Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Channel Strikes Back!

Last October, Kyle and I spent a week or two adventuring through the arid hills of Montana, Idaho, and northern Nevada, continuing our search for the best bouldering in western North America.  We visited a half-dozen areas, and our reviews for most of the areas were generally mixed.  We both liked Castle Rock State Park, where the rock was really featured and solid, but I wasn't a huge fan of the exfoliating rock of the boulders of City of Rocks (Kyle liked how steep it was).  I really liked the wildness of the boulders of northern Nevada, but Kyle wasn't wild about all the crimps and how spread out the bouldering was.  We both enjoyed bouldering in the Butte Batholith, but vertical crimps are probably Kyle's least favorite style of climbing, and I thought the Trailer Park Boulders were generally too short, though fun.  One area we were both blown away by though, was The Channel in south-central Idaho.

Our accounts of how we ended up first visiting The Channel differ somewhat.  Though we had both read about the Channel long before we left for our trip last year, Kyle insists that it was his suggestion that we visit the Channel to check it out on a rest day.  In my memory, however, it was my insistence that drove us to visit the Channel.  Regardless of which story is true, however, one thing was certain after our two-day exploration of this amazing area. The Channel was a new hope* for western bouldering, and we would be definitely coming back.

Kyle bouldering on perfect bronze sculpture in the Channel, Idaho.

The bouldering area dubbed 'The Channel' is a narrow canyon cut by the waters of the Big Wood River into the flood basalt of the Magic Valley of southern Idaho.  Ordinarily, the amazingly water-sculpted features of a river canyon wouldn't be climbable (as they would be under water), but the water of the Big Wood River has been diverted for agricultural purposes.  For approximately half of the year, water still runs through the Big Wood River, but for the other half of the year (late autumn, winter, and early spring) the water is diverted into canals, revealing some of the most incredible holds sculpted from absolutely bombproof basalt.  The Channel is also one of the few places with really abundant bouldering on basalt (many basalt flows form columnar formations, which spawn only relatively small boulders).

This October, Kyle and I headed back to southern Idaho, but this time with a group of southern Alberta boulderers all psyched to boulder at this unique area; Evan (from Calgary), Ryan (from Edmonton), Brian K., Alissa and Justin, and Jonas and Jordana (all from Lethbridge).  As Kyle and I drove down through the northern states in his Subaru, I reflected that the 10-hour drive to Idaho was a welcome change from the 18-hour drive to Las Vegas, definitely a plus for those who don't like driving long distances (like myself).  We'd decided to avoid camping by renting cabins at the KOA near Twin Falls, which was a reasonably cost-effective way to have beds and hot showers without staying at a hotel.  It turned out to be a good place to base our bouldering trip, as the cabins were warm, the showers were great, and it was a little closer to the Channel than staying in Twin Falls.

Brian dynoing like a champion on Epi-Pen (V8?).  We didn't know the names of most problems...

On our first two-day visit to the Channel last year, Kyle and I had spend all of our time at the north-most part of the Channel (aka Black Magic Canyon, aka the "Fish Channel").  We had heard of another sector (the 'central Channel' where one can find the Cosmic Boulder), but hadn't had time to check it out.  On this trip, we got word of yet another sector to the south, which when we visited it turned out to be our favorite (in part because it was cleaner, had just as good problems, but was also free of the piles of dead fish that seemed to especially plague the north Channel this year).

As we moved between different sectors of the Channel climbing each day, we quickly settled into a rhythm.  Usually we would pack up lunches and mats, then head somewhere for breakfast (often IHOP) before driving north to the Channel (either the north or south sector).  Once there, we'd find a wall with a lot of warm-up climbs (easily done), and then disperse a bit to find and work projects for the day.  Inevitably, at some point during the day a group would come upon a particularly spectacular problem or feature, and a handful of people would congregate to work (and hopefully send!) the problem.  Not knowing the proper names for any of the galleries or sectors we'd encounter, we came up with titles for the areas we'd visited; "The Fish Channel", "the Red Channel" (one of the sectors had been fire retardant-bombed during the summer fires, staining it red), "The Rhinoceros Sector" (named after a prominent horn), etc.  Often the areas of the Channel that were near drop-in trails or the mouths of some of the more canyon-like sectors would provide great warmups, as the walls there tended to be more featured.

The fire retardant-stained rock of the 'Red Channel'.  Some of our favorite problems were in this area.

