I didn’t want to spread any rumors until it happened, and honestly I still can’t believe it but Chris moved to Golden. Yes you heard me right. Chris is one of our best friends from the Penn State days and had been plotting a move to Colorado for some time. And one glorious day.. he just showed up. So what did we do? We went climbing! We had a great weekend catching up and climbing some routes down at Shelf Road. On top of that, we were finally able to move out of our bus and into our new place! Situated on the edge of Clear Creek and Lions Park, our apartment always has a great energy surrounding it. We are way psyched. Old friends, new homes, spring flowers. It’s all looking up.
I was planning to wax poetic about the long journey to become a forecaster for the CAIC. I felt inspired after listening to Helplessness Blues by Fleet Foxes on my way home from a fieldwork mission to Aspen last month. The lyrics really struck me, although it’s a month later now and I am still trying to organize my thoughts on how incredibly unlikely the events were that got me here. So instead of blathering and deleting and blathering again I thought I would simply share some pictures from work this season. Maybe the words will come together this summer when the flood of danger ratings, snow totals and avalanches drain from my brain.
I was raised up believing I was somehow unique
Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes, unique in each way you can see
And now after some thinking, I’d say I’d rather be
A functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me
But I don’t, I don’t know what that will be
I’ll get back to you someday soon you will see
I sat cross-legged in the back of the bus this morning and Robyn was already gone to work. My breath formed thick clouds and the air was clammy and damp. The world outside was muffled by 6 inches of fresh snow which fell last night. Robyn and I have been urban camping in the bus for a few days now, moving from lot to lot and running trips to the storage unit trying to get things organized. We will be living in the bus for at least a few weeks. In a weird twist of strangeness we were told in a plain letter from our landlord that once our initial 3 month short term lease was up we needed to be out – no explanation included. To make things weirder, our landlords daughter was our roommate, and slunk around the place in silence for the remainder of the month.
Despite the upheaval adding another layer of craziness to our lives here in Golden, we were given the chance to move into our own place – small or not! And here we are, in the bus again. It’s amazing how streamlined your life becomes once you open that sliding door. Two cupboards, two seats, one bed, one cooler.
As I woke this morning I listened to cars and snowplows roll by as our coleman hissed, fogging the windows. I made instant oats and french pressed coffee before sloshing across the street to Lyons Park to brush my teeth. Just a few days ago we checked out a small one bedroom place about a block from our last. The property manager is super nice, the price is right and the view of Lookout Mountain from the living room and bedroom windows is great. We hope to sign a lease soon, and should be moving in by the end of the month. It’s only been 3 months since we moved here but it feels more like a year has passed. As leaves bud from trees along the park I am reminded of our move from Alaska. Rolling into Revelstoke B.C. we saw flowers and smelled dirt for the first time in 8 months. Life was slow and easy then. Setting up the tent along a river and gathering wood for a fire took most of the afternoon. After the whirlwind move to Fort Collins and then to Golden and now to the bus, I am looking forward to long afternoons and evenings by a fire and the slow-paced lazy days of summer.
We have been catching up on photos lately and found some good ones to share. A few from Hailey, some from turkey day and a couple from a trip to Oregon. Thinking spring around here! No word on where we are going to be living by this weekend, but we can always crash in the bus. Jerrod is in town so we did the standard Golden brewery tour last night which was SUPER fun. It’s nice to have a great friend visit. We plan to do some ski touring tomorrow and Wednesday. Enjoy the photos!
With a few days off to go explore back in February Robyn, Will and I made it down to Shelf Road for the first time. Shelf is a canyon lined with dolomite boasting over 2,000 routes and growing. Robyn has been eager to get down to this place since we got here so it was certainly exciting to get out of our bubble in Golden for a bit and go explore.
If you travel the regular way to Shelf it’s a straight forward two-and-a-half hour drive down Interstate 25 and around the bend to Canon City and back up into the hills north of town. Unfortunately for us, Google Maps was content sending us to the north end of Shelf Road only to find out that it is impassible in snowy months and sketchy at the very least in summer months. Instead we were now thoroughly in the middle of nowhere and directed to go down “Phantom Canyon” to get back to the south end of Shelf.
Phantom Canyon, although only 30 miles long took more than 2 hours to drive through… One of the windiest little dirt roads I have ever been on, it followed an old railroad grade twisting and turning its way down a 5,000 ft vertical decent. Fortunately for us however this was also one of the prettiest drives we have done in a long time.
