Tuesday, January 19, 2021

2020: The Year In Review

Ah, yes! 2020! The year that has been so widely reviled and debased! The broad spread of the coronavirus responsible for COVID19 resulted in a number of governmental responses (both in Canada and abroad) designed to limit the epidemic. These policies may have helped limit mortalities, but certainly put a damper on the travelling plans of climbers across the globe. For example, I was in Roy, New Mexico when the initial restrictions were announced, forcing me to return home (quite) prematurely.  

For myself (and MANY other climbers), this trend continued throughout the year. Spring bouldering trips to the desert evaporated. My summertime pilgrimage to the Boulderfields in the Okanagan (home of the amazing Rock The Blocks climbing festival) didn't happen. Summer and fall trips to Montana and Idaho (home to some of the most amazing bouldering I've done in the USA) likewise fell apart.

Like any cloud, however, the COVID fog had a silver lining. Forced inactivity gave me time to work on the new Frank Slide Guidebook. My many solo trips to the Slide (to make notes and fact-check innumerable start holds, sequences, grades, and topouts) led me to explore the Slide more thoroughly than I had in a long time, which in turn made me realize that there were many undiscovered gems hidden among the blocks. 'First ascents' became my byword for 2020, and I had one of the most productive climbing years I've ever had.

Silver linings, indeed!

So, without any more delay, here are my climbing highlights for 2020!

(1) Without question, the biggest highlight of my year was the unbelievable number of new problems I discovered at Frank Slide! At the beginning of the year, Brayden B. (one of the talented routesetters at Coulee Climbing) and I semi-jokingly stated that we were going to shoot for 100 first ascents in 2020. We were, of course, anticipating many trips to the Boulder Batholith in Montana, which is a VAST area of granitic outcrops whose bouldering potential is largely unexplored. However, when the USA/Canada border closed, our dreams of FAs of granite blocks in the pine forests of Montana were dashed. For me, those dreams came back to life as I explored Frank Slide, and the number of first ascents I made there accumulated. As the months passed, and my days of climbing grew, so did my tick list. Eventually my FA list passed 100, and I was thrilled. As I passed 108 (my previous record for FAs in a year), I was astounded. I kept climbing, and kept finding new lines; I passed 200 FAs (a mind-boggling number of new lines) by midsummer, certain that my run would soon end. But then I found unclimbed clusters of blocks deep in the Gunwales, Hulkamaniac, and Lipsmacker sectors, and my total grew. By the end of the year, I had accumulated 309 FAs, a number that I would have thought impossible at the beginning of the year. All but one of these FAs was at Frank Slide, an area that I thought was more-or-less tapped out.

Mark D. checking out the final moves of Jolly Green Giant (V1X) this summer, on toprope before trying it with just a pad. Jolly Green Giant had a few ascents this year, but no one has fallen off the crux (right around where Mark is) just yet.

(2) Easy problems galore! Many of the new lines I climbed this year were quite easy (V0-V3), but the quality of the majority of these problems was fantastic. Some of these lines - like Son Of A Wanted Man (V1 in the Hulkamaniac Sector),  Levitation (V2 in Spiderweb), Fistful Of Tombstones (V1 in Hulkamaniac), Forest Full Of Ghosts (V1 in Gunwales), Alter Ego (V2 in Lipsmacker), Doctor Spacetime (V2 in Lipsmacker), Road Warrior (V2 in Townsite), The Deathless (V3 or 4, on the Baba Yaga boulder deep in Lipsmacker), and Le Funk (V3 in Karst Valley) are some of the very best problems in their grades at The Slide.   

Dan A. on the steep and juggy arete of Grizzly (V1) on the Bear Boulder. This was one of the new blocks that we climbed on this year; it yielded a very large handful of great easy lines, including the dyno Bear On A Bicycle (V3?4?) as well as the hard(ish) cave line Bear Down (V6).

(3) Mega moderates! One of the nice things about (COVID-enforced) solo climbing trips is that I can schedule my day in an efficient way. At The Slide, I like to warm up by shuffling rocks to build landings for new (or old) problems. This year, lots of days of climbing at The Slide equated to lots of warming up, which meant that the landings of the new problems I found got improved substantially. I found that in some sectors many excellent lines had been passed over because due to jagged blocks at their base, and with a little (well, a lot) of work some of these lines became amazing new lines. I was astounded at the quality of many of these moderates (V4-V5), and felt blessed as I built up the landings and unlocked the sequences of these problems. Among the top-notch new lines I climbed are Origami (a very cool V4 arete in Lipsmacker), The Unicorn (an unbelievably good and steep V3/4 in Hulkamaniac), Centipede (a rare V4 pure sloper problem in Hulkamaniac), The Wanted Man (V4, with a high, committing finish), Undertaker (a comp-styled V5 in House Sector), Vox Pop (V5, powerful and committing in Frictionary), The Dreaming (V4 or 5, one of the steepest lines at the Slide), and Traction (V5 in Karst Valley, very similar to the classic Aftermath).

