Friday, April 30

a little front range love.

First off.. BIG thanks to the community for coming out last night and making 'Colorado Burl Part 2' a huge success. Community events such as these are vital to our culture and an awesome opportunity to share inspiration with one another. Matt Wilder, Andy Mann and I are all super grateful to have had the chance to share some tales of Front Range burl and a taste of our passion with everybody.. and in exchange we shared a sh*t ton of loot and a keg of tasty brew!! (seems like a fair trade) Thanks to Neptunes for hosting such a cool event, our title sponsor ARCTERYX for swag galore, and Avery for enough I.P.A. to go around (a couple times). If you made it out, we hope you had a killer time.. if you missed it, keep your eyes out for an event near you! Colorado Burl might be going on the road.

120+ people!
'Arcteryx packs for $5 raffle.. WHAT?!'
In the spirit of the Front Range, I've been hiking into the Flatirons recently to check out a couple fresh routes I hadn't yet put down. My dad and I got out for a morning early in the week to check out a new addition to Dinosaur Mountain my buddies Matt Samet and Ted Lanzano put up last fall called 'Ultrasaurus'. Directly next to the also new classic 'Milk Bone' 13a, 'Ultrasaurus' 13b is a mega pitch that ascends bomber flatirons sandstone for a full 35meters. Standing at the precarious base of this climb, I racked up a healthy 15 quickdraws and took to this beast expecting a monumental flash pump. I quickly discovered that 15 draws was not enough, and I had to strategically skip 3 bolts to make my onsight- thankfully I'm into that kind of thing. Verdict? This route KILLZ! Super fun climbing for a long time, and a nice compliment to it's neighbor. Big props to Matt and Ted.

'Ultrasaurus' 13b Andy Mann Photo
Andy Mann Photo
Despite an impeding thunder storm, I urged the crew to wander up the hill to a sick little route I had checked out briefly last year. 'The Horn Project', aka 'Spitzelhorn', aka 'Der Horn' is the wildly overhanging, proud arete just a little left of the classic slab route 'Drugs' 11b up towards the top of Dinosaur Mountain. Ted and Matt bolted this crazy little route last year and after some attempts gave me a shot at it. In some depressing heat I managed all but one move, which proved really difficult to even try due to the final bolt position. A few weeks back Matt shot me an email and let me know they had moved the final bolt enough to allow for the sequence to be more properly worked.

The impeding thunder storm arrived with vigor just as we set up at the base of The Horn Project, but I did barely manage pull through and hang some draws before my belayer was soaked and ready to leave (sorry Dad!). A few days later I returned in crisp temps, not expecting much other than to get a sequence worked out. The new bolt position turned out to be perfect for working the crux moves although it would never be clipped on the go- In many ways this is a bolt protected boulder problem. It's not that it could be protected with pads, (not even for K Jorg!) but it's that you climb 30 feet of 5.11, clip, and then fire a 9 move, brutal crux sequence above your final bolt to a finishing jug. Finicky body position, precision dead-points and sharp flatirons crimps characterize this bouldery route. As soon as I got my sequence figured out I decided to lower to the ground and give it a proper effort. Second try I took the slightly terrifying fall from the final, sideways dead-point. Stoked, I lowered and gave it 5 min before roping up and clipping chains. Super stoked! More than anything, it means the world to me to be able to make a contribution to one of my favorite areas that's history has largely defined my pursuit. 'The Horn' is a great new addition, that will suit bouldery rope climbers well. I estimated a 5.13+ grade, although depending on one's preferences and/or abilities it may feel easier, or perhaps harder.. bottom line is that there is a new hard route in the Flatirons and I'm proud to be (partly) responsible! HUGE thanks to Ted and Matt for all the work and money they have invested in the Flatirons over the years, and for handing over such a kick ass route for my efforts. Andy Mann was there on the send taking some footage- stay tuned for a video short on my F.A. of 'The Horn'.

F.A. 'The Horn' 13+ Andy Mann Photo
While Paige fires through her final exams, I'm busy getting all set for our fast approaching and much anticipated road trip. Despite how much I look forward to trips, they always seem to sneak up on me. There comes a pivotal moment when I suddenly realize the imminence of departure, and for a second I'm overwhelmed with stress.. which quickly dissolves to excitement along with a furry of guidebook studying, beta soliciting and Internet image searching.. We've got 7 killer North American spots planned out, and we will likely add a couple along the way. First stop? The mighty Smith Rocks.. an American super-crag with a history unmatched. A number of the countries most transformative routes lie there, and many ancient test-pieces still bought the best of us. I've been dreaming of visiting Smith Rocks since I first started rock climbing, and this area has long captivated my attention despite it's current 'off-radar' position in the limelight.

