Monday, April 7, 2014


I finished my new line in the Coliseum yesterday. It’s a gem, of course, and if it wasn’t so much of a cliché at this point to say it, I’d likely spray that it’s “the best route I’ve ever touched” or “hands down the best climb of life.” But searching for those terms within my blog turns up more hits than google searching for “Demi Moore 80’s bush.” (Don’t do it, I warned you)

It all started about two weeks ago when I went out to clean up the clutter of tattered draws on Still Life and replace the hardware with glue-ins and steel permas. While doing it, I just couldn’t get over how crappy of a route Still Life is. It’s just terrible.

Had I been around 20 years ago we wouldn’t be in this mess, but I wasn’t, and that wall fell into the hands of Porter Jarrard. Porter is known for his complete lack of vision and sloppy work ethic. It’s unfortunate that he was around early enough to pretty much ruin most of the climbing potential in the Southeast, somehow managing to always bolt inferior quality climbs and even ‘squeeze jobs’ despite his routes often being the first routes on the wall.

 Visual clarity on the left. Beer goggles on the right. The eyes behind those glasses are only able to see chossy routes destined for poorly-placed bolts and unpleasant movement. 

Consequently, most of his routes have fallen into obscurity. Ever heard of routes like Apollo Reed, Pod, Mercy the Huff, or Table of Colors? I didn’t think so… It’s because they’re terrible routes. That last one, Table of Colors, is at some backwater crag called the “Red River Gorge” that no one ever goes to. At some point in the 90’s, the “visionary” Porter Jarrard bolted some routes there thinking that someday people would be interested in climbing steep, pocketed rock in Kentucky. Boy was he wrong!

Anyway, Porter is responsible for bolting Still Life, a solitary line up the small, steep buttress at the right end of the Coliseum, an area that I would have called the Thunderdome but first come, first served I guess. In typical Porter style, he chose the absolute LEAST aesthetic way to climb the wall. He chose a path that follows barely there holds that all face the wrong way. Not to mention, the holds are too far apart.

There are a three qualities that determine the difficulty of a rock climb: how steep the wall is, how big the holds are, and how far apart they are. Still Life is steep with bad holds that are far apart. That’s why it’s hard, but also why it sucks and doesn’t suit my style. If I had to define my style, I would say that I’m best at climbing low-angle rock with good holds that are close together. Maybe you can relate if that style also suits you. Unfortunately, Still Life doesn’t fit ANY of that criteria, so in my humble opinion, it kind of sucks. Most people that try Still Life, myself included, lower down bitching and moaning about how bad it sucks due to those characteristics. When the holds are far apart it’s generally classified as “reachy.” When the holds are bad and small on steep rock, we’d call it “uncomfortable,” “thrutchy,” or “awkward.” NOT FUN, that’s for sure! Conversely, when the holds are close together, big, and on less steep rock, the route usually gets rave reviews using terms like “flowy,” “aesthetic,” and “fun.” 

So I set out to fix what Porter screwed up 20 years ago by bolting a more flowy and aesthetic path up the wall. My “more fun” and superior version breaks left after the 3rd bolt of Still Life and engages a way better crux sequence through the tiered roofs. But wait, there is another reason that Still Life is terrible and his name is Joel Brady, the guy that eventually climbed Porter’s project.

Joel is a total degenerate that started slopping around at the New River Gorge back when hair bands were still in vogue. He made a name for himself by thrutching his way up hard routes like the 2nd ascent of Mango Tango and, of course, the first ascent of Still Life. It’s a miracle he was able to do it. His footwork is atrocious, but, somehow, he was able to get by with just muscley shoulders and temper tantrums. I guess Still Life does suit his style: aggressive, thrutchy, and ugly!

Click the image for a video montage of Joel demonstrating arrogance, poor footwork, and temper tantrums.

Joel and I have interacted on numerous occasions and if I had to label our relationship, I might say “arch rivals” or, more accurately, “mortal enemies.”

It was very important to me to complete my superior route, which in turn would immediately transform his route, Still Life, into an inferior, squeeze job, variation eliminate. I’m happy to say that I’ve achieved success!

I named my route Prohibition as a final blow to Joel. When asked why he named his route what he did, Joel responded, with the intellect of a third grader, “Durrr, it’s pretty like a painting.” Very clever mortal enemy, but little did I know that Joel was about to drop a double entendre on my ass. “Also,” he said, “the day I did it, I was a bit hungover.” Get it? Still….like where alcohol is made.

Well guess what Mr. Brady…I have bested you once again with an unprecedented TRIPLE ENTENDRE! Prepare to wallow in the depths of my esoteric grandeur.

1. Prohibition was a response to the “still life” that was ruining Americans, just like my route is a response to your trashy, irresponsible, reckless lifestyle and route.

2. If you are the type of person that is “prohibited” from reaching the chains of Still Life due to the reachy, thrutchy, and awkward cruxes… this route is a fun and pleasant alternative.

3. I “prohibited” all innocent and fun-loving teenagers, which included the Horst brothers and Kai Lightner, from getting on my route until I redpointed it. I used a proper red tag, the way the climbing Gods intended. Nothing spells humble like looking a kid in the eye and telling him to go bolt his own project!

I think the choice is clear.

Here’s a simple breakdown of my route vs. Joel’s route:

First three bolts: Same, same. It’s unfortunate to have to share with Joel but such is life. It would have been a far inferior sequence to try to force an independent start. The first three bolts of Still Life are, admittedly, Porter’s only decent contribution to climbing.

Exiting the undercling move: At the third bolt, you do a powerful and, unfortunately, “reachy” move off an undercling to reach a hold up and left. For Joel’s route, you immediately move back right. Whoa there Joel! What’s happening? I was going left, now I’m going right? What is this, a carnival ride? Don’t run for office Joel, you’re a flip flopper! He’s a flip flopper folks! And you’re skirting the issue Joel. It’s much easier to go right. Why are you always shying away from a challenge and taking the easy way out?

My route on the other hand flows so perfectly, you cross up and over to a good hold, clip, and engage a much harder sequence to snag a door jam-sized crimp followed by a wild dyno to a jug pocket. Two more moves on good holds and you get to a rest beneath the roof. It’s 13c to here, a notch harder than getting to the rest on Joel’s inferior version.

The Rest: The rest on my route is a tad better than the rest on Joel’s route. You get a nice shake with a good foot beneath. The rest on Joel’s route isn’t as pleasant. A high heel toe in the horizontal just below your hands. ACL damage anyone? Any takers?

Crux 1: The first roof crux on my route is a mirror image of the crux on Joel’s route. On Still Life, you reach off a pancake flake to an uncomfortable sloper (gag), get a heel and bust a hamstring trying to lurch up and over. Gross! On my route, you reach off a pancake flake with the opposite hand to a nice 1/3 pad sloping crimp with delicate texture that just begs to be beared down upon. Heel hook with the right leg and make beautiful precision bumps from an intermediate non-hold, to a gorgeous 3-finger shallow pocket intermediate, then a final stab for the door jam depth horizontal. The first crux of both routes are exactly the same difficulty whatever that is. V7 or 8?

