Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Roy Bouldering: Logistics!

The network of canyons just outside Roy, New Mexico provide some of the best sandstone bouldering in the west half on the continent, and are an amazing addition to the list of 'must-climb-at' areas in the USA.  However, while there are a number of good videos online that showcase the bouldering, information on the area itself (as well as the logistics of climbing there) is a bit thin.  So here's a brief overview of what you'll need to climb in Roy!

GUIDEBOOK:  For many bouldering areas, you can muddle along just fine without a guide.  In Squamish, for instance, you can simply wander around the forest, asking for directions and looking for boulders covered in chalk.  In Roy, however, you'll need a guidebook.  Fortunately, Owen Summerscales has written an excellent (!) new guidebook for New Mexico bouldering, which covers Roy in some detail.  You'll need it to find the roads to get to the boulders, and to find the boulders themselves once you're in the canyons.  You can get it online HERE, or at many locations (climbing gyms, etc.) throughout New Mexico.  I've heard that Ma Sally's Mercantile in Roy *might* be carrying some copies of the guide in the fugture as well.  Regardless, buy a guidebook!

Shariyf's hand balm (lifesaver!) on top of Owen's fantastic guidebook!  If you really want to maximize your trip, you'll need to have a copy of the guide, for certain.

GROCERIES:  The townspeople of Roy have been very (!) supportive of climbers visiting the area.  In turn, climbers need to support the townspeople of Roy! We bought groceries at the Harding County General Store, right on the main road through town.  They definitely had everything we needed, and the store was well stocked.  So head into town on a rest day, buy some grub, chat with the locals, let them know you're there to climb.

WATER: There is no running water at the campgrounds, so you'll have to find water at some point.    However, water is precious in the desert (and I as far as I know the citizens of Roy are charged for their water usage), so you should be prepared to ask (very!) politely for use of a tap.  Alternatively, you can purchase water at the General Store.  Sandy Ray (owner of La Casita Bunkhouse and the Mercantile) let us to get water from her tap, but we were definitely supporting some of the businesses in town.  The people of Roy are amazing, but don't take advantage of them.

Alternatively, it might be possible to get water at the community center, but we never looked into this option.

La Casita Bunkhouse!  When we were sitting around our campfire in the cold desert night, we often wished we had opted for the Bunkhouse. Next time!  If you stay there, tell her that Trent from Canada sent you!

RESTAURANTS and COFFEE:  In Roy, there aren't many options at the moment.  Luckily, the options that are available are good (and charming!).  Lonita's Cafe will provide you with all the protein (lots of mexican options, of course) you're craving on rest days after a couple days of pulling on sandstone.  However, it is not open early, and is only open in the evenings some days (mostly it's a lunch place; ask at Lonita's when you're in town for their hours).  Claudia's Coffee Shop has hot fresh coffee, pastries, and all the western flavor you could want.  They're both right on the main road through town.

WHERE TO STAY: There are free (and excellent) Forest Service campgrounds at Mills Canyon Rim and Mills Canyon (although the latter requires a drive down a sometimes-rough road).  There is also distributed camping at trailheads, but be very conservative in your use of fire (in fact, open fires were banned when we were there due to dry conditions).

Alissa and Kyle working the steep and funky Nick Cave (V5/6).

There are also options in town.  If you have a larger group, and want to have a very comfortable trip, La Casita Guesthouse sleeps eight, has a great kitchen, and is very reasonably priced.  There was also a cheap hotel in town, but we didn't investigate any further than a casual drive-by to look at it.

WHEN TO VISIT:  Roy is clearly a shoulder-season area.  Midwinter can sometime produce good climbing weather (apparently), but it can also be cold and snowy.  Summer is hot (!), and there are mosquitos and rattlesnakes everywhere.  Fall (October- early December) and spring (mid-February to April) are the best times to visit.  Check the forecast before you go, and remember NEVER climb on sandstone during or the day after a rain. 

STEEEEEP.  Me on Batman (V7) (top), and Alissa working on the bugs on Dust Bowl (V7) (bottom).

REST DAYS:  Activities are limited.  It's a beautiful area, and the hiking looks amazing... but if you're climbing in Roy you're likely already doing a fair bit of hiking.  There aren't any hot springs that close (although there are many west and north of Santa Fe, and one closer near Montezuma).  We mostly just drank coffee, ate burritos and checked our email at Claudia's Coffee Shop, and rested in camp.  The town of Las Vegas (no, the other Las Vegas) is only about an hour away, and it has all the amenities you might want for a night out.  Bring stuff to do if you're planning on a longer trip!

One option that might entertain some people is contributing to the maintenance of the area.  We saw very little trash, but if you're going to be there for a long trip it might be worthwhile contacting Owen Summerscales or one of the other Northern New Mexico bouldering locals about how you could contribute to trail work or other area maintenance.  Give back, you'll feel better for it!

At any rate, I know I'll be heading back to Roy, maybe in November. Hope to see you there!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Pulling Down in the Old West, Roy NM!

Every February, as the Canadian winter starts to seem dreary and overly long, I start to look southward for a climbing respite.  With the Canadian spring still weeks away, the sunshine, warmth, and beautiful landscapes of the American southwest become incredibly appealing.  I've been to several climbing areas in the American west, and they have yet to disappoint me.  The enormous pale-blue skies, the orange sandstone, the junipers, yucca, and cholla; I can never get enough!

This year, my climbing wanderlust (and love of the desert!) had me seriously considering a trip to Roy, New Mexico.  I had been hearing about the sandstone boulders of the canyons surrounding Roy for a few years, and when my friend Owen Summerscales published New Mexico Bouldering in 2016 (the new guidebook for the state), it contained all the information I needed to entice me to the area.  When I talked to Owen, he described the climbing enthusiastically using phrases like "SO much better than Kraft" and "arguably the best sandstone boulders in the west".  I was sold, and started thinking about a trip to New Mexico.  Kyle (with his deep love of both sandstone and steep roof climbing) was also eager to check the area out.  A trip to the desert is always a lot of fun, so we recruited Justin for a little exploration, and also convinced Alissa (who was already bouldering in Nevada) to come along as well.  A fun group for a trip to the southwest!

