Sunday, December 15, 2013

Frank Triple Play! (Ice + coffee + bouldering!)

Just when you think winter has settled in...

"Winter has arrived
at last, we lie within it's icy jaws
to lie there, as asleep
until roused by springtime thaws."

than BAM!, the chinook comes, and winter disappears for a week, and fall weather returns.  That's what happened this past week.  Lethbridge went from being the coldest city in Canada (colder than the North Pole!), to being a balmy 7C.  I had planned a day of ice climbing with the eternally-psyched Mark Guckert, but when the weather turned warm he suggested that maybe we could go both ice climbing and bouldering in the same day!  So, with Mark D in tow, we packed up mats, rock shoes, ropes, ice tools, crampons, jackets, and assorted gore-tex paraphenalia and headed off to the Crowsnest Pass.

Our first objective was the very thin ice climb in the Gold Creek Canyon that I had spied two weeks earlier.  I assumed that with all the cold weather that it would have formed into a nice and fat pillar, and so when we arrived at the canyon I was surprised to see that it was basically in the same shape as when I had seen it last.  It looked like our plans for ice climbing had turned into a morning of mixed climbing.  It turned out for the best, though, as toproping these short climbs became one of the most entertaining ice sessions I'v ever had.

Me on the center-most of the three climbs were did in the Canyon.  When I started up, this route had a huge icicle hanging off the roof about 12 feet up; I broke it off turning the roof.  We also did the thin ice smears to the left (very fun!) and Mark G brilliantly climbed the series of free-hanging icicles to the right. I was the first person on the rope; in the photo below you can see how many of the icicles were broken off during the day; it was pretty beat up by the end!

Mark G (aka Mixmaster Mark) trying not to break off the man-sized icicle in front of him... Thin ice can be VERY fun!

Mark D getting the hang (pun intended) of mixed climbing.  Turns out steep ice can be very pumpy!

I would have really liked to try and lead one of these climbs, but the ice was so thin that almost none of it would hold screws, and the rock is too rotten to hold rock gear.  Also, given my performance on toprope, it would have been a little premature (not to mention dangerous!) to attempt a lead ascent.  Hopefully by the end of the winter (and after my new ice tools arrive in the mail!  Woohoo!) the ice will be thicker and I'll gather sufficient courage to lead one of these routes.  After the ice ends, another 20 feet or so of much easier moss and rock 'Scottish climbing' lead to the anchoring tree; it's probaby 20m from the base to the rim of the canyon.

We had a blast climbing these short routes, getting the hang of hooking rock and thin icicles was really educational (and physical).  Mark G has an impressive set of skills, so it was nice to watch him climb the series of thin icicles on the right side, hooking and stemming his way up a series of bouldery moves.  Mark D was a bit tentative at first swinging the tools, but soon got the hang of bashing his way up steep ice.

It soon started to get warmer, though, so our thoughts turned to an afternoon of bouldering.  We packed up and headed out of the canyon. On the walk out, we ran into a group of snowshoers, who told us that there was another waterfall downstream.  I had never been able to find the rest of the ice climbs in the canyon (though I knew they were there somewhere from reading Joe Josephson's guide), but following the instructions of the snowshoers we soon found the other half-dozen ice climbs in the Canyon.  They are all short (probably maximum 15 or 20 m high), but a lot thicker (probably WI 2-4) than the mixed climb we had toproped further up the canyon.  Next time!

We popped over to the Cinnamon Bear Cafe for coffee and cinnamon buns (awesome!), then headed to the Slide.  It was getting late in the day (already 3:30, and just a week from the solstice), so we headed over to the Albatross Area. We thought we might do a circuit, but instead we settled on trying the problems on the Tombstone Boulder.

None of us had ever tried them before, so we warmed up, and starting climbing in the growing dusk.  We did an easy-ish slab on the side of the boulder, then turned our attention to the two hardish problems on the boulder, Tombstone Right and Tombstone Left.  It took us a half-hour to finally work out the beta for Tombstone Right, a very tricky (and balancy) steep arete that has has some very cool slopers and arete holds on rock with a very distinct sandstone-like texture.  We sent it one after another (quality line!), then shuffled the mats and quickly sent the left arete which turned out to be much easier.  We figured Tombstone Right was about V5 (though the fact that we were climbing in the windy dusk of a December day may have biased our judgement), and I thought that Tombstone Left was about V3.  Both very high-quality lines!

Mark G on Tombstone Left (V3ish).  Very fun! 

By this time, it was getting late.  I gave a few half-hearted attempts to a line that would link the start of Tombstone Right into the end of Tombstone Left, but soon gave it up.  We headed back to the van and started the long drive back to Lethbridge.

All things considered, a very fun day in the mountains!  I'm looking forward to getting out again, and sampling more of the ice in the Southern Rockies.  I feel doubly-armed for a winter of climbing; warm weekends will mean bouldering, cold weekends will mean ice climbing!

More later! Have a fun week!

[Huge thanks to Mark D for supplying photos!  I forgot my camera at home...]

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Year in Review!

This past week I've been thinking a lot about how much fun I had on Hoedown (V6) last weekend.  Though it is only six moves long, it has a very clear sequence that demands the use of a very particular set of climbing techniques.  Climbing through sidepulls and slopers, successful suitors of Hoedown will have to employ hee-toe cam trickery (first with the left foot, then with the right) in combination with subtle compression in order to maintain the requisite body tension needed to send the line.  In some ways, this problem represents much of what I consider to be vital about bouldering, namely the solving of three-dimensional, physically-demanding riddles in real time.  I often liken bouldering to martial arts, except that one knows in advance exactly what the opponent will do, and how strong he will be.  It is left to the climber to understand the movement and techniques that are required to succeed, and to muster the sufficient power and skill to execute those movements. 

Unfortunately, it snowed a PILE this week, and the temperatures have dropped precipitously.  I suspect that this means that bouldering in Frank Slide is done for several weeks, unless it warms up a LOT over Christmas. Upon reflection, I realised that I have climbed at least once (usually more) every month since last Christmas.  Lethbridge is a good Canadian city for a boulderer to live in!  Many winter weekends are too cold or snowy to climb, but many are not.  With a little luck, I am looking forward to another winter of Frank Slide Bouldering! Ca colle!

Looking back to warmer days!  Mark D on Breathing Underwater (V7), a fantastic and dynamic compression problem in the Hulkamaniac Area.

The sudden onset of winter has also made me reflect on the past year of climbing.  I've had a lot of fun the last 12 months, and have succeeded in most of my climbing goals.  I didn't make the first ascent of a new multipitch route (a fall plan that fell through), but I did spend a lot of time bouldering in Frank.  I opened 106 new boulder problems in Frank Slide this year, finished new mini-guides to three sectors of the area (House, Healing, and Albatross sectors), and climbed a fair number of hard problems.  I didn't win the Tour de Frank (I did get third, and it would have been hard to beat Mark D!), and I didn't climb any V9s or 10s.  My elbow problems in July, August, and September slowed me down, but it healed up well and I enjoyed a great fall.  I learned how to make climbing-wall volumes (Kyle's Garage wall now has four of them!), and feel that I am heading into winter in decent shape.

I was privileged to open some great new lines at Frank Slide, repeat others, and watch friends climb still others.  The following problems represented especially rewarding highlights of the year for me, for a variety of reasons.

1) Jolly Green Giant (V0+ X)  The highest problem I've ever done (I think...), and certainly the tallest first ascent (the only X rated FA I've ever done).  Because I cleaned it on rappel, I got to suss out the holds and moves while on a rope.  One one hand I think this watered the experience down a bit for me, but on the other hand I'm not sure that I would have gone up and soloed a friction slab of that height without knowing what I was in for! 

Me sending Jolly Green Giant (V0+ X).  This was a second lap for the camera, for some reason a lot scarier than my first lap up.  Almost done the crux here....

