Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Power of Youth from Will Gadd

Will Gadd, one of the most diverse talents in outdoor sports, recently posted on the topic of "The Power of Youth." The piece is a short but powerful reflection on the self-induced damage caused by negative attitudes. Here's an excerpt:

"And you know what? I like 'em, especially in contrast to some of my generation. My generation was too dark, too pissy, too steeped in nonsensical holdover Victorian ideals, and over-read in Nietzsche and Sartre (plus a few others). I'm going to write more on this 'cause I think it's time to take a hard look at the dark motivations of so many climbers and paddlers in my generation."

I too look back and wonder what was going through my mind back then but also the minds of peers who by means subtle and not so subtle tried to keep other climbers "in their place." Thanks Will for shedding some light on this. I am really glad to be climbing in a time when this outdated approach is on its last legs. Climb what you want how you want, respect the environment, and have fun.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Smith Overhang V8

Here is a video of one of the most well-known problems at Flagstaff, Smith Overhang. I remember seeing grainy black-and white-photos of Pat Ament on this problem in the book of Colorado climbing history Climb! According to the Ament bouldering guide, A Climber's Playground, Richard Smith did the problem first in 1967. Little did I know until I saw the whole sequence that one started off a cheatstone to reach the flake. Now thanks to erosion of both the ground and the flake, you would need a pretty good-sized boulder to start there. The modern start is off two bad sidepulls below the undercling flake. In the video, I am standing on two fairly thin pads to reach the first holds. Although the landing is reasonably flat, pad the problem well as falls can be sudden and awkward.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Super Topo Report on Tommy Caldwell working Mescalito

Go here for photos, video and commentary from Chris McNamara about Tommy Caldwell's work on free-climbing the El Cap aid route Mescalito. This route will truly be something else as the pitch list indicates with multiple 5.13 and 5.14s . The video (shot by Corey Rich) link is here.

Here's some video from Chris of Tommy reviewing the pitch line-up.

It is also interesting to note a couple of comments on the Super Topo thread warning about adding bolts in order to avoid a "much less committing" aid climb. I wonder how this will play out, an echo perhaps of the history of the Dawn Wall.

Must-Read Article at UKClimbing

In many ways UK Climbing is one of the best Internet sites on climbing,not least because of its inclination to discuss controversial topics. An article on the relationship between climbing and global warming is the best I have seen on the subject so far. In particular, the author singles out the issue of air travel and rightly points out the impact of air travel on the atmosphere and on actual climbing areas and routes.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Hubble Video

Steve McClure - Hubble 8c+ from ben pritchard on Vimeo.

Anyone interested in the quest for absolute difficulty on rock knows of a few standout examples of routes that stand on the edge between bouldering and roped climbing and marked a significant step in the development of the sport, locally or internationally. Action Direct and The Fly are two names that come to mind but the gold standard for this kind of route will always be, for me anyway, Ben Moon's Hubble at Raven Tor, Derbyshire UK. I well remember the photos that came out after its ascent, showing a dreadlocked Moon in extremis on the underclings of the crux.

In todays Internet video universe, such a route should have tons of footage widely available yet except for a very brief snippet at the end of One Summer, no film of the route has been widely available. Perhaps this is due to a genuine dearth of repeats. It can't be because of accessibility as you could practically film it from a car on the road next to the cliff. Anyway, Steve McClure, who has climbed many 9as in Great Britain, came in for the sixth ascent which might not be big news except that the route was first done in 1990. Can this route really be merely 14c?

Go here for a follow-up from UK Climbing.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Learning to Crawl: Speed Ascent of Longs Peak

Ever since I started trail running a few years (or more) ago, a fast ascent of the Keyhole Route on Longs Peak has been a goal of mine. With 4800 feet of elevation gain and some fairly steep and technical terrain near the summit, this 15 mile trail stands out as a prime challenge for any dedicated high-altitude runner. This summer I have been training in one way or another for this ascent and yesterday morning actually went for it. I started from Boulder at about 4:45 and left the trailhead at the ranger station at 6:07. This is much later than recommended for ascents of Longs but has the advantage of relatively clear sailing on the trail up to the Keyhole since everyone else has long since headed up.

In contrast to my Keyhole run of a few weeks earlier, I deliberately kept the pace slower at the start, even though it is easy terrain, in order to conserve energy for up higher and especially the descent. The bottom section up to Chasm Junction at 11,500' took just about an hour running at a comfortable pace of roughly 3 miles an hour so I was on target at this point. The beautiful sweep of trail over to Granite Pass went quickly as did the section up to the Boulderfield, arriving here at a little after 8 am. Big kudos to the NPS trailworkers straightening out the boulder-choked gullies that make up much of the trail in this section. At the Boulderfield I took a quick snack break and then power-hiked from there on up. The section after the Keyhole, known as the Ledges, was pretty easy but also the point at which I first felt the altitude for real, where a threshold had been crossed for sure, and I had to slow down. There are places on this traverse where a fall, however unlikely, would be fatal, and the usually dark windy atmosphere lends a gloomy feeling to the place as well. Best to put that aside and move forward.

