Journey vs. Destination and Whatnot

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to summit Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park. I have spent somewhere near 150 days bouldering in the Park and had never more than glimpsed the famed peak from the confines of the talus fields I enjoy so much. So under the cruel tutelage of my co-workers/besties, I hauled myself up the Cables and enjoyed a hot espresso at the summit. There are worse ways to spend a Sunday.

At any rate, the highlight of the day was watching a party attempting the Casual Route up the legendary Diamond. Somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind has lurked the notion of ascending that clean triangle of alpine granite, and seeing its pristine face close up rekindled that desire. I have done approximately zero multipitch alpine trad routes, so I have a lot to learn before attempting any route on the Diamond, but the goal is set.

While it was a good feeling to stand on top of Longs with a great group of close friends, what was most interesting was how much I would have preferred to take a more difficult route to the summit. Or, rather, the Diamond is so much cooler in my mind, probably because it is more difficult and definitely because it looks more badass.

That thought got my mind churning over my motivation for climbing and why I have dedicated my life to it for nine years. I enjoy the social aspect of climbing, bouldering in particular, and I definitely enjoy getting out into the quiet hills and seeing marmots and stuff but, ultimately, I am motivated by difficulty and the necessity of pushing myself to grasp at success on difficult lines. Which isn’t to say I want a big number attached to a climb, though that is always a bonus. Rather, I do not feel fulfilled unless there is some amount of suffering, pain, anger, failure, blind rage, and/or frustration involved in the overall process. To me it is not about being on top of a climb, it is about getting on top of a climb (that’s what she said?). If it was always easy what would be the point?

Judging by the amount of folks on Longs in shorts and sandals and the wide array of body types visible under those shorts and sandals, it is safe to say nearly anyone is capable of hiking to the top. The route we took was not difficult, nor was it easy; frigid, soaking wet alpine 5.4 is absolutely no joke. But I didn’t have to learn anything, didn’t have to make any adjustments to my technique or approach, didn’t have to go to that primitive place in my psyche where the body takes over and the mind is only an observer. Those are the moments that keep me motivated, keep me working towards the overall goal which is…I dunno, to get to the top, or something.

Longs story short (ha), next summer I am going to try the Casual Route. Someone is going to have to teach me about building belays and placing cams and hauling haul bags and things of that sort, and I’m going to have to confront the abject terror I feel towards non-bouldering methods of climbing, but that is the point. Even if I have to rappel (fortunately I do know how to do this…) off the first pitch and never make the summit, the whole process is one that will challenge me and put me outside my comfort zone and, hopefully, progress my overall climbing ability.

Unrelated note: someone please teach me how to trad climb…


Risk Assessment, Death, and Bees

Corey ‘C-Dog’ Carver here. I hate bees. I hate them more than tailgaters, corn, and a pen with ink that does not write all combined together. Let us be clear that “bees” includes all manner of stinging, flying insects. Bees have forced me to bail off climbs and cry like a three old year whose bed underneath is occupied by The Fangman. I find routes that climb near bees to be risky business, and risk assessment is one of the main priorities for rock climbers.

I was primed for a fantastic summer: Clear Creek Canyon, Ten Sleep Canyon, Devil’s Tower, and possibly bouldering in RMNP. I was climbing well, hard, and smartly. Then I crushed my ankle. “I’ve done this climb before, I’ll just boulder up and preclip the first draw for you, bro.” Not only did I miss the draw on the first attempt, my right foot blew and after a 10’ drop to uneven rock, I had a grade 2 sprained ankle and some “crunched” bones (according to the doc). I made a poor assessment of the risk. As a consequence, I took almost four weeks off and three more to return to form.

We do a dangerous sport. Hiking through forests that may contain bees, traversing a ridgeline with a thousand foot drop to one, or both sides. Skipping clips to find that perfect jug to get a rest on. Thinking two pads will be enough for a 20’ ground fall. Or, God forbid, trusting a ridiculously small hook on an even more ridiculous edge (aid climbing). Even putting on a harness or lacing up your shoes is an exercise in whether you trust your life and health to your gear, partners, or yourself.

As a coach, I work with my team helping them realize their goals and understanding the danger inherent to the sport of rock climbing. They all understand the risk, but do not understand they can get hurt and hurt for good. It is as if only other people get hurt. This attitude is why I got hurt. Having never been seriously hurt, the danger was very distant to me and I became complacent. It is human nature to become complacent when we live, eat, and breathe climbing. Then I realized something:

Rock climbing in itself is not inherently dangerous. Human nature is.


a thought occurred to me as i was driving away from a local climbing area today: are certain climbing areas really good because they truly are that good, or are they only good because you live within a close proximity to them?