2) Invincible (V6), Ghost Rider (V4), and Evil Eye (V3-). These three highballs are side by side on the Aftermath boulder, and I was gratified to be able to be the first person up all three of these.  Great movement, great problems, on one of the best single boulders in Frank Slide.

3) Trent's Cave (V6) and Marked for Life (V5).  Frank Slide isn't known for steep problems.  It was a treat to send these problems, two of the few really steep lines at Frank Slide.  I also sent these with two of Lethbridge's most dedicated boulderers; Trent's Cave I did with the Wizard himself, Kyle Marco, and Marked for Life I worked with Mark D.

Kyle M about to stick the last hard move of Trent's Cave (V6).  Lots of fun to be had in the City of Giants; this problem is only a few yards from the Shield Project, which is probably in the V10 to V12 range.

Mark D on Marked for Life (V5/6).  Fun, steep arete!  Squamishy!  New problem near Railway, done in November (snow in the background).

4) Railway (V10).  I didn't do this.  Nor am I close.  However, I did have the priviledge of working it with several Lethbian climbers (primarily Kyle and Mark D), and had the absolute treat of watching it done quickly and beautifully by two of Alberta's very best boulderers (and good friends) Terry Paholek and Dan Archambault.  Terry also sent Shelley Was A Doctor First (V10) the same day; the name refers to one of the longest-running jokes in my life, one that Terry has always found especially funny...

5) Submarine (V6). The first project I cleaned at Frank Slide, and when I finally did it (after waiting for the river to go down) it was my 100th FA at Frank Slide.  Fun, aesthetic, tall!

Me sending Submarine (V6) this fall after the river subsided a bit.  This riverside problem has a spring running out from underneath it, hence the little bridge of driftwood.  Powerful first moves lead to a tall, technical, and balancy arete.  

6) The Stripey Problem (V0-).  This was my daughter Aya's first FA!  I was so proud of her!

Aya Hoover sending The Stripey Problem (V0-).  No mat, and not short for her, at all!

I made some significant progress on my eternally expanding-and-contracting list of projects.  Several lines were knocked off the list successfully, but more were added on.  Much climbing left to do in the new year!  My current list of as-yet-undone projects includes...

1) The "Rumrunner Project". Somewhere between V4 and V8. Still have not seriously tried this thing.  Maybe when the snow melts a bit?
2) Frankenstein (V5/6), Frank's hardest - and smoothest - slab.
3) The "Floodwaters Project".  Maybe V7?  Perfect edges up a slightly overhanging block of great rock, amazing movement.
4) The Approved Beta (V8). A funky Terry Paholek problem, sometimes I think I can do this, sometimes it seems impossible.  Only two sessions on it, may have to get a little more serious.
5) The Prism (V9?).  A Mark D FA.  Very cool holds, great technical line.  Looking forward to sending this one!
6) The Communist (V7/8?)  A Kyle M FA, one the best lines at Frank.  Tall, big moves!
7) The "Mark of the Beast" Project.  Very fun, but with go-to-the-hospital fall potential.
8) The "Feed the Need" Project.  Maybe V6 or 7?  One good session on it, no send. Just one hard move, really, to a long prow problem with the coolest kneebar I've ever done.
9) The "Wizard" Project. V8ish.  About 20 feet high, with a BAD landing.  Needs at least 12 pads just to be sane.  Hence the lack of sending.
10) The "Old Man and the Sea" Project. V9ish?  Another winter prospect.
11) Rising Tithes (V8).  Great line, should go pretty quickly once I devote some time to it.
12) Paleofit (V7).  Slopey traverse problem high in the City of Giants.

That's what left of the original list.  I've got my eye on some new lines that I should probably add to the list, though... :)  Everything considered, I think it's not too bad for my 43rd year on this planet.  My knees and elbows grumble more than they used to, but I'm still holding together. So far.

Me working what would eventually become The Prism (V9ish) later in the year.  It is named primarily for two large, striking, angled slopers (one of them is in my left hand...).

Bonus photo!  Me on Wind War (V2 or V3), in January or February of last year.  Windy and cold that day, but still bouldering!

Anyways, I'd like to thank all the people that have made bouldering in Lethbridge and the Crowsnest Pass so rewarding over the last year.  My bouldering posse - Kyle, Mark D, Mark G, Beth, Ryan, Calvin, and Justin.  Those bouldering folks who have moved away, Amanda and Adam ('Adamanda') and Dave.  The U of L people who I love to boulder with but periodically try to get me to put on a rope, including Mike, Jayden, Morgan, and Ashley (among others, you know who you are!).  And especially my long-time climbing friends from Edmonton (so many of them, Lloyd, Terry, Selena, Dan, Greg, Colin, and many others!) and Vancouver/Squamish (Ronald, Israel, Peter, Vince, Tim, Jack, Brad, Mike, Jamie, Sean, Rolf, and literally dozens of others) who I can always count on for inspiration.  I'm sure many other names have slipped my mind; don't be offended if you don't see your name here, I haven't forgotten you!

There's also a bunch of people who I would love to climb at Frank Slide with in the coming year!  I'm hoping for a road trip from the eternally-psyched GP crew, especially Julian, The Real Chris, Carlee, Steven, and Renee (though the latter couple has left GP for Calgary).  I'm hoping I can also manage a session with some of the Calgary folks who I haven't ever quite managed to meet in real life, including Ghislain (who I've known online for over a decade!), Adam C (the Ghost of Frank Slide), and Chris.  And will someone tell Simon V to get down here and do some bouldering! :)

Thanks everyone! All the best as this year ends, and we welcome the new one!  Have a great winter of climbing, whether it's at the gym, the boulders, the crag, on ice, or some far-off climbing destination in places warmer than this one!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Warm(ish) Weekend of Bouldering!

I didn't get out of town last weekend, so by this weekend I was feeling pretty itchy to get out to the mountains.  I wasn't able to get out on Saturday, and no one was super-keen on going out with me on Sunday, so a solo mission was in order.  A quick stop at Kyle's to grab an extra mat (my extra mats live at Kyle's garage bouldering wall, aka 'The Karage"), and I was on my way!  The weather in the pass was supposed to be +5C with sunny breaks, which is well within my criteria for a day of winter bouldering.

Arriving at Frank, I wanted to go for a hike into the little canyon I had looked at earlier in the year; the rock wasn't good enough for sport routes, but I wanted to see if there were any seeps that might be forming up into ice climbs.  It didn't turn out to be the ice-climbing mecca I had hoped, although I did see one nice-looking mixed route forming up.  It was dripping pretty vigorously, and when it gets colder it looks like it'll have a couple of vertical-ish fat pillars about 10-12 m high, with another 8-10m of scrappy 'rock and moss' mixed climbing above that to the top of the cliff. There's some deadfall on the ledge at halfway that'll have to be tossed off, but that should be easy enough to do.

Still too warm for fat ice (it was dripping!), but I'm hoping that with a little cold weather this forms up into a nice short mixed route with a couple of pillars and a short mixed boulder problem at the top.  It seemed to have lots of water, so should get a lot fatter. SUPER short approach! :)

Not the greatest ice climb ever, but it does have a SHORT approach!  Probably only a couple of hundred meters along a nice trail, and you can rap right down the route to put up a toprope.  And since it is really close to the Slide, I'm hoping for some winter sessions of 'morning ice / afternoon bouldering'.

Steep, tall, blocky... but made of some kind of weird sandstone/limestone rock (not good news).  But if I could just convince the owners of the huge house 200m away to let me run a water hose to the top of this thing...

Now with wet feet and covered with sweat, it was time to go bouldering.  I headed to the House Area, where I am determined to put up a problem in the HUGE cave on the east side of the boulder.  I put a toprope on the cave to check it out and see how solid the holds are, but unfortunately it is so steep I could only clean the top five feet or so before I was swinging too far away from the face to be effective.  I was able to clean the bottom eight feet, and the top five, but that leaves about 15 uncleaned (and HARD-looking) feet of climbing in the middle.

