Slow and Light (ish)

That's me trimming the fat, mid expedition. Even the zipper pulls had to go. I mean, really, this isn't Boy Scout camp, after all.

That's me trimming the fat, mid expedition. Even the zipper pulls had to go. I mean, really, this isn't Boy Scout camp, after all.

Fastandlight! Let’s face it – it’s sexy. When you open up that Backpacker magazine at the Dentist’s waiting room and see some youthful, vibrant Caucasian couple leaping across a flower-crested, gurgling alpine brook, and their packs are all tight, tidy and petite against their backs, and their clothes are colorful and clean, and – get this – they’re smilling! They’re smiling even though they’re backpacking, and so they must be traveling SO light. So light and so fast! Don’t they just reek of freedom? Doesn’t it just make you want to buy a hybrid Subaru, get all hopped up on Mochaccino and go places? Quickly? With very little weight? Mmmm….

That’s a nice little day dream, as I stare down the business end of a summer filled with 70+ nights out in the field, instructing and directing courses for Outward Bound. So take that above image and flip it a little: yes there’s gurgling brooks and flowers a plenty, but clean? Ha! Secluded? Sure, for me and 12 of my closest friends for the moment. Light? Oh god, not between the satellite phone; Armageddon-style medical kit; and a small bible of policies, procedures, and lesson plans. And fast? Forget it. One to two plodding miles per day. I love every minute of it, but I love it more if I’m not breaking my back under a behemoth backpack.

So, while Fastandlight is not in my immediate future, Slow and Light is (you know, “Light” relatively speaking). Despite some non-negotiable professional weight, and some luxury ounces for a bit of backcountry pampering, I do a lot to par down my pack – if you carry an overnight pack for three months a year, you’ve got to be weight weary (save the knees and such). Here are some packing and gear tips I use for my Slowandlight system:

The Pack

Pack accessories are just free-loading hitch hikers with crappy stories. Here are my hitchhikers post the mid-expedition pack surgery. Take that, ounces! I basically floated the rest of the trip.

Pack accessories are just free-loading hitch hikers with crappy stories. Here are my hitchhikers post the mid-expedition pack surgery. Take that, ounces! I basically floated the rest of the trip.

A true ultra-lighter would snag one of those sill-nylon type tube packs without a frame, stuff their sleeping pad in and call it good. Because I want a pack that has many season’s worth of bushwhacking in it, has the integrity to be a camp chair and climbing step, and has plenty of space to load up clients’ and students’ gear if they’re bonking, I use a sturdy old Gregory Shasta that I scored from the CSU OAP’s rental clearance years ago. But I cut all the damn danglies off of it, and never use the lid. That saves me close to a pound. I never was too interested in cutting superfluous crap off my pack until the middle of a 33-day traverse in Alaska with the most god-awful heavy pack I’d ever toted around. Half way through at our fist airplane resupply I suddenly became VERY interested in trimming superfluous crap, so I got out the medical scissors and my Leatherman and downsized!

Note the sleek, lid-less pack (somewhat off-set by that heavy nalgene...that and the pounds of smoked oysters and technical glacier gear).

Note the sleek, lid-less pack (somewhat off-set by that heavy nalgene...that and the pounds of smoked oysters and technical glacier gear). If this were an REI catalog I'd be leaping that creek.

Water

I go for the Platypus: 37 grams for a 2.5 liter capacity. A 1-liter Nalgene weighs in at 175 grams, and a 2.5 liter CamelBak is  around 212 grams. No filter, no water treatment tablets or drops. Just a good ol’ hearty immune system. When I do carry treatment I use a tiny bleach dropper (a couple drops will do). Then I let the bleach evaporate out of the bottle a couple hours later (theoretically speaking, anyway). Sometimes I hose myself, though, by carrying a 1/2 liter thermos (311 g.) – I just love an afternoon yerba mate session!

