Holy CR#P 2016!
SPRAY! I’m horrible at it and generally feel like a part of my soul died every time I do it. Writing about my obsession with rocks seems to almost downplay it and make it feel worth less than before I sprayed. But I guess 2016 was memorable enough to share, probably one of the most active and successful climbing years I’ve had in awhile.
The New Year brought me back to a newish zone we had been developing near Grandpa’s Bridge in the Poudre Canyon. This is a nice area in the winter with lots of potential for new routes. I was focused on finishing two projects we had bolted the previous season at the intimidating Amphitheater zone. This overhanging wall starts from a ledge that requires rapping a short fixed line. All though the rock is not the best, the climbing is steep, pumpy and engaging which can be hard to find in NOCO. The two center lines were still projects and both were kicking my ass thoroughly. Conditions were rough at times, the wall gets sun from 12:00 on that time of year, but if its a cloudy day you are guaranteed bone-chilling temps all day. Numbing out was definitely an issue but I was still mostly just punting on both cruxes.
We also continued bolting new routes like this great roof route called Grandpa’s Challenge. Here’s Hofer getting out of the pool just after the crux.
During the flailing process on the AMPH projects, I was spending a lot of Fridays at The Beach as well. This is another rad zone in the winter with Rumney style shorty routes on really good rock. The routes are basically bolted boulder problems, so bring all the power you got. I had been working on Zac Lerner’s test piece Chocolate Stout, it was turning into quite a mental battle. Consistently one-hanging after switching my beta again this season, I just couldn’t seem to stick the big move from the ground.
Always looking for new rock, I bolted this sweet little panel on the right side of the Beach in a corridor down by the river. Skyler Bol came along and snagged the FA naming it Corona 13a and added another nice edition to this little crag. I’m psyched to try it again soon and his other new line to the right of it called Low Tide 11b.
Then near the end of February I had a break through with conditions and finished one of the projects at the AMPH. I named it Monstro 13c after the whale in Pinocchio, Pinocchio being the running naming scheme for this wall. This route gave me some confidence that I was getting stronger and my meager amount of training was paying off. https://www.mountainproject.com/v/monstro/111640592
Also in February NCCC helped host a “Crimping for Cupid” Competition at Inner Strength. We hadn’t done an event with Inner Strength before so it was nice to get involved there. We spent a night setting with the IS crew and everyone had a good time at the comp.
By this time, we were still actively climbing at Grandpa’s Bridge. I was still supporting Jason Tarry’s bid to finish Monstro and I was trying the other project to the left. Meanwhile we began bolting some other obvious features like Lay-Z-Boy 10a, Grandpa’s Cough Syrup 11b and 2 routes on the stunning tower feature we would name the Pagoda. Every time I drove past this feature in the canyon I would crane my neck out the window to see if there was a way to climb the intimidating west face. As with any question mark eventually curiosity wins and usually I rap in to find another stellar unclimbed sport route right off Hwy 14. I slammed the bolts in as fast as I could, giggling as I chalked up one rad hold after another. The route is easily broken down to two sections, a powerful boulder problem on a small crimp and slopers at the bottom, and a thuggy section of underclings up high leading to the chains. After a couple days of effort, I was able to stick the long move after the underclings and open Golden Pagoda 13a/b. If you climb this grade it is an excellent winter project for a FC local.
For the first time in years, my wife and I took a vacation without our son to Vegas/Red Rocks. I hadn’t been to Vegas in awhile and I was psyched for some sun and to try my hand at onsighting some 13- terrain. I came heartbreakingly close on several routes’ over the course of the trip but ended up punting on my goal. It was a great trip regardless, I climbed 5 days on with lots of new 5.12 terrain and I was able to visit the Secret 13 wall and the Alternative Crag which had been on the list for years.
The weather finally started warming up after the long winter. Jason finished up Monstro and Peter Hurtgen got a quick repeat soon after. I finally managed to get through the long knee-bar sequence with enough gas for the desperate thrutch into the undercling on the other AMPH project. I named this one Honest Jon 13b/c after the shady cat character in Pinocchio. Its equally as good as Monstro with a very different climbing style but still really steep and pumpy.