Desert plants are amazing!  Yucca is common in the canyons surrounding Roy.

The greatest drawback of a trip of this sort is, of course, the drive across the United States.  Packing the car, we began the predictably long drive across southern Alberta and four states.  Though Google suggests that the drive would take about 19.5 hours, driving through the northern states in winter is rarely straightforward.  After battling bad roads in Montana, fog in northern Wyoming, and (literally) gale-force winds in southern Wyoming, we were relieved to finally encounter dry roads with great conditions in Colorado.  We picked up Alissa at the airport in Denver (she flew from Las Vegas to extend her climbing trip for another eight days), and then headed south into New Mexico.  Driving through the enormous and empty grasslands of New Mexico through the evening, we finally arrived at our destination, the Mills Canyon Rim Campground just outside of Roy.  It's a small campground run by the US Forest Service, and was very well-maintained and tidy.  Quickly setting up our tents, we settled in for our first night in New Mexico.

Campfires keep the cold night at bay, at least until you go to bed (n.b. bring a better sleeping bag next time...).

After my first night in the New Mexico high desert, I learned one lesson very well; the nights in the high desert can be very cold!  After one very chilly night it became apparent that my sleeping bag wasn't up to the task of camping in the desert, and so I got up early the next morning to go for a walk and warm up.  I hiked down through the boulders and brush of Mills Canyon, marveling at the amazing texture of the rock as the dawn sun turned the walls of canyon bright orange.

Back at camp, we read through the guidebook, and decided that we'd spend our first day in Roy climbing in the middle section of Mesteno Canyon, which features a large concentration of sandstone blocks known as The Jumbles.  On our hike down into the canyon we saw a large green-and-gold rattlesnake (a Prairie Rattlesnake, it rattled at us as we walked by), but it was so cold that the snake was barely able to move (and posed little threat as we kept our distance).  Arriving in the canyon bottom we wandered among the blocks, excited to see the variety of problems present; steep compression lines, featured slabs, aretes, and highly textured blocks featuring big pinches and pockets.

Kyle getting his first taste of New Mexico sandstone on the Herbie the Love Bug Wall, Middle Mesteno Canyon. 

After exploring for an hour or so, we settled down to the business of climbing some of the amazing boulders we'd seen.  We warmed up on a fun hueco-covered wall low in the Jumbles (the Herbie the Love Jug Wall), and soon Justin, Alissa, and Kyle were keen to attempt Try Angular (V6), an amazing angled arete with a high crux move.  I didn't really feel as though I was warmed up enough to try anything hard, but decided to join in to see what the problem was like.  We all made quick progress on the bottom half of the problem, only to realize that the second half of the line was where the difficulties lay.  As we worked the problem, it occurred to me that the line was a lot like Squamish's ATD (V7); but unfortunately I couldn't remember the funky movement required for that problem (it's been awhile...).  Eventually Kyle linked to the lip of the boulder, but couldn't quite figure out how to approach the next moves onto the hanging slab.  On my next try, everything clicked as I remembered the weird heel-toe beta for ATD, and I reached up to the lip, reset my left foot, and did a funky (and scary) press on to the slab.  Success!

Trying a little harder on the classic Try Angular (V6), Middle Mesteno Canyon.

Feeling a bit warmer, I circuited around for a few hours, climbing several easier lines, and looking at problems I might try later in the week.  Whenever I visit a new area, I like to climb a large volume of easy-ish problems for the first few days, to get used to the features of the area, and to assess how much pressure the texture of the rock will bear.  One of the best easy lines I did was the fantastic pocketed slab Thimblerigger (V1), though there are a lot of short undocumented slabs throughout the Jumbles (unlike the other areas, I would find out; only the Jumbles is slab-rich).

As I was cruising around on easy problems, Alissa got psyched to try It's V-Five (V4), a crimpy line with a huge sloping start hold.  Alissa and Kyle were making the start look funky, so with my interest piqued I headed over to join in.  By turning my hip into the wall, I managed to do the first tricky cross-through, and flashed the problem.  Certainly a great start to the trip!  After doing a few harder slabs, we packed up and headed back to camp for dinner.  With the sun down and temperatures falling, we built a fire and chatted about what the upcoming week would bring.

Looking down into Mesteno Canyon, just outside Roy New Mexico.  All the sandstone blocks you could ever want fill the canyons around Roy.

The next day we headed into Roy to look for water, groceries, and (hopefully!) a cup of coffee.  It's a little hard to find information about Roy online, but we knew there was (at least) a coffee shop, a restaurant, and a grocery store.  Stopping to buy bread and canned goods at the Harding County General Store, we asked about coffee and water and were pointed towards Ma Sally's Mercantile and Claudia's Coffee Shop by Sandy Ray, an unbelievably friendly and helpful Roy local.  Sandy introduced us to the town of Roy, including a tour of her La Casita Guesthouse (which is a fantastic deal for groups of climbers up to 8 people; I know where I'll be staying on my next trip...).  Sandy also introduced us to Claudia, the charming proprietor of Claudia's Coffee Shop, which would quickly become our go-to place for coffee on those mornings we headed into town.  We had a fantastic morning drinking coffee, eating burritos, and talking with Roy locals about the area and their enthusiasm for the development of the area as a bouldering destination.

 When you're in Roy, and you feel the need for coffee, a burrito, and a pie...

...and to meet some of the friendliest townfolk anywhere!  Alissa getting caffeinated with Sandy (in the red hat) and Claudia (filling a coffee cup) at Claudia's Coffee Shop, in Roy.   

Sandy gave us a tour of her Casita Guest House, just outside of town.  It's a fantastic place, sleeps eight, and is a great price; a great base for a climbing trip to Roy!

Properly fueled, we were keen to head down into Upper Mesteno Canyon which we knew held a number of huge caves which held scores of problems.  When we arrived at the Mega Roof (the largest of the five roofs), I was unprepared by how steep and deep the cave was.  In Owen's guidebook New Mexico Bouldering the problem Dust Bowl (V7) is described as being a 30-foot roof, but I assumed that this was an exaggeration.  It wasn't.  A line of chalked holds stretched from the lip of the cave way back into its dark recesses.  Thankfully, almost every hold was a sculpted jug (pocket, slot, pinch, or rail), which makes for a fantastic roof-climbing experience.  However, both Dust Bowl and Batman (a 24-foot V7 roof to the right) share the same crux; the last three moves of the roof feature incut edges rather than comfortable buckets.  With my legendarily poor endurance, I knew it would be a battle.