Now I was starting to get cold, so I put on my shoes and started working on the first six moves.  It turned out that they weren't particularly hard, but really fun, and I was pretty pleased with my effort when I linked them together.  I then tried the "V7" on the right side of the cave (aka 'Crowded House'), with the goal of linking the first four moves to the tiny block/pinch at the lip of the roof.  I did that, but the next two moves look virtually impossible (!!!).  I am skeptical that this problem has ever been done (especially without dabbing), at least with the holds that are there now (maybe something has broke off?).  Does anyone know anything about that line?

Terrible photo of the bottom third of my 'House Cave' project. Steep! Three big shelves lead to two incut sidepulls... then a 5 foot blank.  Ugh.  Too tall (20ish feet) to work comfortably. Ideas, anyone?  Ladder? 

I then swept off and climbed a very fun new problem just to the right of the "V7", calling it House of Cards (V4ish).  The first three moves are fairly tricky, but then a series of HUGE footholds make the rest of the problem simple.  A fun addition to the House Boulder.

I went for a big hike through the talus, heading above the House Boulder in a big loop to the Heart of Frank and the Mushroom Boulder and back.  I saw a few potential projects (one looks quite good and fairly hard), and a few other already-cleaned lines that look fantastic.

It was starting to get late in the day, but since it wasn't dark yet I thought I had time to get a little more bouldering in.  I packed up, and headed over to the Albatross Boulder.  I really wanted to try Hoedown (a problem I had cleaned a month or two ago, that had been since climbed by Mark Derksen).  By the time I got there, it was getting windy/cold/dark, but I tossed the mats down and put my shoes on.  It took me a few tries to remember the beta, but once I had done that I managed to send it pretty quickly.  It's a fairly ugly line, but it has some very cool moves so I was happy to send it.  Mark had given it V7, but V6 seems more appropriate.  A strong compression climber with good heel-toe skills might even find it easier than that.

 End of the day!  Just squeaked out a quick send of Hoedown (V6/7) before it got too dark.

By now it was 5:30, and getting dark.  I hustled back to the van, drove to Tim Horton's for tea and a doughnut, and started the loooonnng drive back to Lethbridge.  Not the most productive day ever, but a nice day of adventure for the first week of December!

It is supposed to be much colder next week, which makes me think that it might be a while before I get back to Frank.  Until then, happy climbing!

PS> To browse through all the new problems at Frank Slide, check out the Frank Slide section at!  It's a great website, and I use it to keep track of all my FAs. [Full Disclosure: I am not affiliated with  Although it would be sweet if Jamie sent me a hat.]

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Fall? Winter? Bouldering!

It seems as though I am back in winter mode.  When the weather forecast for Saturday projected a daytime high just marginally above freezing, I decided that it meant a day of bouldering was in order.  There was a little snow on the ground, but not enough to make the boulders wet, so off I went on Saturday morning, after a stop to pick up Mark D. and grab some coffee at McDonalds.  It was a beautiful bluebird day, which made for a nice drive out to the Crowsnest Pass.  I love this time of year in southern Alberta, when the sky is bright blue and the landscape is cast in a hundred shades of gold and tan.

View out the windshield.  Next stop, Frank Slide!

I had planned to spend the morning looking at some new projects, and cleaning some tall new problems on toprope (unfortunately, this seems to be the only effective way to determine how solid the holds are on lines over about 15 feet high; these tall faces are too tall to inpect from the ground or by leaning over the edge from atop the boulder).  I hoped to check out the HUGE cave on the east side of the House Boulder, to determine if any of the lines will go as boulder problems, but it was so steep a toprope wasn't of much use.  I'll have to find some other way to get a good look at the face.

Then we headed over to the Railway Boulder; I wanted to check one hold on the arete to the left of Railway (V10); it turned out to be perfectly solid, which means that there is another long (!) arete problem ready to go.  While it looks like a cool line, it is probably about 15 moves long, and pumpy, which isn't really my style.  But the line looks good enough that I'm excited to give it a try!

I then put a TR on a boulder just east of Railway, to clean off the top of a great-looking arete project that many people have looked at over the years.  It orginally had a steep landing or talus and gravel, but a month or so ago I put some work into flattening the landing, and then Mark did some work as well, and now it has a much flatter landing zone.  I brushed off the holds, and since Mark was keen to try it I spotted him as he pieced the moves together.  The line starts on some very nice pinches, then moves up and along a steep arete / fin, and finishes up a prow above a huge roof.  Mark was making good progress, and making the line look incredibly fun, so I put my shoes on to give it a try.  I hadn't really had any opportunity to warm up, but since the holds were mostly big and blunt (except for a few crimps on the prow), I figured that climbing a big roof would warm me up well!

Mark D on the crux prow moves of Marked for Life (V5 or V6).  All kinds of fun!  

It took me a handful of tries to reach the prow, but once there, I was a bit stumped.  Mark and I were making good progress, but the sequence on the prow was proving to be a bit mysterious.  I took a little break, looked at the problem from a couple of different angles, mentally ran through the alternative sequences I could use... then I put on my shoes and sent it next go.  A brilliant new line for Frank Slide; nice and tall, very steep (rare for Frank), with great movement on good rock. I decided to call it Marked For Life (V5, maybe bottom-end V6), in part because of the work Mark put in on the landing.   

Mark D on Marked for Life (reverse angle), squeezing the fin a couple of moves before the crux prow.  Doctor Who (V4ish) essentially turns the lip at this point, and employs some very cool press moves to gain the slab above.

Mark continued to work the problem, getting closer and closer each time.  When cleaning the holds for Marked for Life, I thought there might be another fun line on the boulder, starting on the same problem, but veering directly up the face at the fin hold on the arete.  Getting back on the boulder, it took me two tries to send Doctor Who (V4?), another brilliant new line with a funky rock-over move and two VERY cool press moves.

Meanwhile, Mark was making great progress on Marked For Life, but was getting stumped on the last few prow moves.  Where I had used a small sloping crimp on the prow, Mark was opting to use a similar, but more incut, crimp slightly further left, and taking this hold precisely was giving him some grief.  Digging deep, he pulled it together for the send, slugging it out through the slightly spooky mantle moves. A great effort by Mark!

2:30. In the afternoon. Sundown. Winter. Frank Slide. (Other parts of the slide were still sunny, though.)

By this time, it was 2:30, and the sun had gone down behind Turtle Mountain (!).  We headed to the car and drove to the Cinnamon Bear Cafe for coffee and cinnamon buns.  Mark got a text from Calvin (also in the Pass for the day), so we agreed to meet him at the Healing sector for some more bouldering.  By this time, it was starting to get colder (-4C ?), and I was having a hard time warming up again.  Mark and I did the short and surprisingly tricky Cow Elbow (V2), and then I tried to onsight Healing Arete (V5-), which I failed to do... The top of Healing Arete (including one of the key holds) was dripping wet, so I will have to come back to send it another time.  I had heard Healing Arete was a fun line, and I wasn't disappointed; very interesting movement!

The Cinnamon Bear Cafe.  Pastries and coffee make a great midday bouldering snack!  But remember, they're not open on Sunday!  Check them out, and make sure to tell them you're bouldering at the Slide!

Mark and I finished the day by trying a problem on the undercut arete left of Healing Arete.  Mark sent it, but despite making it through the crux moves of the problem I couldn't feel the final holds (COLD hands!), so we decided to pack it in and head back to Lethbridge.  Another fun day in the mountains!

I definitely need to step up my training a bit, though.  I'm feeling relatively strong, but there are many problems I want to do in Frank Slide, and success on these lines will be a challenge unless I can bring my fitness levels up.  Kyle's garage wall is helping; I've definitely noticed an increase in my power since I started climbing there.

