When I finally finished university in early 2009 I was just about ready to explode, and for the next three years I was nearly always on back-to-back alpine climbing trips, making extended annual visits to Chamonix, Alaska, Pakistan and Patagonia. For three years I think I averaged about 180 days per year on glaciers! It was an amazing stint, and I felt very happy to be following my dreams in inspiring places. The one problem, however, is that I was progressing very slowly as a climber. One paradox with high-level alpine climbing, is that to some degree the more you do it, the worse you become at it. It is pretty standard to come home from an alpine climbing trip, especially one at high altitude, in worse physical fitness than when you left, particularly for hard technical climbing.
I have been sleeping in snow caves since I was ten years old, climbing glaciers since I was eleven, and throughout highschool and university I spent a humongous amount of time alpine climbing in the Cascades. Thus, I developed a massive alpine experience repertoire when I was young, but unlike most serious climbers my age, I missed out on the rock training. I didn’t start semi-regularly visiting a climbing gym until I was nineteen, and I never tried redpointing (as opposed to making an onsight attempt then moving on) a sport route until I was twenty-two, when I climbed my first 5.12a. Hard free-climbing continues to be my greatest weakness as an alpinist, and therefore where I have the most space to grow and improve, and I find that personal improvement is always very motivating.
A couple years ago I made a conscious decision not to visit the Himalaya for a few years, and instead focus all my energy on Patagonian alpinism in the austral summer, and training to improve myself as a climber during the northern hemisphere summer. It’s not that I burnt out on back-to-back alpine trips – quite to the contrary, I have to remain disciplined to NOT constantly plan alpine adventures, and instead dedicate myself to rock climbing for the bulk of the summer. In essence I am sacrificing some opportunities to try amazing objectives, with the hope that while I may attempt fewer objectives, I will be more skilled, and attempt more difficult objectives.
So, 2013 has been the third summer in a row that I have spent mostly training in Squamish. I do really consider it training, but I guess that the word “training” doesn’t really do justice to enjoying myself on world-class boulders, sport climbs and trad climbs. Add in the best weather in North America for the months of July, August and September, and the fact that my wonderful girlfriend lives in Squamish, is a hard rock climber herself, and is keen to rock climb with me all summer, and I can deal with missing out on the Himalaya for a few years!
One mistake that I made this summer was getting involved in route development here in Squamish. Along with my girlfriend, Sarah, and Jeremy Frimer, I spent about twelve days working on a crag near the top of the new soon-to-be-running gondola that we are calling the “Ultraviolet Cliff.” It was a good experience, and I’m glad to have helped contribute something to the local climbing community that I feel is of value… but I hope to remember not to get involved again! Holy smokes, route development is A LOT of work! The experience has definitely given me a large appreciation for the group of local Squamish climbers who do a large amount of route development year after year. Thanks guys! Oh, and if you’re curious about the crag that we’ve been working on, Jeremy has posted some inforation on it here:
I had a bit of a setback this spring when I fractured my cheek-bone in the St. Elias mountains, but all in all I had a good head-start on my rock climbing season this year by not spending 60 days in the Central Alaska Range! My springtime head start, combined with a bunch of time spent sport climbing this year, has resulted in some of my best “sends,” and of course it’s always nice to get a bit of positive confirmation that my “training” is working! A week or so ago, Sarah sent the classic highball boulder problem that we’d been trying, “Resurrection” (V9), and then this past Saturday I managed to send it as well – my first V9! The next day (yesterday), the unhealthy frequency with which we’ve been going sport climbing was justified when I sent “Freewill” (5.13c), by far my hardest redpoint. “Freewill,” on The Big Show wall, was established in 1995 by local Squamish badass Jola Sandford, and at the time was one of the hardest routes in the world established by a woman. It is a one bolt and one boulder problem extension of “Gom Jabbar” (5.13b), established in 1993 by Keith Reid, the first person to realize the potential of The Big Show.
It is a bit comical to have redpointed 5.13c, as I’ve only ever climbed two 13a’s before, and I’ve never climbed 5.13b. Having put in about 18 tries goes to show how much of a difference extensive rehearsal makes. Aside from ruthless rehearsal, I think the only reason I redpointed a grade so far above my normal level is because “Freewill” caters exactly to my strengths. I am generally a weanie when sport climbing, always scared to fall, but “Freewill” is so radically overhanging and the falls so obviously safe that for once I could let go of my fear completely. The route is also largely about endurance (the hardest moves are only V5 I’d estimate), which is generally a strength of mine. And lastly, the crux sequence is powerful moves off of sinker fingerlocks, and I’ve always felt better on fingerlocks than any other type of hold or jam.
The experience of redpointing a hard sport climb has certainly been rewarding, and I’ll definitely try to do it again, but it also makes me realize just how specific the accomplishment is. So, now I’ve “sent” a 5.13c, but I’m sure I’ll still get gripped leading 5.7 chimneys on El Cap, and I’ll almost certainly get a big smackdown any time I try to onsight 5.11 at Index. Just goes to show that the numbers don’t really mean all that much compared to the context – onsight vs. redpoint, sport vs. trad, finger cracks vs. offwidths, Index grades vs. Kalymnos grades, etc, etc, etc… But, anyways, it’s been fun training!
Sarah and I went out one day recently on the Chief with local photographer Chris Christie, to try and make a few cool photos, and have a go at the 5.12a pitch on the Lower Black Dyke. Photo by Chris Christie:
I tried to onsight the pitch, but ran out of gas after the first few bolts. I’ve heard some people speculate that this pitch is no longer 5.12a because some holds have broken off. I think it actually is 5.12a, but because there is no chalk on it you get really pumped groping around trying to find the right holds. If it were as chalked-up as the average 5.12a at Pet Wall or Cheakamus, I don’t think it would feel any harder. There was one scary, hollow, block, about the size of a small microwave, but otherwise the pitch was reasonably solid. If someone took the time (in mid-winter!) to re-clean the Lower Black Dyke, I think it has the potential to be a super cool route. There are so many climbers in Squamish these days who are up for the grade that I bet it would see more traffic than it did after the last cleaning. Photo by Chris Christie:
Myself on the lower part of “Freewill,” a few days before sending. Photo by our friend Jamie Finlayson, who could offer helpful beta and encouragement, considering that he often warms up with a burn on “Freewill!”: