Wednesday, October 28

Kentucky Still-Stoked

Usually a couple hundred miles of highway lie in-between beautiful world class cliffs. After a couple days of climbing, you jump back in the car, and drive to the next spot- incredibly inspiring to always be sampling new-to-you high quality stone and it drives climbers all around the world to road trip. Wouldn't it just be ridiculous if there was a place on earth where you needn't drive to reach that next spot? where you could stay put for weeks, or months and still hit a new, amazing cliff, everyday?

Enter the Red River Gorge. In my opinion, one of America's greatest resources for rock climbers. I imagine you get the point.. I'm still impressed. And I'm still inspired.

On Monday, fresh after a rest day and still buzzing from my success on '50 Words for Pump' and 'Cherry Red'. I headed to the GMC wall, appropriately named after a ditched GMC that lies topside beneath the cliff. 'Thanatopsis' 14b was a route that had been on my mind from the moment I made plans to come to the Red. Short and slabby by local standards, this Dave Hume route is a technical masterpiece. On my first attempt I managed to figure out beta for what I thought was the crux, a very difficult dead point off of a terrible right hand crimp. This movement leads directly into another hard move involving a good right hand side pull and a powerful cross through to a poor left hand crimp. This move stumped me, numerous times. I lowered to the ground contemplating the subtleties of my body position and footwork, confident that a minor shift would make the difference, but uncertain as to what it might be. I had enough time to contemplate while my boy Benny took his time sussing out the amazing 'Cut Throat' 13b just next door. On my second burn I entered the crux confident that locking off the right hand side-pull very hard would prove adequate, and to my surprise it did! I found myself at a poor rest above the crux, peering up at a rather large, blank section of stone between me and the anchors.. some inner (and outer) dialogue began.. 'a jump perhaps? I suck at jumping.. is there a crimp somewhere? Oh shit I'm getting pumped.. f*ck it, I'll jump!!!' no dice. I grabbed a terrible rail just inches from a jug. But, it did give me the opportunity to hang a rope for Scott to shoot and also put a whopping tick on the finishing jug. After a good rest I finished Thanatopsis, so stoked. Such an amazing route- one of my favorites at the grade anywhere. On the soft side of 14b, but considerably harder than the other 14a's here, no question. Bottom line- wicked movement and a welcome change from ultra steep jug climbing; a Red River classic.

Benny trying 'Cut Throat' got me all stoked for the rest of the GMC wall. I was able to flash 'Cut Throat' and onsighted a very cool 12d that ascends a shallow corner called '8-Ball' along with a very straight forward, albeit awesome 13a called 'Snooker'. 'White Man's- everything' was baking in the sun so I headed over to the undertow to hang with my friends Tony Yao, Mike Alkaitis, Alli Rainey and Kevin Wilkinson.. all great people. I finished the day on two great 13a's, 'Convicted' and 'Skin Boat'. 12 pitches total.. I was tired. Maybe a little too tired actually, the next day I was feeling it.

We woke up to rain on Tuesday, and thus decided to head to a rain-okay spot, which was definitely the Dark Side- it was completely dry. This wall is rad. A rainbow band of honeycomb pockets runs the length of the wall at about third bolt height and offers a few tight pockets and tough moves on nearly every climb there- get your bowling ball grab on!! Warming up is a little hard here, but we managed. I fired an onsight on 'The Force' 13a to kick things off. Either I was tired (indeed) and / or this wall is stout (indeed), but all these climbs felt solid. I tried and failed to onsight 'Swingline' 13d. This route offers a super interesting crux involving a sloper gaston and some thin, accurate pockets.. super cool and different, I sent 2nd try. I managed an onsight on 'The Return of Darth Maul' 13b (absolutely wicked and perhaps the best of that grade at the Red IMO) and 'Mind Meld' 12d. At the end of the day, all brutalized and battered I somehow clipped chains on 'Elephant Man' 13b second go- ultra hard crux move! Benny killed it. Doing 'The Force' second try- 5.13 in a day boi!!!! sick.

