Sunday, December 11, 2016

Back at the bridge

video: Nate Brown.  

Before I left for Europe I managed to spend a few weekends working on the Natural bridge, mostly trying to send new routes that I bolted over the summer. There were some highlights, but one of the more memorable ones was pulling this microwave sized block off into my face.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Full Tilt

I don’t often make a long post about a single pitch route. This is a long post but it's about much more than just one climb. I’ve found that hard rock-climbing has become one of my weaknesses, and I sought to work on that this fall. On December 3rd I sent my fall project, Full Tilt 5.13a/b, on the overlooked but quality granite in Sinks Canyon. I had the support and belays of Mara and my brother, Nick to work the route. On the day I sent, local legend BJ Tilden gave me a catch, and I wondered why I don’t always try as hard as he does.

Rock climbing is for the obsessed, the problem solvers, the patient and the persistent. I often lack the patience and persistence, and this has held me back. I would rather try a wide variety of different disciplines to keep things interesting and to stay in the most rewarding part of the learning curve.  Committing to a project with the real possibility of failure is always hard.
 Nate 'stoked nate' Mankovitch cuts loose on Full Circle, .13a at wild iris. He's not dabbing in that aspen tree, that's a mistake of visual superposition.

Its been 3 or 4 years since I put real work into rock climbing.  I've been in a cycle of ice and mixed climbing through the winter, until recently studying physics, chasing ski descents all spring, working, alpine climbing, and running in the summer, leaving just a few months in the fall to really focus on rock climbing. As a result I've found a huge plateau: at the age of 23 I haven't really bouldered appreciably harder than when I was 18. Rock climbing has become my clear weakness, and despite years of intermittent training, I have seen very little improvement.

Strangely, I think I owe my plateau-breaking improvements to an Injury. This season, like so many before it, my decisions were made for me, by fate and by an unforeseen injury. This is a common narrative, that the renewed motivation and re-alignment of perspective that follows injury and inactivity can lead to new personal bests in sport.

I found manual labor to be totally incompatible with high-level technical climbing. Despite being in such a great rock climbing destination as Lander, I had completely sidelined climbing. During the summer I started a new job installing solar, and was doing quite a bit of running with not enough gradual development of a mileage base to support it. As manual labor goes, solar is pretty soft, but I still found myself getting sore every day. I believed the light wear and tear at work wouldn’t adversely affect my ability to build a long-distance trail-running base. I was wrong. I overdid it somewhere between kicking shovels into rocky dirt trying to dig up electrical conduit at work and going suicide pace at a 36 mile trail race on the weekend, giving myself a stress fracture in the cuboid bone of my right foot.

I asked Steve House about this apparent conflict between systematic training for alpine climbing, technical climbing and projecting, and manual labor. I'm thankful to have his advice, but the answer surprised me. He said that I should all but drop systematic training, and when I had the time off work I should use it in the practice of climbing, and if I must train strength and aerobic fitness, the focus should be on maintenance. I should only add real volume or intensity when I have the time to recover properly. This is the guy who wrote Training for the New Alpinism, and he was advising me not to train. The rationale is that I have more to gain now by maintaining and building skills rather than cranking away at aerobic fitness or physical strength. And I have more to lose if I carry fatigue from manual labor at work into training, and vice versa. In hindsight, this is the best advice I could have gotten.

Biting the Curb on Death of a Cowboy, 5.13-. Trying really fucking hard, still not sending. Photo Jack Schrott.

Rock climbing is more like a dance than it is like powerlifting. I have come to realize that the practice of these technical skills is more valuable than building strength, which enables poor technique and wasted energy, which only begets negative progress and the potential for injury, and guarding injury leads to more poor technique, and so on.

The apparent importance of hard technical ability in the alpine world is only increasing. Young climbers like Hayden Kennedy or David Lama are spending much of the year working 5.14s and still cleaning up in the big mountains.

Colin Haley became a prominent alpinist while disregarding the importance of hard rock-climbing. I talked to him about his changed approach: he recently sent his first 5.13b and his first V10, and this increase in technical ability preceded some huge accomplishments in Patagonia.

Steve House has sent several 5.13s, and now believes that these skills are of value in the mountains (maybe more-so than hard dry-tooling skills). These guys were, until recently, known for their support of the mileage-over-difficulty approach, and doubted the applicability of hard sport climbing in the alpine.

