Thursday, September 14, 2017

Tour de Frank CANCELLED at this Time Due to Extreme Fire Risk!

As most of you are undoubtedly aware, there is a Fire Advisory for the Crowsnest Pass Area due to the extremely dry conditions in the area over the last month.  The Fire Advisory addresses the extreme fire risk, and involves both a complete fire ban and a forest ban.  We've been monitoring the Fire Advisory closely, especially since two days of rain was forecast for mid-week which would have reduced the fire risk substantially.  Unfortunately, the rain never really materialized, and the Fire Advisory has been extended for the foreseeable future.  The area remains smoky as forest fires south of the Crowsnest Pass in the Waterton Lakes Park and in SE British Columbia continue to burn.

I talked with a Frank Slide site manager this morning. The Frank Slide Interpretive Center has closed the interpretive hiking paths through the Slide, although access to the boulders from the Highway Parking Lots is still permitted.  They have indicated that they do not want any large groups of people in the Slide this weekend due to the extreme fire risk, and we are in agreement with them.  As such, we have made the decision to cancel the Tour de Frank Bouldering Festival this weekend.


Due to the fact that there is very little rain forecast for the upcoming weeks, simply postponing the event for a week seems unwise and unrealistic.  If there is substantial rainfall before the weather becomes too cool we may consider holding the Tour de Frank later this fall.  However, given the ongoing dry conditions, the likelihood of the 2017 Tour de Frank is uncertain.

We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause anyone!  We are deeply disappointed that the weather has not cooperated, and regret that we won't be able to show off Alberta's Biggest and Best Bouldering Area!  Check the blog for updates, we'll post if the event is rescheduled.

Huge thanks to those individuals and companies that support the Tour de Frank!  This year we have 14 sponsors (!) supporting the event, including climbing gyms, retail outlets, and distributors from across Alberta and southern BC!  Awesome Adventures (Lethbridge), Flashed Climbing, Friction Labs, Trailhead (Red Deer), ARQ Mountain Center (Cranbrook), Outdoor Research, Static Climbing Bags, Osprey, Rock Jungle Fitness (Edmonton), Grand Wall Equipment, Bolder (Calgary), Outside All Day (bringing you not just prizes but the new Frank Slide Bouldering tees), Spry (Crowsnest Pass), and Calgary Climbing Center (Calgary) all stepped up to support the event! Throw some support back their way!

Thank you for your interest and support!  It is your support that makes events like the Tour de Frank a reality.

If you are interested in travelling a little further afield for similar events in the near future, check out the Butte Bouldering Bash in Montana (Saturday, October 14), or the Dierkes Boulderfest in Idaho (Saturday, October 13 and 14).

Monday, September 11, 2017

Five Days Until the Tour de Frank!

On Saturday, September 16 - less than a week away! - Alberta's greatest outdoor bouldering festival / competition, the Tour de Frank, will take place at Frank Slide in the Crowsnest Pass!

Whether you have only climbed outside a few times, just love climbing, or are a serious competitive boulderer, the Tour de Frank has something for you!  It is a great opportunity to get outside and climb at Alberta's biggest bouldering area.  You can find all the information about the event (including where it is located) in the Information Package here.  If you are 17 or younger, your guardian/parent will have to fill out a long-form waiver, found here.

What Can You Expect at the Tour de Frank?

The Tour de Frank takes the form of a competitive event, but the focus is on fun, exploring the Slide, and climbing with your friends.  While you can find more information on the Climbing Life Blog (here, where you can also find a link to the information sheet), the day of the Tour de Frank will run as follows...

- In the morning, participants will being to arrive from across Alberta and BC.  The 'front desk' table will be set up in the boulders by about 9:30, with free coffee and pastries.  There should be flagging to guide you from the highway parking lot to the 'front desk'.

- When you arrive at the front desk, we'll provide you with a registration slip (which doubles as your ticket for prizes), and a score sheet, which lists all of the problems (routes) that are included in this year's TdF.  The problems range from 'incredibly easy' to 'brutally hard', but all have been selected to provide you with a great bouldering experience!  Pick a category, and get ready!

- We'll start the orientation at 10:45.  At 11:00 the horn will go off, and you will have 6 hours to climb all you want!  We'll have mini-guidebooks to help you find the problems on the list, and there will be several volunteers to help participants find problems they want to try.

- At 5:00, the horn will go off, and you'll return to the 'front desk', add up the score for the hardest five problems you climbed during the day, and turn in your score sheet.  While we determine the category winners, we'll have draw prizes for the competitors; we've got a stack of great prizes to give away.

- If you don't have a bouldering pad, don't worry; we will have some to loan out.  You should definitely have climbing shoes, though, it can be hard to have fun on the boulders of Frank Slide without them.

- If you don't want to climb competitively, that's OK with us!  You'll still need to sign in, but if you're new to climbing outdoors you might want to participate in our "Introduction to Outdoor Bouldering" seminar.  If you just want to climb with your friends for the day, that's fine too!

Our Sponsors? Amazing!

This year we have 14 sponsors (!) supporting the event!  Climbing gyms, retail outlets, and distributors from across Alberta and southern BC are sponsoring the event with a ton of prizes!  So if you walk away with free swag after the 2017 TdF, you have them to thank!  Awesome Adventures (Lethbridge), Flashed Climbing, Friction Labs, Trailhead (Red Deer), ARQ Mountain Center (Cranbrook), Outdoor Research, Static Climbing Bags, Osprey, Rock Jungle Fitness (Edmonton), Grand Wall Equipment, Bolder (Calgary), Outside All Day (bringing you not just prizes but the new Frank Slide Bouldering tees), Spry (Crowsnest Pass), and Calgary Climbing Center (Calgary) have all stepped up to support the event!  Throw a little support back their way!

