Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Marching to Olympus! (guest blogger, Adam Dipinto)

With my elbow injury continuing to force me to the sidelines, I am excited that this week's edition of The Climbing Life will feature the writing and photography of Adam Dipinto.  Adam is Frank Slide's pre-eminent photographer, and many of the photos on this blog are the result of Adam's efforts.  Last weekend, Adam, Mark D., and Kyle made a trip up the mountain at Frank Slide, and here's what they found!  (Note: if anyone wants to send in mini-articles and/or photos that describe and depict bouldering in the Rockies, don't hesitate to contact me!)

With the weather calling for overcast skies and cool temperatures, a small group (Mark D, Kyle and myself) decided to be on the more adventurous side and scramble up the Slide to find some boulders and establish new lines. The approach began on the other side of the river through the forested area. The scramble through the forest was much more aesthetically appealing than the wasteland Frank seems to be at times. Moss covered the rocks and large dead trees towered over making it difficult to see the weather above us. Mark D. lead the small group, as he, Trent and Kyle had been up to this area before in the winter when it was covered in snow. Making it through the forest area after a 20-30 minute hike we approached an opening to the Slide’s face. From here you could see all of Frank. Albatross, Healing, and the House boulders all stood out among the sea of boulders that populated the area. With a bit more scrambling we made it to the first plateau of the Slide named The Olympus Ridge. 

Olympus Ridge is a huge area. My guess is that it may need to be divided into sub-sections due to the vast boulders in the area. One section being the left side near and within the forested area and the right side along the slide hovering over the river.

Excited with the vast number of boulders we decided to start at the far back of Olympus Ridge and to the left in the forested area. Within this area we found a number of boulders that were all well shaded and had decent landings. Two boulders that we cleaned up and established some problems on were The Stranger and Flies boulders. The Stranger boulder has six problems on it ranging from V0 to V4/5. There is potential for more lines on the backside.

Kyle sending Stranger in a Strange Land (V4/5).

Orientation (V0) - Starting along the left arete, Orientation has nice edges and positive feet allowing for a direct top out. Orientation is positioned at the best place to down climb the boulder after topping out.
Further Instructions (V1) - To the right of Orientation, Further Instructions uses the right arete and positive edges for a solid climb. A similar feel to Orientation, Further Instructions offers more feet adjustments and a higher right foot due to lower feet at the start being absent.

Catch-22 (V1) - Using the arete and a crimp on the slab as a start, Catch-22 goes directly up with a more powerful move to really positive holds.
Jughead (V1) - Just left of Catch-22, Jughead uses the edges along the bulging out section from the slab as a start. Much like Catch-22 it goes directly up to positive holds then to the lip.
The Cost of Living (V4) - Positioned under the left section of the bulge on the slab, The Cost of Living goes out right to the center and uses the arete of the bulge to a nice jug and a direct finish. 
Stranger in a Strange Land (V4/5) - On the farthest corner of the boulder using most of the bulge. Starting under the bulge using the edges where the bulge meets the slab, Stranger in a Strange Land goes up and over the bulge using left hand crimps, right hand wrist wraps and the arete. With a high right foot to position yourself up and onto the bulge, Stranger in a Strange Land offers a mix of out-stretched and very scrunched moves.

The King of Frank squeezing holds on the Stranger Boulder. 

After finishing up the problems on The Stranger Boulder we directed our attention to the Flies Boulder about 20 feet away. Mark D. began cleaning a line along the left arete starting low on a bulging out sloper. After giving it a few attempts, the problem seemed harder than he anticipated. Kyle and I soon jumped on the problem and together began piecing together the starting beta. The three of us started linking moves and became more confident on the problem, but it was Kyle that took the first ascent of Lord of the Flies.

Lord of the Flies (V7/8) - Starting underneath a left hand sloper crimp, using a positive right hand in-cut and a technical stiff heel. LotF goes out right to a positive edge then along the left arete to an odd hold with a nice thumb catch. After some foot adjustments the next right hand is to a smaller half pad crimp in-cut and then a large toss to either the peak of the boulder or to the farther right lip. Top out requires body position out right and around the peak.

