Sunday, December 15, 2013

Frank Triple Play! (Ice + coffee + bouldering!)

Just when you think winter has settled in...

"Winter has arrived
at last, we lie within it's icy jaws
to lie there, as asleep
until roused by springtime thaws."

than BAM!, the chinook comes, and winter disappears for a week, and fall weather returns.  That's what happened this past week.  Lethbridge went from being the coldest city in Canada (colder than the North Pole!), to being a balmy 7C.  I had planned a day of ice climbing with the eternally-psyched Mark Guckert, but when the weather turned warm he suggested that maybe we could go both ice climbing and bouldering in the same day!  So, with Mark D in tow, we packed up mats, rock shoes, ropes, ice tools, crampons, jackets, and assorted gore-tex paraphenalia and headed off to the Crowsnest Pass.

Our first objective was the very thin ice climb in the Gold Creek Canyon that I had spied two weeks earlier.  I assumed that with all the cold weather that it would have formed into a nice and fat pillar, and so when we arrived at the canyon I was surprised to see that it was basically in the same shape as when I had seen it last.  It looked like our plans for ice climbing had turned into a morning of mixed climbing.  It turned out for the best, though, as toproping these short climbs became one of the most entertaining ice sessions I'v ever had.

Me on the center-most of the three climbs were did in the Canyon.  When I started up, this route had a huge icicle hanging off the roof about 12 feet up; I broke it off turning the roof.  We also did the thin ice smears to the left (very fun!) and Mark G brilliantly climbed the series of free-hanging icicles to the right. I was the first person on the rope; in the photo below you can see how many of the icicles were broken off during the day; it was pretty beat up by the end!

Mark G (aka Mixmaster Mark) trying not to break off the man-sized icicle in front of him... Thin ice can be VERY fun!

Mark D getting the hang (pun intended) of mixed climbing.  Turns out steep ice can be very pumpy!

I would have really liked to try and lead one of these climbs, but the ice was so thin that almost none of it would hold screws, and the rock is too rotten to hold rock gear.  Also, given my performance on toprope, it would have been a little premature (not to mention dangerous!) to attempt a lead ascent.  Hopefully by the end of the winter (and after my new ice tools arrive in the mail!  Woohoo!) the ice will be thicker and I'll gather sufficient courage to lead one of these routes.  After the ice ends, another 20 feet or so of much easier moss and rock 'Scottish climbing' lead to the anchoring tree; it's probaby 20m from the base to the rim of the canyon.

We had a blast climbing these short routes, getting the hang of hooking rock and thin icicles was really educational (and physical).  Mark G has an impressive set of skills, so it was nice to watch him climb the series of thin icicles on the right side, hooking and stemming his way up a series of bouldery moves.  Mark D was a bit tentative at first swinging the tools, but soon got the hang of bashing his way up steep ice.

It soon started to get warmer, though, so our thoughts turned to an afternoon of bouldering.  We packed up and headed out of the canyon. On the walk out, we ran into a group of snowshoers, who told us that there was another waterfall downstream.  I had never been able to find the rest of the ice climbs in the canyon (though I knew they were there somewhere from reading Joe Josephson's guide), but following the instructions of the snowshoers we soon found the other half-dozen ice climbs in the Canyon.  They are all short (probably maximum 15 or 20 m high), but a lot thicker (probably WI 2-4) than the mixed climb we had toproped further up the canyon.  Next time!

We popped over to the Cinnamon Bear Cafe for coffee and cinnamon buns (awesome!), then headed to the Slide.  It was getting late in the day (already 3:30, and just a week from the solstice), so we headed over to the Albatross Area. We thought we might do a circuit, but instead we settled on trying the problems on the Tombstone Boulder.

None of us had ever tried them before, so we warmed up, and starting climbing in the growing dusk.  We did an easy-ish slab on the side of the boulder, then turned our attention to the two hardish problems on the boulder, Tombstone Right and Tombstone Left.  It took us a half-hour to finally work out the beta for Tombstone Right, a very tricky (and balancy) steep arete that has has some very cool slopers and arete holds on rock with a very distinct sandstone-like texture.  We sent it one after another (quality line!), then shuffled the mats and quickly sent the left arete which turned out to be much easier.  We figured Tombstone Right was about V5 (though the fact that we were climbing in the windy dusk of a December day may have biased our judgement), and I thought that Tombstone Left was about V3.  Both very high-quality lines!

Mark G on Tombstone Left (V3ish).  Very fun! 

By this time, it was getting late.  I gave a few half-hearted attempts to a line that would link the start of Tombstone Right into the end of Tombstone Left, but soon gave it up.  We headed back to the van and started the long drive back to Lethbridge.