Now I'm at the crib, checking flight status like a freak cause my girlfriend and Andy Mann are supposed to arrive tonight, but Denver is experiencing a nightmarish winter storm explosion. Got my fingers crossed for sure...

Scott Milton has been putting together the video from this last week, including an almost finished short on 'Lucifer' - looks so sick!! It'll be posted up here soon, so stay tuned. I'm stoked beyond belief at my successes thus far and to think I have 5 more climbing days in this incredible place is mad inspirational! Thanks for all the love everybody!

Photos Compliments: Sandra Studer / ARCTERYX

Sunday, October 25


Ah... the beloved rest day. Kentucky rest days are straight country livin' and, in my opinion, damn satisfying. Last Wednesday I indulged in a thoroughly Kentucky rest day with a few simple goals: shoot guns, buy used furniture, kick back, drink some beer. I can proudly say that I succeeded on all accounts, thanks in large part to the ever-supportive and heavily armed local, Kentucky Joe.

I've had some other successes since my last rest day as well. Last Thursday I headed out for one last day of full-on media with the Arcteryx crew to the Bob Marley Crag. The day was generally humbling, which began with me failing on a 'warm up' called 'Dogleg' 12a. Being 5 foot 5 and sending this route as a warm up do not seem to mix well - anyone who knows this route knows what I'm talking about (although I've heard Mike Doyle, also small, managed an ascent- very proud!!). With my tail between my legs, I wandered around the corner to the next objective, '50 Words for Pump' 14c. My first attempt was in full sun, and was characterized by repeated falls from the crux, being extremely pumped, splitting my finger, and desperately grabbing non-holds as I barely managed to hang my draws on this beast of a route. My next go was better, and I was able to get through the crux to the rest above, but a few bolts below the top I was pumped to a level unimaginable and still unsure of my sequence.. I'm Off!! Big falls on this ridiculously steep and long route.. Third and final burn of the day I punted all over, over-gripped and tired, I lowered to the dirt a bit uncertain but inspired.

While 'Lucifer' was almost perfectly my style, '50 Words' could be the antithesis- steep, thuggish, slopers, nothing bites (everything requires a proper squeeze). Back at the house, Kentucky Joe mentioned that he thought there were some trick rests on the route, including a possible knee-bar. Hmm.. after some additional research I had a few fresh ideas. Friday it was dumping rain and the air was saturated, but the temps were generally cool. We found the Bob Marley to be mostly dry and totally climbable - stoked. First burn I fell from the crux, but it thankfully gave me an opportunity to suss out key resting beta, including a knee bar to clip an otherwise strenuous bolt up high. The rain made for an empty crag and pleasant background noise of the soft rain drops on the changing leaves. Second go of the day I climbed through the crux via the try hard technique and took my time recovering at the first rest. With my beta now mostly sussed I fought through the steepening mid-section to the knee-bar and final clip in the business. Exiting the knee-bar felt hard, but at this point I was way too stoked to allow a fall. The finish was moist, but thankfully very easy to the top (I have a stupid habit of not venturing all the way to the chains while working a route, leaving a sometimes adventurous finish on the red-point). Highly stoked, I slapped the chains and then took a victory whip, realizing the fault of my actions once on the ground, 'Shit dude! those are my draws up there..'. See what happens when you get too excited? I had to dog my way up the route again and then cleaning off my draws was quite possibly more difficult than the actual climb. It was not enough to kill my stoked though.. very excited on the send.

