Saturday, the day of the 2015 Rock the Blocs, dawned warm and sunny. The competition wasn't due to start until mid-morning, but with so much energy at the campsite/parking lot everyone was up and about early. There was ample time to find old friends, and meet new ones. Mark Derksen and Ryan Frecka (from Lethbridge and Edmonton, respectively) were also in for Rock the Blocs, and I was looking forward to the chance to climb with them. Slowly, the parking lot filled up as more and more climbers arrived, and I had a chance to catch up with Andy White before the competition started. He's done an amazing job of organizing and running RtB, and it was great to have the chance to talk to him about development in the Boulderfields, and how the RtB has evolved.
By 9:30 or so, the competitors had gathered at the trail head to register, get a scorecard, and hear Andy describe the format of the competition. With the formalities soon out of the way, the horn blew, and all 150+ climbers streamed down the path to the basin, with seven hours to climb as many problems as they wanted. The hardest five problems climbed by each competitor would count toward their total score for the day. One great feature of RtB are the guides (each wearing a crisp red shirt with the word 'GUIDE' inscribed on the front); without these volunteers, finding the problems on the scorecard would be a lot more confusing, especially for the out-of-town climbers.
Andy White going over the rules for the 2015 Rock the Blocs. A great event with great organisation; over 160 climbers participated!
I was a bit late getting down the path, and as much as I was looking forward to climbing with the folks from Alberta, I immediately lost sight of almost everyone I knew. Luckily, being social is part of the fun in a festival of this type, so I headed out to climb some problems and meet new people! I ran into Ryan Frecka almost immediately, and because he was psyched to head down to a problem called Cave Dweller (V4/5), I joined him to check it out. This was a great decision, as I followed him about for a bit, and joined the crowds on several of the problems in the Cave Dweller area. The Cave Dweller boulders are pleasantly shaded, and host a number of fantastic lines. I managed to flash Cave Dweller, Ribrageous (V5), and the tough Fun in Acapulco (V4). As much fun as I was having in the area, I really wanted to check out some of the other problems deeper in the basin, and flagged down Jay for a tour of the Serenity Boulder and the classic Baby Chthulu (V7), a cool-looking line hidden far in the 'Fields. Jay was excited to show me some of these new lines, and as there was no one at Baby Chthulu (it takes lots of pads), we wandered back to try some of the problems on the Serenity Boulder.
The Serenity Boulder is a classic block of gneiss; a tall and slightly overhanging face criss-crossed with incut rails and edges, and topped with sloping ledges. I joined the group working Heart of Darkness (V8), a fantastic line which pulls out of a cave on the left side of the face into a series of thin edges and toothy pockets. After failing a few times on the line (though I made a valiant effort!), I set about to decipher the sequence of moves that pull through the edges to the top of the boulder. Also working the problem was Trevor Edwards (from the Fraser Valley), who was making the incut edges look casual. The crux of the problem is a long move between slots in the middle of the face; fortunately, I was able to use a crimpy intermediate to pull my center of gravity high before doing the crux move. After a short time spent unlocking an efficient sequence from the crux to the top of the problem, I managed to squeak through for the send. A fantastic five-star line!
After sending Heart of Darkness, I took a bit of a break and watched people climbing Firefly (V5?) to the right of HoD. Getting psyched by the great movement, I pulled on my shoes and was excited to flash it; another great line! By now, however, I was aware that I hadn't seen any of the Alberta crew (except Ryan) for a few hours, so I headed back up the hill. Walking up through the Dark Prince sector I managed to find an Albertan... Ryan Frecka again! I joined him, and did Dark Prince (V5) again for my scorecard. I definitely enjoyed it more the second time!
Certain that I would find Kyle, Mark, or one of the Albertans higher up in the area, I headed back to the Surf Boulder. Instead of Albertans, I found a crew of fun climbers from Revelstoke (sorry I forget your names, folks!) working Surf Arete (V7/8) and Surf's Up (V6). I had a great time climbing and talking with them, and managed to add both lines to my scorecard in the process. By now my scorecard was looking pretty solid for an old guy, with V8, V8, V6, V5, V5. Still looking for Kyle, Evan, Mark, Reg, Josh, Adam, Ernie, etc., I headed up to the F1 Boulder, one of the first blocks at the bottom of the stairs. Finally, I found Evan (and Ryan Frecka again!), and we both did Full Chub Morning Weezer (V6) really quickly. I managed to flash FCMW, which was a nice way to end the day!
As the clock wound down toward the end of the competition, Kyle and a handful of Albertans finally arrived at the F1 Boulder (along with several dozen other tired climbers!). We spent a few minutes working V-Power (V7ish), but with just a few minutes remaining I didn't manage the send before the horn blew. A long line of sweaty boulderers headed up the steps and back to the parking lot, curious to see how they stacked up against their friends and to find out who had won.
I can't remember who won all the categories. I do remember that Miles Adamson won Open Men's (with 39 Vpoints, I think, congrats to Miles!), and the clearly-talented Staci White won Open Women's. I finished the day with 33 Vpoints, and while I don't know exactly how I placed, I was satisfied that I had represented the Frank Slide crew with distinction. Plus, I had an amazing time! (I also won a locking carabiner and a belay device! Andy (and presumably the other volunteers) did a great job lining up door prizes and raffle prizes!)
The after-party was shaping up nicely, but then thundershowers moved in and people either headed for the fire or their cars. The Albertans were hungry, though, and without many options we piled into a couple of cars and headed into Kelowna for hamburgers at a pub. After dinner, I felt exhausted, and was glad to head back up to the 'Fields and find my sleeping bag.
