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.