Crux 2: This is the worst part of Still Life which is a funny thing to say since it’s all so bad! That’s like saying, “the worst part about being eaten alive by a pack of hyenas is…” It’s true though, the last crux of Still Life is just awful. I’ve never been able to do that section because the holds are pretty bad and far apart. Too reachy! But if I had to guess, it’s probably V8 or V9. No need for footwork up there, just arm power and grunting. If that’s what I wanted from climbing, I’d stay home and campus. Boring!

My route, on the other hand, is a nice flowy V6 dyno from a perfect sidepull plate in the roof, up and over to a nice jug. When you stick it, you’re just dangling there by one arm like Stallone on the front cover of Cliff Hanger. It’s so rad. All the bikini girl spectators bust into a frenzy of applause when you stick it.

Pretty much exactly how the last move goes on Prohibition.

Top out: Joel’s route is pretty much over. You do a couple of stupid moves and you’re at the anchor. On my route, you do a fairly rad lunge before scurrying up some close together jugs on low angle rock. Did someone say “aesthetic?” I intentionally placed my anchor a little higher that Joel’s anchor cause longer routes are better. It’s about 6 inches higher than Joel’s and you really have to stretch to make the clip but I think it’s totally worth it.

You make the call folks. Face hair and goofball climbing to the right? Or aesthetically pleasing handsomeness to the left. 

Prohibition is certainly ¾ of a notch easier than Still Life. I would say that if Still Life is 5.14b.5, then Prohibition is 5.14a.75. It’s also an absolute classic. 4 stars all day. The only thing that mars Prohibition is the inferior eliminate variation that breaks off at the third bolt. But now that you know which way to go when you get to the fork, just try to ignore all the overchalked and broken holds, glue, and garbage climbing that goes right.  

Here's Kai Lightner starting up his project Still Life. In all seriousness, Still Life is an incredibly difficult and beautiful route and Kai is all in on sending it. I got to spend the weekend climbing with Kai and Connie and they are some of my favorite people in the climbing world. Kai is such a boss! Watching him climb is incredible. He naturally floats on the rock, but this past weekend, just when you think he was going to hike to the chains, he'd unexpectedly drop from the last move. It was a heartbreaker for him but he handles himself so appropriately, internalizes it, analyzes what he can improve on, and tries again. He's kind of the opposite of Joel Brady. ;-) Thanks for letting the old man have his FA Kai!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

New River Season 13/14: It’s Already Time to Update your Guidebook

March 30th and it looks like ice planet Hoth out there once again. I think this is the third or fourth windy blizzard we’ve had this month that we’ve all thought, “surely this is the last snow of the season.” Judging by the many complaints found within my Facebook news feed, locals are ready for spring. I always chuckle when I hear that everyone is getting psyched for climbing season while I’m living in a state of mild depression because my climbing season is actually coming to an end. Any day now, warm temperatures and humidity will permanently descend on the region instantly transforming me into a 5.11 climber with zero chance of sending anything harder. It’s so bizarre to me how the parking lots are completely empty during the “good” season which for me is mid-October to mid-April.

Typical bluebird day in the parking lot of one of America's best crags: Endless Wall.

As soon as the weather switches to gnarly, the parking lots fill back up. There will be 100 cars jockeying for position at the Bubba City parking lot before the climbers head out for a fun-filled day of jungle sweating, wet rock, poison ivy, stirring up ground hornets, and busting through spider webs. It’s a total mystery to me. I don’t have a problem with it; I’ll continue to enjoy the solitude of perfect 45 degree days in the sun and rock so sticky you can’t fall off. I must admit though, it’s not the season to plan a trip to the New. All winter the weather is unpredictable and you have to live here to benefit. But if you have a flexible schedule and can leave the house on a moment’s notice when the weather permits, 3 or 4 days of climbing per week is a pretty decent average.

The climbing season here breaks down into three fairly distinct time frames for me. Endless Wall season comes first (late fall, mid-Oct to mid-Dec). During this time you can climb just about anywhere in perfect temps. When the deep winter sets in from mid-Dec to mid-Feb, it’s Cirque season. Days are short and you have to be in the sun. From mid-Feb to early April it’s lakebed season for me. The lakebed is one of the most remarkable climbing areas here and it’s such a fleetingly short amount of time to enjoy it. The breeze coming off the lake in the deep winter makes it unbearable even in the sun most of the time. It’s a little more effort to get out there too so the longer days of spring help a lot. But when it’s good, it’s some of the best climbing around and you have to enjoy it while it lasts.

Here’s a little breakdown of some new routes that went up this season in three parts.

Endless Wall Season:
I rolled back into town from Wyoming during the first week of October and it was still pretty gnarly hot. Every year when I get back, I hustle to get stuff lined up for the season. It’s a pretty easy process. I keep a running document of projects, things to rap and inspect, cliffs to hike, etc. I’m constantly adding stuff to the list and subtracting others, sometimes because I ticked it off the list, but more often than not it’s because it didn’t pan out. Either it doesn’t go, turns out it sucks, I can’t do it…etc. So I scan my list, prioritize and hustle.

I only had a week or two before Jonathan Siegrist and Zeke rolled into town. I’ve been telling Jonathan about how bad ass the New is for a few years now and he finally took the bait…only because his A-plan fell through. He was supposed to be up on the Dawn Wall but the government shutdown put a kibosh on that. So he busted out to the New where he would proceed to complain about the heat for the first week of his trip. I can’t control the weather but I felt bad. It was still hot. Definitely not yet in condition for hard climbing. It worked out in the end though when it finally started to cool off and Jstar ended up crushing expectedly. In two weeks or so, he hammered out a good number of the hard classics like Proper Soul (flash), Trebuchet, Freedom Tree, Picket Fence, Coal Train, and a one-day ascent of Mango Tango!

Photo I took with my brake-hand of Siegrist on the flash of Proper Soul. Grigri's for life.

I had a great time showing him around and was really happy to see that he wasn’t entirely focused on climbing 5.14’s which is a common trap for the rare pro-climber that visits. Classics come in all grades and Jonathan fit right into the New River mentality by not being afraid to rack up for 5.12 mixed routes, or classic 5.11 warm-ups.

I got in a few new routes while he was here too. None of these routes are in the 2nd edition guide so I figure I should get the word out for those that are interested in keeping up to speed. Additionally, Kevin Umbel went on a tear of ground-up new routing and got in a heavy handful of great new trad routes, leaving nothing but a bit of now-gone chalk dust in his wake. I’ll try to update when I get more info on those. For now, here’s what I know.

Articulated (5.12d)
First route of the season was a nice new one to the right of Under the Milky Way at Summersville Lake. I’m a bit surprised it hadn’t been bolted yet but not too much. The top took a great deal of scrubbing and the crux is pretty blank. The route starts off with a bit of 5.11 climbing before the crux, a super thin section at 1/3 height. The climbing up top is great. Check it out and help keep it clean before the black dust settles back in. It’s a great route.

