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Midsummer Reflections, Part 3 – Chains in the Grove

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.

Into the 5.11 hero climbing at the top of Rage to Live 5.13a/b. Photo by Chris Novellino.
Into the 5.11 hero climbing at the top of Rage to Live 5.13a/b. Photo by Chris Novellino.

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.

Into the crux of Hebe. Photo by Tyler Meester Photography.
Into the crux of Hebe. Photo by Tyler Meester Photography.
Sticking the infamous deadpoint crux at the top on the way to sending Chains in the Grove 5.14a. Photo by Tyler Meester Photography.
Sticking the infamous deadpoint crux at the top on the way to sending Chains in the Grove 5.14a. Photo by Tyler Meester Photography.
Finally at peace after sending Chains in the Grove. Photo by Tyler Meester Photography.
Finally at peace after sending Chains in the Grove. Photo by Tyler Meester Photography.

 

Midsummer Reflections, Part One

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.

Starting the crazy granite-sloper crux on The Morgue 5.13d/5.14a. Photo by Alex Kirkpatrick
Starting the crazy granite-sloper crux on The Morgue 5.13d/5.14a. Photo by Alex Kirkpatrick

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, Lee Majors 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.

Cranking hard on the crux of Great White Hunter 5.12d at the Dry. Photo by Angel Mangual
Cranking hard on the crux of Great White Hunter 5.12d at the Dry. Photo by Angel Mangual

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.

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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.

Spectating finals at Open SCS Nationals was really fun.
Spectating finals at Open SCS Nationals was really fun.
Andrew Marshall, a fellow Slackline Brothers athlete, does an exposure turn on the 90'L highline at Ortega Falls in Los Angeles.
Andrew Marshall, a fellow Slackline Brothers athlete, does an exposure turn on the 90’L highline at Ortega Falls in Los Angeles.

Dead By 30

At the beginning of the fall season here in Tucson, I found myself in a new predicament: I didn’t have any real desire to climb. I struggled with this for a while, but after talking it over with a few close friends who I know have gone through the same experience, I accepted it as just a natural cycle. I started a slackline club at the University of Arizona with my good friend James Xu and started slacking almost every day. I learned a bunch of tricks and made a lot of new friends (the club, which started with 4 members, now has 116).

As mid-October rolled around, I felt the climbing stoke start to return. A couple weeks later, I took a spur-of the-moment trip to Hueco and managed to send Free Willy V10 at the end of the second day, much to my own surprise. Confident I was feeling in shape and ready to go, I returned to Tucson and started looking around for projects. At first I had my sights on The Morgue, Mount Lemmon’s second 5.14- and unrepeated since the first ascent by my original mentor Eric Scully when he was in high school. Though it fit my style (short and bouldery), it also got afternoon sun. My class schedule prevented me from getting out in the mornings during the week and its sloper-dependent crux made it an unlikely prospect in the late-afternoon sun.

I switched my focus to the Beaver Wall, which, in addition to its afternoon shade, is also frequently visited during the week and on the weekends, making partner acquisition much easier. However, during fall 2012 and spring 2013, I had sent all but one of the sport routes 5.13 and up on the wall, and the only remaining route was a different start to a line I had already done. I returned, re-climbed some of my old projects and sent Poplar Mechanics 5.12+, funnily enough my first Beaver Wall 5.12. That same day, my friend Liam Oden finished up the classic Rage to Live 5.13a/b. With both of us in search of something new, some route had to pop up.

The potential of a new line to the right of Last Supper, a trad 5.11 (the first established in Arizona) on the Beaver was not a new thought. Eric Rhicard, prominent Tucson first-ascensionist and guidebook author, had put in a directional bolt up high and worked out some of the moves on toprope in the 1990’s. According to Rhicard, he had trouble sticking a particular long move to a poor hold high on the route and as such abandoned the project. The initial allure of the line was the existence of a potential 6 foot jug-to-jug dyno right off of the ground, and with this in mind Liam Oden and Alex Kirkpatrick rappelled over it, found holds the whole way and installed 4 more bolts. After a couple sessions, they came to the realization it might be significantly harder than originally thought. I accompanied them on a night session to the project and, after a burn, I felt as though I might be able to do it.

