be cooperative…but if not, at least we know we won’t be sleeping outside in the rain!  

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A Weekend of Firsts at the New River Gorge

This weekend was our second on

Locking off down low on Preparation H 12a (photo from previous week)

e in a row spent at the New River Gorge, and it represented a game-changing milestone for our family – WE WENT BY OURSELVES.  Just us – mom, dad, and two kids.  To those not familiar with the logistical nightmare that comes with climbing with kids and might not see this as a big deal, let me break it down for you.  It has been 7 and a half YEARS since we have been able to climb without having to nail down any logistics with other people…

Of those 7+ years, the first 3/3.5 were spent needing help with Kid #1.  By the time we would have felt confident to go out on our own as a family of 3, I was pregnant with Kid #2, and didn’t feel comfortable catching lead falls anymore, so we needed an extra person to belay for CragDaddy.  Then Kid #2 enters the scene, and we’re back at square one, this time with an additional 4 year old in tow.  A handful of times we’ve been able to snag a grandparent or two to watch our kids so that CragDaddy and I can have a climbing date.  Even less than that are the days that one of us goes, and the other stays home with the kids.  But we’ve always had a sort of “all for one, and one for all” mentality, so 99% of the time, that means we’ve had to rely (sometimes heavily) on other people.  

Thankfully, we are part of an amazing climbing community that miraculously doesn’t seem to mind if our family circus tags along.  I can probably count on both hands the number of times these past 7+ years we have found ourselves stuck at home on a gorgeous weekend due to lack of climbing partners.  But the logistics of securing extra partners can be pretty stressful, especially if one of our “go-to’s” is unavailable.  Many Thursday nights have been spent frantically combing over our contact lists, trying to connect last minute with someone else because the partner we thought we had fell through for one reason or another.  

These guys are the best.

We’d been toying with the idea of flying solo for the past month now.  We’d tested the waters of not having an “official” kid watcher a few times recently when we’ve found ourselves at the crag with an even number of adults.  The kids did great, so we decided to go for it, with no agenda for the weekend but to experiment and have fun (well…and if I’m being honest, I really wanted revenge on Preparation H from the previous weekend.)  And you know what – the logistics went better than we ever could have imagined they would have!  We actually got just as much, if not MORE, climbing in than on a typical day, AND we got to spend more quality time as a family throughout the day.  It was actually only a little short of miraculous, to be honest!  

Little Zu sending…sort of. 🙂

To be fair, we set them up for success the best we could.  We chose areas that were 1) Not likely to be crowded, 2) Kid-friendly at the base of the cliff (flat, open, with no dropoffs or water hazards), and 3) Areas the kids have been to before and enjoyed being at.  We also brought in a few more toys/activities, which was easy to do since this was also the first weekend I hiked in with a normal backpack, rather than a kid carrier, so we had more room.  (ANOTHER FIRST!)  

Once we got down there we set up a nice little kid spot, with toys/food/water freely available, and waited til they were settled in on a morning snack.  I warmed up on Rico Suave 10a, everything was fine.  CragDaddy did too, still great.  We spent some time with the kids.  Then I hopped on Preparation H 12a.  I sent hanging draws (!) and the kids were awesome –  totally engrossed in their world of trolls, legos, and coloring.  (And eating.  Always lots of eating.)  CragDaddy took a run up, no send, then pulled the rope.  We all hung out for a bit, ate lunch together, then CragDaddy took another turn and sent.  Boom.  It was lunchtime on Day 1 and my only climbing goal for the weekend was already done!  

Big C toprope onsighting (topsighting?)

At this point we didn’t really know what to do with ourselves.  We wandered over to the First Buttress, where CragDaddy and I both got smashed by The World’s Hardest 5.12 (12a…but a big fat sandbag!).  We bailed on it, then hopped on Oh It’s You Bob 11b, which is now on my list of best 11’s at the New!  I fought hard to nab the onsight, and CragDaddy made the flash look easy peasy.  The kids played together like champs, with only one minor instance of sibling bickering, and one poopy pants incident from the little one.  

We hiked out early enough to hop on over to the Small Wall before dinner, where there are three toprope routes on a 30 foot wall, all in the 5.6 and under range.  Big C styled and profiled his way up all three, working out some really good beta during a couple of reachy sections at the top.  Little Z was determined to have her turns as well, but was each time satisfied 10 feet off the deck.  

