Pilgrimage to Mecca

Yosemite Valley is a location that all climbers are drawn to. It is a narrow valley with immense granite walls but also littered with smaller crags and of course some boulders. I’ve always considered it a source of embarrassment that I had not been to Yosemite. Sure I had plans in the past to go there but something always came up; work, coaching, life… The truth is I was scared. Scared of just about everything to do with the valley. I was scared of the height of the walls, the commitment required once you leave the ground and of course I was scared of failing. I know _how_ to climb cracks I’m just not very good. I know _how_ to climb granite I’m just not very good. So, um, yeah… something always came up.

However in March one of my all time favorite climbing partners and granite master Will Stanhope obviously got pretty desperate and went pretty low down on his list of partners to ask if I wanted to help him out on an ‘El Cap spirit quest’ in early May (I’ll let him elaborate on what the actual quest was). As I said, something always comes up but this time I told Will I’d be there, unfortunately only for a week since I had to fly to Europe for work in the middle of May.

Now I knew going into this trip that I was getting a week of guiding from one of the top granite free climbers around. I would just be able to show up and have Will drag me around the Valley. I’m not sure Will was expecting the same thing. A few years ago we went to Indian Creek for a three week trip and there Will got a glimpse of how pathetic I am as a crack climber. He would soon find out just how pathetic I am as a wall climber.

I was hoping that spending the last few weeks climbing some of the longer routes around Las Vegas would at least help me with some of the systems and rope management but I was excited to learn some new tricks as well both in terms of systems but also granite climbing techniques. Mostly I was just looking forward to hanging out with an old friend and belaying him on his project. Any additional climbing would be a bonus.

Panorama showing Middle Cathedral and El Capitan

I drove into the valley early on the Saturday morning but still not early enough for Will. He had already done a bit of a mission that morning. I was stiff and tired from driving from Las Vegas but excited to be there. We decided to take it easy and headed for the Cookie Cliffs. We did a few single pitch routes before launching up ‘Butterballs’ on the Nabisco Wall (in the blazing sun). I took the 11c pitch and managed to onsight it but was definitely sliding around a bit. Then Will waltzed up just smearing outside the crack and almost lie-backing using the finger locks. It looked so casual! First day and I was learning already!

Looking out at Half Dome from Astroman.

The second day we decided to try and do Astroman as an ‘intro’ to the valley. Astroman is definitely one of the classic free climbs in Yosemite and was on my list of routes I’d like to attempt. We managed to cruise up it with Will taking the ‘Enduro Corner’ and the ‘Harding Slot’. I fell getting into the constriction of the slot but pulled back on and with Will telling me he didn’t think I’d fit through the slot I went to the edge and lie-backed the outside. Definitely cheating and I need to go back and suffer properly.

Will checking out the Topo with Half Dome in the background.

The next few days were spent trying to figure out the best way to work Will’s project. The weather in the early spring was finicky and we got chased off El Cap a few times by rain. We would spend the mornings trying some classic single pitch routes which allowed me to practice, and learn, how to crack climb better and then we’d head for El Cap and set up shop for the afternoon. In the seven days I was there we were only able to spend one good afternoon trying Will’s project although we tried 3-4 days. Mostly the weather was an issue but also logistics of getting set up (aid climbing is terrifying and takes awhile). After a few sessions on the crux section Will figured out some beta but realized he would need a longer trip to really put in an effort to free the entire route.

Will trying to sort out beta.

 

Posing on Separate Reality

That left us with one day to climb. Will asked if there was anything that I’d like to do and I told him that I’d like to get to the top of El Capitan. Whether we hiked up the back and rapped in on a few lines or went up the face it didn’t matter to me. He said “Well, we could try to do The Nose in a day.”. Honestly, that would be ticking a box on the lifetime bucket list. Will had done ‘The Nose’ in a day before and I didn’t want him to waste a day on me but he seemed pretty psyched by it and I was definitely excited to try. We spent the evening talking to people and trying to get information on the best way to approach it. The consensus was to lead it in blocks, with the leader short-fixing and trying to climb fast and the second jugging a line and cleaning. This was all stuff that I had never done and required being pretty comfortable running it out something that Will was exceptional at and me, not so much.