The next session yielded some great progress and, with the help of some amazing new beta found by Liam, I managed to do all of the moves on the route. The first section, site of the proposed dyno, instead held an insecure sequence with massive static lock-offs to marginal crimps checking in around V6. The dyno, of course, was very possible, but would likely leave one too power drained for the real crux up high. Long, easy moves on jugs led through the ripples to the base of the upper headwall. From this last rest, you clip bolt 3 above your head and launch into the crux sequence. This extremely bouldery section is somewhere around V9, starting with an enormous lockoff to a divoted slomper from a viciously thin crimp. You then stand up into a half-pad sidepull/undercling, reach to an extremely poor sloping edge with a crucial thumbcatch and move your feet up to some footholds that are quite bad. From this somewhat awkward position, you must generate enough to stick a 3-points-off drive-by/ cross-dyno to a full-pad sloping edge. With the hardest moves behind you, a strange move to a blocky sidepull jug enables one to clip bolt 4 and enter the non-trivial slab leading to bolt 5 and the topout.

The catch is, however, that the fall after the dyno has potential to be quite bad. The route is pretty short at ~40 feet, with the crux move around the 32 foot mark. You clip bolt 4 with your feet several feet above bolt 3, making necessary a very tight belay to avoid hitting the ground. The wall is vertical, making such a long, hard fall a very risky one for your ankles. Any fall after the drive-by maneuvering into the clipping stance (or worse, a blown clip) could leave you 5 feet off the deck with shattered ankles or, with a less-than-perfect belay, on the ground.

I headed out with my friend Soren on Black Friday to spend the day on Lemmon. We kicked around all day, visiting places like Overlooked Pinnacle, the iconic Goosehead and the Rose Canyon entrance boulders. Around 1:30pm, we headed to the Beaver Wall. We managed to get there half an hour or so before the project went into the shade. After killing some time, I put in a couple burns and so did Liam (who was up there already with his friend Peter Piek). With daylight fading, I tied in for one final attempt, pulled on my M5’s, and fist-bumped the plastic Jesus figurine provided by Soren (the route had been christened the Offensive Jesus project). I pulled through the bottom quickly and rested well below the difficulties. I started into the crux and, much to my shock, stuck the dyno. Redlining, I quickly made the weird move to the blocky sidepull and, readjusting using a nearby crimp, clipped the bolt. I took a few breaths to calm down, started into the slab section, and soon found myself standing triumphantly on a juggy ledge 10 feet above the last bolt on the slab. With a stoked yell, I untied, dropped my rope though the draws and topped out in front of awed tourists there to witness the incredible Arizona sunset. I traversed right off of the slab along 4th class terrain and met the approach trail, where I returned to the base of the wall and the congratulations of my friends.

Exhausted, we packed up and hiked out with the sun setting behind us. I’ve never seen a more beautiful sunset in my life, still keyed-up and experiencing the world in a sort of hyper-reality after redlining and succeeding deep in the no-fall zone. I named the route Dead By 30, a reference to the possibility of decking from 30 feet and to a morbid prediction made by James that him, Soren and I would be dead by age 30. The grade gave me some pause, but after some input from the others that had been on the route I settled on 5.13d. It’s certainly the most physical of the harder Beaver Wall routes, though it does lack much pump factor. I’m excited to hear what others think about it and, more importantly, see some strong climbers having fun and trying hard on it. Unlike some hard routes in Tucson like Alex Kirkpatrick’s magnificent Doubt 5.14a, this route exemplifies the Mount Lemmon style, which is cool in my humble opinion. Much thanks to Mad Rock Climbing- the M5’s performed fantastically on the microedge feet and kept me safe and secure. Overall, I’m amazingly psyched about Dead By 30, which is without a doubt one of the most physically and mentally challenging FA’s of my life so far.  The route can be found on MountainProject here.

The lights of Tucson illuminate an approaching storm during a night session at the Beaver Wall.
The lights of Tucson illuminate an approaching storm during a night session at the Beaver Wall.