We'll be there in under a week, and I couldn't be more stoked. After a couple weeks in Smith we are going to make our way north through the Seattle area (a spot I visited last summer and total fell in love with), carrying on up through Canada as the summer temps heat up. LaSportiva will be with us all along the way, posting some rad and unique content on their LIVE site as we *hopefully* crush everything in our path!

Our good friends at Primus generously hooked us up with some killer cooking gear to make the back of my Subaru a little more comfortable. I've completely geeked out over the Primus EtaExpress recently, clocking its lightning fast boil time (fastest on the market) and admiring its pack-ability.. avoiding the use of my range top stove at all costs.

EtaExpress makes it HOT
I'll likely get one more post off before we hit the road and then I'll be reporting from the field. If anyone has got advice, beta or suggestions on Smith or the North-West please feel free to post it up! Cheers!

Sunday, April 25

Colorado Burl VOL 2!

Are you a Front Range Freak, upset by continued wintery conditions, just dying for some quality psych-heightening Colorado love??!!?! Well, have we got just the event for you! Join myself, pro photog Andy Mann and my boy Matt Wilder for an evening of jaw-dropping Colorado imagery, community building, story telling, trivia, ridiculous raffling, hooting and (last but not least) hollering at Neptune Mountaineering- this upcoming Thursday April 29 at 8pm. Andy and I put on a killer slide-show last fall that we have improved and polished for a part 2 showing. This FREE show, titled 'Colorado Burl', is a first hand audio/visual tour of Front Range classic (and brand new) test-pieces that is sure to inspire. If photos aren't your thing, you're sure to get stoked on a wicked raffle ($5) generously sponsored by Arcteryx, Mountain Hardware and Mountain Smith.. plus we have Avery beer!

To wet your appetite for Andy Mann Photo quality- have a look at some wicked images has posted on our road trip through the North-West last fall. See you guys n gals Thursday!!

Tuesday, April 20

the Mountain Park...

After an excited and extremely informative beta spray down from my good buddy Nick Martino on one of America's best kept secrets, Mill Creek, Paige and I were Utah bound with turbo vigor, powered by the WRX. We took a weekend trip to this killer area last fall and left with huge smiles and some proud success. Despite the small size of this area, it packs a great number of 'kick in mouth' hard routes and is sure to inspire. Mill Creek stands out to me as perhaps America's prettiest crag- and definitely one of it's hardest as well.

Weather was amazing when we arrived, and with my cryptic beta-map scribbles in hand, I was stoked to attempt some un-repeated burly classics as well as polish off some amazing moderates I hadn't had a chance to sample before... however, despite approaching in short sleeves, we found the deep, tight canyon buried in snow. The warm weather was pushing melt-off from near by hill-sides directly over the sandstone cliffs, turning most of the crag to a raging waterfall. Along with heavy run-off from above, the floor of the canyon was either covered in 2 feet of slush or 5 saturated inches of mud - super unpleasant. Still *kinda* stoked, we warmed up and made the best of it, climbing whatever wasn't soaking. There did happen to be one classic burl route left for me at the Wicked Crag that was bone dry. 'Aesthetics' is appropriately named for it's jaw dropping beauty.

approaching the crux of Aesthetics 5.13. Ben Randolph Photos.
I did it's neighboring route, 'Prosthetics' 13d, last fall, but didn't have a chance to do the straight up version (Aesthetics). This route is laughably called 5.13a by Moab locals, but took me the same amount of effort as it's 'much harder' neighbor. Perhaps I missed something or maybe I could blame it on my height (pretty please!!), but I would be quick to say it felt in the same general ball-park of difficulty as Prosthetics.. dang Moab sandbaggers!!!

lowering into a tree was the dry climbing shoe beta
Paige crushes Bow Spirit 13a. Jstar Photo
After a solid, albeit soaking, day at Mill Creek we had to consider other options.. conveniently between us and home, just a half hour off of I-70 lay a historical Colorado hard man/woman area that I had yet to visit.. an area that I was destined to arrive at sooner or later- and it would take a situation such as this to finally draw me there...

