How to Train Power(part 1)

*Due to the length of this article, it will be broken up into 3 parts*

The 3 main Power Principles

1. Back Strength

2. Bicep Strength

3. Grip Strength

Part One(Back Strength)

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Looking up the word “Power” in the dictionary yields a huge list of actual definitions. Most of them in the Meriam-Webster relate to more of power as a “status” rather than a physical component of say fitness. The closest definition in the dictionary related to the purposes of this article is:

Power:  noun / pow.er / ˈpau̇(-ə)r- “Physical Might”

When we speak of power most climbers know exactly what we are talking about. I refer to it as a climbers ability to generate a maximum amount of force in any given motion, typically portrayed when a rock climber moves from one hold to the next. The power, or maximum amount of force that a climber can produce on a boulder problem or route, greatly affects how strong that climber is. So its probably safe to say that power is directly related to strength in rock climbing.

We have all heard someone in the climbing gym or outside at the crag referring to another climber as being a “powerful” one. Does this mean they are strong? Typically, I would say yes. When it comes to climbing and power, every single climber out there could benefit from more of it. Whether your a 5.14 super crusher or just getting started, everyone could benefit from a training program that focuses on power specifically. With the exception of people I see climbing at a very elite level, say v10 and 5.13 and higher, most climbers completely neglect this aspect of their training in their climbing programs.

So the big question is, “How do we become a more powerful climber?” The answer is simple and a sure fire way to propel you to that next level. Whether your trying to break into a new grade or just simply working on a weakness, the following training principles will undoubtably  make you a beast compared to the former shadow of yourself. You will get strong following this program. There are many things that you can do from an exercise standpoint to make you a more powerful person, but for the purposes of this article, we will focus more on climbing specific exercises to make you a more powerful climber. We will explore exercises and training variations for each of the three categories listed above.

Back Strength

Having a strong and healthy back is truly an essential part of becoming a strong climber on boulder problems or routes. Think of back strength like this. What muscles do you think make a soccer player strong? If you have ever watched the World Cup, you will quickly notice that every single player running up and down the field has very strong and powerful legs. They are able to run for long periods of time, sprint with short bursts of explosiveness, and lunge and jump to incredible heights. This is a perfect correlation to a rock climber. For a soccer player, their legs are their bread and butter so to speak. For a rock climber, it is hands down your back. Having a strong and healthy back will help you to not only pull up harder but you’ll be able to generate more explosiveness in the process, relating directly to power. Much like an Olympic Sprinter that’s about to launch out of the starting blocks at the start of a 100 meter sprint, a climber entering a crux sequence on a boulder problem or route, may be forced to move from one hold to the next in a very explosive manner. This is the essence of what I mean by “power” when I’m relating it to rock climbing.

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Taking advantage of a sit down rest on a tufa in El Salto, Mexico

So how do you build back strength as it relates directly to climbing and the principle of power? Well, in all honestly, the best way to train power for climbing is to actually climb. You can do all the back exercises in the world but it won’t necessarily equate to being a stronger climber. We are going to get real specific here. Number One: Probably the easiest way to work on power for climbing is to do some bouldering, focusing on problems that have big moves from one hold to the next. This is a great way to train power. Even if you can’t send the boulder problem, it would be beneficial for you to work problems that have individual moves that you simply can’t do. It’s like your projecting. But again, completing the whole problem and topping out is NOT the goal. The goal is to successfully pull the one single move that you are struggling with. Pick boulder problems that are at your limit, or even better maybe a little beyond, that have really big moves in them.

A special note that by “big move” I do NOT mean a dyno. Although dyno’s are fun and for the advanced climber can be beneficial, just picking problems that have long reaches and big moves will be more helpful. When you do the big moves or long reaches on the problem, you don’t want to try and statically reach to the holds. If you do this, your working lock off strength and grip more than you are power. I like to pick boulder problems that have opening moves that I can actually do but maybe has a stopper move somewhere just after the beginning or in the middle. I would NOT pick boulder problems that have the “big” move so to speak at the very end because then your probably working power endurance over anything and working the hardest move all the way at the end when your already tired. I find that being able to do a few moves before setting up for the stopper move seems to help. It helps for you to get in a flow and also won’t frustrate the hell out of you by not even being able to get your feet off the ground. That can suck and make you resent the move. Work the move over and over, taking ample rest between attempts. Set a timer if you need to. I would recommend a 3-5 minute break between a maximum effort attempt.