A view of El Capitan from the meadow.

 

Will starting up the nose just after the sun had risen.

The next morning we woke up pretty early, had our coffee and drove to the meadow to rack up. We probably should have done that the night before but whatever. We hiked in to the base of ‘The Nose’ just as the sun was rising and there were already four parties ahead of us. They all looked to be hauling bags and were going to spend some time up on the rock. We didn’t really have that option; 1) we had no provisions and 2) I had to fly to Germany from Las Vegas at 10am the next day. Will took the first block and was climbing in control, not rushing since the rock was still a little damp from the morning dew and last few days of rain. Once he fixed the rope I tried to jug behind as quick as I could. It had been years since I had used two ascenders. All the jugging I do is to put up single pitch sport routes or take photos. A jumar and a gri-gri are good enough for that. Once I got into a rhythm it was easy. On the slabs it felt like cross-country skiing and on the steeper stuff it was definitely taxing. Will passed a couple of the parties at the first ledge and then decided to keep going since there was still one party ahead of us and he would climb faster than I would. By the time he was done we were already on the top of Dolt Tower and then it was my turn. I tried to climb fast and run it out but the key to leading in blocks with the short fixing is that as the leader you have to leave the belay before the second gets there. That means that you better have enough gear for a few pitches. I wasn’t that comfortable and ended up waiting for Will a lot to give me more gear. I took us up the Texas Flake, the Boot Flake to a few pitches below the Great Roof. Then a storm started moving in and we decided we should pick up the pace (let Will go first). He sprinted off, up the and around the Great Roof, through the Changing Corners and Glowering Spot to a few pitches below the top. The climbing seemed endless. Pitch after pitch of 5.9-5.11 with some aid moves thrown in to get past the cruxes. Of course I was just jugging it all with Will having to wait for me. I then took the last two (?) pitches up to a bolt ladder and around to the summit just as the sun was setting. I actually forgot to look down from the top I was so tired. All in all we did the climbing in just over 13 hours. I was by far and away the weak link and slowed Will down considerably but I definitely appreciated being dragged up ‘The Nose’. I definitely want to go back and try to climb a lot more of the pitches.

By the time we hiked down, sorted gear and I packed up it was 11pm. With a seven hour drive to Las Vegas I was going to be cutting it pretty close. That was one of the most tired drives I have ever done. I had to pull over twice for quick 15 minute naps and then keep going. I got home with enough time to shower, pack quickly and grab a ride to the airport. Fortunately I made it on time and a few hours later I was landing in Munich having completed to coveted top of El Cap to Germany link-up.

Fields outside of Munich

 

 

You know you're in Germany when...

Moving On (and Out)

Well it’s official. The climbing season at the Virgin River Gorge is definitely over and I can no longer say I have a villa in Mesquite, NV. That’s the worst part. I just like saying the word villa.

Weather forecast. 100!!!

I tried to get out there a few days in early April and actually had my best day on ‘Necessary Evil’ by getting through the bottom boulder problem three times. The next time I went out however I barely made it through and couldn’t relax enough before the upper crux to even chalk up. The rock was too warm. My skin and shoes were sliding and every move felt desperate. While there were a few more days forecast as being windy and cool, the overnight lows were not low enough to cool the rock down. Such a crazy, condition dependent place.

So I’m already planning for next season. I have a better idea of what to train for (hopefully I can actually train unlike last year when I had a finger injury) and I’m excited to get back there a little stronger and knowing the route as well as I do now. I’m not upset I didn’t redpoint it this year; it’s all part of the process. I was happy to have a project that hard to work on and I am excited with how good the route started to feel.

