Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Breeching Whale

The famous photo. Bryce on The Breeching Whale Project
Long have rumors of a steep granite boulder in Northern Arizona circulated the web. The handful of pictures of its overhanging prow gained likes and shares and comments.
I’ve been seeing pictures of this one boulder for five years, since the original was posted to 0friction and even though I spent much of my free time wandering Prescott National Forest, I never found it. Not until yesterday.

When we all began building Beta, Chris Hahn and the owner of the gym, Bryce Snyder started to talk up The Breeching Whale. “It’s hard,” they said, and featured uniquely for granite, especially of the kind found around Prescott.
Matt Gentile and I wanted to go, but with winter in full swing and a probably wet top out, we couldn’t get anyone to draw up a map. Not until last week, when I brought my computer into work and got Bryce to point out the area. He wasn’t sure where The Breeching Whale was though. Matt and I were already planning on driving down on Wednesday and as soon as I mentioned the trip to Ethan Gia, he and Andrew Rothner were on board. Soon there were five of us planning to drive for two hours for a single problem whose exact location was still somewhat of a mystery.
Ethan scoping out the line
Then on Tuesday night, Andrew Sweeney came into Beta. Sweeney had the previous highpoint on The Breeching Whale and knew the road there a little better. I got out my phone, and pulled up the boulders. He pointed right to it. Bryce agreed and I dropped a pin.
Matt on the right hand crimp
The next day, phone in hand, I wandered through dense forest, stepping over fallen oaks and ponderosas. I walked right up to The Breeching Whale. The pin I’d dropped was right on it.
Matt setting up to hit the crimp
I threw a rope and cleaned and chalked the upper holds. It looked like it climbed immediately out to the angular arĂȘte where a few hard compression moves led to a good edge and a high but causal top out. It looked good. The rock was incredibly tacky. We all wanted to try.
High heel hooking
Photo: Danny Mauz

Soon the pads were organized and Andrew, Ethan, Matt and I all had out shoes on. The problem starts high on a right hand pinch and a crimp undercling and makes a couple of fun, technical moves up to a right hand crimp before moving out to the arĂȘte, up to a good crimp, a fin, and finally a jug and the top.
The crux of this problem is to hand-heel match and bump over to the good crimp below the fin. I took the fall with my heel up a few times, which at about 10 or 12 feet, was pretty scary. It’s not often that you fall flat on your back from that height.
Andrew, fresh off a season in Hueco, sent The Breeching Whale quickly. He named it Dose of Thunder and gave it a solid 10 points on the V-scale.
Andrew on The FA
Matt, Ethan, and I spent the rest of the day working on the problem but none of us managed the second ascent. With trips planned for Joe’s Valley in the next couple weeks and a nice fresh foot of snow on the ground, it looks like the second ascent won’t be for some time. Considering though, that this one, classic problem has stood unclimbed out there for so many years only to be taken down in a handful of tries is testimony to a new growing community of motivated climbers here in Northern Arizona. The rest of us will be back to Dose of Thunder sooner or later and are all more than willing to share. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Hueco Tanks and Bangland