Cost of the Tour de Frank?  Nothing!

Now in its fourth year, the Tour de Frank remains a free event!    It has certainly grown over the years, however, and we do incur some costs (advertising, free coffee and pastries for competitors, etc.).  If you'd like to donate a few dollars to help support the event just talk to the people at the sign-in table, or purchase one of our amazing new 'Frank Slide Bouldering' t-shirts (we'll have them for sale at the TdF).  Thanks for your support!

A Word About Parking

As always, parking at the Tour de Frank is a concern.  There is a fair bit of parking at the main parking lot on the highway at the eastern edge of the Slide on the south side of the road (about 500m west of the Fas Gas gas station and the A&W) be sure to angle park to save room.  It seems likely that this parking lot will fill up this year, however!

The best option to avoid this is to carpool to the TdF!  If you're driving from Calgary, Lethbridge, Red Deer, or SE BC, it makes sense to share a car and split the gas money.

If you arrive, and the parking lot is full, you have a couple of options.

First, there is a lot of street parking in the town of Frank (just 500m to the west).  You could drop your pads (and passengers?) off at the parking lot, drive into Frank and park, and then walk back to the parking lot.

Second (and maybe even better) is to use the parking lot at the Frank Slide Interpretive Center above the Slide.  It is a bit of a walk (about 1.5 km) between the Interpretive Center parking lot and the highway parking lot, though, so with a little planning it would make sense to drop your pads off at the lower parking lot, then get someone to help you shuttle your car up to the upper parking lot.

...And Finally, A Word About The Weather

The weather forecast for this Saturday is sunny and cool - perfect fall bouldering weather!  If the weather somehow turns TERRIBLE (for example, rain all day) or the local wildfires get out of control (and close down the entire Crowsnest Valley), we may have to reschedule the event.  Check the Facebook event page on Friday if you are concerned.  But it seems that the weather forecast for the weekend is good, so far!

See you at the Tour de Frank!

Friday, September 1, 2017

Tour de Frank 2017 Information!

Just two weeks now until the 2017 Tour de Frank!

On Saturday, September 16, 2017 climbers from far and wide will congregate in Frank Slide to enjoy a day of bouldering in Canada's greatest limestone bouldering area!  Come out to climb with old friends and meet new ones while pulling down on some of the best problems that Frank Slide has to offer!

The Tour de Frank is equal parts celebration of climbing, festival, and competition!  The emphasis, however, is entirely on having fun. As always, the Tour de Frank is a free event!  If you have climbed outside for decades, or if you have only been climbing a handful of times and just want to climb outside with your friends, come to the Tour de Frank on Saturday, September 16.

The TdF Information Package can be found HERE.  It contains almost everything you need to know about the event; where it is, when it starts, and how it is going down!  A few details will be announced on the morning of the event, but the Information Package will get you to the event!

All participants will sign a brief waiver when they show up (it doubles as your registration and ticket for the stacks of draw prizes we have).  IF YOU ARE UNDER THE AGE OF 18, you / your guardian(s) will need to sign a long-form waiver, which you can find HERE.  If you are under 18 and will be showing up at the event with your parent, don't worry, we'll have copies there.

We have a stack of prizes from our amazing sponsors this year!  Grand Wall Equipment, Flashed Climbing, Awesome Adventures, Osprey Packs, Outdoor Research (OR), Friction Labs, and Static Chalk Bags have all contributed to the prizes!

We've partnered with Outside All Day (thanks Kiefer!) not only as a sponsor, but to bring sweet Frank Slide T-shirts to the Tour de Frank!  If you want one of the amazing Frank Slide Bouldering Tees, bring a little cash to the event!

Excitingly, we have prize packs from local gyms to give away this year, with Rock Jungle Fitness (Edmonton), ARQ Mountain Centre (Cranbrook), Bolder Climbing (Calgary), Calgary Climbing Centre (Calgary) and Trailhead (Red Deer) all supporting the 2017 TdF!

A few things to remember as you get ready to drive to the TdF....

  • Bring lots of water, especially if it is hot outside!
  • Bring a jacket and hat; the weather can be hot / windy / cold / etc., and can change rapidly in the Crowsnest Pass!
  • We're going to have t-shirts for sale! Like I said! 
  • It is important that climber-related impacts to the Slide are reduced to zero!  Visit the toilet before you hit up the TdF (the bathrooms at the Visitor Center are deluxe), and don't litter!

See you there!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

More Tour de Frank!

The 2017 Tour de Frank is now only a month away!  On Saturday September 16, climbers will converge on Frank Slide to test themselves against a hand-picked list of some of Frank Slide's best boulder problems!

If you're new to bouldering at Frank Slide, this is a great chance to acquaint yourself with the rock climbing in Canada's biggest limestone bouldering area!  There are 1300 boulder problems (short rock climbing routes on boulders) at Frank Slide, with challenges for everyone from beginner to seasoned expert.  We have a fantastic list of sponsors this year, so come out for a great day of climbing!

Event posters will be going up at venues across Southern Alberta and Southern BC, so keep your eyes open!

More details on the this year's TdF can be found in the Information Package which is online HERE.

Here's some photos from last year's event!  Keep your fingers crossed for good weather again this year!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Tour de Frank 2017!

