I live on the Western Slope of Colorado, 25 minutes from Rifle, and about equidistant to at least 1,200 other high-quality sport and trad routes that nobody even bothers checking out simply because they aren’t famous, and there’s often no one there to give beta, which some climbers seem to need with increasing urgency now that everyone is so accustomed to following colored tape to familiarly-shaped holds set at anthropomorphic distances to each other.
Around this time of year, I inevitably get about 20 messages a week, usually from my friends in Boulder who are super anxious to test out the results of their latest training periodization, who query me about the conditions in Rifle.
“How’s Rifle?” they blurt out, without even bothering to make the normal conversational small talk that most people who want something from you might use as a preface.
I never really know how to answer this annoying question. Some routes are dry, some aren’t. I mean, dude, it’s springtime in Colorado, where it snows 4 inches every night only to melt by noon the next day. Shit’s wet. Limestone seeps. Ya know?
As Front Range climbers wait for their Rifle projy-wojjies to dry up, other stuff has happened in the climbing world. Here’s a quick round-up:
Red River Gorge: Land of the Unpumpable
All climbing areas have a distinct weakness that, once discovered and mastered, make all the routes seem much easier. Rifle is all about kneebars and overcoming 3-foot run-outs. Indian Creek is all about technique, pain tolerance and negative-one-foot runouts (aka top-roping on a cam). Yosemite is about pulling on gear quickly and not losing your mind while having the same discussions with the same people every day in the cafeteria.
And the Red River Gorge is all about having such a high strength-to-weight that you never, ever get pumped. Let’s take a closer look.
After turning heads last year with some rather quick ticks, Margo Hayes is proving that she’s only getting started. After winning the US National sport climbing championships in Boston, she headed down to the Red to make quick work of Pure Imagination (5.14c), her first of the grade.
Shortly thereafter, Michaela Kiersch, 21, also redpointed the route, which was also her first of the grade.
Now with three female ascents to date, Pure Imagination might be the most-climbed 5.14c in the world for women, unless Mind Control in Oliana can hold onto its original rating of 5.14c and not drop to 5.14b, as several ascentionists have suggested. Mind Control has been climbed by seven or eight women.
Sixteen-Year-Old Drew Ruana, after climbing a potential 9a link-up at Smith Rock earlier this year, headed to the Red River Gorge to lay the smack down on all the classic Red River 5.14s. He climbed Lucifer (5.14c; four tries), Southern Smoke (5.14c; six tries), Thanatopsis (5.14a; three tries), Transworld Depravity (5.14a; flash) and Omaha Beach (5.14a; onsight). He also onsighted such warm-ups as White Man’s Shuffle (5.13d), Last of the BOHICANS (5.13d), Pushin’ Up Daisies (5.13c), The Madness (5.13c) and Kaleidoscope (5.13c).
This was all within a five-day period, after which his skin got a little thin, which is why he says he didn’t also bag Pure Imagination. “Next time,” he said.
Yeah, right, dude … In your dreams!
Despite rocking 20 pounds of dreadlocks and being a grown-ass-man, my friend Andrew Gearing proves that you don’t need to be a wafer-thin teenager to climb hard in the Red. He just established a stunning new line in the Red called Zookeeper (mid 5.14).
In a testament to how hard Zookeeper actually is, Jimmy Webb, who literally eats V14s for breakfast, didn’t even onsight or flash it. He did it on his second try.
12-Year-Old Denied Permit to Climb Everest
Twelve-year-old Tyler Armstrong is going to have to wait to complete his bid of the seven summits, because China just denied him a permit to try to climb Everest due to its rules that one must be 18 to climb the fecal time bomb. Had he been allowed to try Everest, and had he summited, he would have become the youngest person to stand on top of the world after Jordan Romero, whose summit of Everest at age 13 spurred the age-restriction rules.
Tyler Armstrong has climbed three of the 7 Summits.
Tyler is using his mountaineering passion to raise money for CureDuchenne, a group leading the charge to find a cure for muscular dystrophy. This is a great cause for a truly devastating disease.
Doing something just for the record, however, or even doing something like climb a mountain for charity, are interesting and recurring themes that we see, not only in the climbing world. It’s hard to not have mixed feelings about these types of attention-generating stunts. On the one hand, Tyler is doing more for a truly good cause than most 12-year-olds, let alone most adults. On the other hand, why not just take the tens of thousands of dollars you’d spend climbing Everest and give that to your charity instead?
