Friday, December 30, 2016

Waterton Ice!

Last week I was bouldering in the Cave at the gym at the University, and was ruminating aloud on the likelihood of going ice climbing over the winter break, and whether or not I could find anyone to climb with.  Usually this type of monologue falls on deaf ears, but to my surprise Graeme C. piped up, and said he'd be keen on heading out to get on some ice.

I took this as (a) an omen that I was meant to get out climbing with someone new, and (b) a great opportunity to get out of the city and head to the mountains.  I had only climbed with Graeme a few times, but he always seems very enthusiastic.  As such, we make plans to head on out the following Wednesday.  Since I have never been ice climbing in Waterton, we decided that that would be our destination.  I've done most of my ice climbing on the short curtains of the Crowsnest Pass Area, so I was looking forward to seeing something new.

After a big of an early-morning epic tracking down my quickdraws (eventually finding them buried in an unmarked bin in my garage?!!), Graeme and I grabbed coffee and headed out of town.  On the drive out I found out that (a) Graeme is a great guy and a good conversationalist (both huge pluses for the travelling climber), and (b) keen about getting more exposure to climbing ice.  He'd only been ice climbing a handful of times, but was excited to broaden his experience.

On the road to find some ice!  I only had my phone to take photos, but it was better than nothing!

Eventually arriving in Waterton, we drove up the Cameron Lake Road to check out the famous ice climbs French Kiss (WI3) and Quick and Dirty (WI4).  Both climbs are two pitches in length, though the first pitches of both climbs see much more action than the second pitches.  When we arrived, we suited up and trekked up the slope to the climbs.  Arriving at the ice, we saw that a handful of climbers had already arrived; one of them (Trevor) I knew casually from the climbing gym, and he had already led and put up a toprope on French Kiss (it has a nice bolted anchor).

This produced a short-lived quandry for Graeme and I.  Neither of us was really keen on leading the steep and sustained Quick and Dirty, but we really wanted to get on something.  Luckily, the other group nicely offered to let us use their toprope to climb up to the anchor, then traverse over to set a toprope anchor on the steeper ice to the right.  Though I haven't ice climbed in years, I volunteered to climb up, then lead the required traverse to put in another anchor.  After a few shenanigans (in which I wished I had brought up a few more screws), I put in an anchor and rappelled off.

The toprope on French Kiss.  It's a nice route, with a great bolted anchor in an alcove at the end of the first pitch.  It's a longer than it appears in this photo, I was standing at the bottom of a steep slope, looking up.

Rappelling off, it became apparent that the ice climb I had put a toprope on was much (!) steeper than I expected.  I would only later learn that we were climbing a WI5 or WI6 pillar, a grade of climbing out of my range (as I would soon discover).

Graeme tied in, and headed up the pillar.  He climbed well, progressing nicely up the route before pumping out about halfway up.  He took several hangs before making to the anchor, but climbed well. After Graeme lowered off, I tied in and headed up, only to find out why Graeme had pumped out.  The ice was STEEP (dead vertical with two slightly overhanging bulges) and very chandeliered.  I pumped out (!!!) about half way up, and had to hangdog my way to the top, fighting the most desperate pump ever.

Me standing at the anchor I had built, watching a much stronger climber lead French Kiss (WI3). Very cool! Given that I'm about 22m off the deck, you can get a sense of the angle of the ice.

Another couple of teams had also arrived at the ice, and one of them (a much stronger climber than we were) asked if he could take a burn on our rope.  We quickly agreed (especially since he offered to clean the anchor for us, and we were both crazily pumped).  We were gratified to see that even a much better ice climber than we were still had to take a couple of hangs to make it to the top of the pillar.

Still pumped, and with the wind rising and the light fading, Graeme and I packed up and headed back down the mountain.  Despite the lack of mileage, we still had a great day in the mountains, and I'm keen to head back and explore some of the more moderate ice in the area.  I'm thinking that the shorter routes of the Crowsnest might be a better idea, though.

This isn't me on this pillar.  I have the brightest alpine pants/jacket in the universe.  I'm presuming that this is, however, what I looked like as I climbed the route.  Luckily the very friendly and accommodating climber agreed to clean our anchor off for us. 

Sunday, December 25, 2016

2016: The Year in Review!