Until next time!  Happy Bouldering!

Friday, November 8, 2013


Although it still looks like fall outside (in fact, our grass is still green), it is starting to feel more and more wintery outside.  Last weekend Justin and I went to Frank, but because it started to snow we ended up hiking for the day, looking at boulders and crags.  We had a great time, and I got the chance to look at a lot of exciting climbing opportunities that I ordinarily would have ignored as I headed out for another day of bouldering.  Justin and I saw a few potential projects that look like they could be a lot of fun.  We also took a good look at the Goat / Bluff Wall, and saw some nice lines.

- - - - -

But now, without further ado, here's the winners of the 2013 Tour de Frank!  Not many people sent in their scorecards, but here are the results.  Remember, these are the compiled V-grade points of their hardest seven boulder problems from the May long weekend to Thanksgiving Monday.

Mark Derksen (56 points)
Kyle Marco (49 points)
Trent Hoover (48.5 points)
Dan Archambault (41 points, a one day effort!)
Mark Guckert (35 points, though this relies entirely on his memory...)

Congrats to everyone who sent in a score card!  Mark, your trophy is in the mail. ;) 

It was a fun thing to do, and went off without any real issues.  I'm thinking that it would be fun to make it a one- or two-day event (like the Hueco Rock Rodeo), instead, but perhaps that won't happen for a year or two.

Until then, I hope you have a productive winter climbing season, whether you're climbing outside, inside, ice climbing, or whatever inspires you!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Relaxed Day at Frank!

Shelley is away for a few days at a conference, so I decided to take Aya and Rowan to the mountains for a bit of adventuring.  We went for a bit of a hike, explored along the Crowsnest River, and had a little fire.  We found a number of additional (free) campsites immediately adjacent to Frank Slide as well, so if any visiting climbers want info on some brilliant free camping very close to the Slide just let me know.

Mark G pulling hard on the classic Relentless (V6), shortly before he sent it.  Nice work!

After our hike, we went to do a little bouldering.  We tracked down some of the Lethbian boulderers that were in the Slide that day, including Calvin, Mark / Beth, Ryan, and Mark D.  They were at the Relentless Boulder, where Mark G was trying Relentless (V6, which he sent!), and Ryan was trying OFD (V3ish, which he allllmmmost sent).  I did a few of the easy lines on the boulder which I hadn't had the opportunity to do before (including one I think is new, to the right of Krimptonite).  I suggested that Mark try the low start to the V1 face/arete to the left of Relentless, since it looked decent.  We both did it quickly, revealing a really fun V3ish line that Mark wants to call The Incident

And Beth lost her toque.  But then she found it again.

Aya, Beth, and Lupin the dog at the Foxhole Boulders.  This was before Beth lost her toque.

We headed over to the Albatross Boulder, where I had some things I wanted to try, including a short/ugly problem I had excavated just right of Roadrunner Excavation Company.  I had also shifted a big boulder on the other side of the boulder, opening up a potential new line right of Shutdown (V4).  I quickly jumped on this new problem, finding it to be an extremely fun V2ish steep traverse-to-a tricky vertical move line.  No name yet; I need to find a good name worthy of such a fun line!

Mark D on The Incident (V3ish).  A fun new problem on the Relentless Boulder.

Mark and I worked the short/ugly problem.  It turned out to be somewhat easier than I had thought it might be; I did all the moves pretty quickly, but then tweaked my shoulder a bit so I stopped working it.  Mark kept working it, and sent it eventually, calling it Hoedown.  He speculated it might be a V7, but I think V6 is probably a better estimation of the grade.

CALVIN!!!  Perhaps the last warm and sunny day of the fall season...

Ryan came verrrry close to sending the somewhat spooky Albatross (V4/5), but fell touching the jug after the crux.  SO close!  Maybe next time!

The temperatures were dropping, so we decided to call it a day.  Rowan, Aya, and I headed to Tim Hortons for something to eat... something of a post-Frank tradition, it appears!

The next day, it started to snow, and snow, and snow... hopefully this is not the end of the fall season!  I am hoping that we get another month of fall climbing weather, but we'll have to wait and see!

- - - - -

A Case for Firming up the Grades at Frank Slide

One thing I have noticed in the year I have lived and climbed in the area is that the grades at Frank Slide are wildly inconsistent, especially for the harder problems. I think this trend is not unexpected, especially since the people who have put up problems here are from a number of different areas and have very different levels of experience. However, I think that it is a worthwhile goal to try and arrive at proper consensus grades for the problems here.

Good cases in point are the problems Shutdown and Galactic, two short fun problems at the Albatross and House areas, respectively.  Originally graded V5 and V4, they have both been downgraded a full grade or more, and are now thought to be softish V4 and V3.  I think many of Frank's harder problems suffer from this kind of grade inconsistency, although since most of the hard problems at Frank Slide have seen very ascents, it is difficult to arrive at a consensus on how difficult they are.

Some of the older problems (especially those done by Kyle and Evan in the early days of Frank Slide) tend to be stiffly graded (a founder effect, likely exacerbated by the fact that Kyle and Evan were stronger than they thought they were).  Some of the later problems tend to be a bit soft.  Even I have a hard time grading problems accurately some of the time, mostly because I`m not as strong as I used to be, and Frank Slide is much different from other areas I have climbed a lot at (namely Squamish and Hope).

Accuracy in grading can be made much easier if we are able compare problems to others that are considered to be area-specific benchmarks for each grade. The problems used as benchmarks should be as typical as possible for the area; in the case of Frank Slide, the problems should be vertical or slightly overhanging, neither too short nor too long (i.e. not two moves, but not a dozen moves, either; usually Slide problems are five or six moves long).  The climbs should be relatively straightforward, without obscure trickery that might make it difficult to determine relative difficulty.  They should also be problems that are relatively accessible (i.e. not tucked away in a rarely-visited corner of the area); benchmarks are of no use if no one climbs them!

After giving it a great deal of thought, here are the problems that I consider to be benchmarks for each grade at Frank Slide.

V1: Killer Ss and Snakebite (with the latter in the upper end of the grade range)
V2:  Python and Four Inch Pinch (both good Frank Slide lines)
V3: Expected Surprise and Galactic (although suggested grades for the latter are all over the place)
V4: Apple Shampoo and Shutdown (although the former high, and latter low, in the grade, IMHO)
V5: Aftermath and Healing Arete (haven't done the latter yet, but people seem to think its solid)
V6: Relentless and KBMI30 (both solid problems, I think)
V7: The Communist and The Evangelist (both stellar lines)
V8: The Prism and Roadrunner Excavation Company Left (not many at this grade; these aren't ideal)
V9: Nintendo 69 (very few problems at this grade; Cartel is notoriously reachy, so it's useless)
V10: Railway (really, THE standard for the grade at Frank Slide!)

For example, it took me only a handful of tries to climb Roadrunner Excavation Company Right, which is often cited as being V8.  However, Communist and The Evangelist both seem substantially harder, which suggests to me that RECR is probably a low-end V7 or upper-end V6.  In contrast, REC Left seems very hard to me, somewhere in the (relative) V8 range.

Anyways, that's my take on the issue of grade consistency at Frank Slide.  I think that the grades of some problems will change as more people climb them, so don't hesitate to chime in if you think any published grade is erroneous!  Ordinarily, I don't particularly care about grades, and am usually more interested in climbing problems of high quality regardless of how hard they are.  However, because Kyle and I are currently writing a guide to Frank Slide, trying to nail down appropriate grades for the problems here has become a necessary task!

Hopefully I can get out to Frank a few more times before the winter really sets in to get some problems climbed!

Until next time...

PS> Some of these suggested benchmarks might be replaced as input from other climbers comes in.  If you can suggest better problems that can be used as benchmarks, don't hesitate to tell me.  I'm waffling on a few myself; Healing Arete is considered by some to be V4, for instance.  Check here for an updated list!