Every day we climbed at the Channel, we moved around to check out new sectors.  While the sectors varied a bit with respect rock texture, height, angularity of the features, and steepness (some were definitely more overhanging than others), we were never disappointed.  It seemed that each new bend of the channel hosted another chamber with a new and exciting profusion of basalt sculptures, and a mind-bending selection of new problems of all angles.

On our first day in the South Channel, we warmed up at a beautiful wall topped by a huge pile of driftwood (testament to the height of the flood waters that must periodically inundate the Big Wood River).  Beautifully incut jugs, aretes, and huecos on a slightly overhanging wall were the perfect warmup for a day of pulling on basalt.  One especially beautiful line started low, underclinging a feature that looked like a troll's head, then followed an angling crack up to a series of perfect jugs; a typically five-star line at the Channel.

Ryan on the amazing 'Driftwood' problem.

Warmed up, Brian got psyched to try a perfect compression line across the canyon from the warmup wall.  Unlike many of the other lines we would try that week, the compression line had a fall zone comprised entirely of large blocks.  Some of the posse were put off by the bad landing, but Brian's excitement was infectious and in a few minutes Evan and I were checking it out as well.  Commandeering a handful of mats, we set up a decent landing and set about climbing the surprisingly juggy compression prow.  It was so much fun, we actually did it a handful of times before moving on, looking for new projects.

Brian squeezing basalt in Idaho.

As we moved up-channel, we encountered a section (about 100m long) in which the rock was stained bright red from fire retardant.  There was a lot of evidence of fires in the area (much of the desert surrounding the channel was burned), and presumably the red retardant was associated with efforts to fight those fires.  Many of the problems in the red-stained section of channel were amazing, including a prow consisting of two consecutive bulges topped by two blunt 'rhino-horn' features (they're more amazing - and more common - at the Channel than you might think).  While we wandered about, ogling the amazing features, Alissa pulled on her shoes, arranged some pads, and started working the line,  Soon Jordana and Jonas got curious, and started trying the problem as well.  Not one to ignore such a cool-looking line (and the already-arranged mats), I pulled on my shoes and tried the problem as well.

The line incorporated an amazing and perfectly-textured sloping shelf, which led to a weird vertical slot-pocket, and from there an apparently huge reach would gain the pair of rhino horns and the weird scoops above.  After trying the problem a couple of times, I was stumped; I simply could not get my feet high enough on the bulge to reach the horns above.  A more careful look at the problem, however, revealed a perfect slot-undercling hidden in the shadows below the upper bulge.  Invigorated, Alissa pulled on to the starting holds, stepped up, pulled into the undercling, and rolled her shoulders far enough to clear the bulge and reach the horns. A few more funky moves up a runnel-fin-horn, and a grinning Alissa was standing on top of the wall.  Using essentially the same beta, I followed her up the problem.  Over the course of the day, most of the group would work and eventually send the problem; yet another top-drawer problem at the Channel!

Alissa looking as though she is getting eaten alive by the rock in the Channel as she sends the Rhino problem.

One of the amazing things about the Channel is the landings.  Coming from Frank Slide (which has the consistently worst landings of any area I've been to on earth), the gravel-and-sand landings of the Channel seemed fantastic.  Sometimes, we'd have to prop a mat against a boulder, or use a few to fill in an eroded hole, but generally the landings are good.  The landings clearly change from year to year, though; last year, Tonsilitis (V4) had a perfect gravel landing, this year the problem was 3 feet taller and featured a scoured-out, boulder-filled hole for a landing.

Brian looking solid on the amazing Obvious Crack (V4?) in the North Channel. One of the few problems we did that climbed right to the rim, many problems end on a big ledge.

In their explorations one afternoon, Evan and Ryan found an singularly amazing feature - a bizarre fin/blade which protruded at a right angle from the canyon wall.  At the end of the day, we coalesced around the problem, ready to explore the undoubtedly technical (and weird!) movement the problem would demand.  By squeezing, wrist-wrapping, and heel-hooking his way up the problem, Evan managed an impressive end-of-the-day send, while the rest of us were left without enough gas in our tanks to muster the power to climb the line.  Ryan and Evan returned to the line our next day in the sector, and Ryan came incredibly close to sending it as well, but was forced to walk away without the send.  We found out later that the problem is called Compression Technician; you can check out a video of the problem at 2:43 of this short film about the Channel.