Those who know me (and probably many that don't), know that I had never climbed at the beloved Rifle Mountain Park. For years I resisted the weekend regular, 3.5 hour climbing-sticker-laden Subaru caravan from Boulder to New Castle. For a long time now, I've received shocking stares when I interrupt the, 'you know the kneebar on Pump-O-Rama, how it.. (etc.)', with, 'Dude. Sorry, but... I've never been to Rifle'... Some reply with aggressive shouting and poor language, others with physical abuse, and some just quietly peer into my eyes and turn their heads with disbelief. Kidding. Kind of.

It seems you can't just like Rifle, you have to LOVE it like a stranded kitten, direly in need of a raised arm to escape the height of a tree limb. It's THAT GOOD, people would say. However, I refrained. While many of my friends were logging thousands of miles on I-70, I was hiking 'insane' lengths to access un-repeated front range classics and bush-whacking hours to find gems that Tommy Caldwell and Colin Lantz had left for us many years ago. I had plenty to do close by and I grew to love obscure climbs, and the solitude (which I'd heard Rifle was severely in lack of). However, just like those said Legends did in the 90's, I'm running desperately low on inspiration close by (currently reduced to 1-star climbs, link-ups and repeats). I knew I would eventually make it to Rifle, I guess I just wanted to wait it out as long as possible- mostly to spite Chris Weidner and Tony Yao!! (you win guys.. you win..)

I have never arrived at a climbing area with near as much expectation as I had when I first pulled into Rifle this past weekend- I'd heard everything.. choss, crowds, beauty, Dave Pegg's dogs, spray, kneebars, chipped holds, glue, burl, picnic tables, some crazy high-pitched rhythmic bird noise.. everything. However, I tried to put it all aside, and let my loving girlfriend (who loves Rifle), give me a tour of the historic canyon for a day and half. So, without further ado- here are my first impressions.

super stoked
The climbing is SUPER unique, and immediately I curbed my ego and accepted that it would take me some time to become comfortable with the style. The canyon is much more beautiful than I expected and the routes are much uglier than I expected - it really is, for the most part, choss. Despite the lack of jaw-dropping aesthetics and the existence of standout lines, the movement is fun. The classics are polished to a degree I thought unimaginable, however, as I would eventually find out- if you apply pressure your feet actually do stick (probably the trickiest part of learning to climb here I would say). It's more compact than I thought (whole canyon is ~2 miles)- people really drive between these cliffs.. serious? The river-side hangout is very cool, although I can imagine being not psyched on crowds in the high season. 'Pretty Hate Machine' 12c is not very good, IMO (sorry!). 'I'm not a Philistine' 12c is amazing (yes!!).

Like I mentioned, I lowered my expectations considerably here.. it's well known that flash climbing in Rifle is very difficult and the unique arrangement of poor opposing holds and horrible feet is really hard to pick up on right away. I did, however, manage to onsight a couple 12+ and flash a super fun 13a, 'Poetic Justice'. I also put down the incredible 'Anti-Phil' 13b, which I thought was WICKED good and very hard at the grade (perhaps cause I didn't use the chipped hold and I mistakenly missed the sit-down rest). By the end of our long day and evening there I definitely felt like I was beginning to get the hang of things, but I'm not ready to say I know the style yet by any means.

Like any crag (save the Red), Rifle has it's ups and downs- to me the ups are a copious amount of hard climbing, great history and a beautiful setting. Downs include mostly choss quality rock, high crowds/traffic and generally ugly routes. However, overall, I left stoked. Just to stand in a beautiful canyon full of difficulty that I haven't touched, within 4 hours of my house is MAD inspiring. Not to mention I finally won't have any trouble finding partners. I'll be returning to Rifle for sure, kneepads in hand.

In the spirit of Colorado Burl, I want to announce a WICKED slide-show that Andy Mann, Matt Wilder and I are putting on at Neptunes Mountaineering on the 27th of April at 8pm. Titled 'Colorado Burl: Part 2' we will be highlighting a number of the Front Range's best and hardest climbs, complete with stories, trivia, a generously sponsored raffle by ARCTERYX, Mountain Hardware and MountainSmith and yes.. shhhh.. Avery Beer. I'll remind you next week. See you there!

Monday, April 12

Numbers and things

At times I can't help but feel that our tools for measuring an individuals worth as a rock climber have become too quantitative. I strongly believe that the talent and ability of a rock climber cannot be judged on paper, or tallied up numerically. I stand by this statement for many reasons, but right now I've focused my rant on why style matters, two fold..