Kyle staying clean as he battles through the Dust Bowl (V7).  The biggest sandstone roof problem I've ever seen...

Luckily, the fantastic Keep Boulder is just a few steps away.  The Keep has some of the most beautifully patina-ed faces we saw in Roy, and features some of the best easy problems, including Momo (V1), Wet Socks (V0), and Burned Feet (V1).  After we climbed these fun highballs, I continued warming up by climbing some of the easy highball (!) lines on the canyon rim immediately opposite the Keep.  Warmed up, I finally turned my attention back to the Mega Roof Cave.  Kyle, Alissa, and Justin were already trying Dust Bowl, but after climbing through the beginning of the problem a few time I decided that it wasn't for me.  Although Dust Bowl has great holds, I hate falling off long problems simply because I'm pumped (Dust Bowl, with it's 27 feet of V4 before the crux, definitely falls into that category).  Batman (V7), with its bigger moves and more powerful (but thankfully a little shorter!) start, interested me more, though I had to spend a little time  finding a way through the pockets that wouldn't hurt my left hand.  Alissa was working Batman as well, and it was exciting to watch her work through the moves, finding clever sequences that allowed her to statically work through the big reaches on the roof.  Though we were having a lot of fun, eventually we ran out of time, and headed back to camp as the sun sank below the canyon rim.

Kyle on the crux of Dust Bowl (V7), three small holds after 25+ feet of roof climbing (top), and Alissa on the first crux of Batman (V7) (bottom).  The roofs of Roy will certainly satisfy those who love steep climbing!

Tuesday morning we decided to head back into the canyons, despite having already climbed for two days.  We hiked into middle Mesteno Canyon to climb in and around The Jumbles, and as we arrived at the valley bottom I saw a great-looking block half-hidden among the pines left of the trail.  Looking at it more closely, there seemed to be a great-looking line on the downhill face of the boulder; a matched start on a long edge led up to more edges and slopers, and an engaging topout at a just-less-than-highball height.  I climbed up and down a few times to warm up a bit, then climbed up to the fun topout; another great moderate line in Roy! (Apparently, this was a first ascent, which I've decided to name Daybreaker (V1) after the Louis L'Amour western novel set in northern New Mexico).

(top) Daybreaker (V1), one of the great new problems I put in Roy, the line essentially climbs up the shaded face in the middle of the photo, and (bottom) the fantastically shaped (and solid) Dakota sandstone for which Roy is becoming famous.

From there I wandered down-canyon to see what Kyle, Alissa, and Justin were up to, and found them warming up in the sun on the Beautiful Pig Boulder.  Beautiful Pig features a ton of fun short(ish) warmups, as well as a handful of taller lines on its downhill and north faces (including the eponymous and somewhat spooky-looking Beautiful Pig (V6)).  We climbed a half-dozen shorter easy lines (V0-V2), and I also did the highball Black Tar Heroin (V1).  The rest of the day flew by as we tried a handful of lines spread across the Jumbles; an unnamed hard compression line on the hillslope, the weird and hard Thumbelina (felt much harder than V4 since a break; none of us could do all the moves, but as a group we managed to do it all...), and a handful of easier slabs.  We really wanted to try the stellar-looking Puddle Jumper (V6), and with only a few hours left in the day I headed up to try it.  It has great movement and beautifully sculpted holds, and because it wasn't too difficult to decipher I was psyched when I did it in just a handful of tries.  Justin was keen to try the powerful compression line Storm the Castle (V7), so we headed over to session on it as the day drew to a close.  Everyone made progress (most of us were linking it in pieces; I did all the moves but one but found it very hard), but by the end of the day we were feeling beat (I had done 18-20 problems!), and as the sun set we headed out of the canyon and back to camp, feeling beat and ready for a rest day.

Kyle soldiering away on Storm The Castle (V7), one of the hardest things we tried on our trip.

The next morning, we woke up and headed into town for coffee and breakfast.  Arriving at Claudia's Coffee Shop, we spent a very sociable hour not only with Claudia and some of the Roy locals, but also with local entrepreneur and dairy farmer Shariyf.  Shariyf would not only prove to be friendly and entertaining, but also a trip-saver when he found out I was out of Climb On hand salve (he gave us samples of hand balm that his family makes, which definitely helped our hands out for the rest of the trip).  I've been to a lot of small towns over the course of my climbing career, but never have I experienced such an amazingly warm reception as I did in Roy, New Mexico!  After coffee we headed across the street to Lonita's Cafe for a big western breakfast (huevos rancheros for me!), then we filled our water jugs and headed back to camp.

If you're from Canada (like me), and you want to hit up regional cuisine where you climb (like I do), then this is the place for you in Roy.

The next morning, as we packed up for the day, Kyle noticed that one of his tires was quite low.  Being prudent, he decided to drive in to Roy to get it repaired.  Since Mill Creek Canyon is very close to the campground, we decided to head there for the day (Kyle had his tire fixed and was back within an hour).  Alissa, Justin, and I hiked down the road into the canyon, and began our day by doing all the problems on the nicely featured Cuban Boulder, including the funky Melvin's Mill (V3; Alissa flashed it, which was her hardest flash to date, congrats Alissa!).

Alissa flashing the techy Melvins Mill (V3), Mills Canyon.

At this point, Kyle returned from Roy, and while he warmed up I decided to head down into the canyon proper (not wanting to get cold).  I really wanted to try Sneaker Man (V6ish), a line I had looked at on my first day of hiking, and as it was directly in the sun I decided to try it first.  It took me several tries to get the first dynamic move sorted out (the feet are small (!) and hard to generate movement from), but once I did the move I was puzzled by the apparently enormous second move.  Sitting in the sun, I stared at the problem, and decided that I simply wasn't trying hard enough (isn't that often the case?).  The next attempt on the line I did the short jump to the first ledge, then high-stepped into a pocket and pulled smoothly (to my complete surprise!) all the way to the next hold, a sloping pinch.  From here, a few tricky but easy moves led to the top of the boulder.  I was incredibly happy - it is always nice to send a high hard(ish) line well, and feel fully in control.