Every year, I like to look back over my year, and reflect on the things that happened, the places I visited, the people I met, and the problems (or routes) that I climbed.  Every year I am mildly surprised that I'm still climbing (I seem to be slowly falling apart), but I am enjoying the experience as much as I ever have and so have no real plans to throw in the towel (just yet).  This year I went on three trips (Red Rocks, The Boulderfields, and Idaho/Montana), and spend a lot of time at Frank Slide (now with almost 1200 boulder problems!).  I had a lot of fun traveling, climbing, and meeting new people, and so here, in no particular order, are my climbing highlights from 2016!

Kyle highballing at Castle Rock, Idaho. I love climbing in the desert!

1. Bouldering in Red Rocks!  For many years, I've heard about the sandstone bouldering in Red Rock National Conservation Area just north of Las Vegas, Nevada.  I've always wanted to make the trip, and spend some time bouldering on sandstone (one of my favorite kinds of rock) in the desert (which I love), but it always seemed too far away.  This year I finally made the drive down with Kyle and Ernie in February, to check out the area (and climb with all of the U of L Climbing Club folks).  I had an amazing time, climbing a lot of very fun lines including Pork Chop (V3), Monkey Bars Right (V6) and Monkey Bars Traverse (V6/7, which is likely my hardest flash ever, in part due to beta from Kyle).  We had a blast climbing around the area, spending time not only at Kraft Rocks but also several other areas including Black Velvet Canyon (which has amazing rock, and where Mark D. climbed The Fountainhead (hard V9)) and Oak Creek (where I managed to do the amazing but weirdly hard Blood Trails (V5)).  Had a blast with so many amazing people, including Kyle, Ernie, Mark D., the hilarious Morgan D., and all the 'Club Kids'.  Would love to go back!

Kyle sending Monkey Bar Traverse (V6/7), Kraft Rocks, Nevada.  A fun line, but the real prize of the boulder is Monkey Bar Direct (which Kyle has also done...)

2. The Channel in Idaho!  While I hadn't heard much about this area, Kyle was keen to check it out on our trip to the desert this fall.  I'm incredibly glad we went (we spent two days in the area); the problems, the rock, and (especially) the holds are second to no area I've ever been to.  The rock is so incredibly sculpted, it is hard to believe that holds like these actually exist - even when you're climbing on them.  Another trip is definitely in order!  The only downside is that it is filled with water for half the year.

The Channel!!! Dr. Suess-inspired bouldering in the desert among dead fish.  Amazing!

3. Bushido (V7), The Golden Rule (V4), and Memento (V0/1) in the Boulderfields.  I love the Boulderfields just outside of Kelowna.  I love the rock, I love the problems, I like the terrain, the city is fantastic place to visit (for a bit, anyways), there's a fantastic swimming lake, and the local climbers (huge props to Andy, Jay, Braden, Garett, and all the gang!) are an amazing group.  Futhermore, I've always enjoyed finding and putting up new lines, and there is a wealth of untapped rock in the Boulderfields.  I was lucky this year to put up three fantastic lines; Bushido and Memento are both incredibly aesthetic lines on the Nerf Boulder, and The Golden Rule is just a few steps away.  Memento is (I hope) one of the very best easy highballs in the 'Fields, with perfect incuts up a tall wall of perfect gneiss.

Me on the AMAZING highball Memento (V0/1), the Boulderfields, BC.

4. The 2016 Rock the Blocs (again, in the Boulderfields).  Every year, Andy White and the Kelowna locals put on what is likely the best outdoor bouldering festival in Canada.  I managed to make it out to the RtB again this year, and although they had to call the event early on account of rain, I managed to climb enough problems to squeak into first place in the Masters Category.  I'll be back again next year, hopefully with a few more Frank Locals in tow.  One of the great things about the RtB is that it is a great place to meet up and reconnect with old friends, and I was psyched not only to hang out with the Kelowna crew, but also to spend the day with (the Hope bouldering legend and all-round great guy) Marco Lefebvre.  It was also fun to spend some time with Aletha and Stephan (Frank Slide locals who I don't actually get to see that often).  Mark D. also got third in the Men's Open, so I was pretty happy that Frank Slide was well-represented at the event.