Sunday, October 20, 2013


We are now deep into the fall bouldering season, and the bouldering continues, unabated.  Yesterday, I headed to Frank Slide with Kyle, Mark G, and Calvin, three of Lethbridge's most stalwart boulderers.  For many people, the appeal of bouldering fluctuates with the temperature and the seasons, but luckily there are those climbers who are eternally keen to head to the mountains for a day of pulling on holds at Frank Slide!

Arriving at the Slide, it was cool (6C or so) and windy, which didn't seem like ideal climbing conditions.  Kyle suggested that we head to the Railway Boulder so I could do Railway Slab, one of the remaining 13 problems on my list of projects.  Warmed up somewhat by the approach, and encouraged by the dying wind and the growing sunlight, we booted up and did Railway Slab, one of the highest moderate (V0) slabs in Frank.  Psyched, we continued to climb another seven easy slabs on the boulder, all between about 15 to 20 feet tall.  Mark G, a slab-climbing machine (!), knocked them off without hesitation, including an especially tall and aesthetic slab on the east face of the Railway boulder.  (No names yet for all these new slabs!)

We then ganged up to try a strange hanging slab problem that started at the lip of a small overhang... with a mono-pocket for a starting handhold (thus combining two of boulderer's favorite things - slabs and monos - in one problem!!! ;) ).  After much shenanigans, beta-swapping, and falling, Kyle finally sent the FA of Mono Slab (V I have no idea, maybe 3 or 4 but it is such an odd problem that it defies grading).  Mark then cruised the second ascent when he realised that he could use his almost-supernatural hip flexibility to stand up onto the slab, and then I finally grunted out the third ascent.  The slab above the pocket was also very satisfyingly good, which was nice!

I added a couple of new easyish vertical problems on the boulder above Railway, before heading down to the steep cave on the downhill side of the Railway boulder.

Kyle and Mark G. briefly worked the classic Railway (V10), without much success.  We then did Gunslinger aka Railway Crack (V3) (which I flashed with a little struggling), and I worked The Approved Beta (V8) briefly without any luck on the cruxy first two moves.  Feeling a little bummed, I moved around the corner and tried a slab-to-bulge-to-slab problem with Calvin.  Finding the prospect of falling onto a slabby apron a little freaky, we recruited Mark, who promptly sent the line, calling it Caboose (V1?).  Another fun and tall line on the Railway Boulder!

I had earlier cleaned a short problem on small holds on the opposite side of the boulder. It looked like it would be a hard dynamic problem, so we shuffled the mats over to try it.  The problem really only consisted of three moves; a tricky move to a very small edge, a powerful (though not terribly huge) dyno to a good lip hold, followed by an easy(ish) mantle.  Kyle initially thought the first move might be impossible, but after only ten or 15 tries were we were sticking the first move.  Though I could link from the start into the dyno, it never really felt that doable to me, and I kept falling inches short of the lip hold.  Kyle, on the other hand, kept getting closer and closer to sticking the crux dyno, and after only 30 or 45 minutes of work he linked the three moves for the first ascent of Blood Brothers (V6? harder? I have no idea how to grade dynos...).  I had punctured a fingertip that was bleeding on the start hold, hence the name.

Calvin and Mark also sent a steepish, juggy, but dynamic problem to the left of Blood Brothers; it didn't look like much, but it climbed REALLY well on fun holds.  A fun moderate addition to the area!  We finished our day in the Railway area by climbing another V0- slab on a nearby boulder.  Kyle, Mark, and Calvin thought it looked easy enough that they could do it in their approach shoes; I bet them an ice cream that they couldn't... needless to say, I didn't buy anyone ice cream. :)

We headed by Kyle's Dyno (V4/5?) on the way back to the car, which Kyle and Mark both sent.  A fun way to finish a lllloooonnnggg day at Frank Slide!  A great day in the mountains, with great weather and good friends - is there a better way spend a fall day?  15 first acents, including some of the best high slabs in Frank and a significant new hard dyno problem.  Epic!

Until next time!

[sorry for the lack of pictures, I couldn't find my camera... next time, I promise]

PS> Don't forget to send me your Tour de Frank score cards!

PPS> Another problem off my current Project List!  only 12 left!  All the rest are much harder, though...

Thursday, October 17, 2013

2013 Tour de Frank!

This weekend, the 2013 "summer" season, and the 2013 Tour de Frank, officially came to a close.  The 2013 Tour de Frank spanned the weeks between the May long weekend and Thanksgiving Monday; if you've been keeping track of all of your Frank Slide bouldering sends, send me a list of the seven hardest bouldering ascents at Frank Slide (problem, grade, and approximate date) that you sent between those dates to be entered!

The Tour de Frank is entirely a "for-fun" event, but there are rules, nonetheless.  (1) Be honest. (2) Use consensus grades; this is a tricky issue, since many problems at Frank have had few ascents, and many of the upper-end problems at Frank are notoriously over-graded.  To avoid controversy, use a published grade (either the Norman or Hoover/Marco guides will do, even a grade will do in a pinch), a consensus grade if the problem does not exist in a guide, or your (brutally and soul-searchingly honest) opinion if the problem is a FA and has not had subsequent ascents. (3) Have fun! Remember, the best climber is the one having the most fun!

Send me your virtual scorecards via email or a FB message.  You have a week to get your scorecards to me!  You don't need to be a Frank Slide regular to join in; even if you only bouldered at Frank a few days this summer, you can still send me a list!  It's all in good fun, and I will post results on my blog.  If I feel particularly motivated, I may even scrouge together a few prizes.  I would be especially excited to hear from people who I haven't met or climbed with, so don't hesitate to join the growing ranks of Frank Slide Boulderers! 

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Adam Dipinto on the crisp edges of Aftermath (V5); to his right is The Prism (V8?) (see the chalky holds?), and to his left is the perfect highball The Communist (V7?).

In other Frank Slide news, HUGE props to Kyle Marco and Mark Derksen for nailing down two of Frank Slide's most wanted projects.   Kyle walked away with the FA of The Communist (V7?), a beautiful highball on the Aftermath Boulder.  The Communist was the last completely independent line on the boulder, and perhaps the best.  A few meters to the right, Mark managed to finally link all the moves on The Prism (V8?), a powerful line of sloping holds and edges just right of Aftermath (V5).  Two new additions to Frank Slide's growing list of difficult problems!  Congrats to Kyle and Mark!

Kyle Marco  projecting The Communist earlier this spring.  Tall, but not crazy-tall, maybe 15 or 16 feet?  The harder and much scarier Communist Right Project is still up for grabs...

Me on The Prism.  Someday soon, I hope!  I have a new toque, so maybe that'll help. ;)

Until next time!

[For those of you who are curious...

Positive Water (V8)
Road Runner Excavation Company Right (V8)
The Evangelist (V7)
Breathing Underwater (V7)
Submarine (V6)
Trent's Cave (V6)
Invincible (V6/7)

...for a grand total of 48.5 points.  Not the 56 I was hoping for, but given the fact that I lost a month or two because of my elbow injury, I'm pretty happy with it!]

Monday, September 23, 2013

New Problems, and the End of a Century!

On Saturday, I went to Frank Slide for a day of bouldering and relaxing in the mountains with my family.  Aya and Rowan like to explore the boulders of Frank Slide, and they had a great time playing along the river pretending to be a wolf pack.  In order to be close to everyone, I decided to head to the Submarine Boulder by the river; it's really close to the road and the parking area, so it seemed like a fun place to spend some time putting chalk on a rock.

I was also motivated to head to the Submarine boulder because I had been waiting all year for the water to go down enough for me to try the Submarine Project, which is a tall arete.  It starts with three powerful moves coming out from a short cave, then the movement becomes really tenuous and balancy as the arete become vertical.