Our second day was spent at Lower Meadow, and the kids did just as well as they’d done the day before.  I, on the other hand, did not.  After FIVE times falling at the long move crux of Gato 12a, I finally threw in the towel and gave up.  Ordinarily, 5 tries wouldn’t seem unreasonable for a climb at that grade…especially a climb of that grade at the New.  But constant one hangs on a route that I’d had the exact same performance on several years prior really got under my skin…and I’ll be honest, it didn’t help that CragDaddy sent 3rd go of the day.  Oh well.  First world problems, right?  Time to refer back to Toddler Climbing Mantra #1: Climbing should be fun.  If it’s not, pick another route.  (Go here for the rest of the Toddler Climbing Mantras.)

Drawback of climbing solo – our only pics are bad crag selfies 😉

The main takeaway from this story however should be the word FREEDOM!  We finally feel like we have some!  Not that we all of a sudden are turning antisocial or anything, but the thought of planning a weekend without worrying about anyone else’s schedule/logistics save our own feels fantastic.  This weekend the weather finally looks like it’s taking a turn for the cooler…we’ll be out there, will you?!?

 

 

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[See image gallery at cragmama.com]

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Be a Climber: Quitting (and re-creating) Your Day Job

The juxtaposition of my life does not go unnoticed by my closest friends and family. On one hand I love order, control, routine. Type A personality stuff. On the other hand, the well-defined and fully explored bores me to death and I crave adventure, the unknown, something new and ever-changing where the outcome is uncertain.

While those seem to be at great odds with each other, they come together in perfect harmony for me in the form of calculated risk. It’s the best of both worlds really. Let me give you a few examples. Before children, I free soloed and did X-rated routes up to 5.12. I can’t actually think of a single case when the route wasn’t an onsight. It had adventure, the terrain was unknown (to me) and the route was new (again, to me). But anyone who has done much of that kind of climbing also knows if it’s too adventurous, too unknown, and the outcome is too uncertain, well then, you can’t do it for very long and live to tell about it. Free soloing for me was equally about control and order. I was intimately familiar with the rock type and the climbing area. I felt, tested, and retested every hold before committing. I never climbed up something I couldn’t climb down. In fact I’ve backed off 5.7s as many times as I’ve backed off 5.11s. Yes there was risk. Yes I could have fallen. But those odds were slim. They were calculated risks.

Here’s another example. I received my Master’s degree in Special Education and found a knack for working with students with emotional disabilities in impoverished neighborhoods (the “ghetto” to you layman folk). Real-deal gangbangers with rap sheets and weapons charges that were known for violence. Most had given up on them so in turn, these types of students were quick to dismiss others (often violently). Calculated risk. I had the educational training – the strategies to diffuse the situation. I also have the personality to relate to them on their level, gain their trust, and push them toward a more positive direction. But it’s not without challenges and sometimes real dangers. I’ve had students get extremely angry – try to punch me, throw chairs at me, and worse. But I had the tools and mindset to get out of those situations (mostly) unscathed. The flip side is that teaching in a public school offers security and routine on some levels, yet every day was different. What worked with a kid yesterday won’t work with that same kid tomorrow. You must always adapt, constantly learn and improve. It kept me on my toes and was a good balance for me for a long time.

Fast forward and here I am, smack-dab in the middle of my thirties. I crave a change – a massive life shake up. Perhaps just ahead of the curve on a mid-life crisis. My mom always said I was advanced for my age. Anyway, teaching has given me so much and I hope that in return I have given something back to the kids I’ve worked with over the last 12 years. But it is too routine now, too “safe”, too familiar. My adult obligation of financial security I owe my family pulls me in one direction while the desire to take a risk and choose a new career path pulls me in another. I could not find balance between the two.

But I’m not a risk taker. While what I wrote above would seem to contradict that to some – what I mean is I’m not an “unknown outcome” kind of risk taker. Imagine this scenario for a minute: You flip a coin. Heads I win a dollar, tails you win a dollar. I do not see it as a 50/50 chance of winning a dollar. I see it as me losing a dollar. The odds are too unfavorable – there is too much risk. I would never agree to flip the coin. The risk must be low. I’ve built too much of a life to gamble any of it. Yet to some degree, there needs to be a little risk to entice me. Where is the balance? It’s different for each of us and it’s taken me a long time to finally find it.

