Rock Climbing Colombia

Rock Climbing Colombia

Hopefully I will update this post with more directions, stories, and trip beta someday to help out the future travelers. But for now, I will let the pictures do the talking!

 

 

 

Bishop bouldering and highline

Not a bad view around here...

Not a bad view around here…

Bishop, California is one of America’s top destinations for bouldering. Although I typically sport climb with a rope and harness and such, I’m growing to like the simplicity of bouldering. Each problem is only a few moves, and relatively low to the ground. You can try really hard moves again and again with low consequence to failure. This is not true on a sport climb, since each attempt takes several minutes of preparation tying into the rope and getting to the crux. With bouldering, a crew of climbers can set up crash pads and try the same problem as many times as it takes to pull it off. With bouldering you can do harder moves. It’s a very pure approach to climbing, since it’s just you and the rock, no extra weight to drag along and no gear to distract you.

I’ve come to Bishop to get stronger, and test my limits with outdoor bouldering. Before this trip, my hardest outdoor bouldering send was V5. Even though I’m coming off a rest season, I’m feeling really good and have high expectations for this trip. I already sent two V6 boulder problems and several other V5’s. Since I’m planning to be here for another week, I think I’ll be able to step it up again before leaving. My goal is to pull off multiple V7s or a single V8… exciting new territory for me.

I met a cool crew of climbers from Casper, Wyoming. They were setting up a highline between the two largest boulders in the Buttermilks. I went to check it out, since I’ve been wanting to set up a highline for years. The guy on top, Ryan, invited me up immediately to try it. I was hesitant at first, but I decided to at least check out his set up to see how he rigged it and such. It was the safest setup I’ve ever seen. The line was 1″ webbing, standard slackline material and length. Taped to the bottom of the webbing was a dynamic climbing rope as a safety backup. Each side had three expansion bolt anchors, the same type I trust my life to when climbing. He also used a dynamic rope for a tether, attached from the climbing harness to the highline by a figure 8 rappel device. This was backed up by a secondary tether as well, an unnecessary but comforting extra backup. After examining the setup, I felt totally comfortable taking whips out there. I decided to give it a go.

Ryan advised me to start the adventure by jumping off the boulder and taking a whip right off the bat to get the jitters out. I wasn’t afraid of the whip, but I decided to suss it out differently. I scooted out a safe distance from the boulder, and tried to stand on the line from a sitting start. This is more difficult than walking onto it, but I wanted to get a feel for the line in a safe location. I didn’t want to fall right next to the boulder and risk hitting it on the swing. Eventually, I was able to stand, but I wasn’t comfortable enough on this line to walk it yet. After several small falls, I took a full value whip on the tether, swinging from the line upside down. It was a little scary as expected, but the rig held no problem and I had taken care of my jitters. I climbed over to the opposite boulder, walked onto the line, and crossed it successfully the very next try. Ryan and I were the only ones to try the line that day, and he had sent it on his first attempt before I arrived. Double send!!! 🙂

 

San Francisco climbing gyms

After Chico, I headed to San Francisco to visit my good friends Qasar and Val. Unfortunately, I had to visit during the week and they were both working during the day, so we really only got to spend the evenings together. But on the upside, it gave me a chance to visit the famous SF climbing gyms and spend some time getting back in climbing shape. With all the skiing I’ve been doing lately, my climbing has taken a backseat. But I’m now accepting that winter has peaked and climbing is now in session. Time to get strong again 🙂

San Francisco has the best climbing gyms I’ve seen in the country. Although the Atlanta gym may be the largest, I’m confident that no place in the US compares to the scale, quantity, and quality of the rock climbing gyms of SF. They are so good. The average gym here is larger than all the Chicago climbing gyms combined into one, for real. But there’s not just one super gym, there are lots. The two main companies are Touchstone and Planite Granite.

Touchstone is the original and they have the most locations – 8 gyms total all within about an hour’s driving radius. Their gyms are some of the best in the country, on par with the famous Movement gym in Boulder, Colorado – except there are 8 of them in the same region.

On top of that there’s Planite Granite, the new supergym that puts all others to shame. These gyms are literally double the size of Movement, and everything is cutting-edge modern. They have three locations in the region, each capable of hosting 200+ climbers at once with no one left standing around. They bouldering and lead climbing are top notch. They even go so far as to create routes on some sections of their lead wall without tape – they just use all the same color holds.

So basically I spent 3 days getting spoiled rotten 🙂 Check it out:

Skaha (Penticton, BC)

After the climbing day in Squamish, my partner for the day Dmitry told me I should visit a sport climbing area east of Vancouver. He figured it was on my way to Red Mountain. Overhanging sport climbing, the best in BC. I was intrigued, but hadn’t figured out my next day yet.