5. The 2016 Tour de Frank, at Frank Slide.  Every year, Kyle and I organise the Tour de Frank, an outdoor climbing festival/competition in Frank Slide.  This year, the TdF came to the House and Heart sectors, with a huge list of hand-picked problems to challenge visiting climbers.  This year was the best TdF yet, with about 80 people from across Alberta and SE BC.  Some incredibly strong climbers came out this year, with Marc Eveleigh (Men's open) and Samantha Li and Eva Thompson (Women's open, tie) winning the event.  With great sponsors, a lot of the climbers walked off with well-earned swag.  We were worried the weather would turn ugly, but it held off nicely and everyone enjoyed a great day of climbing.  Huge thanks to everyone who turned out, and (even more huge) thanks to all the volunteers.  You can read all about it HERE.  See you next year!

6. The 2016 Butte Bouldering Bash, near Butte Montana.  This year Kyle and I attended the BBB in central Montana.  I have been keen to visit the boulders of the Batholith for some time, and so Kyle and I timed our fall trip to coincide with the BBB so we could do some climbing and meet up with the locals.  The rock of the Batholith is a brown-to-grey compact granite, and though many of the boulders are on the small side in some areas, the climbing is of a pleasantly technical 'tic-tac' style (which I really love).  We spend a lot of time talking to Patrick and Tom (the organisers of the BBB who do a fantastic job), and were lucky to meet Erik Christensen (the Montana bouldering guidebook author) as well.  I'm looking forward to bouldering more in Montana this year, I think there is a lot of fantastic bouldering to be done there!  Read about the 2016 BBB HERE and HERE.  Kudos if you can spot Trent and Kyle in the latter blog post.

Who knew that Montana boulderers had such bright clothing!  I was expecting a lot of camo, for some reason... it is always great to meet climbers from around the world, and the folks from Montana were a ton of fun!

7. Frank Slide!  I had a fantastic time climbing at Frank Slide again this year!  Once again, the Slide has provided me with not only a great climbing experience, but has also continued to produce new problems at an astounding rate.  I managed to climb many great problems at The Slide this year, including the aesthetic Old Man And The Sea (V3, FA), The Oracle (V4), Beautiful Struggle (V4, which was also repeated by Shelley and Jonas), Mark Derksen's Force of Will (V6/7), The Gifts of Life (V5, FA), the funky Black Slot Arete (V4), and the weird but satisfying Alberta Meat Market (V4).  Of the 40 first ascents I made this year, the vast majority were at Frank Slide.  Although I failed on most of the harder lines I tried, 2017 is another year!

Mark G., Josh B., and Kyle looking at the start of what would become The Mark of the Beast (V9), one of the superb lines (and an old project of mine) that went down this year (though not by me) in the Slide.

8. The Karage Crew and the Frank Slide Locals!  Bouldering is less fun if there are no fun people to climb with.  Luckily, that isn't a problem here!  Though the local community isn't huge, it is composed of great people.  So, I sincerely salute all of the Karage Crew, including (and especially) Kyle, Jonas, and Mark D.  "Training" is more fun when more people are in the Karage.  I also need to extend my sincere thanks to all the Frank Slide "Locals" (i.e. all the people who regularly show up at the Slide, and generally make it an exciting place), including Kyle, Jonas, Dan A., Josh B., Mark D., Mark G., Morgan D., and Davin (the newest addition to the Slide Posse).  From building patios, to cleaning lines, to shuffling rocks, to finding new problems, to spotting and being psyched, the Frank Slide locals are a great group of people.  More and more people are coming down to (or up to, or over to) the Slide every year, so here's to meeting more people in 2017!

Me on the 'Top-100' line The Old Man and The Sea (V3ish), one of my favorite lines from 2016. That's Kyle spotting, and I'm fairly certain that Davin took this photo.  Frank Slide locals are a great group!

9. All the Frank Slide problems that haven't gone... yet.  There is always something new going on in The Slide.  Despite all the effort that Josh has continued to put in at The Slide (as he single-handedly writes a new chapter in Alberta Bouldering History), three problems have yet to be sent; The Sunny Corner project (which is amazing and will be one of the hardest problems in Canada when it goes; Josh Bylsma has been sieging it, so its ascent is likely someday), the Baby Jesus Sit project (a savage and temperamental line that refuses to be climbed), and The Length project (which I'm certain will be wrapped up this year).  I wish I could send one of these lines, but I suspect that my double-digit days are behind me.  Don't worry, though... I've got several lines on my own project list!