There was another reason I have been really excited to get to the Submarine Boulder; it was one of the very first boulders I saw my first day at Frank Slide after moving to the area, and it was the first project I tried.  It is an incredibly aesthetic problem.  It is tall, with great holds, and sits right beside the Crowsnest River.  When the river is high, the base of the problem is underwater (hence the name), and even when the river is low there is still a little water at the base, because a spring comes out  right at the base of the boulder.

The view from Submarine (V6).  Such an amazing place to climb!

Arriving at the boulder, I warmed up by doing some of the other obvious, easier-looking lines.  First up was a thin seam on an almost-vertical face.  Though it looked easy, it baffled me for a few tries.  Finally I unlocked a sequence that involved weird smeary highsteps and small edges.  I called it The Drowning Grip (V3/4), following a watery theme for the boulder.  Next up was another similar-looking line to the right; it too proved to be funky and technical (like harder versions of the problems on the Curse Boulder in the House Area).  I called it Our Fathers (V3) after a plaque bearing the same phrase glued to the top of the boulder.  I then added a very nice but easier line called Sink or Swim (V0) around the arete to the right.  That left only two independent lines on the boulder; the Submarine arete project, and a mantle-to-steep-slab problem to its immediate right.

The mantle problem turned out to be very cool.  The mantle was trickier than I thought (I had to ask Shelley for advice), and the blank face above proved to be a riddle. I finally unlocked the final move with a delicate smear and deadpoint for the lip, a slightly spooky line that I called Man Overboard.  It's about V3, but grades are almost irrelevant on height-dependent funky problems like this one!

Me on Submarine, repeating the problem so Shelley could take a few pictures.  Squeeze!

Then, I turned my attention to the Submarine Project.  I had tried it during my first-ever visit to Frank almost a year ago, but had failed on it.  It has a perfect sidepull jug to start, and a powerful first move leads to three good holds in sequence.  Then, a tall smooth arete rears above, with decent left-hand holds, but nothing for your right hand.  Working out the moves, I finally realised that a teetering balancy move would allow me to reach a high right-hand crimp.  Despite having no spotter and being spooked a bit by the height of the problem (14? 15? feet) I sent the problem my next try.  A beautiful problem on great rock, right beside the raging Crowsnest River.  Perfect!  I called it Submarine (V6+).
Me again.  Notice the stream of water coming out from under my mat.  I built a landing up so my mat doesn't get wet.  A cool setting for a problem!

I gathered up my mats, and went to hang out with Shelley, Aya, and Rowan for a bit.  I wanted to wind down my afternoon with a session on Roadrunner Excavation Company (V8), one of the first hard problems at Frank Slide, done more than a decade ago by Lev Pinter and Scott Milton (I think).  I had looked at it before, but couldn't quite see how it was supposed to be done.  I asked Kyle for information on the movement, but standing in front of the boulder, I didn't think that I could actually hang onto holds that bad and do the big dynamic move that Kyle had described.  So I focused my attention on the right variation to Roadrunner; at least I could reach the holds (I thought).  I tried it a couple of times, and completely failed.  Stepping off, I decided I needed to refine my beta, so I felt the holds, and thought about the sequence.  I brushed the holds.  I hung on the holds.  I visualised.  I drank some juice.  I stretched.  I brushed the holds again.  Getting back on the problem, I used a solid heel-toe lock to do a cross-over to a bad crimp, then I bumped my hands up a rail.  Bringing my foot up, I realised I only had one hard move left!  I jumped to the good edge, then grabbed a big sloper.  Done!  So nice when the technique and the power come together (I'm misquoting the visionary Jerry Moffat here, of course).  I'm psyched to have done such a fun, technical, and historic hard problem, though it wasn't quite as hard as I expected.  Perhaps I should try the left variation! 

I spent a fair bit of time excavating a new line to the right of Roadrunner, but couldn't quite make it work.  Something for next time!

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My ascent of Submarine is also special to me for another reason; it is the 100th first ascent I have made at Frank Slide!  The first first ascent I made at Frank was Friction Factor (V2), just across the river from Submarine, in January this year.  In the nine months I have climbed at Frank Slide, I have often felt really lucky / blessed, as there are so many new lines waiting to be done.  For me, finding new routes or boulder problems is an incredibly satisfying creative process.  Seeing the potential in a piece of rock, cleaning the line, unlocking the sequence, and climbing it well are all part of a valuable experience to me.  It has very little to do with how hard a problem is (although hard problems are nice to do), but with how good the movement is.  The eternal search for the perfect problem drives me on. I often feel disappointed when a problem I find climbs badly (as did Jigsaw V3), or feels short (like Sofa King V5).  For these reasons, I tend to get fixated on taller, high-quality problems, although I enjoy all types of problems from short caves to tall slabs.  Viva la difference!

Some of my favorite first ascents at Frank Slide are Invincible (V6), a fun highball with a hard crimpy start, Jolly Green Giant (V0), the huge easy but scary slab in the City of Giants, Karst Low (V3), the low start to the amazing Karst, Aftermath (V5), great edges through a bulge, Four Inch Pinch (V2) to the right of Aftermath, and of course Submarine (V6).  Seems, sometimes, that my current project is always my favorite... and there are many new projects on my list of things to do!  I look forward to another amazing year at Frank Slide, and next 100 first ascents!

Slabhunting in the City of Giants on a hot day.  Me on Jolly Green Giant (Kyle Marco photo).

PS> Two more projects off the list! Woohoo! Only 13 left to go!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Projects and Flat Landings!

The summer season is over, and it seems that I haven't really accomplished as much as I would have liked to in the boulderfield of Frank Slide.

"I know," you say to yourself. "But you are injured.  Your elbow is a mess.  Given this, your accomplishments are reasonable, even admirable!"

You're correct, of course.  My elbow injury has taken at least 6-8 weeks out of my season.  It is still painful, and feels incredibly tight until I get it stretched out (which climbing actually does well, I'm finding out).  But still, what about the weeks before the injury?  Why wasn't I getting a lot done then?

Perhaps the answer is that I'm getting old.  However, I suspect the real reason is lack of intensity.  Too much futzing around, not enough training, and certainly a notable lack of simply trying hard to succeed.

Luckily, my last two weekends in Frank have helped remedy this situation.

A week ago, Mark D., Calvin, and I went to Frank Slide for a sunny day of early autumn bouldering.  We headed into the City of Giants / Karst Valley area to see what we could find to climb.  To date, there are only a few dozen problems there, but room for many more.  Unfortunately, the landings in the City are bad, even for Frank, which may explain the small number of established problems.  Arriving, we cleaned up a few warmup problems on a large split boulder not far from the road. Mark climbed a couple of fun moderate-ish mantle problems, while I cleaned and climbed a tallish arete with cool juggy pinches (calling it, somewhat lamely, Pinch Arete (V1)), and a fun slab with angular features (Geometrica (V0)).

Moving around to the back of the boulder, we found a hard steep line of crimps which we tried to no avail.  Beside it, there was also a leaning arete with a perfect starting hold.  It looked like a fun easy problem, but despite our best efforts, we couldn't make ANY progress on it.  It will go, certainly, but how to make progress seemed to be a mystery to us!

We moved over to another boulder, where I spent some time moving rocks to build a landing for what I call the 'Feed The Need' Project (it has a big kneebar, hence the name).  I spent a half-hour trying it, but the first move (the crux) still eluded me.  Perhaps next time!  I did a few moderate lines to the right, though, both first ascents; Peachy Pinch (V1) and Cherry Pit (V4), the latter a great problem with a bad landing (you start half-standing in a narrow pit amongst the blocks).

Calvin ready to pull onto the crux sloping shelf of Ride the River (V0).

Wanting to get on some established problems, we headed over to the Trees Boulder (which features PERFECT landings in a shady forest setting!!!).  Calvin did the high Ride The River (V0), and Mark and I did Broken Tree (height-dependent V4 or V5).  I was excited!  Finally, one of my projects knocked off my list, though not one of the major ones.  Broken Tree has great movement, though the face is covered with a weird crumbly rock that looks like gloppy mortar with too much sand added.