Slowing down and using my hands a lot made for much quicker progress up the Trough, a seemingly endless chilly boulder-filled gully where I had to keep a close eye on the next hiker's feet to avoid any falling rock. The spider technique seemed to work quite well as I easily outpaced the other hikers and scrambled up the final polished corner to join the Narrows section. This is a remarkably exposed ledge system that must be crossed carefully but was over very quickly. The famous Homestretch was next, roughly 300 feet up low angle parallel cracks where slower climbers can definitely hinder progress both up and down. I pulled over the top and was at the 14, 255' summit at 9:20 am.

It was very beautiful up at the top where, as usual, there were at least 50 people milling around admiring the view and recovering from the last part of the climb. I took a few photos, ate and drank some more, and then headed back down at 9:40 moving as quickly as I could. The Homestretch in particularly felt very slippery in my running shoes (see recommendations below) and I really wished for sticky rubber on them. The Trough went very quickly as there were very few people coming up at that point, an advantage of being out of sync with the usual Longs Peak crowd. Again, I think the liberal use of my hands sped things up considerably. Heading back across the Ledges was easy except where I got off route and wasted a few minutes, figuring out that I had gone too high and found the bulls-eye trail markers again. It was here that I saw a couple of good examples of Longs hikers who needed a little more preparation and were probably not going to make it. The weather however was exceptionally clear and stable so I doubt anyone was going to get into trouble.

I felt pretty good coming down to the Boulderfield which I reached at 10:45 and was able to actually run from here, getting back to Chasm Junction at 11:30. Just below here I finished up my water and took my last snack break. Although I was really tired at this point I made it back to the trailhead at 12:10. Just over six hours but weeding out various inefficiencies could make a 5 to 5.5 hour ascent totally feasible.

Ten recommendations for a speed ascent of Longs:

1. Make sure you are in great shape with at least two lengthy 10 mile+ runs that go above 12000 feet. I did the run to the Keyhole and a run up Flat Top and was really glad I had those under my belt as well as some lower elevation excursions in the Flatirons. Make sure that at least some of your training is on rugged rocky terrain where you will be forced to slow to a crawl or go anaerobic. Learning this balance was hard for me.

2. Bring loads of water. I had 55 ounces of water and used all of it without any problem. Hydrate thoroughly before hand.

3. Keep eating and drinking continuously. Running out of gas up high on this route would be no fun and potentially dangerous if the weather turned. Bring a pack with a hydration system and easy access to food stores. I don't own one yet and estimate around 15 to 20 minutes were lost stopping for water and food.

4. Hone your route-finding skills in talus and on low-angle technical terrain so you can quickly make decisions that will save time, and possibly your ankles and knees, in the endless boulders, slabs and gullies above the Boulderfield. Be prepared to use your hands a lot, both going up and down

5. Bring trail shoes that have sticky rubber. I didn't and estimate a potential 25% speed gain on the slow technical sections near the summit if you don't constantly feel like you are slipping off the polished footholds.

6. Have the route dialed in your head so you know what to expect and can focus on movement, not route finding.

7. Pack light. A light wool-type hat and a hat with a visor along with a windproof jacket should be enough. Gloves might not be a bad idea. Just don't get stranded up high.

8. You can't anticipate responses to altitude. I knew I was fit going into it and really felt the altitude hard just after 13000'. If you get dizzy or nauseous, slow down and it will likely pass.Keep your movements consistent and careful with no sudden jumps or strides and focus on steady progress. If you have prepared well at altitude, you will still easily outpace the other hikers on the trail.

9. Remember the descent. If you want to make time, you do not want to be hobbling down the trail at a snail's pace because your knees are killing you and your quads are shot from too much work earlier.

10. Have fun! Be polite to the other hikers on the trail and you will find the vast majority will make way for you immediately. The Keyhole Route, however popular and crowded it is, is a great route up a great mountain, no matter how you do it.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Sad News About Craig Luebben

One of the most experienced and well-regarded climbers in the country, Craig Luebben is reported to have been killed in an avalanche/icefall in the Cascade range. He was a long-time guide and an author of a number of books on climbing. Luebben, 49, was particularly well-known for his invention in 1984 of the Big Bro, a device for protecting offwidths. Luebben was also a prolific new-router with first ascents all around the globe.

A recent interview with can be found here.

My sincerest sympathies for his family. Craig's was a life of incredible richness cut short far too soon.

"I joke that I’ve sacrificed a million dollars from the engineering career that I would have had, but I’ve had five million worth of fun."--Craig Luebben

Last Weekend

For the first time in years, Caolan and I climbed together on a rope outside, doing a multi-pitch sport climb up on Saturday in Boulder Canyon called Buried Alive. This is one of a number of newer routes on Tonnere Tower a large formation across from Boulder Falls. The first pitch is a long easy 5.9, the second is a nice 5.7, and the third a long varied 5.9, maybe 9+. The route is really good although some of the bolting was uneven, especially on the last pitch with 4 bolts practically on top of each other in a V-corner followed by a 15 foot runout on easy rock, followed by another series of closely spaced bolts. Good route though with great views and easily managed rappels.