One weekend in April, Jason’s B-day weekend in fact, he requested a day of adventure on the aptly named Mega Wall. This 60-meter wall located above the Sleeping Elephant campground had been on our minds for the past year. We had made the long 1.5-hour slog last year to scope the potential, it was good, really good, but way the heck up the hill. We loaded up packs with bolting gear and began the slog in roughly 6 inches of snow. Jesse Levine tagged along to take some photos but forgot his shoes so he decided to do the arduous hike in only flip flops, yikes! We got to the wall and it was sunny and rad just like we had remembered. We agreed on a beautiful 60m face as the first route on the massive wall. Hiking around to the top was a bushwhack and involved tricky route finding to figure out where on the 1/4mile wide cliff we were. Eventually we got onto the face and drilled an anchor for the top of pitch two before completing an airy rap of 25m down to where we guessed the first pitch would end. After drilling that anchor we eventually got to the ground and began top-roping. The route was very nice, with lots of technical edge and face climbing on great stone. We ended up bolting the entire pitch that day but ran out of time to get a lead attempt, I’m itching to get back there soon.
By May I was ready for summer and hot sunny conditions. But in NOCO it is not always the case, May 1st brought snow and an excuse to go explore some unclimbed potential. So I talked Ryan Nelson and Chris Hofer into looking at some unclimbed rocks off the Stove Prairie road. The walls ended up being a little short and mostly missing holds, buts sometimes its all about a taste of adventure and getting out of the house for awhile. When else do you get hilarious impromptu trad/mountaineering/ice climbing shenanigans like this:
On the 14th the NCCC got the CSU Climbing Team out for a day of trail work at the Triple Tier aka Upper Echelon area in the Poudre. This trail has never really been worked on and has needed some dire attention. Of course good ole May brought some wet and dreary conditions, not the best for moving large stones for steps down a steep hill above Hwy 14, but people were psyched so we made do. We spent about 4 hours working until the rain kicked in and made everything a muddy mess. We did succeed in making about 8-10 solid steps but it probably needs about 8-10 more. We hope to return in 2017 and finish the job.
In early June my buddy Ole Toby (Chris Tirrell) got married out in Santa Rosa, CA. Always great to see old friends and party, but I made sure to pack my climbing shoes too. I have visited California frequently for climbing over the years but there’s always some place new (for me) to explore. So, I spent a couple afternoons bouldering out at Goat Rock, which is painfully scenic and the collection of problems isn’t too shabby either.
Returning to CO I was psyched to get summer climbing in full swing. I had several alpine bouldering objectives I wanted to explore and the snow was melting fast. First up was Comanche Reservoir, located near Pingree Park this zone had been explored by the likes of Damon Vaughan and Ryan Nelson. Ryan had previously established a couple routes and was keen for the bouldering too. After looking through most of the obvious boulders, one boulder stuck out to me off the trail with a nice angling seam. I came close on day 1 but couldn’t finish it off until the second. I nice power endurance line with a tricky middle section, I called it Fire in the Sky v9. Its a nice hike out there in the summer and the boulder can’t be missed off the main trail.
June is also when Poudre Falls tends to come into season. Camping and climbing there during the summer has become a bit of a ritual for me and my family. I also added some new routes like every year, including Milky Way 10a on one side of Journey to Pluto at Astronomy Wall, and an open project on the other side of Pluto. I spent a couple days on this uber-techy project but I was too distracted by other goals to really give it my all, maybe next year.
My son also turned 4 on June 18, so I built him his first climbing wall, which was rad. We spent the summer making up problems and working on different climbing styles and skills…. even a dyno! (please excuse gratuitous climber dad/dork beaming)
With summer in full swing I went to check out a new limestone area my friends Noah Kaufmann and Dan Yager had been raving about since last year. Deep Creek is located outside Eagle Colorado way up Coffee Pot Road with awesome views of the Flat Tops wilderness and tons of free camping. I was thoroughly impressed by the quantity and quality of rock. Being in the vicinity of area’s like Lime Creek my expectations were not too high, but after climbing a few warm-ups I could tell this zone had something different.
Instead of the Shelf Road style of crimp and pull, this rock was water worn and slopey, providing lots of interesting movements and holds that looked like something out of the Verdon Gorge. I think a guidebook is in the works, so stay tuned for more info about this zone in the future. Kudos go out to William Mondrake, Noah Kaufman, Dan Yager, Ian Dory and others I don’t know personally for contributing lots of routes and work to this area…. two thumbs up!