The Metolius Crew at the Red Rock Rendezvous

I decided to mix up my focus a bit in the last few weeks and try to get out in the canyons of Red Rocks. Having lived in Las Vegas for five years it was embarrassing to say that I had only done two multi-pitch climbs prior to this spring; Cloud Tower and Frogland. That’s it!!! The whole shift in focus started with Rob Jensen mentioning off-hand that we should go to Zion one day in early March after climbing at the VRG and Lime Kiln the day before. We got a really late start (it was the same day as the gold medal hockey game) and didn’t summit Monkey Finger but it was still a fun day. Since then I’ve been trying to get out at least one day on the weekends and it’s been great!! I’ve learned a lot and the fitness gained from hiking back into the canyons with a heavy pack is always welcome.

Rob Jensen on Monkey Finger

I did manage to get one day back out to Lime Kiln and my days spent in the canyons didn’t affect me too much as I managed to tick off a couple of 5.13s and did a quick ascent of ‘Magnum Opus’, an absolutely stellar route put up by Todd Perkins and getting some attention recently. I’m a little upset I didn’t try to onsight this route. I lowered down it (it shares the anchors with another route) and put a few draws on and then stopped and tried what looked like a devious little move of a two finger pocket/edge (my fingers don’t fit in the pocket so it’s an edge). I did the move first try, lowered to the ground and then onsighted the rest of the route. I probably wouldn’t have onsighted the whole thing but you never know and by trying that move I took away that opportunity. When I was traveling a lot I tried to onsight every route I got on. I lost that mindset a little bit and I regret not even trying. Oh well, I still enjoyed it and had a great day out there with some friends from Vancouver.

Posing on Frigidaire Buttress

Relaxing at a Pool Party

Up next is a whirlwind of travel that will most likely leave me exhausted and sick but then training starts in June! Off to Yosemite for a week :) .

Mt Wilson and Rainbow Mtn bathed in the morning sun.

 

 

 

Necessary Frustration :)

I’ve been delaying posting an update for awhile since I had hoped to be able to deliver good news. Unfortunately I haven’t redpointed ‘Necessary Evil’ yet but I’m still trying, learning and psyched on it. I don’t think I’ve become too upset about it. The reality is every time I link the bottom two boulder problems I am pretty happy. I told myself I’d fall at the upper crux more than 20 times and I only hit 20 yesterday so…

I’m sure most of you have seen this by now but earlier this year world class pro-climber, film-maker extraordinaire and all around nice guy Joe Kinder took the time to film the route, interview me and put together a short clip about the process and steps I have made towards working ‘Necessary Evil’. It captures the effort required to project above your ability, especially at a place as condition dependent as the VRG. I really like the outcome, thanks Joe!

 

I was actually prompted to write this update for a couple reasons; one being a slideshow Jonathan Siegrist gave to the Las Vegas climbing community last week and another being a post from a friend I read this week.

Jonathan’s slideshow was about failure, success and goals and it struck a chord with me. I don’t actually think I process failure the same way anymore but I definitely remember getting really upset when I thought I was going to do a route and didn’t or I thought I should do well in a competition and I didn’t. Nowadays climbing ‘success’ isn’t quite as important to me but I am still trying to push myself physically. What I really liked about Jonathan’s slideshow was that he was willing to share his failures and his goals for the summer. It’s hard to make your goals public and I wish Jonathan the best of luck. It’s not up to me to share his goals but I’m sure he will eventually on his website.

The blog I read this week was from Justin Roth and he wrote a little note on what he called ‘The Zone of Unbearable Frustration‘. It’s something that anyone who has tried routes at or above their ability can relate to and honestly that’s where I am on ‘Necessary Evil’. My plan with NE was to get on it in November, figure out a sequence, train when it was too cold in December/January and then get back on it and send in February or March. Unfortunately the weather was so good in December that I just kept getting on it and making progress. In fact on New Year’s Eve I linked to the ‘Route of All Evil’ crux twice. Through January I kept getting back up there but eventually I started getting burned out. When in full redpoint mode you don’t train as hard, trying to save your energy for the redpoint days, and eventually you get weaker. Work got busy in February and I don’t remember if I even linked up to the last hard move. Fortunately the last few times I’ve been out there I’ve felt strong and have made it back up there. It’s  not quite unbearable frustration because I knew all along that ‘failure’ was a possibility but it is definitely getting close.