Justin with his jumpin' shoes on, trying the very committing Sneaker Man (V6).

After getting punted repeatedly off the line to the right of Sneaker Man, I wanted to move up-canyon a bit and try the classic TED (V7).  TED is a short-ish line (unusual for Roy, where highballs are king), featuring a big first move to an incut slot (crux = targeting!), and then a series of sequential moves through slots and sloping pinches.  After arranging a couple mats, it took me a while to get my beta sorted for the first hard move, with lots of foot micro-adjustments before I felt good.  When I finally did the first move, however, the rest of the line went relatively smoothly (especially since it has a high high-step, love it!).  I was psyched to do one of Mill's Canyon's classic lines so quickly, and packing up I decided to move down-canyon to try the megaclassic Jewbacca (V5).

Kyle finding out what the talk is all about on the fantastic rock of TED (V7). 

Arriving at the boulder, I could clearly see that Jewbacca's reputation is well-deserved; a steep brown- and orange-streaked arete looms over the gravel streambed of the lower canyon.  I definitely wanted to onsight such a classic-looking line, so I ran though potential sequences for several minutes before stepping off the mats onto the rock. A few hard moves to good pockets led to a series of crimps, pinches, and slopers before the angle changed and I high-stepped onto the juggy slab that marks the end of the hard climbing.  Employing some fun foot trickery, the line felt fantastic, and soon I was standing on top of the boulder, whooping into the still air of the canyon. 

At this point, I felt like I should head back up-canyon to find Kyle, Alissa, and Justin, who I hadn't seen for a few hours at this point.  Just as I climbed out of the canyon, I met them as they were about to head down in.  We swapped stories about what we'd been up to, and I was curious to try a leaning arete that both Kyle and Alissa had found to be very fun.  Following their directions, I soon arrived at the problem, a cave-to-arete problem formed where a huge slab of sandstone lay half-atop another block of rock.  The line looked tricky, but the holds seemed reasonable, so I arranged the mats and pulled on my shoes.  After taking a good look at the holds, I started climbing; a couple powerful moves on juggy slots led out to the arete, where a series of surprisingly position-dependent moves on pinches and gastons allowed passage to a large ball-like feature on the arete.  Above me I could see a tiny knob and, higher, a good jug, but with my legs beneath the lip I felt unable to move.  I briefly considered a high heel-hook on the ball, but it was far too high.  Instead, I reached up and grabbed the knob before doing a move that is usually reserved for large protruding arete features - a leg hook (almost straddling the ball feature).  Feeling really locked in, I casually reached up to the final jug.  I would later find out that this funky line is called Nick Cave (V5 or 6), another fun Roy line put up by Owen.  Happy to flash the line, I headed around the back of the boulder and did the funky traverse-to-arete Cum On (V5) to round out my day.  By this point, my fingers felt thrashed, and I headed down-canyon to watch Kyle and Justin work Sneaker Man as the sun slowly sank below the horizon.  Another great day in Roy, and a really productive day for me!

Kyle reaching the "ball" hold of Nick Cave (V5/6); it's definitely tricky to move past this hold.

For the last two climbing days of our trip, we definitely wanted to climb more of the giant sandstone roofs that Roy offers.  By this point in our trip, we were definitely settling into a nice groove; wake up, stretch a bit, either eat breakfast in camp or head into town for coffee and burritos at Claudia's Coffee Shop, then as the day warmed head into the canyons to do some climbing.  On our second-last day (Friday) we followed this ritual and then headed back into upper Mesteno Canyon.  Kyle was super-keen to get back on Dust Bowl (V7), and I was excited to take a closer look at some unclimbed lines on the canyon rim I had spied during our last trip into the upper canyon.  As we arrived at the Mega Roof, we met some climbers from New Mexico (a super-friendly group who were already hard at work on the huge roof problems in the cave).  We warmed up on some of the easier lines on the Keep boulder, and then moved onto the steeper lines of the Mega Roof.  Justin climbed No One Gets out of Roy Alive (V4), and after another short session on Dust Bowl Kyle climbed through the massive 30 foot roof for the send.  Alissa and I were working on the adjacent Batman (V7), and after a little discussion about the best way to climb through the pockets without tweaking my left hand I managed to send it, while Alissa linked the entire first section of the problem (from the start to the third-last move of the roof).  The problems on the Mega Roof are awesome - we'll certainly be back!

Me hanging out on the stellar roof problem Batman (V7), Upper Mesteno.

Alissa on the Mega Roof, Upper Mesteno.

Finished with the Mega Roof for the day, Kyle, Alissa, and Justin wanted to check out the Solar Cave (another huge roof) just up-canyon.  However, I was keen to try the unclimbed project on the canyon rim I had looked at earlier, so I hiked up through the bushes and started sweeping off the holds on a perfect purple-orange wall of rails and pockets.  The problem was steep and high (!), so I didn't want to commit to topping out without first assessing as much of the rock as I could.  A view from the top revealed that the last 6 feet of climbing was on solid-looking edges, and I could see that the first 10 feet or so were on perfect 'merlot stone', but that left several feet in the middle that couldn't be easily examined without a rope.  After several tries on the line I had a good sequence figured out; perfect starting jugs prefaced two hard-ish moves on pockets, then a rail and another pocket led to a series of patina incuts.  Although I managed to climb up to this point fairly easily, it was difficult to determine which holds in the middle section were solid (although the climbing looked straightforward).  Still several feet below the exit holds, and looking at a huge fall into the brush (and undoubtedly missing my mat completely!), I decided that prudence was the better part of valor and decided to back off the problem and save the ascent for another day (when I had more mats and a spotter).  Packing up my gear, I headed over to take a look at the Solar Cave; when I arrived, however, Kyle, Alissa, and Justin were packing up, and with the sun getting low in the sky, we headed into town for dinner at Lonita's Cafe.
We definitely found some hard things to try, especially on our last day.  Here Kyle squeezes on a V10ish roof compression line on the Oogie Boogie Roof.

