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Sport Climbing in Canada Part 2

By Mark Anderson

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The impressive east face of Mt. Lefroy.

The primary purpose of our short trip was to share this beautiful place with our kids and reacquaint ourselves with the range—the backdrop for many of our fondest adventures. After the Grand Sentinel day we took the kids to Lake Louise and up to the Plain of Six Glaciers.  It ends just below the massive hanging glacier on the east face of Mt. Victoria, and the scenery was just plain spectacular.

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Near the end of the Plain of Six Glaciers hike. Lake Louise and the Chateau are visible at center.

The hike was ~17km roundtrip, with ~2000 feet of elevation gain. Amelie did the entire hike without any assistance—easily the highest and longest hike she’s ever done (which got the wheels in my head spinning about options for higher objectives on future trips!)  On the way back I got a chance to route-stare at the legendary “Back of the Lake” crag—a big cliff of super-high-quality quartzite, offering both sport and trad lines.

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At the turn-around point of the hike, with Abbott Pass to the left.  The Abbott Pass hut is a popular jumping off point for the ascent of Mt. Victoria (the big broad glaciated peak on the right).  Mt. Lefroy is left of the pass.

Besides dragging our kids up a bunch of endless hikes, I also wanted to scope out the Bow Valley rock climbing scene, which has really exploded since I last visited. I had climbed at Back of the Lake a couple times, as well as Grassi Lakes, but that was it.  There were now many lifetimes of new sport crags around Canmore and I wanted to get a feel for the options.

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Passing “Back of the Lake” on our way to the Plain of Six Glaciers.

Once we returned from Lake Louise, I scoped out the hike to a new-ish crag called “Planet X.”   The wall is super tall, apparently over 40m in places, with angular limestone fins reminiscent of Rifle, though generally not super steep—in other words, perfect for me!  My favorite aspect of the cliff is that the approach passes some 20 other crags along the way, with a nice, non-threatening creek trickling along the base of most, which would make a great hang for the kids. The climbing itself looked fantastic too, and definitely worth many trips despite the somewhat heinous approach (“heinous approach” is a relative term—Canmore climbers are not at all deterred by 1-hour-plus, uphill approaches to sport crags, which is quite a contrast to the endless whining I hear from compatriots about the 20 minutes needed to reach crags like The Bunker or Aftermath.). We only had one day budgeted for sport climbing, so I chose not to spend it there, but certainly plan to climb there on future trips.

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Acephale is the angling band of limestone.  This is typical of the last half of the approach.  Steep and rocky!

For our sport climbing day I decided to visit Acephale. This is a world-renowned crag, recently making its way back into the news thanks to Adam Ondra’s visit in July.  With the promise of flawless, Euro-style limestone, I had wanted to check this crag out for a long time.  The crux of the day was the approach, which was really easy to follow thanks to detailed instructions, but super long and involved for our weak Colorado legs.  It took 70 minutes to get there, which was definitely a record for longest-approach-to-sport climbing-with-kids, and made for a very disappointing “rest day” for Logan and Amelie.

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Where’s Mom, 5.12a, Acephale.

However, it was well worth it! It took me a while to get warmed up to the style, but the climbing was phenomenal.  It was easily the best limestone I’ve climbed in North America.  Every route I did was excellent, although not always super fun, if that makes sense.  The rock is not terribly well-featured, which can result in really technical and sometimes insecure climbing, often on polished slopers.  The rock is quite hard to read, making for difficult onsights but really engaging and rewarding redpoint climbing.

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Deal With It, 5.12c, Acephale.

The more I climbed, the more familiar I became with the style and the more I liked the climbing. The movement involves lots of crimping, pinching, and thin footholds—all things I really enjoy.  Highlights of the day were Where’s Mom and Last Dance, which is one of the best limestone 5.13s I’ve climbed in a long time (and I think my first Canadian 5.13!)  I haven’t been this stoked about a crag in a while and I really look forward to returning and trying some of the harder lines.

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Last Dance, 5.13a, Acephale.

That night Jeff and his family had us over for dinner. It was a great time talking climbing and getting to know each other, highlighted by a delicious meal of home-made lasagna courtesy of Jeff’s charming wife Christa.  Jeff and Christa also have a boy and a girl, a few years ahead of Logan and Amelie, but they all got along great despite the age differences.  Jeff was an incredible host to us and I feel really fortunate to know him.  After climbing Grand Sentinel, on the hike back up to Sentinel Pass we ran into a pair of young bucks from BC hoping to climb the tower.  We talked about conditions and gear, and Jeff noticed they didn’t have any gloves, which we felt were critical to our success.  He literally took the gloves off his hands and gave them to these young kids so they could have a shot at the spire—that’s the kind of guy he is.

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Bow Lake.

We tried to keep the next day “easy,” but that’s always tough when there are so many incredible things to see. We opted for Bow Glacier Falls, which is the source of the Bow River and about a 45-minute drive north of Lake Louise.  The hike offered a nice mix of scenery, skirting Bow Lake, hiking through the flood plain of Bow Creek, and passing a nice little slot canyon before climbing up onto the Bow Glacier moraine.  The hike ends in a big cirque with curtains of waterfalls, the coolest of which spring right out of the middle of the cliff.

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Investigating a short slot canyon along Bow Creek.

