In April a few people from Tempe (including Pat Maclane, Alex Stiger and Halley Tollner) started coming down to climb at the Beaver Wall after seeing much of the hype from the previous seasons. I met up with them as I don’t get to see them often and got back on some lines I had already done. Nearly re-sending Rage to Live 5.13a/b and Hebe 5.14a on my first goes with little to no warmup started to bring back the possibility of a project I’ve had in the back of my mind for quite some time- sending all the sport routes on the Beaver Wall. I started working on what is currently THE line on the Beaver- Alex Kirkpatrick’s Chains in the Grove 5.14a. This route starts on Trapezoid 5.13b, climbs through both cruxes and then moves a few feet right to link into the hardest moves of Hebe. A linkup, yes, but a very mega linkup of two of the mountain’s proudest and best lines.
From the start, I knew Chains was going to be a battle. Though I had already done both lines, the full rig was a different beast. Hebe’s start was somewhere around 12d or 13a to the glued flake rest before the very long crux sequence (where one links in from Trapezoid) and is fairly easy to dial in and make extremely efficient. Trapezoid was different- not only was there somewhere around 15 or 20 more feet of climbing, but the dual cruxes demand far more power than the bottom of Hebe. Moves I fell on maybe once in the process of sending Hebe suddenly became major obstacles. This awareness, however, kept me fairly sane during the time spent building up the route-specific endurance required to send, despite some very frustrating punts (including one from the move after Hebe’s infamous deadpoint crux at the very end of the route).
It would be some time before I sent, but the day it finally went down was one of the best days of my life. James was back from Flag, and in the morning we headed up with a few friends to rig the Old Man Gap highline for old time’s sake. With clear skies, we drove to Windy Point (with my friends Nadine and Morgan and I rapping along to the dope verses of the Flatbush Zombies), where a singular small cloud sat over the area. It began sprinkling as we organized gear in the parking lot, and as we rigged the line the rain and wind grew until we were getting pounded by hail and snow in a bizarre twist of weather for late May in Tucson. We left the line half-rigged to hide in a small hole in the rock, where we stayed until the precipitation stopped an hour later (and joined by Thomas Barcom). We finished rigging under somehow-sunny-again skies and, constantly joined by more and more friends, had the most fun I’ve ever had during a highline session. At some point or another during the day, we had everyone from an extremely experienced highliner from Phoenix (Jared Marvel) walk the line, to Tyler Meester’s first successful highline mount and partial walk, to several total newbies scooting out to experience the exposure while sitting and hanging from the line (even prolific Tucson first ascentionist Eric Rhicard, who was climbing nearby, gave it a go!)
A couple hours after the Beaver Wall went into the shade, I packed up my climbing gear and headed over with some of my oldest and closest friends- Sean Campbell and Sammi Visbal- and much newer ones including Abby Volkmann, Tyler Meester and Hannah Lily Hall leaving a few to continue raging the line. In one of my best days of climbing ever, I laid the rope out, tied in, pulled on my trusty Mad Rock M5’s and fired it first go of the day. Tyler got some spectacular photos and I returned to the rest of the crew at the OMG after hanging out with Sean and Sammi a bit longer. I was floating on a cloud, and though the day did have to come to an end, I took another walk on the line to celebrate before we derigged. Huge thanks to Mad Rock- the M5’s killed it on yet another Tucson granite testpiece- and to Stone Crush Gear, whose pants provide unrestricted motion and great abrasion protection perfect for both slacklining and sending.
Open SCS Nationals kicked off the comp season as April held 3 more significant competitions in Arizona. The Queen Creek Boulder Comp 2014, the first comp to be held at Oak Flat since the demise of the infamous Phoenix Bouldering Contest in 2004, occurred the next weekend. I was present not as a competitor, but as a reporter and photographer- I was to write a story on the competition for one of my journalism classes at the University of Arizona. The QCBC was a huge success, drawing more than 80 competitors and laying the groundwork for future iterations of the competition. I spent the day taking photos and interviewing people, bummed that I couldn’t compete myself!
After the competition I was able to sneak away for a short while with my highliner friends Charlie Lotzar and Jared Marvel to walk the classic Bamba and the Beast (85’L 60’H) that they had rigged earlier in the day. I returned to the Oak Flat Campground to watch the awards and interview a few others after a couple of walks and meeting Jared’s brother Jordan and his girlfriend Kendra Hughes. After the official conclusion of the event, I hung out around the bonfire with some of my best friends from the Phoenix climbing community, including Jack Lester, Jay Bone, Lucas Anaya and many, many others. I also got pulled over for having a tail light out on my way back to Tucson, adding another interesting twist to the day.