Saturday was our last day in Roy, and after climbing five days out of the last six my hands were incredibly sore.  We wanted to check out a few areas that Owen had given us directions but weren't in the guidebook; the Enormo Boulder and the Oogie Boogie Roof in Upper Mesteno Canyon.  Quickly packing up our gear, we headed out for one last day of pulling on desert sandstone.  After we dropped down into the canyon I had a very (!) unpleasant time warming up (my hands were very uncomfortable and painful)), but once I climbed a handful of lines they desensitized enough that I could pull on holds fairly comfortably.  Feeling strong, we headed over to the Oogie Boogie Roof to take a look.  Although it isn't as deep as the Mega Roof cave, the Oogie Boogie roof is arguably the most picturesque of all the caves we saw on our trip.  With the clock ticking, we climbed (or at least tried) almost all the lines in the cave, sending Ghost Town (V3), the amazing The Upside Down (the best V2 we climbed in Roy, certainly), and Mr. Oogie Boogie (V3).  Inspired by the amazing holds, I even climbed a new line on the Oogie Boogie Roof; starting on the start holds of The Upside Down I trended right through huecos, pockets, a very cool pinch and an amazing fin hold to top out, calling it Evil Eye (V5ish).  Kyle and I also worked The Babadook (V7), and eventually Kyle sent the line (in style!), while I came up short.  We also spent a little time working a hard (V10?) compression line, making better progress than I thought we would.  Next time!

Different views of Kyle, Alissa, and I on The Upside Down, an amazing V2 on the Oogie Boogie Roof.

By this point, unfortunately, it was late in the afternoon and it was time to start the drive back to Canada.  Long drives are not much fun, and this one was no exception.  Driving across New Mexico and Colorado was relatively uneventful, but northern Wyoming was an expanse of dense fog, and in Montana we experienced white-out blizzard conditions.  But eventually we made it back to Canada, albeit with sore hands and the desire to head back to the desert canyons of Roy for more bouldering!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

2017: The Year in Review!

Ah, 2017!  A lot of crazy stuff happened this year, both in climbing and the greater world.  My climbing universe was full of happenings, and as usual, I've set aside some time to list my personal review of Top Ten Climbing Things that happened this year

1.  The greatest / craziest / most impressive thing that happened this year was Alex Honnold's solo of Freerider (.13a) on El Cap.  Although Freerider goes at a fairly moderate V7 grade, the highball factor really adds to the experience, I feel.  All joking aside, Honnold's solo of Freerider essentially dropped a bomb into the world of adventure, with ripples that extended far beyond climbing.  I've soloed a handful of routes, but I can barely watch the video of Honnold on El Cap (EL CAP!).  Crazy, and my hat is off to you, Alex!  There are articles about the ascent everywhere, but here's a link to the one in Climbing Magazine.

Alex Honnold on Freerider (V7).  Mind = blown.  Every time I see this photo.

2.  Just as impressive is Adam Ondra's ascent of Silence (.15d) in the inverted granite amphitheater of the Hanshelleren Cave near Flatanger, Norway.  I've been climbing for more than 25 years now, and only a few years ago the grade .15d wouldn't have even made sense to climbers.  But it clearly does to Ondra, who also ushered in the .15c grade.  Ondra is dedicated to climbing in a way that perhaps no one else is.  He's climbed more than 25 routes that are .15a or harder (again, a statistic that barely makes sense, especially given the small number of routes of this difficulty in the world).  To redpoint Silence, he worked it for four years, with months of training dedicated to be able to individual moves (for example, there were months of training just to get his calves strong enough for the inverted kneebar rests, for goodness sake.  You can gain some insight into his process in the Rock and Ice interview here.

Adam Ondra showing us that the impossible sometimes isn't on Silence (.15d).  

3.  I've been in the game a while now, and so it is (extremely!) gratifying that I climbed one of the most important problems of my life this year.  Ogopogo (V5) is the type of unopened problem that the itinerant climber spends years looking for; perfect rock, interesting and sculpted holds, a little overhanging, and an amazing landing.  Added to this is the fact that the problem is dead-center on the tallest face of the infamous Nerf Boulder at the Boulderfields.  I'd looked at the problem for years before I finally turned the mental corner from "it looks amazing" to "I'm going to seriously try this."  Once it was cleaned, it didn't take too long to work out the moves and send it, but the voyage from seeing to the line to climbing it was amazing.  You can see Ryan Frecka's great video of my send here.  I also added another classic (with some of the funkiest moves I've done in a while) to the Serenity Boulder, calling it Sunny Side Up (V5).  I love the Boulderfields!

Ryan pulling through the first crux of Ogopogo (V5) at the Boulderfields.  Ryan is basically the staff photographer of The Climbing Life.

4.  For me, climbing can be even more amazing when you travel to new places with great people.  A year ago, on a lucky whim, Kyle and I checked out an area we had heard about - but never visited - in southern Idaho.  Oddly, for a climbing area, the cliffs of The Channel are underwater half of the year, but dry once the water is diverted (in the winter) for agricultural use.  The shapes of the rock at the Channel are amazing, and so it was an absolute treat to be able to head to Idaho this year for an extended trip to the Channel.  Despite the fact that I was dealing with the aftermath of a weird tendon injury in my left hand (courtesy of The Evangelist at Frank Slide), I had a blast climbing at the Channel with a great group of people.  You can check out my blog post of the trip here, and one of the many videos of the area here.  I'll be back there again soon!

Me dipping into the topout of the amazing Honey Pot (V8 I think?), The Channel.

5.  One of the coolest things in my climbing world this year was how fresh Frank Slide seemed this  year.  Almost every trip I made to the Slide I tried new problems, sometimes on boulders on which every problem we did was a first ascent.  The Pilgrimage just kept providing new problems visit after visit.  The Tetris Boulder (now firmly established as one of the single best boulders in all of the Slide) was a major find, and provided us with several trips of pure bouldering pleasure (including the absolutely standout lines of Rook (hard V2), 2-Pock (V2), Tetris (V4), Domino (V3/4), Gunrunner (V8/9), and Smoke Show (V6).  Now if I can just get strong enough to get to work on some of the harder problems in The Pilgrimage!