The hike was uneventful until halfway through the return when we saw a wall of snow/rain mix heading our way and decided to hightail it back towards the car. We all got wet and cold but nothing a cup of hot chocolate from the Bow Lake Lodge couldn’t solve.

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Bow Glacier Falls.

On the final day we did a relatively quick hike up Johnston Canyon, which was the only let down of the trip. The hike is unbelievably crowded with tourists, and even on a frigid Tuesday morning in September it was rather spoiled.  Fortunately once you pass the falls the crowds thin out significantly, culminating in a gorgeous view at the “Ink Pots”—springs of water bubbling up from the ground—with jagged, snow-capped peaks in the background.

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At the “ink pots”–natural springs that feed into Johnston Creek.

The highlight for Logan was stopping at the Calgary Olympic Park on the way back to the airport to experience their version of an Alpine Slide. This one was unique in our experience (having done Alpine Slides all over Colorado, and in Italy and Germany), because you aren’t confined to a narrow track that directs the sled.  Instead each driver gets to steer their cart down a 12-foot-wide, curbed concrete road that winds down the hill.  Logan thought it was the best Alpine Slide he’s done.  I think the Rodelbahn’s in Germany are also in the conversation, but that was 4 years ago so I doubt Logan remembers them.

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The alpine slide at the Calgary Olympic Park. The side rails seen here are only to corral the sled at the end of the run. The track itself is about 12′ wide, allowing for lots of maneuvering and passing of slower riders. Also visible in the background is the Olympic Ski Jump. We’ve seen 4 of these–in Salt Lake, Garmisch (Germany), Cortina (Italy) and here.

All told it was an incredible whirlwind trip! I reckon the kids hiked almost 40 miles in five days, and it felt like we crammed the best parts of a typical two-week vacation into one long weekend.  We are most stoked about how well the kids did.  They’ve never hiked so much or handled it so well.  For years I’ve been telling Logan if you want to do cool stuff you have to be willing to do a little more work to make it happen, and it finally seems like he’s starting to understand that.  He kept saying how much he loved Canada and wanted to live in Canmore.  We are really excited to return and explore more of this unparalleled region.   Now that we know how quick and easy it is to visit we expect to return often.

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Better Beta: 5 Ways to Break Through

Fall is sending season. Time for breaking into that next grade, sending that nemesis rig, and time for some good old-fashioned try-hard. Sending at your limit is all about the details – the micro beta, the mental game, and every iota of body tension you can muster.

With that in mind, here are 5 (often overlooked) tips for breaking through and sending your fall project.

TIP 1: Expose yourself to different styles

“I think exposure is the most important. If you vary the type and style you climb a lot, you’ll have a larger repertoire of knowledge to apply while climbing.” – Drew Ruana

 

TIP 2: Movement over Strength

“Focus on movement. A common misconception is that you need to be strong to climb hard routes, but being GOOD at climbing is so much cooler, and more efficient.” – Alex Johnson

 

TIP 3: Eliminate Worry So You Can Focus

“I think its a systems check. We’ve all tied a figure-eight knot so many times. We do it without thinking and yet a lot of people get nervous when the route starts getting hard above the bolt or cam and they worry about things they shouldn’t be – like their knot or belayer. Take the extra second on the ground to check your partner, have them check you, and test a piece if you need to. Make sure that when the time comes, you’re already totally confident they’ll work the way their supposed to. Who knows, you maybe would have sent through that slippery crux section if you were 100% focused on the moves and not at all focused on something else.” – Jason Haas

 

TIP 3: Practice Makes Perfect

“In general, I think climbers (both new and really old) don’t take time to PRACTICE climbing. We often tend to jump on the hardest thing we can get on, and that’s not effective. We should spend more time on slightly easier terrain, practicing the movement and other skills needed to climb well.” – Mike Anderson

 

Ari Novak Ice Climbing - Miami Ice - Cody, Wyoming

TIP 5: Master the Mental Game

“Jeff Lowe once told me 90% of climbing is above the shoulders, and I agree with him. Approaching climbing with the right mental approach and honest competency earned by learning and working the craft is key. Your greatest hopes and dreams can be achieved. If you put a climb on a pedestal it will stay there. If you put a climb on your level and work your ass off you’ll be on top of it faster than you think. It’s as much about attitude and vision as it is about the necessary physical strength to just get up something. Earn it both inside and out. To me ice climbing is not just about the external journey but the internal journey.” – Ari Novak

Sport Climbing in Canada Part 1

By Mark Anderson

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting long-time climber and developer of the Sloper Climbing App Jeff Moore. The Sloper Climbing App is the next big thing in smart phone climbing tech. It’s definitely worth checking out, but that’s not what this post is about.

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The incomparable Canadian Rockies.

Jeff lives in Canmore, Alberta, the epicenter of Canadian climbing. He visited Denver recently and I mentioned to him how much Kate & I love the Canadian Rockies and longed to visit. As kids, Mike and I traveled there several times on family road trips, and between 2001-2004 I made three climbing trips to the area, but sadly I haven’t been back since then. It seems like every year Kate & I would make vague plans to return to Canada, and every year some other trip would take its place.

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Amelie and me, with my new friend Jeff Moore on the right.