So what I have learned this season:
- NOAA point forecast is amazing. I’ve used this tool before but I haven’t see the hourly forecast. In the bottom right, click on the ‘Hourly Weather Graph’. It shows forecasts for  temperatures, humidity, wind (direction and gusts). Awesome. Conditions at the VRG involve the humidity, wind and temperature. Humidity under 30%, temperatures between 55-65 and wind > 5mph is what you want. Even with all the information you still don’t know until you get to the crag.
- Crimping is painful. I hate crimping. No wait. I love crimping. Crimps are the BEST!
- Broadband in Mesquite is pretty much non-existent. Reliance Connect sucks!!!
- It would really help if I was a lot stronger.
- Be a nice guy and make lots of friends since you are going to run out of belayers eventually. So far this year I have used at least 10 different belayers. I’d name them all but don’t want to leave anyone out. Let me think about it.
- Dan Mirsky is a super talented climber and a strong mofo. I’ve known he was good for awhile but watching him waltz through the crux of ‘Route of All Evil’ was both humbling and inspiring. Congrats on your send Dan!
- Going for a run in the morning helps make early morning climbing a teency-tiny bit more enjoyable.
- Crazy glue and tape are your friend when conditions are warm and you start losing skin.
- I can’t redpoint with crazy glue and tape on my fingers
- Last but not least I have learned that I can do this route. I haven’t done it yet but I know it’s possible.

Just above 'The Route of all Evil' crux

You’ll only want to read the following if you are really bored. At the end of climbing seasons I’ll usually write out my internal thoughts I use when visualizing the route. I actually sent this to myself as an email so I can go back to it next fall when preparing to get back on it. IF I don’t send in the next few weeks :) . When I’m away from the climb I focus on seeing the whole climb from the first person perspective so the climb feels more familiar when I get back on it. This is what’s going through my mind when visualizing NE, starting on the ground.