Kyle starting up one of the superb lines on the Zelda Boulder, the City of Giants, Frank Slide.

10.  Those climbers who are excited to climb!  It's always fantastic to see excitement and dedication in other climbers.  Whether it is a new climber nursing their first flapper, or the world's best athletes trying some of the planet's hardest lines, I can relate to both.  When I see a video of someone crimping their way up a pane of granite, or swinging though a hueco-filled roof, I can feel the chalk on my hands and the momentary weightlessness of well-coordinated movement.  I would like to single out Adam Ondra for his send of The Dawn Wall (huge props!), Nalle Hukkataival for finally completing his project, my friend Sean McColl for nailing down the IFSC Combined Championship, Josh B. for persevering on the Sunny Corner Project, and to Kyle for showing me yet again how easy V7 dynos can look.  Adventure is not dead, and there are always new horizons to find!

So what does 2017 hold for me?  I'm looking forward to some exciting trips (Hueco Tanks (at last!) in February, Boulderfields in June, maybe Montana in the spring (and again in the fall?), hopefully I'll get to Spiral Tunnels too...), and a lot of exploring and climbing at Frank Slide.  I'm hoping to start putting together a Frank Slide guidebook this year, and I'm looking forward to that.  Regardless of what happens, it will be a lot of fun, so I'll see you in 2017!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Photo Special: The Channel of Idaho!

This fall, Kyle and I spent two days bouldering at The Channel (aka Black Magic Canyon) in central Idaho. The area is certainly unique; when you walk through the canyon you are essentially walking along a river bed that is submerged by several meters of water for half the year.  In the winter, the water that ordinarily flows through The Channel is diverted for agriculture, and so climbers have a seasonal window of opportunity (mid-October to mid-April) to enjoy the fantastically eroded shapes of the area.

Visiting the area early in the season is a bit surreal, as the walls of the canyon (and all the holds) are draped with drying algae and snails, and periodically one walks by a pile of dead fish lying among the gravels.  Despite the fact that we had to sweep off all the problems we tried, we had a fantastic time.  If you are a climber, you will be blown away; if you are a route-setter or hold-shaper you will enjoy the climbing on an even deeper level.  The Channel is all about climbing on shapes, rather than holds, and as such the bouldering is athletic without being painful, and tends to be simultaneously aesthetic and intellectual. (So yes, in terms of quality of lines and the quality of the rock, it's pretty much the best area I've ever been to; the only downside is that you are in a little canyon, so you are fairly limited in terms of view.)

At any rate, I took hundreds of photos of some of the shapes we saw in The Channel, so I thought I would share a few more with you.  Cheers!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Frankin' Time!

The weather this fall has been absolutely amazing!  I doubt there are many bouldering areas in Canada - other than Frank Slide - where climbers are out climbing in November with sunny 16C weather.  The longer I climb in southern Alberta, the more I am convinced that Frank Slide has a longer season that almost any other bouldering area in the country, with the exception of the low-altitude areas in the Okanagan like the Winter Pig Hotel.  In 2016, we've been lucky so far, and I hope the mild 'winter' weather continues for a few more months. (Fingers crossed!)

Me trying to muster the bravery for the second-last-move crux of one of the highballs on the Shield Boulder.

This fall, The Slide has seen an increase in the number of 'non-local' climbers (there really aren't any 'locals' at the Slide; all the regular climbers (the 'locals') have to drive at least an hour to get there). As the number of problems in the Slide increases (almost 1,200 now!) and the landings improve, more climbers are starting to head down (or up) to The Slide to enjoy the climbing there.  Having visitors to the Slide is fantastic, but it really drives home the need for a guidebook; navigating the Slide without one is problematic, primarily because there are few landmarks.  I've been writing and releasing mini-guides for the area (I think there are now three miniguides, which include about 400 problems), but the time is coming for me to get serious about writing a full guide for the Slide.

Josh B working the Sunny Corner Project on the Shield Boulder! Will likely be the hardest problem in Alberta if it ever goes...