From top to bottom: One of the amazing pothole-tubes at the channel; Jonas on a very cool and funky ooze-into-a-scoop problem; Jordana staring down her project, the line we referred to as the 'Rhino problem'.

Great climbing trips create amazing stories and great memories.  The Channel, set in the dramatic deserts of Idaho and replete with perfect problems and surrealistic shapes carved in basalt, definitely creates these stories for me.  While I don't have the time to share them all, there are definitely some that are especially memorable.  Justin, Brian, and I working an amazing sloper problem on a sun-drenched wall of basalt, with one of the craziest highstep-to-a-huge-sloper moves I've done in a long time.  Jordana working - and eventually doing - some of the first tall problems she's ever done.  Jonas dynoing for huge huecos whenever he could find a problem that demanded it.  Evan digging into and sending an angling crack with back-to-back dynos, that ended by wrestling up and into a huge sculpted spire/jug/fin.  Kyle and I working an a pocket-to-arete-to-scoop highball with one of the smoothest slopers I've ever touched.  Jonas dislocating his pinky toe by tripping over a mat. When you combine all these things with a trip to the weirdest "museum" in the middle of the desert, you've got the makings of a great trip!**

In contrast to many climbers, however, the Channel holds an extra, non-climbing, appeal for me.  As a huge fan of sculpture (and a sculptor myself), the endless fantastically-eroded shapes are (almost literally) mindblowing.  Everywhere one looks, perfect natural sculptures abound.  A bizarre tusk that looks like it was sculpted by Jean Arp, a rock lying in the gravel that looks like a Henry Moore, and a blade of rock jutting from the wall that looks like a piece by Etienne Hajdu.  If you love sculpture AND climbing, the Channel is a lifetime must-see destination.

I have many (!) photos of weird rock formations in the Channel.  Many...

Having injured my left hand fairly badly in early September (on The Evangelist (V7), see an earlier post...), I knew I would be focusing primarily on moderates on this trip.  Fortunately, the easy problems in the Channel are just a good as the hard ones!  Often problems in the Channel consist of linking discontinuous - but often juggy - features that are separated by smooth featureless basalt.  On the easier problems, these features are amazing (and amazingly accessible).  A problem might start by underclinging a huge cauliflower-like hold, only to move up to a perfect slot, then onto a giant rhinoceros horn, then up again to a series of scoops and huecos.  Though the problems in the Channel are often a bit tall, the topouts usually consist of huge incut pockets and horns, so the risk factor is low.  It's great to visit areas where the easy problems are just as good (and use just as amazing holds) as the hard ones!

Brian on the best V0- I've ever done.  The thing he's standing on looks like a huge giraffe's head jutting out of the wall. Amazing.

On one of the rest days we checked out the 'other' big bouldering area in the Magic Valley; the weathered basalt blocks of Dierkes Lake.  Although we didn't have time to climb here, I was surprised by the quality of the boulders, which looked fantastic (and a bit like California's Sad Boulders).  Dierkes Lake is definitely a sun trap (making it a good cold-weather option) and features sport climbing as well as bouldering, so we'll definitely spend some time climbing there on a return trip.  We talked to some of the people bouldering at Dierkes Lake, and were a little surprised that they had never heard of the Channel.

Justin checking out the rock at the Dierkes Lake, in Twin Falls.  Must be nice to have a bouldering area right in town...

One of the cultural perks of visiting the area (for curious Canadians, anyways) is that the small towns of the Magic Valley are untouched bastions of western Americana.  For example, on our commute to the Channel each day, we would drive through the small town of Shoshone, and the red awning of the Manhattan Cafe.  Once we indulged our curiosity and visited the Manhattan Cafe for breakfast, we realized how amazing a western breakfast of coffee, eggs, sausage, bacon, and unlimited pancakes can be!  If you're ever in the area, stop in for an amazing breakfast, and soak in some western culture!***

AH yes, the Manhattan Cafe!  A must-stop venue for breakfast when bouldering at the Channel.

On the last day of our trip, we headed out to the Channel with a skeleton crew of just Kyle, Ryan, and myself.  Brian, Alissa, and Justin had to head back to Lethbridge a day earlier than us, Jonas and Jordana opted for a scenic drive rather than a day of climbing, and Evan was sick (probably food poisoning; let's just say that it was a 'fluid' situation).  With just a few people, we had a fantastic day of circuiting around, climbing dozens of easy problems (including the only roof we climbed on the trip), as well as a few harder ones.  Kyle and Ryan ended the day (and the trip) with a session on an incredible "sculpture" problem, while I did a few of the amazing easy highballs nearby.  Feeling beat, we headed back to the KOA cabins to get one more night of rest before heading back to Canada.