Jeff mentioned cheap airfare from Denver to Calgary, which I relayed to Kate off-hand. She took it seriously and started making plans for Labor Day weekend. I had to re-work my training schedule a bit, but within 24 hours she had the trip booked, commencing only 4 days later! That’s some seriously alpine-style trip-planning by Kate. After a two-and-a-half hour direct flight and an hour of driving we were in Canmore.

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Above Lake Louise, with Mt. Aberdeen, Mt. Lefroy and Mt. Victoria.

Kate offered to hang with the kids the first day so I could climb something with Jeff. I knew immediately what I wanted to climb. My previous forays to the Canadian Rockies all revolved around alpine climbing—ascending the big peaks, by various routes. During those trips I climbed Mt. Temple twice, by the classic East Ridge, and the neo-classic Greenwood-Locke route on the imposing North Face. Both routes descend the southwest ridge of the mountain, returning to Sentinel Pass and then down through the Valley of Ten Peaks to Moraine Lake.

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Mike following high on the North Face of Mt. Temple in 2003.

Just on the other side of Sentinel Pass stands an incredible spire of teetering quartzite dubbed the Grand Sentinel. This is surely one of the great rock towers of the world, and I would know.  There are others that are skinnier (height relative to width at the base), but considering its position, the environment in which it stands, and the quality of rock in these mountains, its truly incredible this finger of stacked choss is still standing. The fact I had climbed and descended Mt Temple twice meant that I had passed this remarkable feature twice, gazed upon it in awe twice, and longed desperately to climb it ever since!

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Grand Sentinel!

The tower is about 100m tall, involving 4 pitches of climbing, with two route options that I know of—the classic 5.9 crack route of the South Face, and the fully modern, fully bolted Cardiac Arete (5.10d). The “problem” with the route—the reason I never got around to climbing it—was that in my alpine days, it was “too small” to justify a proper climbing day, and “too big” (with ~3000’ of hiking to approach and descend) to pull off on a rest day. But it was just right for this trip, and Jeff graciously agreed to do it again (for the 5th or 6th time?)

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Light shining through the upper 15 meters of the Grand Sentinel illustrates just how precarious this spire is.

We rolled out of Canmore just before 5am, anxious to beat the holiday-weekend crowds to this uber-classic route. The parking lot was already swarming with cars when we arrived just after 6, well-before dawn. Anxiously we raced up the brutal approach trail by headlamp, up and into Larch Valley. The area was experiencing unseasonably cool and wet weather, which must have dissuaded other suitors because we arrived at the icy pass totally alone.

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On the approach, looking back toward Moraine Lake and the Valley of Ten Peaks from just below Sentinel Pass.  Note all the white stuff…in August!

The tower was every bit as staggering as I remembered. We picked our way down the snow-covered talus on the north side of the pass and made our way to the base of Grand Sentinel. The weather was absolutely not what either of us had expected—Sub-freezing with persistent wind and the ever-present threat of more precipitation—in August!

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The ominous view to the north from Sentinel Pass, just after sunrise.

Jeff and I had only recently met and never climbed together, so neither was sure what the other was thinking. We kept asking every 5 minutes or so, “Are you still psyched?” The answer was always yes. Both routes can be easily rapped, and we brought gear for either option, we had raincoats, so we figured we would keep going until we reached an impasse. Personally, I was brimming with stoke. I wanted to climb this thing desperately, and if the experience itself was miserable, I figured that would only make it that much more memorable. Plus I felt like I had to represent for Colorado—show our friendly neighbors to the north that we can handle a little bit of bad weather.

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Grand Sentinel from the little pass just south of the base of the tower. The classic “South Face” route follows the obvious dihedral system at center.

Fortunately the wind was relatively calm huddled in the col below the south face. We chose to go for the Cardiac Arete. Ascending the SE prow of the tower, the arete is certainly more exposed to the elements, but also a much better-looking line (and much better quality, according to Jeff). We racked up and donned every bit of clothes in our packs. Jeff cruised up the first pitch, only stopping to shake blood back into his fingers periodically.

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Cardiac Arete pretty much follows the right skyline, with a few excursions onto the (hidden) east face.

The first pitch is pretty much an endless series of horizontal breaks, offering big jugs, with the occasional long reach between them. A small roof at mid-height is the crux. Jeff commented often about the cold rock, but it didn’t seem to slow him down much. I brazenly reasoned all my years of climbing in Clear Creek through the winter had me well-prepared, and grew eager to show my Canadian friend how it’s done.

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Jeff cranking over the crux roof on the first pitch.

I followed the 1st pitch in full-on sprint mode, figuring I could stave off numbing by minimizing my time on the rock. At the belay I re-racked the draws and then went right into leading the 2nd pitch. This pitch was much different, starting up the south face with some fingery face climbing on incredible rock, then turning the arête to the east face for some more intricate face climbing.

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Jeff cruising the second pitch.

By the time I turned the arête I was completely numb, more so than I can ever remember. It’s pretty typical for my fingers to numb out on the first cold day of each winter season, but often it’s only my finger tips and rarely an entire finger. On this pitch my entire HANDS were numb, from the wrist up! It was like climbing with clubs. I thumped my hands against the rock and felt absolutely nothing. It was like my hands were gone. I could see them, but that was the only feedback I had that they were still there.

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Jeff on the second pitch. This last stretch to the belay was desperate for my frozen hands!

