Sunday, December 15, 2013

One's Enough

I wanted to write a short blog about my recent trip to Joe's Valley over the Thanksgiving week. It's taken a while to write this because I needed time to get the chill fully out of my bones. It was a frigid week with highs in the low 40s and a constant humid cold fog that penetrated even the thickest puffy. The boulders were covered with snow and the rock felt as cold as ice. It was a fight just to warm up.

We weren't the only ones out there though---there were many religious climbers willing to face these adversities just for the chance to pull on the near perfect sandstone of Joe's. The never-ending psych of climbers always amazes me. People were out shoveling snow off boulders, gathered around propane heaters warming their hands, and supporting their friends giving send burns on projects. That individuals are willing to go to these extremes for climbing really says something about the sport.

Our crew, including two toddlers and a baby, had our own set of challenges. Nevertheless, we bundled the kids as much as possible and went out to play in the snow with everyone else. The trip was challenging for me because most of the climbs I was planning to try were completely covered in snow. I've spent lots of time in Joe's over the years and consequently have tried or done most of the climbs in the popular areas. We we first arrived, I was somewhat bummed because it seemed like I wasn't going to climb on anything new. The prospects were looking lean until I remembered a classic south-facing highball in the left fork that I've always wanted to do but never tried. I suspected it might be climbable because of it's aspect.

Prince of Thieves is a formidable line up slightly overhanging perfect black sandstone. The problem starts with a crux down low and continues on challenging moves over a worsening landing to a technical mantel at about 17ft. I had eyed the line from the ground in the past and knew I wanted to climb it. With not much else to do on this trip, I decided to drop a rope on the problem to clean and chalk it. I suspect it doesn't get done often which explains why only the starting holds had chalk on them. I figured out the technical mantel and most of the face moves leading up to it. Alone and with only one pad, I was ready to pull on but could only safely try the first few moves. After a several attempts, I figured out a sequence I liked and was ready to commit to the full package.

I hiked down the hill and rallied the rest of my crew with a good collection of pads. With everything set up, I pulled onto the wall, executed the crux just as planned and cruised to the mantel. Suppressing some rising jitters, I committed to the technical highstep and rockover. All went smoothly... I was on top and had climbed this amazingly beautiful and scary classic. I was super psyched.

I didn't get on much else for the rest of the trip but I had climbed this amazing problem and it made it all worth it... One is enough.

Check out this video I put together of me climbing Prince of Thieves and a cool V8 called Golden Plates at the Boy Size area.

Prince of Thieves from Matt Wilder on Vimeo.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

High Variance

Three weeks ago today I climbed a new route on the Black Wall at Mt. Evans that I had been working on for a while. I'm just now getting around to documenting this awesome experience but better late than never.

The Black Wall is a really amazing 700ft. wall that tops out at an altitude of around 13,000ft. The road up to the summit of Mt. Evans (which is the highest road in North America) enables a short 45 minute hike to the top of the wall from which you can rap to the base. The route that I climbed, which I called High Variance, connects a collection of striking features on the right side of the wall.

This summer I made several exploratory missions up to the Black Wall in search of new lines. I spent a few days scoping a steeper crazy line in the middle of the wall that I eventually decided would be too big of an undertaking. From that position, I was able to scope the the line that was to be High Variance. I rapped down the route and instantly became psyched on the climbing it had to offer. What ensued was a many day effort of rapping into the route, cleaning pitches, working moves, hand-drilling protection bolts and anchors, and then jugging out in a desperate effort to beat the severe lightning storms that form in the early afternoon. I probably spent about 6 days preparing the route and very little of that time was actually spent climbing. I didn't climb a single pitch in it's entirety. Mostly I just worked the hard moves and sections and tried to get everything ready so that I'd be able to climb smoothly when I decided to go for the route.

With all the prep work done, I headed up there 3 weeks ago hoping to finish the route before the season ended. The road to Mt. Evans can close at any point in the season... it only takes one big snowfall so I knew I could easily get shutdown. I arrived at the parking area with my climbing partner, Matt Owen, and Kyle Berkompas and Kevin Ziechmann from Chuck Fryberger Films who were documenting the climb. The wind was howling over the mountain and the temperature was barely above freezing. It took a lot not to bail and get right back in the car to head home. There was no way I could climb in this weather, but I had experienced this before and knew that there was a chance the wall was shielding the wind. We all hiked to the top and sure enough, the moment we rapped onto the face, the wind died and the sun felt warm. By the time we reached the base, we were stripping our long underwear and the temperature felt like it was in the low 70s. We were sitting at the focal point of a giant solar oven!

