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.