A post by contributing writer & PG Route Setter Walker, aka SMASH.
“I hate this!” Screams a voice in the dark. Its 12am and I haven’t slept in two nights. An aid team is making their way up the monster off-width, a 200 foot gash in the rock that intersects directly with our bivy at the top of pitches 19. I can hear the leader as if he is in my ear, cursing the slippery slot, screaming while holding onto a number six camalot desperately trying to make upward progress. To their surprise, their intended bivy is already taken. “Kyle keep it down, there are people sleeping up here,” the leader screams at his belayer. “Sorry, sorry” he says, and lights up a cigarette. My alarm goes off an hour later. I tear my sleeping bag off and think “It’s 3am and I’m not wearing a T-shirt; its too warm.”
My hands are still raw from the efforts the day before. I lathered them last night with chapstick, but they still sting. “You awake?” I ask Eliot, my partner and PG Sunnyvale’s gym manager. “Haven’t slept.” he says. It’s his first time climbing El Cap, and to relax this high on the wall, much less sleep on your first time up, is not easy. I click the jumars on our fixed lines and ascend into the dark. I pass the aid party soothing their stress from the climb with cigarettes. I feel as if I am on a mission. My brain thinks of nothing but the task at hand. I’m tired, but focused.
Four pitches above our camp is the crux of Freerider: a 35 foot corner which involves shoulder wrenching stemming and precise footwork on slick granite. Having only tried the Teflon Corner, aptly named, very briefly once before, I feel the pressure. Here I am, two thousand feet in the air, trying to send a 5.12d stem corner that I haven’t done before in the dark with a headlamp. If it sounds hard, it’s because it is. If I don’t make quick work of the pitch I wont make the cruxes higher on route while they are still in the shade. I try not to think about it, concentrating on resting longer between each attempt. Twenty minutes go by and I’m close. The short but incredibly precise sequence involves stemming and palming a flaring corner, while keeping tension in your shoulders and walking your feet back and forth. After a day’s rest, my shoulders feel strong. Three more attempts and I have the sequence dialed. A few more and I find myself at the chains, sending the pitch. Feeling relieved, I try not to get too excited. There a dozen pitches ahead including four with real possibilities of falling. One step at a time, I tell my self. It was working so far.
In the dark, a team of strong Canadian climbers Evan and Jasmin, also on a free ascent of the route, jug to my anchor. With a few hours time left they intend to work/send the Teflon Corner and leave ropes fixed to the Block, a large sloping ledge 200 feet up. Eliot joins me at the belay “Nice! Going to the top.” We exchange gear and I continue with renewed psych. As I leave the belay, I notice the first glow of dawn. Upon arriving at the Block, it is already light. I sip cold water that I had stashed the weekend before and rest lying on my back staring at the outline of the summit against the pinkish blue sky. I shove my headlamp into a crack at the back of the sloping ledge. Eliot soon arrives and I’m off, moving upward on the sea of granite.
I arrive at the bottom of the Enduro Corner as the sun hits the west side of El Cap. Feeling the pump and fatigue, I slap my forearm hoping for fresh blood. They twitch and then seize. I drink more water and massage my arms. The previous weekends, I had mini-traxioned from here to the top clean. However, I have never led any of them. I had just climbed 2,700 feet without falling minus that one crux pitch, but never mind that. Have Confidence! It was easy to imagine myself calmly placing the pieces. I start up the first pitch, which is given 5.11b, cough! Sand bag. It starts off easy with good hand jams, but becomes tight fingers quickly. Jamming my side into the corner I shake my hand out, but I am over gripping. I feel flash pumped. Muscle memory takes over and I cling to the final section of weird slippery pods. I clip the anchors. Yikes, that one is way easier than the next! It’s over, I’m thinking. I belay Eliot up the first corner with a tremendous effort on his part. We hang from the belay staring at the road making small talk. I slap my forearms arms desperately trying to lose the pump. But it was here to stay. “How’s it going up there?” Screams a voice from below, the Canadian team has been following our ascent. “Sent the first one, resting for the second.” I yell back. “Did you guys send?” “Yeah! Evan and I both.” “Awesome!” I rest 25 more minutes.