To make matters worse, I was short on draws and had to skip a couple bolts at the end. I wanted to shout “Take” sooo badly, but again, I had to represent for Colorado, so I sucked it up and tried to pull through. I would grab a hold, have no idea how big the hold was, if I had it well, or if I had the strength to pull on it, and just crank up towards the next one and repeat. It was the strangest feeling—like watching someone else climb. At each move I half-expected to pitch off into the void, but fortunately the holds were big enough to scrape through. It was easily my most desperate 5.10 lead of the last decade!

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The view from the top of the second pitch into Paradise Valley.  The big broad peak is Mt. Aberdeen.

Finally I reached the luxurious ledge atop the 2nd pitch. I mumbled to Jeff that I needed a minute, curled into the fetal position, and experienced the worst case of the screaming barfies I can remember. After a minute or so of agony I could feel the blood coursing back into my hands. Within a couple minutes they were back to normal and I was good to go for the rest of the climb. Jeff came up quickly and offered to let me lead the rest of the route since he had previously led all the pitches. I happily agreed and set off for #3.

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Starting up the third pitch. Note the puffy! Photo Jeff Moore.

The third pitch is relatively straightforward except for a big roof in the middle. This obstacle is awkward and scrunchy, but ends in killer jugs, once you can reach them. I hesitated a bit, unsure how to tackle it, but eventually unlocked the sequence. The fourth pitch was hands-down the best. It climbs right on the arête the entire way, often using the arête as a hold. The exposure and setting are spectacular, and it offers a tricky crux just below the summit. It’s one of those sequences that is at first perplexing, and so that much more rewarding once you figure it out.

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Starting up the premier fourth pitch. Photo Jeff Moore.

I cruised up the slightly chossy last few feet (despite appearances, the only bit of poor rock on the climb) and balanced my way up onto the summit block. The views were spectacular, despite the sub-par weather. The route was truly fantastic, with excellent rock throughout and engaging climbing, surpassed only by the incredible setting. The stone is really varied and so is the movement, with each pitch offering something unique. It’s truly a world class route at the grade.

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Jeff on the summit (that lump of rock to the left is another formation west of Grand Sentinel.

One of the most common questions I get is whether or not I am still able to enjoy “easy” climbs. Absolutely! I just plain love climbing, and I love it at any grade. Certainly, more difficult things can be more engaging and offer a bit more to sink my teeth into, but I will always love being in the wild, moving over stone, in whatever capacity the day has to offer. This was an incredible day in the mountains, up a stellar route, on a spectacular feature, with a great new friend. I couldn’t have asked for anything better.

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Rigging the first rappel from the top of the fourth pitch, just a few feet below the summit of Grand Sentinel.

We made the descent without any issues and worked slowly back up to the pass. For one brief moment the sun peeked through the clouds to shed a glimmer of warming light onto the Grand Sentinel. It would have been nice to see the sun while we were climbing, but we were happy to have the tower the way we did—with the entire valley to ourselves and an unforgettable experience to go along with the tick.

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Also, we saw a Gorilla (the North Face of Mt. Fay).

Just below the south side of the pass I was stunned to meet Kate, Logan and Amelie hiking up. This was easily the hardest hike Logan or Amelie had every attempted, and considering the weather I was certain they would have bailed. Kate and Logan continued to Sentinel Pass while Jeff and I continued down with Amelie. A couple hours later we all rendezvoused at the Moraine Lake Lodge for a well-earned cup of hot chocolate.

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Isn’t it fun when you run into someone you know? Kate and Logan just below Sentinel Pass.

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My little geologist Amelie collecting rocks at Moraine Lake.

Exploring the Tre Cime

By Mark Anderson

As we wandered over the many passes and marveled at the gob smacking peaks of the Dolomites, I definitely got “the itch” to climb something big. I’ve become a true sport climber over the last decade, especially since my kids arrived, but it hasn’t always been that way. I was first drawn to climbing by a love of the mountains and a desire to stand on top of the snow-capped volcanos I could see from my childhood home. That led to many adventures on the big walls of Yosemite, the alpine peaks of the Canadian Rockies, North Cascades and more remote areas of Alaska and Canada.

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The Tre Cime di Lavaredo from the VF De Luca/Innerkofler tunnels.  From left to right: Cima Piccola, Cima Grande, and Cima Ovest.  Also known as the “Drei Zinnen” (in German).

I wasn’t prepared to do any proper multi-pitch climbing, nor was I interested in ditching the family for an entire day, but the Via Ferrate offered the opportunity to do something that would normally require a partner and a long day in just a couple of hours. Hands-down my favorite day in the Dolomites was the day we explored the Tre Cime di Lavaredo. These “three summits” are notorious among adventure climbers, and have figured notably in the history of alpinism across many decades.

Cima Grande, the central and tallest of the trio, was the first to acquire notoriety with Emilio Comici’s 1933 ascent of its North Face, which is now regarded as one of the six “Great North Faces” of the Alps (along with the north faces of the Eiger, Matterhon, Dru, Grandes Jorasses & Piz Badile). The incomparable Walter Bonatti left his mark in February 1953 with back-to-back winter ascents of the Cima Ovest and Cima Grande. In 2001, gymnastic free-climbing took center stage on Cima Ovest when Alex Huber established his gob-smacking roof climb Bellavista (5.14a) , followed by Pan Aroma (5.14b) in 2007. More recently, the peaks featured briefly in Solo: A Star Wars Story.