Saturday the rain was still hanging around but the day looked more promising. My boy Ben Randolph had gotten into town on Thursday night and the two of us made a plan to check out the privately owned Muir Valley. After some enjoyable albeit short warm ups at the Indy Wall we headed over the Sanctuary. This amazing crag is stacked with quality, and unfortunately on Saturday it was also packed with humanity (we counted 23 people). I was inspired to sample the whole crag and began with an incredible, technical face climb called 'Cherry Red' 14a that features a ladder of sharp crimps to a stout boulder problem through pockets and dimples. This route was terribly dirty, but after some cleaning it was back to awesome. I sent third go. I carried on down the line and was able to onsight the incredible steep jug ladder, 'Peace Frog' 12d, the sustained and awesome 'Prometheus Unbound' 13a, the ultra classic and varied 'Jesus Wept' 12d and the reachy and aesthetic 'Triple Sec' 13a. What an amazing crag!! Everything was good- not too many places you can say this for. Ben had a ball too, and is quickly getting into Red River shape to crush, almost accidentally sending 'Peace Frog' at the end of the day.

Now we are chillin' at the house. I'm taking pulls straight from the peanut butter jar and Ben is reading National Geographic, the others are cranking cereal and we are all bullshitting.. rest day.. We are going to head into town soon and re-up our grocery situation, and who knows maybe cook up some moonshine or something.. keeping it real. I've had an amazing week out here climbing and to think that I've got another week and then some is super motivating. The Red is everything they say it is, ya'll Kentucky folk are lucky.

Photos of '50 Words for Pump' courtesy of Brian Goldstone / ARCTERYX

Wednesday, October 21

Kentucky Stoked

Wanna get really motivated? Try driving 18.5 hours, alone, across the great plains of America in a single effort. After an endlessly flat horizon and miles of lethally dull landscape, motivation to climb, or move, or really do anything but sit and stare will be oozing from your pores. Early on Sunday morning, when I awoke at a freezing Missouri rest stop in the back of my packed Subaru, I could smell my own special scent of motivation (or was that just the too many long hours in a car funk?). Regardless, I was so stoked that I drove directly to the crag on a hunch that I could meet up with a few friends and get some pitches in- something.. anything.. I would have paid $10 a catch at this point- that is motivation.

Maybe it was this overwhelming level of excitement, or the great people I've recently met, or perhaps it's these ridiculously inspiring cliffs that are around every turn, but I can full-heartedly say that the Red River Gorge is the shit.

The night I arrived I accidentally met up with photographer Andrew Burr as we were both somehow lost trying to find the Purgatory. I thankfully had the excuse of having just come off a desperately boring car ride. Two heads truly are better than one though, and as a team we were able to find the (clearly) marked path to this amazing wall. BOOM! Red River Gorge at its finest and I was completely blown away by this beautiful, massive cliff. Motivation still oozing, I jumped right on an incredible warm up and then moved my rope beneath the wicked 'Lucifer' 5.14c. After a good re-con burn I was completely stoked out of my mind on the movement, aesthetics and difficulty of this beast. Lucifer is a stunner, and I was fully inspired. On my second effort I was able to grit my teeth and manage a one-hang. Stoked. Very Stoked. And tired.

Back to the house to meet up with the crew and get a good night sleep. The following day Lauren Lee and I had an epic morning of bush-whacking in the efforts to find some trad climbs before we gave up and headed over to the Purgatory. I was extremely excited to try Lucifer again, to the extent that it surely must have annoyed Lauren. Thankfully I got my chance, although I could only manage a one hang on it for my third and fourth burns.. On my final effort of the day I was hoping to suss moves and refine beta, but before I knew it I had fired the bouldery crux and somehow was feeling refreshed at the crappy rest immediately after. I knew that I had a chance to finish it, but I was also aware of A) how tired I was at this point in the day and B) how much difficulty was between me and the top. I grit my teeth, licked the bag, dug deep, tried hard, or whatever other ways you wanna say it but after 20 more feet of hard bouldering in shallow pockets and edges and another 50 feet of puke-in-your-mouth-pumpy jugs later I was clipping chains. Scott Milton and Brian Goldstone of Arcteryx got there just in time to catch my ascent on both film and with stills (see attached photos complements of Brian and Arcteryx). Climbing such an amazing route is a hell of a way to kick off a great trip and I could not be more stoked.. until the next day of course.