Back in NOCO, the summer bouldering explorations continued. Next up was the North Fork of the Big Thompson. I had been looking at these boulders for years on aerial photos, and I finally found a sneaky way to get there through Pingree Park. On July 15th, Jason, Hofer and I made the drive up the winding old logging road to the trailhead of an unmarked, unsponsored trail into the North End of RMNP. A lovely 1.5-hour hike through dense forest and huge open tundra landed us at the talus field. We spent most of that day cleaning problems and exploring the massive field of boulders. A storm looked like it was approaching in early afternoon so we left a bit early. As we crested our high point of the hike, clouds rolled in and visibility dropped to about 20ft. We lost site of all of our landmarks and got completely turned around. After an hour or two of missed turns, I got completely freaked out and was convinced we would be benighted or walk off into the dense forest in the completely wrong direction. Jason and Hofer snickered at my fear, and soon the clouds lifted just enough to get us on track before night fell. I made one more trip back to these boulders later in the summer but still never really sunk my teeth in…more for next summer.
ahhhh, snap…and then it was time for Hagues Peak at the very end of July! This was an expedition style bouldering adventure I had been planning for a year. This mountain is located in the North End of RMNP, accessed via a 7-mile hike starting at the Corral Creek trailhead off the Long Draw Road. We wanted to backpack in for a few days, so I had to get a backcountry permit from RMNP which includes having a proper bear vault. Ryan Nelson, Chris Hofer and I arrived late Thursday night but we’re too psyched to sleep, so we just starting hiking with headlamps. We marched until about midnight before we just crashed out in the middle of the trail. The next morning, we continued the absolutely stunning hike up to Poudre Pass than turned South off the trail and moved into the enormous Desolation Peaks Basin. Upon first site of the boulders I knew we had hit something special, house sized boulders spilling out from a talus field into perfect grassy tundra littered with wildflowers. We scrubbed, chalked and climbed several problems over the course of the next 2 days. The rock and climbing style was very similar to Mt. Evans, chunkier white granite with lots of seams and crack features.
We had an amazing sunset on our last night, one of those incredible moments where the light accentuates everything around you in an amazing warm alpine glow. Overall this trip was hard, beautiful, committing, mind-blowing, secluded and incredibly peaceful all at the same time. We left a bunch of projects and hundreds of un-climbed boulders to return too next summer. Here is a short video we shot of the whole experience: https://vimeo.com/178341436
(If you decide to venture out there someday, PLEASE get the correct permits and follow all RMNP regulations so you don’t jeopardize future access to this special place)
In early August NCCC held it’s Final “Tour de Poudre” event at Poudre Falls. I ran into Skyler Bol at the Jungle Wall that morning and proceeded to follow him around filming the rest of the day. Skyler had an impressive day of climbing and I put together a little vid you can watch here: https://vimeo.com/178091380. At the end of the day we all gathered at the parking lot and had BBQ sandwiches and beer…it was rad. Thanks to everyone that attended!
The rest of the month I spent preparing for a road trip I had planned back to some old projects on the western slope. I needed to get my steep terrain fitness up to have a chance on those projects. One place that helped a lot was the Sleeping Elephant Cave located near Sleeping Elephant Mountain. This is an area I had been visiting off and on for a few years now. It’s easily the steepest climbing I have found in the canyon with two projects that are nearly horizontal for most of their length. I made some progress on a few things but I’m still miles from sending either of the hard/steep projects…maybe someday.
In late August I made my first of two trips out to a small limestone area in the Flat Tops Wilderness. My friend Doug McKee had showed me this area years ago and we’ve been throwing ourselves at the projects there ever since. This year I was psyched to throw myself at a route I had partially bolted in 2015. I had a day to myself before Doug arrived so I quickly set about cleaning and bolting the top half of the route. The route is incredibly overhanging with almost 40ft of overhang compared to its relatively short stature of 40ft in height. Pockets, tufa’s, bat hangs, crimps, pinches all lead to a show stopper finish at the last 3 moves before the anchor. Saturday morning Doug and I hustled up the hill and I quickly gave it a go, falling at the last hard boulder problem. I rested for awhile and gave it one more go falling again at the last two moves. I decided to rest after that and do some bolting work on another rad project right to the left of this one. Sunday morning, I felt tired and knew I only had one good go left. After a crappy warm-up I left the ground as calmly as I possibly could. Climbing without a mistake to the final crux I started into the last sequence. I was nervous and immediately began red-lining as I grabbed the intermediate, no time to hesitate, I threw for the small crimp and somehow latched it. Grunting into the clipping jug I screamed as I clipped the anchor. Blue Dreams 13b/c is not the hardest route I’ve established but easily one of the most memorable due to its steep nature, amazing rock and stellar hold selection.