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Early on the trail to Rifugio Lavaredo.

We had a big day planned with lots of hiking, exploring, and some Via Ferrata. We arrived at Rifugio Auronzo at sunrise and struck out for the Rifugio Lavaredo and the Forcella Lavaredo pass just above. The trail winds around the unremarkable southern sides of the Tre Cime, and is more like a graded road with a few patches of snow here and there. Some liability-minded authority had barricaded the road with a small hand-written sign that warned: “Danger Street.” Fortunately I thought to bring an ice axe and helmets for all, so we were pretty much prepared for anything (ironically, on the return hike a washing machine-sized boulder spontaneously cut loose from the steep scree slope above and tore through the “danger street” only a few hundred yards in front of us—fortunately Kate thought to yell “ROCK!” and nobody was hurt).

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The “Danger Street” warning sign.

We made quick progress to the pass where we got our first clear view of the north faces, and they were incredible! We hung out for a while snapping pictures and assessing the snowpack. Our ambitious “Plan A” was to complete the VF De Luca/Innerkofler. This uber-classic route cuts along, over, and through the Tre Cime-adjacent Monte Paterno (thanks to a series of war-time tunnels and lots of wire).

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Monte Paterno, just left of center, from Forcella Lavaredo.  The Rifugio Locatelli is barely visible on the left.

The standard approach is to traverse the west slope of the mountain to the Rifugio Tre Cime-Locatelli, then clip into the wire for the return trip over and through the mountain. This slope, and pretty much the entire basin below the Tre Cime, was packed with snow, so we ditched Plan A. The usual exit route from Monte Paterno was only a few hundred yards from where we sat, so we roped up, strapped on our helmets, and set off to do the route in reverse, out-and-back.

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The Tre Cime in profile, from the start of the VF DL/I tunnel system.

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In one of the tunnels on VF DL/I.

The route is immediately interesting with a 50-foot stretch of dark tunnel (and in this case, somewhat snow-packed, with an icy floor and wet, dripping roof). The tunnel ends with long stretches of exposed ledges that were carved in the rock. We snaked around several ridges until we were stopped cold by a couloir filled with snow. We decided this was a good spot for the kids to turn around, but Kate generously encouraged me to continue.

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On the wire after the first tunnel section.

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Kate and the kids at the exit of a short tunnel (in the lower left).  The snowfield to the left is actually part of a snow-filled couloir that forced them to turn around.

Beyond the couloir the terrain eased again, then turned the ridge to the east side which was spectacularly bathed in morning sun. I made quick progress until I came across a big steep snowfield several-hundred feet high. It was pretty hard to follow the path at this point (and impossible to clip in since the cable was buried), so I just front-pointed straight up the slope using my icetool and surprisingly-effective hiking shoes with “ice cleats”.

Eventually I topped out the snowfield and got a nice view down the northern slope to Rifugio Tre Cime-Locatelli, which, predictably, was even more snowy! There was no way we could have completed the loop-route as planned in these conditions. However, if not for the snow, I think the kids would’ve had a good shot of making the summit, at least as an Out-and-Back the way I did it. The climbing is loose in places but never very difficult and the vertical-ish sections are only a few feet long.

From the col, it was only a couple hundred feet of snow-free climbing to the glorious summit. The views of the Tre Cime were phenomenal—it’s the perfect vantage point to admire these legendary north walls. I snapped a couple pics then hustled back down the route, even enjoying some glissading on the way down.

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The Tre Cime from the summit of Monte Paterno.

When I returned to Forcella Lavaredo the family was gone, but I could make them out at the Lavaredo Hut a few hundred feet below. By then the place was teeming with tourists, a stark contrast to the solitude we enjoyed at 6am. I wasn’t ready to return there quite yet—I still wanted to get a climber’s view of the big north faces, especially the massive roofs of Cima Ovest.

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The Tre Cime from Forcella Lavaredo.

Half-running, I traversed rapidly across the snow-covered slope.   Like most big walls, they weren’t quite as intimidating from directly below, but I was stunned by the poor quality of rock. Cima Grande in particular was a spider web of fractures, towering like a brick skyscraper without any mortar. I could see how face climbing on this wall could be both unlimited and terrifying at the same time. There’s a neo-classic 8a free climb on the left side of this wall that I can only imagine would be mentally ravaging.

On the right side, the classic lines of the Comici route and its variations weaved between ledges, linking weakness to reach a massive and drenched chimney. Physically, it was easy to see how a route here was possible, but it was hard to imagine venturing up on such a face with 1930’s-era equipment and techniques. Even with modern equipment, I cannot honestly say the route looked appealing. Still, I’d love to do it someday, with a Gore-tex jacket!

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Looking up at the North Face of Cima Grande, from the couloir between Cima Grande and Cima Ovest. The classic Comici route roughly follows the series of gray/black ledges, up into the long, wet black streaks.

The toe of Cima Ovest’s north face is a couple hundred feet lower than that of Cima Grande, and figuring the kids must have been getting restless, I stopped short of traversing all the way to its base. From the couloir between the two peaks I had a nice profile view of the big roof of Bellavista, and it looked spectacular. This wall is also known for poor rock quality, but from this vantage point it looked significantly better than the stone on Cima Grande. I could only imagine what it would feel like to pull into the roof, some 50m out from the toe of the wall, and a couple hundred meters off the deck. Nothing else compares to it in the world, and someday I have to figure out a way to try one of these routes.