Having never been to the Red before, looking through the guidebook causes almost too much excitement to handle. It's easy to get lost in your stoke and end up going crazy with planning. Lucky for us the Arcteryx film and photo crew was around to help make decisions for us. Gold Coast it was, no problem, I'm happy, let's go. Yet another ridiculous wall, covered in difficulty and stunningly beautiful. After warming up on a couple amazing traditional cracks Lauren and I headed to the burl. I got the beta run down on 'God's Own Stone' 14a, and was able to succeed at a flash. I followed up with an on-sight on the incredible 'Golden Boy' 13b (one of the best of the grade I've ever been on) and also 'Black Gold' 13c. To cap off this fantastic day I did a less-travelled route called 'True Love' 13d on my second attempt- a great Dave Hume route albeit not quite in the same star category as the others I thought.. A great day out for sure with perfect weather and good people all around - the Gold Coast is legit!

I felt I'd earned a rest day and here I am.. resting.. Kentucky style! Shooting guns in the morning and buying used furniture in the afternoon. Brilliant. I'll update on the next rest day- hope everyone in the northern hemisphere is loving the fall.. it's time to get out and send your proj!!

photos: Brian Goldstone- Lucifer, Golden Boy and Black Gold..

Tuesday, October 13

The OTHER Creek

Moab locals have long been associated with dramatic sandbagging. Anyone who has ever stopped at the Big Bend boulders for an afternoon has surely tasted an ounce or two of rejection on what the locals warm heartedly call 'V1'. I can remember being sandbagged even as a mountain biker in Moab.. 'oh, yeah, you can for sure ride to that trail head..'

With such a stigma about them, I entered my first weekend to Mill Creek with little expectation, and much excitement. Pictures of this hidden sandstone gem have adorned my walls since long before I ever thought I might be able to tackle any of the test-piece routes there. I've drooled over Boone Speed photos of Tommy climbing on 'Prosthetics' too many times to count. Could such a beautiful area truly exist?

Seeing is believing. And after a long drive from Boulder, narrowly escaping the incoming storm, we arrived just as the sun was setting. Homegirl Heidi (Wirtz) guided us down a seemingly hidden trail to the rim of a canyon where a installed metal via-ferrata style ladder lead us to the canyon floor and below the amazing Wicked Crag. Far too stoked to call it a night, Paige Claassen and I busted out headlamps and began our Mill Creek journey the only way we should have expected - sandbagged. 5.10+ is what they call 'Ferns'. Maybe it was the chilly temps, the pitch black or the 7 hours in the car (most likely it was the local hard men and women) but this felt bonafide 12a to us... hmm.. Next logical step? Try harder. 'Technochrist' (12c) is a wicked, precision crimping, technical masterpiece that packs an extra punch when done under headlamp- Incredible climbing. Enough said. I finished the evening with an unbelievably strenuous (barely) on-sight of 'Flaming Groovy' (12c), which reminded me of some kind of hell- upside down wide corner body stuffing, holy-crap-I-just-moved-one-inch kind of climb. I found myself whispering 'I don't know what to do' a number of times. Paige was laughing hysterically.

Under better lighting conditions and with renewed excitement we returned the next day. Again, I found myself shocked with the beauty of this place. I was drawn to a notoriously sandbagged route, that had thwarted the efforts of many a hard men and women over the years called 'The Bleeding'. Rated 14a, it has been called potential 14b or even c by the few that have managed a repeat. Honestly, I was hesitant to try it, thinking that I would be better off searching for sure success in the land of the sandbagged. Paige, however, was not having it- she wouldn't let me not try hard, and eventually I agreed. On my sample burn I was impressed to say the least. To be more accurate I immediately considered this to be one of the better 5.14's I had ever climbed on. I also managed to pull through all the moves first or second try. The crux involves interesting body positions to negotiate a few horrible crimps, a couple shallow pockets and then a very hard exit move out of a left hand undercling to an accurate two finger pocket stab. It is incredible. I shocked myself by falling from the final move on my second attempt and really shocked myself by redpointing on my third attempt. I tried hard, It felt awesome, I was stoked. I right away carried my excitement next door to flash the crag classic 'Tikki Man' 13c. Paige one-hung the crap out of 'Tikki Man', primed for a send the following day.

