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!

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