All things considered, a very fun day in the mountains!  I'm looking forward to getting out again, and sampling more of the ice in the Southern Rockies.  I feel doubly-armed for a winter of climbing; warm weekends will mean bouldering, cold weekends will mean ice climbing!

More later! Have a fun week!

[Huge thanks to Mark D for supplying photos!  I forgot my camera at home...]

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Year in Review!

This past week I've been thinking a lot about how much fun I had on Hoedown (V6) last weekend.  Though it is only six moves long, it has a very clear sequence that demands the use of a very particular set of climbing techniques.  Climbing through sidepulls and slopers, successful suitors of Hoedown will have to employ hee-toe cam trickery (first with the left foot, then with the right) in combination with subtle compression in order to maintain the requisite body tension needed to send the line.  In some ways, this problem represents much of what I consider to be vital about bouldering, namely the solving of three-dimensional, physically-demanding riddles in real time.  I often liken bouldering to martial arts, except that one knows in advance exactly what the opponent will do, and how strong he will be.  It is left to the climber to understand the movement and techniques that are required to succeed, and to muster the sufficient power and skill to execute those movements. 

Unfortunately, it snowed a PILE this week, and the temperatures have dropped precipitously.  I suspect that this means that bouldering in Frank Slide is done for several weeks, unless it warms up a LOT over Christmas. Upon reflection, I realised that I have climbed at least once (usually more) every month since last Christmas.  Lethbridge is a good Canadian city for a boulderer to live in!  Many winter weekends are too cold or snowy to climb, but many are not.  With a little luck, I am looking forward to another winter of Frank Slide Bouldering! Ca colle!

Looking back to warmer days!  Mark D on Breathing Underwater (V7), a fantastic and dynamic compression problem in the Hulkamaniac Area.

The sudden onset of winter has also made me reflect on the past year of climbing.  I've had a lot of fun the last 12 months, and have succeeded in most of my climbing goals.  I didn't make the first ascent of a new multipitch route (a fall plan that fell through), but I did spend a lot of time bouldering in Frank.  I opened 106 new boulder problems in Frank Slide this year, finished new mini-guides to three sectors of the area (House, Healing, and Albatross sectors), and climbed a fair number of hard problems.  I didn't win the Tour de Frank (I did get third, and it would have been hard to beat Mark D!), and I didn't climb any V9s or 10s.  My elbow problems in July, August, and September slowed me down, but it healed up well and I enjoyed a great fall.  I learned how to make climbing-wall volumes (Kyle's Garage wall now has four of them!), and feel that I am heading into winter in decent shape.

I was privileged to open some great new lines at Frank Slide, repeat others, and watch friends climb still others.  The following problems represented especially rewarding highlights of the year for me, for a variety of reasons.

1) Jolly Green Giant (V0+ X)  The highest problem I've ever done (I think...), and certainly the tallest first ascent (the only X rated FA I've ever done).  Because I cleaned it on rappel, I got to suss out the holds and moves while on a rope.  One one hand I think this watered the experience down a bit for me, but on the other hand I'm not sure that I would have gone up and soloed a friction slab of that height without knowing what I was in for! 

Me sending Jolly Green Giant (V0+ X).  This was a second lap for the camera, for some reason a lot scarier than my first lap up.  Almost done the crux here....

2) Invincible (V6), Ghost Rider (V4), and Evil Eye (V3-). These three highballs are side by side on the Aftermath boulder, and I was gratified to be able to be the first person up all three of these.  Great movement, great problems, on one of the best single boulders in Frank Slide.

3) Trent's Cave (V6) and Marked for Life (V5).  Frank Slide isn't known for steep problems.  It was a treat to send these problems, two of the few really steep lines at Frank Slide.  I also sent these with two of Lethbridge's most dedicated boulderers; Trent's Cave I did with the Wizard himself, Kyle Marco, and Marked for Life I worked with Mark D.

Kyle M about to stick the last hard move of Trent's Cave (V6).  Lots of fun to be had in the City of Giants; this problem is only a few yards from the Shield Project, which is probably in the V10 to V12 range.

Mark D on Marked for Life (V5/6).  Fun, steep arete!  Squamishy!  New problem near Railway, done in November (snow in the background).

4) Railway (V10).  I didn't do this.  Nor am I close.  However, I did have the priviledge of working it with several Lethbian climbers (primarily Kyle and Mark D), and had the absolute treat of watching it done quickly and beautifully by two of Alberta's very best boulderers (and good friends) Terry Paholek and Dan Archambault.  Terry also sent Shelley Was A Doctor First (V10) the same day; the name refers to one of the longest-running jokes in my life, one that Terry has always found especially funny...