With a few hours of light left, I decided to turn my attention to the other outstanding inspiration- 'Prosthetics' 13d (sandbag). All that drooling had not been for nothing. Now I was standing in front of one of the most beautiful walls I had ever seen, thinking aloud- I must try this thing. Just as I expected, it climbed as good as it looked. Hanging draws on this route is a freaking taxing event given that the climb has a 25 foot downward traverse. After having a good sample run and thankfully getting giant slings and draws hanging, I was EXHAUSTED. Lights out, warm down, time for the camp fire and red wine.

Chilly morning temps the following day inspired a hurried camp exit and a jump start on our last day at Mill Creek. After watching Paige crush 'Tikki Man' I was all fired up to take a crack at 'Prosthetics'. The crux on this route is managing the burl through the first two thirds of the climb (including a mostly campusing traverse) to get to a long, powerful lock-off before tackling an amazing black wall of crimps. I could feel on the traverse that I was perhaps on my last feasible attempt (read: getting tired), which was enough to kick start my try hard and help me get through the crux lock-off to finish the third ascent of this other-worldly rock climb. So Stoked. I wrapped up the killer weekend with an on-sight of the wild and crazy 'Bow Spirit' 13a and some warm downs. Content in the back of the Honda Element with Paige, fully crashed out, we cruised back to the front range to find freezing temps and patches of snow..

Thanks to all the Moab locals for keeping the grades stiff as hell and developing such an incredible area. Lisa Hathaway filled us in on details whenever needed and was happy to offer long sling advice (crucial Lisa! thanks). I'll be buzzing from last weekend for a while, or at least until I take off for Kentucky this Saturday...

And check out this ridiculous electronic genius (S.Q.L.) I have just stumbled upon if you have a moment..


photos: rock and lichen at ML CRK, Paige stretches out in front of 'Tikki Man' with 'The Bleeding' in the background. photo from below the amazing 'Prosthetics'

Friday, October 9

Wintery Mix

I could have sworn we were just moving into fall when I checked the 5 day forecast to see the words 'Wintery Mix' adorning this weekends weather prediction. Hmmm. After some hurried typing and logically thought out cross-weather-website-referencing I realized that something of a perfect storm is CRUSHING the front range over the next few days. Only one answer to this riddle and it's not climbing inside- I'm OUT!!! Given the size of this beastly storm system Paige and I are heading WAY over the divide and I'm finally going to have the chance to climb at an area that has fascinated me for a long time- Mill Creek. VERY excited to check this spot out, although my time there will be kind of short.

Friday morning is feeling extra welcome after a long week of varied work (and varied success). Last Monday I helped out a good friend of mine by stepping into all five of her middle and high classes at the Bruce Randolph school in Denver and giving a 45min shpeel on rock climbing, showing some photos and letting the kids check out some hardware. They were STOKED to say the least, and of all 160 kids I spoke to over the course of the day, I can only hope that a couple check out rock climbing on a weekend or after school. This experience definitely fostered a new appreciation for the pace and hustle of a school teacher- that's endurance.