The next weekend was the famed Thrash & Dangle Fest at the Phoenix Rock Gym. I’ve always loved T&D and had been stoked for weeks, only to get sick days before and have to miss it. As I started feeling better in the week after, I got a crew together (Charlie Lotzar, Dana Moses and David Adams) and got up on the mountain to establish Mount Lemmon’s newest highline, Lunar Impact (80’L 45’H). I found and scouted the line myself and it felt amazing to get the first walk! The line is on Windy Ridge at a climbing area called The Stones just off of the road. It’s also quite a serious line, with a fall in more than a third of the line an almost certain collision with a nearby rock wall. Line catches are mandatory in this section. Charlie got the second across to round out the day!
The final weekend in April was the date of the second annual Beta Boulder Blast in Flagstaff at Beta Bouldering Gym. I was still recovering from being sick, but I managed to make the trek to northern Arizona (or GNAR as the locals say!). After braving the blizzard conditions in the last 20 miles of driving, I met up with one of my best friends, James Xu, who had transferred to NAU that semester. We ate breakfast at the all-you-can-eat dining hall, I got a tour of the campus, and then we headed to the comp. I didn’t feel great and ran out of energy about halfway through the comp after climbing much worse than I wanted to be. Desperate, I took Jay Bone’s advice and slammed a Red Bull, switched from my Sharks to my M5’s for a very specific heel hook and much to my surprise fired the second and third hardest problems! It wasn’t enough to put me into finals (the top 3 all completed the hardest 5) but it allowed me to get even more done. When the qualifying round was over I got food with James and his friend Holly and afterward we returned to Beta. Finals were super exciting- everyone tried extremely hard, the crowd was fired up and the MCing was great!
A couple of hours later, with the life of the obligatory afterparty fading, James and I returned to his dorm, grabbed some stuff and headed to the parking lot for the brand-new REI Flagstaff. The grand opening was that weekend and the first hundred in line in the morning got free water bottles and gift cards (and I didn’t want to get a parking ticket in the NAU lot) so we set up camp at the front of the store with only one group ahead of us. We woke up the next morning and hung out for a while, but eventually got bored and left before the store opened to go climb at the Pit and rig the Goblin Cleaver highline! It was too windy to rig, but we did get in a few climbs before I headed back to Tucson. On my way home, I got a text that Alex Kirkpatrick had sent his multi-season project, the FA of Suzanne Somers: A Love Story 5.14b at the Dry, and we met up that night for a celebratory dinner.
Soon afterward, I had to buckle down for finals, but to blow off some steam after studying for days Soren and I took my friend Morgan Berryman-Maciel on one of our super classy overnight Finger Rock trips. It went super smoothly and we took multiple hours off of our previous time! This was Soren and I’s third time topping out on the Finger, every one of them in the dark, and it seems we are really improving our fitness over time. The hike doesn’t seem as brutal as it once did, but the summit is as amazing as always.
With finals over and no failed classes, I hit the road with Alex Kirkpatrick, Soren Tucker and James Xu on a trip to the Enchanted Tower near Datil, NM. After a long and somewhat harrowing drive (we saw ~30 deer and almost hit 4 of them in the last 80 miles of highway), we rolled in and set up camp well after dark. We cooked dinner and then chilled around the campfire for a bit, then went to bed. Soren, sleeping in James’ hammock after forgetting his sleeping bag/pad/etc, quickly got too cold and spent the night sitting around the fire. At one point, he dozed off and unconsciously put his foot in the fire, burning a hole in the bottom of his shoe!
The next morning, Soren and I were the first two ready to go, so while James and Alex were still getting ready we warmed up and headed over to the Frog Prince Wall. I took some time struggling and remembering beta from many years before on White Queen 5.13b and Soren came painfully close to onsighting Frog Prince 5.12a. I tied back in and sent White Queen and we headed over to the Tower itself to meet up with James and Alex. I flashed Rumplestiltskin 5.12a shortly after James’ heartbreaking punt from the runout easy section just before the chains when he missed a hold and Alex onsighted Jabberwocky 5.12b, while Soren tried Humpty Dumpty 12a nearby. As the sun came around, we moved to the other side of the Tower. Alex and Zoltan each tried Goliath, the iconic 5.13a climbing straight up the overhanging prow of the Tower, while Soren and James returned to the Frog Prince wall. I onsighted Shipwrecked 5.12c and got ready to give one last catch to Alex on Goliath before the sun went down. It was not to be, however- near the top of the route Alex blew out his hamstring while heel hooking. It was bad enough that Katchka, who was 30 feet below him on an adjacent route, heard the pops and Zoltan had to carry him over his shoulder down the trail.