For pretty much the whole summer, I was laid up in a boot, and mobile only via crutches. I couldn't climb around on roofs to install solar, so I couldn't work. I couldn't run, obviously, and I couldn't climb.  What I could do, however, is hangboard and train my core. So that's what I did. I worked on my coding skills in the hopes of someday getting a job that qualifies (physically) as a real rest day, stayed up till 4am each night (This is my natural state, when uninfluenced by obligations or societal norms.), woke up at noon, and trained in my parents' basement. It was an unglamerous few months. I finished the sprawling and confusing postmodern novel, Gravity's Rainbow. While I wouldn't recommend it to most people, it was a mind bending and consciousness expanding experience, and I will not be reading it again soon.

I painfully and slowly crutched my way to the OK corral at Wild Iris with my brother. It's the easiest approach to any cliff in Lander. I was able to toprope with a climbing shoe on one foot, and the huge foam and plastic boot on the other, smearing and campusing uselessly, effectively climbing 5.10s one-leggedly.

After months of Physical Therapy, 18 hang-board sessions later I had the strongest fingers of my life, and I was ready to put TWO climbing shoes on, and even walk normally.  Through the early part of fall I focused on mileage, trying to do as many pitches of 5.11 as I could in a day, often down-climbing them without rest to dial in my footwork and get some extra pump going. I sent a few 5.12s, but my focus was primarily on turning my training into real, applicable fitness on rock with lots of moderate climbing.

I spent a week with Erik, Nik, Kurt, and Steve in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison where we officially started our two years in the Alpine Mentors program. It was a good trip and a good way to put my head back on straight after living the couch life hardcore. It still hurt quite a bit to cram my feet in shoes for 12 pitch routes, but I managed to have fun and built trust and rapport with Steve and my fellow mentees.

Nik Mirhashemi eyes the starting runout (.10- R) on Journey Home in the Black Canyon. I psyched myself out on this stormy afternoon and declined the honor of leading it. He stepped up to the plate.
Erik and Nik keep morale high during a rain soaked and benighted ascent on Journey Home.

Steve on Last Payment, 5.11.

The Black canyon has become my favorite place to rock climb, especially when I'm not actively climbing there...

Steve leads a great pitch on Cloak and Dagger.

The next two years are going to be more about teamwork and collective development than personal goals and selfish achievement. But in my own climbing it is difficult to let go of the need to test oneself. Mara told me that rock climbers need to be good "self-advocates", you need to convince others that repeated failures in far off places are worth the support, time and effort, and that you really are "good enough" to have a chance at success. As a side effect, rock climbing is a community (or anti-community) that self-selects for the narcissistic and goal-obsessed.

Projecting is a shitty trap to get into. If you’re climbing the same routes more than once a week, you start to lose all other abilities, and even general fitness.  I decided I needed to mix up my climbing, and focus on getting better rather than throwing myself at one route repeatedly.

In the past, I made mistakes by choosing the wrong kind of projects. The hardest rockclimbs I had done all involved some pumpy 5.11 or 5.12 climbing to a low-percentage move. Usually this is the type of power climbing that people do in a gym, athletic and engaging for the muscles, but not particularly engaging for the mind.

These are the kind of rockclimbs that, while fun and requiring some amount of fitness and effort to send, won’t teach you anything of real value. These are the types of moves people like to do in a gym. Things like balance, finesse, unusual footwork or body positioning, friction, and most types of relevant rock trickery for actual mountain terrain aren’t really required. Instead, it becomes a numbers game. None of the moves, save maybe your low-percentage crux, require any real creativity to unlock.  Put the moves together enough times, arrive at the crux repeatedly, each time a little less pumped, and finally stick the move and hold on, not really knowing why you’ve succeeded that time, only relieved to be done and tick your little box.

I sent a few of these types of routes, and wasted a lot of other people’s and my own time not following through with a send on others. I even projected some of them with declining fitness, experiencing negative progress that led to contempt for rockclimbing and myself. I was taking it way too seriously: a pointless activity with arbitrary rules that’s supposed to be fun. I regret working on some of these routes. Best case scenario is I walk away with a send, having learned nothing that I can apply anywhere else, but being able to claim that I’ve climbed at X level of difficulty. Worst case scenario: I waste 8 days at a chossy crag I don’t actually like, I don’t send, I lose skill and fitness in other types of climbing and aerobic strengths alike, and I don't learn anything of value. It’s a black hole for time and effort, where the neuroses of projecting and failure are your only companions.

I realized that I needed to change my approach completely. I spent a lot of my time training my muscles and trying to get stronger. Without doubt this is important, but in a very skill dependent sport like rock climbing where technical perfection and finesse is even more important than strength, I was digging myself a hole by training at the cost of neglecting the development of technique. When I trained I never confronted my weaknesses. Instead I lifted weights, did bouldering circuits on soft routes of monotonous style set in commercial gyms, and tried to make slightly longer moves on the campus board. I should have been climbing scary slabs, leading old school trad routes, and cleaning the holds on forgotten boulders in the deep woods.