Start  breathing deep and really focus on that first hard move. Once your breathing is rhythmic step towards the wall. Check your knot, check your belayer. Grab the left hand starting hold. Start with the middle two fingers, get them right then drop the pinky down and bring the index finger in, thumb pinches. Place right foot high on the outside of the ledge. Make the first move up with the right hand to the sidepull. Get two fingers pulling slightly up and two fingers straight sideways. Match feet, right foot goes out to a sloping edge left foot to the top left of the ramp. Reach up to the finger slot with left hand, drop pinky in first and settle bottom three fingers in the lower part, index finger sits alone but doesn’t do much yet. Spin on right foot and place left foot super accurately on a tiny chip. Right foot comes up to a bad glassy foot. Reach up right to the spike, index finger and thumb wrap the spike while pinky and ring finger find some texture to rest on. Adjust left hand, pulling more with index finger now. Move left foot up to a glassy foot and right foot out to a hidden chip. Tighten up against the wall and pull with the right foot to reach the right hand up to the pinch. Concentrate on pinky finger and thumb, once placed squeeze all. Bump right foot up 4 inches then left foot hooked around the sharp foot. Pull hard with left foot and reach up to the glass pinch. Aim with the pinky finger to the little spike and try to force the other fingers down on to it. Once finger are placed get the thumb on top part of pinch and turn the fingers to half crimp and SQUEEZE. Move right foot up to center of foothold, drop the heel and rotate hard to a kneedrop, make sure the foot is placed well and can take a lot of weight. Move left foot up to sideways foot. Drop down, try to pull down with left hand and move right hand to the sharp crimp. Aim with the ring finger to bottom of indent, middle finger beside it, pinky on top of ring finger and thumb on the side. Crimp HARD. Drop left foot back to sharp foot hold and pull in tight to wall to move left hand quickly to the sloping crimp. Aim with index finger. If your right foot comes off, don’t worry about it, you can just campus left foot up. Bring left foot up to the slot and stand tight to the wall, pull up and sight the next big hold. Try to only move the left hand but shoot it out to the hold. No matter how you get it step through with your right foot to the small chip and bump right hand in to intermediate. Adjust left hand, left foot up then right foot to the small nubbin. Clip. Bend left arm and reach up to four finger crimp, concentrate on index finger. It’s a slick hold so stay tight to the wall. Left foot up to some texture then right foot onto the intermediate. Left hand up, adjust body and fire left hand up to the resting hold. Left foot up, clip and relax tight against the wall. Piano fingers to match and focus on leaning left and breathing. Match hands but only worry about index and middle finger of left hand. Shake a few times and focus on next crux. Move left hand to far left of hold, adjust right hand so pinky finger sits at the bottom of the angle. Grab left intermediate, move left foot to left facing vertical foot and bump right foot up to a smear. Focus on edge and pull hard, trying to stay tight to the wall. Make sure to crimp it and try to wrap the thumb up. Right foot up to good foot, right hand bird-beak the pocket with index and ring. Mock crimp with middle finger on top, Left foot in to small foot (under roof, make sure foot is at the back) and stand tall to bring right foot up to heel. Bump right hand to sloping crimp, pull up, adjust left foot to the left and pull down more. Sight up the sloping pinch and fire right hand. Get the pinch and immediately reach out left to the good crimp. Slide heel to toe and place left foot accurately. Clip, chalk and breathe. Adjust hands back and forth and breathe. Quick shake when leaving. Bring left foot in to intermediate, right foot up to tiny chip and place it accurate. Right hand up to gaston crimp, index finger in little notch. Left foot out to big sloping foothold and lean to the right as you move the left hand up to the pinch. Right hand out to intermediate, right foot up to sloping edge and left foot in to vertical foothold. Reach right to undercling and get it with back three fingers only. Tight to wall, right foot out and place it precisely on small foot. Adjust right hand to slide index finger in, left foot up to good foot and clip then shake hand quick and immediately grab the glassy crimp. Crimp hard, focus on index finger and roll out to the right to sloping, but textured edge. Aim with the pinky finger and lock it in. Immediately left foot up and reach with left hand. Aim with then index finger ‘just’ to the left side of the spike, squeeze fingers to the right (onto index), roll thumb up and pinky finger over ring finger. Crimp HARD! Right foot out to chip foothold, left foot up high and in to tiny nipple. Left foot has to be accurate. Extend right leg high and out to sloping foothold, look up and in one motion push with left foot, pull with left arm and hold tight to the wall to reach up with right hand. (This next move is my high point and the crux of ‘Route of all Evil’). Aim to get pinky finger above the little notch but get all four fingers on the side.  Immediately adjust to index finger on spike, thumb on tiny edge and push down with left hand. As soon as right hand is in position squeeze hard and step left foot through to ledge, look up, hold body tight to wall and bring left hand tight to body to reach up and grab multi-layer edge. Try to get thumb on lower thumbcatch. Step right foot back through and match hands with right hand in the slot. Concentrate on index finger sitting down low and twist the finger lock. Left foot out to little foothold and sink low. Relax, clip and breathe. Adjust hands as much as possible but it’s not a good rest to prep for the next hard moves. Crimp left hand hard, bring right foot in and twist up while reaching up with right hand. Drop back three fingers in pocket and keep leaning left. Bring left foot in, right foot high to sloping foot and pull hard up and across body to chip crimp in roof. Adjust right hand, bring left foot to top of nubbin and shoot left hand to bottom of hole. Right foot up, left foot down. Clip and relax. Finally a rest. (From here to the top is over half the climb but low 5.13 climbing). Match by getting a finger lock with the right hand and hang straight down. When putting the left hand back in to rest get the little spike between the pinky and ring finger. Shake back and forth, concentrate on next section. When leaving the rest turn the left hand to a sidepull to help reach out right. Get an undercling sidepull way out right and walk your feet through on textured footholds. Move left hand to a back-three finger undercling, spin on right foot and reach at full extension, high to a very textured and sharp, crosley right hand side pull. Bring left foot in to the bottom of the slot and stand sideways, right foot goes out to a nubbin. Reach up to a good, flat crimp, step your right foot high and bump right hand to a tufa sidepull. Left foot in to a small nubbin, left hand up to a gaston undercling and stand tall to a right hand pinch. Keep weight on left foot and bring right foot up to a nubbin over the roof, left foot high to a good, flat foot hold and clip. Left hand to a sharp crimp, right foot to a bad, sloping foothold, bump right hand up to a sidepull, left foot in to a  smear and make a big move up to a sloper with the left hand. Right foot high and reach up to a gaston crimp above a good sidefull. Rock up high, bring the left foot up and then bring the left hand in to that sidepull. Shake quick and relax. Grab a sharp chip with right hand bring left foot in, right foot up and cross up to a flat three finger hold with the right hand. Stay tight against the wall and roll over your left foot to a good three finger sloper and then reach up to a right hand crimp. Right foot to the top of the big sidepull and left hand reaches up to a good, textured sloper. Clip, shake and relax. Play around on these different holds to shake out. When getting ready to leave them bump left hand to crimp, bring left foot up and to the right so right foot and go out to a heel hook. Rock up on heel and grab next hold as a three finger sloping crimp with the pinky finger on texture. Roll up, flag the left leg hard under the heel and pop to a sloping crimp with a good thumb catch. Roll over on heel to a good right hand hold and then reach up to the split finger gaston. Left foot up to a chip, right foot up to a little spike and lean left to bring the right hand up to a three finger sidepull. Reach straight left to a sloping sidepull.  Bring the right hand in, step the right foot super high, left foot out to ramp and reach up with left hand to a good sidepull. Clip. Roll out right to a flat crimp/pinch with thumb underneath. Bring the left foot in and stay tight on it to bring the left hand in to a crosley crimp. Right straight right to a textured sidepull, walk the feet to the right and bump the right hand up to another sidepull. Bring the right foot up to a textured smear and reach high left to a good four finger hold. Keep the feet low and clip. Match above that hold with a back-three finger right hand crimp. Reach straight left to a sharp crimp, walk the feet to the left and reach high with the left hand to a good sidepull. Hand foot match and reach high to a right hand gaston. Keep the feet low, match and reach just to teh right to a split finger crosley crimp to rest. When getting ready to leave get the feet high, cross over to a right hand gaston and roll over onto the left foot. Grab a sidepull just pass the overlap then bump the right hand in. Move the feet up and grab the left hand undercling right by your chest. Reach up to a horizontal pinch and bring the feet up. Good incut crimp right beside it. Clip. Reach up and right to the pocket undercling, walk the feet to the right and cross over to an underclick left-hand gaston. Roll on the right foot and grab the top of the tufa as a sloper. Bring your left foot high and reach up to a good left hand edge/pinch. Roll on the left foot and reach up to a textured gaston. Right foot goes to the top of the tufa and reach left to a textured sidepull. Put your left foot on a nubbin, right foot high on some texture and reach up to another right hand textured sloper. Roll to the left to a side pull then reach up to an incut crimp. Match and clip the anchors.