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Cima Ovest in profile.

If there is a key take-away from my time in the Dolomites, it’s that I have to go back! This is not the sort of place that can be absorbed in just two weeks. For the time being there are other places to explore, but I will definitely return here, in the fall, with a rack on my back and adventure in mind.

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Stoke(less)tember: What to do when you’re broke on stoke

Sunset over Vedauwoo

Sunset over Vedauwoo by Alton Richardson

It’s finally September. You’ve spent the summer thumbing through your guidebook in search of the perfect route. You know every movement by heart and have rehearsed each one over and over during those long hangboard sessions. You’ve visualized the perfect sequence of micro movements that will unlock the crux. The 10-day forecast has finally let up and you’re daydreaming of redpoint burns. Then it hits you. The motivation wanes, the approach seems longer than usual, and gravity seems a bit heavier than normal. You’re broke on stoke.

It’s a rite of passage. If you have climbed for any amount of time, you have inevitably experienced this phenomenon. The preparation is done, you’re strong enough, you know the route, and for whatever reason, you are not into it. Keep heart, climber friends – we have 3 quick ways to regain your stoke.

Relax

Breath, pause, and take a step back.

Drew Ruana Smith Rock

“Take breaks. I don’t climb when I’m not “psyched” or interested in it. Forcing psyche is like forcing patriotism-you should WANT to do it, not be forced to. Then resentment starts.” – Alex Johnson

 

Recharge

Smile a little. Remember what got you stoked in the first place. That perfect sequence that fits your style, the incredibly aesthetic line you’ve been eyeing all summer, and inevitable breakthrough you’re hoping to experience during the send. Think about the process – how far you’ve come and how much growth has come from the struggle.

Sharing beta

Sharing beta by Nate Gerhardt

“Talk to friends, look at photos, guidebooks, youtube videos of great climbs you want to do.” – Mike Anderson

 

Re-Frame

Sharing the rope is about more than a lifeline – it’s about shared passion and a new perspective. The best partners know when you’re struggling and when to crack the perfect joke to lighten the mood and re-frame the experience. Pick your partner wisely.

Bouldering

High fives all around by Nate Gerhardt

“Partners. You need to have partners that are there for you. They make you laugh, encourage you when you’re struggling, don’t judge you when you are climbing poorly, and can be a good person to just simply have a conversation with. If you go into your climbing day with the idea of just getting outside with a good friend when your motivation is low, you can’t have a bad day. Talk about your life – decompress about your job, relationship, whatever. Listen about their life and just enjoy each other’s company. I’ve had plenty of terrible climbing pitches/attempts but very few bad climbing days. I’m careful about who I climb with and cherish those people dearly. After two decades of climbing, I remember the people more than the routes. Plus when your stoke is high – it’s contagious so you motivate your partner and visa versa. If you only climb when you’re stoked or sending at your best, you’re really limiting yourself to some great experiences.” – Jason Haas

“I motivate myself in many different ways but I think the best was is having partners you love spending time with and who can push you.” – Ari Novak

 

Bonus: Re-Caffeinate

When all else fails, re-caffeinate 🙂

Pamela Shanti Pack

Pamela Shanti Pack sips coffee before redpoint burns

“Drink a lot of coffee” – Drew Ruana

Striking Distance

By Mark Anderson

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Mark Anderson on the first ascent of Striking Distance, 5.14b, Gaudi Wall. Photo Derek Wasiecko

Last year I stumbled upon a rad little north-facing cliff I’m calling the Gaudi Wall (for famed Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi).  In fact the wall is not exactly “little”, with pitches up to 38 meters.  The rock is super high-quality Gneiss–I would argue some of the best in Colorado.

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Entering the burly crux of Striking Distance, 5.14b. This route has incredible stone and really rad movement. Photo Derek Wasiecko.

I put in about 20 routes on this wall in spring/summer 2017.  This is easily the best crag I’ve developed and I’m really proud of it.  Last weekend I polished off the last of my original lines–an outstanding lightning-bolt seam in a sheer, 20-degree overhang called Striking Distance.  The line starts with really gymnastic, sequential and technical liebacking to a good rest, followed immediately by a boulder problem featuring super-burly underclinging that I figure is around V11 in its own right.  My main objective over the last month was just to get some mileage on rock while passing the time until I’m ready to start training for the Fall season.  This was the perfect route for some roped bouldering, but to my surprise it started coming together despite the summer heat. On Sunday I lucked into an unseasonably cold and windy day and everything clicked on the second go.  I spent 11 days on the route spread over a year, and in that time I only linked the crux boulder problem one time–during Sunday’s send!

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Ben Lindfors climbing On Till The End, 5.13c.

I’m working on an informal print guide for this wall and a few of the other crags I’ve been developing since 2015 (more on this to come in a few weeks, or months, but hopefully not!)  I’m apprehensive about publicizing the crag because the access route passes through a residential area which could cause conflicts. If you have the opportunity to visit this place, please be courteous to the local residents, carpool, drive slowly and keep the stereotypical obnoxious-climber-behavior to a minimum.  In the mean time, here are some photos of some of the Gaudi Wall’s best lines. Enjoy!