The second pitch is rated 5.12b. It begins by lying back a very rounded corner that slims down to crimps and then with a curve, becomes steep, abruptly intersecting with the underside of the massive granite expanse know as the Salathe Head Wall. The second pitch goes even easier than the first. Perhaps I was finally warmed up after 2,800 feet of climbing. Laying back through the sections, which you can be sure Paul Piana and Todd Skinner did not, I sink the finger lock and almost lose my cool as I paste my feet high and with one desperate move, sink my hand into a flaring hand jam. Why not now? Just do it now, I’m thinking, just fire the thing. I slam a #1 C4 in the crack. Feeling really good with not a hint of pump, I blast the final section of the crack to a jug and clip the anchors. I let out a scream, and am joined in celebration by Eliot, Jasmin and Evan.
Here is where, if it’s your first time sending a route on El Cap,m you most likely will sneak around to the left. A series of unassuming huecos and flat jugs lead around an arete high on the wall to a parallel crack system avoiding the Salathe Head Wall. The problem with mini-traxioning routes is it’s very difficult to work on a traverse. I had spent most of my efforts on the corner that I had just sent and dialing the final wide pitches that still lay ahead. But this small, 35 foot section of campusing 3000 feet above the ground on the most exposed section of the climb, I had yet to send. I had been across the traverse 3 times before, even aiding it solo when I let a rope go with the knot still tied, but had not yet climbed it free. I send the pitch. Eliot follows again with a valiant effort. “Proud” he says as he clips into the belay. Having just sent all the cruxes climbing to the top was too easy. It felt rehearsed, which it was. I almost felt like rapping from here, but had promised Evan and Jasmin our stash of water that was waiting at the top. They planned to spend another day resting before pushing to the top.
So just like that, it was done. I stood on top exhausted, sipping water in the shade of a small tree laughing with Eliot about the different pitches of the climb. We rested only briefly and then with the stashed water, began the long rappel back down to our stuff at the alcove and finally to the ground.
What did I learn from sending a massive route on El Cap? A whole lot of rope management and aiding skills. That, no matter how tired I felt on Mondays, somehow, I was always psyched by Thursday to do it again. I spent countless weekends over two years without any previous crack climbing or big wall experience, climbing exclusively on granite, learning the skills and building the fitness to make an attempt at the Freerider. Just like other aspects of climbing, there are no fast tracks. Learning to move over the granite with minimal effort takes a lot of time. And I’m only beginning to understand this. I enjoy the troubleshooting and problem solving most about climbing a huge route. Moving up the wall with a strong partner, learning and making mistakes is what it’s all about. Even though the send is sweet, I will savor the time and efforts spent with friends over the weeks it took to climb the Freerider.
GoPro video of Walker mini-traxioning the Enduro Corner by Simon Moore.
Walker is a contributing writer for the Planet Granite Blog. He also sets routes at Planet Granite under the alias Smash. When he’s not plugging grips and jugging lines, he can be found on weekends clipping bolts at Jailhouse or sailing the granite seas of Yosemite. Check out more of his work at http://wemersonpro.blogspot.com/
The Access Fund (AF) has just released a position paper on the newest draft of the Merced River Plan (MRP). The paper briefly mentions some of the major actions that the plan proposes, and highlights four specific areas that the Access Fund is urging the Yosemite Planners and National Park Service (NPS) to consider more in-depth. A link to the paper can be found here.
Comments are needed no later than April 30th, and you can comment via this webform HERE. We support the Access Fund’s position and urge you to comment. The Access Fund has just released an easy letter writing tool to help you submit your feedback found HERE.
While the plan does not affect Yosemite climbing directly, it does have potential, indirect ramifications down the line. In order to understand the possible long-term effects it is important to understand a little about what the Merced River Plan is and why the Access Fund is involved.