Another question I’m curious about is do kids really have a place in the adventure-sports realm? Climbing Everest, even with its relatively low mortality rate thanks to oxygen and fixed ropes, is still a place where anything can happen. Not to mention the potential health impacts of altitude on a young brain, which are still not well understood. On a philosophical note, do kids actually possess an ability to truly understand these risks involved? And really, do any of us? I’ve read studies that suggest that we’re not truly capable of making calculated decisions when it comes to risk-taking behaviors until our late 20s or early 30s. I’ve also read that as we get older, we begin to lose some of that desire to take risks. Seems like a self-fulfilling correlation to me.
All these questions trickle down to other climbing activities beyond just summit bagging. Even sport climbing, which is extremely safe and enjoyed by many youths today, is inherently dangerous, and at least one 12 year old has died on a casual bolted climb.
But … then again, aren’t these sports more valuable, more educational, more inspiring than soccer? Isn’t that why we as adults do them?
The new season of BD TV launched last week with this really powerful testimonial to the climbing partnership. Specifically, this video is about Babsi Zangerl’s ascent of Bellavista (8c) on the Cima Ovest in the Dolomites. Please watch this really powerful video, if for no other reason than to see one of the most incredible alpine sport climbs in the world.
It’s hard to do justice to that distinctive roof on the Cima Ovest, but having personally stood underneath it, I can attest to the fact that it’s fucking massive. I didn’t climb the Cima Ovest while I was at Tre Cima several years ago, but I did climb the Cima Grande, as it’s one of the three great north faces of the Alps. But I think the Cima Ovest is probably more badass, even though it’s not as tall.
I heard a funny story from an Italian photographer about the Cima Ovest’s roof. Apparently, this photographer was shooting pictures of a climber working Bellavista, and he had fixed a 300-meter static line to the headwall above the roof in order to jug up into a very airy position and shoot photos. He had coiled the remainder of the rope at the base of the route, and fixed it there so he jug from that position. Keep in mind that the lip of this roof juts out about 150 feet from the base of the route.
One day, this photographer had a serious brain fart, and for some reason, he unclipped the rope from the base of the route. Then he hopped onto his jugs, ready for another casual 500-foot jug up the static line. As soon as he weighted the jugs, however, he was quite surprised to find himself taking the mother fucker of all pendulum swings. He swung out so far from the wall that his screaming pinched down to the decibel of a whisper, before the volume on that shriek rose as he swung back in to the cliff.
How Not To Propose
In case you haven’t seen this, a dude from Fresno loaded up on meth, proposed to his girlfriend, then free-soloed up Moro Rock and had to be rescued. It’s unclear whether she accepted the grand gesture.
When I decided to propose to Jen, my best friend and my favorite climbing partner, I thought it would be cool to clip a ring to the anchor of route we always do together as a warm-up. The first opportunity I got to place the ring at that anchor, however, was on a freezing cold October day. Jen hates being cold and she especially hates climbing in the cold.
I went up the route and my fingers went wooden. There’s no way Jen’s going to do this route in these temps, I thought. I almost aborted the whole mission, but decided to go through with it. I clipped the ring to the anchors, and then lowered down.
“Was that really cold?” Jen asked.
“Not too bad,” I said.
“I don’t want to,” she said.
“You have to!”
For some reason, I just blurted out, “Because I don’t want my climbing partner to be a pussy.” Plus, I knew that would work on Jen because she’s such a badass. Sure enough, she shot me a grimacing sidelong glance, then sat down to put on her climbing shoes.
“Oh, and I accidentally left a carabiner up there at the anchor,” I said. “Maybe you could get that, too.”
Half way up the route, her fingers went numb. “It’s too cold, I want to come down!” she wailed.
“Just do it!” I yelled back.
When she got up to the anchor, she grabbed the carabiner with the ring on it, and just clipped it to her harness without even looking at it. My heart sank momentarily. Then she clipped the rope into the anchor, and said, “Take!”
She looked at the carabiner with a ring, and shouted down to me, 70 feet below her, “What is this?”
And I shouted back, “What’s your answer?”
And she shouted back, “What’s your question!?”
And I asked, and she said yes, and it all worked out, of course. We didn’t even need a helicopter rescue.
And that brings me to the biggest news that happened this week in climbing, at least for me and Jen. We got to welcome our daughter into the world on April 7. And a new adventure into fatherhood begins … wish me luck!