Essentially Shelf is a great crag. We bumped into the guidebook author Bob D’Antonio and a really cool guy named Nate that lives up near Breckenridge. They were busy chatting about new lines and by the end of the weekend had established at least two new routes. We ended up camping and hanging with them that evening and had a great campfire. A highlight was Will’s campfire trick he learned from an Australian. I won’t spoil it because it’s worth experiencing first hand.. After his visit, Will was off to Indian Creek (his winter home) for the time being. He also let us know he landed a sweet gig with the Taos Hot Shots. Super excited for him. It was so great to get out and explore some of our new backyard here in Colorado. Robyn and I really do feel most at home in the canyons and beneath the crags of the countryside. We are hoping to get back to Shelf here again soon, but the end of the season is closing in and the crags closer to home are warming up.
Our next big adventure will be figuring out where we are going to sleep at night.. That’s another long story but essentially we will be in the bus for a while until we can find a nice place here in town with a more reliable landlord/lease agreement. For the time being you can catch us at our new (again) mailing address: PO BOX 426 Golden, CO 80402!
As you might guess by our lack of posts things have been a bit crazy here in Colorado. I knew I had a cool shot of Robyn at Shelf Road from back in February though, and thought I would take a couple moments to slap one up. More to come!
It’s been way too long since we’ve updated this here blog. These last few weeks have been a whirlwind of adventure, work, interviews and training. We’ve barely had time to sleep. I thought things would start to settle down a bit by the beginning of February; we’d develop a cozy routine and all of the tiny parts would come together nicely. We’ve now entered March and I am still wondering where January went. We certainly have lots to share and to catch-up on; however, those bits in-between our last post and now will have to wait.
For an unbelievably quick update, here are a few photos of us exploring and tasting Colorado.
Thanks for visiting. More to come soon [hopefully].
Week two of our El Potrero Chico trip! Cora was a spark plug and arrived shortly after Christmas. She got on some amazing routes and coaxed (forced) us into our freezing cold pool by encouraging us to toss Tecate’s in there.. Week two was punctuated by rain.. lots of it. At first it was an annoyance, but looking back it got us into town more, and really added a bunch more learning experiences and cool stories. Cool stories like hitchhiking to town in the back of a small pick-up with 12 (I believe) other climbers hanging on for dear life.. Or hitting up the Friday market to gawk and explore. Or walking into a cool hole-in-the-wall tamale restaurant and stuffing our faces with steaming hot tamales.
Aside from the setbacks, we also had the best climbing days of the trip. When the weather started to clear after 3 days of rain Andy, Steve and I completed a major milestone in our climbing careers by sending Time Wave Zero (5.12a, 23 pitches). We were the only people on the route, and battled adverse conditions and dark rappels, but were rewarded with one of the most memorable sunsets (and climbs) of our lives.
On our last climbing day Robyn, Andy and I set off on Yankee Clipper (5.12a, 15 pitches) and summited via two of the most incredible pitches I have ever climbed. This may have been the single best stretch of climbing on the whole trip, and an amazing way to cap our journey. Without further ado, I will turn it over to pictures and spastic day notes, typed on the iPad during our trip.
Day 6: Merry Christmas! Slept great last night. A shower (cold as hell) last night and the discovery that we have a heater in our room and the long process of assembling the necessities of a comfy bed all added to a great night sleep.
We woke this morning to a light drizzle. Down to the campground after breakfast, we sent a few quick emails and met some Danish climbers. Back to the castle we collected a pile of wood from the adjacent arroyo to cook a wood fire BBQ dinner on. Last night Steve, Andy and I vowed to give Time Wave Zero a go. TWZ is a 2,300′ climb up El Torro and clocks in at 5.12a. This is one of the tallest sport routes in the world.
Since today was a rest day we decided to head up to the base to make sure we knew the way there. Tomorrow we will leave at about 4:30 a.m. to climb the first few pitches in the dark (including an 11b). Once it’s light we plan to string together two 5-pitch blocks of trimulclimbing to save time. Of course that all depends on whether the rain that’s falling gives us a window to climb in..
As for now we are stoking the fire and getting ready to cook steaks on our awesome wood fire grill that sits in the open air attached to the living room. Andy just threw on some sweet potatoes and the iPad is kicking out Sinatra Christmas. Not bad.
Day 7: Rain today. TWZ will have to wait. The mist is hanging from the cliffs like a scarf. The sky is grey and still. We briefly entertained a day at the crag but quickly determined that it was just simply too wet. Instead we walked into town to El Búho, a local coffee shop run by climbers. This place had some serious character. Paintings, drawings and several other depictions of owls coated the walls. My favorite was a mural of an owl riding a T-Rex. The baristas were two younger girls from North Carolina and Virginia that had come down to work and had only been there for 3 weeks.