I’ve been a rock climber for more years of my life than not. I’ve worked in gear shops, climbing gyms, for gear manufacturers, and even own a climbing publishing company called Fixed Pin. I have no formal education in “climbing business” but I know it better than anything else, perhaps better than I even know teaching. Climbing is my religion. I’m not a zealot but it is how I decompress, how I commune with nature, and how I rebalance myself. When I’m out of whack, my wife tells me to go climbing and I come home happier, more patient, and a better life partner and father overall. Some drink, some pray. I climb. Climbing is all I want to be around. I want to talk about it, write about it, and well, just do it. Enter Gravity One Climbing + Fitness.

I had always thought starting a climbing gym would be incredible but it seemed a bit too unrealistic for me. They cost millions of dollars to start up after all. But I have found that, perhaps through happenstance, I have been building up to this moment my entire adult life. I have the right experience (work and personal), the right connections, the right motivation, and the right amount of risk tolerance to venture off into the unknown – quit my government job as a public-school teacher that I virtually could never be fired or downsized from and start my own business where I am my own boss. All decisions directly affect me, good and bad. I could win big or I could lose it all. But it’s calculated. And isn’t that what being a climber means? Taking calculated risks. Isn’t that the lesson we all experience every time we go out to the crags? We leave the safety of the ground, where yes, we could fall back down to it. But we have ropes and protection and a trusted belayer to catch us. Things could go wrong – a piece could pull, a clip could be botched, a belayer could give too much slack. But rarely do we experience any of those things. We fall but only a little bit. We take comfort in both the risk itself as well as knowing that those risks have been greatly mitigated. Our partner has us. Our rope and gear will catch us. We push ourselves sometimes to places that are uncomfortable but we revel in that feeling once back on the ground, sometimes hours, days, or even weeks later. We retell those events over beers and around campfires trying to recapture that feeling. To me, that’s what it means to be a climber. Leave yourself exposed just enough to feel uncomfortable but not be in danger. I just feel so fortunate that I’ve finally learned how to carry that over into my professional life and to be able to experience a feeling of balance of calculated risk outside of climbing itself.

VIDEO: What does it mean to Be a Climber?

What does it mean to Be a Climber?

Everyone approaches climbing differently. To some, it’s a driving force – a passion that can’t be satiated. It’s what gets them out of bed for alpine starts, first ascents, and finding that one little piece of micro-beta that unlocks their project. To others, it’s a release – a departure from the problems of day. Climbing becomes meditation in motion for them. It’s focusing on a series of interconnected movements and voiding the mind of all distractions. There are infinite ways to approach climbing and we believe that however you approach climbing, no matter the grade or discipline, you are a climber. We are passionate about seeing climbers, old and new, experience climbing in whatever way is most meaningful to them. Will you join us?

See more at www.BeaClimber.com

SEND-tember Kickoff – Red River Gorge

Ordinarily when I see rain in the forecast for a climbing weekend I’m pretty bummed.  But when it’s Labor Day weekend and we’re going to the Red, I’m actually psyched.  That’s because I know rain actually means that all the fair weather holiday climbers will bail on their plans, leaving the dry rock for those of us that don’t mind a little bit of mud.  And ironically, despite the deluge we drove through Friday night, the only rain we saw was a bit of drizzle Saturday afternoon! 

CragDaddy stretching tall on Dogleg 12a

Day 1 was spent at Muir Valley’s Solarium, one of our fave spots to climb.  I’m slowly but surely working my way along the wall, and I can honestly say everything I’ve touched there is awesome!  After a quick warm-up on Air-Ride Eqipped 11a, I began my quest to exact revenge on Magnum Opus 12a, a route that I came up juuuuust short on last spring.  The “business” starts right off the deck and does not let up for 4 bolts – sequential, powerful movement culminating with a toss to a glory ledge that, if successful, earns you a sit-down rest.  If unsuccessful, you’re taking a scary whipper.  Scary because more than likely you were too pumped to clip the 4th bolt from the tweaky mid-crux pockets, and opted to wait for the glory ledge to reach down and clip at your feet.  (FYI with a heads up belay the fall is totally clean…ask me how I know.)  After the sit-down rest you are rewarded with 60 feet of significantly easier, albeit still a little pumpy, climbing.  