On a morning stroll while my family was still asleep at Poudre Falls, I stumbled upon a boulder I had never seen a few minutes off the trail. Not the biggest baddest boulder ever, but a nice steep overhang with incredible striped granite. It looked like something out of Switzerland so I set about cleaning off all the moss and building a landing. The center line was mega but also in the double digits of hard bouldering. I tried it a bit with Brian Camp and Jason Nadeau in hot conditions but it was just plain old hard. Later in the fall, Ryan Silven from Boulder ended up sending the problem which I think is awesome. I love developing routes and boulders, sometimes I get lucky and do them, but its also rad when someone else gets a rad FA out of my hard work…. red tags suck!
On Sept 11th the NCCC teamed up with the BCC for the Rocky Mountain Rendezvous. We worked on eradicating social trails in the Lake Haiyaha and Emerald Lake bouldering areas of RMNP. Overall it was a great success for both climbing organizations and the Park service. You can read more about it here: http://nococlimbing.org/news/rocky-mountain-rendezvous-recap/
The next weekend I headed back out to the Flat Tops for my last trip of 2016 with a bigger crew of buddies. Doug came again, but this time Peter Hurtgen, Jason Tarry, Dustin Brown and ace photog Jesse Levine tagged along. I was psyched to show my friends this tiny zone and see if Blue Dreams could get a repeat. I was also hoping to finish off 2 projects I had bolted on either side of BD. Everyone got agonizingly close to sending but we all came up short with big smiles on our faces. I can’t wait for summer to come rolling along again to make the long drive back to this little nook of paradise.
Returning to FC the temps were slowly starting to drop. I decided it was time to revisit an old project at the little known Colors Crag. We initially developed this crag circa 2000 but it was left to gather dust until last year. This is a great crag that will get better with traffic, even still routes like Watchtower 11a and Castle Magic 12b are not to be missed. Back in 2000 I had bolted what was the most attractive line to me, the seemingly blank and featureless black streak up the middle of the crag I had named the “If 6 was 9 Project”. This slabby and technical line is not for the new school gym climber era but hails back to a time when standing on your tippy toes and crimping crystals was all the rave. That being said this line is truly a test-piece with a stomach churning amount of beta and precision that will leave you scratching your head. Lots of hard 5.12 terrain leads to a stopper boulder problem at the last bolt. I had a couple one-hangs this year but it still feels a bit out of reach. Erin Robinson and Andy Cross gave it some goes with me and Andy, the ace photog he is, came away with some sweet shots too. Next year 6 was 9….
Rocktober came rolling in and with it an explosion of activity on the canyon’s boulders. Narrows Blocs is a zone of large boulders in the heart of the Narrows I had dabbled infrequently on over the years. I had been mentioning it to my pebble wrestling friends for years without much interest. Finally, Sam Rothstein and Brett Hoffman heard the call. These two started scraping lichen and building landings like two men possessed. It was such a fury of activity for the next two months, building the MtnProj page became a central focus as new problems were established at a crazy pace. This area is by no means the best the canyon has to offer, but the rock is really quite good and there are tons of boulders a relatively short drive from Fort Collins. The biggest hassle is the steep hillside the blocs are on, but there’s tons of material from the 2012 Forest Fire and if you put in the effort the landings turn out great and last quite awhile.
Big thanks and hats off to buddies like RD Pascoe, Chris Hofer and Jason Tarry for helping me build some bomber landings that will last for years. Developing this zone with Sam, Brett, Jake and others was a real blast and there’s plenty left to do when the snows gone. Over the course of two months nearly 50 problems were established out of which I contributed Dead Hand v9, Hippy Mafia v4, Crescent v8/9, Stone Cold v8, Hot Fire v8, Orange Faced Devil v6, Bruce’s Bulge v4, and cleaned a bunch of projects that have yet to see a send. You can check out the MtnProj page here: https://www.mountainproject.com/v/narrows-blocs/112199974
To offset all the bouldering, I spent two days back at a crag we began developing last year, Moose Crag. This shady crag is located above the Black Boulder and is host to several really nice routes in the 5.12 range. Peter Hurtgen was eager to sink his teeth into some route development and quickly got to work on a tall prow feature. After two days of cleaning and bolting Pete managed to redpoint the powerful looking Bullwinkle 12c. I also finished up a project I had bolted last year I called Smoke Trail 12d. This line is kind of ledgey at the start but gives way to a perfect grey face capped by a small but intimidating roof. Truly an endurance rig with no move harder than about 12- but stacked up it is quite the pumpy challenge. You can scope the crag here: https://www.mountainproject.com/v/moose-crag/112263902
On Nov. 12 the NCCC took the CSU Climbing Team out for another day of trail work at The Palace. The most popular sport climbing area in the canyon, this area can always use some attention. We worked on trimming back bushes along the trails and creating a series of steps up to the Mineshaft Wall. This area had been damaged during the 2013 floods and needed some stewardship. The CSU Team did some back breaking work rolling large boulders down the stream and uphill into position on the slope. We worked until about noon and made a significant impact but additional steps will need to be built to reach the top of the slope. Big thanks to the CSU climbing team for coming out and giving back to our local area’s.