Kyle brushing holds on the Olympus Area's hardest, Lord of the Flies (V7/8).

After a few honest attempts and not being able to stick the lip properly I decided to call it. There was a lot more exploring left to do and I wanted to save my strength for some of the other problems we might find. We headed out of the shaded forest and venture to more to the central area of Olympus Ridge. Kyle decided to hike up to the second plateau above while Mark D. and I split up and searched for new boulders. After not really finding anything too exciting and sendergy (send and energy combined) running low, Kyle returned to inform us that the second plateau (that I’m deeming Above the Gods) was basically a wasteland with six highballs.

With that news we decided to head down the Slide due to it being late and what looked like a storm approaching.

(Thanks Adam! Until next time... Cheers!)

Monday, July 22, 2013

Bluff Wall, New Crags... and Frank Slide

I'm still, officially, on the couch.  My elbow improves every day, but it will be some time before I can pull on it hard enough to do any serious bouldering.  I'm fairly certain I could do a deadhang, but that's probably about it.  Open-hand grips aren't too uncomfortable, but if I try to pinch or engage my thumb, forgetaboutit.  I'll give it another two weeks, then try a little easy climbing.

In a way, though, having an elbow injury has benefits; it has allowed me to get to some of the non-bouldering things on my to-do list.  This past Sunday I went back to the Crowsnest Pass in order to check out the Bluff Wall (just to the west of Frank Slide) and do a little crag hunting.

From Frank Slide you can see the Bluff Wall clearly, and I have often wondered about a fairly clean looking section of the wall almost in the dead centre of the main cliff.  It looks like it is about 5 or 6 pitches high, without any ledges or breaks.  I wanted to hike into the base of the wall to take a closer look for a potential route (mostly to see how steep the wall is, and how protectable it is).  The Bluff Wall is Livingstone limestone, and while this rock often features faces with nice face holds, I'm not sure how much natural protection it provides.

Arriving in the Pass, I parked and hiked up to the wall with Lupin (my ever-eager dog).  I took a couple of pictures of the route from the valley, and many more directly below the route.  From the valley, the wall looks pretty sheer, but I was surprised to find that it looked like most of the pitches would go on natural gear! 

As far as I could see, it looked like it was about 6 pitches long.  P1: low angle ramps with a bit of slab to a small grassy ledge, maybe a few pieces of gear, maybe a few bolts.  P2 and P3: a real surprise, 2 pitches of what looks like continuous finger cracks in the back of a dihedral. Looks sweet!  P4: Can't really see it well, but I'm hoping that an angling crack will join up to another crack system under another small roof.  P5: Unless some magic pro appears up there, this pitch might need bolts.  This is where the route heads into the darker grey rock, which usually means coral-reef stone.  The good thing is that this rock often has really cool features, so hopefully it is a nice pitch.  P6:  This was the other big surprise, the last pitch is a looonnng wide crack, an opened up lieback that goes on for pretty much a full pitch (you can see it just left of the left-most huge roof near the top of the wall).  Looks exciting!

I scoped out another potential route to the left, it also looks like a great route, although it would likely need more bolts.

Potential route!  The line would (as far as I can tell) head up the nose between the huge roofs to either side.  It would likely start somewhere between the two conifers growing right at the base; a pitch of slab, then up a couple pitches of protectable dihedral (wall is stained orange), then a tricky pitch to gain another crack system. Above that the rock gets darker (and maybe steeper), but the last pitch is a fat lieback crack that goes on a long ways, pretty much right to the top of the wall! 

Another picture of the route, this time from higher and to the right of the route.  The dihedral is pretty much invisible, as it faces left.

The view from directly below the route.  The orange dihedral is visible, and the exit pitches head up through the obvious notch.  Straight up the wall, pretty much!