5) Submarine (V6). The first project I cleaned at Frank Slide, and when I finally did it (after waiting for the river to go down) it was my 100th FA at Frank Slide.  Fun, aesthetic, tall!

Me sending Submarine (V6) this fall after the river subsided a bit.  This riverside problem has a spring running out from underneath it, hence the little bridge of driftwood.  Powerful first moves lead to a tall, technical, and balancy arete.  

6) The Stripey Problem (V0-).  This was my daughter Aya's first FA!  I was so proud of her!

Aya Hoover sending The Stripey Problem (V0-).  No mat, and not short for her, at all!

I made some significant progress on my eternally expanding-and-contracting list of projects.  Several lines were knocked off the list successfully, but more were added on.  Much climbing left to do in the new year!  My current list of as-yet-undone projects includes...

1) The "Rumrunner Project". Somewhere between V4 and V8. Still have not seriously tried this thing.  Maybe when the snow melts a bit?
2) Frankenstein (V5/6), Frank's hardest - and smoothest - slab.
3) The "Floodwaters Project".  Maybe V7?  Perfect edges up a slightly overhanging block of great rock, amazing movement.
4) The Approved Beta (V8). A funky Terry Paholek problem, sometimes I think I can do this, sometimes it seems impossible.  Only two sessions on it, may have to get a little more serious.
5) The Prism (V9?).  A Mark D FA.  Very cool holds, great technical line.  Looking forward to sending this one!
6) The Communist (V7/8?)  A Kyle M FA, one the best lines at Frank.  Tall, big moves!
7) The "Mark of the Beast" Project.  Very fun, but with go-to-the-hospital fall potential.
8) The "Feed the Need" Project.  Maybe V6 or 7?  One good session on it, no send. Just one hard move, really, to a long prow problem with the coolest kneebar I've ever done.
9) The "Wizard" Project. V8ish.  About 20 feet high, with a BAD landing.  Needs at least 12 pads just to be sane.  Hence the lack of sending.
10) The "Old Man and the Sea" Project. V9ish?  Another winter prospect.
11) Rising Tithes (V8).  Great line, should go pretty quickly once I devote some time to it.
12) Paleofit (V7).  Slopey traverse problem high in the City of Giants.

That's what left of the original list.  I've got my eye on some new lines that I should probably add to the list, though... :)  Everything considered, I think it's not too bad for my 43rd year on this planet.  My knees and elbows grumble more than they used to, but I'm still holding together. So far.

Me working what would eventually become The Prism (V9ish) later in the year.  It is named primarily for two large, striking, angled slopers (one of them is in my left hand...).

Bonus photo!  Me on Wind War (V2 or V3), in January or February of last year.  Windy and cold that day, but still bouldering!

Anyways, I'd like to thank all the people that have made bouldering in Lethbridge and the Crowsnest Pass so rewarding over the last year.  My bouldering posse - Kyle, Mark D, Mark G, Beth, Ryan, Calvin, and Justin.  Those bouldering folks who have moved away, Amanda and Adam ('Adamanda') and Dave.  The U of L people who I love to boulder with but periodically try to get me to put on a rope, including Mike, Jayden, Morgan, and Ashley (among others, you know who you are!).  And especially my long-time climbing friends from Edmonton (so many of them, Lloyd, Terry, Selena, Dan, Greg, Colin, and many others!) and Vancouver/Squamish (Ronald, Israel, Peter, Vince, Tim, Jack, Brad, Mike, Jamie, Sean, Rolf, and literally dozens of others) who I can always count on for inspiration.  I'm sure many other names have slipped my mind; don't be offended if you don't see your name here, I haven't forgotten you!

There's also a bunch of people who I would love to climb at Frank Slide with in the coming year!  I'm hoping for a road trip from the eternally-psyched GP crew, especially Julian, The Real Chris, Carlee, Steven, and Renee (though the latter couple has left GP for Calgary).  I'm hoping I can also manage a session with some of the Calgary folks who I haven't ever quite managed to meet in real life, including Ghislain (who I've known online for over a decade!), Adam C (the Ghost of Frank Slide), and Chris.  And will someone tell Simon V to get down here and do some bouldering! :)

Thanks everyone! All the best as this year ends, and we welcome the new one!  Have a great winter of climbing, whether it's at the gym, the boulders, the crag, on ice, or some far-off climbing destination in places warmer than this one!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Warm(ish) Weekend of Bouldering!