Metalocalypse (5.11c)
This is a new, and not-so-great, trad route at the Lower Meadow. If you walk left from Toxic Hueco, following the cliff line, you’ll pass by a little routeless section in a wooded cirque. Just on the downstream end of the cirque is a wall that hadn’t been climbed. I went ground-up the previous spring and got shut down right near the top. No gear and no holds. I rapped it and pulled my gear, checked out the crux and figured it’d be 12+ or something. When I came back this season, I rapped in to add one bolt and a top anchor. One of the days Jonathan and I were out there, I fired up it and the crux wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it’d be. Goes to show how much conditions matter. I easily could have headpointed it and done it without the bolt but I’m the type that thinks routes should be equipped for the onsight climber. Don’t bother with this route unless you’ve done everything else but if you love rock climbing, it’s pretty damn fun.

Sidenote: When I added the bolt and anchor to Metalocalypse, I also rapped in and added a top anchor to the super classic Big Top (12a). I was unaware of the history of this route and always assumed that the route finished at the bolt anchor below the big roof above the crack section. I added the top anchor with the intention of climbing through the big roof and topping out. I thought it might be a first ascent. It turns out that the first ascent did top out through the roof and the route had been repeated that way by Pat Goodman at least and probably many others. It’s a shame that someone added the anchor below the roof because for as long as I can remember, everyone stops there and misses out on some outrageous fun climbing pulling the big 10-foot roof on trad gear. Point being, now that the top anchor is there, this is absolutely the only way to do the route. It’s so much better. To clean, it’s best to lower to the mid-anchor, pull your rope, and lower again.

Color Blind (13a R)
Every once in a while, I get on a trad kick. Color Blind was a really fun process and turned out to be a really interesting experience and a great route. This route climbs the big orange and gray wall that you see to your left as you’re coming down the Honeymooner’s ladders at Endless Wall. It was another one of those “last faces” that are lurking out there. At the left end of the wall, starting on the arête, is a nice 12a trad route called The Rabbit Almost Died, but the wall itself hadn’t been climbed and looks ridiculously blank. I rapped it the year before hoping it would yield a hard sport route. It did! I was psyched, but it wasn’t perfect. You have to traverse in from the corner at 20 ft to bypass a blank start. Beyond that, there are a series of tiny crimps and pockets that end by forcing you right again and into the path of least resistance, a 5.11 section that you could avoid by bailing back right into the corner. BUT if you were to carefully position the bolts, it would force the climber back left to stay on the face and engage another series of amazing crimps that would have put the route in the 13c range. Would have been a great sport route, despite being slightly contrived.

I put in a permit to bolt it with my permits for Coal Train and the Chunky Monkey project that Tim Rose sent and called The Mandrill. At the same time, Pat put in a permit to put a single bolt on a variation finish to The Rabbit. Both of our permits for this wall were denied due to a bit of lichen on the upper third of the route. It was a surprising reason for denial because there are many, many established routes at the New with a lot more lichen on them. This wall is actually very clean.

Regardless, I wasn’t too butthurt and wrote it off as a lost cause. But instead of deleting it from my list, I left it there and kept seeing it. It was nagging at my brain and despite already writing it off as unprotectable, I found myself out there, hanging from a rope with an array of gear and fiddling with tiny bullshit trying to make it stay. It started to become more reasonable in my mind and before I knew it, I couldn’t stop thinking about it which I saw as a bad sign that I was about to do something very foolish.

I spent a few more days dialing in the gear on rappel and finally had it all worked out. Jonathan and I were out in that zone one day and I dropped a toprope on it for a little more practice. I toproped it clean and it felt doable then Jonathan toproped it and messed with the gear. I had no intention of leading it that day but all of a sudden “the time is now” just kind of came out of nowhere and I got all sullen when I realized it. There’s always a thousand reasons to not do it: the conditions could be better, I’m a little tired, it’s too dangerous, blah, blah, blah…

One of the great things about climbing with a partner that is better than you is that it changes your perspective and expectations of yourself. When Jonathan came down, I could tell he was all psyched and wanted to do it. This put me in the position to either A: sack up and lead it, or B: be a bitch and tell Jonathan to not do it because I wanted to do it first. Of course, he’s an awesome dude and would have respected that but it’s pretty lame. And when you’re climbing with someone like that, the mindset changes. “It’s ONLY 13a,” I thought. “I won’t fall, and if I do, the gear is reasonable.” So I racked up and decided to climb it without falling.

You start by soloing up easy terrain in the corner for 20 feet, then you reach out and get a 00 C3 in a horizontal. Step left on this little ledge and you’re out on the face where you can build a bomber nest (yellow TCU and orange TCU). Then you launch into the crux section which lasts for about 30 feet. You make big moves between these tiny incut crimps and when the nest is at your feet, you slot a blue slider in a horizontal that’s good but still suspect because it’s a tiny-ass slider. Then you do a few more hard moves and when the slider is at your foot, you equalize a 000 C3 and a red slider before the crux move. Lunge up and right and stick the crux then slot another red slider in a horizontal. The next few moves ease up and there’s a bit of a 5.11 runout over the red slider before you get to a big horizontal break and slam in a bombproof anchor (red camalot and green camalot…as many as you want really)

When that anchor is at your feet, you’re on a big jug and can shake out for days. Blake and Erin from Chattanooga were there and I was like, “Blake! Grab my camera and run up the ladder please!” The next section is a 25 foot runout over the anchor through 5.12 terrain that is a bit heady but totally safe. Then you get a blue TCU and a few more 12a moves and you’re at the top. It actually felt pretty chill on the send go. Just really fun. I lowered off, handed the Siegrist the rack and he scurried up it too.

Chillin' at the big rest.

We'll call Blake's focus on the foreground "an artistic choice."

Hitting the big sloper horizontal and the next piece of gear. My last piece is way down there. So bawse.

Couple more moves to the top.

The whole “R-rating” thing is funny because trad climbing is always as safe or as dangerous as you make it. The R-rating for this route is just to let people know that unless you’re completely solid at onsighting 5.13a face climbs, it might be wise to check out the gear first. Is it actually dangerous? I have no idea; I’ve never fallen on a slider nut. The sliders are about as good as they get though. I’m pretty sure they’d hold. If you trust that they’ll hold, then the route is safe 5.13 to safe, but runout, 5.12. It’s a fun route and definitely worth checking out, even if just on toprope.  

Siegrist cruising up Color Blind.

Cirque Season:
Siegrist didn’t stick around much longer but we always have guests in the house throughout the fall. Nick Duttle stayed for a while and I always enjoy climbing with him. Adam Taylor and Rachel rolled through for a bit, and I’m sure some others that I’m forgetting right now. The fall is always a whirlwind. But the temps continued to drop, as they always do, and before long everyone was gone, it was deep winter, and Cirque season was on.

My goal for the Cirque season was to do Brian’s House of Cards, a 13+ that hadn’t seen a repeat since McCray’s 1997 first ascent. But before I got around to messing with it, I rapped down one of the last bolted projects in the Cirque that I hadn’t checked out. It was the last one I inspected because it looked like the least likely candidate to ‘go.’ Turns out it did ‘go’ and ended up being the longest pitch in the Cirque.