Me pulling the roof on Manifest Destiny 11d Photo: Michael Chickene

My first attempt of the day was pretty dismal.  The beta that I’d written down and had so dialed last spring just didn’t seem to be working well at all.  I had all I could do to go bolt to bolt, let along link anything together.  The cruiser upper section even had me pumped.  Since the draws were up I felt like I owed myself one more go, but after that I was planning on taking it down.

Happy hikers on the Muir Valley stairs

The second go started a little bit better – I initiated the crux and made the first hard move to get the 3rd bolt clipped.  The next bit wasn’t pretty, but I bobbled my way through the sea of pockets and over to a good hold shaped just like an ear that I hadn’t previously been using.  I realized at this point that I actually felt surprisingly good.  I got my feet up and made a move to a flat edge, only to miss it but somehow catch myself on the ear hold.  I took a deep breath and went again, that time I got it.  All that was left was the toss to glory.  The pump clock was ticking as my right hand frantically searched for the correct hold.  I finally grabbed what I could and threw up a hail mary…I felt gravity start to kick in and readied my mind to take the big ride, only to find that I somehow managed to latch the ledge as I was falling away!  After taking a loooong rest on the ledge, I finished up the rest of the route without too much trouble.  Wahoo – revenge was mine!!!

Another highlight on the day was getting the flash on Manifest Destiny 11d, courtesy of a spoon-feeding of beta from the rest of our crew.  CragDaddy also finished his day out on Manifest Destiny, after getting in some solid fitness burns on Galunlati 12b.  

Day 2 was spent on the left side of the Motherlode.  CragDaddy exacted his revenge upon Ball Scratcher 12a, sharing a send train others from our group – congratulations to Kristi Cooke for her first ever 5.12 tick, and Michael Johnston for his second!  I spent most of my time on Swahili Slang 12b, a technical masterpiece of funky sandbaggery.  While the style of climbing would be a much better fit at the New than the Red, the movement was perhaps the most unique I’ve ever seen at the grade.  Delicate footwork, creative thinking…and big balls.  If I’m ever gonna send this, I’m gonna have to grow a pair…figuratively, of course.  My first go I stick-clipped my way through 4 of the 8 or so bolts.  My second go I toproped, and actually cleanly linked from the ground to the 2nd to last bolt.  

Kristi Cooke keeping it classy on Ball Scratcher 12a

That’s the point where I fall apart.  From an awkward foot ledge that is attained via a “gasthumbdercling” (you know, a hold you hit like a gaston/undercling type thing with your thumb), you stretch out right to a good hold, then romp to the finish on jugs.  But I can’t reach the good hold, I’m not even close.  And because of the awkward hand position on the gastonber gasthumber awkward hold, my hands are tied, figuratively (and sort of literally!) as to how much I can reposition my body.  On the drive home i was visualizing it and potentially came up with another option that MIGHT work.  So I won’t rule it out just yet, but for now I’m not in a hurry to get back to it.  

Our third day was spent at Bob Marley crag.  I took a ridiculously long time to gear up for the starting dyno on Toker 11a, then after doing it felt silly that it took so much hemming and hawing. I also took a couple of burns on Beta-vul Pipeline 12a, an incredibly steep jug haul that climaxed with a long toss to a ledge…then a tricky rock over move onto a delicate slab for the last 15 feet.   A 3 hang was the best I could muster, but with a little more fitness later on in the season I think a route like that could go for me.  Honestly, for me just getting to the top of a route of that angle is an accomplishment, so no disappointment here!  

While it’s early in the season for the type of fitness one needs at the Red River Gorge, CragDaddy and I were psyched to walk away with a handful of good sends.  SENDtember is shaping up nicely, with trips to the New and Hidden Valley creeping onto the fall schedule.  Where did everyone else adventure to for the long weekend?

 

 

Related Images:

[See image gallery at cragmama.com]

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Aggro Diablo: New Hard Lines at Devil’s Head

By Mark Anderson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nearing the crux.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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