The 2017 Tour de Frank is coming!  On Saturday, September 16, 2017 climbers from far and wide will congregate in Frank Slide to enjoy a day of bouldering in Canada's greatest limestone bouldering area!  Come out to climb with old friends and meet new ones while pulling down on some of the best problems that Frank Slide has to offer!

The Tour de Frank is equal parts celebration of climbing, festival, and competition!  The emphasis, however, is entirely on having fun!  Over the next few weeks we'll be rolling out a number of goodies to get you ready and psyched for this year's event, including...

  • The 2017 TdF Information Package
  • The long-form waiver (for participants under the age of 18)
  • Photos from the 2016 TdF
  • The 2017 TdF Poster
  • The 2017 TdF Sponsor List
So stay tuned and get ready for the 2017 Tour de Frank!

Highballing on Railway Slab (V0), definitely a contender for the 2017 TdF List! 

Kyle pulling down on the perfect rock of the Beautiful Struggle Boulder.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Spring Training in Frank Slide!

After a somewhat cold and wet late-winter season, the spring in Frank Slide has been amazing!  Despite my assessment that some areas of the Slide are getting tapped out, new problems (and old projects) continue to be sent every week.

To kick the spring season off in late April, we spent a long day hunting down new lines in the Hulkamaniac Sector.  First, on the western end of the area, we put up a handful of new lines on a boulder that had been passed over in previous trips.  The crimpy lines The Pavlovian Way (V4), and Ring The Bell (V1/2) were among the worthy additions the boulder added to the Hulkamaniac area.  After a little exploration (what trip to Frank doesn't include some exploring, am I right?) we moved to the eastern edge of the sector, where I saw something fairly novel; a large boulder I had never seen before!  After a little work, we added the juggy Baba Yaga (V0, a nice height, and would be a classic if it were more centrally located), the high slab Chicken Leg (V0/1), and the very Squamishy Finisher (V3/4).

Mark starting up the edge-tastic arete of Ring the Bell (V1/2).

In May, we spent a few days climbing and fixing landings at the eastern end of the Karst Valley sector, on and around what we have come to call the Rusty Marker Boulder (due to the rusty survey marker nearby).  Dan A. put a great deal of work into climbing the lines on the Dirty Dan boulder, unearthing several great lines including the classic Dirty Dan Singing (V3) which follows a blunt arete up to an exciting topout.

Kyle on the cruxy first move of Dirty Dan Singing (V3), a great new line in the Karst Valley sector.

The Rusty Marker boulder itself yielded many moderate lines as well, including Minotaur (V3), the contrived but tricky Whistling in the Dark (V4), and the techy arete WAYSITHK (V5).  With a little effort, we also added a trilogy of harder problems on the so-called Escape Boulder nearby, on perfect rock; Escape From LA (V4/5), Houdini (V3 or V4), and the very cool arete Straitjacket (V5).

Dan and Kyle trying to decide how to Escape From LA (V5ish) (top), and Dan grappling with Houdini (V3/4) (bottom).

As the spring season progressed, I was keen to get back to some of the projects (both old and new) I've had my eye on in the City of Giants.  On a solo trip in late May I added several very easy warmups to the zone near the Bad Wolf boulder, including Solitary (V0), Confinement (V0), Rusty Cup (V0), and Rusty Plate (V0).  Up the hill, I also cleaned and sent a new line which is one of the best easy lines in the area, Victoria (possibly V2).  On a follow-up trip with Dan A. and Jonas G., we added a harder right-trending line to the boulder, calling it Victor (V5).  I also managed to send Paleofit (V6/7), which is one of the best V7s in Frank Slide, in my opinion.  I was also psyched to send Paleofit because I consider it to be one of the "Seven Sevens", a list of the seven best V7s in Frank.

Davin on the techy start of the arete WAYSITHK (V5ish).

In my estimation, the "Seven Sevens" of Frank Slide are...

1. Paleofit (V6/7)
2. Evangelist (V7)
3. Evan's Seven (V7)
4. Lost (V7)
5. True Detective (V7)
6. Fender (V7/8, IMHO)
7. The Ice Cave (V7)

In early June, I headed back out to The Slide with Evan and Kyle, where we hiked up into the Cit of Giants and repeated Victor and Victoria.  We also did a few Josh Bylsma lines on the Snake Boulder, including the amazing and spicy King Cobra (V5 or V6) and the horrifically dabby Sweep The Leg (V3).  I also put in a short session with Kyle and Evan on Evan's Seven, and although no one sent the problem, I did make some very good progress.  Next time, for sure!

Me on what is likely one of the best V2s in the Slide, Victoria, City of Giants (top), and Kyle trying to avoid getting bitten on the first move of the fantastic King Cobra (V5ish) (bottom).

With summer looming on the horizon, the bouldering season at Frank Slide is shaping up nicely.  I have lots of projects on the go, and with Tour de Frank only three months away, I need to get busy with that as well.

See you out at the boulders!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Hueco Dreams (Part 2)

Compared to other climbing destinations, rest days in El Paso leave something to be desired.  The dusty highway that leads from Hueco Tanks into the city of El Paso is lined with semi-abandoned acreages, automobile wrecker yards, used car part shops, run-down industrial parks, BYOB strip clubs*, and an adult drive-in theatre**.  Since none of these really seemed that appealing, we drove further into the city to explore the local culture.  El Paso is a city of approximately 650,000 people, and lies on the Rio Grande across from the Mexican city of Cuidad Juarez.  One of the most interesting cultural facilities is the El Paso Museum of Archaeology, which features exhibits describing the prehistory of the area as well as an extensive display of local first nations' art and artifacts.  I was keen to visit it, and graciously Davin and Kyle agreed to accompany me.  It is a fantastic small museum, and was certainly a worthwhile stop on our tour of El Paso.

