Back in August my good friend and “Route Setter to the Stars” Lee Brinkerhoff emailed me to inquire about potential Fall climbing vacations.  Lee is an amazing climber who never seems to get pumped.  He is a master on sight climber and I’ve learned a lot watching him climb over the years.  I met Lee at the end of the last millenium when he was managing Stoneage Climbing Gym in Albuquerque.  Stoneage has the best route setting of any of the 50 or so gyms I’ve climed at, and Lee is a big reason for that.  Lee has set for national comps and helped nurture the likes of Cody Roth and Jon Cardwell.  Lee was my partner on Serpentine (Taipan Wall, Australia) when by dumb luck we happened to run into each other at the Grampians Campground. 

Working out the beta for Lee’s flash of Serpentine, 5.13b.

After much negotiation we settled on Maple Canyon, UT over Halloween.  I tried to convince Lee that we should go earlier in the season, but he really likes cold rock and insisted we arrive just before the first storms of winter.  I had climbed at Maple once back in 2004, and managed to climb exactly one route before a massive thunderstorm erupted causing flash floods in the Box Canyon.  I’ve wanted to return for a long time so I was quite excited when we finally made it out.

The canyon is quite unnasuming from the highway and could be easily overlooked by someone searching for a world class sport crag.  Once in the canyon a maze of cobble-coated slots appear around every corner.  Bulbous hoodos and soaring buttresses pierce the skyline.  This is the type of crag that is just fun to look at, even if your feet never leave the ground.

Kate crushing the Waterfall Route

I decided to focus my energy on on sighting, and just generally trying to climb as many routes as possible at as many different crags as possible.  With so many nooks and crannies there are many different crags to visit and they all seem to offere a little something different.  Fortunately the canyon is densely populated so its pretty easy to visit multiple walls in a single day. 

The objective for day one was to investigate the notorious Pipe Dream cave.  This thing is massive, with rope stretching routes that clip as many as 30 bolts.  The Waterfall Route was one of the best 5.11s I did all week but the 5.10s were a bit slopey and dusty.  I did the classic Orgasmo then attempted to on sight Sprout, apparently the best of the 13a’s that climb out the main cave.  It was a good effort complete with wild dynos but I hosed the kneebar beta turning the lip of the cave.  Next I did Deliverance which turned out to be one of my favorite routes of the trip.

The name pretty much says it all: Orgasmo, 5.12c

That night was Halloween and we were all anxious to take the boys trick-or-treating so we could raid their stash after they went to bed.  We stayed at the Red Apple Cottage in Fountain Green which was an awesome experience we plan to repeat.  The first order of business was to carve our pumpkins, and we even got a few Trick-or-Treaters before the pumpkins were done.  We got the kids suited up then headed over to the park where there was a “Trunk or Treat” in progress.  This novel innovation entails a line of cars in the parking lot with folks handing out candy from their tailgates.  As an engineer I was very satisfied by the efficiency of this development.  As a lazy glutton I was stoked that we wouldn’t need to get any unintended exercise walking from house to house for a single fun size snickers.  I have to say though, it takes some of the fun/challenge out of trying to race around town to maximize your take.  I was happy to see that most of the kids went door-to-door once the trunk line was exhausted.

Dylan & Logan show off their costumes and pumpkins at the Red Apple Cottage.

The next climbing day we started at the Box Canyon which was quite cold.  After some fun warmups (including the enjoyable Brown Hole) I attempted a couple of harder routes, in particular Captain Bullet which was outstanding in movement and position.  Unfortunately I blew the onsight when I fumbled one of the roof holds and was unable to clip.  I ran it out to the next draw, hoping to find a clipping jug (which I didn’t), then whipped in spectacular fashion, clearing the berm of the road by only a few feet.  Next we headed to Pipeline where I did a number of fun lines, in particular Golden Boy and Chia Pet.