Sleeping Bag

No need for a stuff sack. Just stuff the sucker down  in the bottom of the bag. Stuff sack = 2 oz. I use a big, light trash bag to line my whole pack instead of individualized stuff sacks to keep everything dry.

Sleeping Pad

When I’m feeling rugged I go for a half-length ensolite pad or ThermaRest. Then I combine it with my pack, or climbing ropes, or flattened clothing to insulate the rest of me.

Ice Axe

Yeah, I hate to admit it, but sometimes lightening the load means buying new gear – I swapped my sturdy, tried and true Black Diamond Raven with Grip (505 grams) for a BD Raven Ultra (348 g.) for a net loss of 157 grams. Aw, snap!

Shelter

Mega Light mid, midnight light. Comes with a sexy, light trekking pole adapter. View optional.

Mega Light mid, midnight light. Comes with a sexy, light trekking pole adapter. View optional across the northern Wrangell-St. Elias National Park optional.

For it’s size and weight, I like BD’s circus-esque Mega Light. There are certainly lighter shelters out there, but for two people the Mega Light is downright luxurious. Plenty of space to organize your odds and ends before bed (which, if you’re like me, is very important). The Mega Light comes with a sleek, trekking pole adapter for the middle. What my community affectionately calls the “Chastity Pole” also serves to keep everyone’s ducks in a row, so to speak. You know, no smelly wads of clothing skewing the center line or unexpected midnight spooning. Or, if you’re into that kind of stuff, one side of the pole can be the gearage, and the other can be snuggle town. But still, there are categories and order. This is America, after all.

Well, friends, this is my last Tale From the Midcountry for the foreseeable future. Not too much internet access out in the bush (at least not for a guy with a circa 1999 cell phone). So, until next time, I bid you bon voyage, happy trails, smooth sailing. May your pack be light and your pace slow.

Mmmm...ultra light, ULTRA tasty. Even Joe agrees, food weight can make or break your back.

Mmmm...ultra light, ULTRA tasty. Even Joe agrees, food weight can make or break your back.

'Al Descanso!' Spanish for 'Offwidth'

Max, getting all froggy on the lower crux.

Max, getting all froggy on the lower crux.

I learned how to crack climb in the land of the off-width: Vedauwoo. I can still remember taping up for the first time, and sinking those first painful but thrilling jams into Edward’s Crack. I still have my tape gloves that my climbing partner gave to me that day (thanks, David!). On some autumn weekends during a particularly car-less fall semester at CSU I’d stand on the side of 287 by Ted’s Place with a sign: “Going Climbing.,” and I’d hitch my way up to Laramie to grunt in the Woo with a Wyoming friend.

Since moving out of FoCo I haven’t climbed much off-width stuff, but I was inspired by off-width fiend friends the other day in Moab and we made the 15-minute, .8-second approach to some 5.10 splitter offwidth on Wall Street above the Potash Road. Vedauwoo gets a bad rap (you know, bring tape, advil, and plenty of thrift store clothes to shred). But after chicken-winging and road-runneering on slick sandstone, I realized that I’d been a little bit spoiled by the Woo. At least there the crystals are so big that if you can’t hang onto them, they’ll at least hang on to you, and just about everything is a foot hold. Sandstone off width is nothing by squirming and squealing. Less painful, for sure, but a little trickier.

Adam enjoys the security of a chimney after working hard in splitter offwidth.

Adam enjoys the security of a chimney after working hard in splitter offwidth.