The 11a crux of pitch 2

I started up the route moving slower than expected with the altitude taking its toll. I was imagining that the first few pitches would breeze by without much effort as they are all below 11a. Instead, I found myself working hard for many of the moves and could already feel my body tiring. I was a bit concerned knowing the crux pitches where all at the top, but I've been in this sort of position before so I didn't worry too much. Instead I just kept moving. By the time I topped out on the 3rd pitch, the sun had moved off the wall and all of a sudden the conditions were icy cold again, though fortunately without the wind. I loaded up with all my layers and kept them on for the rest of the route.

Now I was moving into the harder pitches. The first crux pitch was pitch 5 which starts in a relatively easy corner but then ventures into a seam that requires hard face moves on edges and a powerful sloper crux. I was confident on this bouldery section as I had done it several times and I knew it would be over quickly. Nevertheless, I was feeling quite tired by the time I got to the anchor and began having doubts about my ability to climb the next crux pitch which I knew required much more endurance. After resting a while at the belay, I set out and struggled my way through the hardest section to a no hands rest off to the side. I sat here for a while trying to de-pump. I made several traversing missions to get gear set for the next crux and each time I got totally pumped hanging on jugs. It wasn't looking great, but I knew what to do for the next section and just needed to execute it smoothly. Eventually I pulled into the sequence and made it through to the next belay. I was definitely relieved at this point knowing that there was just one more pitch to the top that I was expecting to be easier.

The 12b crux of pitch 6

I had been moving slowly though and it was starting to get dark. I rested for a while to summon the last bit of energy I had. I climbed through what I thought was going to be the crux with relative ease and then traversed out to the splitter arete finish. I had done the arete moves on one of my first days on the route but hadn't tried them since. Now it was getting dark, I was completely tired, and I had to climb a slappy crux sequence on slopers that I hardly remembered. I never had thought that this part could shut me down, but now I was having doubts. I committed into the moves jumping to holds, slapping slopers, and letting out Sharma screams. Just as I was about to make the final move of the sequence up to better holds, I broke a foothold, skidded down a bit but caught myself before falling. I found another foot and climbed up to the next rest with darkness approaching quickly. I fought my way through the rest of the easier but unfamiliar and somewhat flakey climbing and mantled up to the last belay (20ft from the top) just as darkness settled. I was completely exhausted but totally psyched too. I knew I had it now.

A bit more climbing and I was at the summit packing up my bags and preparing for a quick exit in the cold windy dark. I was surprised by how hard the route had felt. I went into the climb feeling that success was almost a sure thing, but I ended up having many doubts along the way. Even though the crux pitches were only about 12b, the difficulty of the route was more in its sustained nature and the challenge of climbing at such a high elevation. I definitely underestimated the route and hadn't completely prepared myself physically for the fitness that would be required. I've done many long days in Yosemite and I was just thinking this would just be another routine day like those. What I forgot is that those long days came after climbing multipitch routes continually for weeks. The type of fitness you gain climbing full time in the Valley is a lot different that what you get jugging around on a route for a few days, doing a few pitches in the climbing gym, and otherwise just bouldering. Lesson learned, hopefully.

All in all, it was an amazing experience and I was thrilled to have completed a classic new line on one of the coolest alpine walls in Colorado. The timing was just right too as the road up Mt. Evans closed within the next week. I named the route High Variance because of the extreme temperature swing we experienced and also because of the variety of climbing styles found on the route. Kyle and Kevin got some amazing footage up there and are currently editing it all together for their new film: Exposure Volume 1 which will be premiering at the Boulder Theater on November 20th. They should be releasing the trailer soon too, so be on the lookout for that.

If you want to see more specific information about my route, check out the Mountain Project page I put together:

Monday, July 15, 2013

"Projects" full short film

I just finished editing the footage I collected during my trip to the New River Gorge this Spring. I'm psyched on how it came out. Have a watch:

Projects -- Laying it on the Line in the New River Gorge from Matt Wilder on Vimeo.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Check out this excerpt from a video I'll be releasing next week. This shows me climbing a new 13d gear route in the New River Gorge. The full film has footage of me on my Rapunzel project there and also footage of Pat Goodman sending one of his 5.13 gear FAs.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

New River Gorge Short Blog

I wrote a short blog post for Mountain Hardwear that's up on their site:

Also, Rock and Ice posted a nice interview with me about my new trad route in the gorge called "Eye of the Beholder":

Friday, April 5, 2013

How to Work a V12 Boulder Problem in the Middle of an 80ft Gear Route

The Rapunzel project that I've been working on has presented me with significant challenges in working the route and I thought I'd share some of the tricks I've been using to make progress on it. This blog post could also be titled "How to be a Real Top Rope Hero" as this is all about how to work the crux on TR.

The primary challenge with Rapunzel is that the crux climbs out a bulge with super tiny holds 40ft. up on the route. It's probably about a V12 boulder problem just by itself which is near my limit. To make matters worse, there is only gear at the horizontal below the bulge and then again at the top of the bulge well above the crux. This is no big deal for leading the route as I think it'll be safe, but it makes it impossible to get on the problem anywhere other than the start. Given the sharp nature of the holds and the difficulty of the moves, this made it very difficult for me to figure out the sequence and work the moves. However, with some tricks, I was able to rig a system that made it possible to pull on in the middle.

If this were a sport route, there would be a bolt right smack in the middle of the crux that would make it easy to pull on to any of the moves. I wanted to somehow replicate this without doing any lasting damage to the rock (i.e., placing a bolt). What I ended up doing was fixing a static rope tightly between the gear below and above the crux. When I'm working the middle moves, I clip in direct to the rope with a biner that has a little pulley on it. This keeps me close to the wall and allows me to pull onto the moves. This technique made a big difference for me as it allowed me to grab the crux crimp perfectly when working the moves. With this trick, I was able to work out each move in isolation and then figure out a sequence that connected the moves. It was a bit tricky because I had done each move, but couldn't get from one move into the next so I had to keep modifying my sequence until the puzzle pieces fit together.

The other big challenge of working a difficult boulder problem on a route is resting (especially when the move is skin sensitive). I couldn't just throw myself at it over and over because I'd will rip my skin and I'd be too tired to make a worthwhile attempt. Normally, if this were a boulder problem on the ground, I'd pull on to the moves for a few seconds and then sit down and rest for 5-10 minutes before trying again. On a rope, you have to do this resting in your harness which isn't exactly the best. I could lower back to the ground, but then I'd have to climb the 13c start every time I just wanted to work the crux and wouldn't exactly be fresh when I got to it (not to mention the fact that the lower crux is skin intensive on the same finger as the bulge crux). To get around this, I extended my fixed static rope down lower on the route so I could pull through the lower crux. If I were on lead, I could just pull up the other end of the rope, but I'd be stuck with the same problem at the crux of having to begin from the start every try. This setup allowed me to get up to the crux with relative ease though it still takes some work to pull up the rope with a jug on it.

Here's a photo taken by Pat Goodman that shows most of the elements of my elaborate TR setup I just described. This is the first hard move of the crux which is a long lock off to a tiny flat edge. With that hold, you have to bring your right heel up onto the hold that my right hand is on and do several long moves to a tiny incut crimp. From there you grab a small nearby pocket and dyno for better holds above. Barely there!

Several days into working the route, I has another cool realization. About 15ft behind the crux is a pine tree with a bunch of broken limbs. Because the route is so overhanging, it's possible to swing from the bottom of the crux to the tree. It occurred to me that I could do this while working the problem to avoid hanging in my harness. I've only done this once and it seemed better than hanging in the harness but still not as restful as being on the ground. Was fun for the novelty of it and if I had realized this earlier when I was working the moves more, it probably would have been more useful. Here's a photo of me resting in the tree.

So right now I'm sitting here getting over being sick! I've been sick for about the past 4 days and have missed out on some of best sending conditions right when I was about ready to start giving redpoint burns. I still got on the climb some, but it's hard to do much when I'm not feeling 100%. I'm hoping for a quick recovery that will leave me feeling great tomorrow because it's looking like it could be the last reasonable conditions till mid-April when I have to leave. The temperature is rapidly climbing into the 70s and the dew point is rising too. Rapunzel bakes in the sun and so generally feels hotter than the forecasted temp. Because the humidity is so high in the mornings, it's not really possible to climb on it then when it's cooler. We'll see how it goes, but I'm hoping to give some good attempts tomorrow. Really I only have one or two good redpoint attempts in a good day even.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

New River Update

Well, today was a rest day and the next few will be too given this forecast:

Fortunately the past two days were solid climbing days and I'm quite sore so the rest will be appreciated.