* Yes, a real thing.
** Also a real thing in El Paso, apparently. Weirdness happens in Texas.

The mystical vibe of the streets of El Paso.  Always fascinating to visit another area of the world! 

Historical and pre-historical art of the El Paso Museum of Archaeology.  Worth the visit!

Growing hungry, we were excited to find a good Mexican restaurant for lunch.  A 'drive-around-and-look' strategy proved difficulty (many signs are only in Spanish, making it hard for non-speakers to even recognize restaurants), so Davin googled "mexican restaurant El Paso" to get us back on track.  After some discussion (and a fair bit of hilarity) we settled on the L&J Cafe, which we saw was located (ominously?) close to a graveyard.  We needn't have worried about the L&J Cafe, though; this restaurant has been operating for almost 100 years, and has been voted El Paso's best Mexican Restaurant for many years.  After we arrived, we sat down to enjoy some of the best food I've had in a long time.  I had the huevos rancheros (which were absolutely perfect), while Davin had the grilled steak fajitas (which seemed equally splendid), and Kyle had chicken tacos.  If you're ever in El Paso, check it out, but be warned - it can get quite busy!

Huevos Rancheros at the L&J Cafe... how I miss thee!

The day dawned warm and sunny as usual, and we packed lunches and gathered gear for our first tour of the trip; we were joining a tour of the moderate-to-hard problems of West Mountain that was being led by Shane (check out his great video of his Hueco Tanks season here).  Arriving in the park, we were finally able to cross the 'guided groups only' boundary into the backcountry of Hueco Tanks.  After a short hike, we warmed up on a few easy lines in the Skull Hollow area before heading deeper into West Mountain to try a steep line in the sun called Crash Test Dummy (V7).  One of the climbers on the tour was Sam, a chemistry professor from Ontario (a strong climber who we would climb with for much of the remainder of our trip).  Although everyone on the tour quickly began to make good progress on the problem, it began to get too hot for serious climbing in the full sun, and we moved on to find more shady lines.

Academia and climbing seem to go together... Chemistry professor Sam pulling on huecos in the Skull Hollow Area.

Shane thought we would enjoy a crimpy rising traverse on perfect patina edges called Animal Acts (V5), which also happened to be Emily's project (she was on the tour as well).  With a little luck, I managed to flash the line, with the owner of Rhino Skin Solutions (who had originally booked the tour) flashing it soon thereafter.  After a bit of work, Kyle and Davin sent the line as well, and while everyone was eating lunch I started work on a long funky V7ish problem that climbed out of a hole nearby. Before I could send it, people were ready to move on and we headed up to the cave of Between the Sheets (V4).  Although not particularly hard, Between the Sheets is long and steep (!), and despite our best efforts (and maybe because of the heat), almost no one on the tour sent it.  After climbing Under the Covers (V2) as a consolation prize, we headed up to the top of West Mountain to try two more roof problems, Body Snatcher (V4) and Booty Slapper (V5).  Though I managed to flash through the roof of the amazing Body Snatcher, I didn't have enough gas left to pull the mantle and dropped off.  While everyone else tried Body Snatcher, I walked over to look at a tall brown face with perfect patina edges and huecos nearby.  Pulling a mat over, I chalked up and climbed another perfect Hueco Tanks highball as the sun slid lower in the desert sky.  Our day on West Mountain demonstrated perfectly the two things that Hueco does well; steep caves and juggy highballs!

One of the Rhino Skin Solutions folks pulling hard on Animal Acts (V5) (I never did catch their names... my bad!)  

Kyle on the huge roof of Between the Sheets (V4).  Pumpy!

Wanting a fix of Mexican food closer to the Hacienda, we asked around and were recommended a place called Rancho Escondido by a friend of Sam's.  Although Sam's friend hadn't been there in a few years, reviews on Google looked very positive, so we headed out into the eastern fringes of El Paso to track down Rancho Escondido.

Following the map that Google provided, we grew increasingly confused as we drove into an especially dusty and sparse part of the city that seemed to feature empty lots, gravel roads, and a concrete plant.  As we neared our Google-determined destination, we found ourselves driving down a pitted gravel lane in the dark.  "Maybe it's a locals-only kind of place" I thought, as we pulled into a dusty parking lot behind a row of buildings.  I got out of the car to investigate, and as I peered through locked gates I started to feel suspiciously like I was in an episode of Breaking Bad.  Although I could see a few cowboy hat-clad men drinking beer, I definitely felt like something was off.  However, I could see plastic bull heads mounted on posts; maybe it was a meat-themed restaurant of some kind?

Feeling out of our depth, we headed into the more populated parts of El Paso to grab some food at El Taco Tote (a Mexican fast food chain). We would later find out that the restaurant Rancho Escondido of east El Paso had long since gone out of business, but the petting zoo Rancho Escondido was doing great business on the outskirts of El Paso!  In retrospect, this did explain why most of the reviews on Google focused on how much children seemed to enjoy Rancho Escondido...

The fun and gymnastic Body Snatcher (V4).

