Wednesday, April 15, 2015

King Cobra

     I have never posted at length about sport climbing, and never at all about sport-mixed or drytooling. This isn't because I don't do it.  For every pitch I climb in the mountains I probably climb 20 or 30 at a sportcrag. This is the first season that I put real work into mixed climbing, and to my surprise, on December 31 in Hyalite, I redpointed my first M10 second go.
On April 11, I redpointed my first M11, in Vail, once again on the second go.
     Maybe I haven't talked about sport climbing much because it is one of my prime weaknesses.  I have never had alot of physical power. From a young age I spent much of my time cycling and nordic-skiing, and eventually fell into a training regime that couldn't have been healthy for a kid. I developed a light frame and an aerobic engine.  What little muscle I had was all slow twitch.
     In practical terms, few things are more useless than huge dead-points and powerful inverts if you intend to take your climbing to long mountain routes. I sport climb because I enjoy the problem solving and getting pumped in a safe environment.  I have always loved limestone pocket climbing, especially in the savage Wild-Iris style.  This is probably because this style challenges me the most. The power-endurance style requires you to give it 100% the whole time. It's simple, as soon as you give it 95%: you fall. A series of finger injures in the autumn ground my rock-climbing to a halt; it was going to be a few months before I pulled on any pockets.  

I had a new idea.  It started in dingy basements and some abandoned train tunnels above Manitou Springs.  A dark 6 months of winter and what is basically just gymnastic aid climbing followed.

Brett Baekey Chucking a lap on Seattle Seven, G9+

We talked to each other about Nietzsche's superman on several occasions as we climbed these chossy routes with drilled pockets.  Brett on the send, Niall on belay.  I would send Seattle Seven seven times this season.

First, a little bit about the Ghetto...

Some of our climbing areas are pristine, some are even magical. Then there’s the Ghetto. 
    In my sophomore year of college I saw a photo on mountain project. Erik Welborn and Phil Wortmann were in the depths of a dark tunnel, clipping permadraws and throwing savage dry-tooling moves between pockets in a roof. It was hard to see where the route started or ended, but it was clear that it was all horizontal. I sought to find out where this was.
    Climbers love to ask questions about style, or ethics, or even questions that delineate the difference between the two. Yes, the ghetto is manufactured. Yes, we are drytooling, which may really just be enduro-aidclimbing. Yes, it is contrived. But any question you can ask about what we do in those dark tunnels goes out the window when we consider their origins: Dynamite. These abandoned rail tunnels go straight through the hillside, revealing 100 foot rooflines in broken pikes peak granite. Every hold, every inverted move, all the pro, and the crag itself is manufactured. I cannot thank Erik and Phil enough for turning the tunnels into the place we love to climb(if you can call drytooling that). They are the unsung heroes of C-Springs, and some of the best people around.

    After only a few weeks in October, the result of our training was that we, Brett, Jack, and all of the Ghetto crew, knew it was no longer possible to get pumped on the steepest ice.  This is fine.  Ice climbers NEED to get over themselves.  What we do is easy.  You have a jug the whole time.  Yes, an ice climb deserves respect and thoughtful movement, but no, it is no longer impressive in an athletic sense.  Ice is beautiful because it is a constantly changing medium, and it is enough that it is simply fun to climb, if no longer physically difficult.
    On ice tools, a minimal amount of training can have your 'pump-clock' following an asymptotic trend. When we weren't at the ghetto, we had training sessions in Phil's garage or Jack's basement. It's a huge mental asset to know that you can take your time on difficult traditional pitches, never becoming critically pumped.  But of course we had to take it further, trying to find our limits in the most ridiculous format-mixed climbing in huge, chossy caves.  Probably the dumbest part of this whole process was my development of an 'alter-ego'. One of my friends younger brothers, Caleb Wilson, once randomly gave me a soviet hockey jersey.  He didn't want it because it was whack looking.

I love most things Russian. The Brother's Karamazov, the legacy of Eastern Bloc Physics, Zamyatin's We, The Master and Margarita, Cold, Pain, Secularism, Alpinism, Cosmonauts, etc, etc.
    Naturally, I started wearing the hockey jersey all the time.  It was #10.  My friends started calling me Yuri.
 I was, "Yuri the Cosmonaut, with high probability mission failure".  I took it to Hyalite, to Ouray, to Vail, to Alberta. 