Me pulling on the perfect holds of Victoria (V3?) in the City of Giants Sector, a classic new problem I did on Victoria Day this year.

5.5.  There were a lot of hard problems that went down this year, although injury certainly reduced the pace that new hard problems appeared.  Josh B.'s incredibly aesthetic Voyageur (V8ish) was a notable addition, as was Davin's Gunrunner (V8/9).  Josh B. also added several new highballs high on Turtle Mountain, that I am certain will repel suitors for years to come.  There were a few notable non-sends this year; Mark D. did not repeat the infamous March of Time (V9...not!), though he came very close, and Josh B. did not do the amazingly gymnastic 'Sunny Corner Project' (certain to be by far the hardest line in the province, and one of the hardest in the country), mostly because one leg is insufficient to climb the line.

6.  Hueco Tanks!  After decades of hearing about Hueco, I finally made the trip down to west Texas with Kyle and Davin.  We had an absolutely standout trip (with the exception of the drive down; I hope to never again commit to a soul-destroying 30-hour drive).  There were so many moments of awesomeness, but perhaps the single best moment was flashing the legendary Moonshine Roof (V4).  To climb such a legendary / amazing / world-class problem felt like an absolute privilege, and made all the bureaucratic red tape worth it.

Davin on the "how can a problem this steep have tiny crimps on it" start of Daily Dick Dose (V7), Hueco Tanks.

7.   Definitely my hardest send this year (from my personal perspective) was Evan's Seven (V7).  Evan's Seven is my anti-style (bad feet, lots of lockoffs), and even though I committed to working it in the hottest part of summer, I kept at for probably three or four sessions before I could finally stick the first (for me, incredibly low-percentage!) move.  Even though I climbed several problems that are theoretically as hard or harder, I had to climb absolutely perfectly to climb Evan's Seven, and I was fairly happy with my send.  It was supposed to be one of the ticks on my way to the Frank Slide Seven Sevens List, but I would be stopped soon thereafter when I tried to "throw a lap on The Evangelist".... which brings me to Number 8.

8.  What would a 2018 Highlights List be without my describing my injuries?  After dodging the injury-bullet for years, 2018 was the year when injuries would really reappear in my life.  Early in the year what I refer to as my "weird bicep thing" would flare up (though I beat it down again with some physio), but my season really took a beating in early September when I stressed the long tendon that runs from my left ring finger through my wrist into my forearm trying the strange 'upside-down/false-grip' first move of The Evangelist (V7) in a poorly thought-out headlamp session at the end of an already long day.  That led to a month off to recuperate (which for me is virtually unheard of), and then I tweaked my right elbow working a hard (and high!) V8 or V9ish project at the Channel in October.  I seem to be mostly healed (KNOCK ON WOOD), but we'll see how my early 2018 training goes!

9.  Ninth on my list is the fact that this is my 25th (26th?) year of climbing!  I'm always a little surprised when the new year rolls around, and not only am I still climbing, but I'm seemingly climbing almost as well as I ever have!  I've decided to not worry about the "impending" end of my climbing career; frankly, I thought it would have ended years ago!  So in 2018 I'm going to keep training, keep hunting for new problems and new areas, keep developing, and keep traveling to new areas!  Seeing new rock and meeting new climbers is really such a big part of my life, I can't really imagine quitting at this point in my life.

From left to right, Alissa, Jonas, Kyle, Evan, and Brian getting ready to pull on the perfect stone of The Channel, Idaho.  A great group to explore the desert with!

10.  But really, a huge part of what made climbing great this year was the people I got to climb with.  From spending summer time sessions bouldering the Karage with Kyle and the Karage Krew (sounds like a band), to exploring Frank Slide with Kyle, Mark, Davin, and Dan, to everyone at the Ascent Climbing Gym, to the Boulderfields Posse (Andy, Staci, Jay, Braden, Garrett, Quentin, and so many more), to all the people I met on trips both in Canada and the USA (especially - but not limited to - Peter, Chelsea, Alex in the Boulderfields, and Emily and Shane at the Hueco Hacienda), it is really the people that help make climbing memorable and enjoyable.  Some of my good climbing friends were injured this year (notably Josh who apparently exploded his leg), and I wish them all the best in the upcoming months.  So my hat is off to everyone who keeps the climbing spirit alive, and I look forward to a great 2018!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Channel Strikes Back!

Last October, Kyle and I spent a week or two adventuring through the arid hills of Montana, Idaho, and northern Nevada, continuing our search for the best bouldering in western North America.  We visited a half-dozen areas, and our reviews for most of the areas were generally mixed.  We both liked Castle Rock State Park, where the rock was really featured and solid, but I wasn't a huge fan of the exfoliating rock of the boulders of City of Rocks (Kyle liked how steep it was).  I really liked the wildness of the boulders of northern Nevada, but Kyle wasn't wild about all the crimps and how spread out the bouldering was.  We both enjoyed bouldering in the Butte Batholith, but vertical crimps are probably Kyle's least favorite style of climbing, and I thought the Trailer Park Boulders were generally too short, though fun.  One area we were both blown away by though, was The Channel in south-central Idaho.

Our accounts of how we ended up first visiting The Channel differ somewhat.  Though we had both read about the Channel long before we left for our trip last year, Kyle insists that it was his suggestion that we visit the Channel to check it out on a rest day.  In my memory, however, it was my insistence that drove us to visit the Channel.  Regardless of which story is true, however, one thing was certain after our two-day exploration of this amazing area. The Channel was a new hope* for western bouldering, and we would be definitely coming back.

Kyle bouldering on perfect bronze sculpture in the Channel, Idaho.

The bouldering area dubbed 'The Channel' is a narrow canyon cut by the waters of the Big Wood River into the flood basalt of the Magic Valley of southern Idaho.  Ordinarily, the amazingly water-sculpted features of a river canyon wouldn't be climbable (as they would be under water), but the water of the Big Wood River has been diverted for agricultural purposes.  For approximately half of the year, water still runs through the Big Wood River, but for the other half of the year (late autumn, winter, and early spring) the water is diverted into canals, revealing some of the most incredible holds sculpted from absolutely bombproof basalt.  The Channel is also one of the few places with really abundant bouldering on basalt (many basalt flows form columnar formations, which spawn only relatively small boulders).