A week ago I was sleeping in my car, the windows fogged and dripping, the crashpads outside gathering frost as the sun slowly crept over West Mountain. I made eggs and coffee, ate the eggs quickly and drank the coffee while I packed up. I had camped on a small plot of land, whose caretaker-Gp-had allowed me to park my car for free. He called it Bangland, after its owner. Bangland is a place to remind you of the deserts strangeness, of Hueco’s sketchiness. Night after night, one neighbor or another—all like a mile away—had vicious techno parties with toothy beats bumping all night through the still air like the daily automatic gunfire echoing over from Fort Bliss.
            I packed lunch, bled the line for my stove and hurried over to the office to meet Gp for a volunteer tour. It was as, Gp kept saying, my tour. I could go anywhere I wanted. With all the backcountry boulders available to choose from, this was not an easy decision. Acme Roof? The Feather? or some other obscurity lost in West Mountain? I’ve never had to make the decision before; it’s usually made collectively. Democracy on tour in the Hueco Backcountry.
            Of all the places to go, of all the great climbs out there, I decided to go to Full Service. This problems name fits perfectly and is as good as people say as long as you can climb it. Full Service is almost endlessly frustrating. Its moves aren’t the hardest, but there are a lot of them, and it routinely spits climbers off the top, a difficult thing to recover from, both mentally and physically. This had happened to me last year, so I wanted to finish the thing off.
            I fell from the top twice, once taking a scary trajectory. But I waited around, talked to Gp. Rested. Then, once I had relearned all the moves and remembered all the beta, I cruised to the top, smooth as glass.
Then I decided to try another power endurance testpiece—Crouching on the Mahogany, only to pump out at the crux time after time. You always need something to return to.
I left Hueco at about Three PM to make the eight-hour drive home to Flagstaff. I stopped at El Pasito and bought some burritos for the road. Driving north, eating carnitas, the sun setting in that brilliant desert way, I thought about my trip.
I’ve never had such a successful trip in my life. I climbed four days and finished a classic double digit problem a day. I wanted to climb The Full Monty the most out of everything I’d drawn onto my ticklist and on my first day I did it in less than an hour with no spectators and one pad—my favorite time to climb hard. That same day I also flashed Bush League, a newer 8 on a boulder facing Windy Ass, and climbed Sex After Death first try.
On day two it started drizzling as soon as I got into the park so I took shelter under The Martini Cave. I worked on Left Martini and then crawled through the hole and worked out the moves on Tequila Sunrise, a newer problem that is surprising good with a sweet drive-by and a cool slam dunk jump. I was immediately more excited to climb Tequila Sunrise than Left Martini. I finished my second day working out the moves on Alma Blanca with Max Moore. This problem invaded my mind like a fever. All I could think of the next day, my only rest day, was Alma Blanca.
I woke at 5:45 on Sunday to get in line for north and waited until 10 to get in the park. As soon as I parked it started to drizzle, but no matter. I went up to Alma Blanca and the clouds parted and the rain stopped. I chased the shadows of the clouds to give send attempts without the sun glaring me in the eyes. After about an hour I sent Alma Blanca, packed up and went down to Tequila Sunrise, which took me about five tries. I was done. I’d climbed well, so I packed up and went back to Bangland where decided what to try the next day with Gp: Full Service.
It’s unusual for me to go someplace like Hueco with as much focus as I did on this trip. Normally I just climb whatever and I leave without any good new sends. This time around though, I was conservative, I knew what I wanted and I listed to my body. As soon as my fingers felt bruised, I packed my pad and went somewhere else. Before I even left Flagstaff I made extra effort to climb on some sharp rock to grow callous’s and climbed crimpy problems at Beta. But most of all, I thought of the problems I wanted to try knowing that all those hours daydreaming would pay off.

As I drove West on I-40 the snow began to fall in flurries. I ate another burrito and sat up in my seat imagining home, a hot shower, and bed through all that snow. There are projects to finish there too, up on Elden, and at The Draw and all over Flagstaff, for that matter. But I only thought of Home and the warm bed and Christina’s smooth skin as I turned on the wipers and slowed down to a safer speed.

Friday, January 18, 2013


For the last couple of weeks I’ve been projecting a problem at Priest Draw called Antimatter. I first started trying Antimatter last April but abandoned it once it got too warm and I began work at CREC. It’s been cold everywhere for the last couple of weeks. Here in Flagstaff temperatures didn’t even break freezing until yesterday.
On my first 2013 session on Antimatter I refined all of my beta, of which there is much. It took me about two hours to finally make up my mind on the crux section, which involves some strange pinches, a dropknee/toecam, a cross-under, and a bad gaston. The Draw is a wonderful place this time of year, if you were wondering. The parking lot is void of cars and covered in deep snow. Only the true die-hards make it out, so the whole place glistens with winter solitude. It’s quiet. Only the birds make noise, and during that cold snap they were elsewhere. Probably Sedona. Anyway, I climbed at The Beta every other day and once last week headed out to Antimatter with Danny and Matt. It was snowing and about 20 degrees. As soon as I booted up my feet lost all feeling and I made absolutely no progress on the probelm. It was beginning to seem as if Antimatter was impossible for me, that I’d never see it through to the end and hang from the double toe hooks on the lip where I finally, after like 15 moves, would get to relax my core.
            I made a point of not thinking about Antimatter for a couple of days and climbed up on Elden, where I found myself excited on a couple of other projects. I had to get Antimatter out of the way so I could move on. Climbers are often in a perpetual state of progression, and the feeling of stagnancy is disheartening. That was exactly where I was. I felt like the next level was just out of reach. I was getting frustrated.
             Yesterday I got off from work at four and took advantage of working in a bouldering gym and warmed up there. I drove quickly out to The Draw and raced the setting sun to Antimatter. The light was coppery while I set up the pads and camera. Conditions couldn’t have felt better. I did the crux once to remember the body positioning and cooled my hands off on a nearby rock. Hot hands and freezing rock equal condensation like on a cold drink during a hot summer day. I pulled onto Antimatter and walked it first try of the day. My feet even cut, which was the issue that had been keeping me from the top, but I held on and summoned energy I didn’t know I had and was soon topping out. My mouth tasted of metal and no matter how much I spit, there was more. It took me half an hour to catch my breath.
            Now though, I feel as if a weight has been lifted. I’m going to Hueco next week and I know that if I hadn’t done Antimatter it would loom over those desert rocks I hold so dear like a bulging thunderhead. But it’s not. I will go to Hueco with a clear mind and I will hopefully come back proud. There is always a feeling of change, of anticipation, and of fear on top of every project. With growth comes the great unknown, a place we generally avoid. The road to satisfaction is limitless and, for me at least, paved in crimps, slopers, pinches and pockets.

