Friday, September 13, 2013

When the Levee Breaks: #boulderflood

Driving back from work on Wednesday was not a lot of fun after a full day of on and off rain. The intense and sustained nature of it made me wonder if this was not a typical rainfall for the area and the events of Thursday Sept 12 confirmed it. Writing today, I can say that Boulder has undergone a natural disaster unlike any since I have been here (almost 20 years) and probably in several generations.

Summing up what has happened is difficult to say the least but essentially every canyon between north Denver and Fort Collins has either experienced serious flooding or could do so in coming days. The brunt of the water has hit the cities of Longmont and Boulder the hardest but no municipality has been unaffected and Lyons in particular, will never be the same.

What does this mean for climbing in the area? Basically, nobody should plan on coming to Boulder specifically for climbing in the next few days at least. Although road closures will probably be lifted soon as flood waters dissipate, significant issues will remain for weeks and possibly months. Here's a quick rundown of local areas and likely problems

Clear Creek Canyon assuming it remains open, will be very unstable on the approaches up its steep slopes for some time. Eldorado Canyon State Park is closed, Eldorado Springs has been evacuated and within the park, the road washed out west of the Bastille. Boulder City and County Open Space are officially closed and many trails have been seriously damaged. Boulder Canyon has had massive rockslides and will be closed to traffic for some time Steep hillsides and loosened boulders will make for hazardous conditions in many locales for weeks, along with destroyed trails.
Highway 36 just before it washed away completely. Via Twitter

Access to the high country is seriously compromised with major highway washouts on Route 7 and Route 36, the two primary roads to RMNP from the east. The town of Lyons where 36 comes over from Boulder has seen massive destruction and there is no access west or east through it. It will be some time before Lyons is anywhere back to normal. Estes Park itself has seen major flooding and roads and trails within RMNP may be closed due to damage as yet unknown. Estes Park is currently accessible only from the west via Trail Ridge Road which could close any time due to early season snow.
Route 7, west of Lyons.Via the Denver Post

Further north, route 34 along the Big Thompson River is closed due to rockslides and the river itself may well wash out the highway completely. Further east 34 has washed over I-25 and other significant roads making north-south travel in the state very difficult north of Denver for most.
In Fort Collins proper, the Poudre river is at flood stage making access to Poudre Canyon impossible and the possibility of rockslides is high with continued rain. Areas such as Carter Lake and Horsetooth may be affected as well but I have no first hand information.
Before coming to Boulder in the next few days, I would strongly recommend checking in with local news sources and resources such as Colorado Department of Transportation. Links below.

UPDATE: Rocky Mountain National Park is closed to recreational visitors

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Bouldering with Ashima

I don't know if it's a habit of mine to stop writing for a while in August. It makes sense to me. Between the heat, getting ready for fall and a general sense of lethargy, I am content to drift down the stream of the internet and dip my gnarled toes in whatever comes along and not contribute. And given the rate of return on my investment of time and effort, maybe a long break is only right.

First try in Rocklands from Jimmy Webb on Vimeo.

The diabolically fickle weather has not prevented a number of notable ascents including a series of sends of the new V14 Wheel of Chaos, a lengthy and steep problem in Upper Upper that sent Jimmy Webb to the ER last year after a sharp block came off and sliced his arm open. (I wonder if there is a list of boulderers who have had medical attention thanks to various Park mishaps) And Jimmy's recent ascent of the Wheel of Wolvo, a tough (V14) entry into the Overcling traverse adds yet another V15 to the Front Range. Considering that he has flashed and/or downgraded a number of hard problems here and in South Africa and Switzerland, this is significant. And Hypnotized Minds still awaits a repeat.

But maybe more interesting than that was Ashima Shiraishi's very quick repeat of Automator. It was particularly interesting to me because I had the opportunity of working in with her a few weekends ago on the first afternoon she was trying it. I have a seen many many strong climbers but I freely admit I have not seen a 12-year old girl so thoroughly dominate a difficult boulder before. It was very easy to predict, considering how easy she made the moves look on a very damp and warm afternoon (in fact pouring rain came down shortly after) that she would complete the problem very soon. This she did the very next day, putting in one of the fastest repeats of the problem that I know of.

In reflecting on her ability, one of the more interesting points of comparison I came up with was the 37 years of age difference between the two of us and the similarity in the sense that we are both pretty uncommon sights in the world of climbing, on opposite ends of the spectrum. I am particularly impressed by the degree to which she presses forward in the absence of peer groups that understand her focus and drive. Assuming she decides to continue climbing at a high level, the future looks very bright for her.

For my part, I am equally interested in the fate of those, who having tasted early success, either lose the plot or leave the sport altogether. I think this is something that those who feel the sport needs to get to the next level are leaving out. The careers in climbing that can actually support a reasonable quality of life have little to do with climbing hard and more to do with more mundane skills like marketing, accounting, logistics, manufacturing, design and so forth. I am not worried about Ashima, especially as she is still so young but I do have concerns about the propostion that teen climbers might entertain that they can have a future as fulltime climbers after they age out of the protective cocoon of parental support and a heavily subsidized competition scene. I have seen way too many climbers burn out and/or drop out once this occurs.

From my side of the age spectrum, I remain convinced that the best approach to climbing is to take the longest view possible while maintaining a consistent level of motivation to do one's best. Today's climbing scene is heavily youth-oriented, possibly in part because of a recognition that parents are the most likely consistent source of revenue growth in a sport that is steadily getting older in terms of average age. Indoor climbing is being marketed as the way to reach out to broader populations and appeal to youth in the way that skate parks accelerated the growth of skateboarding. Increasingly sophisticated marketing and promotion can go along way in making the sport appealing to youth outside the normal demographic of middle to upper middle-class white people

However, my belief is (and I spend a lot of time in climbing gyms!) that ultimately the climber who bonds with the natural experience of climbing outdoors is likely to stay in the sport the longest. Here's hoping that Ashima's generation succeeds in doing the same.