This October, Kyle and I headed back to southern Idaho, but this time with a group of southern Alberta boulderers all psyched to boulder at this unique area; Evan (from Calgary), Ryan (from Edmonton), Brian K., Alissa and Justin, and Jonas and Jordana (all from Lethbridge).  As Kyle and I drove down through the northern states in his Subaru, I reflected that the 10-hour drive to Idaho was a welcome change from the 18-hour drive to Las Vegas, definitely a plus for those who don't like driving long distances (like myself).  We'd decided to avoid camping by renting cabins at the KOA near Twin Falls, which was a reasonably cost-effective way to have beds and hot showers without staying at a hotel.  It turned out to be a good place to base our bouldering trip, as the cabins were warm, the showers were great, and it was a little closer to the Channel than staying in Twin Falls.

Brian dynoing like a champion on Epi-Pen (V8?).  We didn't know the names of most problems...

On our first two-day visit to the Channel last year, Kyle and I had spend all of our time at the north-most part of the Channel (aka Black Magic Canyon, aka the "Fish Channel").  We had heard of another sector (the 'central Channel' where one can find the Cosmic Boulder), but hadn't had time to check it out.  On this trip, we got word of yet another sector to the south, which when we visited it turned out to be our favorite (in part because it was cleaner, had just as good problems, but was also free of the piles of dead fish that seemed to especially plague the north Channel this year).

As we moved between different sectors of the Channel climbing each day, we quickly settled into a rhythm.  Usually we would pack up lunches and mats, then head somewhere for breakfast (often IHOP) before driving north to the Channel (either the north or south sector).  Once there, we'd find a wall with a lot of warm-up climbs (easily done), and then disperse a bit to find and work projects for the day.  Inevitably, at some point during the day a group would come upon a particularly spectacular problem or feature, and a handful of people would congregate to work (and hopefully send!) the problem.  Not knowing the proper names for any of the galleries or sectors we'd encounter, we came up with titles for the areas we'd visited; "The Fish Channel", "the Red Channel" (one of the sectors had been fire retardant-bombed during the summer fires, staining it red), "The Rhinoceros Sector" (named after a prominent horn), etc.  Often the areas of the Channel that were near drop-in trails or the mouths of some of the more canyon-like sectors would provide great warmups, as the walls there tended to be more featured.

The fire retardant-stained rock of the 'Red Channel'.  Some of our favorite problems were in this area.

Every day we climbed at the Channel, we moved around to check out new sectors.  While the sectors varied a bit with respect rock texture, height, angularity of the features, and steepness (some were definitely more overhanging than others), we were never disappointed.  It seemed that each new bend of the channel hosted another chamber with a new and exciting profusion of basalt sculptures, and a mind-bending selection of new problems of all angles.

On our first day in the South Channel, we warmed up at a beautiful wall topped by a huge pile of driftwood (testament to the height of the flood waters that must periodically inundate the Big Wood River).  Beautifully incut jugs, aretes, and huecos on a slightly overhanging wall were the perfect warmup for a day of pulling on basalt.  One especially beautiful line started low, underclinging a feature that looked like a troll's head, then followed an angling crack up to a series of perfect jugs; a typically five-star line at the Channel.

Ryan on the amazing 'Driftwood' problem.

Warmed up, Brian got psyched to try a perfect compression line across the canyon from the warmup wall.  Unlike many of the other lines we would try that week, the compression line had a fall zone comprised entirely of large blocks.  Some of the posse were put off by the bad landing, but Brian's excitement was infectious and in a few minutes Evan and I were checking it out as well.  Commandeering a handful of mats, we set up a decent landing and set about climbing the surprisingly juggy compression prow.  It was so much fun, we actually did it a handful of times before moving on, looking for new projects.

Brian squeezing basalt in Idaho.

As we moved up-channel, we encountered a section (about 100m long) in which the rock was stained bright red from fire retardant.  There was a lot of evidence of fires in the area (much of the desert surrounding the channel was burned), and presumably the red retardant was associated with efforts to fight those fires.  Many of the problems in the red-stained section of channel were amazing, including a prow consisting of two consecutive bulges topped by two blunt 'rhino-horn' features (they're more amazing - and more common - at the Channel than you might think).  While we wandered about, ogling the amazing features, Alissa pulled on her shoes, arranged some pads, and started working the line,  Soon Jordana and Jonas got curious, and started trying the problem as well.  Not one to ignore such a cool-looking line (and the already-arranged mats), I pulled on my shoes and tried the problem as well.

The line incorporated an amazing and perfectly-textured sloping shelf, which led to a weird vertical slot-pocket, and from there an apparently huge reach would gain the pair of rhino horns and the weird scoops above.  After trying the problem a couple of times, I was stumped; I simply could not get my feet high enough on the bulge to reach the horns above.  A more careful look at the problem, however, revealed a perfect slot-undercling hidden in the shadows below the upper bulge.  Invigorated, Alissa pulled on to the starting holds, stepped up, pulled into the undercling, and rolled her shoulders far enough to clear the bulge and reach the horns. A few more funky moves up a runnel-fin-horn, and a grinning Alissa was standing on top of the wall.  Using essentially the same beta, I followed her up the problem.  Over the course of the day, most of the group would work and eventually send the problem; yet another top-drawer problem at the Channel!

Alissa looking as though she is getting eaten alive by the rock in the Channel as she sends the Rhino problem.

One of the amazing things about the Channel is the landings.  Coming from Frank Slide (which has the consistently worst landings of any area I've been to on earth), the gravel-and-sand landings of the Channel seemed fantastic.  Sometimes, we'd have to prop a mat against a boulder, or use a few to fill in an eroded hole, but generally the landings are good.  The landings clearly change from year to year, though; last year, Tonsilitis (V4) had a perfect gravel landing, this year the problem was 3 feet taller and featured a scoured-out, boulder-filled hole for a landing.

Brian looking solid on the amazing Obvious Crack (V4?) in the North Channel. One of the few problems we did that climbed right to the rim, many problems end on a big ledge.