Oh, and here is a link to Antimatter.

Monday, January 14, 2013

New Year

I’ve tiptoed my way into the New Year, 2013 and it’s looking to be a good one. 2012 was an eventful year, for both climbing, and general life type things.  Christina and I bought a house in Flagstaff, AZ, a place I couldn’t be more pleased with. With a little more focus on climbing I managed to climb a few things I never imagined myself standing on top of. Both Bang On and The Mandala were problems I first saw in my fledgling months as a rock climber. They looked amazing then, but were veiled in a film of grandeur. Only really good climbers could climb those things. Climbers like Chris Sharma, Dave Graham, or Ben Moon. Eventually though, and faster since I started using boar’s hair brushes, that film has cleaned away leaving solid, climbable rock. And that’s what I’ve been busy doing.
A few weeks ago a true winter storm rolled through Northern Arizona. I took advantage of the falling snow and convinced Christina to walk part-way up Middle Elden with me. I packed champagne. At the warm-up boulders I uncovered a small box and got on one knee and asked Christina to marry me. She said yes, and we drank the champagne in a cave and watched snow fall for a while before the slog home. Christina and I have been together for five years. We met on a bouldering trip in Bishop in a “more dudes” kind of situation. It was her, the only one old enough to buy like 12 underage boys alcohol, and I, the only underage boy not drinking and able to carry in-depth discussions about Kate Chopin and Charlotte Perkins Gilman. We hit it off and now we are set to be married at the beginning of the summer. So it’s looking as if 2013, like its predecessor, will also be a year of good new things.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Bang On

Well now, it’s the holiday season and snow is in the forecast. Beta Bouldering’s grand opening was about two weeks ago and I’ve been in there quite a bit since. People seem pretty psyched to have a new climbing venue in town and the after-work sessions are growing. This upcoming storm, which seem to carry with it the long anticipated beginning of Flagstaff’s winter, will almost certainly close the forest roads and make desert pilgrimages a necessity. Though I’ve gotten closer on my project in Cherry Canyon, I’m excited to have an excuse to go to the desert. I have an ambitious tick-list this year and I’m psyched to get to work.
            I crossed another problem off my lifetime tick-list just before Thanksgiving. Christina and I had plans to spend the holiday in Del Mar, Ca. I could not resist a stop at Black Mountain to try Bang On.
I’ve been able to do all the moves on Bang On for over a year, and have been able to do the stand for four. Because I live in Arizona, and Black Mountain season overlaps with the season here, I don’t get out there as often as I’d like. So I included a couple pads and convinced Christina I’d be able to do it in just a few tries. I wasn’t sure if the lower gate was closed, so the two-hour detour was a gamble.
But the gate was open, and though we had to walk from the campground gate, the detour was worth it. Bang On, though it is only four moves long, has some of the most bizarre beta of anything I’ve climbed. Sure, there is the iconic cross, and that strange toothy crimp. I find the most important piece however, is how I grab the start hold. Crystals need to be between the right fingers, hands must be at the right angle. The flappers on my palm and little finger are a map to the first move. 
After about a dozen tries and a little bloodshed, I sent Bang On. I’m still psyched about it. I’d tried the problem the fist time I went to Black Mountain. It looked climbable, but felt impossible. Now that I’ve been focusing on climbing for just a few months I’ve cruised past my old performance plateau and into new territory. I don’t even really know how to behave. I flash people’s projects accidently as they watch between burns. I don’t mean to, it just happens. As a rule, I don’t let go. So for that, I apologize. But hey, I’m just as stunned as anyone.
Anyway, here is a video of Bang On

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Broken Symmetry, The Spider Pocket, and Uptown Vandal