Progress And Regress – Ups and Downs

Oh the joys of projecting a climbing route. The emotional highs, lows and of course uncertainty. It’s now been almost three months of climbing out at the Virgin River Gorge (VRG), trying to get out there two days per week, dealing with the fickle conditions, skin and getting beat up. I’m actually pretty happy with the progress I’ve made but I don’t feel that close to accomplishing my goal of redpointing ‘Necessary Evil’.

The Blasphemy Wall at the VRG

The conditions this winter have been amazing. It’s been unseasonably warm and honestly I thought I would be unable to climb out there most of December and January but the conditions have been almost perfect. I’ve been able to find climbing partners on almost every day I want to get out and even a few other crazy people trying ‘Necessary Evil’.

‘Necessary Evil’ consists of hard climbing and then links into ‘Route of all Evil’ right before the ‘Route’ crux. A few years ago I did ‘Route of all Evil’ but getting back on it I am still amazed at how hard that crux sequence is. Not only is it hard but the sequence I used when I redpointed ‘Route’ just doesn’t seem feasible when I link into it from ‘NE’. Although ‘Route’ was rated 14a by Boone Speed I think it is an insult to the route and Boone to leave it as 14a. Every other 14a at the crag, and the surrounding areas, pales in comparison to the difficulty of this route. Personally I think most of the routes should be downgraded but since that isn’t going to happen let’s start calling route as it deserves to be rated; ‘Route’ is 14b. So basically ‘NE’ is a vicious boulder problem (V10-12) off the ground to a small ledge where you can shake quickly, to another V8/9 to a really bad rest at the start of the ‘Route’ crux and then you have to do the V9/10 ‘Route of all Evil’ crux. From the ‘Route’ crux to the top is probably 13a/b but you get a really good rest and hopefully won’t fall above that.

