Tuesday, May 5, 2015


Albarracin, Spain

Took a bit of time, but I'm finally getting around to summing up my recent trip to Albarracin, Spain. I spent two and a half weeks in this sandstone bouldering paradise with my family and good friends Noah and Siemay and their son Zun. The trip started off slow with 5 straight days of rain and a medley of sicknesses passing through our group. Slowly we started to recover, though, and the clouds cleared into perfect glorious sunny days. What followed was an amazing collection of days climbing till we couldn't physically get up another problem.

Beautiful streets of Albarracin

Albarracin is an ancient fortified city in the mountains half way between Madrid and Valencia. The old stone walls, narrow streets, and complete disrespect for any Euclidean order in the layout of the buildings results in a unique, beautiful base camp for a bouldering trip. We were able to find a great apartment just outside of the city and only a 10 minute ride to the boulders.

Classic Spanish paella

The climbing in Albarracin is characterized by steep pocketed roofs that quickly round out to challenging mantels with sparse slopey holds and few feet. However, there are many great problems that break this mold. The bouldering zones are tightly packed with problems of all difficulties. It really is a treat to spend time in an area where you see classic problems every where you look and never run out of fun, brand new problems to try.

Sandy working a 7a with mean mantel

There were definitely some highlights from the trip: Orion, Zatoichi, Brainstorm, ... to name a few, but really it was the volume that made it so much fun. We beat ourselves down every climbing day trying to do as many problems as possible. Taking this approach, we had to leave behind a few lines that were a bit too hard, but ended up climbing many more classics than we would have if we hunkered down and projected just a few. It was totally worth it!

Me flashing Brainstorm 7b+

The other amazing aspect of the Albarracin forest is that it's an endless bouldering paradise for kids. My son Bayes and Noah and Siemay's son Zun (both 3 years old) had a blast climbing miniature 4 star lines. The problems where Mandalas and Midnight Lightnings scaled down to 1/3 size. It was awesome to see the kids develop during the trip climbing. By the end, they were climbing legitimate problems that were actually listed in the guidebook.

Bayes trying hard on an undone kids problem

The trip was a great success and a fun new experience in a new location. Definitely a great place to visit for many reasons. Hope you enjoy a few photos from the trip and a short video I put together.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

New Scoring System for ABS Nationals

With all the talk going on about the new scoring system at this year's ABS bouldering nationals, I thought I should chime in on the discussion with my two cents. 

First off, I think bouldering is too nuanced to ever be perfectly scored. The new system obviously has its criticisms, but most other methods fall down in certain cases too.* All in all, I think the new system has some real merits. Here's my stab at giving a better explanation of and a rationale for this new method of scoring. 

Imagine a competition series with 4 different events spread out over time. After each event you can rank the athletes by their performance (assuming some scoring system for the event). If you want to crown a winner for the whole series, you need a way to combine the per-event rankings. A simple way to do this is to combine the ranking each person got in the event (i.e., 1st, 2nd). If there's a tie, find some way to assign points (e.g., average the places where the tie occurred -- this is the scheme ABS used). Now the simplest way to do this combination is to average the rankings from each event to get an overall ranking. The person with the lowest average ranking wins.

Now imagine that each event had only one boulder problem in it. Guess what, you now have the scoring system used in this year's ABS nationals with 2 caveats.

1) The total number of tops trumps your ranking (i.e., average ranking is used just to break ties in the total tops score).

2) Instead of taking the arithmetic mean (average) of the rankings, the geometric mean is used. That's all there is to the nth root of the product of rankings. It's just a different way to compute an average. The geometric mean has the advantage that is suppresses outliers (i.e., doing poorly on one problem has less effect on your overall ranking than with the arithmetic mean). See figure and description below.

The individual boulder problem rankings were determined using a system that we're all pretty familiar with. Namely, highest hold achieved is most important and ties are broken by number of attempts to get that high point. If two people are still tied, then they just split the ranking points. See the full description of the scoring method here.

In my opinion, this new scoring system is completely reasonable and may prove to produce more consistent results than previous methods. It just didn't fare too well in its first showing. I agree that it's a bit complex for the viewer to follow, but none of the other methods are that easy to follow either unless you've been watching comps for years. If the scores are constantly displayed for the viewers, this is less of a problem. I do concede that it's a bit strange that with this new method, the relative ranking of two individuals who have finished climbing can be changed by some climber later in the round. For me, that's not really a big deal though... you just have to wait till the end of the round to know the results. There's a lot more to go into here, but one thing I like about this new method is that it strives to assess the difficulty of each problem in a way that is relative to all the climbers.