Endless corridors of good sandstone and quartzite await those willing to explore Browns Park. Could become the Rocklands of North America.
Tony Stark on a Tommy Caldwell route: Viva Hate .13d at Baldwin.

I needed a project that could teach me something. If I was going to try a route 15 times, for practical purposes it should be lower angle, like within 15 degrees of vertical. This makes it easier to TR solo on a fixed rope with a micro traxion to work the moves. I find that if I’m alone outside, wasting only my own time, I’m willing to try each move every possible way and I can find the most creative and efficient solutions to complex problems. I would quickly grow self conscious and reluctant to test the patience of my belayer sussing beta for 2 hours with a human belay.

I also wanted to try a route that would be my anti-style. A year ago I would have said my style was secure power routes, steep clean-cut finger-cracks, positive, overhanging pocket routes, or steep caves of featured drytooling. I would have said my weaknesses were hard bouldering, slopers, crimps, thin footwork, and technical climbing on insecure holds.

While these things are a good test of certain athletic qualities, they are a complete rarity in real mountain terrain, and the world of climbing serves up far more tricky low angle slabs. If holds appear and are solid, they are bound to face the wrong way. I would ideally learn the most from a route that felt impossible at first, where I could fall from any one of many insecure moves. As an alpine climber it’s sometimes hard to justify projecting sport climbs. For some it becomes little more than a diversion, fun but un-applicable. If I were unable to send, I wanted to walk away having learned some new tricks, and become a better climber.

Full tilt in evening light. Follows the black streaks through overlaps.

Full tilt was a great route to work.  It follows a slightly overhanging seam in polished granite. It took 3 hours of microtraxing to do all the moves (poorly), but in learning to do them smoothly I read volumes in marginal granite movement. The first part of the route was around 15 moves at 5.12-, with straightforward power and reaches, compression on sidepulls, slopers, tiny fingerlocks, and a few difficult highsteps. You then arrive at a bad rest switching hands on a flat jug out left. At first I thought I could really get it back there, but after the suggestions of others, including BJ, I would have to chalk each hand two or three times and move on, carrying the slight pump with me. It was better for the retention of power-endurance to lower my heart rate slightly, get my composure, and move on than to try to eliminate all the pump with prolonged resting.

The upper section involves a strange switching lieback. Most 5.13 routes in Lander involve some very sharp and painful holds (monos, sharp pockets, polished razorcrimps), resulting in abuse to the tendons. This route had some seriously friendly holds, mostly open handed 1-pad slopers that face in strange directions. They seem friendly until you slip off. This happens as soon as the temperature gets above 42 degrees or you have the slightest amount of sweat on your skin. There is a sequence of 8 such moves where clipping or chalking was very difficult for me. Perfect body position, foot placement, and core tension is required to stay on the sloping Gastones and liebacks in the flaring seam. I used some novel techniques, backstepping, drop knees, flag-throughs, and anything else that would keep my hips locked into the wall on these tiny holds.

I spent more time bouldering outside than ever. I almost completely abandoned systematic, indoor training. Instead I decided that doing bouldering circuits outside would help my footwork and subtle technical skills more than the mindless and monotonous power moves set in most gyms. I spent 6 days this fall bouldering outside, mostly cleaning and sending new blocs. For me, this is a lot, and I felt really good on rock. On a bad weather day, when I did circuits in the gym, I was frequently able to finish a 4 by 4 with a send of a V6 as my last route. I can only very rarely climb V7, having no fast twitch muscle, but my power-endurance was at its best. In the future I will try to eschew indoor training for outdoor bouldering. At this point, I think only a few types of indoor training are actually valuable: general strength and injury prevention/PT exercise. Even some alpinists, like Josh Wharton, have taken this approach, bouldering outside through much of the year.
I put up a 14 move roof problem (V7 ish) on this beautiful wall at Browns park in the UT/WY/CO zone. I'd call it Hyperion, after a sweet scify book I read recently, but no-one is actually going to find or repeat this shit.

at The Wall in the Creek.