Pulling the crux move of 'Route of all Evil' - Photo Rich Wheater

I’ve tried counting the moves on ‘NE’ and I came up with 86 hand moves and 127 foot moves for the whole thing. Although really the only important part is getting through the ‘Route’ crux. That is 29 or 30 moves with the hardest redpoint move being the 25th hand move. If I was to rate that move individually I would give it a V9/10 grade. I can barely do it even after hanging on a rope there! I have now climbed up to that move 6 times from the ground and I am truly happy to have done that. On most routes I would feel pretty good about making sustained links of hard moves but that last move is so daunting (and without a rest leading up to it) that ‘one hanging’ the route seems like an almost pointless accomplishment.

Even before I started the process of working ‘NE’ I told myself I would probably fall at that move 20+ times so I am trying not to get frustrated or discouraged. I’ve also been trying to train after days out at the crag or on off days back in Vegas. I’m definitely feeling a little run down and haven’t made it back to my high point in a few days but I’m not quite ready to take the break required to recover and get my strength back.  I’ll be heading to Hueco for the rock rodeo and I think that should be a good mental break, maybe not a physical one but I can recover when I get back.

The good thing is I am still excited to climb at the VRG. I really, really enjoy the climbing there. The routes are long, complex and sustained. My warm up consists of climbing Mentor (one of the best 5.12s in North America), then Joe Six Pack (one of the best 13a routes in NA), trying my project and then cooling down on one of the multitude of amazing mid-5.13s out there. Not too shabby.

Hopefully the weather doesn’t get too warm, too quickly. While I know that failure is a real possibility, I definitely want to continue trying to redpoint and put in some good efforts. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get lucky and stick that hard move from the ground. Even if I don’t redpoint I’m still happy with the decisions I have made to allow me the possibility of success.

Going All In

So far this fall has been very productive for me. After injuring my right middle finger trying ‘Hasta La Vista’ this summer I was definitely worried my winter climbing would be compromised as well. After taking most of August off and just climbing easy I started to pick up the training in September. My goal for the winter is to work and hopefully redpoint ‘Necessary Evil’ at the ‘Virgin River Gorge’ (VRG) in Arizona. I have tried this route a few times in the past and have never really made any progress on it. It’s very hard for me and not my style at all. The holds are small and it is hard to get good conditions on it. Fortunately, even with a finger injury, I was able to crimp and start training finger strength. In addition to just climbing training I have been working on my fitness; running quite a bit and doing yoga to try and lean out. It seems to be working.

In October a friend, Rob Jensen, convinced me to go up to Clark Mtn. I have been to Clark before and had previously redpointed a dream route called ‘Jumbo Pumping Hate’. I decided to head up and my initial goal was to try ‘Wall of Glass’, a hard 5.14a that I had been on before. When we got up there Chris and Joe were trying Tusk and it looked amazing! The line, the movement, the exposure… I really wanted to get on it. Tusk is a famous 5.14a/b put up by Randy Leavitt in the mid 1990s. I remember seeing a cover photo of Rock&Ice with Randy on Tusk and it was such an inspiring line I’ve always wanted to try it but was intimidated. It’s an immense sport climb, over 30m long and steep the whole way. While we were there Chris redpointed it with ease (after working his mega project) and Joe put in some good links. I didn’t get on it that day but just to see it get climbed on was motivating.

Randy Leavitt on Tusk, 5.14a/b. Jorge Visser photo.