Sunday was a Flagstaff session with some good circuit training and exploration. I did a fairly interesting V1 on some good but lichen covered rock on a formation just east of Pratt's Overhang and after dragging over a couple of pads, did a pretty easy first-try ascent of Smith Overhang V8. So I am confident that strength is coming back and I am looking forward to a productive fall.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Busy Week Climbing

As my elbow has improved, I have spent more time climbing and less time focused on running. A pretty hard run on Sanitas aggravated the muscle at the top of my right hip so I am letting that settle down before going up high again. Tuesday I had a good session at the Spot doing about 17 problems most in the 4/4+ range. Wednesday I had a guiding day of sorts, taking a father and son out to the Sport Park for an introduction to climbing. I had put this up as a fundraising item where I teach and fortunately it was bid on. The Sport Park, which sadly was chipped into submission on a number of routes, is a really good hassle free way to introduce beginning climbers to a good variety of climbing styles and techniques. Especially nice was the absence of crowds of people and surprisingly moderate temperatures. All told I probably climbed about 400 feet of rock that day. Thursday, Caolan and I were going to go and try some of the climbing at the new area in Boulder Canyon, Tonnere Tower, but gray skies soon turned to rain and lightning so it was back to the Boulder Rock Club. I warmed up on a slew of autobelay runs and led a few routes in the 5.10 and easy 11 range before doing two 12- routes, the first serious endurance-style roped climbs I had done in many months. A couple top-rope goes on a crimpy 13 showed promise as well.

On the bigger news front, it is clear that a new generation and a new geographical emphasis has emerged. The exploits of Nalle Hukkataival and Adam Ondra are the defining standard in the world. After dispatching Jade in RMNP in a handful of tries over several days, Nalle has climbed a striking 8c arete, Livin Large, taking 12 days according to Chuck Fryberger. Meanwhile Adam Ondra has cleaned house in Rocklands flashing two confirmed V13s in a day and ticking too many other hard problems to list here. South Africa(make sure to visit B3 Bouldering) and Switzerland clearly have become must-visit locations on the international circuit and the new standard of performance represented by Ondra in particular is incredible as he is seemingly equally adept at every aspect of high-level rock climbing. I can't think of any other climber besides Chris Sharma who can boulder V13 or 14 easily and also quickly redpoint 5.15 endurance routes. Even Sharma cannot match Ondra's relentless pursuit of hard climbs of every style everywhere. There is no doubt in my mind that Ondra is ready to take it to another level both on a rope and off.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Some more Progress

This morning I went up to Flagstaff for a couple of hours before it got too hot. I now have two circuits for warming up starting from the second short wall below Tree Slab. The right hand one eventually leads to the top of the ridge above Pratt's Overhang and is in the V0 range, mostly much easier. The left one also starts low and finishes on the Pohling Pebble Problem V4/5. Generally I focus on moving fast and having fun, so it's more like rock climbing than bouldering, where I look at cumulative elevation gain and distance instead of difficulty. After I was done with this routine, I went over to Red Wall to try my elbow out a little bit and worked on the Real Moffat Direct V8, a powerful crimpy problem I have been trying unsuccessfully for a while. Today my elbow felt much better and after finding a key foothold I had missed earlier, I was sticking the first crux consistently. Unfortunately the sun was coming around the wall so I had to place a crashpad in the adjacent tree to be able to see the hold as I tried the move. After a few tries I made it through the two lower hard moves and finished up Varney. This problem is quite hard if you are short so I used an intermediate crimp for my right to get the first move to the edge below the soap-dish hold. I am hoping this shows some real promise for the future.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Running up Flat Top

Yesterday I had a great excursion up Flat Top, the ridge/summit just north of Hallett Peak. Driving up, the clouds were flying furiously over Longs and I had some concerns about conditions above treeline. After some delay getting parked and catching the shuttle, I was underway by 10:30 and after roughly 45 minutes was at treeline and a great view of the North Face of Hallett. I was undecided how much further I should go as I had to be back in Boulder in the early afternoon but decided to continue as the weather seemed reasonable.

The great thing about this trail is that it gets easier as you go higher so you can actually run fairly quickly. I found myself at the top of the pass/summit about half an hour later and went over to the top of Tyndall Gorge to look down and duck behind a boulder for a bite to eat. This is at about 12, 200'.The wind was strong and constant but not too bad and if I had had more time, I would have tagged the summit of Hallett Peak which was just a half mile away. However this trail is definitely one to do again so I will get it then. If you are looking for a good introductory moderate alpine run, I would definitely recommend this one. The views are stellar and the terrain is very manageable, especially after the lower sections.

The run back down was brisk but tiring especially in the really rocky sections near the base. After leaving the top at 12:15, I got back to Bear Lake at 1 pm. In sum I did approximately 9 miles, 2900' elevation, in about 2.5 hours but most important had a wonderful time in the mountains.