The Unicorn (V3 or 4), in Hulkamaniac. This boulder is a lot steeper than it seems in the photo, and is one of the best lines at the grade in the Slide. A lot of solo climbing trips = lots of photos of rocks without anyone actually climbing in them.

(4) Brand-new boulders! Frank Slide continued to surprise me with that rarest of all commodities - brand new blocks that I hadn't really seen before. The biggest surprise of this category came in the form of a blurry (but strangely large) outline I'd seen on Google Maps, in the fringes of Gunwales (a sector not really known for good rock quality). Offhandedly, in a conversation with my friend Chris P., I suggested that he should go check it out - thinking that while it might turn out to be a wild-goose chase, it might also yield a few good lines. Intrepidly, he set off through the talus, discovering what would come to be known as The Witch House boulder, home to some of the best moderate problems in the Slide. A similar exploration had me searching through the trees west of the Slide, where I established a handful of new lines on the Memorial Boulder, including the world-class line The Dying Light (V4). In mid-summer, Dan A. and I had a blast putting up problems on a brand-new block that has come to be called the Bear Boulder (home of the amazing Grizzly (V1)).  There is always something new to see at The Slide!


The amazing 'bouldering gym' face of The Witch House (Gunwales Sector), that has a great collection of V3-V6 problems.

(5) Hard(ish) new problems! The downside to my endless explorations was a lack of effort dedicated to individual hard projects. Nonetheless, I did succeed on a handful of hard(ish) lines, including Bicycle 808 (V7, originally a Dan A. project that I thought impossible), Aquaman (V7, an old project of mine that I had previously given up on),  the funky Doctor Who Sit (V6 or V7), Bear Down (V6 on the Bear Boulder, with a very cool kneebar), and the unique Prismatic (V7ish, one of the best new lines that I did this year). I also managed to repeat Josh B.'s problem Little Trundle Of Joy (V6, though I think more like V7 personally), which is completely amazing. I didn't do anything harder than that this year, but maybe next year I'll focus on projects again!

Dan A. one of the new hard(ish) lines that we did this year, the fantastic Tenet (V6).

(6) Hard projects found! While I wasn't searching for hard projects, I certainly found a few. One of the more exciting projects I (re)discovered, The Teacup (maybe V8?), resisted my best efforts, unfortunately. As I hiked through the Slide, I kept a list of hard unopened projects; if I can manage to get in shape this winter perhaps I'll dedicate next spring to wrapping up some harder projects. 

(7) A little bolting. For a few years, I've had my eye on a multi-pitch line on the Emerald Lake wall near the BC border. Though I didn't try to find a partner to climb the wall with (for obvious reasons), I nonetheless managed to get the first pitch bolted, and work a bit on the second pitch. Hopefully I'll get my act together enough to finish the route in 2021. It'll be a fun line, probably 7 or 8 pitches long.

This is me holding my camera over the lip of the Emerald Lake Wall, looking straight down 8 pitches at the access road below. Exciting!

(8) A little caving (in a little cave). On one of my many 'looking for new climbing potential' hikes, I explored a short bluff not far from Crowsnest Lake. To my surprise, I saw a small cave at the base of the wall; convinced it was just a shallow alcove, I looked into the knee-high grotto, only to see that it extended deep into the side of the mountain. As far as I know, this is a previously-unexplored cave! I returned with my son Rowan and my wife Shelley (and headlamps) and we crawled in about 25m; there, the low-ceilinged cave opens up into a tall chamber. It may continue further, but I'd need to do some subterranean climbing up a steep slab to explore further. Maybe this year?

The cave I crawled into for a little extracurricular excitement! The mouth is about 5 feet wide and 2 feet high, though it gets a bit bigger inside...

(9) New area! For many years, I've searched southern Alberta and southeastern BC for new climbing areas. In the last half-decade, I've managed to find a few decent areas (one decent-looking but small crag in the Crownest Pass, and a nice bouldering area plagued with access issues near Cranbrook), but never hit upon anything very spectacular. That changed this year. A friend of mine who lives in SE BC gave me a tip about a new sandstone area he'd walked through; intrigued (and not being able to travel very far) I drove across the border to check it out. I was amazed at the quality of the rock - it is some of the hardest sandstone/conglomerate I've ever seen. There isn't a huge amount of bouldering (maybe only 100-200 problems max), but there is room for probably 100-200 sport and trad routes. It could be a exciting area, though it'll take a fair bit of trail work and route development. I'm definitely looking forward to spending some time at the area next year!

A typical wall at the (potential) new sandstone area just over the border into BC. No routes yet, but I hope there will be soon!

(10) Still climbing! One of the things that I am (increasingly) thankful for is the fact that I'm still climbing (at all). My knees and elbows are a little worse for wear, but I'm still climbing well, and still having a lot of fun. I'm the head routesetter at Coulee Climbing, which gives me another creative outlet in my climbing life. Climbing is also an important driver of my explorations of this fantastic world we live in, and though my wanderings were curtailed in 2020 I'm hoping that they resume in 2021. So thanks to all my climbing friends - at the gym, at Frank Slide, The Boulderfields, and beyond - and here's looking forward to a new year of finding new lumps of rock to climb on!  