The next day, feeling strong and loving the warm weather, we headed back into North Mountain to pull on more perfect holds.  Climbing with Sam (who was proving to be a valuable addition to our Canadian posse) we warmed up at the Bawl and Chain wall, then headed into The Gymnasium.  The Gymnasium must be one of the most perfect bouldering walls in the USA, with a long overhanging wall covered with huecos of all sizes, rising to heights that range from 10 to 20 feet.  We did the amazing highballs 40 Ounce King (V0) and Bad Axe (V1), as well as the fun World Without Lawyers (V0) and Jimmy Hats on Parade (V0).  After a bit of work, we did the tricky Rhymes with Rich (V3) and Only the Little People Pay Taxes (V3).

Life springs eternal, even in the desert!  Water collects in the huecos after the spring rains, and an entire contained ecosystem erupts.  Here, a population of fairy shrimp swim energetically about in the pool inside a hueco, near the Small Potatoes boulders.

Wanting to climb something a little harder, we moved over to the amazing Stegosaur (V7/8), which climbs a funky rib feature out of a low roof to a high (but relatively easy) slab.  There was a young climber working it when we arrived, and he showed us the sequence he was using.  We opted to climb it feet first (which seemed a lot easier), starting with a toe hook on the lip and climbing a few moves 'backwards' before rotating to a 'head-first' position.  The difficult part was not the roof, however, but turning the lip (as we found was the case of many of the Hueco roofs).  It took us a little while to work out the beta, but when we did we all managed to send the line.  Now thoroughly warmed up, we packed up, and squeezed though a tunnel in the rock to try the devious King Cobra (V6).

The amazing gymnasium wall, North Mountain!  If moderate highballs are your thing, this wall is your go-to destination!

Kyle climbing feet-first, then (after flipping his legs back around) turning the lip of the funky Stegosaur (V7/8).

King Cobra epitomizes the 'compressing-scoops' style of problem that is common in Hueco Tanks (the other two common styles being 'roofs-with-huecos' and 'tic-tac-climbing-on-crimps').  As we worked the problem, it became obvious that sending the line would not be easy.  Virtually every move required a great deal of body tension; even with a kneebar pad the line seemed resistant.  After a solid session, Davin had a good redpoint burn, but couldn't quite pull through the final lip moves to the slab above.  With the day drawing to a close, we packed up and headed down the chains.

The next day was supposed to be a rest day for us, but Shane informed us that he had spots on a tour of East Spur.  Since we were keen to see more of Hueco Tanks, we dropped the cash and headed back to Hueco for a third continuous day of bouldering.  We had a huge day in East Spur, climbing almost 20 problems.  We warmed up low on east spur, including Udder Destruction (V1), Clumsy Plumber (V0), and the highball The Flexin' Texan (V1).  Heading up into the maze of East Spur we climbed the classic rail problem Vulgarian (V2), as well as Walrus in a Blender (V5)***, where I used the kneebar beta instead of dynoing (of course).

*** I was excited to do one of the 'Blender' problems, although it was not the classic Hobbit in a Blender.

Kyle on the perfect rails of Vulgarian (V2), with Walrus in a Blender (V5) visible to his right. (top) The textures of Hueco; sharp in cases, always fun! (bottom)

Davin and Kyle were psyched to try the classic dyno problem New Religion (V7).  Kyle does a V7 dyno in virtually every area he visits, and Hueco would prove to be no exception.  After a handful of tries to figure out the powerful moves leading to the dyno, he finished the problem in great style.  Davin came incredibly (!) close to sending, but had to walk away without doing the problem.  Since I am spectacularly bad at jumping, I didn't seriously attempt the line, but instead did the amazing highball UTEP (V0) before we packed up and moved further into East Spur.

Fellow Canadian Sam showing off the value of higher education on UTEP (V0).

Shane brought us next to the classic That High-Pro Glow (V6).  We had to wait for another group to finish with the line (it is apparently one of the three V6 East Spur classics included in the 6-6-6 tour of East Spur), but that gave us the opportunity to watch how other climbers navigated the pinches and slopers of the problem.  It also gave me the chance to explore the rock art in East Spur.  Just around the corner from That High-Pro Glow is a huge overhang absolutely covered in rock art dating back thousands of years, including earlier geometric and abstract paintings and later figurative works.  The bedrock floor of the cave also featured many metates, carved depressions in the bedrock used for grinding grains and seeds.  The sense of history is palpable at Hueco Tanks, and is one of the reasons that the area is so special.

The ghosts of past cultures are everywhere - and feel surprisingly present - in Hueco Tanks.  Metates and rock art in East Spur.

Once the line was clear, Kyle and I both managed to flash That High-Pro Glow, although I got punted off the nearby (and steeper, and crimpier!) Instant Expert (V5).  The grades in Hueco seemed mysterious to me, with crimpy problems seemingly graded much more stiffly than the steeper lines; I suspect that the advent of climbing gyms (and their easy access to steep climbing) has changed our perception of difficulty.  With the end of the day nearing, we left East Spur to try a few more problems in East Mountain; specifically the legendary roof problem Moonshine Roof (V4).

Moonshine Roof did not disappoint us.  The amazing 'surfboard' feature of Moonshine Roof is truly one of the most spectacular holds I've ever seen.  The movement of Moonshine Roof is also fantastic, with each move flowing into the next.  Kyle and I were happy to flash the line, and Davin and I then set out to try the harder Moonshine Roof Right (V5), which follows a much different line than the V4 version.  While we both got quite close the day was drawing to an end, and with throbbing fingers we packed up and began the hike back to the car and the Hacienda.