My other projects for the year were both trad routes right at my limit. The Cranner roof crack, 12+/13- out in the undiscovered, underrated, and unreal Sweetwater rocks, and Death of a Cowboy, a beautiful .13- tips crack through a changing corners roof in Indian Creek. I did all the moves on Cranner, and led it several times, but didnt feel close to linking the cryptic and insecure crux above the steep moves. At the creek, I felt like I could make real headway on Death of a Cowboy. I even built a crack machine, emphasizing only sizes that suck: .3s (tips), tight .75s (thumbstacks), wide .75s (ringlocks), and 1s (thin hands.). I would bleed for my weaknesses.

The Cranner Rock Roof Crack. 180lb dog and much smaller humans in foreground for scale.

Brett Baekey leads a sweet fingercrack in Wyoming's granite desert.
When I wasn’t bouldering, I made three trips to Indian creek, mostly climbing mileage and trying to onsight as many 5.11s each day as I could. I felt better with smearing, balance, and jamming, and strangely enough this began to translate. At the end of my last Creek trip, I felt painfully close to sending Death of a Cowboy, 5.13-. Its short, vicious start gives way to 110’ of overhanging glory handcrack, the reward for making it through the improbable crux. With no-one wanting to go the “mainstream” Scarface wall, I only got to try it once this year, and once last year. I would rather my first 5.13 redpoint had been on trad gear, but this beautiful tips crack roof will be waiting next year (with even more crusty blood caked in the first knuckle locks.)

One of the high points of the last creek trip was establishing an adventurous multipitch route at the Cave Wall with my friend John Collis. He envisioned the line as a continuation of a Jonathan Schaefer pitch. Unprotectable choss quickly gave way to perfect, black varnished, overhanging cracks. We trundled huge blocks from above the hard ringlocks crux at 300 feet. They vaporized into white dust and fragments, revealing the un-patina’ed color of windgate below. We hit our packs, and one of the Beers that John had laboriously hauled up the massive approach was annihilated. We named our route “Tecate Supercollider”.

My focus is most often on trad climbing. Part of my attraction to Full Tilt was that it goes on gear. Being an incipient seam, it just barely goes. Lander local Chris Marley sent the 45 foot route placing three cams, after sending it with bolts. I think there is more gear available, but in any case the .12- section would carry serious groundfall potential.

 After working this route off and on through the fall these moves started to feel easy, and I knew I was ready. Mara and my brother, Nick, both made it out on several occasions to support me with belays and good cold-weather attitudes. I made satisfying progress, seemingly always making it one move farther before winging off. For a few weeks in November a big snow and subsequent melt had saturated the ground, and the cliff dripped and seeped. I was done with my last week of work early in November, and my body had the rest it needed to actually climb well.

The few days I made it there were throwaways, with one or two of the crux holds wet. I stashed a towel on-top to prevent the seepage, and even hiked a jetboil up there one day to cook the water off the slopers up top. (not owning a blowtorch). I decided these desperate acts of control weren’t for me, and I climbed elsewhere. I tried to let go of the end result, practice non-attachment, and forget about my anticipated timeline. It had already taken longer than I wanted, but these things always seem to do that.

When it finally dried off, and was cold enough for good friction, I planned two consecutive days to go there. Lander local Steve Babits was planning to go there to check out the TS Arete, .13c, named for Todd Skinner, the legendary bigwall free climber and local legend who left it unfinished after his untimely and tragic death in Yosemite. Lander local BJ Tilden finished the route.

BJ and Griffin showed up that day. They recounted past Tool concerts for 15 minutes. While Steve and Griffin worked the arete, BJ and I warmed up, and he checked out the moves on a link up of Bad Brain (.13d) with the upper crux of Full Tilt (.13-), established as “Big Brain (.14a)” by Chris Marley. As I belayed, BJ’s problem solving skill and unreal finger-strength was obvious as he sent the route 2nd go, on his first day back to rockclimbing after three weeks of rest. And in keeping with the staunchly hardcore ethos of the area, he respectfully suggested a downgrade to 5.13d.

On my first try, I gave a “throwaway burn” while the route was still in the sun. BJ and I talked refined beta on the upper half of the route. After climbing V8 or 9 on Bad Brain and getting only a minor rest on the jug, BJ would need perfect beta for the 5.13 section of Full Tilt. I had worked the route for months, but in 25 minutes he had already arrived at better solutions.  He suggested clipping from a hold earlier in the crux with a twisted cross-clip. I was uncertain about changing my beta this late in the process. While uncomfortable, this allowed me to move more quickly through the worst holds and avoid clipping at a core-tensed stance.