End of the day send of yet another fantastic V0 highball at the Channel!

Even as we drove through endless sagebrush-covered landscapes en route to Canada, I started to look forward to my next trip to the Channel.  It's an amazing area to explore, with some of the most incredible rock I've ever climbed on.  I'll be back again, Idaho!  Until then, take care, and keep the potatoes coming!****

 Justin on a fantastic gaston-while-standing-on-the-head-of-a-hammerhead-shark problem.

 Kyle dynoing. Natch.

 Brian finding yet another problem to project!

 The snake we saved from drowning!  He looks happy... I think. (He wasn't).

 Justin on a  problem that we couldn't quite do.

Kyle on the so-called "sculpture problem", which only Evan managed to do, though Kyle came quite close.

* see what I did there? ;)

** ask Justin and Brian about their "two-meal meals"

*** the Mexican food in Twin Falls is great, as well!  You can't go wrong at the La Fiesta Mexican Restaurant!

**** my only Idaho potato joke.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Frank Slide Season!

Frank Slide!  Though some may disparage the blocky landings and the relentlessly technical nature of bouldering at Frank Slide, the fact remains that The Slide has become one of the biggest bouldering areas in Canada (and seemingly the largest limestone bouldering area in North America).  As any Frank Slide local knows, the blocky landings can be tamed with well-placed pads (it's best to travel with 2-3 mats or, more ideally, as part of a well-padded posse of climbers), and the technically-demanding style of climbing on even relatively easy problems quickly becomes a desirable feature of the area.  With about 1500 problems now found at the Slide, it has become an amazing area to spend time!

What many climbers don't realize, however, is that Frank Slide offers several additional advantages for the serious climber.  First, Frank Slide is a tick- and mosquito-free climbing area, a perk which is fantastic in the spring when the rest of western Canada is inundated with invertebrate pests.  Second, there is free camping immediately adjacent to the Slide, which definitely makes for a cheap long-term stay for the dirtbag boulderer.  Finally, the Cinnamon Bear Cafe is located in the Crowsnest Pass...

CINNAMON BUNSSSSSSS! From the Cinnamon Bear, in the Crowsnest Pass.  If any cafe can be called a 'climber cafe' in the Pass, it's the Cinnamon Bear.

This summer, we invested a lot of time in the Pilgrimage Sector, which is (or was) a relatively untouched area of the Slide across the Crowsnest River at the western edge of the Slide.  I had never been across the river to check out this sector until this summer, though I was aware than Mark D., Kyle, and Dan Anhorn had been over there a couple years ago and had put up a large handful of problems, including The River King (V3, reputed to be one of the best of its grade at the Slide).  However, the Pilgrimage Sector is aptly named; the approach is a bit complicated, and involves a river crossing and a bit of a hike.  This summer, however, the river was low and the weather was hot, making the wade across the river a lot more appealing.

Dan feeling irresistibly drawn to Strange Attractor (V3), in the Pilgrimage Sector.

Ironically, the first several times I crossed the river to the Pilgrimage I wouldn't make it to the River King Boulder.  On my first trip across the river with Kyle and Dan, we stopped to warm up at the Mayfly Boulder half-way up the slope, and stayed to enjoy the classics Mayfly (hard V3), and Washing Tons of Deliware (V1).  I added a hard arete line to the boulder, calling it Stonefly (V5ish).  Taking some time to check out the area, I wandered west to see if I could resolve a mystery; from across the river, another large boulder was clearly visible on the slope near the edge of the slide path, but I had never heard anyone talk about such a large block in the sector.  Crossing a small rise, I managed to find the boulder fairly easily, but it was apparent why it had never been climbed upon; it was tucked neatly between the trees at the edge of the slide and a ridge of talus, well hidden.  Walking around the boulder, I found what every boulderer hopes to find; a wide, well-featured, and overhanging face that rose to a perfect almost-highball height.