The day dawned sunny and warm, with perfect royal-blue skies.  After three days of climbing in a row, our hands were ready for a rest day.  However, having skipped a previous rest day, we were faced with a dilemma; should we head back to Canada immediately, or try to squeeze one more day of climbing in?  Davin was excited to get back on King Cobra before we began the drive, so we packed a lunch and headed back into the park for one more session.

The flaring hood and beautiful striped rock of King Cobra (top), and Davin on the tallest problem I climbed on my trip, beautiful huecos up perfect rock on our last day in Hueco. (bottom)

We warmed up one last time on moderate lines around the Bawl and Chains wall, then headed into the tunnel where King Cobra is found.  After a few attempts on the line, both Davin and I managed to successfully squeeze and kneebar our way up the problem.  Although it wasn't the hardest problem we did on the trip, we certainly had to work harder to send King Cobra than any other line.  Though my hands were feeling pretty beat up by this point, I was glad I had come back to North Mountain for one more session.  With the clock running down, we headed over to try Lobster Claw (V5).  Although we successfully sent the problem, I found that this beautiful line of huecos and crimps didn't climb as nicely as I thought it would, due to extreme polishing of the rock.****

Getting my pinch on!  The infamous (but polished) Lobster Claw (V5).

**** Don't wear trail shoes to climb on boulders! Sand on shoes contributes to rapid polishing of foot holds!  The same applies to rock shoes; always be careful to clean your shoes before trying a route or problem, especially in areas where the ground is sandy!

Hands now thoroughly sore, we packed up our mats, shoes, and chalk one last time and headed back to the car, and began the absolutely epic (30ish hour!) drive back to Canada.  We had an amazing time in Hueco and at The Hacienda (thanks Emily and Shane!), and I am definitely planning on going back (sooner than later, hopefully!).  The bouldering in Hueco is fantastic, and the shapes of the holds are among the best I've ever seen.  The next time I visit I'll either fly down or break the drive into sections... driving 30 hours straight is a terrible idea.

Next up... Frank Slide updates!

Mexican bakeries are amazing (top), and the crazy subdermal bruising of my fingertip pads after four days on at Hueco Tanks! #worthit (bottom)

The textures of Hueco Tanks!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Hueco Dreams (Part 1)

When it comes to the story of how Trent went to Hueco Tanks to go bouldering, we'd best start at the beginning.

Many years ago, I helped my friend Ryan Dorward and his brother Colin build a climbing wall in the basement of his mother's house near the University of Alberta.  Using scraps of 'found' wood, several generous donations, and more than a little scrounging, we constructed a great bouldering cave in which to while away the winter evenings.  The bouldering cave came to be known as the Barn Wall; I remember it being so-named because several of us built a big section of it one weekend in a fashion that we thought reminiscent of a barn-raising; alternatively, it may have been because the framing of one roof-to-bulge wall looked like the gambrel roof of a barn.  Regardless, the Barn Wall was an amazing place to climb, a laboratory where we learned how to heel-hook and mastered the drop-knee (both relatively recent innovations to us in the early 1990s).  The technical expertise and power we developed there would serve us well sport climbing in the Canadian Rockies, but the one experience we really wanted - yet seemed impossible due to the distance, associated cost, and time investment - was to boulder in Hueco Tanks.

The desert of New Mexico, beautiful monotony on the way to Hueco Tanks.

To poor students in the early 1990s, Hueco Tanks might have well been on the moon.  We went to school in the winter, and worked in the summer, a schedule that left little opportunity (or money) to travel to what was then the de facto bouldering capital of North America.  A handful of stalwart Edmontonian climbers made the pilgrimage to Hueco Tanks; Bonar McCallum, Trevor Tyre, and Simon Robbins had all (at one time or another) made the drive down to the Texan desert, leaving us to our indoor winter climbing pursuits.  Although the resultant 'Hueco envy' would eventually drive me to hunt for (and find) bouldering areas in western Canada (at the time "Canadian Bouldering" was an oxymoron), Shelley and I never managed to find the time or opportunity to make the trip to Hueco Tanks.

At this point in the story, we can leap forward many years to the spring of 2016, when Kyle and I had just returned from a (very) successful bouldering trip to Red Rocks near Las Vegas.  Between attempts on the latest project in the gym, we were discussing where we might go next.  "We should go to Hueco Tanks!" I said half-jokingly.  When Kyle replied that it sounded like a good idea, I knew that things were getting serious; Kyle doesn't joke around when it comes to bouldering.  After a protracted period of negotiation we settled on a springtime pilgrimage to Hueco Tanks, a trip I felt was long overdue.

Although the Hueco Tanks Public Use Plan is somewhat of a barrier to unfettered access of the area, Kyle did the necessary research and legwork to contact the Park and reserve tour-days for bouldering on North Mountain (the only one of the four mountains that allows unguided access) for several days of our trip.  This schedule would leave us opportunity to arrange for guided tours of the other mountains of Hueco Tanks (that require booking of guided tours).  We planned on meeting my friend (and New Mexico bouldering guidebook author) Owen Summerscales in Hueco as well; he knew a guide who would be willing to take us out on tours.

Bouldering trips (and long drives) are more fun if more people are involved, and since we were looking at an (at least) 26-hour drive followed by a week in one of the best bouldering areas on the continent, we thought it best to recruit another climber.  We invited Davin (stalwart Frank Slide local, strong climber, and all-round fun guy) to come along, and he was excited to join us on the trip. Kyle arranged for us to stay at The Hacienda near Hueco Tanks, partially because of its proximity to Hueco Tanks (just a mile or so away), and partially because we have decided we are too old to sleep on the ground.