The skull at The Witch House says 'Have a fantastic year of climbing in 2021!'
























 

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

the Frank Slide 666 List!

In the last few years, the number of boulder problems at Frank Slide has continued to grow.  I first estimated that Frank Slide 'probably' held more than 1000 problems (it certainly does!), then later declared that it would 'probably' have a maximum of about 1500 problems.  So far, my 'probablys' have been wrong, as the problem count at The Slide has likely passed 1700 problems, and is headed to a number somewhere around 2000 problems.

With such an overwhelming number of problems to choose from, many visitors to the Slide find themselves a bit overwhelmed.  With the resources available (27crags (which describes nearly all the problems) and a half-dozen mini-guides (that cover about half of the lines, and feature good maps of the areas)) it's not too difficult to find individual problems - if you know what you're looking for.  However, given that (a) the Slide is hard to walk around in, and (b) it's tricky to navigate the maze-like nature of many of the zones of the Slide, it's very problematic hike around and look for new projects to try.

Given these constraints, wouldn't it be great if there was a list of the best problems of a popular 'project' grade?  Inspired by similar lists in Hueco Tanks, I've made a 'challenge' list of the six best V6s in each of the three main areas of the Slide (i.e. 6 + 6 + 6 V6s), the North Slide (including Heart of Frank, House, Frictionary, City of Giants, and surrounding zones), the Central Slide (includes Karst Valley, Spiderweb, The Farm, and Hulkamaniac), and the South Slide (Healing, Albatross, and all the riverside zones on both sides of the river).  

To tick all of the 18 problems in the 666 list would be a fantastic 'lifetime' goal for many climbers; but if you want to up your game, and really explore the Slide, complete the entire 666 List in one season - finishing, of course, before October 31. 

I've avoided including problems that were too morpho (usually, with really long moves), too remote (hence, the lack of problems in areas high on Turtle Mountain, or on isolated boulders deep in the Slide), or highballs (especially those with bad landings).  

I'd like to also include a caveat for those attempting to climb all the 666 problems; primarily because not every problem suits every person.  When trying to complete the 666 List, I suggest that climbers should get a single replacement - where they can swap out any single problem from the List with another unlisted V6 of their choosing (and there are MANY to choose from!).  After all, it would be frustrating (!) to repeatedly fall off the crux of the last problem on the list on your last visit to Frank Slide in late October.

V6 is one of the best grades to climb in Frank Slide, and every problem on this list is amazing!  All types of climbing are represented - steep caves, aretes, hard face climbs on edges, and even a steep slab!  So, without any further ado, here's the Frank Slide 666 List! 

Northern Slide
1) Prodigal Son.  One of the steeper 666 problems, powerful moves on slopers.
2) Closing Remarks (aka The Juliasizer).  A hard traverse, similar to Red Rock's Alexisizer.
3) Nucleus. A great line with two cruxes on the famous Mushroom Boulder.
4) Shining Path.  A great (and long!) lip traverse not far from the Interpretive Center.
5) Trent's Cave.  A steep problem that follows a seam out a cave, low-end V6.
6) Paleofit.  A hard lip traverse on amazing slopers, immediately left of Trent's Cave.

Central Slide
7) The Cure. A very technical problem, with cryptic beta on perfect 'porcelain' stone.   
8) Man of Science, Man of Faith.  A classic Mark D. line, a great steep arete on good holds.
9) Giddy Up.  A great vertical problem on a sunny face, good project for a cold windless day.
10) Windigo.  A funky technical (almost comp-like) problem with a great hanging start, softer V6. 
11) Smack Talk. A powerful, steep line on edges and pinches, not far from the Healing Boulder.
12) Whale Bones.  The only slab!  A dynamic 'hop' start leads to hard moves on bone-like holds.

Southern Slide
13) Relentless.  One of the oldest 666 problems!  Very powerful moves to an easy, tall finish.
14) Killing Frost.  Killing Frost is an easier version of Energitus (V8), great movement.
15) Submarine.  A beautiful arete immediately beside the river; not accessible during high flows. 
16) Smoke Show.  A stellar problem through a bulge on the Tetris Boulder.  
17) Nautilus.  Another riverside problem, this one climbs through a bulge on perfect rails.
18) Graveyard Shift.  A great problem on sandstone-like limestone, fantastic movement.

I don't have great photos of many of the 666 Problems, but here are a few to whet your appetite!


Me on Prodigal Son (V6), a very fun roof/arete in the Heart of Frank sector, from a few years back.  Prodigal Son features beautiful slopers, a bit unusual for Frank Slide.



Two stellar V6s on the Giant Boulder, in the City of Giants.  The top photo is (a relatively young) Mark Derksen on what would become Paleofit (hard V6), and the bottom photo is Kyle Marco on the end of the rail/seam of Trent's Cave (V6), a problem I found (and partially excavated) on one my early forays into the City of Giants.


Kyle Marco on the sloping lip of Windigo (low-end V6).  Many of the problems on this huge block of amazing limestone in the Spiderweb sector have wind-themed names.