My King Fisher Tower partner, Adam, hopped on the sharp end after we warmed up on “30 Seconds Over Potash” and “Lucy In The Sky With Potash.” The route is kind of like the Generic Crack of off widths: spliter, pod; spliter, pod; repeat. As he reached the size-6 Camalot parallel crux, he writhed up, set a cam, and down climbed to rest before the final push. “A la muerte!” I yelled from the road, trying to evoke the macho magic of our favorite cri d’guerre. Seemingly inspired, Adam arm-barred, side pulled and thigh-mastered up toward the cam, sending slow and ferocious, and just at the apex of the effort….he down climbed again. “That wasn’t very ‘a la muerte,’” yelled Max, Adam’s belayer. “More like “Al descanso!” I yelled. “Al descanso!” When Adam finished his descanso, however, he saddled up and rode that wide horse all the way to the chains. “A la muerte, después del descanso!” That seems like a fitting new war cry, not to mention a worthy modus operandi, especially in the desert. Especially in the desert in the spring. So, once the TR was hanging, I put on the patched-up Carhartts, with long underwear, and ½ size too big Sportiva high tops with thick socks, and got back to off-widthing.

Then, Max’s climbing partner got on the thing and proved once again that 5.11 face climbers can hike right up – or rather, around – 5.10 offwidths. I guess even crack climbers benefit from a little crimp strength, eh?

Got any favorite off-width climbs or off-width stories? Share your grunt and glory in the comment box below!

Max, placing deep and clipping off-width style: with his teeth!

Max, placing deep and clipping off-width style: with his teeth!

Aiding Up The King Fisher Tower

Adam, enjoying the view from the top. Snowy LaSalle's in the back ground, and the Titan presiding.

Adam, enjoying the view from the top. Snowy LaSalle's in the back ground, and the Titan presiding.

Last week I got my first taste of  desert tower climbing and aid climbing. Let me tell you, they taste sandy and sour. Sandy because the rock – that material in which we put so much trust when we climb – was crumbling before my eyes. And sour, well, because standing in the top rung of my aiders on a rattly cam with 300 feet of exposure below me just put that funny adrenaline taste in my mouth. But you know what they say – sour grapes lemonade does not make (they say that, don’t they?). And sure enough, when the fear subsided, I took in the beauty of our bird’s eye view, I marveled at the smooth technical geekery aiding requires, and I felt pretty damn euphoric.

My friend and climbing partner, Adam, convinced me to have a go at the King Fisher Tower’s Colorado Northeast Ridge route  (III, 5.8, C2) in Utah’s Fisher Towers (home of such classics as Ancient Art). After cragging outside Moab on Wall Street, we picked up some groceries, drove out to Castle Valley, drank some of Utah’s finest 3.2 beer, organized our racks, and got some shut eye for an alpine start. The grade four climb would surely take us most of the next day.

The next morning, in the quiet gray of desert dawn, we parked in the Fisher Towers lot, ate breakfast and put the final touches in our packs: 4 liters of water, plenty of wind layers (a wind advisory had recently subsided) sun screen, and a tent pole. That’s right a tent pole. See, as we were about to head out, a climber zombie-walking to the outhouse saw us stuffing aiders and Jumars into our packs and wandered over to see what we were up to. When we told him we were going to try the Colorado Ridge, he said he’d been up it a few days before, and that he and his partner had to fix their first two pitches because they got stopped where a group of pitons had fallen out and left a big hole in the rock. They back tracked, grabbed a tent pole from camp, and ascended the next day by stick clipping a bolt 10 feet above the insurmountable gap.

Adam and I sped along the approach (mostly to make good time, but partly, I feel, to work out the nerves – this climb was going to be a challenge for us). Between quick breaths I got the down and dirty version of how to aid climb. Sensing my nerves, Adam asked, “How you feeling about this?”

“Well, I’ve never aided a pitch in my life, and this is nasty sandstone we’re talking about, so, all in all, pretty good.”

“You can lead the first two pitches,” he said. “One’s a bolt ladder, and the next is a 5.8 mud chimney. I’ll take the C2 pitches.”  Fair enough.

On the first pitch's bolt ladder. In the desert, just because they're bolts, does not mean they're secure! My first aid pitch.

On the first pitch's bolt ladder. In the desert, just because they're bolts, does not mean they're secure! My first aid pitch.