Focus on the subtleties with each subsequent attempt. Focus on the holds your moving off of. Can you find better feet to setup for the big move? Can you get your body into a better position to make the big move slightly easier? Can you grab the holds your moving off of slightly different to make them feel better? All these little things will make a big difference in your success. Most gyms have an array of boulder problems and you should be able to find problems that have this description. Even if your a rope climber, training some bouldering will be extremely beneficial when you get on a route down the road and get up to a crux sequence that happens to have big moves. Either way, whether your a boulderer or sport climber, the purpose of training power in this way is to prepare you for the difficulties that lie ahead. Typically, I will work on “power” in cycles throughout the year, in a block of time that usually lasts 4 to 6 weeks. If you were to train some big moves consistently several days a week for 4 to 6 consecutive weeks, most if not everyone will experience gains in their overall power that there bodies will be able to produce in the middle of a difficult sequence. The gains are usually very noticeable. If your looking to make things more difficult at the advanced level, try experimenting with more difficult problems or try adding weight to your body while you climb to add more resistance, making that “big” move even harder. Hyper-Gravity training(adding weight to your body) is what a lot of top notch climbers use in their training to take their own climbing to the next level. It clearly works. If you don’t believe me, try strapping a mere 5 pounds of additional weight to your body and do some bouldering. The first thing you will notice, or more or less feel like, is a fat sloth. Trust me on this one…

Some other training exercises that you can do to help develop back strength that will typically correlate directly with a climber’s ability to  generate power are as follows:

  1. Weighted Pull Up’s- The idea here is to be able to do a full pull up with good form, all the way up and all the way down with a brief 1 second pause on each end, with as much weight as you can put on your body. I like to strap a kettle bell to my waist using a traditional weight belt. I will then brace the kettle bell in between my legs to keep it from swinging. Focus less on the “more is better” in terms of repetitions. You should only be able to do 4 to 6 reps at a time. If you can do more, increase weight. You can also increase the grip to make it more difficult, although this starts working more grip than it does pure back muscles. I like to use a taped 1 inch thick standard pull up bar. This will allow you to go even heavier.
  2. Lat Pull Down- Although not as climbing specific as I like(I would prefer body weight exercises over a machine), most climbers in the 5.5 to 5.11+ range could benefit from doing this exercise. To change things up, you can do a lat pull down with two arms in a standard format or simply use a handle and pull down with one arm at a time. This will help develop sheer lat strength which is a crucial component of generating climbing power between holds. The lat muscle happens to be a key muscle in generating explosiveness in climbing movement. If your climbing at the 5.12- level or higher, weighted pull ups as described above will be more beneficial and will translate more onto the rock.
  3. Hyper-Gravity Training- Invest in a good weight vest or weight belt with the option to increase or decrease the weight. Most people will only need to be able to adjust up to 10lbs. If you ever want to explore what it would be like to be a lighter climber( a topic I will discuss in a future article), simply add 5 pounds to your body during a climbing session. The difference is quite noticeable right from the start. In a nutshell, you will feel like a fat sloth. Holds that you are use to using will feel much worse. Individual moves will feel much harder and getting to the top of problems or routes you normally have no problem with will become quite a challenge. On the flip side to this, imagine what losing 5 pounds would be like? In essence, it’s the exact same thing, only it works in reverse! (Again, look for this in a future training article titled “The essence of being light”). When you add weight to your body, you ultimately get use to that weight. Everything from the large pull muscles in your back to the tiny tendons in your fingers will adapt to the new stresses of the added weight. Over time, if you train like this consistently, what do you think will happen? When the weight vest or belt comes off, you won’t believe how “light” you will feel. All the holds your use to using will feel bigger and better. Moves will become much easier. This is the added benefit of incorporating hyper-gravity training into your program. A lot of top climbers swear by it. If you have ever read any of the training books written by the famous climbing coach Eric Horst, you will certainly come across this type of training. It is really that effective and a type of training that most people neglect.

I recommend trying this for small blocks of time throughout the year, say 4 to 6 weeks at a time before changing up your training. If you do the above things too much without taking a break, most people will simply burn out. If you do this type of training too little or not at all, your seriously missing out on a HUGE opportunity to increase your power as a climber. If you do decide to incorporate some of these exercises into your training regime, you just might surprise yourself the next time you get into a crux section of a route or boulder problem.