Me on the funky and committing arete of Submarine (V6).  There is often water running out from underneath this boulder, and aspiring climbers often lay their mats across bits of driftwood they've set on the rocks, with the water still running underneath.  A great problem on nice stone!

Saturday, January 18, 2020

The 2019 Climbing Life in Review!

Even after decades of being immersed in the world of climbing, I am still pleasantly surprised that new adventures and challenges continually crop up.  Lots of exciting things happened in my climbing life this year, and as always, I've written up a "Top Ten Climbing Things That Happened" List for 2019.  So here's a look back at 2019, and a bit of a look forward into the future.

1.  First Ascents!  As always, my drive to climb new problems and routes defines much of my climbing life.  There's something about doing a first ascent that excites me in ways that repeating an existing problem cannot.  I've never been certain about what drives me to hunt through the canyons, forests, and mountains of the world looking for unclimbed lines, but I think that the impetus arises from the fact that - to me - an unknown challenge is infinitely better than a known one.  To climb a rock face, and to know that the difficulty, sequence, and technical challenges are completely unknown, is a such a rewarding experience for me.
  
This year I had over 30 FAs in Alberta, BC, and Montana.  I didn't FA anything particularly hard (I believe the hardest lines were Archimedes Principle (V5) at the Boulderfields and South America Low (V5 or 6) at Homestake Pass, Montana), but I did get the FA of four amazing highballs - some of the best highballs I've ever done.  They include Evil Eye (V1, about 25 feet) at the Boulderfields), Chalky Boy (V0+, 25 feet) and Shirtless Bear Fighter (V3, likely close to 20 feet and really (!) steep), both near Boulder, Montana, and Montana Roulette (V0+, 23ish feet), Whiskey Gulch, Montana.  I'm always grateful to find new things to climb! 

Airing my heels out on the amazing Shirtless Bear Fighter (V3ish), near Boulder, Montana.  A fantastic (and intimidating!) line.

Of course, all of the exciting first ascents aren't mine!  I had a large handful of Frank Slide FAs this year (including the very fun Tick Tock (V4)), but my efforts pale beside the efforts of Frank Slide stalwart Josh Byslma, who has continued to mine the Slide for hard problems.  By my count, Josh has FAed about 90% of the hard problems in the Slide, making him (without a doubt!) the most important developer of hard bouldering in the province.  I wish he'd finally finish the Sunny Corner project, though, so Alberta could have it's first V14 (no, I don't think it's V13... ;) ).

Looking down at Chalky Boy (V0).  One tricky move near the beginning, then its a fun sequence up good holds to the top!  Brayden and I started calling this area Chalky Boy because everywhere we looked (except the highballs) we kept seeing dabs of chalk left by some unknown climber.  We joked that the climber must be pretty chalky, hence the name 'Chalky Boy'. 

2.  Not so much hard climbing (unfortunately).  This year, while I was heavily engaged in exploring new areas and doing FAs, I didn't get any projects wrapped up (at all).  I did (briefly) work a couple of very hard projects (including Chaos Amidst the Serenity (V10) at the Boulderfields), but in reality I didn't put any work into anything hard.  I did a couple of hardish lines (Holiday at Costco (V7) at Dierkes Lake, and Mountain King Right (V7) at the Boulderfields), but I did them both pretty fast.  In retrospect, I could have tried harder on hard things.  Hopefully, next year I'll buckle down and get some projects done!  I did onsight a couple of hard things (including Left of Green Room (V6)), which was nice.  Interestingly, even though I've dropped a V-grade off my redpoint over the last 15 years (I'm actually excited that it's only been one grade!), I've actually gained in terms of my onsight :).  'Old man magic', indeed!

3. New Areas!  Three (or four) of them!  The only thing that excites me more than finding a brilliant new problem is the prospect of finding an entirely new area.  To find a new area - of the magnitude and quality of Leavenworth or The Channel or the Grand Wall Boulders - is a lifetime goal of mine, but a goal that seemingly becomes less likely as the climbers of the world search every nook and cranny of the mountains.  This year, my endless hours of exploring the world on Google Earth finally bore some fruit, as I identified a handful of areas that looked as though they might provide good climbing.  After exploring them in the real world, I was happy to find that some of them actually held a lot of good climbing.  There are two areas in Montana that look really fun; (1) a granite area that Brayden and I hiked through that we called 'Little Foot' (referring to another nearby area (much bigger, but with poor rock) that we called 'Big Foot'), that looks like it holds a decent number of problems (hundreds?), and (2) 'Devil's Kitchen', a really big area (potentially several thousand problems on quite solid pink-and-grey granite) that I explored, where the rock features numerous small chicken heads (I'm still not sure how I feel about rock covered with small knobs, but they look fun to climb on!).  (3) I also checked out another potential area in BC, a great-looking area with schist rock (which, while solid, is unfortunately quite soft), which has a huge concentration of steep faces (but also faces substantial access issues), and (4) a new sport-climbing area in the Crowsnest Pass (dubbed Beggar's Canyon, in part because when trying to climb the crumbling and rotten rock of the Southern Rockies 'beggars can't be choosers'), which has surprisingly good rock (for the Pass, anyways) and room for about 50 sport routes.  Lots to keep me busy in 2020!