Everyone yelled the aggressive but positive kind of encouragement I’ve seen effective in the hard sport-climbing world here. I suddenly found myself disoriented at the top of the route. The clipping holds are two slopers above the chains, and when pumped it’s hard to let go to chalk, shake, or clip. I got my feet too high and botched the clip, falling off on the red-point with the anchors at my waist. I wasn’t even angry, it was more just disbelief. It would be impossible to get any closer and not send. I found out that the redpoint crux of the route, at least for my sweaty hands, was clipping the chains.

On the next go I waited for the route to go into the shade. With air temps around 30 degrees, things would get cold quickly. This time I made it to the top again, with a bit more pump and all the blood squeezed out of my cold, numb fingertips. At the top I kept my feet low and secure, and clipped one chain from the sloper, now with better, colder friction. I felt myself starting to slip on the right hand sloper, and instead of trusting it and clipping the other chain, I tried to switch hands and fell, squeaking weirdly with a combination of relief and surprise at having fallen again.

I’m going to count it, the only reason we clip both chains is to reduce wear and increase safety for top-roping. Having fallen from this spot several times in the projecting process, I decided beforehand that demonstrating control at the top of the cliff with two hands and clipping one chain would be enough for me. The point of hard rock-climbing is to physically challenge yourself by linking difficult moves. I did all the moves continuously in sequence, on lead, and got both hands on-top of the cliff, twice. Everyone seemed inclined to count it the second time. Whatever your ethic is, I’m done with this route for now.

Although, it does go on gear. Given a little more fitness, I may try it as a head-point in future seasons. Having one hung a bunch of other .13- routes but abandoned them in my impatience for projecting, I’m almost in denial that its taken me so long to improve my rock-climbing. I’m embarrassed and humbled that I had to try this route 12 times on lead and many more on micro-traxion. I'm even more embarrassed that I've tried some others more and come away without a send. I need to let that bullshit go. No-one simply deserves to send. I am confident that I can climb a lot harder. At the end I was making progress in increments of a move or two at each burn. The best climbers have to be content inching their foot a bit closer to the next foot smear, or holding onto the crux holds for another split second before falling off on the redpoint. Rock-climbing is hard work, that’s the point. I’m looking forward to years of repeated failures. For now it's cold as all hell and time to mixed climb.

I'm hoping to go here with Kurt Ross and Jess Roskelley. next year.Where is this anyway? Hmmmm.
As per the usual, I'm going to end my post with some totally unrelated photos:
Glass Art in Wichita. I went to my Grandfather, Buzz's 80th birthday party, which we had in an art museum.

Sick climbing. Sending in prime winter con'ies yo

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Run soft, sunbathing sports-action couch jockeying hard: the Broken Foot story.

This post is C- quality piece of writing trying to reconcile my desire to not suck with complete sucking: a summer squandered with injury and useless lethargy. Go on at your own risk.


-in video: My attempt at proper running technique. notice the calm upperbody, soft footfalls, good hip engagement, etc.

Marlon Webb + friends demonstrate perfect running technique:

I've done everything, video analysis, coaching, basework, speedwork, physical therapy, acupuncture, meditation, more salt, less salt, etc. Someday I hope to become a good runner, but for now that goal lies out of reach. Questions or comments are welcome. I think what could really help is running with the same grace and beauty as Marlon. This post goes out to all the h8ters who doubted I could run gracefully.

     But really I am a wannabe ultrarunner, like so many other suckas. I know it will make me suck at climbing. I know I already suck at climbing. I know in all probability that I will suck at running too, but I really want to be able to say "I've run (x) distance, and it wasn't even hard, in fact I did it before breakfast just to make sure I was burning fat.", "I do it everyday", "for fun", etc. Actually I don't want to go around talking about running, I was just addicted to the high (of actual participation in actual running) for some reason. I say some reason because I have been away from running long enough to fully appreciate that it is both heinous and boring, and I am VERY bad at it.

I've run as cross training for nordic, and later for alpine climbing, since I was maybe 13. Recently, I started running a lot, and actually prioritized it over most else. I got a job as a solar installer, and all the heavy lifting made it impossible to recover from climbing workouts. But I wanted to have my cake and **** it too. So I kept climbing, and kept getting more sore. In the end I had to take a break. Usually when I pick up a new activity it's because I get injured climbing and have to take a step back from my oppressively singular focus. Such was the case here.
A solar installation near Hat Butte, WY. a forest fire now rages at this location.

As the summer came around I set the goal of finishing a 100k. This is an imbecilic goal because the farthest I had run (and not in a race) previously was about 55k. I didnt have time to improve my base very much. I wanted to do the Beaverhead, which follows the CDT on a wonderful ridgeline on the montana/idaho border near Salmon.