My second objective of the day was to try to find a sport crag in the Pass.  I had a couple of leads (from Google Maps, of course) I wanted to check out.  My first foray was into a canyon; I was excited to find lots of steep walls with cool features... but disappointed that they were composed of sandstone.  It's possible that they might turn into decent sport routes with a lot of work, but I am fairly certain that a limestone crag would be better received by local climbers.

My second foray was into a little watercourse on Bluff Mountain.  Lupin and I did find a nice little wall, nicely overhanging with climbable features. Room for maybe 15 - 20 routes, probably in the 5.10 to .12+ range. Downsides?  A 20 minute walk uphill (about 200m of elevation gain), plus it would take a fair bit of work to get the base of the routes in shape (there's a long steep slope of rubble and little cliff bands below the cliff, so landing pads and a bit of trail would have to be made).  Lupin and I spent a fair bit of time and energy adventuring up the side of Bluff mountain, and we came down completely knackered with sore knees and hips.  We're getting old!  A 2 hour bushwhack up a mountain nearly did us in...

Looking up at the crag from below.  It would be dangerous / tricky / adventurous to try and climb up to the base of the cliff from below, but luckily it looks much easier to walk along the base of the cliff (I think).  Another mission will be needed to find out how good the crag really is!  Looks good (and really steep) in this picture, though; it's about 20m high, perfect sport climbing height!

By the time we got back to the van we were pretty beat.  But with a little time left on the clock (it was about 5:00), I couldn't resist taking a stroll in the Slide looking for new problems.  I was surprised to find a stack of new problems not far from the road in an area I hadn't really explored before, including two hard-looking cave problems.  Lots of the problems looked moderate (V0 to V3), and the boulders were fairly close to each other, so it will be a great opportunity to develop another moderate circuit similar to the 'Superheroes' circuit near the House Area parking lot. So much to do in Frank Slide!

By this time, my knees were screaming at me, so Lupin and I drove down to the Crowsnest River, where I sat with my legs in the cool water for a half-hour.  A great way to end an exhausting day!

I would to thank Mike Doyle and Mark Guckert for sending me a link to a great website describing elbow injuries due to climbing.  It gives me hope that with a little work and a lot of care, I'll manage to get some climbing in this year all!    

Stay safe!  Cheers!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Tour de Frank... and an Injury.

Welcome to the Tour de Frank!  In the spirit of good-natured competition, a handful of Lethbridge climbers thought it would be fun to have a outdoor bouldering competition / festival event, but given the fact that those types of events are enormous amounts of work, we decided to have the next best thing; The Tour de Frank!  Really, it is similar to a stretched-out, super-casual version of the Hueco Rock Rodeo, entirely managed by individual climbers.  Intially we had thought it best to have three categories: (1) hardest ascents (where the score would represent the total V-grade sum of each climber's hardest seven ascents of the season), (2) first ascents (total V-grade sum of all first ascents of the season), and (3) total ascents (total V-grade sum of all ascents of the season).  However, upon reflection, it seems evident that categories 2 and 3 are problematic for a number of reasons (e.g. it may be difficult to determine what is and isn't an FA, and total ascents would get cumbersome for those who travel to the Slide often), so we decided to radically simplify the Tour de Frank and use only the first category.

So, if you want to play along, simply keep track of your 'V-points' (i.e. 1 point for a V1, 2 for a V2, etc.; 0.5 points are awarded for a V0) for your seven hardest problems climbed from May 18 (the beginning of the Victorial Day long weekend) to October 14 (Thanksgiving).  If anyone wants to send me their V-point total periodically (for the fun of it!), I'll post them here.  I'm "sure" we'll have lots of "prizes", so keep track of your points and we'll have a grand tally at the end of the season!  Remember, this is purely for fun, not to be taken seriously!  Maybe if I get off my butt, I'll make Tshirts or something.