So the next weekend I went back up with Rob and got on it. I surprised myself that I was able to do the moves and there wasn’t anything that would hurt my finger too badly. It was hard but there were a few good rests in between hard sections and some pretty long spaces between bolts. I tried it three times and managed to figure out an ok sequence and go to the top of the climb only once. I thought I might be able to do it but I would have to do every move perfectly and really milk the rests. Honestly I didn’t think I would do it this year because the season was coming to a close but luckily I managed to get out there the following weekend and redpoint it. I fought the whole way up but climbed smart, used the rests and didn’t rush any moves I wasn’t sure about. I was super excited and it was definitely a highlight route of my climbing career. In case you don’t trust me that it is a good route, Randy Leavitt names ‘Tusk’ as one of the highlights of his sport climbing!!! (http://www.neropes.com/CommTeams.aspx?mid=4&id=28)

Here’s a few photos from Tane Owens showing some different angles.

Silhouetted above the Mojave Desert - Photo Tane Owens

Mike Doyle on Tusk , Clark Mtn - Photo Tane Owens

 

While I had been to Clark Mtn on three days I was splitting my weekends between Clark and Welcome Springs, a climbing area in Southern Utah also referred to as Cathedral. Technically Cathedral is just a sector at Welcome Springs but it is definitely the most impressive sector. Cathedral is a super impressive cave with steep, long, hard climbing with such routes as ‘Golden Direct’ and ‘Solid Gold’. Last fall I managed to do ‘Golden Direct’ but this fall I had been trying ‘The Incredible Huck’, a long 5.14 that features some big moves and is capped off with a hard V7/8 boulder problem right before the anchors. A few weekends in a row I would go to Clark on Saturday and then Cathedral on Sunday. Both areas involve a hike and long, steep climbs. Needless to say every Sunday evening I was pretty exhausted. Since I had been getting on ‘Huck’ on my second day I was usually pretty tired but it features moderate climbing between good rests up to the hard boulder problem. I was able to link up to the boulder problem quickly and fell up there a few times. The weekend after I did ‘Tusk’, I went out to Cathedral pretty fresh and managed to send ‘The Incredible Huck’ as well! I was pretty convinced both of these routes would take me into the spring so I was definitely happy to be seeing some success in the fall.

Climbing on 'The Incredible Huck' - photo Luke Olson

Both ‘Tusk’ and ‘The Incredible Huck’ are not my main goals though. As I stated earlier my main goal is ‘Necessary Evil’. Goals are funny. I used to try to keep my goals private so that if I didn’t accomplish them I could just quietly walk away. I’ve come to realize that telling people what my goals are makes me more accountable. Knowing that I’ll have to answer questions about the progress and perhaps failure of a goal makes me more motivated. So now it’s out there. People know my goal and now it is up to me to make it happen.

Taking a page out of Lapens’ book I decided that quitting my job wasn’t going to work so I needed to move closer to the climbing area. Don’t know who Lapens are? You silly people. Check this out and be amazed: http://www.dpmclimbing.com/articles/view/steve-lapen-ghetto-booty . The VRG is about 2 hours from my house. That’s not too bad for a weekend drive but there’s no way I can take 4 hours just to drive back and forth on a workday. That’s 4 hours of driving let alone the actual climbing time. I’m very fortunate that my job even lets me take time off midday but taking 10 hours would be pushing it. To solve this problem I decided to rent an apartment in Mesquite, NV. Fortunately it was pretty cheap and friends will stay there as well but now I’ll be able to set up on work days, put in 3-4 hours before heading out to the cliff, climb 4-5 hours and be back online to work another 3-4 hours without wasting 4 hours driving. The reason for this whole endeavor is that conditions at the VRG are tricky and if I only had one day a week to try the route I might never get good conditions. Hopefully being closer will allow me to take advantage of good conditions.

Yup, that’s the plan. Rather than going to Costa Rica and surfing in warm water, I’m going to be hanging out in freezing cold weather above a road cut. Sigh, it sounds crazy even to me. Yay???

I-15 running through the Virgin River Gorge

Hopefully it works out. It might not but at least I can say it won’t be for lack of trying. It’s a gamble but I’m short stacked, holding queens at best and going all-in.

Sunset - Welcome Springs, UT - photo Luke Olson