Into the Sarlacc (5.14b)
Located between Mr. Magoo and Brian’s House of Cards. The bolts were so bad, I think I only climbed on it once before rebolting the entire thing with 1/2” stainless. It took a bit of cleaning too. The right end of the Cirque is plagued by a chossy band that runs across the entire lower third of the wall. Brian had done a fair bit of work to reinforce little flakes but it took a while longer to find the solid foot jibs and snap off the bad ones. The route starts with a sustained, technical, and crimpy section of 5.13+ that leads to a cave that you can actually crawl inside of. The laydown rest is the route’s biggest downfall. Because getting to it is so difficult, you have to lay there for quite some time to fully recover and it’s boring. The next 35 feet out of the cave is the crux: killer bouldering with snatchy moves on small holds and a serious try-hard section to get to another good rest at a giant jug flake. It then finishes out a big roof followed by a pumpy section that would be 12d or 13a by itself. Goes all the way to the top. 40 meters!

A view of the Sarlacc from up top. The route finishes just below the tree on the ledge.

 The crux section after the cave rest under the roof beneath my feet. Thanks to Kevin Umbel for shooting these photos. 

Exiting the roof is the final crux.

It was hard to grade this one because of the big rests but for me it was a 14b experience. I did Lord Voldemort (14a) earlier this year when Jonathan was still around and I think I did it 2nd day, though I’d done the Proper Soul section before. It took me a lot longer to put this one together and, for me, certainly checks in a solid notch harder than PS, Lord V, and Freedom Tree which are all about the same difficulty (I think.) It’s not the best route in the Cirque because of the glue and the cave rest, but the movement is spectacular and can’t get much better. Not to mention the position and exposure of climbing that hard WAY off the ground. Check it out!

Brian’s House of Cards (5.13d)
Not a first ascent but might as well be since it hadn’t been climbed for 16 years. It’s worth mentioning this route because I royally screwed up the guidebook description in both volumes. I gave it one star, I believe, and a bolt count that reflected it finishing beneath the massive cap roof. I’d tried it once, years ago, on a terrible smarmy day and never made it past the chossy band. I mentally declared the route a pile and wrote it off but I was terribly wrong. It’s amazing!

There is a fair bit of glue and a creatively, but artfully, crafted crux section but the climbing is phenomenal. Additionally, I didn’t know that it actually climbs out that massive ceiling at the very top of the Cirque. I rebolted this route as well and the old bolts were the worst I’ve ever seen. I have no doubt I could have kicked the cold shuts off with my foot had I tried. It’s now clean, safe, and represents one of the New’s most spectacular pitches.

Into the Sarlacc climbs into the left of the two high dihedrals and skirts the big flat roof to the left. House of Cards climbs right of the dihedrals and through the tiered ceilings at the top of the cliff.

Old top anchors from House of Cards. Lowering off of these might have brought the whole house down. They were worse than I thought bolts could be. Careful out there folks. 

Card Shark (5.13c)
It’s a link-up. Deal with it. This line starts by climbing all of Hasta la Vista (5.12c) to the last bolt then stepping left to finish with the upper portion of House of Cards. You get a much easier intro and a better rest before you do the crux of HOC which puts this route on the low end of 5.13c. It’s an amazing pitch and the 2nd easiest way to clip chains at the top of the Cirque after Skylore Engine. This route fills the Cirque’s gap in difficulty as the routes there jump from 13a to 14a with not much option for the transitioning climber. Just because it’s a link-up doesn’t mean it’s inferior. Doing this first would set you up for success on HOC if you’re just breaking into the 13+ grade. Super fun.

It's crucial that you keep your sugar levels up to stay warm in the Cirque. Porter doesn't mind sharing. Yes, he put it back in his mouth. Also note the Breathe-Right strips. Gotta keep that airway open.

Zombie Starfish (5.14a)
Greg Kerzhner completed the Delores Claiborne project that branches right off of The Crouch. I rapped this one again earlier in the season and could tell it definitely would ‘go’ but I couldn’t envision the moves. Greg unlocked the sequence using a series of holds left of the crux bolt which is somewhat counterintuitive. The crux is this crazy mantle that puts your left arm in a fully extended, elbow-bent-backward position while your right arm is pressing into an overhead gaston. I watched Greg redpoint it and it looks heinous! He was definitely all star-fished out in the crux. Then it finishes with what appears to be a harder version of the Xanth finish (is that possible?) Slapping and liebacking up a mini-dihedral with no feet leads to a desperado anchor clip that Greg barely pulled off. Exciting stuff. Nice job Greg and another new 5.14 for the Cirque!

Greg and Tara claimed that they moved here but instead just dropped off all their stuff, told me to check their mailbox and then went to Spain for three months. 

Is the Cirque tapped out yet? Nope! Kerzhner and Adam Taylor went up on the project that goes straight up from the first bolt of Sloth. I didn’t think that one would go. They’re saying it does and that it might be 5.14d. Another testament to Brian’s vision and my lack of… There are a few more already bolted ones and if you’re willing to get a permit, I think there’s even a few more.

Final Cirque note: Mr. Magoo is good to go again. This 12c route was always a mystery to me. I’d look up past the chalkless holds and see nothing but the massive runout from the last bolt to the anchor. Finally, one day, I just decided to go up and check it out thinking that the runout must be easy or there would be another bolt. I got up until that last bolt was below my feet and spent a few minutes contemplating the body length crux out a 45 degree wall to get to the anchor. I bailed and Craig Reger went up with some TCU’s and made it to the anchor. Turns out, there used to be a last bolt at the lip of the overhang but some poor unknown chap took a fall and blew it out! The bolt was too close to the lip of the roof and broke off a cinder block-sized chunk of stone. I could still see part of the hole where it used to be. Anyway, the bolt is back and the anchor is replaced. It’s good to go and despite having a little choss, it’s a good route.  

Lakebed Season:
Just as the Cirque starts to feel played out, it warms up enough to get out on the Lakebed. The Long Point side of the lake has some of the best rock in the region but people rarely climb there. I’ve been poking around out there for the past 4 or 5 years, usually getting in a couple new routes per season. The first two seasons, Kirk Bjorling and I picked some real plums but I’m always finding more.

The frozen lake makes it easy to cover a lot of ground in search of new routes. I send Lilah out first to test the strength of the ice.

Ash and Urn (5.13a)
Super sick line in the Monstrosity roof. I’ve stared at this wall for years trying to find a way up it. I finally buckled down this year and stood there staring at it for 20 minutes until I saw something that might go. It turned out a little different than I thought it would, but better. I won’t bore you with the details but I promise, the climbing on this one is incredible.

Route starts just right of Chris Whisenhunt's face and moves up and right through the white stone. Ash and Urn finishes out the flat roof between the icicles and the Horizons project climbs the flakes that finish to the right of the ice.

When the bolt line splits after the crux, go left for Ash and Urn, or right to tackle the Horizons project. Bolting routes is such a challenge. I try to avoid at all costs bolting something that doesn’t go. At the same time, when you’re looking for something hard, you have to take some chances. Before the bolts are in, and you haven’t climbed on the route, it’s hard to tell how difficult it might be. Some moves look terribly hard then aren’t and vice versa. The Horizons project didn’t look that bad. I thought it might be 13b. Turns out the crux is heinous. Maybe V10? I do believe it goes though, just not for me. Someone please do it so my bolts weren’t wasted. It would be a 4 star classic, just like the easier finish, Ash and Urn.