You may just find yourself blasting through it like never before…

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The man, the myth, the legend! My close friend Chaz Ott showing us what a powerful climber looks like…

*Part 2 of this article will focus purely on how to develop power for climbing, through your biceps specifically*

Stay Tuned…

 

 

My First 5.14

Whistler Bike Parl Circa 08'
Whistler Bike Park
Circa 08′

I don’t even know how to start this article. I have worked so hard for so long at an array of different sports. I picked up climbing fairly late in life(my mid twenties) but my experience with this unique sport has been some of the most powerful in my entire life. Most people don’t realize this about me but I have performed many sports at an elite level including downhill mountain biking and skiing. I don’t consider myself a natural athlete either. In every sport that I have excelled, I had to work my ass off to get there.  For every athletic accomplishment I have ever achieved in my life, I had to work year after year after year to achieve a goal. Perhaps, this is what has made my pursuit of rock climbing at the highest level so gratifying. In downhill mountain biking, I lived in Whistler, British Columbia and was proud to call myself a bike-park local. I tore it up for many eventful summers, both good and bad(injuries).  Many people would be stoked just to get down a trail like Whistler’s famous A-line, which is one of the most famous jump trails in the world with over 200 hundred GIANT man-made jumps in a trail that took about 5 minutes to ride. The jumps were so big that they would boost you a solid 6 feet in the air, basically enough height to clear a normal size adult, not to mention doing it all fed on gravity at speeds approaching 40 miles per hour or more. This was the essence of downhill mountain biking.

Living the dream...
Living the Whistler Dream…

I was good, really good. Riding A-Line, a trail most people just struggle to get to the bottom of in one piece, was quite a wild ride for me. I could not only boost enormous heights off some of the most pristine mountain bike jumps that the world had to offer(Whistler is ranked the  #1 Mountain Bike Destination in the World) but I could also throw tricks into the mix. There is nothing like shredding down a trail on a $5,000 bike with the skills to match, twisting and turning your bike in any position I saw fit. That is of course, until you crash. In all honesty, I didn’t crash very much, but when I did, it was epic. Epic to the point of broken bikes, broken bones, broken teeth and completely flattened seven hundred and fifty dollar wheel-sets. You name it;  I did it. I remember the first time I busted my teeth out(Yes, as in I have done it more than once) hitting a 40 foot step up gap in a remote part of Nevada outside of Las Vegas in an area called Bootleg Canyon. Come to find out, finding emergency dentistry at 5 pm outside Las Vegas was like finding gold treasure buried in your front yard.

Severe Consequences. If you fall of the ladder bridges, you get eaten by black bears...
Severe Consequences. If you fall off the ladder bridges in Whistler, you get eaten by black bears…

Skiing was another sport I pushed the limits of for many many years.. Fully sponsored and living in Jackson Hole, I lived to go fast and get big air. Skiing was something I was really good at and in reality, it’s where my fuel for adrenaline all started. At the age of 16, I threw my first helicopter(360 degree rotation in the air). At age 21, I was ripping mogul lines at Winter Park faster than most ski racers could ski down a groomed run. By my mid twenties, I was throwing backflips off 50 foot cliffs in the Jackson Hole back country representing the Liberty Ski’s Pro Team. I had some pretty epic experiences to to say the least; that is until stuff started going wrong. And when your pushing the limits of a sport, things do go wrong. In a single ski season, I manged to fly off a 40 foot cliff and break a full face moto helmet in 2 pieces. In that same crash, I lost both my ski’s, both my poles, a glove and the carnage path down the side of the mountain looked like something out of a Quentin Tarantino film. I don’t know how else to say it, I got fucked up. That toboggan ride by ski patrol was one of many I had in my life. That same winter, my friend Ben that worked with me at the Snake River Lodge was ripping down a snow filled powder run when he struck a stump underneath the snow, shattering his femur into a dozen pieces. He was out of skiing for many seasons to come. Another friend, Trevor Hiatt, was pushing the limits of aerials up in Alaska and managed to come up short on a 100 foot blackflip only to break virtually every bone in his face. All this happened in a single span of a few months time. But it really didn’t hit me until my close friend Justin Kautz was killed in the Jackson Hole back country on a day I was supposed to be with him. Funny how the loss of such a close friend will change your perspectives on things. Justin was amazing and a person I will always have respect for. This guy would point his ski’s towards some of the biggest cliffs in the United States and just send it. Pretty damn impressive!

Those were the days...
Those were the days…
With a broken face after a gnarly ski crash. Circa 07'
With a broken face after a gnarly ski crash. Circa 07′

Close to the time I ended my skiing career before I was killed, I picked up climbing. A new gym called Enclosure had just opened in Jackson Hole and I started spending more time in the gym than I did on the ski slopes. Honestly, it was an easy transition into a sport I was unfamiliar with. I was light and strong and very determined, a recipe that would result in climbing at a very high level many years down the road. Only for climbing, it wasn’t just about being strong and fit. Like most sports I have competed in,  it took a lot of years to hone my skills. Now, nearly 5 years after dedicating my entire life to the sport of climbing, I can say that I have “somewhat” succeeded. Climbing is a sport unlike any other I have ever done. It can be so frustrating and so gratifying all in the same breath. With the grading designation given to climbing(called the Yosemite Decimal System), which is a peculiar way of grading each route, it is easy to measure progress. Years and years have gone by and my progression has been nothing short of pure excitement. I remember every step along the way like it was just yesterday.