Andy met some cool folks outside and was quickly recruited into an impromptu jam session involving beat boxing, a guitar and singing. The rest of us enjoyed a warm cup of coffee and a bit of surfing the net.
After coffee we struck out to explore the city. Rough around the edges, but full of friendly people, Hidalgo has certainly seen its heyday come and go. Built around a cement plant, the global recession and subsequent selling of the plant to big business has dried up the local economy. Today most residents commute to Monterrey for work.
We ventured down to the town plaza, withdrew some cash and ate lunch at Hidalgo Tamales. The five of us stuffed our faces with fresh, hot tamales for a total of $10 USD, although I accidentally tried to pay them $100…
Tonight is shaping up to be pretty mellow, although we bought some different looking beer that tastes exactly the same as all the others we have had. A highlight is that the label has a lady with a unibrow on it and while walking home a police car rolled by and we smiled, waved and swigged our beers as they passed. They rolled down their window, slowed and returned our smiles as they went on their way.
Hoping for a weather window tomorrow but if nothing else, the next day seems like it should clear again for the remainder of the trip.
Day 8: falling behind. Seems like the days are starting to run together. Third day in a row that we have woke up and looked outside to determine whether or not we were going to climb TWZ or not. Strike three. Today is the Friday market in Hidalgo so we decided to cruise back to town to scope that out. There is just about everything at these markets. Two narrow streets bordering the cemetery are slammed with people and tarps covering tables of various trinkets, watches, produce, porn, shoes, kitchenware – you name it. On one street people line up for a block to get to the food tent. Delicious looking rolls of dough were being smashed, twisted and cooked.
Cora arrives! A seasoned world traveler, Cora was the least dazed looking of all of us when she arrived. Flights all seemed to go well and as soon as she got here we rolled down to get dinner at La Posada. This is an interesting place. It reminds me of Miguel’s (Red River Gorge) in a way. No matter where you are in the world there is this comfortable familiarity that develops around a community of climbers.
Day 9: Time Wave Zero. After looking all over the web for a weather forecast I could agree with we decided to go for it. As long as it wasn’t actively raining, Andy, Steve and I were going to give Time Wave Zero a shot tomorrow. Let alone the fact that this was the longest route any of us had attempted (23 pitches and ~2,300′) and that there was a 5.12a waiting at pitch 21, we were also planning to climb it as a group of three which would afford us very little downtime and required a few advanced techniques as we climbed.
4:00 a.m. -raining. Shit. The route would be wet. But the weather seems to be lifting a bit.
6:00 a.m. We are up and nervously eating bowls of oatmeal and swigging coffee in the dark. Illuminated by the red lamps on our headlights we sat quietly. Cora was asleep on the floor in the living room.
Sweat. The relative humidity was 100% and at times we couldn’t see the massive wall directly to our right despite being able to throw a rock to it. Hiking through the mist we passed the spires and climbed to the surf bowl where the first pitch sat, mostly damp, but downright dripping wet in places. Steve took the lead and strung up the runout 5.7 and we were on our way. One of the greatest unknowns awaited us at the second pitch. A 5.11b crests a pocketed headwall adjacent to the surf bowl and a glistening water streak covered the last 4 bolts, crux and anchors.. As the wall steepened, the climb drew me to the water streak. The holds were soaked, and some had pools of greasy mud. The crux. Pulling up to a hand match on a wet rail, a long lock-off guards a sinker 3 finger pocket. With three days of rain, no sign of chalk and little traffic I was relieved to latch into this hold before crossing through and clipping the chains.
Andy led the next pitch, a wet 5.9, and from there we trimulclimbed the next four to the top of pitch seven. Here there is a 3rd class section that leads to the main headwall. The next 12 pitches were a blur of linked pitches and another section of trimulclimbing a block of five. This trick was really the secret of our fast 3 person ascent. Thrown in for spice were a couple of 10+ pitches with exposed and runout moves. All the while, the soup we had been climbing in had started to thin, and occasionally we were offered expansive views of the surrounding mountains. Near pitch 15 the clouds turned a brilliant white, and the sun popped through. The light was angelic as we climbed in a bright white bubble up beautiful featured stone.
After the two hard 5.10 pitches we took a lunch break at the base of the 5.12a pitch. Steve braved the first attempt, found some beta and hung the draws. 5.12 is a lot harder when you have already bagged 20 pitches on the day. I went next, and got the flash. Andy followed, and we were on our way to a free ascent of one of the longest multi-pitch routes in the world.
Day 10: Single pitchin’. The weather today was absolutely perfect. Cool and crisp in the morning, dry rock. Light breeze and plenty of sun. We spent the day single pitching at the Central Scrutinizer crag which is right off the road. Sunday’s are a big family party day in Mexico, and everyone was out in full force.