One of the first problems we put up on the boulder followed a line of blunt pinches up an overhanging prow.  After a few ascents, we removed a suspicious block; though the problem became a bit easier, the sequence was essentially unchanged.  The line, Tetris (V4), would soon be recognised as one of the best moderate lines in the sector, and was representative of the fun, technical, and steep lines that would emerge on the boulder in the ensuing weeks as Dan, Kyle, Davin, and I set about climbing all the lines we could manage.  Tetris was soon joined by Tetris Low (V6), the unique 2-Pock (V2), Rook Low (V3), and the crimpy highball Domino (V3/4) (all on the right side of the boulder), and The Squamishizer (V4), Strange Attractor (V3), the crimpy Pistolero (V5), Davin's Gunrunner (V8/9), Smoking Gun (V6), and the amazing Smoke Show (V6) (all on the left side of the face).  As the summer turned to fall, a number of linkups and alternate finishes were added to the boulder, as well as a dozen easier slab climbs, cementing the reputation of the Tetris Boulder as one of the best single boulders at the Slide for climbers of all grades.  A few harder projects still remain in the middle of the face, the so-called "Megos Project" and the "Hojer Project", both of which are likely in the V11 (or harder) range.

A well-tanned me pulling on the blocks and pinches of the incredibly fun Tetris (V4).

Later, I finally did make it to the River King boulder.  I quickly found that the boulder's reputation is well-deserved, as I climbed the perfect slopers of The River King (V3), the crisp edges of The Fisher's Mark (V1), and the deceptively hard Magic Carp (V4).  There are a number of harder (and taller!) problems on the boulder as well, and I spent a few sessions working lines with some of Frank Slide's most entertaining climbers, including Mark D, Kyle, Dan A., Josh B., and Stephan Pepin.  Josh B., apparently recovered from his devastating leg injury, added several high and hard lines to the boulder, including the bold Catch and Release (V6).  I'm definitely looking forward to getting back to the boulder!

The cruxy move to the lip on 2-Pock (V2).  Higher than it looks in this picture, the first couple feet of the problem are cropped off.

From across the river, it is apparent that the River King Boulder is paired with another large block of limestone.  This boulder (actually one large boulder split into two pieces) hadn't seen any action, so one session we shuffled the pads over and started cleaning up some the lines evident on the steep west face of the boulder.  Quickly, a trio of very high-quality lines were added to the boulder, Stasis (V4), Magnesis (V3), and Josh's Voyageur (V8ish).  Originally, the landings for these problems were pretty grim, but with some dedicated work (especially by the rock-shuffling machine Dan A.!) the landings have become fairly good.

The Pilgrimage sector has definitely become one of my favorite areas of the Slide.  The views are absolutely amazing, the trees and shrubs are a nice change from the rocks-on-rocks scenery of most of the Slide, and though there isn't a huge number of problems, the quality is generally very high.  Dan, Kyle, and I built an access trail that allows rapid/easy access to the area, especially the Tetris boulder; directly across from the big River Boulder (from which people jump all summer long) there is now a small cairn, the trail starts immediately upslope of this, switchbacking through the forest until it emerges in the talus below the Tetris Boulder.  The River Boulder itself is a great destination on hot days, allowing climbers (and non-climbers too, of course) to cool off by swimming and jumping from the top of the boulder into the river below.

Kyle locking off the second of the two pockets of 2-Pock (V2).

One of my goals this summer was to climb The Seven Sevens, a list of Frank Slide's best V7 problems.  Everything was going according to plan (I had done Evan's Seven (V7), one of the hardest V7s, and Paleofit, one of the easiest), when I attempted to do the next problem on the list, The Evangelist (V7), in a late-night session in early September.  It took me several tries to re-discover the bizarre beta for the first move, and so by the time I was getting ready to link the problem I was feeling a worrying pull in my left palm (the first move involves a weird false grip on an incut sidepull near an arete, so it's hard to engage your feet).  As I pulled on to try to link the first moves, my ring finger on my left hand (as well as the tendon of that finger through my palm) started to hurt.  I hopped off, taped it up, and tried the line again only to immediately jump off as my hand screamed in pain.  And just like that, my climbing season (and my quest for the Seven Sevens) was done.  I was forced to take some time off (which I generally NEVER do), and though I didn't know it at the time, I wouldn't get back to bouldering again until I went to Idaho in October.

Even more sadly, I would injure my elbow a bit working a hard arete problem at The Channel, which would delay my return to the Slide even longer!  Luckily, I was able to get out one more time to the Slide in 2017 on December 16 with Kyle and Alissa; I felt a bit rusty, but it was great to get back to the Slide! 