The start of my climbing
The start of my climbing

I remember top-roping a glassy 5.9 at Ralph Stover State Park in Pennsylvania in my Reebok Pump’s, which is one of my first climbing experiences in life.  I can remember people yelling over from the party next to us that they needed to  “Get that kid in climbing shoes!”, referring to me and yelling over to my father. I can remember leading my very first route outside, a 5.10c at the Sport Park, a place notorious for being super soft on the grades. My friend Josh who took me climbing for my first outdoor/lead experience, was blown away by the fact that I casually sent my first lead outside, a 5.10 at that. Josh is now a fully certified Canadian rock climbing and skiing guide in British Columbia. I remember my first 5.11a, first 5.11c, first 5.12a. etc. The progression has been memorable, and perhaps that what’s make climbing and grades so significant. It’s not about what other people climb, its what YOU climb. Consistently climbing harder and harder grades is nothing short of lighting a fire under your own ass, to try harder and train more. And light a fire it did…

Rock Climbing with my dad at Ralph Stover State Park in PA. My father was far and away the most influential person in my life as an athlete!
Rock Climbing with my dad at Ralph Stover State Park in PA, the very place I had my first outdoor experience. My father was far and away the most influential person in my life as an athlete!

And than there is the training. And lots of it. LOTS! I have calculated that in the past 7 years, I have spent 36,400 hours either climbing or training for climbing, to the non-math wizard including myself, that’s an average of 5 hours a day 5 days a week for 7 straight years. I wouldn’t be surprised if the number was higher. 36,400 hours of training over the last 7 years has allowed me to progress at a level I couldn’t even comprehend just a few years back; and let me tell you, the ride has been absolutely unforgettable. I have shed blood, sweat and tears for the last 7 years. I have climbed all over North American in Mexico, Canada and the United States. I have spent thousands of days cragging from sunrise to sunset. I have climbed in the coldest of conditions that were virtually unbearable to some of the hottest days in the United States. Climbing at the New River Gorge in 105 degree heat in the thick of summer will always stand out. I have trained until my fingers bled, and then trained more. I have climbed straight through the shoe rubber on my expensive climbing shoes, to the point of needing resoles or new shoes every 30 days. I can remember having an epic on Time Wave Zero down in Mexico, which is the longest sport climb in the world at 2,300 feet. We started too late, didn’t pack enough food or water and decided to do it on a day that was way too hot. We made it about 1,800 feet before giving up. We were no where near the summit and it was completely dark. 5 hours and the “Rappel from Hell” ensued. I still laugh about that one. I have climbed limestone, sandstone, granite, gneiss and all combinations there of. I have spent thousands of hours sleeping in the dirt, taping tweaked tendons, and tying the beloved climbers “figure eight” knot. I have gone from projecting routes for months and months and months to sending that same route 10 times in a row with relative ease.

Rock Climbing many years ago in a remote part of Mexico called Culo De Gato...
Rock Climbing many years ago in a remote part of Mexico called Culo De Gato…
Training Power in the Tecolote Cave, Mexico
Training Power in the Tecolote Cave, Mexico
Trying to onsight a route at the Motherlode at the RRG
Trying to onsight a route at the Motherlode at the RRG

5.14, the ever elusive grade of the elite. Funny thing is, if your not a climber, understanding this grade is like trying to read Japanese. Most will never understand. But to a climber, 5.14 probably means a little more to them.  All I can say is I now know what it takes to get to this level. Years and years of dedication. The route, called Thunder Muscle 5.14a, after the U.K. energy drink, seemed to fit its name quite well. From the second you leave the ground to the second you clip chains, power defines this route. The moves are very difficult and for about 60 feet of the route, it’s just totally in your face. Your body position has to be impeccable. Your footwork has to be flawless. Your finger strength has to be iron clad. The clips are extremely difficult. The moves are even harder. You have to be able to boulder really hard(cruxes are probably in the v8 range) and the bulk of the boulder problems are back to back, meaning you can’t rest. Other than a slopey jug at half height, most holds on the route just plain suck. In a nutshell, climbing the meat of Thunder Muscle is like doing a 60 foot V7 boulder problem with some 5.12- section to start and a 5.12c sequence gaurding the chains. Thunder Muscle is nothing short of BURLY. I have watched some of Colorado’s strongest climbers get a total beat down on it.