As Robyn entered the crux of her flash on Gringo Disco (5.11b), a carload of soccer players rolled up in a minivan bumping Ice Ice Baby by Vanilla Ice, followed by Elvis and then the Mexican top 40. Some locals seem to love to bump their stereos through the canyon, hang and socialize in stark contrast with others on horseback. Got some cool photos of Cora today. Also scared some nearby climbers with Steve’s “Best belayer of the year award” in which he had a margarita in hand, a harness too small and said things like “here’s a fun fact, I’ve never used a cinch before..”
Day 11: RRRRAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIN. harder than ever today. Walked to town, and the coffee shop was closed. Hit up the market to restock on supplies before heading home. We had a good group chill-and-read-with-coffee session back at home before hilarity ensued. In order to guarantee that we get in the pool at some point on this trip we tossed four 22 oz Dos Equis in as we walked by… A few beers later and it was swim time.
The rest of the night consisted of general hilarity around games of pool and getting high scores on an iPad game. Rain again in the forecast for tomorrow..
Day 12: More rain today but it’s New Year’s Eve! What a stark contrast from last year’s Las Vegas Strip experience. This year we had a holiday feast at La Posada. It was incredibly delicious! The night was already a success.
Across the street, two parties were going on. One was a raffle to help support the local animal shelter potreropups.org and the other was the local gear/margarita guy who set up his trailer and a bonfire in the adjacent lot. Edguardo sold gear and margaritas from a trailer he towed to the base of the crag each day. He also blares techno through some huge speakers. When the clock struck midnight people ran and jumped the fire, we took random fog shots and danced our way home to the castle.
Day 13: Spires. Slow start today since we didn’t get to sleep till 1 am. The rock is slowly drying and we decided to check out some lines on the south side of the spires. Cora got on Sunnyside Up (5.9) one of her favorites of the whole trip, as well as Easy Over (5.10d) marking the hardest route she had ever tried. Easy Over was a great route. Long and varied up the southeast face of the Grand spire. Next we climbed Young Crankenstein (5.11d) and Aspire (5.12a). Aspire was a real standout of the trip. At 165ft, it was a monster pitch that led from the ground to the very summit of the Grand Spire in one long push. It’s hard to get a better position, and what a finish. The crux involved some thin clips and a Techy crimp sequence at mid height.
Day 14: Yankee clipper. Hard to say enough about this route. Yankee clipper (5.12a) is a 15 pitch work of art, climbing a proud sweeping line to the summit of Garza Peak (sp?). Andy, Robyn and I were up and at the base before first light but still managed to be slightly behind the first group. The first three pitches were still really wet, which made our trimulclimbing a bit of a spicy adventure, but once past those pitches we enjoyed some of the best pitches of the trip. Extremely featured limestone jugs for hundreds of feet.
I find inspiration in tackling those out-of-my-comfort zone experiences. I haven’t always been good at doing so, but I try anyway and find it extremely invigorating to work hard at something, like a climbing project, and notice a bit of progress with each attempt. To make headway as a climber, I rely heavily on these experiences. Along with the grueling training and an endless amount of sit-ups, I crave a routine filled with sweat, turgid arms and shredded tips.
As Ethan mentioned in the last post, we, among other friends, plan to follow a modified workout regimen outlined by Neil Gresham, author of the Building A Better Climber Series. We’ve set realistic goals and plan to adhere to workouts and meal plans that will help us achieve those goals.
In sharing this with each of you, it also holds us accountable. We all have friends, by the simple virtue of their enthusiasm and psych for climbing make us better climbers. Sharing our climbing goals and training logs with other climbers is a way for us to connect over our excitement and the challenges we encounter along the way. In doing so, it too, encourages us to step out of our comfort zones, train longer and send harder – always, with great friends there to root us on.
There’s no denying it. I love the technical rock faces with the tiny ‘bullshit’ holds. On these routes, my focus is fierce and my confidence is at its peak. Going for an onsight attempt at or above my redpoint limit is not unusual with this style of climbing. I am a sucker for it. That said, I am often terrified of the bulgy, even slightly overhanging roof routes and long cruxes, and would much prefer to top-rope these lines than give in to a good lead burn. I know this is a weakness of mine and to strengthen it, I need to approach these routes differently, focusing more of my efforts on them than the familiar, go-to crimp climb. I hope to do so by incorporating more of these routes and climbing styles in my training plan (both outside and in the gym).