I admire pursuits like skateboarding, freeride mountain biking and surfing because there is a special respect reserved for those who do things really well.. more specifically, athletes are applauded when they execute with impeccable style, even in the case that the accomplishment or trick is perhaps not the hardest ever. Obviously, the title of 'the best' would be reserved for those who command impressive style on feats of cutting edge difficulty.

Honed technique is always inspiring to watch, and every confident climber has a unique style of their own. I'm always captivated when climbers administer true style on a route or a boulder, using empowered movement and smooth connectivity. It's not necessarily that they make everything appear easy, but more that they exhibit their confidence and control in such a way that spells out S-K-I-L-L-S . We all flail from time to time, especially when we try hard- and it would be a lie to say I don't derive inspiration from watching a redline, hail Mary, final effort attempt. However, I will admit that I hold my highest respect for those that make climbing look beautiful- regardless of the number grade, regardless of the specific discipline. It would seem that in today's climbing world athletes have been reduced to a numerical worth, but I still believe there is value in style. Naturally we will all admire those pushing the limits of pure difficulty, but I'll always save some respect for those climbing with fresh technique and style, at any grade.

Lynn Hill executes Doric Dihedral (5.12) with impeccable style.. [ANDY MANNphoto]

Marshal Balick executes the back 9 with impeccable style..

Secondly, everyone has strengths and weaknesses and given the shocking diversity of skills needed for all the many forms of rock climbing, it will likely always be this way. It would seem impossible to hone the strength and skill set necessary to climb all forms of rock at a top level at the same time. Let alone to focus on all the specific abilities such as lock-offs, mono-pulling, off-widths, underclings, footwork, etc (to name a couple). Given that all climbers have strengths and weaknesses (and no two bodies are the exact same size, etc)- it's pretty naive to think that a 5.13x to one will feel exactly 5.13x to another. Grades are merely a suggestion and a guideline. I feel that deep down it's all about how hard we try. Like I've mentioned before, the greater effort we put in, the greater success finally feels. No one but you really knows how hard you're trying- no need to lie to yourself, or others. Sometimes 5.11 (5.14, whatever) will feel easy and sometimes you're gonna have to work your ass off for it. I've flashed 5.14a's and also invested three days in the grade within the same month- one achievement might look way better on paper, but I know which send I value more.. If we all only pursued climbs that catered to our strengths, we might have a more impressive resume, but we'd never progress- and worse yet, we might never have the chance to really put in SERIOUS effort!

'Vogue' 5.14, tested every one of my weaknesses [ANDY MANN photo]

If you're reading this sentence, it means you made it through my rant- congrats! Feel free to leave comments and counter-rants if you're feeling inspired.

Speaking of inspiration, the weather in the Front Range has FINALLY cleared up a bit and everyone seems to be sending. I've been rope-bouldering at the local choice powerhouse, the Primo Wall, a bit, with the intention on building my power-endurance up. This little wall always offers a worthy fatigue, and has been a great training ground for me ever since last spring when I first checked it out (probably because it's the closest thing to bouldering I really ever do). I managed to finish all the choice hard climbing there last year, so my returns this year have been purely for training and getting outside. After repeating the top-notch 5.13s at the Primo, my good buddy Nick Duttle (Primo Wall link-up mastermind) suggested a new challenge that would likely be the hardest at the wall- the line begins with the crux of Primeval (14a) and continues through the midsection of Shine (14a), directly finishing on the brutal crux of Grim Aura (13d). After revisiting the bottom of Primeval and the crux of Grim Aura, I expected the link-up to take me some sincere effort- although knowing that it would be just the kind of training I was after. Surprisingly, I fired this taxing link-up the next day. To me, this definitely felt harder than 'Primetime to Shine' (14b). This rig is a power endurance test-piece that adds a proper challenge and enough unique climbing to make it a worth-while tick. I'm hesitant to name yet another link-up at the Primo, but to simplify things I'm calling it 'Suprimo'.

!tortilla chips!
Paige and I have also been hiking to the Monastery- finding mostly bitter cold (like, HEINOUS cold), although we had a brilliant day of May-like weather up there yesterday. Paige invested a killer burn on the classic 'Third Millennium' 13d, and I cranked some training laps on that and it's bouldery neighbor 'The Quickening' 13c- two amazing, difficult rock climbs. We were joined by a bunch of good friends, climbed in T-shirts and laid out in Rocky Mountain sunshine- brilliant.

Now we're packing up for a trip to the incredible Mill Creek, outside Moab, to grab some of the countries best sandstone- with a 7 week road trip on the horizon. Motivation!