Better get your skills dialed...
Better get your skills dialed…
Thunder Muscle has some of the hardest moves I have ever pulled on a rope...
Thunder Muscle has some of the hardest moves I have ever pulled on a rope…

Climbing Thunder Muscle(5.14a) on the South Face of Seal Rock is about as hard as the climbing will get for the smallest percentage of overall worldwide climbers. For me, it’s not just a number, or a name of a route for that matter. Its about a journey that has taken me many years to achieve, a level of difficulty I NEVER thought I would reach. And, for the record, it has been a memorable one. I have fought so hard, trained so hard, bled so hard, and shed so many tears to get to where I am at today. I have worked my ass off since day one to get to this level.

Thunder Muscle 5.14a, took me 19 months and nearly 100 tires to complete
Thunder Muscle 5.14a, took me 19 months and nearly 100 tries to complete

Wow, climbing has been an unforgettable experience, climb after climb and memory after memory. It has been an unforgettable ride and one that if it were over tomorrow, I would be completely satisfied with what I have accomplished. I am so proud to have sent my first 5.14 and to enter into what many would call the “elite”. I can only wonder whats next…

Wyoming Trouble

IMG_4194One foot in the door in the town of Tensleep, Wyoming’s iconic bar, the Tensleep Saloon, reveals a life different from what most people live in the United States. Cowboy’s dressed in full garb sit at the bar top. A “wad” of snuff tucked under their fat lip, a beer or shot of whiskey in hand, and a Marlboro Red in the other, it’s easy to see how things in this part of the country are a bit different. It’s common to see a cowboy sitting at the bar, fresh out of the fields, sometimes with the horse they rode in on tied out front, and a large revolver strapped to their waist. In fact, sometimes, everyone sitting at the bar has a holster and gun strapped to their hip. As a visiting climber trying to grab a quick bite to eat after a full day of cragging, the local scene can sometimes catch you a little off guard. But despite some things being a bit different around this neck of the woods, one things for sure, the climbing here is some of the best in country.

Cowboy Town, USA
Cowboy Town, USA

I first went to Tensleep, Wyoming to rock climb one summer maybe three or four years ago and have been hooked ever since. The world-class limestone, length and quality of routes, surreal setting and lack of crowds is what drew me in. It has always boggled my mind that so many Colorado climbers make the trek every single weekend of the summer to Rifle Mountain Park but yet completely ignore Tensleep Canyon. At first it made me angry. To me, Rifle is one big gigantic pile of choss. A typical day at the crag involves waiting in line for your warm up after a night of sleeping in your vehicle because the camping was full. Babies, dogs and crowds of stick clipping aficionado’s walk the crags searching for their next project. In Tensleep, the scene, or lack there of, is quite different. You often have world-class lines all to yourself. You can often go an entire day without seeing anyone else at the crags. With the exception of some cows grazing in a nearby pasture or the occasional moose or elk, for the most part, Tensleep is always empty. And the stone here, some 350 billion year old limestone, is some of the best in the country. I have always dropped a knee and bowed to the rock climbs at the Red River Gorge in Kentucky, arguably the single best sport climbing destination in the United States but for what its worth, Tensleep Canyon in the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming, is quickly catching up. It is that good…

Entering into Dream Land...
Entering into Dream Land…

Climbers tend to gravitate towards rock climbs that suit their style. This is natural and hard to avoid. I don’t know that I have a specific style of climb per say, but I do know that the slightly overhanging nature of small but very positive pockets certainly caters to one of my strengths. Over the years, I have had some of my most gratifying ascents on these walls. I have onsighted many classic 12+’s, a feat I always feel very psyched to accomplish. In addition, if I don’t send a route first go, I can often put it down extremely fast, usually in a few tries or so. I have gone around the canyon and ticked a lot of the world-class 5.12’s, creating a Tensleep tick list that most people would be very proud of. In every way, shape and form, I typically crush at Tensleep. This is not to say that I haven’t been met with a fair share of resistance along the way. Several years ago, after casually onsighting Great White Behemoth(5.12b), I thought I would give a whirl to its neighbor Hellion(5.13c). Both Great White Behemoth and Hellion are the most sought after routes of their prospective grades. They both seem to always have someone projecting them and draws are almost always in place, despite not being perma-drawed.