Essentially, portions of the Merced River are declared by Congress to be a National Wild and Scenic River, such as the part running through Yosemite Valley. This means the National Park Service has certain obligations to maintain and protect many of the natural qualities of the river, and they have attempted to implement a couple different plans over the years. Jumping ahead to today, the NPS is now on attempt number 3 to push through a plan that would put in place the adequate enhancements and protections to preserve the Merced’s natural awe and luster as well as do some much needed maintenance while they’re at it. So how does any of this affect us as climbers?
As climbers, we take trips to Yosemite to hike, to sightsee, and of course, to climb. In truth, anything that affects Yosemite will affect visitors, including climbers, and the variety of ways we use the beautiful valley. As the Access Fund’s paper points out, there are a few plans that DO deal directly with climbing in the Valley that will be coming down the pipeline. This is why we need to pay attention.
With all these plans, there are a number of parties who will be affected and all have their own vested interests. We, as climbers, are one of those parties but even we do not have common ground. Among us, there are pushes for more extreme measures (e.g. doing away with parking proposals, campsites near crags, etc). Well-intentioned as they may be, there may be possible downsides for pushing too far in the direction of our own interests. The unfortunate reality is that we’re dealing in the realm of politics.
The unspoken fear is that if we can’t help the NPS finally push a proposal through, Congress may pass a law over-riding the Park’s current plan that would likely increase commercialization and have negative impacts on the interests of climbers. The other possible problem with pulling too hard toward a more utopian plan is that climbers have been slowly making positive relationships with Yosemite Rangers and have a lot of momentum to lose in the following plans if we, fairly or unfairly, are made to look like mindless rabble-rousers.
All this aside, there is room for positive change within the latest MRP. The Access Fund has put out an open call to climbers to contact them with opinions, questions, concerns, and ideas pertaining to the upcoming draft. Look over the Access Fund points here and comment here. At the risk of oversimplifying I see climbers as having three options: push for a more climber-centric plan now and risk losing valuable traction on upcoming plans that will directly effect us; work to have climber interests met in the current draft; or do nothing. If the latter finds you bivied under a street light outside of the new El Capitan gift shop – tough luck.
Sincere thanks to the Access Fund and Jason Keith for supplying us with mounds of information and taking the time to answer our multitudinous questions.
Traffic in Nairobi is horrible. Truly.
45 minutes into my (ridiculously expensive) cab ride I was regretting my decision to check out East Africa’s new (and only) climbing gym.
Needless to say I was NOT in a good mood when I arrived at Diamond Plaza last month.
Looking up at the shopping mall (yes shopping mall!) in front of me I felt even less inspired.
What a weird place to have a climbing gym. I slowly grumbled my way up the SIX flights of stairs.
The moment I walked into Climb BlueSky all that anxiety melted away as I stared incredulously at what was, indeed, a ‘normal’ climbing gym. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but this blew me away. The fact that a climbing gym even exists in Nairobi is nothing short of a miracle quite frankly. I mean, who is going to invest in a facility for a sport that is virtually unknown to all but a few adrenaline junky expats housed in East Africa’s most vibrant economy?
Two guys from Texas. That’s who.
Andrew Conway and Stephen Powell have been best friends since their parents had them in diapers.
Upon graduating college both moved to Nairobi to work with BlueSky Adventures, an experiential learning organization that does ropes courses and summer camps. It was there they pitched a climbing gym to their new bosses. Two years, more than $250,000 dollars and multiple hand drawn sketches later they opened Climb BlueSky in November 2012.
These guys designed every single part of this gym. From the textured paint they put on the 3/4 inch plywood walls to the amphitheater room that hosts kids parties. There are currently about 25 roped routes on a 25 foot wall and 15 bouldering routes in a cave they built with a framework of metal square tubing and angle iron. Stephen ad Andrew are also the setters. None of the routes are graded per say, which makes roping up kind of fun to be honest. You never know what you are getting on.
The energy in the place is amazing. About 50% of all climbers there on a given night are new to the sport. That means the PSYCH is sky high. Seriously. You hear guys egging each other on in Swahili.
Small Indian kids wide-eyed as they fall off the wall.
Huge Masaii men grunting their way up routes. Loudly.