there are a few places that pop into my head as being truly amazing climbing areas. first on my personal list is the red river gorge, in eastern kentucky. when i lived in west lafayette, indiana, going to school at purdue university, i would skip class and drive the four hours just for a day of climbing. i’ve driven solo from denver to the red (18 hours drive time, with a two hour “power nap”), for a 10 day trip. i climbed 9 of those 10 days, and it was worth every minute and every mile. i have never regretted going there and i doubt i ever will.

another area that sticks out in my mind is yosemite. trad, sport, bouldering, big wall, “the valley” has it all! everything you could want is there, and people come from all over the world to sample the rock. lucky are the ones that also happen to live close by…or luckier still, the dying breed of the “valley rat” finding ways to squat and survive living within the park. but you plan big trips around yosemite, most people don’t just “pop in”. the few trips that i took there, i drove many hours with friends in a haze of cigarette smoke and coffee just to have a shot at climbing those monolithic granite domes.

also near and dear to my heart is rifle. i feel lucky to be so close to it, but i would gladly drive long distances to spend a good chunk of time there. in fact, every summer there is always an influx of strong dirtbag climbers from all corners of the country that live in the canyon. hell, in 2011 i was one of them. as far as sport climbing is concerned, it’s one of the best places to really test your mettle (as long as you climb under 5.15a). there is such a high concentration of difficult climbs, and such varied styles within the small and narrow canyon, that you shouldn’t get bored. everything is crazy convenient, with no approaches or hikes. you get to climb hard and be lazy at the same time. win-win situation if you ask me.

on the flip side, there are areas that are good because you live so close to them. the first one in this category that i can think of is clear creek canyon, just west of golden. i love clear creek. i have climbed more times there than probably any other area. but let’s be honest, if it wasn’t 30 minutes away from denver, it wouldn’t be a destination. not by a long shot. however, it allows you to get after-work sessions during the summers, quick training sessions on real rock, and offers hard enough routes to allow us normal climbers to push our limits. it’s a great place to have in our backyard, but world class?

now i know i’m going to take a lot of heat for this next one (DISCLAIMER: i am a wiener of a trad climber, and if given the choice, i will always choose to clip a bolt before i plug gear. i do plug said gear from time to time, more for an active rest day than to push my limits. take the following with a large grain of salt and a bit of humor), but another area that falls within the “good by proximity” category (for me) is eldorado canyon state park. i know that it is very historically significant, and don’t get me wrong, 9 times out of 10 i do have a lot of fun there. but i personally don’t think it’s as good as it was hyped up to be. the rock quality and overall size just didn’t live up to the mythical expectations i had in my own head. if it was any further away, i don’t know if i’d ever go. i’ll put it this way, if i had to drive the same distance that i drive to rifle (three hours worth), eldo wouldn’t be a thing to me. but being right outside boulder, it’s very convenient, and you can climb a lot of different terrain.

so i’m curious to know if you agree or disagree with any of my picks. or comment with your own favorites. or local haunts that wouldn’t be worth a sizable drive. we want to know where and why! and what’s the longest you have driven or would drive just to get your outdoor rock fix?

Hardest Moves: Part One

Essentially there are five climbing grips and four grip positions. Those would be crimps, jugs, slopers, pinches, and pockets for the grips and sidepull, downpull, gaston, and undercling for the grip positions. In today’s blog, Jamie and I will focus on the grip positions and provide examples of the hardest moves we have done off of said positions. When you are done reading, leave us a comment with the hardest moves you have done off these various grips!

RM: European Human Being has a difficult move off a poor left hand undercling crimp to a minuscule right hand crimp. Success is reliant on posting hard on the left foot and accuracy hitting the right hand. For me this is the crux of the boulder and a move I can do occasionally at best.

JG: ‘tunnel vision’ (13b) at the industrial wall on eldorado mountain has a shoulder-wrecking dynamic move from okay-ish crimps and poor feet to a 1.5 pad gaston undercling (picture here). this move was fierce (much harder for us shorties), and it left me with a crazy sore shoulder (one full week out of commission) after i sent. you have to follow this crux with 12c crimping to the anchor.

RM: The crux move of The Automator, a long-standing project of mine, involves a perfectly flat, full pad, three-finger edge that you would clip off of on a vertical 5.11. Except it is not on a vertical 5.11, it is guarding the finish of a relentlessly steep, fifteen move V13. My friend Flannery does this move on command, but I struggle to get enough push off the high right foot and am looking at a 25% success rate, if I want to be generous.

JG: see above…shoulder wrecker.

RM: Trent’s Mom has given me fits over the years. What I find to be the crux is a big move of an okay left hand sidepull slot to a decent right hand edge. The right foot is very high, the left foot is very low on a dismal smear, and it is hard for me to summon the giddy-up to achieve the right hand. I have done this move twice, in a row, on the first day I tried the problem. The first time was in isolation and the second time was on link, though I managed to fall a few moves later in easier terrain. Four or five days have been spent on this rig since then and I haven’t been able to do the move again. Chalk it up to a gigantic mental block, I guess. Sometimes mental difficulty trumps physical difficulty.