After the trail day Andy Cross, Erin Robinson and I headed up to the Wild Wall. This spectacular wall located above the Twilight Wall was established by Steve McCorkel and hosts several excellent but intimidating sport lines. We had fun throwing ourselves at an old project/variation to Rustic Wilderness that Steve had bolted years ago. No send but I think we’re all psyched to return once the weather gets a bit better.
I turned 37 on the 20th of November and decided I was ready for Boston Peak. This is another Steve McCorkel zone that he had worked on for years and I had yet to visit. Located prominently above the Bliss State Wildlife Area (aka the 420 Boulders), I had never made the long slog uphill to look at the amazing panels of granite you can easily see from Hwy 14. Steve had raved to me about a spectacular arete climb he had established entitled Foreplay/Longtime 13-. My previous experience with Steve’s routes told me that this rig would be intimidating and hard for the grade.
Jason Tarry, Ryan Nelson and I made the long slog up the hill and stood in awe at the 120ft monster Steve had established. We all had a Top Rope burn and were amazed with how good the rock and movement was. Jason and Ryan both gave it another TR burn before it was my second attempt. I was really torn about whether to have another TR suss or give it a lead burn. I had done all the moves but I felt intimidated and un-confident at the prospect of actually leading this massive endeavor. In the end I decided I had nothing to lose and pulled the rope. Leading through the initial 5.12 section I was gripped, the climbing is really technical and my sequence was not dialed in, but somehow I reached the midway rest. From here there is no more rest, just a steady stream of hard 5.12+ climbing right on the arete. Slapping, squeezing and screaming my way up my brain turned off and I just tried really really hard. With a war cry I grabbed the last hold of the crux and mantled onto a small ledge. I wanted to puke after all that effort at 9000’ and I was seriously worried about punting on the 5.11 bit to the anchor. After a long rest I slothed my way to the chains and surprised myself with the best birthday present ever! This route and area are so fantastic, I can’t wait for the snow to melt so I can get back up here and add some more stellar lines to an already epic area.
As the holidays approached the weather started to crap out in good old Northern Colorado. It didn’t really stop any of us from getting out in sub-optimal conditions but we did have some legwork to find dry/sunny conditions. I spent most of the month getting shut down trying to return to Boston Peak. The routine became convincing my climbing partner to drive all the way up there to find it covered in snow and simply turn around and drive back down to better conditions. Area’s like Grandpa’s Bridge, Upper Snake Eyes, The Beach and Icicle Canyon all had dry conditions and were quite warm in the sun.
With the year closing out I was yet again throwing myself at Chocolate Stout at The Beach. Out of nowhere I had a big breakthrough and fell clipping the chains on Dec 23rd. As heartbreaking as that sounds, I was actually really happy because I had been unable to climb through the crux until that point. Dec. 30th rolled around and I knew my chances were good but I was nervous as hell. One of the most agonizing things about redpointing is knowing you can do the route and knowing your own mind is the only thing getting in the way. My first go I made it through the crux but numbed out 4 moves later and fell. Still feeling optimistic I rested for 30min and gave it one more burn. Everything fell in place and all I had learned about the climb over the past 3 seasons came to fruition and I executed perfectly to the chains…and clipped them this time thank goodness! A profound way to end the year for me with a big mental break through. This route tested me hard and I had to adjust beta, training, warming up and a million other nuances to get it done. I finished off the day with a 2nd go send of Corona which was nothing but icing on the cake.
PHEW! That was an intense year. 2017…you got some serious work to do to top that.
Thanks for sticking it out and reading all of that, hope you enjoyed it! My obsessed climbing life is all owed to my lovely wife Sue, who supports my passion and lets me have soooo many days to climb my ass off. Thanks wifey!! And thanks to anyone that has donated or supported the NCCC over the years…. we really appreciate it!