Double Yoke Egg (5.13c)
Hardest route on the Lakebed. This thing is great! It’s on the south-facing wall just around the corner from Houseboy and just right of Liturgy and Sascrotch. This was one of those routes that was a bit of a risk to bolt. It looked really hard. I had rapped it the day we put up Sascrotch the year before and didn’t know if the moves would be possible for me. But I came back this year, rolled the dice, and got lucky. Power bouldering on tiny crimps.

Booger Sugar (5.12a)
Amazing face climb on the same wall as, and just to the left of, Chopping Bloc. The really good white rock. Possibly the best you’ll ever touch. Starts with a 12a boulder problem off the ground protected by a bolt then it’s all gear-protected 11a face climbing.

Climber on Chopping Bloc (5.12a). Booger Sugar climbs the same white face but just to the left.

Fifty Shades of Spray (5.13a)
I’ve been eyeballing this thing for years from Long Point. It’s across the lake at Whippoorwill, actually it would be the first route described in the Lost World sector which is the land-locked portion of cliff to the right of Mormon Wall. Two rad cruxes split by a jug rest and then a cool finish up the left side of the arête.

Starts on the right side of the faint arete and finishes on the left. 

It looks like Jim Taylor has bolted 3 or 4 new lines in the zone around Penance and Scientific Paws. Look for the glue-in bolts. I’ll try to find out more about these lines. I know the one left of Penance is in the 12d/13a range. Tough boulder problem at the start. The others look more moderate, maybe 5.12-.

Recollection (5.13d)
This one is not at the Lakebed. It’s the old Doug Reed project below the Keeney’s parking. What a special route. Pat did the work to resurrect this one and now it’s safe again. Thanks Pat. This route is the all-around package that incorporates all the qualities of New River climbing. It starts with a heinous tech crux on the face, then goes out a big, but easy, ceiling. Another face crux awaits on the 2nd panel and then the real climbing kicks in through a variety of tiers and changing corner dihedrals. Getting to the last bolt is about 13c and then there’s a scummy rest in a corner that I thought was going to be a lot better than it was. The final crux section is unbelievable and on redpoint… I haven’t tried that hard in a long time. It was super desperate and felt every bit of 13d. Hard to say though. I warmed up at home and then did it first try that day so I may have been carrying a flash pump. I’d put this route in my top 5 favorite 5.13s in the region. It’s a must do.
The name comes from a story that someone told me, though I forget who. Apparently, years after Doug was gone from the New, they talked to him about NRG climbing and he asked if anyone had done this route. It seems likely that he remembered it being very good. It is!

The route goes up the white face, through the ceiling, and finishes up the crack system through tiers.

I’m sure some more new routes have gone up that I’m forgetting about or don’t know about. Please keep me in the loop if you’re out there establishing routes. I’ll be adding the new stuff to the app in real time from now on which is what spurred this blog post. New routes, corrections and suggestions can be sent to

Thursday, March 27, 2014

NRG Guidebook App Now Available: Rakkup!


The New River Gorge guidebooks, both Vol 1 (NRG) and Vol 2 (Meadow and Lake), are now available as smartphone apps for the Iphone. (Android is on the way soon.) I’ve had the test version of the app in my phone for a while now and I have to say, I’m geeking out a little bit. It’s pretty cool.

For the first edition books, Wolverine Publishing and I partnered with Alpinewerx who did a great job of formatting the book into app form. It was a great app and I really liked the look of it but it was essentially just the book in my phone. Smartphones can do so much more and Rakkup, the developers of this 2nd edition app version, realized that. They've incorporated some amazing features that really enhance the content of the book.

The Rakkup version of the New River region guidebooks is now an altogether different experience from the print version of the book. Print guidebooks will always hold a special place in my heart. I love turning pages, seeing exciting large format photos, studying the history and getting psyched for a trip. I still think the print version is crucial for that aspect as the app is currently lacking in a few areas. Climbing history and trip beta are not included yet, but, as I said, this app offers an entirely different experience that offers functions that a print book can’t. Let me walk you through a few of the features that make the app special.

Navigation is what sets this app apart from a book. Plug in your destination and it’s as easy as following the arrow that pops up on your phone. Say, for example, I’m sitting at my house and I want to go climb the classic 5.10 splitter Remission at Diamond Point, Endless Wall. When you open the app, the default screen shows you an overview trail map. The green dot shows your current location. 

Now you know where I live. Stay off my lawn paparazzi!

All the blue and red dots are sector indicators that show how many sport and trad routes are at each sector. I could click on the Endless Wall icon or, at the bottom of the screen, click on “climb list” which brings up an index.

Once in the index, I can click on “endless wall,” then “diamond point,” then “Remission” and click “go.” The map shows your highlighted route and you follow the arrow.

All of the text directions are in the app as well, so if you’d rather read than trust the system, you have that option too. One of the coolest aspects of this system is how helpful it will be for those unfamiliar with the area. Say, for example, that you’re climbing at Legacy and want to end the day in the Cirque. Those unfamiliar with the area might just hike the cliff base thinking it’s a straight shot until you get there. Those familiar with the area know that it makes more sense, and is much quicker, to go back up the Honeymooner’s ladder and hike the top of the cliff back to the Cirque ladder. The app knows that because we told it that! Every trail is given a cost estimate that tells the app how fast you’ll be moving along each trail. It’s the closest thing to having a local guide that knows the area and your handheld local guide will always choose the fastest way to your next destination. Cool bonus feature: when you get to your destination, the app will say “You have arrived. Rakkup!”  

Search engine:
The navigation is helpful if you know what you want to climb but what if this is your first day in the region and you’re scrolling through your tiny screen trying to figure out where to go in a region of 3000 routes?
This is where the search engine becomes useful. Say for example, you wake up and it’s freezing outside. You want to go climbing and you have no idea where to start. You’ve heard people talk about Endless Wall, Kaymoor, Summersville Lake…but you have no idea which ones are the best for you and your friends.
You can use the filter function to find a suitable area by setting the search criteria for multiple variables. This morning, I feel like I want to climb a 4 star sport route within the grade range of 5.7 to 5.10a in the New River Gorge proper. Oh, right, it’s also freezing so it has to be in the sun. Guess what…you’re going to Rico Suave at Kaymoor. It’s the only one. Of course you can set these variables to anything, in any conjunction: 5.14 in the shade, 5.11 trad in the sun, only 4 stars or within the range of 2 to 4 stars…whatever you’re looking for it will narrow down your search. That’s something that a book can’t do.  

The app can be updated anytime and will be. If a new route goes up today, I can add it into the app. If access changes, like it has at the Meadow, I can note those changes immediately. Anyone that visited 3rd buttress at the Meadow this past year using the 1st edition guidebook was likely frustrated to find 50 new routes there. The book was almost worthless for that zone. With the app, the updates can happen in real time. When you open the app and go to your “bookshelf” you’ll see a little cloud icon appear next your book. That means there is an update. Click it and your book is immediately up to date.

Subscription Service:
When Wolverine Publishing and I realized that we had to divide the region into two volumes, I had mixed feelings. There are certainly benefits, but I was concerned about the growing cost of owning both volumes. I realize that $55 is no small chunk for dirtbag climbers, especially those that are just passing through for a few days. I believe it’s worth it for core NRG climbers but if you’re only here for a week before you head to the Red, then the Gunks, then Rumney, etc. etc… A road trip could easily set you back 500 bucks if you bought a quality guidebook for every area. Also consider that it doesn't make sense to an author to sell an app that will be on your phone for a lifetime and receive constant updates for a flat fee. You pay once, I keep working as an indentured servant for eternity?

