Wednesday, February 10, 2010

10 miles & 25 pitches

Making Virtue of Necessity

Beautiful day in Colorado today. Alas, my car was in the shop, and a few calls to some regular climbing partners turned up nothing. Waste a gorgeous winter day like this? No way.

So I decided to go on foot. I do need to get in shape for long endurance days, so this fit perfectly. I left the house around 1 with a light backpack and the ipod on shuffle. Two hours, and about 10 miles of snowy trails later, I arrived in the canyon. Despite the snow and ice on nearly every cliff and peak, the sunny South faces appear to be warm and dry.

I had a great time on the solo circuit, hitting up Calypso, Reggae, Wind Ridge, the Bulge, Ruper, and the first half of Yellow Spur. Since the normal descents involve snowy gullies, I opt to downclimb most of the routes. Counting downclimbing, it all adds up to about 25 pitches. Not bad for half a day of climbing.

Here's a few quick video clips, shot on my ipod.

Running to Eldo I from Scott Bennett on Vimeo.

Running to Eldo II from Scott Bennett on Vimeo.

Running to Eldo III from Scott Bennett on Vimeo.

Luckily I didn't half to hoof it back in the dark, as my friend Lisa was in the canyon, and graciously gave me a ride home.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Kickin Chicken

Yesterday I joined my friends Josh and Rob, and headed to Eldo on yet another cold morning. Though we only spent a few hours climbing before we all had to head to work, Rob succeeded in getting some pretty cool shots. Josh and I did not succeed on our route Kickin Chicken, but a good time was had by all. We'll be back soon. Here's Rob's post about the day, with plenty more pictures, including some of me catching air off the crux.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

This Winter so far

When success is in doubt, one simply needs to redefine success. For success as a rock climber on the Front Range in January, you need to redefine "climbable weather":

Zack crushing the first pitch of Rincon (5.9+) in gloves! Leather gloves have helped up to get out even on questionable weather days, and surprisingly are not too much of hindrance to thin climbing.

Being new to Colorado, everyone seems to assume that I'm here for the winter sports. This great state has plenty to offer the snow enthusiast, and I'm sure that at some point I'll have the time and money to explore the exciting world of sliding down mountains. For the time being, however, I'm content with climbing up them.

Me on Apple Strudel (12a). Photo by Josh Janes.

January is over, 1/12th of the year. As I said in my last post, one of my many climbing related goals for the year is to climb outside at least 200 of the 365 days in 2010. Progress? So far, I've been able to make it outside for 16 days of vertical endeavors; I'm batting just over .500! I've been staying very local, with all but three of those days coming in Eldorado Canyon, my backyard sandstone paradise. One daytrip down to Sunshine Wall in the South Platte, as well as a two-day trip to Shelf Road reminded me that other types of rock (granite and limestone, respectively) are also worthwhile. When the weather is questionable, though, Eldo is always a good call.

The key to a successful day!

January by the numbers:
Days Climbed: 16
Pitches Climbed: 72
Pitches/Day Avg: 4.5
Easiest Send: 5.6 (Wind Ridge)
Hardest Send: 5.12d (Superfly)
Different Climbing partners: 8

 Josh on Apple Strudel on one of the warmest days so far in 2010.

While most of these days, we've been content to repeat classic routes and just savor being outside, there have been a few attempts at hard climbing. Most notably, for me, was Superfly. At 5.12d, and entirely gear-protected, this is definitely one of the hardest single pitches that I've done successfully. It really represented a breakthrough for me mentally, realizing that super-hard stuff can feel doable with the right attitude and beta. Located in the Kloof Alcove, a small cave-like wall that is home to some of Eldorado's hardest pitches, Superfly was first done in the eighties and was considered cutting-edge. Here's what my 2000 Eldo Guidebook says:

Superfly 12d S (serious). First Ascent: Skip Guerin, with Chip Ruckgaber and Christian Griffith belaying, 1983.
Established ground up over two or three days, as a pink-point (gear left in, rope pulled). Still waiting for a second lead. Christian reports being "really scared" belaying.

Josh on Superfly

I quote this to show how times have changed in the last ten years, and bold, hard traditional climbing has made a comeback. This fantastic route apparently stood unrepeated for 17 years, but in the last ten years since the book was published, it has probably seen a couple dozen (or more) ascents. What was once considered dangerous and inadvisable is today a popular project, even considered "safe".
My own experience with the route featured a similar change in viewpoints.

When I first checked out Superfly, it was 3-4 months ago, on solo top-rope. I often like to check out harder routes in the way, that way if it's too hard for me, I'm not wasting anyone else's time. After the somewhat involved process of hiking out, scrambling around to the top of the cliff, trying to guess where to drop my rope, and finally get everything set-up, I was anxious to try the route. I quickly identified the standout crux move, and after much effort, decided that it was too hard for me. I guess that's the disadvantage of trying new routes solo; there's no one to encourage you or get creative with different beta.

So Superfly went to the back of my mind, under the large list of routes that would be cool to check out once I get stronger. January 1st of the new year, I joined locals Rob and Josh on a cold morning in Eldo. Josh had been working Superfly for quite a while, and was very excited to give it more effort. Turns out he didn't need much more, though, since he sent it readily on the first try of the day (with no warm-up!). It was then Rob's turn, and he put in a valiant lead, but fell once at the crux. Knowing that I "couldn't" do the crux, I figured I'd just head up it on top-rope and have some fun on the easier parts of the route. I got to the crux easily, and then predictably began to flail. Josh, watching from below, quickly saw what I was doing wrong, and gave me some tips. At first Josh's advice felt very improbable, but after a few tries, everything clicked. I had done the dreaded crux reach, and the route suddenly became doable in my mind!

Two different shots of the crux reach move on Superfly. First is Rob, mid reach, and then Josh, sticking the small hold.

Two weeks later, again it's a cold morning in Eldo. I'm out with Zack, the most reliable of all climbing partners. After a couple of route to warm-up at the very sunny "Roof" wall, we head to Kloof Alcove. The sun has just come around to Superfly, and the route is starting to get warm. A few days earlier, I had come out solo, and again top-roped the route, this time with success in mind. I had scouted the gear and refined the moves, and I felt ready. First attempt of the day, I made it through the crux, and then quickly fell. Disappointed, now with some doubt creeping in, I finished the route and lowered back to the ground.

After a few minutes of sitting around and waffling, I tie back in and go for the lead a second time. Again, the crux reach works, which is amazing. This move feels so improbable, but now that I know how to do it, it works almost every time. I fight through the next few moves, which had spat me off last time, and gain a very tenuous stance. Now, the route shift from very difficult, to slightly less difficult, very strenuous, and a bit scary. You can get a few pieces of gear between here and the top, but it's all of questionable quality and hard to place. I get to the very last move of the route, literally holding on to a huge jug, and the forearm pump threatens to force me off. Zack's screams of encouragement from below give me a mental boost, and I flop onto the ledge atop the route.