In their explorations one afternoon, Evan and Ryan found an singularly amazing feature - a bizarre fin/blade which protruded at a right angle from the canyon wall.  At the end of the day, we coalesced around the problem, ready to explore the undoubtedly technical (and weird!) movement the problem would demand.  By squeezing, wrist-wrapping, and heel-hooking his way up the problem, Evan managed an impressive end-of-the-day send, while the rest of us were left without enough gas in our tanks to muster the power to climb the line.  Ryan and Evan returned to the line our next day in the sector, and Ryan came incredibly close to sending it as well, but was forced to walk away without the send.  We found out later that the problem is called Compression Technician; you can check out a video of the problem at 2:43 of this short film about the Channel.

From top to bottom: One of the amazing pothole-tubes at the channel; Jonas on a very cool and funky ooze-into-a-scoop problem; Jordana staring down her project, the line we referred to as the 'Rhino problem'.

Great climbing trips create amazing stories and great memories.  The Channel, set in the dramatic deserts of Idaho and replete with perfect problems and surrealistic shapes carved in basalt, definitely creates these stories for me.  While I don't have the time to share them all, there are definitely some that are especially memorable.  Justin, Brian, and I working an amazing sloper problem on a sun-drenched wall of basalt, with one of the craziest highstep-to-a-huge-sloper moves I've done in a long time.  Jordana working - and eventually doing - some of the first tall problems she's ever done.  Jonas dynoing for huge huecos whenever he could find a problem that demanded it.  Evan digging into and sending an angling crack with back-to-back dynos, that ended by wrestling up and into a huge sculpted spire/jug/fin.  Kyle and I working an a pocket-to-arete-to-scoop highball with one of the smoothest slopers I've ever touched.  Jonas dislocating his pinky toe by tripping over a mat. When you combine all these things with a trip to the weirdest "museum" in the middle of the desert, you've got the makings of a great trip!**

In contrast to many climbers, however, the Channel holds an extra, non-climbing, appeal for me.  As a huge fan of sculpture (and a sculptor myself), the endless fantastically-eroded shapes are (almost literally) mindblowing.  Everywhere one looks, perfect natural sculptures abound.  A bizarre tusk that looks like it was sculpted by Jean Arp, a rock lying in the gravel that looks like a Henry Moore, and a blade of rock jutting from the wall that looks like a piece by Etienne Hajdu.  If you love sculpture AND climbing, the Channel is a lifetime must-see destination.

I have many (!) photos of weird rock formations in the Channel.  Many...

Having injured my left hand fairly badly in early September (on The Evangelist (V7), see an earlier post...), I knew I would be focusing primarily on moderates on this trip.  Fortunately, the easy problems in the Channel are just a good as the hard ones!  Often problems in the Channel consist of linking discontinuous - but often juggy - features that are separated by smooth featureless basalt.  On the easier problems, these features are amazing (and amazingly accessible).  A problem might start by underclinging a huge cauliflower-like hold, only to move up to a perfect slot, then onto a giant rhinoceros horn, then up again to a series of scoops and huecos.  Though the problems in the Channel are often a bit tall, the topouts usually consist of huge incut pockets and horns, so the risk factor is low.  It's great to visit areas where the easy problems are just as good (and use just as amazing holds) as the hard ones!

Brian on the best V0- I've ever done.  The thing he's standing on looks like a huge giraffe's head jutting out of the wall. Amazing.

On one of the rest days we checked out the 'other' big bouldering area in the Magic Valley; the weathered basalt blocks of Dierkes Lake.  Although we didn't have time to climb here, I was surprised by the quality of the boulders, which looked fantastic (and a bit like California's Sad Boulders).  Dierkes Lake is definitely a sun trap (making it a good cold-weather option) and features sport climbing as well as bouldering, so we'll definitely spend some time climbing there on a return trip.  We talked to some of the people bouldering at Dierkes Lake, and were a little surprised that they had never heard of the Channel.

Justin checking out the rock at the Dierkes Lake, in Twin Falls.  Must be nice to have a bouldering area right in town...

One of the cultural perks of visiting the area (for curious Canadians, anyways) is that the small towns of the Magic Valley are untouched bastions of western Americana.  For example, on our commute to the Channel each day, we would drive through the small town of Shoshone, and the red awning of the Manhattan Cafe.  Once we indulged our curiosity and visited the Manhattan Cafe for breakfast, we realized how amazing a western breakfast of coffee, eggs, sausage, bacon, and unlimited pancakes can be!  If you're ever in the area, stop in for an amazing breakfast, and soak in some western culture!***

AH yes, the Manhattan Cafe!  A must-stop venue for breakfast when bouldering at the Channel.

On the last day of our trip, we headed out to the Channel with a skeleton crew of just Kyle, Ryan, and myself.  Brian, Alissa, and Justin had to head back to Lethbridge a day earlier than us, Jonas and Jordana opted for a scenic drive rather than a day of climbing, and Evan was sick (probably food poisoning; let's just say that it was a 'fluid' situation).  With just a few people, we had a fantastic day of circuiting around, climbing dozens of easy problems (including the only roof we climbed on the trip), as well as a few harder ones.  Kyle and Ryan ended the day (and the trip) with a session on an incredible "sculpture" problem, while I did a few of the amazing easy highballs nearby.  Feeling beat, we headed back to the KOA cabins to get one more night of rest before heading back to Canada.

End of the day send of yet another fantastic V0 highball at the Channel!

Even as we drove through endless sagebrush-covered landscapes en route to Canada, I started to look forward to my next trip to the Channel.  It's an amazing area to explore, with some of the most incredible rock I've ever climbed on.  I'll be back again, Idaho!  Until then, take care, and keep the potatoes coming!****

 Justin on a fantastic gaston-while-standing-on-the-head-of-a-hammerhead-shark problem.

 Kyle dynoing. Natch.

 Brian finding yet another problem to project!

 The snake we saved from drowning!  He looks happy... I think. (He wasn't).

 Justin on a  problem that we couldn't quite do.

Kyle on the so-called "sculpture problem", which only Evan managed to do, though Kyle came quite close.

* see what I did there? ;)

** ask Justin and Brian about their "two-meal meals"

*** the Mexican food in Twin Falls is great, as well!  You can't go wrong at the La Fiesta Mexican Restaurant!

**** my only Idaho potato joke.