Brayden checking out yet another project at yet another new area - The Littlefoot Boulders, Montana.

4. Montana!  Our closest American neighbor continues to be the gift that keeps on giving.  I visited the Big Sky state for three trips this year, and always found new and exciting things to climb.  Much of Montana is very geologically and geomorphologically different from Alberta, so even though it is only a (relatively) short drive away (4H to Helena, 5H to Butte), the climbing areas feel very different.  Much of the bouldering in Montana is granitic, and often consist of exposed and eroded batholith rock (like the Buttermilks, as opposed to talus slope boulder fields, which are generally the case in Canada), so the climbing has a very different feel.  Homestake Pass, Whiskey Gulch, and Chalky Boy are starting to feel like home areas to me, and I'm excited to keep exploring!

The weird and fantastic rock of Devil's Kitchen, Montana.  This area could be huge, though it's a little off the beaten path.

5.  Object Climbing, and life as a Head Setter.  I've been the head setter at Coulee Climbing for about 18 months, and it's been a fantastic experience.  Coulee Climbing is a great gym, and the setting crew is a solid and fun group to work with.  Even more importantly, Randy Prete (the manager and co-owner of the gym) is great to work with; Randy's professionalism and geniality make my life a lot more pleasant!
Object Climbing Inc. (which has the setting contract for Coulee Climbing, and also produces a number of climbing products) continues to grow.  Object has several new products coming out in the new year, which will be exciting!  So far, I haven't made a huge marketing push, but with holds coming out in the next few months that'll change.  With a little luck, there will be Object Holds in a gym near you in the next several months; I've started shaping and mold-making, so once I have an inventory of 200-300 holds, I'll start marketing in a more serious fashion.  I'm hoping to make an impact on the western Canadian market, which is currently served by only a few manufacturers.  You can check out the Object Climbing website HERE.

I'm really happy how the Object Bouldering Brush turned out, and I'm looking forward to getting into the development of several new products in the new year!

6.  The 2019 Bouldering World Cup Series.  In my opinion, the 2019 Bouldering World Cup season was by far the best one so far.  As a setter, it is fascinating to watch setting (and thus climbing) styles change as the sport matures.  Prior to this year, the setting has been a little hit-or-miss, but the consistency of quality and the variety of styles employed made the 2019 Bouldering World Cup a treat to watch.  As a head setter, the World Cup events also hold a wealth of information about what other setters are doing around the world.  Very fun!

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Adam Ondra in the final at the Meiringen World Cup, and the hand jam that changed World Cup bouldering forever!  Thanks to all the setters and climbers for a VERY entertaining year!  ...and here's hoping that there's a hand jam in the Olympics! ;)

7. The 2019 Tour de Frank.  This year Alberta's greatest outdoor bouldering festival reached new heights.  With over 150 participants, and a long list of fantastic sponsors, the TdF continues to grow every year.  It is personally gratifying to see an event that I've nurtured over the years evolve into a bona fide bouldering festival.  We've got big plans in 2020 for the TdF; hopefully they come to fruition!  You can read about the 2019 event in detail HERE.  Congrats to the winners of the 2019 TdF, Andrew Funk (Men's Open) and Kaylee Tse (Women's Open)!

150+ people at the 2019 Tour de Frank!  Lots of people, lots of support, and a great interaction with the Frank Slide Historic Site!  

8. SABA.  2019 also ushered in a new era of bouldering in Frank Slide - an era in which the climbing community now liaises directly with the land managers at the Frank Slide Historic Site.  It's a long overdue move (especially with respect to the liability issues that surround the Tour de Frank), and necessitated the creation of an advocacy group whose mandate is to facilitate access to the bouldering areas of Southern Alberta and South-eastern BC.  While this organization - the Southern Alberta Bouldering Society (SABA) - was originally conceived by me, it was driven forward as a legal entity by the efforts of Adam Zelmer.  So huge thanks to everyone who contributed to SABA this year and became members!  If you're interested in supporting SABA, or just want to learn more, check out the website HERE.


9. Training.  This fall, Brayden B. and I have been working to create a training bible for Coulee Climbing.  In the course of this development, I've been training (actually!) in a sustained way for the first time in my life.  I've trained before, but mostly in a 'hours spent on the wall' way; this time I'm also training in a 'weighted dead hangs / campusing / repeaters / etc.' fashion.  Time will tell if it pays off, but so far my hands feel a lot stronger.  It's also made me realize that my biggest weakness is pulling power (which is both good and bad, I guess).  So all the training brings me to number 10 on my list...

One of the problems the Object Climbing setting team put up for the ACA-sanctioned bouldering comp held at Coulee Climbing this fall.  Huge thanks to Randy and all the people at Coulee Climbing for all the great work they're doing for climbing in Lethbridge!