New problems continue to go up every weekend in the Slide.  Josh B. has been on a rampage this fall, putting up a stack of new lines (including the impressive and dangerous Superbeast (V8) and Slippery Pete Right (V10)) while working on the Sunny Corner Project which will clock in around V13 when (if?) it goes.  Kyle, Dan, and I excavated a new landing for the Fingersmasher boulder, which produced a host of really great lines, including The Omen (V2/3) and Shallow Grave (V5ish).  Mark D added a aesthetic (but hard!) line to the boulder as well, though he has yet to cough up a name or grade (V7? V8?).

Tyler Parenteau getting serious on the Zelda Boulder in the City of Giants.

Due to the deluge of rain plaguing the west coast this fall, a strong posse of Kelowna climbers opted to visit Frank Slide instead of heading down to an uncharacteristically soggy Leavenworth.  Though a bit of the rain did manage to slip across the Rockies, Braden McCrea, David Briault, and Tyler Parenteau nonetheless had a productive trip sampling the limestone bouldering here. Braden came incredibly close to walking away with a rare send of Cognitive Dissonance (V10), but popped off the good edge at the end of the crux.  It was great to have these guys visit the area, they're a lot of fun!

The eternally-energetic Braden McCrea on Cognitive Dissonance (V10) and the classic compression line Sunspot (V5).  The Kelownians didn't have ideal weather, but still managed to get a lot done!

Huge thanks to Davin Simmons for sending along the photos!  Hopefully we'll get several more weeks of warm weather, there is always a lot to do at Frank Slide.  Also, I'll get a Photo Special blog post online with a ton of photos of The Channel (so many crazy shapes, so many photos...).  Until then, I hope everyone's fall is going well!  Happy Climbing!

David Briault on the funky and fun Eclipse (V5), just uphill from the Railway Boulder.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Days of Legend! (Part 3)

Idaho's City of Rocks looms large in America's climbing mythology.  Twenty-something years ago when I started climbing, the City's legendary status was on the wane, but stories of the granite spires rising architecturally from the rolling desert hills of southern Idaho still figured prominently in Climbing Magazine and in the collective consciousness of the climbing community.  Though I was never presented with an opportunity to travel to the City of Rocks, I often wondered about the bouldering potential of the area.  How could an area with so much granite not feature vast numbers of boulders?

During discussions of potential destinations, a visit to the City of Rocks has always been high on my list of priorities.  So when Kyle and I began to plan a trip to the desert, an opportunity finally rose (after decades!) to visit the City of Rocks.

The famous City of Rocks!  At last!  It only took me 20 years to get there...

Driving southeast from The Channel, Kyle and I wound our way up into the hills in the corner of Idaho. After an hour of watching autumnal hills and sagebrush pass by, I was excited when one last bend in the road finally afforded us a view of the granite spires of the City of Rocks.  After a brief stop at the interpretive center (a uniquely American institution, the interpretive centers in parks in the USA often feature a park ranger (or two) and a lot of information), we drove up into the park to find campsite.  We hadn't reserved a campsite, but given the fact that it was midweek and late in the season, we assumed that we'd be able to find a site.  We got lucky, and ended up in site 29, which featured a perfect bouldering wall that stretched for dozens of meters behind our tents, replete with pockets, edges, and huecos.

"Finding Huecos" and "Knob Problem!" were running jokes on our trip.  We finally found them in abundance at the City of Rocks.

For two days, we tramped, scrambled, hiked, and (occasionally) bouldered our way through both the City of Rocks and Castle Rocks State Park (just a few miles away).  The City is an amazing place, with unbelievable scenery and more multipitch climbing than you could do in several years.  However, it soon became apparent why City of Rocks is not a bouldering mecca.  While there are literally hundreds of boulders, most of the rock near the ground is loose and exfoliating.  Where the rock is varnished (desert varnish, not the hardware-store stuff) it can be very solid, but most of the amazing-looking patina plates and huecos are high above the ground.  In short, the higher you go, the better the climbing is, and the first 4 m or so are often rubbish.  On popular problems, the rock can be reasonably solid, but even on the most traveled problems crystals often pop off under your feet.

(top) More wildlife! Its always a treat to see lizards when in the desert. (bottom) The funky V4ish slab we did, despite the heat and exfoliating rock.