We found the beginning of the bolt ladder on the mud-coated tower, and began racking our gear and stacking ropes. Adam showed me how to connect my aiders to my daisy chains, and then use a fifi hook to high step. Confident in my ability to –  at the very least – not totally F up, I tied in, went on belay, clipped the first bolt, and headed up via a mix of expansion bolts and rusty mud nails. On bolt number two I laughed out loud at the novelty of stepping up in my webbing ladders. Such fast, tangible progress! On bolt three, my aiders got dismally tangled with all the other crap dangling off my harness and gear slings, and I looked down at Adam dutifully belaying: “Honeymoon’s over!” I shouted. From there the learning curve accelerated. Step, step, clip, hang, clean, clip, step, step, repeat.

Adam, leading up the third pitch and trying to find the least bad placement. Note the tent pole taped to his harness.

Adam, leading up the third pitch and trying to find the least bad placement. Note the tent pole taped to his harness.

Pitch two was a fairly easy but unprotected mud chimney that got the heart racing, but it felt familiar and comfortable to be free climbing. Then I passed the lead to Adam for the next two C2 pitches. We punched the clock, ’cause it was business time. Adam soon found himself in the first crux of the route: a flaring, crumbly constriction requiring a small tricam. “Watch me dude, I’m kinda scared up here,” he said. “I’m going to bounce test this piece.” As he bounced he looked down at me to keep the rock from shattering in his face. Sure enough, the tricam blew out, and Adam fell into a surprisingly soft catch on the piton a few feet below him. Reality check. After reworking his placement, he continued up through tenuous terrain taking tipped out cams and rattly tricams. He finally gained a ledge, where he unleashed the secret weapon: the tent pole. He taped an open ‘biner onto the pole, put the rope through, and made his reach. The wind had picked up, and we were both shivering in the shade in the middle of the sunny desert (remember, it’s the Northeast Ridge). The wind made Adam and his tent pole look like a fly fisherman who suddenly finds himself in a terrible dream. He became audibly frustrated as the pole whipped in the gusts. Finally, in a calm spell, he clipped the bolt, and hauled up on the lead line. Four hours in, pitch three complete.

That's me dangling from my mental crux: the roof on pitch 5.

That's me dangling from my mental crux: the roof on pitch 5.

My crux of the climb was the fifth pitch (C1), where the line split a free hanging roof. A flaring crack took two lobes of a size 4 camalot, and then two lobes of a size 2 camalot, but I threw in a slotted tricam and a size 1 camalot just for confidence’s sake. Hey, the rock sucked and so did the rusty piton below me. Not to mention the 300 feet of wind beneath my feet. After wiggling like I was in an offwidth and smashing my hands about a gazillion times between carabiners in the crack, I pulled up over the roof and clipped a bolt. Then I got the pleasure of run out 5.8 face climbing to a big ledge and our next belay.

Adam finished the route up a 5.8 chimney, and then we bouldered the cap rock together. 11 hours, bottom to top. The sun was dipping low, and we had to curb our urge to laze around on the summit for infinity. Below us hoodoo canyons rippled through the land. The Colorado river flowed lazy to our west. Red rock and shadows textured the earth for miles. I looked down at places I had camped as a kid, and an overwhelming sense of time, nostalgia and catharsis rushed over me. Time to descend.

The light oozed sunset red as we rappelled the route on solid, but scary looking desert anchors: bundles of old webbing around geriatric pitons. A route that took us 11 hours up required about one hour down. And if we’d gotten any ropes stuck, we would have had a long night ahead of us. We made it back to the car in the dark as the stars erupted from the atmosphere, thirteen hours after starting. Behind us the silhouette of the King Fisher was crowned by a single point of stellar light. Across the parking lot a family roasted marshmallows, children laughed, and dogs yipped. We sat on the tailgate and relived the day’s events: “Dude, and then you were like…oh my god, and your aiders were flying out to the side, and….Dude…” We sat quiet, too, and basked in the peace of struggle and accomplishment. All the while reconciling the vertical life with the horizontal; the bird’s eye experience with the human condition.