10. New goals!  Despite my chronic over-eating during the holidays, I've been giving a lot of thought to where things are headed in the new year.  I've just turned 49 (my 50th year on the planet), and so it's time I turned up the intensity a bit!  I'd love to climb one (or more... ;) ) double-digit problems this year, but I'm excited to see what I can accomplish.  I'm hopefully headed to Roy, New Mexico in March, where I'm hoping to get on Mochuelo (V9), and back in Frank Slide I'm hoping to get on a few old projects and finish them off, including Dragon Fire (V9), Checkmate (V8), the Hojer Project (V8ish), and Ikigai (originally graded V6 by Mark D, in reality is more like a V8).  I've got a project at the Boulderfields as well (Kaiju, will be V8ish or maybe V9), so I'm hoping to get back there as well!
Mark on his new line, Checkmate (V8, or so he says).  It was an old project of mine (eventually FAed by Mark), and I'm hoping to get back on it this year!

But as much as I am looking forward to climbing some hard projects, I'm really looking forward to another year of exploring the world, looking for new things to climb, swimming in lakes, walking through the sagebrush and pine trees, and not getting eaten by bears or cougars.  So here's to another year of adventures!  See you out there!

Mochuelo (V9) in Roy, New Mexico.  Not me, or my photo, obviously!

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Ken Wallator - Jasper Climbing Legend - Dead at 52

In the early 1990s, at the age of 20, I learned to climb in Edmonton at the (now defunct) climbing wall located in the corner of the Butterdome at the University of Alberta.  I had wanted to climb for many years, but growing up in the farmland of northern Alberta precluded any mountain adventures.  After a winter of indoor climbing, I ventured forth to climb the rock faces and canyons of Jasper, first with my brother Wayne and then with a growing family of like-minded climbing folk.  Climbing was less urbane and sedate then, and with a genuine sense of adventure we explored the rock climbing arenas of the Canadian Rockies.

Of course, I was not the first to explore the blue-grey limestone crags of the northern Rockies.  Numerous names graced the pages of climbing guidebooks, listing the first ascents of routes they had climbed.  In conversations in climbing shops and around campfires, these same names were heard again and again, associated with adventures and exploits that fascinated me then, as they do now.

One of the names was Ken Wallator.  I never met Ken, but I certainly followed in his footsteps - in a very minor way - as I climbed throughout the Jasper area and made first ascents of my own. 

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Ken Wallator, northern Rockies climbing legend, dead at the age of 52.

Though I never met Ken, my life was influenced by him.  I always felt privileged to join (though in a peripheral way) the community of northern climbers whose names I could list without hesitation - Dale and Grant Diduck, Bruno Tassone, Sean Elliot, Eric Hoogstraten, among others - and the list was long.

So it was a shock to me today to learn that earlier this month Ken had sent off a final message on social media, and then disappeared into the northern Rockies.  Ken was 52 (just a few years older than I am), and was still climbing (a lot, and well, I gather).  In one of his final photos, he looks much like I do - a grizzled grey short beard, a weathered face, wearing a down jacket and toque.  When I head off to the climbing gym tonight I'll look and be dressed a lot like Ken.

Ken's story is not an unfamiliar one in the climbing community.  As the giants of the climbing tribe age, as their joints grow sore and their adventures increasingly become stories of yesteryear instead of the plans of tomorrow, they decide to leave the game entirely.  I can't say that I cannot understand the drive of many adventurers to leave on their own terms, to be carried out on their shield.  I turn 49 in a few days, and yet I still dream of climbs in the new year, wandering the deserts and canyons of the world.  But a life of adventure is precarious, and can't last forever.

Rest in peace, Ken, and godspeed.  I'll raise a glass to you - and your life - tonight.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

The 2019 Tour de Frank!

Several years ago, the Tour de Frank was conceived by fellow Frank Slide 'local' Mark Derksen and I during one of the long drives home from Frank Slide after a day of bouldering in the enormous field of limestone blocks.  Initially, we thought it would be fun to keep a running tally of the most difficult problems climbed by all the Frank Slide regulars in a season.  That idea, of course, was not particularly practical.  Fortunately for the climbers of Southern Alberta, the idea was  eventually reborn as the Tour de Frank Bouldering Festival – an inclusive event that celebrates bouldering in the Canadian Rockies.  Now in its fourth year (with one additional year cancelled due to wildfires in the area), the Tour de Frank has grown into a unique climbing festival showcasing the amazing limestone bouldering in the Crowsnest Pass.

This year's TdF Poster (featuring Mark D. on Checkmate (V8); huge thanks to all the sponsors!

The Tour de Frank (TdF) Bouldering Festival is structured like an outdoor climbing competition, with several categories (Youth (ages 11 and under), Junior (12-16), Beginner, Experienced, and Open) that competitors can enter.  However, the real focus of the TdF is to get people out to enjoy the excellent climbing in Canada’s largest limestone bouldering area (although, of course, competition among groups of friends can get pretty fierce, and there is a certain amount of prestige associated with capturing one of the Open titles).  This year’s TdF ran on September 7, with a scorecard that featured a selected list of 131 problems (from V0- to V12) in the House, Wild West, Frictionary, Heart of Frank, City of Giants, and Commodore sectors of the Slide.  Many new problems were included on this year's card, including Mark Derksen's Checkmate (V8), and the fantastic new moderate line 12 Hours to Squamish (V3/4).  