On our first day, we had a great time hiking around the City, but didn't really find any lines that looked appealing.  We knew that Castle Rocks had more established bouldering, so we spent our second day there.  Kyle had downloaded a guide to some of the problems at Castle Rocks, and we weren't disappointed.  We found a stack of V0 - V3 highballs to warm up on (some really brilliant and sometimes slightly spooky), including a very funky (but exfoliating) slab with blunt knobs and shallow scoops.  After we had warmed up, we hiked among the clusters of boulders, eventually settling down to climb a very cool compression line (once again, just high enough to be spicy) with great movement and some unnervingly thin patina edges.  After working out a sequence that worked, we both sent the problem.  Moving around to the backside of the boulder, Kyle managed to send a techy V7 dyno (though he didn't do the topout, mostly because of the height), and then we moved on to sample more of the problems in the area.

Kyle getting a little high in the desert as he navigates his way though patina edges in Castle Rocks Park. 

A very cool compression line, again in Castle Rocks Park.  The top was... committing.

There is a lot of bouldering at Castle Rocks, but much of it seemed a little too loose to be really amazing.  We goggled at some HUGE hueco-ridden boulders as we hiked around, but eventually dropped the mats to try a VERY cool 'comp problem'; a scooping slab rose up to a huge knob that was just out of reach.  We could see that if you gained the knob, you could mantle it to reach some better holds high on the face, but as we tried the line it became apparent that 'just out reach' would be a bigger obstacle than we thought.  Eventually we both sent the line, having a memorable (and hilarious!) time working what would prove to be one of the funkiest lines we did on our trip.

Getting funky in the Castle!  (top) Kyle on his way to nailing a V7 dyno (makes it look very easy), and (bottom) Who says all the "comp" problems are in gyms?  We both sent... after a while.

Satisfied  (but not blown away) by our time in the City of Rocks, we spent one more night at our (perfect!) campsite then headed north into Montana.  We were keen to make it to the Butte Bouldering Bash (the BBB, an outdoor 'festival' similar to the Tour de Frank),  and I was excited to climb at yet another new area.  After several hours of driving we finally rolled into Butte, Montana.  After digging up directions to the Trailer Park Boulders (and after realizing that Butte doesn't have a climbing shop), we headed up Homestake Pass to check out the boulders.

Years ago, Kyle had bouldered at Whiskey Gulch, an area at the southern edge of the Boulder Batholith, the huge expanse of granite that stretches between the town of Boulder and the city of Butte.  He hadn't been too impressed, having found that many of the boulders were too small, and the holds generally crimpy.  The Butte Boulder Bash was being held at the Trailer Park Boulders, so we headed up into the Batholith to see what the boulders looked like.  After wandering around in the forest on ATV trails (and dodging people on dirt bikes and quads) for some time, we finally found a a band of boulders that looked as though they had been climbed upon.  With dusk approaching, we hiked among the boulders, feeling holds and discussing the lines we saw.  Not wanting to get lost, we eventually headed back to the parking lot.  We were fortunate enough to meet Tom and Patrick, the two organizers of the BBB, who were kind (and enthusiastic!) enough to fill us in on development in the area. Satisfied with our explorations, we thought briefly about pitching our tents, but then decided to head back into Butte to find a cheap hotel.

Morning at the Butte Bouldering Bash!  Bozeman Climbing Club's van in the background...

The hotel turned out to be a great idea.  The morning of the comp dawned wet and overcast, though not terribly cold.  After breakfast, we headed back up into the Batholith.  We were excited to see that the parking lot was filling up with climbers from across the state (I think we were the only Canadians, though), with 70 - 80 climbers in attendance despite the inclement weather.  I was surprised (amused? impressed?) to see that the Bozeman Climbing Team had a van (a VAN! With a big decal!).  After Tom and Patrick went over the rules of the event with the eager crowd, the horn went off and everyone headed out.

We walked out into the boulders with Tom and Patrick, who toured us around some of the classics in the area. Exploration of the Batholith is ongoing, with new clusters of boulders being developed every year.  The Batholith must be one of the biggest areas of boulders in the United States, with hundreds of square kilometers of boulder-covered hills.  Most of the Batholith isn't terribly accessible (there are few roads that cross the Batholith), but that hasn't stopped development.  So far, well over a thousand problems have been developed, with potential for literally tens of thousands more.