JG: my current project, ‘kinky reggae‘, at the new river wall in clear creek canyon has, by far, the hardest sidepull move i have encountered to date. you come off of a good resting jug (unfortunately the feet here are less than ideal and the angle is so steep, that i don’t really get a good rest…at least not yet) and cross your left hand over, full extension, to the kinda poor 1/2 pad, three finger, greasy, sidepull pocket. in this compromised position, you have to build your feet up stupid high then cross your right hand back over to a 1/3 pad, 2.5 finger, crimp pocket. you then have to unwind and catch a bad sidepull sloper with your left hand. these are some of the hardest moves i have ever done on a rope (if not the hardest). i have linked from the jug through these moves three times, and i don’t even want to hazard a guess as to how many times i have tried…

RM: This particular grip position is so common that it is difficult to recall the hardest move I’ve done off it, but the first that comes to mind is the last move of Clear Blue Skies. In isolation I can square up easily and the dynamic lock off is not unreasonable, but on link I find myself farther to the left than I’d like, which makes it harder to shift over and drive off of the right foot. This climb pains me in the fingers.

JG: this one is definitely tough. looking back, it was perhaps on ‘anarchitect‘ (12d) in clear creek canyon. you’ve gotten through the “true” crux already, but there’s no good place to rest. all the feet face the wrong way, and you’re taxed the entire time. if memory serves, you get set up on two “not so good” slopey holds and have to make a long lunge/dyno to another “jug” sloper. i was always so pumped by the time i got to this point, that the dyno seemed impossible. somehow i got through it once (not without shrieking and try-hard screaming) and took it to the chains. despite its “modest” grade of 12d, i don’t know if i could actually repeat this one.

geeking out on climbing

i believe i am reaching a new level of climbing geek-dom with this post. i started thinking about the different shoes i have worn over the years. this lead to me thinking about what shoes i was wearing for certain sends and milestones and breakthroughs. i was surprised, and somewhat embarrassed, to realize that i remember a large number of these shoe-milestone combinations.

flashback to christmas 2005, and i’m on a trip to the southeast, climbing at horse pens 40. my whole goal for the ten day trip was to do a v5. i had a pair of mad rock mugens (the all white ones) that didn’t fit my feet quite right. so i went to the general store and talked to big mike and walked out with a pair of evolv defy’s. during the remainder of the trip, i managed to send ‘bum boy’ (v4) and eked out my first v5, ‘slag’.

now it’s the summer of 2007, i’m living here in colorado and have been putting in some time in boulder canyon. i sent my first 5.12a in a pair of five ten anasazi velcro’s. fall of that same year, i sent two 5.12s on the same day (in rifle, no less) in a pair of la sportiva testarosas. first 5.13a, again, the testarosas.

fall of 2009, and i’m in kentucky at the red river gorge for two weeks. probably my best two week stretch of climbing, with several 5.12b flashes, two 5.13a redpoints, a 5.12d onsight (just the highlights). the weapon of choice this time around was a pair of five ten dragons.

recently, evolv has supported me and over the last several years have helped me break into new grades (optimus prime lace up, talon, shaman).

you get the idea…a lot of brain power and space dedicated to something with no value whatsoever, but for some reason i remember these things.

i’m sure everyone has their own neurotic tendencies when it comes to climbing. feel free to post comments with your own habits and neuroses…

The Vicarious Send

Projecting a difficult route or boulder problem is a finicky beast. You can invest so much mental and physical energy, so much time. And you might not even send the damn thing. Thoughts of self doubt and failure will inevitably creep into the forefront of your mind. You suffer for it, and put everything you have into the sole objective of climbing something from bottom to top without taking or falling. And even though you might feel like you’re out there by yourself, I can assure you that you do not suffer alone.

Personally, I have been battling injuries and just haven’t felt healthy in a little while. But I still like to get out, even if it’s just to belay. My friend Hip-Hop has been working and projecting a climb in boulder canyon called ‘vasodilator’ (13a). Speaking from experience, this route is NAILS hard! It’s technical, burly, insecure and even run out. This rig has it all! He committed to working this thing, fought tooth and nail to get belayers and battled weather conditions. The hike isnt crazy hard, but it certainly isnt easy, either. And there isn’t much else up there, with the exception of a 12a and a new 13+. I could tell Hip-Hop wanted this one bad…so I decided that walking up that hillside with him to be a belay slave was in the cards for me.

All told I made the trip three times, and the first two saw progress and highpoints, and more learning and familiarizing with the route. But the clock was ticking, as this particular crag has seasonal closures for raptor nesting. So the day before the closures went into effect, we cruised up there one last time. Weather-wise, it was damn near perfect hovering in the low 50s with barely a cloud in the sky. Today had to be the day!