The next day, (obviously) only James, Soren and I climbed in our party, with Alex K watching from camp/his car. We warmed up at the Pogue’s Cave area and headed to the Tower, where Soren and James came close to flashing Technowitch 5.12a and I onsighted Straight On Til Morning 5.12c. We walked over to the Frog Prince Wall and I fired Red Queen 5.13b first go, which adds a harder start to the more direct White Queen line and was the original route on the wall. Back at the Tower, James sent Technowitch and I onsighted Tinkerbell’s Nightmare 5.12b. James dogged through Jabberwocky and we were ready to call it a trip. We packed up and headed back to Tucson, psyched from the fun atmosphere, good company and sends but bummed about Alex’s injury.
After a rest day, it was back to business- training for my project I’d been working at the Beaver for the last few weeks…
2014 has been a crazy year for me, filled with highs and lows. The first few months proved to be quite frustrating; several injuries and illnesses robbed me of fitness and time spent doing what I love to do. However, I still have managed to accomplish many goals I’ve set for myself and gone beyond what I thought possible in such a relatively short timeframe. As July approaches and following some big events in my life, I’ve decided to take this opportunity to reflect on the last six months.
In January I managed to do the second ascent of The Morgue, a notorious local route put up several years ago by my first climbing mentor, Eric Scully. Eric spent years projecting the climb throughout his teenage years before finally sending in his senior year of high school after beating cancer. I’ve always admired Eric’s tenacity and drive and, while he isn’t climbing much anymore, it still feels amazing to do the first repeat of something he put up when he did so much to help me develop into the climber and person I am today. I’ve played around on it occasionally in years past, but this was the first I stuck the crux moves and the send on January 17th was one of the most rewarding of my life. I couldn’t have done it without Alex Kirkpatrick, who provided great belays, beta and inspiration (as well as the mutual support we needed to endure waking up and driving to the mountain at 5:30am in the dead of winter to sport climb). Alex also sent a short time later, which topped it off beautifully. Thanks to Alex Kirkpatrick for taking these photos as well.
Towards the end of January, Alex Kirkpatrick and I teamed up again to sneak in an FA of a long-standing Ray Ringle project on the Andy Cook Wall. We got on it expecting to be shut down but quickly realized with just a bit of reworking the line would go at the very reasonable grade of 5.12c and was quite good. It has a bit of everything- jug romping, an insecure, smeary lieback, a sweet face transition between giant flakes, pockets, hand jams, pinches, and crimps. Randy Cook Lives! is one of my favorites I’ve done on Lemmon and gives Rain, the existing classic 5.12 on the wall, a run for its money.
On the last day of January I managed to wreck myself with one of the scarier injuries I’ve had. Following a day of exploring and almost being swarmed by bees looking for climbable rock in Ventana Canyon, David Adams and I grabbed our crashpads and rigged a trickline at Himmel Park. The goal, for me, was to learn the buttflip, which consists of a buttbounce, into a frontflip, landing back in a buttbounce. I had been practicing frontflips onto crashpads in the living room of my apartment for weeks in preparation and with David, a former pro skateboarder, there to help me break it down into steps, I was set. After a couple somersaults off the line onto my butt on the pads, I was ready to commit. Many attempts later, almost all ending in me landing on my feet on the ground, it was dark. We re-rigged in the small spot of light provided by a nearby streetlamp and I continued after my friend James Xu had joined us. Eventually, David needed to leave, and I said “I’ll just give it one more go.” This is always the sign disaster is about to strike, and that day was no exception. I threw the flip hard and knew immediately everything was wrong- not quite along the line, my heels came up and caught the underside of my Powrline and I smashed, face-first, into the edge of the pads with my feet scorpion-ing behind me. The impact rubbed a fair bit of skin off of my face and gave me some insane whiplash that I still feel while looking up belaying to this day. This deeply changed my perspective on my tricklining and since then I’ve really tried to mellow it out and only try to learn tricks that are relatively safe- I really believe I’m pretty lucky that I didn’t break my neck or wind up with a more serious head injury, as it seems quite possible given the forces involved.