Chasing Windmills (V7), a fantastic line on perfect rock!

After warming up on some very easy (but wet!) slabs, we walked over to sample the problems on the Superbia Boulder, one of the best in the area (perfect landing, perfect height, great rock).  We both did Supreme Perfection (V2 or V3?), and then turned our attention to Chasing Windmills (V7). Chasing Windmills involves climbing a short funky slab up to a crimpy sidepull just below a roof; from here, a tricky and mostly blind dyno to a perfect rail above the roof guards easier moves above to a fun topout.  Kyle is great at dynos, and as such I wasn't too surprised to see him send the line in only a handful of tries.  Everyone watching was psyched, and for the next 45 minutes a half-dozen climbers attempted the line.  The only other successful ascent was by a local who had done the line previously; I came close (by highstepping and reaching through the crux without jumping), but the move was simply too blind and too awkward to do statically.

While I tried Chasing Windmills, Kyle amused himself by trying La Mancha (V8) immediately to the right.  He was making good progress, but then tweaked his neck. (Yes, neck!)  It had started to rain, however, and while we were hopeful it would stop, it didn't.  The rain fell heavier and heavier, and after a half-hour or so it became apparent that the comp was probably over.  We waited out the worst of the rain with Erik Christensen (author of SW MT Blocs, the guidebook for southern Montana), who is a lot of fun and a font of information about bouldering in the state.

Eventually, we headed back to the parking lot, and enjoyed all the food and drinks provided as the scorecards were tallied.  Neither Kyle or I turned in scorecards, but hung out while prizes were doled out, hamburgers were eaten, and beer was drunk. I won a sweet 'Climbing Bozeman' t-shirt!  We had a great time, and were impressed by the organizing job done by Patrick and Tom.  With the skies finally clearing, we packed the car one more time and began the long drive back to Canada.  I'd love to come back to Butte again soon!

Patrick and Erik hanging out after the rain finally quit, as the Butte Bouldering Bash wound down.

Overall, we had a fantastic trip!  Tons of bouldering at new areas, lots of exploration, wandering the desert, great scenery, and a nice taste of American climbing culture!  Idaho and Montana are great destinations for a fall climbing trip, and we look forward to coming back soon!

PS> The Bouldering the Backwaters blog has a great photo series of the comp (you can even see Kyle and I in one photo!); if you're curious you can check it out HERE.

PPS> Mexican food for the win!

Monday, November 7, 2016

Days of Legend! (Part 2)

As we headed back north into Idaho, we discussed the likelihood that we would be able to find The Channel.  I knew virtually nothing about the area other than it was (1) a seasonally drained river channel, and (2) was basalt.  Kyle knew somewhat more than that, having scoured the internet for information; but despite his efforts we didn't know much more than it was about a half-hour (or so) north of Twin Falls, and it was somehow associated with the Magic Reservoir.

Twin Falls!  My expectations of Idaho were low, but it was actually a very cool place to visit!

We stopped at the climbing shop in Twin Falls to find out more, but the people at the shop had only been there once or twice, and recalled that it was near Ketchum (which is much more than a half-hour drive from Twin Falls!).  Luckily, they also provided us with the number of the climbing shop in Ketchum, and a quick call to them provided us with better directions.  The area was (as we originally thought) south of the Magic Reservoir, and quite close to the highway.  Armed with this information, and a solid breakfast, we headed up to the Channel to check it out.

Initially, we had no intention of spending much time at The Channel.  Indeed, we weren't even sure if we would find it dry.  The Channel is actually a small canyon that was created as the Big Wood River cut down through the basalt that fills much of the Snake River valley.  Every winter, however, the water that usually flows through The Channel is diverted for several months for agricultural purposes.  When we arrived at the Channel, we were excited to see that it wasn't full of water.  It had obviously only been VERY recently dewatered, though - there were piles of dead (but reasonably fresh-looking) fish and snails in many sections of the canyon, and in the deeper pools that still held water there were many living fish as well.

A wet summer makes for a green desert.  Sagebrush and flowers just outside The Channel.

