In southern Alberta, winter has slowly evolved into spring. The hills have changed from gold to pale green, the summer birds have returned, and temperatures slowly approach ideal conditions for climbing. Shelley encountered a study last week that said that extremities (i.e. fingers) lose dexterity below 12C. Given that temperatures above 20C are less than ideal (too warm) for hard climbing, it seems that the prime bouldering season has arrived at last. I’m not sure if I have prepared adequately, but I am excited nonetheless for a spring and summer of bouldering at Frank Slide. I’ve identified enough projects to keep me busy, and I add more every time I go to Frank. Lots has happened in the last month, climbing-wise. Most of it has been bouldering inside, of course, but I have managed to get out to Frank twice. Read on...
Episode 1) On March 23, the 10th Annual Boulderfest bouldering competition was held at the Ascent Climbing Center at the University of Lethbridge. I had briefly wrestled with the decision of whether to climb or to set in the competition, but since I’m still getting in shape after a long injury-related layoff and I love the creative elements of setting boulder problems, I decided to set. Kyle Marco and I spent two nights before the comp setting problems, and a several other people came in to set the day before the comp as well. In the end, there were 61 problems set for the comp, and (if I recall correctly) I set 18 of those. I was happy with my efforts, and several of my problems proved to be very popular. Logan also set several problems, and Logan, Kyle, and I spent much of the evening before the comp fore-running the problems. Fore-running is a lot of work, but it’s hugely fun and really improves the quality of the problems in a competition.
The competition went off very smoothly for the most part, with no big problems or unexpected glitches. Mark Derksen and Beth Millions won the Advanced Men’s and Advanced Women’s categories, respectively. Congrats to both of you! The comp was well-supported by a number of sponsors, and I was especially impressed by the support provided by AwesomeAdventures and Novo Watches; if you have an opportunity check them out! Let them know you appreciate their effor
Unfortunately, the weather since Boulderfest has been really hit-or-miss. March and April can, apparently, be quite snowy in southern Alberta, in contrast the relatively dry winter months. Wet weather, visits by relatives, and a prolonged head cold conspired to temporarily reduce my outdoor climbing. I did make it out to Frank twice in the month since Boulderfest, and both trips were really productive and a lot of fun.
Episode 2) On April 6, the weather forecast was good enough to warrant a trip out to Frank. Mark G. and Beth (one of the most thoroughly entertaining climbing couples I’ve ever met) were planning on heading out, and I was excited by the prospect of climbing with them. Kyle was heading out as well (of course), so I grabbed my mats, packed a lunch, and met Kyle at McDonalds for the trip out. Meeting Mark and Beth at the Slide, we decided to head to the Snakebite Boulder. This was perfectly fine with me, as I had never climbed any of the problems on the boulder. We warmed up on Snakebite (V1), then worked our way across the classics on the boulder. I had hoped to flash some of the harder problems, but the problems were tricky and I was slow to warm up... I was actually pretty happy just to finish Apple Shampoo (V4) and KBMI30 (V5). Everyone was climbing really well, especially Kyle who casually lapped out KBMI30 so I could see how the crux moves went. We added three new easy short problems on the far left side of the boulder, including the fun Markleberry Fin (V0).
Beth looking strong on Apple Shampoo (V4). Little known fact: Beth bears a striking resemblance to the Italian actress Violante Placido. But she climbs way harder.
While we were moving the mats around, I noticed several cool-looking holds just to the left of Apple Shampoo, and wondered if they could be linked. As it turned out, they could, and I sent the first ascent of Obi Wan Kenobi (V5 or V6) a short while later. It’s a really great line, actually, with funky moves linking a series of interesting crimps and edges up a slightly overhanging wall. It’s a great addition to the boulder, and creates a side-by-side triptych of moderately hard problems; Obi Wan Kenobi (V5/6), Apple Shampoo (V4), and KBMI30 (V5). All three problems have hard last moves, and sending them back-to-back-to-back would be a fun objective for any visiting boulderer. We moved on to the easy slab problems on the Cassandra’s Slab Boulder, but then the rains came and our day was over.
Me on KBMI30 (V5). Little known fact: Beth is an excellent spotter. Look at those thumbs! Folded in! Textbook-perfect!
Episode 3) This past Saturday, Kyle and I headed back to Frank Slide again, despite a less-than-ideal forecast (cool with a strong possibility of rain and/or snow flurries). When we arrived at Frank, the weather was unexpectedly perfect; sunny with only a light breeze. I have always wanted to visit the City of Giants, which is a collection of very large boulders a few hundred meters east of the House Boulder. The City of Giants hasn’t seen a lot of development, partially because some of the boulders are too tall to safely boulder on, and partially because getting to the City requires ten minutes of boulder-hopping. I was keen to check out the area for potential projects, and Kyle was content to humor me, so off we marched into the talus to hunt for the future of Frank bouldering.
Kyle showed me around the area for a half-hour or so, and it became apparent that there is another reason why there are only a limited number of established problems in the City; many of the boulders are unusually blank. There are exceptions, fortunately. The largest boulder in the area, despite the fact that it is sport-route height, actually looks like it might have several fun hard problems on its shorter faces. Kyle and I cleaned up a easy (but really tall) problem nearby to warm up, but just as we started working it, it started raining, so we packed up and headed over to a potential project that Kyle had spied on an earlier trip. Arriving at the project, we tossed our mats down, and spend the next ten minutes looking at holds, wondering if it would go, and speculating how hard it might be. We booted and chalked up, and started working the problem. Starting on perfect opposing sidepulls, the problem launches up a steep face; first pulling to a blunt pinch, then climbing up a gold-streaked shield on smooth and sloping sidepulls. Dubbing it the ‘Shield Project’, we had to work hard to make progress on the technical and powerful sequence. After a couple of hours we had both managed to do the first move (once, with a lot of effort!), and touched the second hold without sticking it. It doesn’t sound like much, but I was really psyched to link even those many moves! The third move we couldn’t try, but we did manage to do the fourth move by stepping off a boulder. The fifth move to the lip looked big and balancy, but hopefully not too brutally hard. Above the lip there are two more short moves up a short hanging slab to get to the top of the boulder. I hope these final moves are not too desperate, because the problem is fairly tall (15 feet?) and a fall from the top (onto a fridge-sized bock below) would be grim. When the forecast rains finally arrived, we left the area still excited by the prospect of having found such an excellent and hard project. It seems like it might be low in the double-digits to me (maybe V10? V9?), but we’ll have to see. On the way back to the truck we stopped to look at another great-looking prospective project, a long and steep (!) crimpy rail coming out of a cave on the backside of a huge block of limestone. Maybe the City of Giants is the future of Frank Bouldering, after all!
Kyle on the Shield Project, which involves powerful moves to sidepulls, and REALLY bad feet. It's really hard. Kyle thinks it's not really that hard. We did spend an awful lot of time to do one move, though... just one move. Little known fact: Kyle looks like Obi Wan Kenobi.
Hopefully I’ll get a chance to head out to Frank regularly this spring. The weather forecast for the next two weeks looks fantastic, and my fingers are crossed!