My dog Mama basking in Tensleep glory...
My dog Mama basking in Tensleep glory…

A single burn on Hellion many years ago would ultimately change the direction of my following summers. At first, Hellion seemed very manageable. I did all but the few hardest crux moves almost immediately. I remember, having only been on the climb a couple of times, that I started linking huge sections and it became obvious that I needed to focus my attention on this route. Despite not having pulled the v hard crux move on some very polished and bad feet, I explored the two ways which everyone seemed to do the crux. The first utilized a mono-pocket for your right middle finger, all while your feet were on some of the most polished and slippery feet that the canyon had to offer. Many people couldn’t use the mono and opted for something called a drive by, where your right hand left the last good hold and had to windmill its way past the mono to a hold on the opposite side of your body on the far left. Both ways proved challenging and I constantly went from trying one way and then the other. Two summers ago, I opted for using the mono and decided to force the crux using that beta. It was what seemed best. I had many catches that summer but couldn’t quite piece it together. Last summer, after taking a new job in the wine industry and only four months in, trips to Tensleep became very difficult. Because of my new career, I was really only able to get to Tensleep two more times that summer, and both times I spent more or less the entire trip on Hellion. That summer came and went, and I had no success on completing the route. This summer, my main goal was to go back and send Hellion as quickly as possible. I was hoping to get it on my first trip. That was wishful thinking I guess…

Standard crag view at Tensleep...
Standard crag view at Tensleep…

I spent more or less my entire first trip this season, which happened to be in the beginning of June, refining my beta and dialing in the sequences in and out of the crux. Every single trip thereafter, Hellion was my fist stop. I drug countless people up to the crag to belay me and despite having the route super dialed, I just couldn’t seem to put it away. The route starts very difficult, and at bolt 3 you encounter a boulder problem probably in the v6 or v7 arena. To put the icing on the cake, if you actually make it through the crux, was 60 more feet of probably 13a ish climbing. I quickly realized once I was in full redpoint mode that putting the entire route together was quite a challenge. On every single redpoint attempt, a full on beat down ensued. I remember the first time when I actually made it through the crux from the ground and fell literally several moves after the crux because I was flamed out of my mind. I got a good laugh out of that one. The top was nowhere in sight and a very long ways off.

Cranking just after the crux on Hellion...
Cranking just after the crux on Hellion…

This August, I decided to burn up some vacation time and spend a few weeks in Tensleep. I was ecstatic to be in the canyon for more than just a weekend and finally give Hellion the respect it deserved. I was confident that I could send the route and then move on to either other projects or to practice my onsighting skill, something I love to do and have been fairly successful with throughout the canyon. As my vacation started, I attacked Hellion with everything I had. To my surprise, I just couldn’t seem to put it away. I always ended up falling somewhere on the route and I had fallen so many times at the crux, that somedays I literally would give it 10 redpoint attempts, falling at bolt 3 and immediately lowering, only to get right back on. I started getting extremely frustrated with the route unlike I have experienced in the past.

The guidebook describes this climb as
The guidebook describes this climb as “80 feet of Zen Brilliance”. Nearing the top of the Zen Brilliance…

Burn after burn after burn, I fell at more or less the exact same move. Ironically, I could always get right back on and do the crux moves right away. I always hear of climbers talking about getting too much in their head, and a route they just “could not do”. I guess I never really understood it until Hellion. This rock climb became such a mental fuck for me that I started to become negative toward the route. A few burns ensued where I had total freak outs after falling at the crux. I was just straight up pissed. I had to remind myself over and over and over of why I got into climbing in the first place. It was the challenge that I loved. Some things in climbing, and some routes, don’t come easy. But that is what makes climbing so special and in the end, so gratifying. Despite failing every single time I got on the route, falling in the exact same spot, only to get back on and do the crux and take it all the way the top, I still had a love for the moves. It was the beauty of this climb in particular that drew me to it in the first place. I was not going to let a single emotion get in the way of me enjoying my time on it, whether I sent it or not. From my years of experience projecting routes, I knew that you can NEVER give up. So, I continued to climb it over and over and over, eventually laughing when I fell at the crux. I just could not send this route. On the very last day of the trip, after two weeks of utterly destroying myself on the climb, I decided to give it one more burn. When I warmed up that day, I knew I was setting myself up for disaster. My skin and body were totally wrecked and I knew that I didn’t have enough energy left to send. I gave Hellion one more burn, and, you guessed it, fell at the exact same spot. After falling at the crux, I yarded back up to the third bolt, did the crux move and took it to the top. As I was cleaning the climb since our trip was over, I kind of smiled to myself and thought about letting go of it. I had become Hellions “Bitch”. And then the reality set in, that I could NOT give up, that I NEVER give up. At that moment, I kind of talked myself into patiently continuing on whether it took me one more burn or a hundred.

Huge lock offs and long powerful pulls define Hellion...
Huge lock offs and long powerful pulls define Hellion…

A couple of weeks went by and I finally had another free weekend to go back. It was to be my final Tensleep trip of the season. Despite feeling the pressure of having only 2 more days to send Hellion, I was extremely relaxed about it. Whether I did the route in a few more tries or it took me an entire following season to do it, I was still psyched to climb on it. For 5.13c, it was probably one of the best of the grade in the country and for that was worth more effort.