Ferns growing out of the crack the splits the huge and aptly named Fern Roof, North Mountain.

Eventually, the day of the trip arrived, and we packed the car and settled in for what we assumed (correctly, it turned out) would be a soul-destroying drive from Lethbridge to the Mexican border.  Long drives always start out the same way - with hilarious banter, a bag of potato chips, and fun conversation - but after six hours a grim silence sets in.  Though we made efforts to break up the monotony of the drive with brief stops to eat, get gas, or switch drivers, we pushed on through the evening, past the night, and into the next day.  Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado passed by in a sagebrush-colored blur.  The ranchhouses of Montana were replaced by the high-desert emptiness of Wyoming, only to give way to the bustling urbanity of Denver.  The air outside the car warmed as the front ranges of Colorado morphed into the hills of northern New Mexico, only to give way once more to the deserts of the southwest, where expanses of cactus and yucca stretch away into the dun-colored hills.

We finally pulled into El Paso, and stopped to get groceries (the Walmart was still open!) and eat (El Taco Tote!) before winding our way out of the city toward Hueco Tanks and the Hacienda.  Almost 30 hours after beginning our drive, we finally arrived at our destination under the starry night skies of the Texan desert.  Having only slept in the car for a few hours (Kyle and Davin definitely slept less than I did), we were feeling sleep-deprived, but Emily (the AMAZING host of the Hacienda) showed us around the building, and got us settled in.

The next day was our first day at Hueco, and we had reservations to climb at North Mountain.  My friend Peter Michaux (one of the infamous Victorians and author of the first Squamish Bouldering guidebook) had sent us a list of must-do warm-up problems, which helped us focus our mornings on some of the best easy lines that Hueco has to offer. Arriving at Hueco Tanks State Park, we checked in (with both the guard at the gate, and the park office) and were sent along to watch the infamous 'Park Orientation' Video.

Yucca!  One of the ubiquitous desert plants that abound in the park.

Bureaucratic issues out of the way, we were finally ready to climb, and so we drove over to the north end of North Mountain and pulled our mats out of the car.  Stretching my legs, I walked to the edge of parking lot, and almost walked into a javelina (a wild pig) calmly eating a cactus.  I looked at the javelina.  It looked at me.  It kept gnawing away. Davin and Kyle came over.  The javelina kept eating.  Eventually, deciding it was outnumbered, the javelina wandered off into the desert, and disappeared silently into the yucca.  A good omen, I thought, a sign of an interesting trip.

We headed over to the JuJu area (following Peter's warm-up list) to find some rocks to climb.  We dropped our mats and puled on our shoes to climb JuJu Left and Right (V0s), then shuffled our mats over to the next wall to do the airy and satisfying Backscratcher (V1) and Bitch Magnet (V0), as well as a handful of other moderate lines.  Having waited 20 years to climb at Hueco, I wasn't disappointed; where the rock is covered with brown patina (the majority of the rock surface), the rock is incredibly solid, with even thin flakes seemingly bombproof.  The huecos were generally incut, though some were sloping, and the movement on the first lines we climbed was fantastic.  Having warmed up, we moved up the hill to find a recommended line called T-Bone Shuffle (V4).

T-Bone Shuffle is essentially an easy traverse (though the first footless move is tricky) capped by a big (and hardish) move to a huge hand-swallowing hueco.  As we were laying the mats down, we were joined by Eileen (a fun young climber who had been in Hueco several weeks) and the somewhat eccentric Donny (a Hueco guide who we referred to as 'Goggles' due to his habit of wearing a pair of oversized goggles as he climbed and walked around; we ran into him almost every single day we were in Hueco).  Though the dyno at the end of the traverse looked big, Kyle, Davin, and I all managed to flash the problem fairly easily, while Eileen did a variation on the line that traversed out the end of the boulder instead of doing the dyno.  Wanting to try something a bit more challenging, we all did a direct version of the line (V4 or V5) that climbed the prow to the right on crimps instead of doing the big move to the hueco.

The cacti often take on fantastic shapes, the result of regrowth after having been grazed up by javelinas.  They must have terribly tough mouths...

Warmed up, we decided to explore a bit to see what Hueco Tanks has to offer.  Running around the north end of North Mountain, we looked at pictographs (there are literally thousands of them at Hueco Tanks), mammoth polish (rock faces at ground level are often planed perfectly smooth where mammoths once scratched their sides thousands of years ago when Texas was a much more temperate place), cacti and ocotillo (spiny!), and the overhanging pocket- and hueco-filled faces that are everywhere in the park.  It is easy to see why climbers have been travelling to the area to climb for decades; the combination of solid rock, huecos, and overhangs is hard to beat.

One of the fun things about Hueco is that due to the fact that it is one of the centers of the climbing universe, and as such if you spend time there you will inevitably run into people that you've seen in magazines.  After doing T-Bone Shuffle, we headed over to try Sign of the Choss (V4), a tricky and high problem with a committing topout. As he meandered across the slabs of North Mountain, Davin ran into Alex Puccio, who had headed down to Hueco after winning the American Bouldering Nationals.  Seemingly everyday we saw climbers we recognised; Jason Kehl behind us in the lineup at the park office, John Sherman eating an apple.  In addition, it was fantastic to meet climbers from across the continent and the world, all equally excited to be in Hueco Tanks!