Tuesday I had a chance to get back up to the Industrial Wall with Paige. Temps were definitely a bit warm and the sun was crankin, but we were stoked up and both FIRED our routes. I am very excited to have finished up 'Terminal Velocity', which was yet another difficult Industrial Wall reach problem that I found unique and interesting short person beta for. I was forced to add a few desperate moves to the crux sequence, but what it really came down to was a very hard, ultra low-percentage (average about 50% off the hang) dynamic reach that required pulling with a depressingly small footer and accurately stabbing a three finger dish. The rest of the route offered a really nice pump on super enjoyable corners and edges, but the route was always this one move for me. I definitely hesitate to say this sans knee-bar, short person beta is 14b, but I will admit it took me more efforts than any other 14a I've ever done, save my first (Sarchasm). Shortly there after Paige took a cleveland steamer on T.G.V. (13c), making it her second 13c in a week, and I finished the day with the last worthy route at the wall I had yet to red-point, an enjoyable little boulder-route called 'Tunnel Vision' 13b. Wicked day. We even had time to check out and support a special GORE-TEX / ARCTERYX / BLACK DIAMOND event in Denver - the Proforum. Free food, good friends and a fancy electronically controlled bidet- wicked night.

Wednesday had been hanging over my head for a while, given that Andy Mann and I had planned our first big slide-show at the Boulder Rock Club titled 'Colorado Burl' - sponsored by Arcteryx, LaSportiva, Avery and the BRC. We entered the show with some minimal stress, but in the end had a hell of a good time and were super stoked on the success of the night. We definitely pushed the maximum capacity of the yoga room and got a bunch of laughs out of the seemingly pleased crowd. It was a ball, and I wanna thank all those who made it out to support us and check out some killer front range images!
I'll be around Boulder for a couple days next week and also will be setting some ridiculous plastic climbs next friday (16th) for the first edition of the BRC's BCS comp series. Makes sure to check it out!! then I'm off to Kentucky...

photos: (Justin Roth) Thanks for coming out! never been good at baseball but check out my swag tossing arm!!

Monday, October 5

Colorado Burl

My long awaited, first ever trip to the Red River Gorge has finally come within sight. With a longer trip to such an awesome spot on the near horizon, I've been inspired to try to push a breakthrough and give some effort to up my game before I head out there. Breaking from my short-trip routine of not attempting anything too involved for a couple tries, I am thinking about focusing my energy and time on fewer, harder routes while in the Red. In an effort to train up and also remain outside I've spent some time up at the Industrial Wall and the Monastery. I put in some effort on a really, really cool route at the Industrial Wall (Terminal Velocity 14a) that was rumored to be especially hard for the shorter climber- and those rumors had kept me off of it until I had a chance to check it out last week. I found some very low-percentage, albeit super interesting and exciting beta through the crux, sans the typical knee-bar, that seems like it may work. Of course the Monastery always offers a good pump, and I had a blast up there this past weekend with a solid group of friends. I happily ran a number of repeats in the semi-freezing temps while others crushed as well, most notably the ever-impressive Paige Claassen firing 'The Quickening' 13c in a day- just sickening.
Of the utmost importance is the following spray about Andy Mann and I's team slide-show at the Boulder Rock Club 8pm this Wednesday. Titled 'Colorado Burl', it will showcase some of the sickest trad, sport and boulder climbing routes the front range has to offer. Expect to be entertained to the maximum, drink some free beer (Avery no doubt) and maybe even walk away with some Arcteryx, Sportiva or Boulder Rock Club swag. Sounds like a ball right?! oh yeah, and it's FREE, although there will be a donation jar (WINK, WINK). Be there!!
I am hoping to get away next weekend but the weather is not looking too promising around here. Within 6 hours of Boulder- In search of a brilliant pump and some enjoyable temps- any suggestions? yeah.. I'm thinking wyoming...

Don't forget to get your plastic training on for the first of the Boulder Climbing Series competitions coming up just around the corner (Oct 16th). This will unfortunately be the one and only of the series that I will be able to set for- so if you're fiendin' for some challenging JSTAR routes you can't miss it!

Photo: Paige gettin' down to business while B-Real and I are looking G-ed up from the feet up at the Monastery, straight freezing!