Anyone can participate!  From anywhere!  One visit to Frank Slide, or every weekend, it doesn't matter!  Just send in a list of your seven hardest Frank Slide sends to me at the end of the season and we'll see what happens!

The rules (such as they are) are incredibly simple. (1) No cheating, be honest! (2) No bizarre grade inflation (use consensus grades, please). I think that's all.

So far, I'm not doing too badly, with (my seven hardest) ascents of...

Breathing Underwater (V7), Lost (V6), The Evangelist (V7), Giantsbane (V6), Trent's Cave (V6), Ben Kenobi (V6), and Sofa King (V5), for a grand total of 43 points.  I'm really hoping to get that number up to 56 points (7 V8s) before the end of the Tour, which brings me to the bad news...

I massively injured my right elbow this week.  I think I may have partially torn something doing Breathing Underwater on the weekend (it felt tight afterwards for an hour or so), but then climbing new problems on the 45-degree wall at the gym this week caused it to hurt a lot more (likely medial epicondylitis, lateral surface).  By the time I got home it was aching, by the next morning I couldn't pick up a glass of milk.  It's going to be a long time before I can boulder again, I suspect.  Right now, I couldn't open a jar or pick up a pitcher of juice with my right hand if my life depended on it.  I'll have to really re-think how my summer is going to go, probably a lot more hiking and trail running than I had planned, and maybe a little slab climbing.  Unless I can ferret out a LOT of V8 slabs at Frank Slide, I don't think my TdF total is going to be that impressive.

At any rate, I won't be posting updates as often as I usually do (because I won't be doing any climbing for a while!).  Have a great summer, and stay injury-free!

Mark D. and Mark G. sussing out the moves on The Glass Ballerina on the Whale Bones Boulder, Hulkamania Area. 

Monday, July 15, 2013


Summer is in full swing in southern Alberta, and it always seems especially summery at Frank Slide.  The weather is usually sunny, and even the summertime thundershowers only seem to last a few minutes at the Slide.  Although it seems a little too warm sometimes, in reality temperatures rarely get above 30C, and the long hours of sunlight make late afternoon climbing a joy.  This past Sunday, I headed to back to Frank Slide with Mark G. and Mark D. for a day of bouldering and exploration.

Life in the slide.  Potentilla growing amidst the scree.

After a protracted discussion en route to Frank, we agreed to cross the train tracks and head toward the Hulkamaniac Area.  More accurately, we wanted to explore the area just west of the Hulkamaniac boulder, as it appeared to have a decent concentration of large boulders.  Although I had not previously visited that area of the Slide, I knew that it had been intermittently popular in the past, and that there was a handful of established problems scattered throughout the blocks there.

 Mark G. moving from the face to the arete of The Glass Ballerina (V3 or V4).

We crossed the tracks and climbed up a grassy ramp to the boulders above.  After spending a few minutes checking out the blocks, we started warming up on a decently large boulder near the top of the ramp.  Mark D. remembered climbing an obvious easy problem on horizontal rails in the middle of the boulder; I climbed it a few times, a really fun and satisfying easy line.  Mark G. and I also climbed a tricky (V3?) line on small crimps to the left, which, in retrospect, may not have been the best way to warm up!

It also looked like there were two unclimbed harder lines to the right, so we fixed the landings below them and set to work.  Mark D. climbed the fun right-hand arete from a sit-start first, calling it The Glass Ballerina.  Mark G. and I sent it straightaway as well, and then we turned our attention to a much harder line to the left.  We lined up to try an obvious and amazing-looking vertical problem that moved between large bone-like features (coral fossils?) jutting from the rock. With no reachable holds, we were forced to jump to the first hold, a half-pad crimp.  After 20 minutes or so, we managed to piece the moves together, and my ascent was rapidly followed by sends by Mark G. and Mark D.  Whale Bones (V5 or 6) is a great addition to the area; it reminds me a fair bit of the problem Worm World in Squamish.

Mark G. getting serious on Whale Bones (V5 or 6).  Tiny holds, big moves!