Climbers heading out into the boulderfield: undoubtedly the most people climbing in Frank Slide in a single day in history!

On Saturday morning climbers arriving at the Frank Slide Interpretive Center (used as the staging area for this year’s TdF) were greeted by free coffee and pastries, ask to sign a waiver, and given a scorecard.  At 11:00, the rules of the event were explained to the growing throng of climbers, and then after a blast of an air horn everyone headed out into the boulders for six hours of climbing!  
With a record number of competitors (over 150!) from across the region, this year’s TdF was a huge success.  Several volunteer guides were on site in the boulder field, helping climbers find problems of any style and difficulty they wanted to attempt. As the day warmed up, climbers scrambled through the area to fill their scorecards.  The Aftermath, Ninja Turtles, and Railway boulders were predictably busy, but climbers spread throughout the area finding gems to climb.  For those new to outdoor bouldering, there was also an “Introduction to Outdoor Bouldering” clinic (run by Kyle Marco) to demonstrate proper pad usage, spotting, and climbing technique. 

This year the TdF was coordinated by the Southern Alberta Bouldering Association (SABA), a newly formed non-profit society whose mandate is to facilitate access to bouldering areas across the region.  For more information on SABA (including information on how to become a member of the society), you can check out their website HERE.  We also worked closely with the Frank Slide Interpretive Center, to whom we extend huge thanks for their help, patience, and use of their facility (click HERE to read more about the FSIC and the programs they offer). 

Kennedy M. sending the hardest problem on the Ninja Turtles Boulder on her way to second place in her category!

The TdF is a free event, supported both by donations from climbers and our many amazing sponsors, including Flashed Climbing, Bolder Climbing Gym, Rock Jungle Fitness, Coulee Climbing Gym and Fitness, Spry, Westcomb, Awesome Adventures, Outdoor Research, Chaco, Object Climbing, Crowsnest Coffee, MadRock, Outside All Day, and Grandwall Equipment.  Without support from individuals and companies like these, the TdF would not be the festival it is.  The next time you want to go to one of these gyms or buy gear (or coffee!), throw your support behind these companies and mention you're appreciative of their efforts!

As the day warmed up, and people scrambled to fill their scorecards, sends of some of Frank Slide's most classic lines came fast and furious.  Cartel (V9) and Checkmate (V8) saw several ascents, and Andrew Funk's sends of Undertow (V10) and Dragon Fire (V9/10) was especially impressive.  With relatively windless conditions, the warm and sunny weather made sticking to holds a little harder than usual!  Once the final horn had blown and the climbers had made their way out of the boulders, the 2019 Open Category winners were Kaylee Tse (female) and Andrew Funk (male).  Andrew is now the only two-time winner of the Tour de Frank, and we’re hoping to see him – and all the rest of the participants – back for the fifth Tour de Frank next year!

More than 150 participants in this years TdF, a record!

Huge thanks to all the volunteers and sponsors of the event!  Without them, the TdF would not have emerged as the best outdoor bouldering festival in the province.  We're looking forward to a great TdF 2020!

2019 TdF WINNERS (1st, 2nd, and 3rd in each category)

Mens Open: Andrew Funk, Loic Fujinaga, Matt Hendsbee
Womens Open: Kaylee Tse, Marin Bonk
Mens Experienced: Jordan Heuvy, Joel Freund, Liam McBean
Womens Experienced: Amy Korina, Kennedy Moland, Holly Kalyn
Mens Beginner: Nick Baggaley, Christien Pepin, Jesse Kearl
Womens Beginner: Valerie Talbot, Lacey Brummelhuis, Aileen Davidson
Junior Men: n/a
Junior Women: Mari Wilson, Alba Luengo
Youth Men: Finn Donnelly, Rowan Hoover
Youth Female: Julia Marks, Sylvie Donnelly, Clara Trepander

Sends on the Wild West Boulder!  Congrats to all the TdF participants!

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Tour de Frank 2019 - The Information Package!

It's almost here! The 2019 Tour de Frank Bouldering Festival will be held this Saturday, from 10:00 until 5:30.  The Tour de Frank is structured like an outdoor climbing competition, but the emphasis is on enjoying the climbing in Alberta's biggest and best bouldering area, and connecting with climbers from across the province (and beyond)!

This year the Tour de Frank will be staged out of the Frank Slide Interpretive Center at the west end of the Slide.   To get to the area (if approaching the Slide from the east, i.e. from Calgary or Lethbridge) drive westward across the Slide, and make a right turn (up the hill) approximately 300m after you’ve crossed the Slide.  Drive about 1.6 km up the road to the Interpretive Center.

Park your vehicle in the large parking lot at the Interpretive Center, being sure to park at available spaces as far from the Center as possible (so regular visitors – some of whom may have limited mobility – to the Center can enjoy some of the more accessible spots).

Then, come and find us!  There will be a table set up at the Staging Area in front of the Interpretive Center starting at 10:00.  We should have free coffee and muffins for everyone, so feel free to stop by and fill out a registration slip / draw prize ticket.  When you sign in, you’ll get a score sheet with the list of boulder problems on it, with climbs that range from “easy beginner” (V0) to “as hard as you can handle” (V11+)!  We’ll have free guides available to help you find the problems listed.  We’ll start event orientation at 10:45, and the event will kick off at 11:00!