As a side note, here's a quick analysis that compares the arithmetic and geometric means for a set of 4 rankings. All 4 rankings have the same arithmetic mean (3), but they differ in their geometric mean. I've order them to be ascending in geometric mean and I'd argue that the ordering is roughly consistent with what subjectively seems to be better performance (i.e., ranking 1,1,1,9 is better than 3,3,3,3 in my opinion).

*For example, points per hold methods aren't good when a problem has a crux down low and then lots of easier moves because someone who gets through that move racks up lots of points. Compare that to a problem with easier moves at the start then one hard move at the end. Ignoring the affect of getting a top, the climber who does the hard move at the top of problem 2 doesn't get rewarded nearly as much as the person who gets through the hard move on problem 1.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Joe's Valley -- Strike Two

I've been off the map a bit recently, but thought I'd give an update after my recent trip back to Joe's Valley. After focussing on Ninja Warrior this spring, I switched gears and was mostly consumed with work and family life. I was getting to climb outside a fair amount around Boulder this fall, but was looking forward to an extended climbing trip. My family and I headed out to Joe's Valley looking to get some redemption after the terrible weather we experienced there last year.

It definitely changes the dynamic when you have a 3-year old joining in the adventures. Most significantly, the 40ish degree days that would have been excellent conditions in the past can easily turn into miserable affairs for everyone. Looking at the extended forecast for Joe's, we saw a good stretch of low 60s and high 50s. Seemed like the weather was going to be in our favor this time.

The first day of climbing was in fact beautiful weather. It was warm enough that I could check out a newer area on the shady side of the river. After building a sturdy enough bridge across the river, we embarked up to the Damn Boulders. I had my eye on two beautiful looking problems up there: Lonesome Animals (V12) and the Last Great One (V13). I had seen video of both and wasn't at all let down when I saw them in person. Two great looking climbs.

After a good warmup on some other super classics in the area, I got on Lonesome Animals and figured out all of the moves. I didn't have the juice to put together a link, but I was optimistic for the next session I'd have on it. I was mostly just psyched to be outside climbing on great rock in good weather.

When we checked the weather next, we were in for a surprise as the forecast took a dramatic change for the worse. The daily highs were dropping and there was snow scheduled to come in a couple days. We spent the next two days climbing at other areas finding good climbs for Sandy and my son. I was surprised how psyched Bayes was to climb despite the cold weather. It's so fun to see him develop in the sport and move closer to being able to climb real problems. Here's a video of him doing a cool mini problem we found for him. Actually, it had high quality rock and would be a classic if it was 3x bigger.

Bayes Heel Hook Clinic from Matt Wilder on Vimeo.

On the day the snow was scheduled to arrive, I headed back out to the Damn Boulders to have another go on Lonesome Animals. It was cold, but climbable. This time Bayes was napping so Sandy stayed with him down in the truck -- I was on my own up there which was probably for the best given the weather. Right as I got to the boulders, the snow started. I hurried through some warmups and made it up to Lonesome Animals. The snow was increasingly getting thicker. I did a few moves on the problem to warm up more and then gave it a couple burns. I had some decent attempts but eventually gave in as the conditions were becoming too unfavorable. Knowing that we still had a few days left, I figured I'd just head back up again in hopefully better conditions.

We spent that night in Orangeville and when we woke up, there were several inches of snow on the ground. I'm sure it was much worse in the canyon. With only a couple days left and a low chance of things melting and drying, we had to make the hard decision to leave early. It was definitely disappointing to leave without getting a full dose of climbing and without having the opportunity to fully try the problems I had been excited to check out. Oh well, I guess that's strike two for Joe's Valley.

Here's a short video of me on the classic warmups on the Nerf boulder right before the snow hit hard:

Damn Boulders Warmups - Joe's Valley from Matt Wilder on Vimeo.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Ninja Warrior

So I decided to join the hoards of climbers taking a stab at American Ninja Warrior. I've been training a bunch for the show and am hoping I get selected to go to qualifiers. Here's the video I put together as part of my application.

2014 Ninja Warrior Tryout Video from Matt Wilder on Vimeo.

It seems that climbers have the best chance to succeed on the show as lots of the obstacles have an emphasis on upper body strength. I've always enjoyed balance obstacles and challenges like this. I'm mostly psyched to get on the show because I think it'll be really fun to run the courses. There is also a strong mental component to performing when you are put on the spot. Hopefully my experience with executing on hard trad routes and highball boulder problems will help with this.

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.