From April - June I was running alot, and was even 2nd overall in a trail marathon, the Run the Red in the sand and heat of southern WY's Red Desert.

a few weeks later I did the "Sinks Canyon Rough and Tumble",  a 58k trail race with lots of hills in sinks canyon. This was meant to be a warm-up a few weeks prior to the beaverhead.  I started the race with a stiff ankle and, I would later determine, a weak side-butt. We will thusly trace a chain of causal connection from the weakness of sidebutt to a broken foot.

Yes, the side-butt, a technical term. All things are connected, and it happens that the side-butt is connected to the hip, and the hip is connected to the IT band, and that's connected to the knee, which is connected to the ankle, which is connected in turn to the foot, which is connected to the ground 10s of 1000s of times on any given distance run.

(many of the runners I know have IT band syndrome, which is very often a result of weak side-butt, and the resultant poor hip alignment.)

A weak sidebutt leads to poor alignment and IT band reliance. IT band reliance leads to inflammation in the hip and knee, which leads to poor running form. poor running form leads to ankle rolls. a lightly sprained but ignored ankle the week previously leads to ankle guarding and heavy mid-foot strikes. 1 heavy midfoot strike times ~99999 repetitions leads to a stress fracture in a bone that I did not know even existed:

The Cubiod.

the cuboid leads to the dark side...

but actually the whole thing is really stupid. I shouldn't have started the race at all because my ankle was stiff at the start line. My pacing strategy was utter bullshit. There was a cash prize for the first person up fairfield hill, a 700m climb. I buried myself up this, beating a NOLS intern who was a way better runner than me (with many wins to his credit.) my plan was to go survival pace after this. I even worried that this was some kind of big joke to bait idiots like me into starting at suicide pace. In the end they did pay out, but it was not even remotely worth it. It doesn't matter what pace you go, if you've blasted your stabilizers and then try to run another 45k on rocky terrain, the consequences will be injury. Like alot of mistakes and accidents, along the way numerous oppurtunities to avoid the seemingly unaviodable will present themselves, but our eyes, ears, and our deeper intuitions seem to be untuned to the subtle cues that truly matter.

At several aid stations I asked people if they thought it was a flesh wound and I could still finish. I had a bias that it was just a light ankle sprain, taped it, took ibuprofen, let others reinforce my bias, and continued. I did everything except listen to my body.  By the time I did that my foot was screaming "broken" with even the lightest step, but I was on single track on national forest and had no aid stations remaining. I could run on my toes and avoid the pain. We weren't allowed to run with music, so as I finished my only entertainment was a repeating self dialogue.

I repeated a mantra: "you broke your fucking foot", "you will deal with the consequences", "just finish", and "now you have no choice". grade A motivational poster shit.

I could dive into running again, but I don't think I will. There are enough hipster "ultrarunners" in this world, and I'm not sure if I want to make the sacrifices required just to run without injury, let alone to be good. I could lose 20 pounds, be a (uselessly) weak climber, but develop great running form and train and race alot of volume with very little risk or worry of injury. The wonderful thing about trail racing is that you can push yourself pretty hard. The worst case scenario is that you pass out on course. Someone will probably help you. If you do that on an alpine route you will die, or you will give your partners a good chance of death as they attempt to care for you, and themselves.  In alpine climbing, you have a responsibility to climb safely. But from the endurance sports perspective, you also have a responsibility to never really push yourself. If you don't have alot left in the tank then you're doing it wrong. Of course some might say that this is where the magic happens, when there's a chance that you won't come back. I believe this isn't true, and I avoid climbing partners who push themselves that hard.

Alternately,  I could run moderate distances, favoring uphills and wilderness loops, for fun and for fitness, without ever striving for some arbitrary distance or time that makes you a "good runner".

Heres whats happened in the immobile meantime:
Mara and I made blueberry pies.
Mara made the pie part with fresh blueberries, cinnamon and nutmeg,
I made the crust and lattices.
1st attempt on left, rp on right.
Detail: blueberry pie. My second attempt at a lattice.
as yet unnamed cat, offspring of the manx kitty.
name? probably female. 
I couln't climb at the Lander International Climber's Fest, so I went to a writer's clinic. My overwhelming conclusion is that I should write more. Also that filling a blog with introspective word vomit is not only okay, it is probably an important part of becoming a better writer.
toproping 10c at wild iris in a cripple boot.