At the last stance on King Cobra. From here it's on

In mid winter, what most would call the legitimate mixed season, I spent alot of time pushing my onsight ability.  If I couldn't do something in two goes, it wasn't worth trying.  This strategy gave me good resting skills (this pissed off my climbing partners to no end), and good problem solving skills. I felt that I was developing precision.  Holds seemed to reveal themselves at the most desperate moments. I eventually onsighted 4 M8s, and made quick redpoints of several M9s and one M10.
   I probably over-trained, and after a few weeks of creaks and random pains my body was done mixed climbing. Eventually I lost the psyche as well and got pretty sick of it.  I shifted completely to aerobic training for a coming Alaska trip. At this point I was only running and ski touring.  Skiing is something that I've always enjoyed. I can't thank my parents enough for strapping skis on me as soon as I could walk. I think I like it more than climbing, at least in an immediate-joy-of-experience way.
Brett leading P1 of Nemesis, WI6.  Stanley Headwall.  

In february and march, I still climbed a bit, but mostly only in the alpine. I took a quick trip to the Canuckistan Rockies with Brett, where we climbed some classics like Nemesis and Asteroid Alley.

While I dont use spurs, I have taken to heel hooking as if I were wearing rock shoes.  The variety of movement on routes like this is huge.  The #10 soviet hockey jersey, complete with a hammer and sickle on the front, saw me to many invigorating sends.
For some reason I decided to go back to Vail in April, after I was 3 months deep into base training.  Jack and I met his friend Owen, a young whippersnapper of 18 with a great attitude and lots of mountain psyche.  Showing him around Vail and introducing him to mixed climbing was fun, and it helped me get over myself a bit.  I had been doing 15-25 hours of low level aerobic work each week, with only minimal focus on strength maintenence. I had no expectation that I could still do steep mixed climbs. With no pressure I decided to try King Cobra.  I held on through crux after crux, surprising myself as I guessed the right sequences and spotted tiny holds. The line gets progressively harder, with essentially no rests.  It's neighboring route, Red Bull and Vodka, has more inverts and harder cruxes, but also has many no-hands rests.  After the second clip on King Cobra, it was on.  I held on through the first anchor, sending to there onsight. I kept going, sending to the bail cord in the base of the roof, with the pump building.  I pulled into the inverts, guessing the right sequence, but desperately pumped. When I finally fell I was only two moves from the Fang.  I nearly onsighted my first M11. It's probably just M10, but the only stuff that makes less sense than grades are mixed grades...

The final invert, a figure-9 to gain the ice.
I lowered off next to a slushy fang with a waterfall raging inside.  Belay conditions were hardly ideal, and I had cramping arms contorted into stupid shapes.  We drove the awful 3 hour drive back to the Springs.
   I didn't change my training much, I was still mostly running, doing the incline with a weighted pack, and ski touring, but on two short 40 minute sessions each week, I went into Jack's dingy basement and did figure fours on a circuit of rings drilled into his ceiling studs. These sessions were at maximal intensity, and always to failure. I slipped off my tools trying to hook a tiny metal keyhole. I missed the pad, nailing my elbow on the dirty concrete floor six feet below.  Glad that nothing was broken, I got another lap in.
   Two weeks after my first go I returned to the Ampitheater with my brother, Nick, and Jack. Somehow the fang was still up. I feared for the life of my belayer, Jack, quivering at the base of King Cobra, grigri in hand. It was around 45 degrees and the fang was a mess--basically a multi-ton tower of slush with a deafening waterfall in the middle. It seems as if it had fractured, bent over a few feet, and then froze and re-healed all wonky.  I feel bad about this whole thing, because if the fang had fallen I might have been fine, just dangling on the end of a rope, clipped to a permadraw.  Without a doubt Jack would have been Fucked with a capital F.  I.e, if he were mangled, I'd be dangled, thanks to the grigri and fat rope. I instructed him to run away if anything big came down, even if he had to pull me off in the process.
    I gave it hell on my only try of the day, knowing I had the least dangerous job in the ampitheater...  Before the roof I tried to milk a shoddy rest stance, still over vertical, with terrible footholds.  After a few minutes I wasn't getting it back.  I was hesitating, and Jack knew it, yelling up to me to "make-moves".  I rattled off a few deep breaths and pulled into the series of inverts with a few candles left to burn. My mind turned off and a few blank seconds later I had my picks buried in the fang, was pumped as shit, and howling louder than the trucks on I70. I was glad to have a bolt at shoulder level as I kicked into the Fang. After all this, my reward(of sorts) was to climb 40 feet of slush-ice with no pro. I almost wanted to kick it down, but for Jack's sake I carefully topped out and untied. (stemming over an open streambed at the end).

Usually I am a neurotic goalsetter, but in this case a goal climb snuck up on me, and I gave it hell with no real expectations.  I'm done with sport mixed climbing for the season. Its time to rock climb.  If you've enjoyed this breast-beating ego-gratifying rant then either you're me or you're generous with your time.  Let me just say that mixed climbing should not be taken seriously by anyone, but it's been fun.