I had spied another promising-looking block just to the south, so I headed over to clean some more problems for us to try.  I cleaned up four promising-looking lines on two faces of the boulder; the first face had prominent horizontal rails, while the other face featured crimps and edges.  Starting on a low prominent edge almost directly on the arete between the two faces, I sent Bump Bump (V3?), a line that headed up and slightly right to a techy mantle, while Atlas (V5?) headed up and left using tricky heel-hook beta.  Shortly after we also did the two problems on the right face of the boulder, a V2/3ish line with edges, and a great V1ish problem I might call Balance, which was a lot easier (and more fun!) than I anticipated.  We finally wrapped up the problems on the boulder by starting on Bump Bump but adding a long lip traverse to make a long-ish pumpy problem that went around V3.

Me on the first bump move of Bump Bump (V3ish).  Felt very Squamishy to climb an arete with rails and a slopey lip...

In my earlier foray, I had realised that what looked like a short slabby boulder to the south was, in fact, a fairly large boulder with two tall faces.  When I went to clean some problems I saw that some of the problems had previously been cleaned.  Looking at the lines, I wasn't suprised; side-by-side on the boulder were two of the best easy problems I have so far seen at Frank, a V0 arete and a strangely-featured V0 steep slab.

Mark G. on the last looong reach to the final jug on the extension to Bump Bump.

Being mid-afternoon, though, we were in the mood for some shade, and the easy arete was in the full sun.  I saw that there was a unclimbed (and dirty!) line on the shady side of the boulder, so with a little cleaning (and landing-fixing) we had a new moderate line to try!  It turned out to be easier than it looked, although still a lot of fun!  One of the nicest V2ish lines I've done at Frank, it starts on the lower of two horizontal rails, then moves up to a very fun high-step-gaston move to reach the lip.  I think I'll call it Deep Blue Sea after all the marine fossils in the boulder.

We moved around to the sunny side of the boulder, and were rewarded with another half-dozen vertical problems from V0 to V4ish.  Mark G. made a stemming problem just left of the prominent arete look easy, while Mark D. and I found it to be stiffer than Mark G. had made it look!.  We finished up the boulder by doing the sit-start to the prominent arete; it looked great, and we weren't disappointed, it is a great problem, a four-star line!  The slab to the right was equally good, and it was a pleasure to climb on the crazily-featured face.

Mark G., sendage-style!  Posing, at my request, atop the amazing arete on the Deep Blue Sea boulder.

Mark G. and Mark D. wanted to leave the Slide to get ice cream, but I was hoping to get another problem in.  I settled on a steep compression problem not far from Deep Blue Sea, which looked both physical and technically-demanding.  Initially I thought it would be brutally hard, but I was surprised (and happy) to send it only after about 10 tries or so.  It suited my style really well, and I think it is one of the nicest moderately-hard problems I've tried at the Slide.  I called it Breathing Underwater (V6, maybe low-end V7).

The crazy features of the V0 slab on the Deep Blue Sea boulder.  This photo doesn't really do the features of this face justice!

All-in-all, a great trip to a new area of Frank Slide.  The Slide continues to surprise me, and I look forward to my future explorations of what the Slide holds.  I need to focus more on difficult projects, though; I think there are a lot of testpieces hidden away in the maze, and I mean to find them!  Also, there are lot of classic lines that I haven't tried yet, including Serial Killer (V5) and Healing Arete (V5), that I am hoping to try soon.

Until next time... Cheers!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Frank and the E-Town Posse!

Last weekend I was thrilled to have the opportunity to climb at Frank Slide with four of Edmonton's funnest (can I use that word?) climbers, namely Terry P., Selena W., Dan A., and Bob S.  On any given weekend, Frank Slide is usually populated only by a small handful of climbers from Lethbridge, with occasionally a few from Calgary or Fernie, so it was great fun to climb with some of my long-time friends from further north.  Sadly, I didn't have a camera with me, so I don't have any pictures (although I might try to borrow some from Selena to post here...).