The Rakkup app operates as a subscription service. For New River Rock Vol 1. the app costs $27.99. About $7 less than the book. That subscription is good for three years which is about the same amount of time as a print run (edition of the book). But if you’re only passing through, you can buy a short term subscription: 2 months for $13.99. This is a great option for road trippers, even those that will be here for almost an entire season.

There are lots of cool things about the app but these are the functions that set it apart from the print book. Like I said, I love the print guide but I haven’t lugged that thing to the cliff for years. With the app in hand, I can always look up who got the first ascent of the route that just scared my pants off and immediately curse their name publicly on Facebook right from the crag. That feature is priceless.

Also know that the app will only continue to get better. It’s being released now but Rakkup and I will continue to add features, functions, photos, and new routes. Consider it an investment.
If you’re using the app and have suggestions for improvement or corrections, you can email me at and we’ll get it squared away. Rakkup is really leading the way in digital guidebooks and I’m glad that I could jump on board with them. I think this app is really going to be a great addition for New River climbers and I hope you enjoy using it.

You can download the Rakkup app at their website for free and try out the Red Rocks Sample pack (also free) to get an idea of how it works. You can also learn more about Rakkup and purchase the app at their website. Check it out. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Summer 2013

The snow is flying once again here in the 'Ville which offers a good opportunity to post some pictures and recap last summers travels. Like I mentioned before, most of the good stuff is stranded in my dysfunctional hard drive. Since I can barely remember what happened last summer, I'll just post some iphone photos in chronological order and hopefully they spur some memories.

I do remember feeling like I was stuck in West Virginia. I had a seemingly unending stream of work holding me back with my regular DPM duties in addition to finishing the 2nd edition NRG guidebook. The guidebook was a lot more work than I had anticipated for a number of reasons. I also remember that one day I just freaked out, threw everything in the van, and left. Elissa stayed home this year, mostly because her shoulder finally gave out after a Crossfit injury from two years prior and she couldn't climb very well. Murder Dog stayed home too. So it was just me, heading west on I70 and I didn't really have a destination. At some point along the drive, I decided to head back to Ten Sleep because I was guaranteed to have some partners there only to realize that I should have taken the road north about two hours ago. That's what happens when you don't have a plan.

 My home away from home, the Buffalo, Wyoming library. 

I feel like I spent a solid month mostly working at the library, climbing a bit in Ten Sleep, and hiking cliff looking for new routes. I spent a lot of time by myself and settled into a nice rhythm of working most of the day at the library, then driving back up to camp in the Bighorns by Crazy Woman. I love camping up there. It's so quiet, open, and peaceful. Every evening I'd just sit there with my legs hanging out the door, drinking beer, eating burritos, and watch the most amazing sunsets.

One of the cool things about being alone was that I was forced to seek out new climbing partners and I got to climb with some great new, and old, friends this year. But I'm still generally antisocial so on the 4th of July, when Ten Sleep is packed to the gills, I hiked up into the Lost Twin Lakes Cirque to check out the climbing potential. It's something I've been meaning to do for years. It's pretty amazing up there in the Cloud Peak Wilderness. It's remote, beautiful, and there are multiple lifetimes of new routes to climb up there on the alpine granite. The Bighorns have long been overshadowed by the endless possibilities in the Wind River Range which is much closer to the climbing communities of Lander and Jackson. I know there are plenty of established routes in the Bighorns but, like I said, the potential is staggering.

I drove south from Ten Sleep to Lander to hang out with one of my best old climbing buds Devlin Junker and to check out the International Climber's Festival. On the way there, I drove through a badass hail storm.


Funny thing about spending a lot of time alone. I guess after a while it makes sense to just bust out the phone and hit record because it feels less weird than talking to yourself. I sound good and cocky in the first video but when I started getting closer...


I did drive right through it, and it was insane. The hail wasn't quite golf ball sized, but big enough to have to pull over and wait it out. Wyoming summer storms are amazing. I've been caught by a few when I'm out climbing or bolting and it happens so fast. Blue skies turn black and then you just get pummeled by hail and lightning. Wild and awesome.

I remember still being in work mode in Lander, though I did get to climb a bit. I think the climbing around Lander is great, but I'm always there in the middle of the summer and it's just so hot. Even Wild Iris, which has a reputation for being a great summer area, bakes in the sun most of the day and at 8500 ft, the sun is super intense. But the festival was a good time it was fun to hang out with Dev, Ana and their little daughter Shanti. One day, Lander route developer Tom Rangitsch took us for a drive up into the Winds to check out some relatively undeveloped cliff line. It's crazy to see how much rock there is in the Lander area. The issue is access. Even though you can see a lot of it from the highway, it's always tucked away behind Rez land or only accessible by an hour long 4wd drive. Without fail though, Todd Skinner has already checked it out and left some bolts in his wake.

This wall reminded me a lot of the Picnic Lunch Wall at Smith Rock. It could have 10 Big R's on it.

These curious dudes were chilling right at the base. They let me get really close. 

As I usually do, I will approach wildlife until we either spar to the death or they run away. They always run away like little bitches.

As far as my personal climbing, I didn't do much in Lander. I got to check out the Sweatlodge, which is a pretty cool little cave, and also hiked up to the much talked about Wolf Point. Killer crag but it was like 100 degrees. Sandbagged by Blake Cash who, being from Chatty, seems to operate on the mentality that it's a dry heat and better than what he's used to. I also spent some time hanging out with Zeke and his owner Jonathan Siegrist. Zeke is such a boss. Jonathan's pretty cool too. I put this video together of Jonathan climbing Wyoming's hardest route: Moonshine (5.14d). Zeke makes a brief appearance. 

I also went full paparazzi on Tommy Caldwell. It was cool to meet Tommy because...he's Tommy Caldwell. 

According to the sequence of photos of my phone, Elissa flew in to Casper a short time later and we drove back up to Buffalo, The Bighorns, and my favorite spot...Crazy Woman. 

The blue streaks at Blue Chuck Cliff were the first prime lines I saw on the first day I "discovered" Crazy Woman the year before. Somehow though, I got so distracted by all the other routes that I had yet to sink bolts on them. I bolted the left blue streak and then got caught in one of those heinous hail storms. The left blue streak has a heinous crux near the top. It's a 5.14 project that I don't know when I'll get back to so go get it. 

Looking down the blue streak project. Later in the summer, I went back and added a four bolt variation finish that bails to the corner. That route is called The Ice Maiden (5.12c) and it's classic. 35 meters. 

The hail storm was heinous. I did a little product testing. #Outdoorresearch!