I didn't get out of town last weekend, so by this weekend I was feeling pretty itchy to get out to the mountains.  I wasn't able to get out on Saturday, and no one was super-keen on going out with me on Sunday, so a solo mission was in order.  A quick stop at Kyle's to grab an extra mat (my extra mats live at Kyle's garage bouldering wall, aka 'The Karage"), and I was on my way!  The weather in the pass was supposed to be +5C with sunny breaks, which is well within my criteria for a day of winter bouldering.

Arriving at Frank, I wanted to go for a hike into the little canyon I had looked at earlier in the year; the rock wasn't good enough for sport routes, but I wanted to see if there were any seeps that might be forming up into ice climbs.  It didn't turn out to be the ice-climbing mecca I had hoped, although I did see one nice-looking mixed route forming up.  It was dripping pretty vigorously, and when it gets colder it looks like it'll have a couple of vertical-ish fat pillars about 10-12 m high, with another 8-10m of scrappy 'rock and moss' mixed climbing above that to the top of the cliff. There's some deadfall on the ledge at halfway that'll have to be tossed off, but that should be easy enough to do.

Still too warm for fat ice (it was dripping!), but I'm hoping that with a little cold weather this forms up into a nice short mixed route with a couple of pillars and a short mixed boulder problem at the top.  It seemed to have lots of water, so should get a lot fatter. SUPER short approach! :)

Not the greatest ice climb ever, but it does have a SHORT approach!  Probably only a couple of hundred meters along a nice trail, and you can rap right down the route to put up a toprope.  And since it is really close to the Slide, I'm hoping for some winter sessions of 'morning ice / afternoon bouldering'.

Steep, tall, blocky... but made of some kind of weird sandstone/limestone rock (not good news).  But if I could just convince the owners of the huge house 200m away to let me run a water hose to the top of this thing...

Now with wet feet and covered with sweat, it was time to go bouldering.  I headed to the House Area, where I am determined to put up a problem in the HUGE cave on the east side of the boulder.  I put a toprope on the cave to check it out and see how solid the holds are, but unfortunately it is so steep I could only clean the top five feet or so before I was swinging too far away from the face to be effective.  I was able to clean the bottom eight feet, and the top five, but that leaves about 15 uncleaned (and HARD-looking) feet of climbing in the middle.

Now I was starting to get cold, so I put on my shoes and started working on the first six moves.  It turned out that they weren't particularly hard, but really fun, and I was pretty pleased with my effort when I linked them together.  I then tried the "V7" on the right side of the cave (aka 'Crowded House'), with the goal of linking the first four moves to the tiny block/pinch at the lip of the roof.  I did that, but the next two moves look virtually impossible (!!!).  I am skeptical that this problem has ever been done (especially without dabbing), at least with the holds that are there now (maybe something has broke off?).  Does anyone know anything about that line?

Terrible photo of the bottom third of my 'House Cave' project. Steep! Three big shelves lead to two incut sidepulls... then a 5 foot blank.  Ugh.  Too tall (20ish feet) to work comfortably. Ideas, anyone?  Ladder? 

I then swept off and climbed a very fun new problem just to the right of the "V7", calling it House of Cards (V4ish).  The first three moves are fairly tricky, but then a series of HUGE footholds make the rest of the problem simple.  A fun addition to the House Boulder.

I went for a big hike through the talus, heading above the House Boulder in a big loop to the Heart of Frank and the Mushroom Boulder and back.  I saw a few potential projects (one looks quite good and fairly hard), and a few other already-cleaned lines that look fantastic.

It was starting to get late in the day, but since it wasn't dark yet I thought I had time to get a little more bouldering in.  I packed up, and headed over to the Albatross Boulder.  I really wanted to try Hoedown (a problem I had cleaned a month or two ago, that had been since climbed by Mark Derksen).  By the time I got there, it was getting windy/cold/dark, but I tossed the mats down and put my shoes on.  It took me a few tries to remember the beta, but once I had done that I managed to send it pretty quickly.  It's a fairly ugly line, but it has some very cool moves so I was happy to send it.  Mark had given it V7, but V6 seems more appropriate.  A strong compression climber with good heel-toe skills might even find it easier than that.

 End of the day!  Just squeaked out a quick send of Hoedown (V6/7) before it got too dark.

By now it was 5:30, and getting dark.  I hustled back to the van, drove to Tim Horton's for tea and a doughnut, and started the loooonnng drive back to Lethbridge.  Not the most productive day ever, but a nice day of adventure for the first week of December!

It is supposed to be much colder next week, which makes me think that it might be a while before I get back to Frank.  Until then, happy climbing!

PS> To browse through all the new problems at Frank Slide, check out the Frank Slide section at!  It's a great website, and I use it to keep track of all my FAs. [Full Disclosure: I am not affiliated with  Although it would be sweet if Jamie sent me a hat.]