Mark D. making short work of Broken Tree (V4/5).

On the way out, we stopped at the Healing Boulder to run up some tall, super-easy slabs.  I did a really easy but high problem with a big crux reach that I called The Grim Reacher (V0-).  A fun day at the Slide!

Yesterday, I was keen to get out to the Slide to get on some new problems. Everyone else in Lethbridge was heading out on Sunday, but I couldn't.  A solo mission was in order!  Truthfully, I miss this kind of experience, which I used to do a fair bit in Squamish and Godman Creek.  I like having the energy of a group when it comes to sending hard problems, but I also like the freedom to work hard and focus on a line that comes with climbing alone.  Plus, I wanted to clean some tall projects on toprope, which isn't particularly compatible with a group of people around.

I headed to the Aftermath Boulder, where I wanted to clean the tall arete above The Pocket Problem (V2-).  The Pocket Problem is a fun problem, but it ends halfway up an arete, on a big pocket (hence the name). There were a few pieces of dangerously loose blocks of rock on the arete above this (which had previously prevented people from climbing above the pocket), which I removed on rappel. I spent a few minutes cleaning the holds and checking out the moves, and then I was ready to try it.  Though high (about 15 or 16 feet) the problem is relatively easy, and features a huge finishing hold.  It went really smoothly, and in a minute I was grinning on top of the boulder. I decided to call the entire problem Evil Eye (V2/3), after the large pocket on the arete (and because my kids and I have this game, where I draw 'evil eyes' on the sidewalk, and it gives me powers to see everything they do, so they try to destroy the 'eyes'...).

The overhanging arete of Evil Eye (V2/3).  A sit start on pockets leads to some cool arete moves and another cluster of pockets; above this, more pulls on blocky holds leads to a huge final jug.  A good highball for the not-so-keen-on-high-problems crowd.

Since I had a rope there, I decided to clean off a line between Ghost Rider (V4) and the arete.  The line looked interesting - a crimpy start led to a line of big sidepulls and a fun mantle.  I was psyched to try something harder, so I cleaned the holds and set to work.   I was stymied for a half-hour by a single move (the third move) off a small edge; I could do the move (from the crimp to a gaston) by itself, but I was having a hard time hanging off the hold long enough to set my feet up to do the move.  Finally, after a rest, I managed to squeak through the move, and I easily pulled through the sidepulls to the easy mantle above.  So happy to send!  Such a great feeling!  I called it Invincible (V6+?) after the crazily endorphin-infused feeling I get after I send a high problem.

I really wanted to try the 'Rumrunner' project across the river, so I packed up and moved over to south side of the slide. Unfortunately, I couldn't cross the river (still too fast and deep!), so I decided to try the problems on the Expected Surprise boulder instead.  I flashed Expected Surprise (V3?V4?), did Expected Surprise Left (V4) in two tries, and spent some time cleaning and sending another new line to the left, which I called Otter Surprise (V4), after an otter that was playing and barking in the river behind me.

It was late afternoon, and I still felt like I had some gas left in my tank, so I headed over to Postive Water (V8) for a session before I left for the day. I had been on it before, so I was looking forward to finessing my sequence and making good linkage.  To my surprise, I sent it on my second try!  Shuffling the mats, I decided to try Triforce (V6).  I tried the moves, and fell.  I refined my beta.  And fell. I tried this, and tried that. I tried with a high heel, then with a low foot scum. All to no avail.  Finally, I micro-refined my beta and squeeeeezed (literally!) out an ascent of this surprisingly intricate compression problem.

Finally, I was spent.  Happy, though!  For the first time in a long time, I had had a decent day, doing two V6s and a V8, and three first ascents, including two significant new highballs.  It was time for a doughut!

Crowsnest Mountain in the evening light, as seen from the Slide.(*Thanks for the correction, Calvin!)

Still, lots of projects left on my list.  As of today, the "Official List of Projects" includes...  The Rumrunner Project (hardish? with a bad landing), Rising Tithes (V8), the Floodwater Project, the Submarine Project (currently underwater... still), Frankenstein (V6 tall hard slab!), Roadrunner Excavation Company (V8), the Feed The Need Project (just one hard move, really, but a very cool line), the Wizard Project (HARD, TALL!), the Mark of the Beast Project (not crazy hard, but a perfect-looking highball with a go-to-the-hospital landing), The Communist Project (powerful and tall, very hard first three moves), the Prism Project (the direct finish is HARD, but I think it'll go with a lot of work), Approved Beta (V8), Paleofit (V7), and the Railway Slab Project (really tall V0ish slab).  14 projects!  Whew!  Time to get serious!

Until next time... cheers!

PS> I've decided to add one more project to the list; I used to refer to it as the Alcove Project, which made no sense because it wasn't in an alcove, at all.  In a self-mocking vein, I am going to refer to it as the Old Man and the Sea Project.  This one is a bit of a long shot; it looks hard and tall, but I'll give it a serious effort! 15 projects in total...

Friday, September 6, 2013

Jolly Green Frank!

Last weekend was the last-official-weekend-of-the-summer-holidays.  As it was a long weekend, Shelley had an extra day off work, so she suggested that we turn my usual day of bouldering into a short camping trip to Frank. While I'm not crazy about sleeping on the ground, the idea of bouldering combined with a fire at night and a great campsite by the river sounded really appealing. So on Saturday morning we packed our van and headed off to the Crowsnest Pass.

Since my elbow is still bothering me, I planned to spend a sizable proportion of my time doing slab problems.  I have long had my eye on an enormous slab in the City of Giants; it faces The Giant itself, and is visible from the highway.  It is a great angle for a moderate slab problem, and features a thin seam running straight up the middle of the face (which, coincidentally is the highest part of the boulder). 

I packed a short rope, harness, and bouldering mat out to the slab when I arrived in Frank, and hiked out to the City of Giants.  I wanted to clean the boulder on rappel to ensure that loose holds wouldn't break and make me take a huge sliding fall off the slab.  I tried the crux moves hanging on the rope (to see what they felt like),  and started to have second thoughts.  I have climbed a handful of fairly high slab problems (including Desire and Wendy's, both in Squamish), but this slab seemed higher.  Kyle, also in Frank that day, came over to check out the slab, and didn't seem too bothered by the height of the slab.  So I put on my shoes, chalked up, and send the problem.

Me on Jolly Green Giant (V0+).  Tall!  Scary!  I'm just starting the crux section, which reaches pretty much to the top of the boulder.

Fortunately, the problem turned out to be somewhat easier than I had anticipated. The crux of the problem is the last 6 meters, and involves smearing on decent but sloping footholds.  My feet stayed where I wanted them to, and I didn't encounter any really difficulties.  I handed Kyle my camera, and asked him to take a few pictures, and climbed it again.  Strangely, I found it a lot scarier the second time up the slab!

Later in the day I looked at the photos, and was surprised at how TALL the boulder is.  Standing directly underneath the face, the height of the boulder seemed reasonable.  The photo, however, shows that the problem, which I called Jolly Green Giant (V0+), is a lot taller than any other slab problem I've ever done.  A lot!

A slightly tricky high step... almost at the top now....

After that, the rest of the day was mellow.  Kyle found a great cave problem nearby, which became Man With Two Heads (V4 ov V5), and we did a short roof problem with a bad landing called Swinglish (V3).  We checked out a few more projects in the slide, and called it a day.  Lots of potential in The City!

Shelley, Aya, Rowan, and I had a great time camping.  We had a fire, roasted hot dogs, and ate potato chips.  A fun time with my family!

