Mark, the perennially psyched Lethbian (yes, that IS what you call someone from Lethbridge, apparently) boulderer, was adamant. "We've GOT to go up to the Ridge." From the 6th Avenue car park at Frank Slide, the boulders of the Zombotron Area are clearly visible across the river; high above them, on an exposed ridge, is another cluster of boulders. These boulders had seen little exploration, and Mark was certain that there were new classic problems to be found there.
We met, as usual, in the parking lot of McDonalds on Sunday morning. Mark, Dave, and I were joined by Kyle, who is arguably the most accomplished of all Lethbian (is that REALLY the right term?) boulderers. Kyle has been heavily involved in the development of the bouldering at Frank, and it was great to have him along for the day. After grabbing a coffee and carefully stacking bouldering pads into the back of Mark's ancient van, we headed off to Frank. The weather forecast was decent - a daytime high of +2C, and sunny - but the infamous wind of the Crowsnest Pass would undoubtedly determine how comfortable we would feel.
A panoramic shot of the Frank Slide from the Ridge Area by Dave. The blue blip and the slightly smaller red blip are Mark and I about to try Wind War.
Arriving at Frank an hour and a half later, we piled out of the van and checked if the river was still frozen. It was, and at Mark's insistence we were soon climbing up a steep scree slope to the Ridge. Unfortunately, a half-hour of exploration revealed only a dozen decent-looking potential projects. We also found that the Ridge is extremely exposed to the cold west winds sweeping eastward down from the Crowsnest Pass. Still determined, we cleaned up a few projects, warmed up as best we could, and started climbing. I had spotted a nice easy-looking arete-to-lip traverse project, and it turned out to be a gem. I sent it in a few tries, and was quickly followed by Mark and Kyle. In reference to the ever-present chinook wind, I called it Wind War (V2 or V3). Since we had the mats down and were warmed up, I quickly added a direct mantle version (Wind War Direct, V2) and an easier, but incredibly fun problem that trended leftward to a fun mantle and a tall slab (Wind Chill, V1). Mark and Kyle added another tall easy slab problem, and cleaned off a hard-looking traverse project, but by this time we were getting quite cold despite the sun. The wind had beaten us, and we headed down the mountain.
Eating lunch, we discussed our next objective. Dave was really keen to try Albatross, a tall and delicate V4 on the Albatross Boulder that he had tried several times before. Albatross is a really distinct problem, in that it starts on a slab, reaches through a overhanging pane of limestone, then finishes up another taller slab. The line is about 15 feet high, which was just tall enough to make me worry about breaking my ankles on the initial slab. Mark was keen to flash the line, and he did; his long arms making short work of the huge "albatross-span" which forms the crux of the problem. Kyle, who had made an early repeat of the line, repeated it again, quickly and smoothly. This left Dave and I standing on the mats, trying to keep our hands and feet warm. I was fairly optimistic about flashing it; after all, Kyle and Mark had made it look straightforward. I bouldered up, made the reach... and found nothing. "Just a bit further!" I could hear. "No, left! Higher!" I hopped down, confused.
Dave set to work on the problem, falling at the same cruxy reach. "I'm curious," said Kyle, "What you're planning to do on this move, Dave." He went on to say that he hadn't seen anyone of Dave's height (Dave is inches shorter than either Kyle or I, and a full half-foot shorter than Mark) actually do the problem. I tried - and fell - again. And again. I changed my beta to trying to hold a sloper at the lip... and fell again. I did finally manage to send the problem, pulling through the spooky last moves to the top of the boulder. I was glad to have done it; it's a great line, albeit a reachy one.
Meanwhile, Dave continued to work the problem, determined to send it that day. Finally, by holding the sloper at the lip, and by jumping off the lower slab, he was able to send Albatross as well. The "Send Train" had finally arrived at the station.
Mark had been busy looking at the moves on Road Runner Excavation Company (V8), but was getting cold. Trying to find a warmer place to climb, we decided to move the lee side of the boulder and try the classic problem Shutdown (V5), which follows an incut rail out a small but steep cave, and then finishes up a tall juggy slab. Kyle and Mark had both done the problem before, and repeated it quickly. The problem was really reminiscent of Squamish, and I was happy to flash both Shutdown and the leftward extension of Shutdown. Still psyched by the line, I also briefly considered adding a much longer left-trending extension to the problem, but as the sun went down behind Turtle Mountain the temperatures started to drop. We called it a day, and headed for the nearest coffee shop.
Another stellar day in the mountains! Every time I go to Frank, I grow more convinced that Frank Slide is a worthwhile bouldering area. The vast sprawl of talus can seem a little post-apocalyptic at times, but the setting is spectacularly beautiful, and the problems are fun, and the movment interesting. Sometimes, being a little fixated goes a long way, especially when you're out in the mountains with a few good friends.
All photo credit goes to the incomparable Dave Cassidy, except for the pictures of Dave (climbing) and Mark (sitting), which I think I took. Check him out on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Photography-by-David-Cassidy/145063505593003