After dropping down into The Channel, we were both simply blown away by both the quality of the rock and the crazily sculptured shapes of the canyon wall. To say that the canyon is filled with 'nature's sculpture' is a gross understatement; everywhere we looked were the most bizarrely sculpted shapes in the most perfectly homogeneous and bombproof rock (it almost looked like bronze in some sections).  We probably hiked through the canyon for two hours, running our hands over shapes that make the best climbing holds look crude and foolish in comparison.  Everywhere were shapes that were reminiscent of the works of Jean Arp, or sometimes Henry Moore, but on a monumental scale.  But the best part?  You could climb on them.

 In terms of holds and shapes, there are NO BETTER AREAS than The Channel. Full stop.

 Can you say 'perfectly radiused perfect fin-jug'?  I can, and did, over and over...

Sculpture.  The shape of the rock at The Channel is amazing.

Eventually, we grabbed our mats and started pulling on some of the fantastic-looking lines that we saw.  Smooth scoops, crazy stemming lines, sculpted huecos, too-good-to-be-true jugs - we tried them all.  Many of the problems were very easy, but some were clearly very hard as well.  Climbing in the Channel requires a LOT of body tension, good footwork, and a creative imagination.  Never have I climbed in an area that presented problems as interesting and aesthetic as The Channel.  By the end of the day, we were convinced about one thing; we were coming back the next day.

The rock in The Channel tends to be VERY smooth.  While this can make footwork tricky (even 'good' smears need to be used with focused care), it also means your skin lasts forever.  When we returned the next day, we were excited to try some more difficult lines.  After a seemingly obligatory "run around and look at all the amazing shapes" session, we warmed up on a funky stemming line that ended with a move to a hold that looked like an enormous falcon's head.  Then we turned our attention to a very cool line that featured a long and balancy move to a tunnel-hueco that perforated the lip of the canyon (Tonsillitis V?).  Kyle did the line fairly quickly, and I surprised myself by doing the line quickly as well.  I was excited to find that the hueco wasn't just a smooth tunnel; inside the void was another shape, an elongated blob like a smooth baby's head or short fish.  Crazy!

Kyle, styling his way up the funky Tonsillitis.

One soon runs out of adjectives to describe the holds when climbing at the channel.  'Crimps' and 'jugs' don't cut it.  We used 'shark's fin' a fair bit.  'Scoop' was also common, or 'fat fin', or 'giant fang', but they didn't really capture the shapes we encountered that well. When you start describing holds with phrases like 'torpedo tube with the sarcophagus of an alien baby lying inside it' you know you're really climbing somewhere special.

After doing a handful of moderate lines, we moved up-channel a bit to a long wall that featured what looked like (and indeed were) many amazing lines on perfect undulating rock.  We spend a half-hour or so scrubbing the holds (early season Channel = brushing silt, dried algae, and snail shells off the rock), but when we were done, we were excited to climb!

One line (which I had carefully swept) turned out to unbelievably hard (impossible? I spent five minutes simply trying to get on the rock, which would have been by far the easiest move on the problem), while other adjacent gymnastic/stemmy lines were easier but no less amazing.  We both did a crazy full-body stem / smear powerfully up a polished Buddha-belly line (amazing), and then both sent the 'climb a dinosaur's head' line several feet over (amazing). Have I said how amazing the lines are?

The very cool 'dinosaur-head' problem. I've certainly never climbed a line like that before!

It was starting to get late, so we hurried to climb as many lines as we could.  After a brief 'how do we do this' session, we both sent an improbable-looking line that involved a 'right then left "stepthrough?" kneebar sequence' (hard to describe the weirdness) that finished on a perfect sloping mega-fin.  In the growing darkness, we hurried upstream to try one more problem, a 'slopey fin to huge lipped scoop crossthrough dyno to a sideways-pointing tusk-fin', which Kyle flashed then repeated several times... just because.

I don't think we climbed anything too crazily hard, but I agree with people when they say that grades don't apply well to the Channel.  The movement is often so pure, and the holds so interesting, that assessments of 'that was cool!' are more appropriate than 'I think that was V5'.  Climbing at the Channel is as much art as athleticism, as corny as that sounds.  One thing I am certain of, however - I'll be back!

With sore shoulders (but lots of skin left!), we headed back to Twin Falls to find dinner and a cheap hotel.  The next day we were headed to our next destination... the City of Rocks!

PS> I'll post a much more extensive photo series of the Channel as well; I took hundreds of photos.