So that night, I spoke to my buddy Will, a local Squamish climber who I met in Mexico. I found out he was in the area, Whistler! But he was in rehab from a climbing injury he sustained in Yosemite. He’s a soloist from time to time, likely out of necessity when he’s traveling alone.

He typically solos with a gri-gri, literally belaying himself up the climb. This is a slow procedure, because you have to tie down one end of the rope while leading the pitch. Once anchored, you have to clean the route and retrieve the tied end. That’s fine for single-pitch, but a climb 12 pitches long may not be possible in a day with that method. Sometimes Will free solos to speed things up and conserve energy on multi-pitch.

Unfortunately, he took a fall while free soloing in Yosemite a few weeks ago. This means no ropes, ground, smash. I asked him which pitch. “The first one”. “How many pitches were there?” “Fifteen”. “Lucky dawg”.

Mexico-98

Climbing with Will in Mexico, Land of the Free, 1000ft 5.11d

Will is healing up from some busted bones, nothing major thank goodness. I won’t get to climb or ski with him this trip, bummer! But stoked of course that he’s alright. So glad for him. I’m sure he had a good scare, and now has a great opportunity to learn from it. So do I. Free soloing is bad news. Will also mentioned he felt off that day. Some plans had been cancelled earlier and the entire day went south. Perhaps there were some signs. Free soloing is very mental, and you have to be all there. If something takes you out of the zone you’re not safe. This isn’t how I like my climbing.

Will also told me about Skaha, said it’s sick. There are some south-facing walls, so if the sun is out there may be climbers. I decided to drive there right away. It was 8pm and I was 5 hours away. I slept part way there to break up the drive and arrived the following morning. I didn’t have directions to the crag, so I stopped in the main town nearby, Penticton, to ask.

The first thing I saw in Penticton was an alley with the sickest graffiti murals I’d seen in a long time. I haven’t seen good graffiti like that since Europe, and I had to stop to take a closer look.

I got directions from the local gear shop, and I was on my way. The town seemed cool, probably a great place to live. I drove up the road toward the parking area for Skaha Bluffs. However, the gate was closed, so you have to park about a mile downhill from the lot and hike in. Everything is covered in snow. It wasn’t a sunny day, so I didn’t expect climbers in the -2°C cold. But there were a few other cars, so you never know.

I ran into a fellow when I was hiking up the road. He was a route developer, and uses the winter season to develop new sport routes. I told him I’m getting into this as well at the Red River Gorge. He said the rock was very cold and wet many places, so he wouldn’t expect climbers out today. He asked if I was going to climb solo. Thinking of Will, no way man. I’m going for a hike and to see the crags, but no worries it’s just nice to be outside. I trudged up the hill through the snow.

The climbing at Skaha looks amazing. I definitely want to visit here to climb someday. The route developer on the trail said April and September are the ideal months. Other times can still be good but those are your safest bets. He said on sunny days he would climb all winter, but its always cloudy in winter, so its too cold. In summer it gets hot, 35°C. If anyone who reads this wants to take a trip here in the fall let me know 🙂

Squamish

2013-Winter-81

I know its not the right season to be rock climbing in BC, but I couldn’t drive right through Squamish without a trip to the crag. The forecast looked good, considering the time of year, +9°C for the high and partly sunny Saturday and Sunday. My main problem was that I’d never climbed here before, and although its a world famous climbing destination, there’s no simple online guide like I’m used to at the Red. In fact I still can’t find the climbs I did today to see what other people are saying about them. Kind of crazy but the place mostly exists in guidebooks, not online.

So I reached out to a network I’ve used before, ClimbFind.com. I posted a partner call for anyone willing to do some sport climbing or bouldering in the cold, figuring why not? I got a response right away from a Russian guy named Dmitry. He said we’d meet at 10am to give the rock some time to warm up. Unfortunately, there’s not much sport climbing in the sun. Most the good winter lines are trad, and I’m a total trad rookie. But Dmitry knew the area and we made due with the conditions we had.

Dmitry was stoked to have a partner, this was his first time climbing outdoors this year. Mine too. We started at the Smokey Bluffs, an area with low angle slab climbing and mixed lines. Since I’m not a traddie, Dmitry lead the routes and placed the gear. I was reminded how terrible I am at slab climbing, and the 5.10s gave me a battle. It was really nice though, sunny and not too cold. The ground was frozen when we arrived, and the rock was dry, but by the time we packed up the ground had thawed and melted into a muddy mess. It felt really good to get on some rock again and get a taste of Squamish.

2013-Winter-79

We ventured next to Murrin Park for some sport climbing. It was colder here, shady and snowy. Unlike the bluffs, we were the only climbers. Dmitry said he always has trouble finding climbing partner. The locals from Vancouver only want to go when the weather is nice, but he just wants to go all the time. So he checks for partners online, and had some good stories about his experiences with randoms, like the girl who said she could climb 5.12 sport but pulled on every piece of gear on their 5.9 slab warmup.