The second day we all went to the Trees Boulder in the Healing Area.  It had a great setting, and great landings.  I did a handful of tall slabs, including the amazing High Noon (V1), which reminds me a lot of The Witch (V1) in Squamish.  I cleaned and send another cool face problem on the boulder (with a last-move crux!), which I called Knock on Wood (V1).  I named it that because if you fall from the last moves you land in a big cottonwood tree.  Not an ideal landing.

The Element Boulder.  I did a couple of tallish slabs on the backside of the boulder.

By this time it was getting hot in the Slide, so we decided it was time for cold drinks, and headed back to the van.  A great trip to the Slide; fun climbing, good times with my family, and lots of great weather.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Little Hulkamaniac, the Prince of Frank!

Even though my elbow is still feeling sore and weak, last weekend was simply too nice to pass up a trip to Frank.  Plus, a handful of boulderers from Lethbridge were heading out, so it seemed like a good opportunity to do some bouldering with fun people.  We decided to visit the Little Hulkamaniac area, which was fine by me; I had only been there one day previously, and I was keen to see what else the area had to offer.

Arriving at the Slide, we (Kyle, Mark D, Ryan, Amanda, Calvin, Justin, and I) headed across the tracks and up the ramp to Little Hulkamaniac and the surrounding boulders.  We decided to warm up at the cluster of boulders where Deep Blue Sea (V2) is located.  We ended up climbing several new moderate problems on the boulder next to it as well, including a handful of V0s and V1s, and a new V3 (Mark D.'s Some Like it Hoth).  Amanda also did the high V0 arete of Coraline, a great venture into the world of high bouldering!

Soon thereafter we packed up and moved on to Little Hulkamaniac.  This tall pyramidal boulder dominates the skyline at the area, and Little Hulkamaniac (V2) is one of the tallest problems at the Slide.  Certainly, it is the tallest non-slab problem; at about 22 or 23 feet high, it starts as a steep slab but then slowly becomes vertical, then overhanging right at the end.  We arranged the mats, and then everyone chalked up to try it. It soon became apparent that the problem had not only an opening crux (the second and third moves are tricky), but an final end crux as well (the last two moves on the face are committing).  After everyone had had a chance to try the moves, Kyle booted up and climbed the line.  Watching him, it became apparent to me how serious Little Hulkamaniac is; the last two hard moves involve a long reach to a thin edge, then another long reach to the finishing ledge.  Blowing either of those two moves would result in a huge plummet to the mats below.

On my first couple of attempts, I climbed up to the second crux, but then reversed a couple of moves and jumped off.  After watching Kyle do the problem, I realised that I needed to man up and commit to a high step and those two reachy moves.  I hopped on, and before I knew it I was at the finishing ledge, feeling a bit pumped.  I grabbed the lip, and topped out. Such an amazing line, perfect edges and minijugs up an arching face.  I have a lot of respect for the guys who worked and sent the line years ago!  One of the best problems at Frank, for sure!

Kyle and I then worked a line to the left of Little Hulkamaniac, that reminded me a lot of Connect Four (V8) in Squamish.  However, we were stymied by the powerful and technical moves, and moved on.   I did a couple of new moderate mini-cave problems close to Little Hulkamaniac, Tooth (V2) and Claw (V2), both fun lines on really amazing rock.  Mark D. did a couple of hard lines not far away, including Rise of the Phoenix (V5) and Stairway to Evan (V7).  Wrapping things up, we did a handful of moderate lines on a long block near Little Hulkamaniac, including the fun Rail Gun (V2).

I had a fun time, but was a little bummed that my elbow was causing me problems.  I still can't lock off with my right arm, and it feels weak.  Still, it is slowly improving, so I can't complain!  I'm hoping I can get back to regular climbing again soon; I'm looking forward to a long fall of bouldering at Frank.

What's next?  Get my elbow healed, get in shape, and get back to my projects!  Lots to do!

 On a closing note, I would like to extend a heartfelt farewell to Adam and Amanda ('Adamanda'), who are moving to Vancouver soon.  Enjoy the ocean, sushi, and Squamish!

[Sorry, no photos this time, I forgot my camera...] 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Day of the Frank!

Slowly, my elbow has begun to improve.  It still hurts to extend my arm or to pinch anything (like a cup), but gradually the pain is lessening and is being replaced by a uncomfortable tightness.  I went bouldering to Frank the last two weekends (first with Shelley, Aya, and Rowan, then the second weekend with Kyle), and to my surprise my elbow felt better after a day of climbing!  I think it really needs to be stretched as it heals, so the tendon doesn’t end up scarred and overly tight.  I have been stretching and massaging it every day, so I imagine that has helped as well.

My trip to Frank with Shelley, Aya, and Rowan was half bouldering trip, half family picnic outing.  Shelley, Aya, and Rowan bouldered a bit, but mostly clambered over the rocks and played in a pond / sidechannel of the Crowsnest River.  I was unsure if I would be able to climb, but to my surprise my elbow held up reasonably well, although it was somewhat uncomfortable.  I cleaned and put up a handful of problems south of Albatross, including the especially fun Jumbo Shrimp (V1) and Nectarine (V2).  I also did Limestone Catastrophe (V2/3), which is a very interesting problem on a unique nose-like feature.  A fun day in the mountains with my family, capped off by a hot dog roast by the river.  My elbow felt really good that evening, more comfortable than it had for a while.

Not a great picture of a great problem; Chicken Little Arete (V3).

Frank summer; potential across the river.

Encouraged, I made another trip to Frank the following weekend, with Kyle.  It’s always fun to climb with Kyle; he has a focused approach to bouldering that I always find refreshing.  We spent the day climbing problems along the river, including several new lines. As we headed in to the boulders, we saw a large garter snake, which watched us calmly as we walked by.  Kyle had never seen a snake in the boulders before, so I gathered it was an unusual sighting.  We warmed up on Limestone Catastrophe and a new tallish arête to the right (which I called Attack of the Pikas (V0), on account of all the pikas we saw near the boulder). 

We then did a new problem (The Bowing Bishop V4ish) to the left of Attack of the Pikas, and then set to work on repeating Don’t Blow It; it had been V4 until I broke a crucial hold off.  Kyle and I found that it could still be climbed, although it was certainly harder (hard V5?), and the sequence somewhat different.  We tried a few more lines on that face, then turned our attention to the backside of the boulder.  I had cleaned up a problem on that face the previous week, and I wanted to try it.  I fumbled my first few attempts, then watched as Kyle nearly flashed the problem with completely different beta!   Both Kyle and I sent it soon thereafter, calling it Day of the Snake (V4ish).  I added a much easier direct finish to the problem as well, calling it The Smarter Garter (V0).

Kyle checking out the first crux hold (the second move) of Day of the Snake (V4ish) (first photo), then grabbing it with authority (second photo).  The heel-toe cam is an important technique on many Frank Slide problems, as Kyle demonstrates here.
Continuing our circuit along the river, we did a handful of new problems, including three problems on the Hubris Boulder (including a really nice V1 slab), and three new problems on a new problem boulder right beside the road.  We finished off the day with a send of a new bulge problem by Worm Face (I called it X Factor (V2ish), great holds on perfect rock), and three easy slabs on the Worm Face (such amazing features, it’s too bad the problems there are so easy).  We wrapped things up with a trip to Tim Horton’s for doughnuts.  Thanks to Kyle for a great day of bouldering! 

Again, my elbow felt better after a day of climbing than it had the previous day.  Encouraging, certainly.

With a little luck, my elbow will be healed enough that my fall season isn’t a write-off.  Lots of projects that need to get done this year, including The Communist Project (should be a fun fall project), the Mark of the Beast Project (I just need to man up and climb that thing), the Submarine Project (still wet last time I checked), The Prism Project (I think I need to train my open-hand strength a bit)...   I’ve also added another couple of projects to the list, a V7ish face problem on sloping but full-pad edges, and a V9ish-looking arête.  Whew! 

Until next time! Cheers!