Davin pulling out his guns (and heel-hooking like a beast) on the tricky and powerful Gunrunner (V8/9).

Clearly, there were a lot more things going on in the Slide other than my exploits!  To keep things short, I'll run through a few of the highpoints (and lowpoints!)...

  • Josh B. exploded his leg, simply by trying too hard.  Apparently almost nothing can keep Josh from bouldering, though, and he was back after a few months off, sending new lines in a cast.  Notable additions were a handful of desperately dangerous highballs, including a few on the Mecca Boulder high in the Pilgrimage sector.
  • I was forced to cancel the Tour de Frank this fall, due to the extreme fire risk.  The hot and dry weather that made the Pilgrimage a nice summer destination made the entire Crowsnest area into a tinderbox.
  • The number of visiting boulderers to the Slide notably decreased this year. Slowly but surely, Frank Slide is becoming a thing.  
  • Notable visitors to the Slide included a visit from a strong Okanagan crew; Braden M almost flashed the infamous Cognitive Dissonance (V10).
  • Davin has been a solid presence in the Slide this year, sending some hard lines, and adding the classic Gunrunner (V8/9).
  • Mark D added a few hard lines, including Breaking and Entering (V8) (a good name, because it was a Dan/Trent project that we had cleaned/built up... just sayin'). ;)
  • I finally jumped from the top of the River Rock.  I know what you're thinking - it's no big deal - but it seems so high to me. 
Next blog post... the Fall Trip to The Channel in Idaho!  Stay tuned!

Davin, Kyle, and Dan hanging out at the Tetris Boulder. Amazing views from up there...

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Rock the Blocs 2017!

The Boulderfields, high in the hills above Kelowna, is rapidly becoming one of Canada's most important bouldering areas.  The Boulderfields basin, a square kilometer of densely scattered gneiss blocks and conifer trees, now provides boulderers from across the continent with problems of all angles, heights, and styles.  For the third year in a row, I decided to make a springtime pilgrimage from Lethbridge to Kelowna to sample the gneiss blocs that provide some of the finest bouldering in the country.  The Boulderfields is the perfect destination for a bouldering trip in that time of the year when spring gives way to summer; the area is warm enough to climb shirtless in midday heat, yet cool enough that the rock is a great temperature.  Once those factors are combined with flowering fruit trees, swimming in the lake, and sampling the coffee shops and art galleries of a 'pre-tourist-season' Kelowna, it is a springtime destination that is hard to beat - especially if you time your trip to coincide with the Rock the Blocs Bouldering Festival!

This year, Kyle and I once again made the trip out to the boulderfields, though we had to limit our trip to only a week as Kyle wasn't able to get a longer period of time off work.  The weather in western Canada has been weird this spring, contributing to both flooding in Kelowna and cool weather in Frank Slide.  Even though the weather forecast looked continually unsettled in the weeks leading up to the trip, the weather projections finally settled down to a week of consistent "sunny with cloudy periods" for the week of our planned trip.  We took this as a good omen, and stuffing the van full of pads, camping gear, and climbing shoes, weheaded west.

We wouldn't be climbing alone this year, though, as Frank Slide ex-pat and all-round amusing road-tripper Ryan F. was driving out from Edmonton to join us for the week. When Kyle and I finally arrived at the Boulderfields (after two deer near-misses, two coffees, hamburgers, and a cinnamon bagel from Big Bang Bagels in Fernie) we set up our tents, and gathered some wood for the communal bonfire.  Eventually we were joined by Ryan, and we sat around the fire discussing plans and projects for the upcoming week.  Justin and Alissa, climbing friends from Lethbridge, eventually arrived as well, and we were set for a week of climbing.

The fire pit at the Boulderfields is a fixed point in the Canadian Bouldering universe.  Years come and go, climbers visit and leave, and projects are worked, sent, and eventually forgotten, but the fire pit at the Boulderfields remains.  I've met some incredible climbers from across Canada and the USA while sitting around that fire in the cool mountain evenings, and this trip was no exception.  As we whiled away the evenings by the fire, we hung out with (and became quick friends with) two of the funnest (and funniest!) climbers around, Peter C. and Chelsea P.  We ended up climbing with them for a few days, wandering around the area, having a blast projecting some of the best problems in western Canada.  Another amazing climber that Kyle and I met and climbed with for several days was Alex C., an adventurer and photographer from Edmonton (Alex is an amazingly talented guy, but after a few beers is when Alex really starts to shine...).