At Murrin, Dmitry had me lead a 5.11b mixed line. It had two large cam placements at the bottom. I’d never placed a cam before, but Dmitry showed me the basics and I decided it was a good place to learn. The stances were very secure, and I had plenty of time to place my pro leisurely. One of the stances had a bomber fist jam and bomber kneebar. I was stoked. The placements felt secure and I moved on with confidence. Dmitry said the crux was at the 3rd bolt, and he’s never been able to do the move but felt confident I could do it. I eased my way up the bolted section to the crux, feeling good and warm. It tricked me at first, because the temptation of an obvious high right foothold lures you in. But after placing the foot and gauging the move, I decided it wouldn’t work for me. I repositioned and found a terrible high left foot on a tiny nub instead. Dmitry called it a “pimple”. But after the slab climbing we’d done earlier, I felt like it would hold. It worked, and I sent. Dmitry climbed it next, trying my beta in favor of his. It worked for him, too, and he sent for the first time.

After another bouldery 5.11b face climb, we moved to an overhanging section with some stout 11s and 12s. I jumped on the 5.11d, not wanting to push it too hard after a month of not climbing. It was a good choice, the route was fun and challenging. I climbed to the crux at the last bolt on point, but got spit off throwing to a tricky hold. I sussed it out and tried again, and again, and again. I must have fallen at that crux a dozen times. I was exhausted, and I really thought I couldn’t do it. The hold I kept going for was a sloper, and it just wasn’t good enough for me to stick it. I proclaimed I couldn’t do it, and I’d need to bail. But then it occurred to me that there might be a way to go left, instead of going right as I’d been trying. The holds looked unused, like no one goes that way, but what the heck. I gave it one go, and it went. Even in my exhausted and frustrated state it worked for me, some obscure beta that no one else uses. Dmitry followed, and after a few hangs his long reach enabled him to do the beta that kept shutting me down.

All in all it was a great day. Pleasant temps, a great climbing partner/guide, and numerous firsts. Today was my first day climbing of the year, my first time climbing in Canada (new country on the roster, whoot!), and my first cam placement. Good times 😀

2013-Winter-80

The Skiing Begins

I wrapped up a very prolific climbing week in Colorado with friends Curt, Andrew, Jeremy, and Fred on Saturday 12/15. On the final day, Curt and I hit up the Animal World crag at Boulder Canyon in some of the coldest temps I’ve climbed in all year. The temperatures were a challenge, but we got in a lot of climbing and had a great last day, including my first 5.12 flash in Colorado, a route called Days of Future Past. My favorite route of the five we climbed that day was an 11c called Animal Magnetism.

So after climbing all day, Curt went to work the evening shift at his restaurant and I hit the west bound road. I’m on my way to Lopez Island in Washington State for the winter solstice gathering. I had been hoping to ski in Colorado while I was there, but the resorts didn’t have enough snow to justify the high ticket prices. I saw that Jackson Hole had some snow in the forecast, and sitting 9 hours west of Boulder it seemed like a logical choice for the next day.

I arrived at Jackson later than expected, but still in time for a Sunday ski session. The wintery driving the night before suggested a good ski day ahead. The mountain had a 65” base with 7” of fresh overnight. It was cold, so the snow was light and fluffy. The constant wind piled drifts on the leeward slopes, and I found stashes of untracked powder ranging from boot-deep to knee-deep. I learned of a new expression for days like this, “free refills”. The snow kept piling on and the wind kept filling the tracks in leaving a fresh line for every run. It was the perfect first day of skiing. I explored the entire mountain nonstop, only stopping to ride the chairlifts. The new high speed chair Casper had some memorable lines. I found a section of trees completely untracked, and the fast chair let me do 6 minute laps. I cleaned out every fresh line through those trees in about 8 laps.

Jackson Hole has a few claims to fame. It is considered the most difficult ski resort in North America. It is also home to the largest vertical drop serviced by any lift in North America – the aerial tram, which rises 4,139 vertical feet above the base area. Although I was disappointed that the famous Corbett’s Couloir and other difficult descents were closed due to low snow levels, I was stoked to ski so much vertical. I skied the tram from top to bottom nonstop, and timed my runs to catch the last tram ride of the day at 3:30. When I arrived back at the base area, I was surprised to also catch the last gondola ride back up at 4:00. This was a full value day.

The aerial tram at Jackson Hole, WY

The aerial tram at Jackson Hole, WY

Straw man. Somewhere in Montana.

Straw man. Somewhere in Montana.

Sheep in road. I saw one of these signs, laughed, then saw a huge big horn sheep right in the middle of the road. How did they know?

Sheep in road. I saw one of these signs, laughed, then saw a huge big horn sheep right in the middle of the road. How did they know?

Snowy driving for days...

Snowy driving for days…