Last year marked my highest achieving year as a climber (by far). I pushed myself physically, stuck with a several month long conditioning routine, and ultimately achieved the goals I strived for. But as I start to think ahead to the upcoming climbing season, changes in approach and a slight rearranging of priorities are certainly in order.
There are a couple of no brainer goals this season. I want to climb Devil’s Tower in Wyoming and I also want to climb Hallett Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park. Hallett Peak was named after my great, great, uncle W. L. Hallett (I believe it’s William). William was an early settler and mountaineer, and when the Appalachian Mountain Club came to town to do first ascents, they called on William to guide them. The club documented their climb in Mountaineering in Colorado: The Peaks about Estes Park (1889) and named both the peak and a nearby snowfield after him. The goals for Hallett Peak are to first hike the backside with my folks, and then climb the technical face with Robyn.
Using climbing as a vessel to travel has also cropped up as a cool way to share fun activities, and explore new places and cultures. Our latest trip to Mexico left us immediately brainstorming another Spanish speaking country to explore and climb (Costa Rica?).
As we settle into Golden, we immediately jumped on the opportunity to become members at one of the nation’s premier indoor climbing gyms. The odd part however, is that the weather has been so damn mild, it seems kinda silly to be climbing indoors. Our previous pattern for climbing has usually included at least a month or two of temperatures that simply didn’t allow much climbing in the winter. This far south however, and in the rain shadow of the Rockies, climbing year round is no sweat.
So what to do? I guess that comes down to what our goals for the season are, and how to best approach them. When I think back on my best days climbing, they are all outside, in beautiful places, and I am usually feeling strong. Last season, this happened quite a bit in the early spring and summer. I trained hard. Starting in February I followed the Building a Better Climber routine (given the facilities I had) and stuck with it for 33 weeks. I logged workouts, pitches climbed, notable sends etc. with my peak sends coming at weeks 19-25.
By week 30, summer had ended, fall was upon us and we were shifting back to warmer weather crags. Trouble getting rides, conflicting schedules and trips revolving around things other than hard sport climbing filled most weeks. I continued to climb at a higher level than last year, but also felt a distinct decline in power and endurance as the summer wore on, and I think I know why. Early season I trained A LOT to prepare for the year. As spring came I focused on mileage, and eventually strength. Before I knew it I was climbing harder than ever and was encouraged to push my grade. What comes with hard sends however is a marked decrease in volume. As I projected my routes, I noticed I would often only climb a handful of routes on any given weekend. Two warm-ups, burn on the project, 40 min rest, burn on the project, 40 min rest, last burn. The next day would be the same. While I was climbing hard routes, I wasn’t climbing hard. The whole experience was much more mental, and as I dealt with this aspect of the projects, my peak strength windows were closing. What I really needed to do was take a break. Get some miles in, train a bit more, and hit the project again in a few weeks. The issue with this technique however was that in Hailey we had limited time at most of our crags (except Dierkes). Summer crags have a short climbing window at high elevation, and when it passes, you have a long 6 month wait ahead of you.
So what!? What does it all mean for this season?! I guess what I would like to strive for is a season full of exploration, and a season where I recognize (or anticipate) performance plateaus and put the work in to bust through them. In Idaho I had a sense of scarcity. We wrote in all the climbable weekends on the calendar MONTHS ahead of time. “Okay we have Dierkes for a few more weeks, then we can start to test out The Fins. If it’s too cold we bail for Dierkes.. Okay. Then we are off to Oregon, and then we are at The Perch and then off to Maine for a family reunion.. Dang. That’s like 4 weekends gone at The Fins..”
I think the story here in Golden could be much different. There are several summer crags, a wide variety of bouldering and alpine objectives, and the only limited resource may be the winter season. With so many places to go and explore, I don’t think it will be near as hard to duck into the gym for a month mid-summer. Or switch to bouldering for a month to increase power.
So goals for the year? Assuming training doesn’t get too grueling, and that I keep my sacrifice versus reward balance in check, I am gunning for a 5.14a this season. What I hope to avoid is any slump that comes with long term projecting at my limit. So if this starts to set in, I will switch it up, boulder or train for a while and then if the motivation is there, get back at the project.
As much as I want to say that the reason I climb is for this totally spiritual and loving connection with the outdoors, there is more to it than that. The reason you climb waterfall-covered choss in Valdez, or freeze your ass off in the shade of a 15 F January morning at Dierkes isn’t due to your love for the outdoors. A big part of climbing for me is rising to a challenge. Setting goals. Strategizing. It keeps me healthy, and keeps me motivated. And as we all know, there is hardly a better feeling in the world than clipping the chains at the top of a climb, lowering past the crux and thinking, “Really? Did that just happen?”