Thursday, April 1

Rock climbing has a uniquely potent capacity to probe, inflate and also crush egos. Everyone, regardless of ability level or investment, has experienced frustration at one point or another-even the world's best. Personally, I've noticed my periods of frustration and low psych have only intensified as I've grown and progressed as a rock climber. The more skilled I've become, the more I've come to expect of myself and the more I notice even the slightest fluctuations in my own specific abilities.

I think many would agree that the very reasons why climbing can cause frustration and anxiety are the same reasons why we love the hell out of this pursuit. The blissful rewards of hard work and dedication give meaning and purpose to our frustration. The hard part is seeing the whole picture when you fall off your project for the umpteenth time- it's difficult to have perspective in those moments (if not simply perspective on climbing, even life itself!). In reality, pushing your own limits as a climber (and in most other life cases) will be heavily saturated with failure- instances of success will be few and far between. Learning to positively deal with and reflect on failure and unmet expectations is much more a part of growth than learning how to spray about a hard send. If you allow yourself to deeply fear failure, you will never truly progress and you'll probably never send your proj.

I had one primary goal for last weeks trip to the Virgin River Gorge- the all-American classic, 'Necessary Evil' 14c. After warming up on our first day, I immediately jumped on this test-piece, and right away I was both shocked by its difficulty and stoked on my progress, doing essentially all but one move on my first attempt. Unfortunately, that one move would plague the rest of my trip and despite a few moments of inspiration (and even lowered expectations/goals), I would eventually leave empty handed. After spending essentially the entire previous month dreaming about this climb and my first trip to the V.R.G., I was for sure bummed when we left. On our final day, when whining to local hard-man and wicked photog Jorge Visser, he promptly replied with, 'Well.. go home, train, and come back'. True. And that's my plan, I'll save my second round of effort for the cold winter months, and I plan to return fully prepared. I'm stoked already!

are there any 5.10b here or what!?
The V.R.G. is hard, but quality exists at nearly every grade (well, really above 11+). The conditions can be a bit brutal given the wind and hot/cold that exists in the desert landscape, not to mention the nearby interstate. However, I think it's worth mentioning that although the road noise, exhaust and general discomfort of I-15 is like, right there, Paige and I both thought that said annoyances were a bit over-hyped.. it's not that bad.. especially considering how focused you will be on bullet rock grabbing and heart pounding run-outs.

the VRG.. be afraid!
In between frustrating burns I did sample some of the slightly easier, ULTRA high quality routes that the V.R.G. has to offer. I onsighted 'Joe's Six Pack' 13a, which is a hell of a ride- half a dozen 5.12 cruxes separated by decent rests carries you endlessly up the Planet Earth wall. This is potentially the best 13a I've ever done (did it 2 more times cause it's that good). I also onsighted all but the bottom (shares a start) of the incredible 'Don't Call me Dude' 13c - a resistance masterpiece with only one rest in 100 feet. The same day I onsighted the hyper classic 'Fall of Man' 13b - a wickedly long, bullet 'slab' which induces a calve pump that will have you limping around the crag for days, and squeezes a terrified whimper from even the boldest of sport climbers- think RUN OUT.

not a bad place to wake up
In addition to some fun, albeit ass kicking, days at the V.R.G. we also got to visit with awesome friends, check out Zion National Park (a world class destination, if only for the views), poach a solid day of tanning poolside at a casino in Mesquite and cruise the strip in St. George for hours (great way to raise confidence!).

When our asses (read: egos) hurt bad enough we took off for a couple days into one of my favorite areas, Utah's San Rafael Swell. This vast area holds some of the most incredible natural formations I've experienced in the world and should be a destination for anyone who is at all fascinated with the desert. We hiked a couple super cool slot canyons and spent some time exploring Goblins Valley, which I've told many people is perhaps the single most unique landscape of natural formations I've ever seen- totally mind blowing. Can't help but be happy when exploring the Goblins, baking in the Utah desert sun.

Little Wild Horse Canyon
Goblin Valley- go there

Now, I'm back in Boulder and I've got a whole new wave of motivation. The weather is clearing up and I'm VERY psyched to rap down some potential new routes I scoped out last year to bolt, get up some old routes left on my to-do list and waste away lengthening daylight hours outside grabbing stone. I'll be headed out to Utah in a couple weeks, as well as up to Wyoming and in less than I month I'm on the road- that's motivation. Cheers!

perfect form