The line at the Trunk or Treat. Despite no prior experience, Logan picked up the Trick or Treat thing really fast. It must be instinctive.

That night my buddy Steve Bechtel arrived with his 4-1/2 year-old son Sam, and it was a full on slumber party at the Red Apple Cottage.  Dylan and Sam hit it off right away and Logan was simply in awe of their boundless energy and…let’s say, “volume”.  It was a really fun next few days with the kids playing on the rocks and toddlers playing in the dirt. 

Saturday we hit the Minimum crag which is an outstanding, tall cliff overhangning around 20 degrees.  All of the routes I did on this wall were excellent long enduro jughauls (Zoaster Toaster was probably my favorite route of the trip), and it was a great hang for the kids (though a bit cold).  Next we hit the Zen Garden and Craggenmore, where we climbed another great 5.11, The Black Waterfall.  The Knezek guidebook has a stunning photo of Stupid Sexy Flanders (on Simpson Rock) and that photo, along with the irresistable name, had me itching to give it a go, so I did that to end the day.

Attempting Captain Bullet. Probably should clipped that draw at my waist. Photo Lee Brinkerhoff.

The final day was a flurry of cleaning and packing, ending with a quick trip to the Low Standard Cave, which has another great 5.11 (Oneida) and a worthy 12a (When Cobbles Fly).  Steve suckered me into Eat Your Liver, which is kinda neat but probably best saved for someone who has climbed all of the more obvious options.  Fortunately he cleaned it for me as it overhangs severely.  We finished off the trip with a quick stop at the Windshield Wiper wall on the way out.  This cliff is reminiscent of Minimum, though not quite as steep and a bit less clean.  The climbs were stellar and with traffic will become among the very best at Maple.

The trip was probably the most fun I’ve had climbing in several years.  The routes are just plain fun and the glassy smooth rock allows you to climb for days on end.  There was a great group of people and perfect weather.  By the end of the week I think I even started to figure out how to climb cobbles.  I can’t wait to go back!

Passing the Time

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of climbing, traveling, and more climbing.  I apologize for neglecting my blog, but now you will be rewarded with a barage of tails of my exciting adventures 😉

I spent the latter half of October working a route in Clear Creek Canyon called “Primetime to Shine”.  This is a linkup of two popular Peter Beal 14a’s, “Primeval” and “Shine”.  I’m usually not a big fan of linkups but this one is a rare example of a linkup that actually improves on the piece parts.  The Primo Wall is fairly short (maybe 35 feet tall?) and the geometry is such that the ‘straight up’ lines are really only continuous for a little over half the height of the wall.  The ‘Primetime’ linkup traverses left and up through the middle of a steep shield of stone, keeping the line hard for a good 30 or so hand moves.  The result is one of the most continuous hard lines on the Front Range. 

Most of “Primetime to Shine”  Photo: Jay Samuelson

The route is basically a classic power endurance sprint, so it made for a good objective to focus the efforts of my Power Endurance phase.  Lately I’ve been experimenting with different types of Interval training, besides the classic “4×4” method that I have extensive experience with.  I used a 32-move “route” for my intervals.  I did about one workout a week, which consisted of at least 4 laps (but as many as I could do without failing), starting with 4 minutes rest for the first workout.  A lap would take a little bit less than 2 minutes to climb, so the work to rest ratio started at about 1:2, with the goal of getting it down to 1:1 by reducing the rest interval by 30 seconds to a minute for each subsequent workout.  When I first set this route in the summer of 2010, I couldn’t send it once with several sessions of work.  Its very motivating to now see myself sending 5 or 6 times in a 20 minute period!

The Green Traverse, 5.13+?