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Derek Wasiecko toppint out The Underflinger, 5.12b. 

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Evan Howell flashing Wrench Wrun, 5.12a.

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Mike flashing Oh Wow!, 5.12a

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Ben Lindfors in the high crux of On till the End, 5.13c.

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Derek New crushing The Underflinger, 5.12b.

Ten Sleep Canyon Part 4 – Superfly 12c/d

So after a patriotic day at the rodeo on the 4th, the next day was back to the canyon for business as usual.  As I said in Ten Sleep Recap Part 2, the 3rd day on in our 3 day chunk was spent scoping out the moves on Superfly 12c/d at the Slavery Wall, so let’s rewind back to there for a minute.  The main difference we noted between Slavery Wall and everywhere else we had climbed was that it was WAY hotter in the morning, due to the lack of tree cover at the base of the cliff.  Thankfully though, our main objective climbed an east-facing corner, so it went into shade earlier than everything else.  

Some new found friends on the 11a beside Superfly

On our reconnaissance day, we warmed up on a route everyone that ever climbs in Ten Sleep Canyon simply must do once – Beer Bong 10b.  The face climbing on it is pretty polished in places, and the movement is just okay.  But the exposure and position out over the chimney in the last 15 feet is what earns this route its stars.   For a more interesting perspective than the typical crotch shot at the finish, we decided to take the drone up to capture some better angles while waiting for Superfly to go into shade (video here.)  

Beer Bong 10b

Hanging draws on Superfly was exhausting – 100 feet of technical climbing that demanded focus for almost every move.  After an hour (and a lot of stick clip hauling), I gave up two bolts from the top.  CragDaddy took a turn, and while he was able to clip chains, it wasn’t without aiding through the crux lurking right before the anchors.  To be honest I was a little discouraged tying in again, this time on toprope so I could work the crux more efficiently.  But my second run went awesome – I actually linked most of the lower section.  And though my initial attempts at the final sequence were pretty dismal, I ended up finding a pocket that CragDaddy had missed before – it made the move juuuuuust doable enough for me (though I had my doubts as to whether that beta would work coming in hot on a redpoint burn.)

Big C shakin’ his money maker

Knowing that a 3rd burn on a 3rd day on would likely do nothing but further rip my skin to shreds, I opted to quit while I was ahead, in the hopes of coming back a muerte on our final day in the canyon.  So fast forward past the rodeo, and past another day at FCR.  Last day equals last chance, so nothing like a little pressure, right?  The morning dawned sunny and hot, as the temps had steadily been rising since we’d arrived 10 days prior.  Although it would for sure be much cooler in the canyon, highs in the town were forecasted at 100!  That said, no one was in a rush to get up there right away, considering the lack of shade.  So we took a nice drive through the old road in the canyon, stopping here and there to play with the drone and take some token Christmas card pics.  

When we finally made it up there, we opted for the Red River Gorge strategy of warming up – a bolt to bolt run on the project.  Superfly is not a terrible warm-up option – the difficulty builds very gradually, with nothing harder than 11a in the first 40 feet.  Then come two back to back cruxes, the first being a hard lock off, the second using a series of insecure feet.  More long moves on decent holds leads to a pretty solid rest stance at 80 feet , followed by a little more hard 5.11 filler before setting up for potential heartbreak at the anchors.  

Having only had one run at it before, and therefore needing more beta refinement than me, CragDaddy offered to hang draws.  A welcome gift, especially considering that a lot of my tick marks had washed away during the freak deluge of rain from the night before.  Using the new hidden pocket I’d found the previous day, he also was able to do the final sequence, and lowered down feeling more optimistic about his send potential.

Down low on Superfly

My strategy for the first run was to climb like I’m sending until it becomes apparent that I’m not – ie, don’t get sloppy, and don’t get flash pumped.  I executed well, remembering most of my beta.  I got stalled out in the 2nd hard sequence, but managed to make it through and up to the rest.  After getting as much back as I was going to, I proceeded, til I was one bolt from the top, staring down the gauntlet of the final sequence.  I took a breath, pictured the moves then executed – Crimp, crimp, pocket, mono, make clip.  Done.  Get feet up and reach high for the hidden pocket – got it!  

I was almost out – all I had left was to bump my left hand to a better hold, smear my feet really high, and toss to a flat hold where I could then mantle to the chains.  But in my haste to hit the hidden pocket, my feet were lower than they were supposed to be.  Also, my right finger was sliding out of the shallow mono, and I was way too insecure to re-grip.  Not to mention that ever present pump clock.   Despite the fact that one of the cardinal rules of redpointing is to STICK WITH YOUR BETA on a send attempt, I just knew my original beta was done for.  I needed to go Rogue.

Now Rogue Beta is a slippery option that can only end in one of two scenarios – you either feel like a genius for making a wise, in the moment choice, or you feel like a chump because you hesitated and didn’t execute correctly.  Honestly it’s usually the latter, but I felt like I had no choice.  Instead of going left hand to the better hold, I went right hand, which allowed me to leave the mono early.  However, the hand mix-up cost me.  Not only was the mantle more awkward, it also left me out of reach of the finishing holds!  Panic started to set in again – the chains were literally at eye level, but too far to the right to clip.  True confessions – I thought about grabbing the quickdraw, but I knew I would hate myself for it on the ground, and that after all the effort I’d just put in, I couldn’t count on getting there clean again.  It really was now or never.  I held my breath, stepped my right foot level with my right hand, and precariously started to rock over, praying a gentle breeze wouldn’t blow me off.  Right when I thought I was about to tip backwards, I felt my center of gravity settle over my feet, and I could stand up.  Clip chains = DONE!  