This was a memorable day because the hail storm left the dirt roads that we drove in on impassable. We were stranded out there and forced to camp in a place where we weren't supposed to. At some point in the night, I woke up to a strange guttural growling. The sounds of the beast outside were terrifying. It's hard to explain just how irrationally scared we were but these sounds were insane. I'd never heard anything like it. At the time, we thought it must be a mountain lion, or a bear, or a dying cow. Later, we found this soundboard and knew right away that it was a bobcat. You know how everything is scarier when you've just woken up and it's pitch black and you can't see anything and your brain is still foggy? Try to imagine these sounds right outside the van and having no idea what it could be. Aliens, Sasquatch, and crazed murderous rednecks were thoughts that crossed our minds. Yes, it was irrational but we were terrified and couldn't drive away. Check out Bobcat Growl 2 in particular for an idea of how diverse and threatening one of these little kitties can sound. 

Shortly after, Siegrist and Emily Jean showed up to check out Crazy Woman. I was psyched to see him repeat some of the hardish routes I'd established the year before. Here he is on Gold Digger (5.14a)

Here's EC chillin' at Crazy Woman.

After that, EC and I went back to Lander and chilled with Devlin some more before we went on an alpine big wall mission. We circumnavigated, by car, the entire Wind River Range, driving south from Lander first to the Cirque of the Towers. That area is mind-blowing beautiful. We didn't have camping gear so we had to do a day trip in to climb one of the closer peaks, Sundance Pinnacle. It was still an epic journey. 50 miles on dirt roads, a 6 mile hike, then a 10ish pitch 5.10c called the Northeast Arete that was hard! Such a killer route. Then we went to Jackson to climb in the Tetons and did the classic Death Canyon route, The Snaz (5.10a). It was also hard! Our alpine missions were mega extreme so we put together this video.

Thankfully, we survived our alpine excursions and EC was back on a plane headed for the Dub V. I was on to City of Rocks, Idaho. I'd only visited the City once before back in 2004 when I was working for a therapeutic survival school near Twin Falls. It was snowing back then though, so I'd never climbed there. My trip this time was for a post tradeshow Scarpa/Outdoor Research event. It was basically a community-building get together for media and athletes and ended up being a really fun time. I got to climb some classic cracks, meet some new folks, and hang with my friends Brenden O'neill and Gord McArthur among others. I also got to spend a morning climbing with the legendary cobbler Heinz Mariacher which was a real treat. Heinz is a true old school badass climber and one of the coolest dudes in the industry. It wouldn't be much of a stretch to say that he invented the modern day sticky rubber climbing shoe. He's at the very least been an integral part of shoe evolution. Pretty much every benchmark shoe has come from his mind and hands. Shoes like the Mythos, Testarossa, and Solution all came from him when he was working with Sportiva. Now he shapes for Scarpa and the current line-up of his shoes are amazing. I've been wearing Scarpas since my very first pair of climbing shoes, a board lasted pair of Edges, and I've worn them ever since. I've been a grassroots Scarpa athlete since 2007 and have really enjoyed being part of the team. I truly believe they make the best shoe on the market and when they finally decide I'm washed up and stop giving me shoes, I'll just start buying them. I wouldn't wear anything else. 

The City of Rocks, Idaho.

After the City of Rocks event, I went back to Ten Sleep and Crazy Woman. I hooked up with my Canadian friend Mark Smith and his brand new wife Monica. They are great folks and were so much fun to climb with. Mark is the friendliest, happiest dude I know. When he comes to stay with us at the New, he'll be awake in the dark, talking to Elissa before she heads off to work at like 6:00 am. He's awake and so psyched he can barely contain himself. 

Mark at the belay and me on the first ascent of a route I bolted at Crazy Woman. Mafic Dike (5.13a).

That same day that I sent Mafic Dike in the morning, we headed back to Ten Sleep to check out a cool new crag developed by Mike Snyder, JB, and Full Charge Charlie. The Lakepoint crag is definitely worth a visit, particularly this buttress. Here, I'm sending Wavy Gravy, a cool 13b. I also flashed a 13a that day just around the corner. This was August 15th and the conditions were getting better, I sent the final edits of the guidebook off to the publisher the day before which meant my work load had decreased, and I was finally able to focus on climbing.

My goal for the season was to get back on General Litzenheimer, the hardest route in Ten Sleep. It's graded 5.14c, and I'd never climbed that grade, so to say that it was my goal to send it would be a bit much. My goal was to try it some more. Mark was belaying me the first day I tried it this year and I surprised myself by doing all the moves. This was really exciting for me because usually, if I can do the moves on a route of this angle, I can do the route. So I immediately went all in on it. But finding partners after Mark and Monica left was a challenge. Alli and Kevin were around but they were spending a lot of time at another, steeper climbing area that stays a lot warmer and heat is my Kryptonite. So I headed back to the hills to bolt the final routes I wanted to do at Crazy Woman.
I finally sunk bolts on the right blue streak, which is the very first route that caught my eye when I found Crazy Woman. I also bolted the variation finish to the 5.14 project and a nice 12d further left over by a route I did the previous year called Milky's Ultimate Steeze (5.13a).

The last line I bolted goes up just left of the black streak. You can barely see the rope on it. It's actually amazing. Way better than I thought it'd be. From the ground, it looked like the steep section was fairly short but when I rapped it, I realized the cliff there is 150 ft. and the view was foreshortened. It's actually a sustained 6-bolt section on 20 degree overhang with tiny two finger pockets and edges. It's definitely another 5.14. 

I love this photo. You probably can't read the sign but it says "end motorized travel." I can't even take a guess at how many undeveloped dolomite cliffs are in the Crazy Woman area. Overall, I've spent weeks driving around, getting to some, and not being able to get to others. This one was a ways off the beaten path and, as it turns out, locked up on private property. Some old rancher on a 4-wheeler got curious about what the hell I was doing with a van like Max way out there so he rode up, curious, and a bit defensive. He had a gun on his hip and a cowboy hat, of course. As is always the case in Wyoming, he was super nice and we talked for a long time. I asked him for his version of the legend of the Crazy Woman (there are many variations). He told me he didn't know but I clearly remember one nugget of knowledge that he left me with. He said with a drawl, "This land was good on men and horses but hard on women and dogs."

I went back to Ten Sleep to focus on the Litzenheimer and was greeted with this amazing double rainbow over the the cliff in the distance coincidentally named "City of Gold." One of my favorite campsites. I have much better pictures of this...on my hard drive.

I really enjoy the process of projecting a route and Litzenheimer was no different. I love figuring out the moves, then the clips, and making small links...all that stuff. I actually didn't spend that much time on the route before I went into redpoint mode so it was just a matter of finding partners. Alli and Kevin were nice enough to walk back and forth between the Cattle Ranch and Alli's project at the Superratic so every three days or so, we'd be up there. I was getting really close and then, one day when the conditions were less than perfect, I went full bore into the opening boulder problem which involves catching a sharp half-pad mono with the left middle finger. I started to fade away and did one of those numbers where your finger goes kind of into a crimp, then straight again, and right when I reeled it back in, something yoinked. I came down and went through that whole process of thinking, "it's not that bad," playing with it, bending it, pulling on it. It felt OK. So I decided to give it one more burn and pulled on my shoe and was like, "Aaagh!" Kevin convinced me that if it hurt to put my shoe on, it was probably a bad idea to pull body weight on the tip of that finger. He was right, of course. And just like that, I thought it was over. I needed to rest and there is nothing more annoying than not climbing. 