The rock on the Primo Wall is nearly flawless Gneiss, and the route climbs a variety of interesting features, starting with wicked hard crimping up a steepening prow to a series of desparate moves to reach a big sloping ledge.  At this point the climbing transitions from frantic crimping to desparate sloper moves as the line veers left, away form the Primeval finish.  Gymnastic slaps and heel hooks lead straight into the ‘Shine’ crux, which involves a combination of slopers and crimps to reach an odd pegmatite scoop that is best compared to a 2-finger pocket.  If you latch this hold you’re most likely going to send (eventually), but there are still another 10 or so pumpy sloper moves that dashed my redpoint effort more than once.

The campaign was a rollercoaster ride with a lot of ups and downs, and a good lesson in the perils of over-confidence.  The wall is tricky to hit in good conditions in the fall; ideally you would climb here in the dead of winter when cold temps would be guaranteed.  The wall is in the shade until around 10am or so, then bakes in the sun until 4pm.  We bounced back and forth between morning and evening climbing sessions which made it hard to find a good rhythm.   The evening sessions were agonizing because I had to sit around the house all day trying to “save” myself for the evening climbing.  The morning sessions were a complete waste; either the rock was bitterly cold and I would numb out, or I would fail to get a sufficient warmup and get shutdown on the powerful starting moves. 

I one-hanged the route pretty early on, which lead to the ill-advised “next try” mentallity.  Thinking I would surely send “next try”, I put less and less time into each burn, in order to “save” my skin/strength/etc for the next try.  In my experience this is the ticket to a long, protracted and frustrating series of fruitless burns.  The silly part was that I was well aware of what I was doing, but still so confident that I figured it was worth the gamble.  It wasn’t! 

But some lessons are so helpful they’re worth learning several times.  Near the end of October we got the first real snow storm on the Front Range, which brought nice cold temps along with 6″ or so of snow.  The conditions made it possible to climb mid-day which was just what I needed.  For some reason trekking to the crag through snow drifts seems to bring out the best in me.  Perhaps its the solitude that comes with such situations, but I think its simply the cold stone.

Icicles over Primeval. The wet pinch appears to be about a foot directly below the lowest quickdraw.

When we arrived I was disheartened to see big icicles coming off the top of Primeval.  The wall is so steep it hadn’t really occured to me that seapage might be a problem.  The route looked pretty much dry, except for a right hand pinch that sets up the dyno to the big sloping ledge at the end of the Primeval crux, and the last 2 or 3 holds below the chains.  I always figure when redpointing its worth a try no matter the conditions, but I had pretty low expectations.  The dyno had shut me down on a number of attempts so I couldn’t really see sticking it with a wet hand. 

The rock was crisp but not overly-frigid.  I flowed through the opening sequence with relative ease.  After a risky and strenuous clip the right hand moves to an awkward spike, then a big high step and left hand to a small, sharp crimp.  Perch on the righ foot, suck in the hips and then slap the right to the wet pinch.  I could feel the water but my hand stuck.  Fortunately I’ve dialed this dyno to the point that its virtually static; the key is to keep the feet from cutting loose in order to control the swing…stuck.  Dry my hand and shake.  Wetness is no longer  an issue but the hand is much colder than usual from the water.  This is one of those rests that isn’t really that restful, and you wonder if you would be better off sprinting.  At only around 10 moves in, you aren’t pumped, just numb.  I stay long enough to get most of the feeling back in my hands and press on linking intermittent rails. 

De-booting post-send with the upper route behind.

A newly discovered foothold makes a once-desparate slap trivial, and on to the Shine crux.  This part always feels desparate but if you just keep motoring and ignore the insecurity you won’t fall.  Match the sloper rail, left foot way high, rock up and reach high to the pocket.  Gaston with the right, then dyno for the “jug”.  This time I’m not pumped.  Clip the bolt, chalk up, and finally appreciate how peaceful this canyon can be on a secluded snowy day.  The second-to-last hold is wet but incut, leading to a blind slap to a jug over the lip; probably wet–hopefully not filled with snow or worse, ice.  I consider clipping from the lower crimp, but after a slight hesitation I go for the jug.  I’ve never been so relieved to find a hold full of water!