Mmmm....desert anchors. And this is a good one!

Mmmm....desert anchors. And this is a good one!

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Out of The Harbor, Into The Blizzard

Bundled up and preparing to reap the rewards of ascent.

Bundled up and preparing to reap the rewards of ascent.

“A ship is safe in the harbor, but that’s not what ships are built for. And there is more in you than you know.” That’s what I told the group of nine aspiring backcountry snowboarders and skiers last week during their first dinner circle on the 8-day Outward Bound course that I instructed.

With those essentially Outward Bound concepts in mind, we headed out of our comfort zones for a week of backcountry riding and learning. Throughout the week I was reminded of how fast and deep humans connect to each other through shared adversity, struggle, and resilience. We spent the first part of the week preparing for a four-day overnight base-camp expedition: we prepped enough gear and calorie-rich food for 11 people, acclimated to the Rocky Mountain altitude, and got used to western-style snow and riding (most of the students were from somewhere pretty darn close to sea level east of the Mississippi). On the second day we rode in t-shirts and plenty of sunscreen at Ski Cooper to practice tree and powder riding, and on the third day we toured up Mayflower Gulch, between Leadville and Copper Mountain to get used to climbing on skins or snowshoes and learn some group travel and avalanche companion rescue techniques.

On the fourth day we headed towards Independence Pass and the wicked

Schralping some generously loaded wind powder.

Schralping some generously loaded wind powder.

storm that shut down the Elk Mountain Grand Traverse for four days of cold, wind, general suffering, heaps of hard work, variable snow, and amidst it all, tons of laughter, joy and excitement. We set up base camp in warm, springy conditions. Digging dead-men for our three North Face VE-25 tents and one Black Diamond Bibler was easy in the corny snow. So was carving a steezed-out kitchen complete with door-less cupboards, circular table and benches to match, refrigerator, and loads of butter. The next day the sun went away and the suffer-fest began. We tried to beat the storm and tour up to a high ridge, but were turned around by what one student dubbed “suicide snow”  – that is, a thick sun crust that couldn’t thaw in the overcast conditions in combination with up to 60 mile-per-hour wind gusts. So we skied back to camp for a hot ramen noodle lunch and a warm nap in sleeping bags. After that we stuck closer to home in terrain less exposed to the elements. In some north-facing glades we found wind loaded powder pillows which, most of the time, kept us above the breaker crust that plagues the Leadville area’s snowpack.  And for many of the folks used to riding East Coast ice, the 5 to 8 inches of powder was a thrilling, once-in-a-lifetime experience.

On our last night, huge wind gusts and blowing snow forced most of the crew into the Mega-Mid cook shelter mid-dinner. That left my co-instructor and I (and one hearty, helpful student) out to finish the cooking and cleaning. At this point we figured it was more important to keep everyone warm and happy than responsible for chores. From inside the Mid I heard the group’s usual sounds: belly laughter, hearty conversation, and a four-part acapella rendition of Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours” (the quartet perfected the piece over the course of the trip during van rides, particularly heinous sections of hiking, and while waiting for hot chocolate to materialize out of the arctic cook scene). Despite the brutal conditions, perpetually cold appendages, and rapidly

Nothing quite says spring like sleeping in a Quinzee snow shelter.

Nothing quite says spring like sleeping in a Quinzee snow shelter.

cooling generic pasta, morale was high. I wondered what a different experience we all would have had without that positive group culture. Can you imagine packing nine people who can’t stand each other into a four-person tarp in a blizzard? Yikes. I was reminded of how quickly and profoundly we connect with those we adventure with. After seven days of knowing each other, many of these young adults said they were closer with one another than with friends at home. Those essentially real relationships with climbing, skiing and adventuring cohorts are a huge part of my mountain bliss. It seems that when we have to poop in bags or cat holes, warm our feet on one another’s tummies, cry out of exhaustion and frustration, laugh out loud at a huge toe-side powder turns, and come back together for a hard-earned dinner at the end of the day, we just can’t wear as many masks. We see our fellow adventurers at their worst, we see them at their best, and they see us in the same way.  I know that as I surrender to this rawness, it’s hard to imagine forming relationships on any other level. We learn a lot about ourselves as we sail out of that harbor, but I think we learn even more about our tribe.