After I healed up, I joined Alex Kirkpatrick and started getting out with some regularity to the Dry Canyon, a rarely-visited limestone sport area near Sierra Vista, AZ. Alex had been trying his multi-season project, another route with a long history. Suzanne Somers was a long-standing open project in the stunning Celebrity Cave that managed to straddle the line between power-endurance and endurance climbing while still containing some extremely hard sequences and some of the best hard limestone climbing in the southwest. I’d been struggling to build endurance- I had next to none after spending much of the winter bouldering and finally feeling the effects of the break from climbing I’d taken the previous summer- and the routes nearby Suzanne promised to be the perfect area to do so. I sent Great White Hunter 5.12d in fairly short order and started contemplating a new long-term project. Aside from Suzanne Somers, there was another megaproject in the area: the savage Lee Majors. An old open project just right of Suzanne, LeeMajors fires straight out the roof of the cave past a very hard boulder problem crux and follows a somewhat traversing line to anchors at the lip of the roof (and the base of the beautiful streaked headwall it was originally to be extended up). Long story short, I was never able to pull all of the moves and around 7 of my draws are still hanging up on the route, ready for my return when temperatures drop.
In mid-February I finished the book of photos and interviews I did while on my summer 2013 road trip with my undergraduate research grant. That trip stands out as one of the single best experiences I’ve had in my life and there was a strange finality to publishing and presenting my research. As I am still jobless (and this summer, grant-less), there won’t be any such trip this year. With that said, I’m proud to showcase the product of my efforts: you can view (and purchase your own, if you’d like) A Muerte: Inspiration and Progression in Rock Climbing through Blurb self-publishing here: http://www.blurb.com/b/5090016-a-muerte
February also began the string of lingering minor illnesses that hampered my training. As the 2014 Hueco Rock Rodeo rolled around I was very excited but, just prior to the trip, I both got sick and had to pull an all-nighter to finish a paper for one of my classes. This, combined with the absurdly bad conditions the day of the Rodeo, led to a performance that, to me, felt far below what I am capable of. Still, I managed to place 4th in the Advanced category and 3rd in the dyno comp. My stand-out send from the day was Mr. Serious V8, and my number one failing was breaking my streak on Better Eat Your Wheaties (and not sending Wheaties at all). I still got to meet and climb with Paul Jones from the Mad Rock Team which was awesome, as well as meet up with new and old friends and Mad Rock athletes at the after party. Despite not climbing as well as I wanted to I had a blast and I’m already excited for next year’s competition.
On the home front, I got a job setting routes at the UA’s rec center bouldering wall. While the wall is outside and the strangely designed terrain makes it difficult to set quality routes, we were able to run a fun competition that, in the advanced category, came down to a difference in attempts on a comp-style (read: tricky) V2 between first and second place, which is something I’m proud of given my long history of youth competitions. Unfortunately, I gave myself wrist tendonitis setting the many problems for the competition with a hand wrench and I had to miss the Joes Valley trip I had planned for spring break the following week, which was a major disappointment. I did get in a visit to Southern Utah University, where I hope to spend a semester through the National Student Exchange program, and a very relaxed fishing trip with my Dad to Lee’s Ferry, which helped make up for the lack of “sik blocs” during the break.
A couple of weeks later, I won the Lord of the Rungs campus board competition at Rocks and Ropes, my local gym, after not climbing inside for a rather long span of time. This helped jumpstart my training for the 2014 Open SCS Nationals, which was to be my first USA Climbing sanctioned competition after aging out of the youth circuit. This included a lot of early-morning runs on Mount Lemmon- I’d wake up at 5, drive up to Windy Point (~6500 feet), run 2 or 3 miles with 500-1000 feet of elevation gain, drive back, shower and be ready for class at 9. While I seem to be in the minority on this, I think running has a very positive effect on my climbing. It helps my usually-terrible endurance, allows me to quickly cycle my weight down a few pounds to the sending range from my training weight for a redpoint or competition and additionally makes approaches feel much easier.
Open SCS Nationals was a really cool experience (and certainly one I hope to repeat) that was once again marred by an all-nighter the day before I drove out to Los Angeles. While I didn’t do as well as I think I could have on the first route, I placed 27th which was far better than I thought I would and I think I can do much better next year with better preparation. I also met up with fellow Slackline Brothers student athlete Andrew Marshall twice and walked my personal records for both longlining (180’L T18) and highlining (90’L double T18) before heading home, making the trip an amazing success regardless of the rocky start.