The typical warm-up ritual ensued, and we talked strategies. Efficency coupled with purpose and no hesitations. After the proper amount of rest and a snack, Hip-Hop was on his way. He breezed through the bottom part with ease, with no wasted motions. I shouted up reminders and encouragement, and he floated through to the final rest before the true crux. I thought he would rest there for quite a while, so I grabbed my phone intending to snap a picture or two. Looking through the camera, I realized, to my horror, that he was already on the move. Precision and accuracy brought him through the insecure and powerful crux and eventually to the chains. I have never seen someone so happy to clean their draws off of a route.

Even though I did no climbing, I was just as happy that he had sent. I invested my time, too, and to see that it helped was incredibly gratifying. To witness all the progress, and regression at times, offered a very different perspective. We all know what it’s like, personally, but to see it from an outside perspective and to be in a position to give advice was pretty cool.

So while I’m fighting to get healthy, I’ll just have to bask in the sending vicariously. And who knows, these karma points may just build up to something…

For the Love of Rocks

It occurred to me while I was standing in the check out line at Safeway that I did not fit in.  The only items in my cart were a pair of neon purple over-sized dish gloves, a tube of Neosporin, several nail files of various grit, a minor collection of exfoliating boar’s hair brushes, a flat head screwdriver, and one stiff-bristled nylon toilet brush. No milk, no apples, no paper towels, no shaving cream, nothing of that sort. The cashier gave me a look, said “what are you doing with all these nail files?” without explicitly saying it.

To me these were obvious purchases: the gloves were for washing dishes, to keep my hard-earned calluses from going soft. The Neosporin was for repairing a split crease on my middle finger. The nail files were for keeping said calluses from getting so thick that they might snag a pebble and be torn off. The boar’s hair brushes and toilet scrubber were for brushing up the grips on a boulder I wanted to try that afternoon. The screwdriver was needed for bicycle repair and did not factor into the otherwise exclusively climbing-related nature of the other purchases.

I don’t even think about these type of things anymore, but for entertainment’s sake, I thought some reflection might be in order. What follows is an abbreviated catalog of the weirdness associated with a long-term climbing career.

* My street shoe size has shrunk from 10.5 to 9.

* I compulsively file the skin on my fingertips to avoid the dreaded split tip. There musn’t be any small tears or irregularities that might snag on a grip.

* Well-fitting long sleeve shirts are hard to come by. The typical climber physique of broad shoulders, long arms and a slender torso is not something often catered to by finer clothing manufacturers.

* I do not think twice about using words such as crag, crux, crimp, dyno, and beta in everyday conversation. Furthermore, there is no hesitation to pantomime crux moves in public, even if it means throwing an imaginary heel hook on the dinner table.

* Following advice from a respected colleague, I did not use soap, shampoo, or deodorant for eight months. Showers were still had, but as more of a rinse than a total cleanse. All of this was done in an effort to keep my skin free of callus-altering chemicals, and while I apologize to anyone that I spent any amount of time with at close proximity, I will say that my skin was in amazing condition for rock climbing at that time.

* I abhor getting my hands wet, which results in excessive, some might argue obsessive, dish glove use. Seriously, nothing is worse for climbing than soaking your hands in hot, soapy water. Avoid at all costs.

* There is never a problem with wearing the same pair of pants for two weeks straight. Too, I do not buy pants that won’t allow for high steps. You never know when you might have to bust out a mantle.

* Again following advice from a respected colleague, I once ordered this mysterious substance called antihydral  from the internet. Invented by champion fooseballers (seriously) to keep their hands dry, this stuff, when applied correctly, keeps your tips in top condition for upward of two weeks. As a bonus, it hardens the skin too, which is ideal for climbing in areas such as Hueco Tanks or Bishop. Of course, when used incorrectly it can dry your skin so much that it splits open like an overripe tomato and, due to the dryness, doesn’t heal for a month.

* As a rule, I never purchase a pair of shoes I do not think I could climb at least V5 in.

* If I know I will be climbing outside on a particular day, I will not shave for three days beforehand. Shaving cream softens the skin on my hands, and we can’t have that. Of course this is not much of an issue for me, as I can’t grow facial hair of any sort.

* There are holds everywhere, on buildings, tables, chairs, dashboards, tupperware, fax machines, picture frames, bicycle pumps, filing cabinets, fruit (watermelon slopers, obviously), everywhere. Naturally, there are cryptic methods of utilizing these grips that must be ascertained, which is why I’m currently figuring out the best way to kneebar my computer desk.

There is more. Much more. For now, however, this will do.

Reflecting on the list above, I am struck by two things. One, I might love rock climbing so much because it completely engages the exceptionally neurotic portion of my psyche. Two, trusting a colleague’s advice only leaves you smelly and with holes in your hands.