Pulling Down On The New CSU Sickness

While freestyle terrain parks are a skittle thug's preferred biome, this photo illustrates the versatility and range of the species. An unknown sender on CSU's new bouldering wall.

While freestyle terrain parks are a skittle thug's preferred biome, this photo illustrates the versatility and range of the species. An unknown sender on CSU's new bouldering wall.

Flourescent skittle holds, shallow faux crack systems, dozens of college freshmen in workout clothes, and shouts of  “Just grab the big blue one and do a pull up!” Classic ingredients of gym climbing hilarity – and now CSU students and staff alike can enjoy the plastic send fest.

On Sunday, March 21st, CSU Campus Recreation’s Outdoor Program (formerly the Outdoor Adventure Program), dropped the rope on their long-awaited climbing wall in the campus recreation center. When I attended CSU and worked for the OAP the wall was just a dream. So last week I drove to Fort Collins to see what that dream had turned into: A 30 to 40-foot tower with 360 degrees of climbing, a arching cave in the middle, two faux crack features with a mix of finger and hand sizes, ample lead and top-rope opportunities, and dozens of bouldering problems around the perimeter.  One crack, Barbarella’s Crack, 5.9, is the first gym 5.9 I’ve ever climbed that feels like a genuine old-school, sphincter-quivering outdoor crack climb. I told the program’s coordinator, Rodney Ley, that he was doing everyone a favor by calling that route 5.9 because now fewer folks will go hop on Loose Ends at Lumpy Ridge because they haul 5.9 jugs in the gym all day.

Climbing out of the cave and into the light provided by the gym's sky-high, south-facing windows that look across the intramural fields. Quite a sight at night.

Climbing out of the cave and into the light provided by the gym's sky-high, south-facing windows that look across the intramural fields. Quite a sight at night.

During my college years I would have loved to spend that awkward 45 minutes between class bouldering or leading short sport pitches (you know, that time that you try to get homework done, but more often than not you just lay in the sun in the Oval and stare at words on a page). Now students have that luxury. They can go put their physics lectures to work before their history survey, and all those liberal arts majors (like me!) can get their heads out of the clouds with some good ol’ fashioned tangible gravity and exercise. All you need are a harness and shoes, or you can rent for free (for now) from the rec center.

The wall also seems to be setting up some great educational opportunities. Outdoor Program staff in red T-shirts were busy teaching new belayers and climbers how to tie figure 8 knots and work an ATC. Top rope climbing classes can now learn some belay and climbing technique before heading out to the crags for the weekend, and with a belay ledge featuring two double-bolt anchors, classes can practice rappelling, self and companion rescue, and multi-pitch techniques. CSU expedition teams heading to Ecuador or the Himalaya can also practice glacier rescue techniques. New leaders can practice clipping bolts or plugging cams on top rope in a safe environment.

Plus, the tower, built by Boulder’s Eldorado Climbing Walls, is a damn fine looking piece of art. If you’re riding your bike north through campus at night and see a phosphorescent rainbow pinnacle looming against  the black horizon, don’t worry. It’s not an alien space craft – it’s just Fort Collins’s newest vertical play ground shining through roof-high south-facing windows.

Any opinions or experiences on the new OP wall? Let’s hear it in the comment box below! Happy pulldowning!

OP Staff Rodney, Natalie and Ben cold chillin' on the wall's belay ledge, which, for better or worse, is not quite big enough for dirt bags to sleep on.

OP Staff Rodney, Natalie and Ben cold chillin' on the wall's belay ledge, which, for better or worse, is not quite big enough for dirt bags to sleep on. Photo courtesy of R. Ley.