CragDaddy high on Superfly 12c/d Photo by @izzyjams

CragDaddy sent on his next go as well (with far fewer dramatics.)  After a nice long break, he got some revenge on another near miss from 2015 – Strut Your Funky Stuff 12a.  Even Big C got on the send train with his toprope onsight of Shake Your Money Maker 5.7.  I was hoping for a similar effect on Momma’s Mental Medication, also 12a…but I fell going for the final pocket.  Womp womp.  That said, nothing could dampen our day too much.  It was a grand ending to an even grander trip!

Me with my favorites.

Initially, we had thought that this 3rd time to Ten Sleep might be our final time.  After all, there is so much rock to climb in the United States, it hardly seems fair to keep our pilgrimage in the same spot…but guys, I just don’t know if we can give up going to this place!  Especially now that the kids are older and are so vocal about how much they love it.  One advantage to growing children however, is that road trips are a lot easier now…and with homeschooling, it’s pretty darn easy to take our show on the road.  So who knows, maybe next time we’ll drive?  Anyone got any fun ideas for stops along the way?  For now though, it’s good to be home.  See you at the New this fall!  

Related Images:

[See image gallery at cragmama.com]

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Ten Sleep Canyon Part 2 – Superratic

Big C crushing Boy Howdy 5.9

Our typical “vacation climbing” (ie, more than a weekend) strategy involves a smattering of rest days in addition to climbing days, so that we can climb as close to our best as possible whenever we are on the wall.  We generally try to avoid crowds by planning rest days for a Saturday, when the crag would be most crowded from local day trippers.  For this trip we also wanted to make sure we were in town for the 4th of July celebrations, so we ended up climbing in 3 “chunks” – 2 days on, 1 day off, 3 days on (with the 3rd day being short), 1 day off, 2 final days on, then home.  

The first two days of that middle “chunk” were spent at Superratic Wall, an area that, while absolutely stacked with classics, we’d not spent much time at prior to this trip.  Our 2015 trip had featured Tricks for You 12a, and Great White Behemoth 12b.  So for this time around, we started at the other end of the wall, with a relatively short but seemingly holdless line called Black Slabbath 12b

Now sometimes the routes at Ten Sleep, especially the very popular, classic ones, are accused of being soft at the grade, and sometimes I would agree…but not this one!  This one packed quite a punch in only 50 feet – starting with just getting onto the wall.  The holds were microscopic, the feet were barely there at all, and the climbing was so insecure it seemed as though the slightest hint of a breeze would blow you right off.  On my first go, I think my stick clip hung more draws than I did, but I rehearsed the harder sequences on the way down and managed to rally for a solid 2nd go send!  CragDaddy took a few more tries, but eventually put it down (video of his send here.)  In between his redpoint burns, I gave Tetonka 13a a couple of toprope tries.  Boy was that thing sharp!  It wasn’t pretty, but I did get up it, and I did do all the moves – although I have no idea how on earth I’d ever make the 3rd clip.  

Working on my ninja moves on Black Slabbath 12b

Big C’s climbing highlight of the trip was Boy Howdy 5.9, a juggy but steeper-than-it-looks little number that he got on both days, and was psyched to “toprope send” on the second day (video found here!)  His motivation for climbing can sometimes be hit or miss, and we certainly don’t want to push, but there was no question he was having a blast on this route.  Mental note – find more just like this for that boy!!!  

Same route, different climber!

Our second day at Superratic was even better than the first.  We decided to up our game a little bit with Walk the Dog 12c – while significantly longer than Black Slabbath, this one did have both better holds and better rests.  We both thought the grades should be switched?  It was CragDaddy’s turn to hang draws, and I was psyched that his tick marks left me a pretty good road map to follow.  My first attempt featured some hangs, but I was able to methodically figure it all out, and on the way down, I rehearsed the moves in chunks between rest stances.  And…we both sent! (video of me sending here.)

This much fun is exhausting….

We still had some time left, and CragDaddy wanted to take a turn on Tetonka since he’d missed out the day before, so I volunteered to hang draws.  I wanted to see if it felt any more doable now that I’d worked out the moves.  I actually was able to link a surprising amount of the bottom section, making it through the first crux section clean, but my power meter struggled hard around the 3rd bolt, and I ended up having to jug through to finish. In hindsight, considering how shredded my skin was after this end of day attempt, I probably should have left this one alone and opted for something easier, but it ended up being fine.  CragDaddy had a similar experience…

Sending smiles!

The close of our second day at Superratic marked that we were somehow already over halfway done with our trip.  We decided that our 3rd day on would be a reconnaissance mission to the Slavery Wall, so we could suss out the beta for Superfly 12c/d, a route that had been recommended to us earlier in the trip.  More on how that went later, but the next post will be all about our rest day shenanigans!  

 

Related Images:

[See image gallery at cragmama.com]

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