Once you've registered for the event (and entered for free draw prizes, checked out the gear from Flashed, and chatted with the Southern Alberta Bouldering Association (SABA, which will have memberships for sale...) you'll have six hours to climb in the Slide, guided by our host of volunteer guides who will make sure you find the problems (routes) that you'd like to climb.

If you haven't climbed much before, and want to see what this 'bouldering thing' is all about, come check us out.  If you have climbing shoes, bring them, and participate in our 'Introduction to Outdoor Bouldering' clinic.

This year we have many sponsors (!) supporting the event!  Climbing gyms, retail outlets, and distributors from across Alberta 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!  Coulee Climbing (Lethbridge), Awesome Adventures (Lethbridge), MadRock, Chaco, Flashed Climbing, Trailhead (Red Deer), Outdoor Research, Static Climbing Bags, Rock Jungle Fitness (Edmonton), Grand Wall Equipment, Bolder (Calgary), Outside All Day (bringing you not just prizes but the new Frank Slide Bouldering tees), Object Climbing,  and Spry (Crowsnest Pass), have all stepped up to support the event!  Throw a little support back their way!

...And, as always, the Tour de Frank is a competely free event!  We'll have the popular "Frank Slide Bouldering / Crowsnest" t-shirt for sale (to raise funds for SABA), so bring some extra cash if you want one!  Donations to support the event are also always welcome.

Read / download the Tour de Frank Information Package HERE.  It'll have all the information you need to find the event, how the event is run, parking, washrooms, etc.

To participate in the event, you'll need to sign BOTH (1) a TdF waiver that you can find HERE, and (2) a Government of Alberta / Alberta Culture waiver that you can find HERE.  We'll have copies at the registration table as well.

If you are UNDER THE AGE OF 18, and won't be there with a parent or guardian, have your parent/guardian sign the waivers and bring them with you!  Don't forget!

See you on Saturday!




Come out and enjoy a day of climbing in the Slide as much as this guy does! ;)

Photo Special: Rock The Blocs 2019!

This spring, I returned to the Boulderfields above Kelowna in June to attend the 2019 Rock the Blocs Bouldering Festival.  I've been coming back to the Boulderfields in late June annually for several years to climb in Rock the Blocs, and it gets better every year!  Huge props once again to Andy W., Jay, Jessica, Loic, Garrett, Braden, Quentin, and all of the rest of the Okanagan Bouldering Crew (there are certainly more than I've listed!) for running yet another great event.  Instead of the usual writeup, I've decided to have a photo edition of The Climbing Life instead!

The event was fantastic, and I managed to win the Masters' Category once again. :)  A huge highlight of the event for me was hanging out with Quentin in the Mountain King cave, and getting a very quick send of Mountain King Right (V7), certainly one of the few times I've sent a V7 in just a few tries.  Thanks again to everyone involved, I'll be back again next year!

I had a great time putting up some new problems in the Boulderfields this summer.  Here's Alissa on one of the lines I cleaned up this trip, Greek Orthodox (V3?4?) on the Greek Boulder deep in the 'Fields.  An amazing line on great holds!   

Sometimes you find a feature so compelling that you start to obsess over it a bit.  On the downhill side of a huge block of streaked gneiss in the 'Fields is a tall steep face with a huge crescent-shaped blade jutting out of it (I'm pinching it in my right hand).  What you can't see in the photo that the blade is only about 3 inches thick, with a squared-off edge, forming the perfect 6 foot-long pinch.  I climbed the bottom half of the problem, but the (easier, but quite high) end of the problem has a dangerously loose hold that needs to be removed before it can be topped out.  When that's done, though, Ulu (V5?) will be one of the most spectacular problems in the 'Fields. What I haven't mentioned, though, is that it also features a terribly dangerous landing zone. 

The Greek Boulder is one of the most interesting and wildly-shaped boulders in the entire area, and I felt privileged to put up a handful of lines on it, including Greek Orthodox (V3ish), Greek Unorthodox (V4, with a fantastic lip encounter), Gamma (V4), and the above problem, Archimedes Principle (V4 or V5).  Great pulls on sloping rails leads to a funky gaston and a long juggy rail finish.  Classic!

I tried some harder things, too.  I spent two short sessions working a very cool line of Andy's, a V9ish line on very sloping rails and big powerful moves.   

Finally, what would a trip to the Boulderfields be without a new highball first ascent?  Here's a blurry iphone photo of Kyle repeating my new highball above Dominator.  Still haven't decided on a name, perhaps Evil Eye (V0/1?).  A fantastic new line, with some very beautiful sculpted holds.

I've heard about the line for a few years now, but Alissa and I finally had a chance to try the infamous Spirit Bear Left (V7).  A great problem, but higher than I thought!  Above the lip (and out of the photo) is a very substantial slab!  Not for the weak of heart.  I worked it to the holds below the lip, but with only a few pads and one spotter it was getting a little too dicey for me.  Next time!