Sunday dawned warm and sunny... again! I was keen to get back to finding new problems, and had especially set my line on a highball (!) left of Nerf Roof. The line looked about 25 feet tall, but when I rapped off it and started scrubbing it I realized that the last three moves of the line were comprised of delicate moves on small edges - not exactly the way I want a leg-breaking highball to end! I spent about an hour cleaning the line, but after giving it some serious consideration I decided that it was best left for another visit to the basin (one where I had more time to sit, stare, and gather my courage!). Instead, I put a toprope on an easier but very cool line nearby; a good start on a sloping rail led to a few tricky moves though a bulge, and an easier slabby face above. Satisfied with the quality of the line, I called it Via Rail (V2/3), a great addition to the area. I realized I could easily add another line to the boulder; by starting on Via Rail, I could continue traversing a few moves up and left after the start of the problem, then using an amazing underclinging pocket to do a huge move to a jug the problem could trend back right a bit to finish on the same prow as Via Rail. I put my shoes back on and did that problem as well, calling it Exhale (V3/4?). Really a fantastic line, a great companion to the other steep problems at the Surf Roof nearby.
After doing a few more moderate problems in the area, we packed up and headed back down to the amazing Baby Chthulu. Kyle had almost sent it during the comp, and was eager to send it. We ended up trying the problem with a handful of great guys from The Hive in Vancouver, who all seemed very fit. Kyle sent the line in just a few tries, and one of The Hive crew (sorry, can't remember his name!) did it in just a few tries. I worked the problem for a looong time, but kept getting disoriented by the steepness of the roof. I didn't find any of the moves particularly hard, but simply kept losing track of where I was on the roof. It's a cool line, but not for me I guess!
By the following day, my fingers were feeling thrashed, so Kyle and I headed into Kelowna for breakfast at IHOP with several of the Albertan climbers. Most of the crew headed back to Alberta after breakfast, but since Kyle and I were in town for a few more days we walked around town (crazy posh!) and went swimming. By the next morning, Kyle and I still felt a bit beat up (especially our knees; 20 years of bouldering is hard on you...), but headed back into the basin to sample more of the quality gneiss lines. We did a few moderate problems on the F1 Boulder, but by this point in the trip, Kyle's knees were giving up. He was content to sit and read for the rest of the day, so I decided to work on a new problem down in the basin in the Dominator Area.
I had tried the line for about an hour earlier in the trip, and had had a lot of fun trying to decipher the movement. The problem started on two underclings, and then had moved up a blunt (and very steep!) arete to a VERY cool ending somewhat reminiscent of the funky last moves of Wormworld Cave in Squamish. I carried mats down the hill and set up beneath the project to figure out the moves. A tricky toehook could be used to gain the arete, but from there the only option was (seemed to be?) to use a toehook on the blunt starting undercling to stay sufficiently tight to the roof to climb the arete. Once matched on the lip on the arete, I could climb the final five moves to the lip of the boulder (a kneebar/scum is critical!). Despite all my work to find the most efficient method of climbing through the roof/arete, I couldn't quite manage to send the line. I could do the first 4 moves (to the lip of the roof), and the last 5 moves (to the lip of the boulder), but the one move in the middle (which mostly involves keeping a lot of body tension to move my feet) I could never manage to do consistently. I was a little bummed not to send the line, but really happy to spend time working out the moves on such a cool problem.
Kyle and I planned to leave the Boulderfields midmorning the next day, so when I woke up the next day I decided to head down into the basin for one more session on the project. I strapped a stack of pads together and headed down the stairs one more time. I warmed up on Exhale and the other problems nearby, and then marched down the hill into the Dominator Area. I worked my project for another hour or so, but to no avail; I could never quite manage to make the critical toehook stay long enough to match the arete at the lip. I'll be back next year... after training toehook power! It was a great experience to work such a cool line (which I already refer to as 'Dominatrix', since it's in the Dominator Area, and requires a lot of 'tricks'...); it seems likely that it's in the V9 range, maybe a bit easier, maybe a bit harder.
A little disappointed, but still quite satisfied with my attempts, I packed up the pads, marched up the hill, dismantled my tent, and headed into Kelowna for breakfast at IHOP with Kyle before beginning the long drive back to Lethbridge.
"So," you might ask, "what are your final impressions of the area?"
First, the Boulderfields is an amazing area, especially if you like steep climbing. I suspect that the 'Fields probably holds 3000+ potential problems, with hundreds of those lines being very steep. It will take a lot of work to develop the 'Fields; the rock is often dirty and/or lichen covered, and landings will need to be built for many of the lines deep in the basin where the landings are blocky and uneven. Undoubtedly, however, the basin will eventually rival Squamish as a bouldering destination.
Second, much work needs to be done to preserve the area. The basin is a beautiful place, but many times I saw climbers milling around offtrail, trundling rocks, and mashing vegetation. Given the dry climate, regrowth of moss, shrubs, and grass will be very slow, and thus a lot of investment in trail building is needed. Andy, Jay, and many others have clearly put in a HUGE amount of time to developing trails, but if you go the area stay on the trails, respect the environment, and ask Andy or Jay how you can help to build the trail network there.
Third, the climbing community in the Okanagan is very welcoming! We had a great time meeting new people, and interacting with Andy, Jay, Garrett, Grizzly Adam, and the many fun people who came out for the RtB made our trip even better.
Fourth, the quality of the problems is very high, and the holds are generally big and positive. Most of the landings are OK, and are generally accessible with two or three mats and a competent spotter. It can be hot in the basin, but it is always easy to find something in the shade.
So, I'll be back for next year's RtB, hopefully! What does the rest of this summer hold for me, climbing-wise? Lots of projects at Frank Slide, and with a little luck a trip to Lolo Pass (the granite there looks sweet!) and some deepwater soloing in Lake Koocanusa.
Until next time!