Tuesday, January 29, 2013

To Be Frank...

Being fixated on a particular goal can lead to spectacular rewards.  At other times, it merely results in wasted energy and lost opportunities.  Most often, however, it produces a mix of the two, where the benefits of singular fixation are coupled with the costs associated with attaining those goals.  A winter day of bouldering at Frank Slide perfectly illustrates this situation.

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.

Me, sending Wind War (V2 or V3) in the wind.  First ascent fun!

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.

Dave past the giant reach of Albatross (V4), on his way to sending his nemesis.  The next three moves are spooooky.

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 basking in the sun.  Not spotting.  Basking.

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.
Kyle and I sending the not-so-aptly named Shutdown (V5).

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

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Back to Frank!

Last week, I was sitting in the bouldering gym, waiting to take a burn on the latest green-and-blue project.  With a glint in his eye, my friend Mark turned to me and said "Hey. Do you want to go to Frank this weekend?"

I had seen the weather forecast; it called for relatively warm winter conditions (a daytime high of 3C).  Mentally juggling my priorities, I paused, trying to determine how a day of mid-winter bouldering might fit into my weekend.  "Sure." I said. "I'm in."

Two days, a few phone calls, and dozen texts later, I found myself in the backseat of a car belonging to Dave, another keen Lethbridge boulderer and a talented photographer.  I had relinquished the roomier front passenger seat to Mark, who is a veritable giant at nearly six and and half feet.  I was comfortably sequestered for the hour-and-a-half drive to Frank, nestled among a stack of bouldering mats; I sipped a cup of coffee and watched the winter prairie landscape roll by.

In Alberta, "rock climbing" and "winter time" are, for the most part, mutually exclusive phrases.  Ice climbing, sure.  Skiing, certainly.  But rock climbing?  Not really; it is generally far too cold.  The lone exception to this rule is Frank Slide, which regularly experiences Chinook winds funneled through the Crowsnest Pass.  As such, Frank Slide will often be 10 or 15C warmer than other climbing areas just a few hundred kilometers north.

During the drive, we discussed whether or not the temperatures over the past week had been sufficiently cold to freeze the Oldman River.  If it was, we might be able to cross on the ice and climb on boulders on the far side of the river.  The Oldman River runs right through the heart of Frank Slide, and in summer is dangerously difficult to cross.  There are, however, several excellent problems on the far side, including Zombotron 7000 (V7) and Rising Tithes (V8). We were curious to see if winter had made these usually forbidden fruit accessible.

Arriving in Frank, we piled from the car and walked down to the river.  It was frozen... partially.  It looked thick enough to cross if we stuck mostly to the boulders protruding from the ice.  We hauled mats from the car, and proceeded to warm up on the Teardrop Boulder before attempting to cross the Oldman River.  We did the fun Bearhug (V2), The Teardrop (V3), and Teardrop Right (the problem immediately right of The Teardrop; it is a V0 in the book, but holds have clearly broken, rendering the line more like a V2).  Packing up, we headed for the river.

Me on The Teardrop (V3).  I am starting to suspect that bouldering in Frank involves precarious balancing on really tiny feet. (Photo: Dave Cassidy)

We crossed on the ice without serious mishap.  I DID almost plunge from a boulder into the icy rapids when the bouldering mat I was wearing started to slide sideways on my back, but in a few minutes we were up the slope checking out the V7 dyno Zombotron 7000.  Mark attempted to flash it, but had to settle for a third- or fourth-try ascent.  (I always imagine that dynamic moves MUST be easier for tall climbers, but I suspect that my jealously stems from my apparent inability to do dynos myself.)  Nonetheless, I was making good progress too, almost sending the crux dyno.  Dave was making good progress as well, getting closer to the lip with every attempt.  Unexpectedly, on his next try, Dave went flying from the boulder.  The starting hold of Zombotron had broken, leaving a still-decent but notably smaller edge.  Zombotron had become harder (maybe a LOT harder), and now awaits a new 'first ascent'!

Mark crushing Zombotron 7000 (V7), shortly before it was literally crushed by Dave.  (Photo: Dave Cassidy)

Looking for the next problem-of-the-day, we explored the adjacent boulders.  We quickly did Cyril Sneer (V0 or V1), and I started cleaning a new line on the opposite side of the boulder.  Dave and Mark headed off to look at the next boulder over.  They soon came back with grins on their faces; they had found what looked like a fun new problem.  Dragging the mats over, we queued up to try their new line, a great-looking compression problem up a blunt arete.  Unusually for the Frank, the rock was light grey and incredibly compact, and the problem featured beautifully rounded slopers and sidepulls.  It took a little time for us to unlock the sequence, but soon Mark had sent the line, naming it Squeeze Theorem (V5).  I quickly sent it too, and agreed that it is a great addition to the area, a quality line!

I quickly added a new problem to the left, a very fun line on crisp edges and sidepulls, calling it Friction Factor (V2).  However, the wind was picking up and the temperatures were dropping, so we headed over to try the testpiece of the area, Rising Tithes (V8).  Rising Tithes is a stellar line, a right-to-left rising lip traverse.  While it is very similar to the famous Squamish problem ATD (V7 or V8), Rising Tithes is about twice as long, and the crux is at the end.  Mark made a valiant onsight attempt, flashing to the last three moves, while I slowly worked my way further and further along the arete with each attempt.  Heel-hook trickery is vital to success on this problem, and although we were making good progress deciphering the necessary movement, the temperatures continued to drop, and we had to pack it in.  We'll be back, though!  It's a stellar line, likely one of the best at Frank Slide, and certainly worth the effort it takes to cross the river.

Me on Rising Tithes (V8).  This is an amazing line, really a classic problem.  Note the size difference between spotter and climber. (photo: Dave Cassidy)

We packed the mats back in the car, but instead of heading back to Lethbridge, I convinced Dave and Mark to drive west a few more minutes to check out the wall at Emerald Lake.  The wall at Emerald Lake is about 4 pitches high, and represents some of the most accessible compact limestone in the Crowsnest Pass.  Braving the howling winter wind of the Pass, we spend a half-hour looking at potential routes.  While it is not as steep as I would like, it still looks like a worthy summertime adventure!

Calling it a day, we headed to Subway.  Fast food makes a surprisingly good way to end a day of wintertime bouldering.  Until next time... cheers!