So far the weather has been pretty hit or miss---and mostly cold---but I've still managed to get in frequent climbing days. I'm four days of work into my Rapunzel project and at the verge of cracking it. two days ago I did the crux boulder problem in two overlapping sections. Hopefully I'll be able to piece the whole 8 move sequence my next day on the route. I have the 5.13 opening section fairly well dialed in and I climbed the pumpy but relatively juggy finish the other day without too much difficulty.

If the crux goes down on my next day, it may be game on in terms of switching from TR to the sharp end. That switch is always a bit difficult for me. Not because of the fear or danger associated with lead climbing. Rather, it's the switch from non-commitally working moves to the pressures of actually going for a send. Before every attempt it weighs on me whether I'll succeed or fail. This is a natural part of climbing and overcoming it can be rewarding. Nevertheless, the butterflies in the stomach are never welcome. I'm excited though for this transition and looking forward to giving burns and taking some good whippers. Usually I can overcome the butterflies by just telling myself that I'll go up and have fun on the route because the stone is beautiful, the moves are rad and being above gear is exciting. I try to fully accept the possibility of failure. Sometimes I worry that this attitude might hold me back because "I don't want it bad enough." That said, I go into every section with the attitude that I'm going to try my hardest so hopefully that is enough to make me perform at my limit without the extra baggage of the fear of failure.

This attitude worked for me yesterday on a sport route I was trying out at Beauty Mountain. Several days earlier, I was out there with the guidebook writer, Mike Williams, trying his route Picket Fence 14b. Mike hooked me up with a ton of beta for the cryptic sequences and I was able to figure them all out on my first go. I gave a redpoint burn at the end of that day for the hell of it and got pretty far into the crux sequence before I bungled a move (probably because of a mental mishap). Yesterday I got back on the route unsure of whether I was going to rework the moves or just go for a link. I pretty much just took it one move at a time and gauged how my body felt after each move. Things went well through the first boulder problem and then I found myself midway through the second boulder problem realizing that I had a chance at sending. I kept climbing one move at a time and was a bit shocked to soon be clipping the anchors. It was definitely a cool experience on a cool route. It was also nice to get some exposure to other 5.14s in the area to gauge the difficulty of the Rapunzel project. Check out this awesome video that LT11 put together of some sport routes in the new that includes Mike climbing Picket Fence.

Here's a photo I took of the bridge today with the bad weather closing in. Not really a great shot, but it shows the magnitude of the bridge here which never ceases to amaze me. This bridge is perhaps the most impressive feat of engineering I've ever witnessed. Truly inspiring that we can create things like this.

Hopefully the weather will clear soon and I'll have some good news to report when I post next. Until then, I'll be spending a lot of time huddling indoors, working on my computer, reading, and constantly watching my almost 2-year old who is beginning to earn the nickname "the destroyer." I'll also try to get some more photos of my project to better portray it visually.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Beginning my Sojourn in the New

So I arrived in Fayetteville, WV several days ago and will be climbing in the New River Gorge for the next month and a half. I'm super excited to be here and have some big plans. At the top of the list is this crazy trad project I've tried a few times in the past 3 years. I've never dedicated a long stretch of time to this line though so now is my chance.

The project climbs a beautiful slightly overhanging face to a horizontal crack with good gear. Then there's an extremely hard boulder problem that leads to easier 5.12 climbing above. The route is 100% gear and extremely aesthetic. Two days ago I got back on it and gave a few burns. It's still very much up in the air as to whether or not the boulder problem goes, but I think it's feasible. The climbing up to the crux is probably 13b or c with reasonable protection. The crux seems to be at least V12 but perhaps harder. If I can put this all together, it'll surely be one of the hardest gear routes out there.

Psyched to be out here and to have such a worthy project to devote my time to. I'm also excited to try to repeat some of the new classics the locals have been establishing and perhaps scope some other (hopefully slightly easier) projects to do while I'm here.

Here's a photo from the ground of my project. The route climbs the two gold streaks to the bulge above. Then it navigates mostly straight up through a series of steep bulges with perfect positive holds. Overall, the route probably is about 80ft high and overhangs about 30ft. I've dubbed the project the "Rapunzel Project" as you have to climb the golden locks of hair to get the prize.

I was out here for a few days a year and a half ago and put a little time into the route then. Check out this short video Pat Goodman put together of that trip which includes a few clips of me working the lower face on TR.

New River Gorge Projects from Pat Goodman on Vimeo.

Stay tuned for progress as I begin working on this more. Also wish me good luck in having the weather cooperate.