 Kyle taking home some memories on the AMAZING highball Memento (V0/1). 

One of my big goals this year in the Boulderfields was to get back to two tall problems I had previously cleaned - but not climbed - during my 2016 trip to the area.  The first was a tall right-trending seam-to-arete line I had cleaned on the Serenity boulder, and the second was a line that I wasn't completely convinced I should seriously try; the tall center face of the Nerf Boulder.

The first of the two lines I had cleaned on toprope and worked enough that I knew I could sent it safely; I had planned to climb it in 2016 but had been rained out the last two days of my trip.  This year, with a enough climbers to ensure that that pad pit would be deep, we headed into the basin to try the line.  After a brief session in which Peter, Kyle, and I all managed to get fairly high on the line (it is probably close to 20 feet tall), I dialed in the sequence (which I had somewhat forgotten) and send the problem.  I climbed it really well, thank goodness; I hate sending things badly.  Sunny Side Up (V5ish) is an absolutely amazing line, with great holds (and fantastic movement) up an overhanging gneiss wave.

The stare down.  Peter Chiba hoping to get a full serving of Sunny Side Up (V5).

After succeeding on Sunny Side Up, we headed over to try the burly roof problem Pumping Iron (V7), which is very similar to (though shorter than) Leavenworth's Pimpsqueak (V9).  Despite a lot of energy, and collaborative beta (which is usually the best kind!), we all left empty-handed.  (*Note: I have no idea how shorter (less tall?) climbers do this thing... Staci? Braden? Seems so reachy...)

Psyched, I turned my attention to the unclimbed line of holds that lead directly up the tallest face of the Nerf Boulder.  I had looked at the line extensively in 2016, and spent some time cleaning it on toprope, but left without trying the line, for two reasons. First, there were two sections that I couldn't quite decipher a clearly-defined sequence for.  Secondly, the line is tall (really tall!).  In fact, it is higher than any other hard(ish) highball I've done (Squamish's Desire (V1) and Wendy's (V1) were tall but definitely not as committing, and The Doctor's Office (V6) at Bear Mt. isn't as tall).  After another toprope cleaning session (and trying some of the sequences), I was able to find smooth sequences for the two tricky sections of the problem.  The first became more straightforward when I found that a small slot was more positive than it had first appeared, and the final exit crux became manageable when I decided that I should simply trust and move quickly through a series of small sloping footholds high on the problem (not ideal when the footholds are more than 20 feet off the deck).

Get the guns out! Ryan Frecka hunting Ogopogo (V5).

Working the problem from the ground, I was able to make fairly quick progress to a big slot about two-thirds of the way up.  Chalking up, I tried to casually climb the last 8 feet to the sloping lip of the boulder, but I screwed my feet up, and got spooked.  Now nervous, I downclimbed to the slot and dropped wayyy to the mats below.

The next day, I returned to the line.  I took another good look at the tiny footholds that defined the final moves of the problem, and then pulled on my shoes.  I pulled through the first series of jugs to the first crux; a long move to an angled edge.  From there, more big moves on small incut slots led to the high, huge slot-jug.  Taking a breath, I chalked up and pulled through the slopers above, and in a few seconds was pulling onto the final high-step-rockover.  Feeling elated, I stepped on to the top of the boulder.  I hadn't really thought about what to name the line, but after a great deal of thought I decided to call it Ogopogo (V5ish). (*Note: the line was quickly repeated a few days after by the seemingly invincible Miles Adamson, in an impressive ground-up send. You can check out video of my send HERE).

Another line I was keen to get on was Out Of The Shadows (V7), a great line in the Serenity sector that climbs crimpy rails out of a deep cave.  I had tried it during the 2016 RtB, but had to walk away empty-handed when I couldn't hang onto the crimps long enough to do the big move out of the cave.  This year, with fresh fingers and after a fun session on the line with Peter, Alex, and Ryan, I sent the line.  Part of the reason I sent the line quickly, though, was because I used a knee-pad to knee-bar my way though the crux (Hueco-style!); as I walked off the problem it seemed that everyone was a little bummed with my kneebar beta.  Invigorated, and wanting to use the 'original' beta that most people had used, I put my shoes back on and managed to climb it again without the pad (definitely a bit harder!).  Vive la difference!