Mark Derksen caught a ride out to the Slide with me, and arriving a bit early we went for a walk in the City of Giants to scope out new lines.  The City holds a great deal of potential for new problems, so I am always curious to poke around in it's nooks and crannies.  In one spot, there are two mushroom-shaped boulders lying almost side-by-side; I not-so-secretly hope these two boulders will yield several exciting problems.

Warmed up, we went to meet the Edmontonians at the Cinnamon Bear, a great local coffee shop with excellent cinnamon buns.  After coffee and a pastry, we all headed back to the Slide.  We started at the House Area, which, with the new guide and the 'Superheroes' Circuit, is a good place to start any day at Frank.  Indeed, Kyle, Ryan, and Logan were on the circuit, so we stopped and said hello.

We then walked in to the Salacious Boulder, where we dropped the mats and started warming up.  I worked to convince everyone that we should try the highball to the left of Plan 66, which had never seen a bouldering ascent as far as I can deduce (partially becase of its height, but mostly because it features a rather grim landing).  Once booted up, everyone who jumped on the problem made short work of it.  Luckily, the crux was very low, and the high, white-striped face features several good edges.  Terry, Dan, Kyle, and Mark then turned their attention to a potential extension of Lost (V6).  They worked out a bold sequence of pinches and small edges that traversed the lip of the Salacious Cave to a positive mini-jug on the far wall.  Eventually, in an impressive effort Terry managed to put all the moves together, sending what is one of Frank's hardest problems, Shelley was a Doctor First (V10).  Dan and I spend a half-hour working a tension-dependent problem with very sloping holds to the left of SWADF, but didn't manage to send it (to be honest, Dan was close, but I really could only do the first two moves). Selena and I DID manage to put up a new problem that heads up and left from the start of Lost, which I called Found (V3 or V4).

From here, we headed over to the Wild West Boulder so everyone could try Railway (V10).  Mark and Kyle have been working Railway for some time, and were keen to get an infusion of energy and beta on the line.  Terry and Dan did not disappoint, with both of them sending Railway quickly (What?!?  Quickly?!  I had almost starting thinking it was impossible).  Both Kyle and Mark made great linkage on the line as well, and for the first time I actually think they might be able to do the problem soon.

Not really keen to embarass myself on Railway, I started working an old arete problem to the right of Railway.  Not knowing much about the line, I wanted to ascertain the sequence and difficulty of the line for the guidebook.  I knew it was supposed to be about V5, but didn't know much more other than that a starting hold had apparently broken off.  I quickly realised that the problem was harder than I had anticipated; I was stumped.  Selena thought I should use a really extended heel hook, this helped me make the first move but not much more.  Terry came over to try it, and it seemed to stump him as well (for a handful of attempts, anyways).  He eventually climbed it using a bizarre toe-to-toe compression method (which I was unable to replicate successfully).  Certainly, a lot harder than V5!   
I did Wild West (V5), a problem I had always wanted to try, then we packed up and headed back towards the cars.  I thought everyone might like to try some of the lines in the City of Giants, so we marched up into the heart of the slide.  Terry flashed the Glassberg Project, topping out on a midway jug and calling it Fart Bathtub (V6).  Dan sent it quickly as well. While I came fairly close a couple of times, I didn't have enough steam left to link everything together.  Next time!

Frank Slide in the setting sun, taken with my iPhone.  Pretty.  Nintendo 69 (V9) is near the skyline in the middle of photo.

With throbbing fingers, we headed back to the cars, and went to find some pizza.  Another great day of fun climbing at the Slide with good friends!  This summer, I really want to spend some time finding (and hopefully climbing) some new problems at Frank, in order to produce a little more depth in the V6 to V9 range in the area.  Climbing with strong Edmontonians makes me think I should step up my training, though!

At any rate, it should be a fun summer, with lots of new problems getting done.  Cheers!