Rodney Ley, CSU's OP Coordinator and climbing wall visionary, sorts through a bucket of holds with his long-time climbing partner Pat Rastall. They were overheard reminiscing, "Plastic holds?! Remember when we were on Denali in '89? There's no plastic holds on Denali!"

Rodney Ley, CSU's OP Coordinator and climbing wall visionary, sorts through a bucket of holds with his long-time climbing partner Pat Rastall. They were overheard reminiscing, "Plastic holds?! Remember when we were on Denali in '89? There's no freakin' plastic holds on Denali!"

Boulder Canyon Cragging

Adam, grinning up Grins, 5.8, on the Happy Hour Crag.

Adam, grinning up Grins, 5.8, on the Happy Hour Crag.

Once upon a spring on Colorado’s Front Range, it was warm and sunny, then snowy and cold, then warm and sunny again. And while it was warm and sunny, the climbing bug bit me. Hard. So I put on my T-shirt and shorts, packed a bag, and went climbing in Boulder Canyon for the first time. I had heard plenty about the historically rich climbing area west of The People’s Republic, and I must say it lived up to its reputation: fast, easy access; quality rock; a lifetime of short-but-sweet trad and sport routes alike; and big time weekend crowds.

On Friday my friend Adam and I climbed on the Happy Hour Wall. We warmed up on a couple 5.7s on the climber’s left side of the wall: Are We Not Men and Are We Not Robots. Both were exceptional for their grade, and featured an exposed, juggy mini-roof to pull over. Gear was thin but possible on top, but would feel pretty darn run out for a beginning leader. A fall on the roof would be bad news as your last pro is at our feet above a low angle slab. Then we moved right and Adam put up Twofers, a deceivingly easy 5.8 with a surprise jug as you pull around a slightly larger, but more protected roof. We finished the day with Nightcap, an awesome 5.9 with a dihedral finger-crack crux.

Ronnie, clipping the bolts on her first trad lead. Yahoo! Her life will never be the same, I'm sure.

Ronnie, clipping the bolts on her first trad lead. Yahoo! Her life will never be the same, I'm sure.

The next day, Saturday, Ronnie joined Adam and I and led her first trad route, Ho Hum on The Boulderado Wall. The day’s crux turned out to be crossing the busy road from the parking pull out to the crag, which the guidebook says has a 1-5 minute approach, and involves a death-sprint across the busiest climbing access road in America. We figured the biggest risk was probably getting hit by a car and flying into the creek below, so we roped up and simul-climbed across the asphalt, ready to team arrest on gravel at a moment’s notice. JK, LOL, LMNOP. Jam It is another great climb, although the sweet, steep hand crack section is but a tease, being only 7 feet long and all. I thought Idle Hands, 5.6, was perhaps the nicest climb on the wall. It’s a thinly protected face climb that’s steep for its grade, and requires some precision nut craft (and don’t forget the C3s!). I also got a chance to rappel the kinks out of my new 8mm half rope tag line (for long rappels, but relatively obsolete in Boulder Canyon).

We cruised down canyon to The Bihedral crag for the afternoon. Arriving at this climbing area felt kind of like transforming into a bowling pin on tournament night. So many people were on the deck above the lower tier that we put on helmets to scramble up. Every single route with bolts on it was occupied and then some, so we stuck to plugging cams and jamming cracks. We found the only open space available on the far climber’s left side, and climbed Tool King, 5.8, and Fly In Ointment, 5.10, before flailing on top-rope on Edge of Reality, 5.12 R. My lead up Fly In Ointment went a lot like a Chris Sharma movie: scream and dangle! Scream and dangle! Scream and dangle! Chat with my belayer, scream and not dangle!

I recommend Boulder Canyon for anyone, especially on a weekday, and especially for beginning trad climbers looking for quality moderate and easy routes with solid rock and protection opportunities.

Happy spring, happy climbing season! A la muerte!

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