It is hilarious and loads of fun. And everyone is super psyched. Did I mention that?
Andrew explains the diversity.
“The climbing culture in East Africa is a unique one to say the least. The culture here is a mix of old school style and techniques from Europe. Everyone is keen on taking new people out and we enjoy getting new addicts to the sport!”
Climbers in East Africa are also extremely resourceful and creative. It’s virtually impossible to find gear. Stephen and Andrew have to wait months for shipments of things like chalk, shoes and holds to come in. Even seemingly simple things like disinfectant to clean shoes is impossible to find. And with so many new climbers the demand for gear is high. That’s part of the reason for my visit. Planet Granite San Francisco graciously offered to donate some of their used climbing shoes to the Climb Blue Sky Team!
I’m headed back in May – hoping to take the guys more shoes, climbing holds and anything else they may need to further their mission of spreading the climbing psych. Andrew and Stephen have big dreams for the gym but first and foremost they have to prove there is a market. Most gear companies and retailers have thus far refused to offer them pro-deals or support. Until then, it’s up to us, the wider global climbing community, to make sure they have what they need. So if you have anything you want to donate that is in good condition, let us know.
Kenya, by the way, has some great outdoor climbing. There is of course Mt. Kenya for the alpine climbing enthusiasts. For crack fiends such as myself there is a beautiful region called Hells Gate. And for some weekend cragging there is Lukenya. A 45-minute drive from Nairobi along Mombasa Road, this crag affords sweeping views of the landscape replete with giraffes on the horizon. I roped up for some sport climbing with the guys there one Saturday. Lets just say this rock does some damage to your pads.
PG SF member, Cris Valerio was in Nairobi on a mobile banking project as an Innovator in Residence at IDEO.org. She is a crack addict and aspires to be as strong as PGSF Assistant Manager Mick, grow sausage fingers like PG Sunnyvale Manager Eliot, monkey climb like PG Belmont Manager Jeremy, yard on gear as well as PG Retail Manager Carolyn and be half as cool as PGSF Manager Jeff’s wife.
Friction Series SF was two weeks ago and while we’re still reeling from the excitement, we are looking forward to Sunnyvale’s finale! Since launching the Friction Series back in 2009 and creating the first Bay Area Onsight Final in 2010 – this comp has grown to be a ton of fun and excitement! Local strong men and women get to duke it out high on ropes and compete for cold hard cash while we cheer them on! Even better, these routes stay up so you can test your strengths against some of the best climbers in our community.
As if you need more motivation to attend, we thought we’d recap San Francisco’s comp with some great photos by our own Brian Hedrick (aka CUZ) and guest photographer Jassa Campbell. Get psyched!!! And we’ll see YOU on Friday, April 19th at PG Sunnyvale. SCORES are posted here. Plus keep in mind the top 3 men and women will be invited to compete for cash the Series Final in Sunnyvale! Think you’re in the running - double check your standings! And check out all of our photos from the event HERE on our Facebook Page.
See you Friday April 19th at PG Sunnyvale for Friction Series part III and the Onsight Series Final!
Fresh on the heels of Mark and Josh’s trip, Brian “Cuz” Hedrick left San Francisco for a week-long bouldering sojourn in Hueco Tanks State Park. Stopping only to bivy in Joshua Tree since time was precious and he was determined to make the most of the short trip. Arriving just in time for the annual Hueco Rock Rodeo, an outdoor bouldering competition drawing some of the biggest names in the sport, his trip got off to a running start.
video by James Lucas
“We got in at 7:30 the night before. I was definitely car lagged,” recalls Hedrick, “It was mostly a way to climb since we were already out there.” The Rodeo, drawing hundreds of competitors from across the nation and from overseas, is one of the rare days where park regulations are relaxed and travel through the park is less restricted. Climbing in the park if you’re not competing, however, isn’t possible, hence Brian’s attitude toward making the most of the day. “You can explore the mountain as much as you want without a specific guide. Runners take you from problem to problem, allowing you to see a lot in a short amount of time.”