So instead of resting, I decided to take a break from the route and go to the Fins in Idaho, another vertical crag with tweaky pockets. Perfect! The Fins has been on my 'must-visit' list since I saw some footage of Siegrist on Algorithm, the 14d he put up the year before. Jonathan was already there, so I hustled to meet him. 

The fastest way to the Fins from Ten Sleep is through Yellowstone Park. In the early 2000's I worked for a wilderness program in Dubois, Wyoming and we used to go there all the time, so I've seen the amazing sites and just wanted to blast through. I managed to avoid the entrance fee by camping right outside the park, getting up early and driving in before the gate opens. But it wasn't early enough. I think it was Labor Day weekend cause the Park was packed and every time a bison herd gets near the road, you get stuck in standstill traffic for like an hour. I was screaming, "you gotta be effing kidding me!" for a while before realizing how much of a dick I was being. This herd eventually took off and actually swam across the Yellowstone river. I've never seen bison swim before. It was pretty cool.

I was blown away by my first view of the Fins. You drive up this really steep dirt road and it looks small from a distance. But when you get up to the 2wd parking, the Discovery wall looks incredible, like Ceuse. 

The Discovery Wall

I hustled up the hill at warp speed to meet Jonathan and was pleasantly surprised to realize that I knew everyone at the crag already: Jonathan, Zeke, Seth and Neely, Leif and Lindsay Gasch....such is the climbing community. I ended up staying at the Fins for a week. With such a short amount of time, I didn't want to pick off any lofty goals so I focused on doing a bunch of 5.12's and 13's. Like Ten Sleep, the Fins suits me really well. I managed to onsight or flash all the 5.12's and 13a/b routes on the Discovery Wall except one or two. That's really good for me. The one hard route I did was La Cabanita Especial (5.13c) which Siegrist had put up the previous year. All of these routes are simply incredible and I can't wait to visit again and try some of the harder rigs. I also bolted and sent two new routes on the left end of the Discovery Wall. Hazmat and Decon (both 5.12-) are decent additions. Definitely not the pick of the litter but worthy. Siegrist was a machine, as usual. He slammed in a few more 5.14 routes that week and I got some great pictures of his hardest addition of the year, Better Living through Chemistry (5.14b/c). 

This was my favorite of the series. It really shows the style of climbing at the Fins. Lots of blank rock and rad pockets with a beautiful view. See the rest of the pics here.

Then Siegrist was off to do more of what he does and I was heading back to Ten Sleep to battle the Litzenheimer. My last day at the Fins, I really wanted to finish up La Cabanita and I went a little too big. It starts with a 12+ that has a really hard pull on a ring finger mono. On my 2nd burn of the day, I felt something rip all the way down to my elbow but kept going anyway and fell at the very last move with the chains in my face. I'm not one to listen to my body so I tried again and felt the same twinge at that tweaky move but worse. Regardless, I pushed through and sent but not without consequence. My first day back at Ten Sleep I was feeling rough. My fingers were in terrible shape. Not only had the Litzenheimer injury not healed (how could it after 'resting' by climbing tweaky 5.13 pocket routes) but it had gotten angrier. In addition, I had a new injury in my ring finger/forearm. I was a mess. 

This go 'round, I teamed up with Brenden O'Neill and he was psyched on Galactic Emperor (5.14a) which is right next to the Litzenheimer. No way I was going to blow the opportunity to get on my project by resting, especially with limited time in the trip left. The day I sent, I warmed up on a 10d and was struggling. My fingers felt terrible. It was painful to tie my shoes. We did another warmup and I felt the same. But I stepped up to the rig thinking that if I feel something twinge, I'll just let go. Nothing twinged. I sent.
Kevin Wilkinson at the belay just before I left for the Fins. I think this might have been the burn before I tweaked my finger. Alli Rainey photo

I guess I should clarify that the route I actually took is called Masters of the Universe. James Litz sent this project, that was bolted by Alli Rainey, in 2009. The straight up independent bolt line is General Litzenheimer and was graded 5.14c. Litz was on a rampage in Ten Sleep that year so right after he did Litzenheimer, he did the link-up called Masters of the Universe. You do the crux section of Litzenheimer to a big jug at the 4th bolt but instead of going straight up, you step two feet right onto Galactic Emperor and finish with that route. Litz felt like this finish was harder so the word on the street was 5.14c/d. I doubt James ever really proposed grades for these routes. I know him a bit and can make an educated guess that he doesn't give a shit. Somehow the media morphed this into 5.14d for Masters of the Universe. The reason I chose this finish was not because I was looking for something harder, though 2nd ascent did sound pretty cool. I'd done both finishes before because I've done Galactic and there is a reverse link-up that climbs Galactic to the rest then finishes on Litzenheimer called Private Halfenheimer (5.14a) which I'd also done. I remembered the finish to Galactic being more straightforward and secure. Additionally, it has chalk on it whereas the Litzenheimer finish is blank and techy and insecure. Maybe the Galactic finish is a tad harder, I can't really tell. But I knew that if I did get to the rest that I didn't want to blow it up high so I took the right hand variation.

Siegrist has done Litzenheimer and Litz has done both so, although this was truly the 2nd ascent of Masters of the Universe, it's more like a 3rd ascent after Litz and Siegrist. I even got some sweet cred on where Jens noted that I gave the route a "personal grade" of 5.14c. For the record, I don't do personal grades. I always just take it at face value and don't put much thought into it. I've been on 13b's that feel impossible and I've done 5.14's that feel easy. Who am I to judge? I'm one of the most imbalanced climbers on the planet. I can climb vertical rock fairly well but I can't send V9 boulder problems. Because I did send this route, I doubt it's 5.14c but who knows. Crazy stuff can happen. I was really psyched though and even more psyched to finish off the wall with the 3rd ascent (after Litz and Siegrist) of Porcelain (5.14b). I wrapped up a 5.13d at Leigh Creek called Fangs, had a good day with Brendan at Dry Wall onsighting two 13a's, and that was it. My time at Ten Sleep is pretty much over which is kind of heartbreaking. I love it there so much but with almost nothing left to do, it's hard to justify another long-term trip. I'll be back though. 

Brendan split for the Valley and I only had one day of my trip left to send the routes I'd bolted at Crazy Woman but no partners. I had another great solo day up there, alone, climbing in silence on a shunt and just enjoying one of my favorite places. I TR sent Earthbound Djinn (the right blue streak 5.12b), The Ice Maiden (the easy variation finish of the left blue streak 5.12c), and Wilky's Anti-Steeze (5.12d). It's a shame I had to "send" them solo on TR but it was the only option. I consider them first ascents...if you don't, go snake 'em up you rat bastard! Ha! And like I mentioned, I did leave two 5.14 projects up there that are wide open. They're worthy. Go check them out. 

I drove back across this great land, stopping in Rapid City for some van repairs, and on to Delaware to visit my awesome gramma. 

Gramma is strong as hell!

I made it to Richmond, VA one day after EC got out of shoulder surgery. She was doped up and five months later she's still struggling, but  she did her first 5.6 this past weekend and I didn't even pull her up on toprope!

After 10,000 miles since we left on our trip, Max blew up in the home stretch from Virginia to West Virginia. He'd had enough. It got straightened out though, and we finally made it home just in time to kick off New River Gorge season. Like all the others, this past season has been amazing and I'll get something up about that asap.