Nick Merritt as Golem at the natural bridge. The whole cave really is this small. There is no potential. don't come here, ever. AND DEFINATELY DONT INVITE STRONG FRONT RANGE CLIMBERS.
I need the time and space to send my epic roof-crawing mega proj.

throwback, Hanson Smith climbs naked at thunder ridge. we all got naked and sharpended it up.
I'm almost done with another epic postmodern novel, Gravity's Rainbow.
It'll be the second such journey that Hanson has recommended to me.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Alpine Mentors Group Development Session

photo Noah Mckelvin

- JD Merritt    (reposted from the AM site.)
From the 18-21st of April we kicked off the third round of Alpine Mentors. Eight potential mentees met with Steve House, Steven van Sickle, Colin Simon, and Buster Jesik. The previous mentees had returned as mentors. Topher Donahue was also able to meet up with us for a day.  We planned to have an “ice breaking” day rock climbing at Lumpy. The snowstorms rolled in, so we changed our plans from breaking the ice to trying to climb some of it. We got a pre-dawn start to climb mixed routes in Tyndall Gorge, skiing from the road. This was the first time in years I had returned to the beautiful Rocky Mountain National Park, or RMNP.  After often making the trip up there to climb during college, my friends and I have come to pronounce it as: “Rah-Mu-N-Puh”. The climbing there is complete with cold, ripping winds, some longer approaches, and wonderfully featured rock. In the winter the crowds subside and RMNP becomes its best self. 

Day One

The first day I was paired with Noah Mckelvin and Buster Jesik. The buttresses of Hallett were covered in fresh snow and the place was looking very alpine. We climbed a crack system left of Bullet for two pitches of (possibly unclimbed) steep cracks and roofs. It was an interesting warmup, with everything from edging to overhanging offwidths, and even a roof clearing move that necessitated cutting feet and swinging on a mossy picklock. We continued on to the top of Bullet. If this is new terrain, I propose the name Hollow Point in reference to some rattly blocks I had to trundle.

Day Two

The next day I was paired to climb with Kat Vollinger and Steven van Sickle. The focus of this day was shifted away from harder mixed cragging, and would be an experience in efficient movement on moderate terrain. After picking out the Spiral Route on Notchtop peak, we finished the long approach and stopped to deliberate. It was unanimously decided that the approach couloir would be an unsafe proposition after the new wind loading. We instead scrambled a wind-scoured ridge across from Notchtop, finding interesting sections of climbing on frozen moss and broken gneiss. 

Day Three

After two days in a row of predawn starts, we all took it easy on our third day and went to Lumpy Ridge for a little bit of rock climbing and a lesson in rescuing the fallen leader from Buster. This was an important review for most of us. If you’re in doubt, ask your climbing partners if they know self-rescue and go practice with them. It’s vital for trying more committing routes, and can be a sobering experience--it’s not easy. There are factors outside your control in climbing, and knowing how to help an injured partner gives you a chance to manage the situations no-one wants or expects. For those of us who are guides, this stuff is a job requirement and by now second nature. For people like me who aren’t engaged in any kind of guiding, it’s important to practice self-rescue simply to become a safer and more dependable climbing partner. 

Day Four

 We closed out the day on some of the best pitches at the Book. This was a fun way to close out the session, and at this point everyone was relaxing and getting in good pitches on the funky, cryptic, and polished granite of Lumpy.
            I was initially nervous for what seemed like a “tryout” for some sort of alpine climbing team. Instead it was more of a social experiment. After a while we started to relax. Everyone got to know each other and did some great climbing. I’m psyched be a part of the next round of Alpine Mentors, and I’m looking forward to two years in the mountains with an amazing group. 

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Alpine Mentors 2016-2018

I'm happy to share that I was invited to the next round of Alpine Mentors. Started by the American alpinist Steve House, the program pairs younger climbers with some of the safest, fastest, and most experienced alpine climbers in North America. For two years I'll be climbing with Steve, Nik Mirashemi, Erik Rieger, Kurt Ross, and many other mentors. While there are others I wish were in the program too, I'm happy with the selection and look forward to a new era in my development as a climber and a human being. I'm thankful for this opportunity and I'm going to give it my complete dedication. At a certain point I realized I could no longer improve while only climbing with others of my age and skill level. as Mark Twight wrote:

"If you show dedication and desire, an inclination to learn, and some talent, many climbers will tell you or show you what they know. Even if they refuse to climb with you--and most will decline the honor--a mentor who knows the path you wish to tread can teach far more than any video, book, or school."

I've been fortunate enough to have many mentors, and I am thankful for everyone who's helped me along the way.  I hope to teach a younger generation of alpinists what I've learned, when I someday know things worth learning, and to repay a huge karmic debt.