Who says what happens in Hueco stays in Hueco?  Me putting a pad to good use on Out Of The Shadows (V7).  *I did it without the pad too, but really, the kneebar was amazing with a little rubber.

I'm always excited for the climbing on the day of Rock the Blocs.  In a way, Rock the Blocs is like a boulderer's Christmas; the one day of the year when instead of carrying a stack of strapped pads around to your projects, you can cruise about the forest with one pad and a pair of shoes, climb with your friends and meet new people, and everywhere you go there is a stack of pads waiting underneath the boulders (well, at least on the popular lines).

The morning of the 2017 RtB, I awoke to the thrumming energy of hundreds of boulderers; all chatting, meeting new new people, sharing advice, and swapping stories while waiting for the event to begin.  Eventually, the indefatigable Andy White stepped to the front of the crowd, and introduced the event, defined the categories, and explained the rules that govern it.  I was entering the Masters (40+ years) category again this year; it seems that my years of entering the Open category might be gone (a fact which I am somewhat thankful for; I think you have to be able to crank out double-digit lines all day long to have a real shot at the Open).  The weather looked amazing for the event, and with the formalities completed, Andy blew the horn, setting off a mass migration of boulderers down into the Boulderfields basin.

Peter Chiba feeling the power on the crux of famous Surf Arete (V7/8).

After all the climbers had flocked down the drop-in trail to the boulders, I wandered about the now nearly-empty parking lot, eating a bowl of cereal.  I chatted with all the folks at the registration desk, and tried on a pair of the new Drone shoes generously provided by MadRock Canada.  Finally, I packed up my pad and headed down the stairs.  Waving to several climbers I knew, and briefly pausing to watch some I didn't, I headed over to the Surf Boulder to warm up.  I stretched, and did The Chipper (V1) several times (my standard warmup), before ambling over to watch a small crowd of people trying Shark Biscuit (V7).  I was motivated enough to try it once, but wanting to find something a bit easier to warm up on I headed down to do Dark Prince (V5) with my good friends Terry and Selena and their friend Jeff.

Eventually, Terry and Selena headed off to check out another sector, and Jeff and I decided to head down to the Serenity Sector (where I hoped to repeat Out Of The Shadows for my RtB scorecard).  Before we got there, though, we were decided to stop off and try FlowMotion (V4/5), a tall line nestled in an alcove beside the trail.  We both did it quickly, then headed down to Serenity where we did Firefly (V5), then headed over to do Out of the Shadows.

I had a blast climbing with Jeff; not only is he a great guy with a good sense of humor, but he's a fantastically smooth and technical climber.  He wanted to try some of the other lines in the Serenity sector, so we headed over to do Blue Pill (V5, which Kyle, Peter, Alex, and I had sent a few days earlier).  We ran into Mark Derksen, Frank Slide local and all-round strong climber, who was in the area for the RtB.  Quickly sending, we turned our attention to the funky and technical Jay's Pinch (V6), a line I had heard was really good, but apparently had only been repeated a few times.  Jeff and I spent a few minutes cleaning up a bit of moss, then set about deciphering the problem. It took a little time to figure out the movement, but after several attempts we both sent the line.  Although it doesn't look amazing, Jay's Pinch has fantastic movement and a thought-provoking sequence.  Definitely worth doing!

Kyle coming to grips with reality, amidst the endless patterns of lichen, on Red Pill (V6).

Eventually, we ran out of time (and energy), and hearing the horn blow we packed up and began to head up the hill.  On the way out, we met Ryan, who had managed to finally send his nemesis/project, the powerful and steep Full Chub Morning Weezer (V6).  Climbing out of the basin, we joined the throngs of climbers who were by now in full celebration mode as the (highly successful!) 2017 RtB came to a close.

I managed to win the Men's Master's category, which made me happy. ;) The real winner of the day, however, was Andy White and the rest of the RtB organizers.  They had managed (once again), to pull off a fantastic event, which is not only arguably the best event of its kind in Canada, but is a free event run entirely by volunteers.  Congratulations to them, and thanks a heap for an amazing time!

Alex gettin' swole on the brutally steep Pumping Iron (V7).

Kyle and I stayed to climb another day or two, but eventually it was time to head home.  As always, we had lots to talk about on the long drive to Alberta, discussing all the lines we had tried, and the people we had met.  We'll definitely be back again!  I've already compiled a list of projects to try, and I'm looking forward to the 2018 RtB! 

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!