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!

- - - - - - - -

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.