Sign of the Choss turned out to be hard and high (I whined that a hold MUST have broken), with only Davin walking away with a send.  Davin and Kyle also did the dynamic Choss Training (V3) while they were there; given my spectacular inability to dyno, I gave up on the problem after a half-hearted hop.  We still had some time to kill before the park closed, so we headed up the slabs to look at the legendary Sign of the Cross (V3, and a standard for the grade).  We wandered about looking for the problem (not knowing it was in a hidden room), but luckily found Owen Summerscales who pointed us in the right direction.  It was great to catch up with Owen (I hadn't seen him in years), and to hear about all the fantastic bouldering that he has been involved with in New Mexico.  Unfortunately, Owen had come down with some kind of grim virus and was heading home the next day instead of climbing.  He said that we should climb with his friend (and Canadian!) Sam who was down in Hueco for a week.  With the daylight fading, we packed up our mats, assured ourselves that we would be back to try the savage-looking Sign of the Cross (we wouldn't, it turned out), said goodbye to Owen, and headed back down to the car.  Thoroughly happy with our first day in Hueco Tanks, we drove out of the park and headed back to the Hacienda.

The fantastic Bawl and Chain (V0).  High enough and hard enough to be a little spicy...

The next day, we planned to head up to the top of North Mountain, which arguably holds the greatest number of famous problems at Hueco Tanks.  The day dawned with perfect weather, and I listened to the desert birds as I stretched and did yoga in the courtyard of the Hacienda, and watched as the climbers staying there geared up for the day.  Heading into the park, we shouldered our mats and headed up 'the chains', the trail that winds its way up rock slabs, guarded and directed by a chain railing.  We warmed up at the Small Potatoes Area, which would be our routine every day we climbed high on North Mountain.  Though generally considered to have a number of fun low problems, it also features amazing highballs such as Men in Chains (V0), Women in Chains (V0), and the knob-tastic Bawl and Chain (V0), all of which I included in my North Mountain warmup circuit.

The infamous 'chains trail' that leads up to the plateau of the North Mountain.

Wanting to try something a bit steeper, we headed into the eternally-shaded cave behind the Small Potatoes that hosts the funky cave problems The Hog (V5) and Hog Left (V7).  We grew excited as we arranged the mats beneath Hog Left; here at last was the kind of super-steep funky-scoop-compression line we had travelled thousands of kilometers to climb!  Chalking up, we squeezed.  We heel-hooked.  We tried to compress the huge sloping bowl-like features of the problem, all to no avail.  At this point, it became clear that we had a lot to learn about climbing at Hueco Tanks.

We moved on to The Hog (V5), only to find it equally perplexing, at least at first.  After a lot of discussion, and trying different sequences, we finally unlocked the key to the problem.  Compressing a series of blunt scoops allowed us to advance our feet, first to a heel hook and then to a high toe hook.  Once we had the beta in mind, we all did the problem quickly, excited to have started learning about the unique styles of Hueco Tanks.

Kyle trying to decipher the complexities of Hog Left (V7).  The Hog (V5) climbs out the prow to the right of Kyle.

Warmed up, we headed deeper in the maze of North Mountain.  Walking past classics such as Barefoot on Sacred Ground (V12), See Spot Run (V6), and the Fern Roof, we stopped to climb the classic Nobody Gets Out Of Here Alive (V2).  There is always a throng of climbers trying this amazing roof problem, and we stopped to hang out for a bit before flashing the line.  NGOOHA starts in a pocket and hueco, but then climbs through huge incut huecos and juggy rails out a huge roof.  Like many other roof problems at Hueco, it was astounding to climb on such a continuous array of perfectly sculpted holds out an almost horizontal roof.

Kyle on the fantastic jugs of Nobody Gets Out Of Here Alive (V2) (top), and one of the hundreds of 'mask' rock paintings that can be found throughout the park (bottom).  Hueco Tanks was a source of water during the dry months, and thus was used sporadically by several cultures over the last several thousand years.

We headed further up the mountain, winding our way through the cacti and yucca before finally arriving another line we wanted to try, Daily Dick Dose (V7).  I'd heard about the line for decades, but had never really seen a photo; I was not surprised to see that it was a huge roof, but WAS surprised to see that it featured only small, incut, but widely spaced crimps!  Keen to see what it was like (and bolstered by the beta of the two other people working the line), Davin and I laid out the mats and hopped on the line.  It became apparent that there were two ways to climb the problem; a static method that forced the climber to use a high heel on an edge to push into a gaston crimp on the roof, or a dynamic method that involved long pulls to edges and a dynamic move into a huge underclinging hueco at the end of the roof.  Needless to say, I attempted to use the static method, while Davin flung himself wholeheartedly into the dynamic beta.  After an hour or so, we were both making progress (I was piecing together sequences and had done most of the hard moves in short linkages, while Davin fell throwing into the final hueco several times), but our fingers were starting to feel a bit thrashed.

Woman-from-New-York (top) and Davin (middle) trying Daily Dick Dose (V7).  One of them walked away with the send...  Looking down on the climbers at Nobody Gets Out Of Here Alive and Fern Roof (bottom).

One of the people working the line with us was a very cheerful (and strong!) woman from New York City.  Halfway through the session she left for awhile to try another problem, but as the day wound down (the gates close at 5:00, and everyone has to be out before then), she reappeared to send Daily Dick Dose in a (very) impressive end-of-the-day send!  Glad to see the problem go down (though not by us), we packed up and hurried back down 'the chains' to the parking lot.  With throbbing fingers, we were ready for a rest day.

Kyle, end of the day, walking out past Fern Roof, North Mountain.

Next: Hueco Dreams (Part 2)!