I'll have some associated responsibilities, among them blogging on this site:

To celebrate, I'll post some drawings I did this past fall. This may degenerate into a rant as all posts seem to. One piece is the result of 8 hours of work. The other is the result of 30 seconds of work. I think I like the second one more. The climber-as-artist cliche may be the most pushed and most vomitous cliche in all of the climbing media. a la: "climbing is my art, routes are a mode of expression, the rock is my canvas, I can draw a line on the otherwise blank stone, these crimps were chipped by Jesus, I can lick my own elbows, etc."

But I like to express myself by actually drawing things. I don't think bolting sport routes is even remotely similar to art, in fact its just hard work with industrial equipment. But I like doing that too.
Self portrait, 2 by 3 feet, charcoal.
iris in detail.
30second gestural ink.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

By The Throat

    I don't do music reviews. Internet taste-makers are useless leeches feeding off of artists and deluding mindless consumers. They provide strong support for the view that music is simply a consumable commodity, so far removed from actual art that people need micro-divided genres and intellectual hand-holding to identify what they're supposed to "like".
    I do know this is an hour of anti-music(and terrifying but invigorating found-sound collage) I'll listen to again and again. As music goes, this conveys my ideal adopted ethos of pain -> fulfillment better than almost anything else. Especially worth a listen is the three part sequence of tracks at the end: "Through the glass of the roof", "Through the roof of your mouth", and "Through the mouth of your eye".
    This album is an evocative ecosystem of beautiful(and beautifully grating) sounds, with crisp sampled howls of wolves, subtle organic string sections, heavy metal guitar screeches, scorching+ripping drums, and string sections distorted and sampled until they take on the fire of growling animals: a frightened pack of wolves backed into a corner. How can these disparate parts make a whole? I have no idea but they do. The work shows great restraint at times. Its character swings from that of a tasteful film soundtrack to thrashing hardcore. Pairing this to a film would undermine and discredit the images that spring from sound alone.
    If you like ambient music with blood soaked teeth, this is worth a listen. Other albums by Ben Frost are just as good, and AURORA may be more accessible. I'd recommend everything by Tim Hecker as well. If this stuff isn't your thing, it's still worth a listen, because at some point everyone will feel like an animal fighting for life, and this music is a violent and even triumphant celebration of life.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Fossil Hill Powder

photo Mara Gans.

A series of upslope storms dumped about 6 feet of snow on Fossil Hill, right here in sinks canyon. At least for a few hours in the morning, we had light, perfect powder to ski. The Tetons didn't really get any of the storm, so instead of going back there Mara and I got some good skiing in 20 min from town, on May 1!


Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Solo on Dolent

Mont Dolent at left. Its summit is the triple border between France, Italy, and Switzerland. I soloed the Left Gully Variations (AI4+) to the top of the large snowfield.

The left of the three corner systems.
While Erik and John were busy on Les Droites, I figured I would use the good weather to solo an ice route in the upper Argentiere. I planned to try the 1200ft Little Viking (AI4), but when I arrived there were already 3 parties en-route. This would mean more falling debris than I could deal with, since, when youre alone, you can deal with essentially none.
I tried to be flexible, since I was in a cirque with literally hundreds of climbs and ski descents. My next go-to was the Left Gulley Variations (AI4+, 1500ft) on Mont Dolent. This is probably the most fun I've ever had soloing: conditions were perfect, and I was confidently pulling through vertical sections on one-swing sticks, all in ski boots. 

The sunny weather was following a minor storm, so the spindrift was intense for a few hours in the morning. Quickly realizing it wouldn't knock me off my tools, I learned to pause and look down, keeping the hood up. A party started up the route behind me, pitching the whole thing out. I pulled out of the crux pitches and into easier terrain, finishing my climb on a large snowfield. I could have traversed left on 45 degree snow to reach the ridge bordering Switzerland, but instead I opted to descend with the warming afternoon temps, which might bring more than just spindrift.

On the way down I used a 60m length of 5.5mm tech cord that Colin Haley gave me. With a combination of rappells and lots of downclimbing, I made it back to the base and jumped over the bergschrund. A few nice powder turns took me back down the Argentiere and into the valley.

Backing up a bad in-situ v-thread with my own. Tech cord works well, especially when all the pulls are on ice.

The party behind me bailed, maybe I was showering them with too much snow/ice or maybe they didnt like the spindrift. I was surprised to booty an ice screw while soloing. doesnt happen much.
 This was the last good weather we had: a wet Foehn wind set in hard and in the last 10 days the powder was stripped away, visibility was low every day, 120km winds strafed ridges, and a layer of red dust from the Sahara coated everything. 
looking back up the route after rappelling