Monday, March 4, 2013

2013 ABS Nationals

Last weekend was the ABS junior nationals which I'm sure was a great show and the weekend before last I was down in Colorado Springs competing in the adult bouldering nationals. This year's field was probably the strongest yet with many seasoned veterans and a host of super-strong graduates of the ABS junior program. Each year the junior events get more and more competitive and the kids coming out of these are mutants. It's cool to see the progression of competition climbing, especially with the looming possibility of joining the olympics, but it makes my job harder and harder each year I decide to compete again.

I probably trained more this year than any past year and it payed off. I finished with my best final result yet and I broke the top ten with my qualifiers result. It's funny, though, for me training is just climbing on plastic as much as my body can handle. Although I'd like to campus and push myself more with supplementary training, it has always led to injury for me. I've found that the best course is for me to climb as many new gym problems as possible, often forcing myself to read them quickly, and train myself to be used to the rapid pace of climbing required in these comps. When you're climbing outdoors, you generally rest at least 5-15 minutes between serious burns (except for quick beta-figuring-out attempts). In the comps, however, you have only 4-5 minutes per problem to get it done and only 4-5 minutes of rest between problems. The pump loads up in your forearms quickly.

In the qualifiers, I climbed the first three problems fairly efficiently flashing each one. Even still, I was quite pumped after the long, steep third problem. I came out to the fourth with intensity, but I think I was lacking a bit of confidence that can be so necessary at times. I got to a hard move on the problem, I faltered. I know I was capable of doing the move and in fact I did it on my third try, but I didn't have that absolute belief in my ability when I was staring down the hold on my flash go. This is the mental aspect of comp climbing that is so essential and separates the best of the best from the rest. I was a bit disappointed that I flubbed the move twice. By the time I stuck the crux move, I was running out of time and was too tired to crank the finishing move. Still I had a good high point and was confident in my performance going into the final qualifiers problem.

The 5th problem was a slab which generally suits my style of climbing. That said, indoor slabs are quite  different than what you encounter on real rock. Generally, when the route setters make these slab problems, they use the slopiest holds they can find for hands and feet. In contrast, outdoor rock tends to be more edgy in nature. Nevertheless, the technique for both requires balance, finesse and good use of your feet. On my first two burns, I didn't trust my feet enough and they popped both times. Often, your feet stick better if you apply more pressure (i.e., trust them fully) than if you just put them lightly on the holds and try to hold most of your weight with your arms. With just a little time left, I was able to sneak through the sequence and top out the 5th problem for a 9th place finish.

Going into semifinals I was confident though slightly nervous and a bit shakey. This didn't help me on the first slab problem where I shook myself off before I could grab the second finishing hold. It didn't help me either that there wasn't a single less-than-vertical wall in the warm-up area to get used to standing on foot holds. The next two problems were challenging for me, but I was happy with my ability to stick the holds I did (of course thinking back I wish I could have done better). The final problem suited my style well and I managed to flash it. All in all, I made some mistakes in this round that I shouldn't have but I was happy with my end result which was a solid 14th place.

The worst part about these comps is that you can't go back and try the problems again. They are up for a moment in time and then gone forever. As I think back through the comp and go over some footage of myself climbing, I just keep feeling the desire to try the problems again and correct my mistakes. One of the things I love about these comps is how aesthetic the problems are. Generally they are striking singular lines and the moves are really fun and interesting. This makes for a great climbing experience; too bad it's so ephemeral. Talking about aesthetics, I think the route setters took things a bit too far this year. I really appreciate the improvements in route setting over the last 5 years... especially the use of volumes. That said, I think the attempt to make many problems appear symmetric is misdirected. Climbing is not about symmetry and these problems just aren't as fun to climb because the problem is held back by a silly constraint. Additionally, I don't think they are as good for the viewers because they are confusing (do you climb it with your right hand leading or your left hand leading?) An occasional point of symmetry is interesting and OK, but it was far overdone in this comp. Routesetters, strive to make every move the coolest you can and don't get caught up in trying to make your problem into a system board (otherwise, great job at the comp).

Here is some video footage I edited together from me climbing in the comp. A few problems are missing but this pretty well captures the important (and mentally painful) moments in the comp for me. With a 14th place finish, I should be invited to climb in the Vail world cup again which I think I'll do. That comp is always fun and a great challenge. Perhaps I can even make my goal of qualifying for semis in that event. It'll be tough this year though because I will be traveling a bunch right before the event and will have less time to train.

ABS 2013 Nationals Recap from Matt Wilder on Vimeo.