Sensing that the marathon drive left him a little off the pace of those coming specifically to compete, Brian approached the day as an opportunity to suss out some beta and decide which of the myriad problems littering the area warranted further investigation. “I tried to have a positive attitude, but not sending a single problem all day was demoralizing. You have to squash the ego and push ahead. I started to enjoy the challenge of the problem itself, not just grade chasing.”
The trip represented a concerted shift in Brian’s approach to climbing. “I went for fun and didn’t have high expectations.” Laughing, Brian adds, “I started training two weeks before I left.” After taking 9 months off to focus on Trad climbing, Brian explains the change of direction. “It’s more about having fun and getting on great problems than getting worked up and chasing numbers. You go in waves of being psyched to try and push yourself, physically and mentally.”
Thinking back on the Rodeo, Brian shows us how even a tough, frustrating climbing day can be transformed into a valuable experience. “Climbing with Jimmy [Webb] and Paul [Robinson] helped me see how to get things done before trying any moves.” Picking up insightful time and skin saving beta was but one way the day came together for Brian. “I only had 2 problems in mind before the trip and I ended the day with 14 new problems I hadn’t seen before. The one that really caught my attention was Blood of the Young Wolf (V14). It was magnificent, super simple with a need for constant focus and precision. It’s what I think of as a perfect boulder problem.” Brian explains. “Most people prefer powerful compression. For me it’s about being precise and having a low margin of error.”
Coming into the trip with Espearanza (V13) and Crown of Aragorn (V13) on the agenda, projects eroded away as the Rodeo ebbed on. “I went with the intention of projecting, but things changed after the Rodeo.” With so many new problems on the horizon, Brian was finding it difficult to commit valuable time to a single one. “I didn’t project. Nothing I did took longer than 45 minutes,” he states without an ounce of bravado. “It was great being able to do a couple hard problems each day, a great experience.”
True to his philosophy, the high points of Brian’s trip were less centered on the difficult ascents and more on the process and the experience itself. Still in the afterglow of finishing Alma Blanca (V13), a problem established decades earlier and one of the first of the grade, Brian stared into the eyes of the visionary who first unlocked the line. Shaking Fred Nicole’s hand with the reverence of a pilgrim handling a holy relic, Brian experienced one of those moments that remain indelible on our consciousness, a moment that drives the desire to embark on journeys such as this one. “It sounds cheesy, but he’s the reason we can climb as hard as we do. He was pushing the boundaries long before everybody else. He made bouldering what it is today and without him there’s no way I’d be able to climb as hard as I do. And he put up these lines 20 years ago,” exclaims Brian, with a contagious fervor and excitement. “It’s always easy to follow somebody,” he adds, “it’s hard to be a leader. You have to acknowledge their abilities and the time they spent to develop it.”
Brian, still no slouch on the wall despite the 9-month hiatus, also came away with a flash of the beautiful, gymnastic problem Tequila Sunrise (V12), which represented a milestone in his return to bouldering form. “I hadn’t flashed anything remotely difficult for the past year,” Brian states flatly. “You can’t beat flashing or onsighting, it’s the best way to do a problem. It’s the greatest challenge, you numb out on a problem when you start projecting,” he shares, comparing the differing tactics involved with each approach. “The flash is hard, difficult, you have to think on the fly. It incorporates mental, physical, instantaneous problems solving. You constantly have to assess the situation while keeping power in reserve.”
When asked what about the trip he would want to share with anyone heading out on their own, Brian enlightens us with some sage wisdom, “Crave has REALLY big waffles, share it for 3.” He says this with the mischievous grin of a pre-teen adolescent. Shifting gears, he becomes ever so slightly more serious, “If you anyone is hesitating about going to Hueco because of the restrictions know they’re a blessing and a curse. It’s tough to get onto tours but when you do it feels like you have the place to yourself, just you and your friends.”
Written by Chris Sinatra (Askew). Chris has been climbing for over 15 years and has traveled extensively to pursue his passion for the sport. He now calls San Francisco home while planning out the next big adventure. Follow Chris on Twitter @AcutelyAskew.