The start to my final climbing trip of the year to Tensleep didn’t go so well. I was planning on going to bed and get and amazing night of sleep. Unfortunately, due to some packing and logistical problems, I went to bed at midnight and got up 6 hours later to make the 7 hour drive to Tensleep. By the time I had gotten to the crag parking lot on Friday afternoon, I was utterly exhausted and had eaten very little that day. I was energized off a few hundred calories at most. We hiked up to the crag, I did a 5.10 and 5.12- warmup, then headed straight over to Hellion. I was fortunate enough that there was another climber on the route and quickdraws were already up. As the person was lowering down and brushing holds, I yelled up to him if he minded if I spun a quick lap on it. Burns in the beginning phases of projecting this route seemed to take forever, but at this point, I was so far along, that my burns were fairly quick. I didn’t need to rehearse any beta and I would climb to the top fairly quickly. The guy yelled “Sure” and I knew it was game on. Without expectation, without emotion, I tied in and was excited to climb despite having been on the route so many times in the past. I put on my shoes, chalked my hands and stepped off the ground and onto the rock.

For the next several minutes, much like many of my hardest sends in climbing, magic happened. I can honestly say that for all the beat downs I received from Hellion, I was ready to give some back. I executed every move to perfection and for the first time in my three summers of being on the route, it felt easy. I pulled the crux with very little effort, smiled and climbed to the top like I had done so many times before. Only this time, I was in total control, knowing I wasn’t going to fall on a single move.

On the last day of my last trip to Tensleep, I absolutely destroyed Hellion. As I clipped chains and lowered to the ground after sending, I snickered to myself and thought, “Yeah, who is the bitch now”…

Done and Done!
Done and Done!

A

Thunder Muscle

If you are a climber and have ever tried a route more than once because you fell the first time on it, you have ultimately projected a route whether you want to admit it or not. Truth be told, many climbers project all the time and don’t even realize they are doing it. Let’s say you fall your first time on a route, but realized you just messed up the beta, maybe you just grabbed a hold the wrong way and fell. A second burn often ensues and you end up climbing the route without a fall(often called a redpoint). The art of redpointing, that is to climb a route in its entirely without falling, hanging on a rope or getting any assistance in getting to the top, is truly an art. The best climbers out there are redpointing Jedi’s, often developed over years and years of projecting routes. Doing a route more than once always becomes a mental game. Sure, doing a route first try is always a cool experience(beta for climbers is either a flash or an onsight). But have you ever thought what it would be like if a route took you 10, 50 or even 100 tries? Most die-hard climbers are quite familiar with this game, or the art of projecting.

On a freezing cold day, a winter ascent in the early stages of projecting my first 5.14...
On a freezing cold day, a winter ascent in the early stages of projecting my first 5.14…March 14′

Projecting is one of those things that defines us as climbers. What we choose to project and where, can show more about a person that you think. And lets not forget, the biggest thing about projecting is NOT the send but the time it took you to get there. Everyone has heard the slogan, “It’s not about the final destination but the journey”. This rings true to projecting more than you can imagine. For me, projecting has always been the epitome of what climbing is all about. To get on a route and fail over and over and then finally succeed is one of the greatest feelings on planet earth. But did you ever think what it would be like to try a route, say 100 times, and never actually get the “send”? When a climber chooses to project a route, the outcome is always unknown and for this reason, projecting can leave many in a “hyper-stressed” state. It is for this reason, the unknown, that climbing can become such a mental game. Say a hold breaks on the route, say you take a fall and injure yourself or say you just weren’t quite strong enough to pull that V hard boulder problem crux. Either way, for many people, including climbers, failure is always present and often dominating. The most important thing about failing is not the failure itself, but how you deal with failure… What most people don’t recognize is that the best climbers in the world fail more than anyone else. Yes that’s right, let me repeat that. Professional rock climbers who are sponsored, have endorsement’s and maybe even a salary, fail much more than your average climber. In a nutshell, regardless of whether you’re a pro or just a recreational athlete, you have to fail A LOT in order to eventually succeed. For myself, over the last few years, I have become intimately familiar with failing. The sadistic thing about failure is that it becomes addicting. For all the hard routes I have completed over many years, it is the failing that stands out the most. Now, this may sound bizarre but most climbers LOVE to fail. Ironic isn’t it?