Beta Bouldering will be opening December first and the mad rush to finish the place has been underway for quite some time. I’ve been over there disobeying the warnings on Bud cans and drilling, pounding, patching, painting almost every day. In the few short days I’ve not gone in to help out, or worked on the innumerable unfinished projects in my own house, I’ve been getting out to Cherry Canyon, Choss Roof, and Middle Elden.
I’ve been having a good fall, to say the least. I feel the strongest I ever have. My ambitious winter tick list doesn’t seem so out of reach now. Maybe it was the six months of trail work, or the six months of more limited climbing, or the better diet. Who knows, it’s probably a combination of it all.
In any case, I finished off Uptown Vandal first go of my second day on the problem. I figured out some good beta for the stand start that makes the problem flow much better. I also did John Val John, a problem whose name always seems to be mumbled, (I think no one is totally sure how to say it) on my second try. I also rapped off a tall wall just up canyon from Panama Red that looks like it could go after a good cleaning. The gate to Cherry Canyon will be closed soon, so any projects need to be finished before access is limited.
Choss Roof and Renegade have been in the news lately and while gates are not closed, it might be better to wait until spring to revisit. I managed, with some beta from Matt Gentile, to snag the first ascent of The Spider Pocket, a problem that has stood up to many strong Flagstaff climbers for several years. The problem climbs right out the center of the roof through a large move to a two-finger pocket and gaston. I’m really happy to have contributed this problem to a roof already filled with excellent problems. I also managed the third ascent of Choss Origins, which is arguably the best line on the roof. Matt put together this video of both problems.
Yesterday morning, I went up Middle Elden with Christina to work on Broken Symmetry. I’ve written about this problem before, and tried it many, many times. It was a lump in my mind, clouding thought, keeping me awake. I started working Broken Symmetry this season about a week ago and came so close on that first session that it’s all I’ve climbed on since.  On Wednesday I went back up the canyon with Matt Gentile and Cory Hathaway, who was on his way through town. Matt figured out how to reach the bad right hand crimp, the one that has crumbled several times, (I even broke a little off on the first day of work) but was still trying to figure out the match. I struggled at the same place, but managed to match that crimp once with a cool cross-under move. I’m not really sure why, but I fell after I matched that hold. Maybe my core just gave out, or I surprised myself, in any case, I couldn’t get back up there again. After two days off to let my skin callous up, Christina and I walked from our house to Broken Symmetry. The wounds on my left forearm opened up after one try so I taped my shirt snuggly to my arm. Then, second try of the day; I floated the thing using the same cross-under I’d used on Wednesday. After probably five or six sessions over a year, Broken Symmetry is a boulder problem once again. Like with The Spider Pocket, I’m really proud to open this thing up again. It’s a great problem, and unlike anything I’ve ever climbed before.
I’ll leave you with a video of the send. Sorry the top out is cut off, you can see it in the shadow.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Renegade and Choss

It’s the time of year that I start to plan trip out of state. Trips to Texas and California, desert places intolerably hot most of the year. For the next couple months though, I think I’m staying home.
I just bought a house, and though the first round of painting, flooring and other domestic-type activities have come near an end, I want to enjoy the fruits of our labor. And of course spend time with Christina.
I’ve never lived someplace like Flagstaff before. There is so much I haven’t climbed here, so many areas I’ve yet to visit, that I want to get out on the forest roads, see the roofs find the bulges, and of course climb them. Gates and locks—so often the enemies of climbers, will close off Cherry Canyon and Woody Mountain in about two months.
For these next two months I will be climbing at only these areas and on Elden. Projects are everywhere, there are numerous new things to be climbed and my old reasoning to leave doesn’t work anymore. The desert can wait.
Matt on a project on Renegade Roof
Yesterday I went out to Renegade Roof and Choss Roof with Matt Gentile. In the last year or so, a resurgence of development has swept across Northern Arizona, much of it spearheaded by Matt. He’s visited the areas already found and written off and climbed many new problems. Choss Roof alone will probably host around 40 problems from V5 to V14 in link-ups and variations, many of which will be among the best in the state.
Renegade Roof
Renegade Roof, which was abandoned after one line was climbed because of a hugely bad landing, is much like the famous Mars Roof, only bigger and with a far more impressive backdrop. There are only three or four finished problems on the roof, but it’s covered with two-finger pockets, pinches and jugs. There will be another half-dozen problems by the time the roof is climbed out.
At Renegade I worked on the original line, which shares its name with the roof. The problem climbs through a series of pinches and pockets with good toe-cams for feet. Matt worked on a project that climbs out the center of the roof to a tricky and treacherous lip encounter.

Getting closer to the lip

Choss Roof
We walked over to Choss Roof and I tried the center line, Choss Origins, The Spider Pocket project and one of the newer problems in the area called Garden Heist.  It was my third time to the roof, and I’ve sill never topped anything out besides the warm-ups. Soon though, with work and endurance I will start ticking them off the list.