Hard moves and even harder clips define Thunder Muscle, which is one of the hardest sport lines in the Flatirons...
Hard moves and even harder clips define Thunder Muscle, which is one of the hardest sport lines in the Flatirons…

Projecting for me has become such a gratifying process that nowadays, it’s pretty much all I do. I am always projecting something because this is what I love about climbing. If climbing were easy and I sent every route first try, it wouldn’t mean the same and I would have probably dropped the sport many years ago. It is the “try hard” mentality that I love so much. I have failed thousands of times over the last couple of years, only to succeed maybe a couple hundred times at most. As you can see the rate of failure to success is grossly disproportionate. So what makes projecting so much fun if failure is always present? That is a great question and one that I can’t answer accurately. Truth be told, I have no idea why failing a hundred times to succeed once is so gratifying. In most other sports, competitors don’t have to deal with these odds. Let’s say you play on a soccer league. You may lose a game here or there but eventually you will capture a win. Well, comparative to projecting, it would be like losing 100 games to win one. You can see where I’m going with this… In my career as a climber, hands down, the best routes I have ever done were the ones that took me the most amount of work. Some projects I put down in a day, others took weeks, months or even years. Some I have yet to be successful on. I think this is what makes projecting so difficult for some people. Again, it is the unknown. Back in March of 14′, after sending a project called Choose Life, which took me well over a year to complete, I immediately shifted my focus to the route directly next to it, a route called Thunder Muscle. Choose Life was originally graded 5.14a, and became my first mega project. I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t chasing the grade on this beast. 5.14a is often the benchmark for climbing at elite grades and it is something I have wanted to do since day one. After a lot of hard work, I sent what I thought was my first 5.14a. Smiles and ego boosting thoughts overwhelmed me. Then the sad news came that the route had been downgraded to 5.13+ by most of the people who had also projected the route and been successful. For me, that feeling was like winning the Stanley Cup only to have someone take it away from you. It was a low blow for sure but one that was necessary. Now that I have sampled many routes at the 5.14a grade, I agree that Choose Life was not a 5.14 rock climb. It was hard, really hard and took me over a year of work. It was a major success that tested me in many capacities and even though I was successful, I was robbed of my first 5.14a, something I wanted very badly.

A very wet and frustrating month of projecting between the heavy rains. May 15' with Star Pais
A very wet and frustrating month of projecting between the heavy rains. May 15′ with Star Pais

Thunder Muscle, its neighbor, has also been climbed and sent by some of the most elite climbers in the Boulder area. It is a front range test piece and after many ascents, it seems to be holding steady at 5.14a. After sending Choose Life, I quickly chose to project Thunder Muscle. I was now accustomed to climbing a route of comparative difficulty on the same type of rock for about the same distance. One thing I quickly learned was that the styles were completely opposite of each other. Choose Life was a bit more endurance oriented with a moderately difficult crux up high which is why I gravitated towards it. Hanging on forever was always a strong suit of mine and probably why I chose to do that one first. Thunder Muscle, on the other hand,  revolved around  sheer power and had several very difficult boulder problems lurking throughout, distinctly what has been my weakness as a climber from the beginning. Give me moderately difficult moves back to back and I can climb forever. Throw a really hard boulder problem in the mix and I often got shut down, not even being able to pull individual moves on the route. I had always focused on sport climbing, problem was when you start to get into the lofty grade of 5.14, the cruxes have such difficult boulder problems, that ultimately you have to be a strong boulder too just to be able to pull crux moves. This added a dynamic in my climbing I had never really quite experienced before. I knew what I had to do.

Some of the hardest boulder problems I have ever pulled on a rope...
Some of the hardest boulder problems I have ever pulled on a rope…

As I look back at my experience on Choose Life and Thunder Muscle, I realize one thing, the experiences for me were completely different. When I was training to complete Choose Life, I ran often which allowed me to build up endurance and help me control my breathing on the route. Months and months followed of aggressive trail running. I remember going out and pounding myself into the ground. I ran in snow, sleet, rain, hail and just about every type of weather pattern that graces the wonderful state of Colorado. I ran and ran and ran. I would often times run for an hour or more, music blasting in my I-pod, visualizing the moves of Choose Life over and over again in my head. I became obsessed. All I thought about was sending that route, it’s all I cared about and all things in my existence that didn’t involve Choose Life got pushed aside. I began training in the gym specifically by climbing triples on lead with zero rest between laps. I was forcing my body to deal with pain, to be able to fight the burn and to continue to push on. Finally magic happened, I was extremely light from running so much, I was extremely strong from training so much and I had the route totally wired. Clipping chains was a very proud achievement for me. Thunder Muscle forced me to flip my climbing training upside down and the experience thus far has been quite an interesting one. Between March 14′ and June 15′ I tried the route A LOT! Now nearly 16 months after first trying it, I have probably taken more burns on Thunder Muscle than any route I have ever tried in my life. I climbed it over and over again in rain, snow and sleet. I have been on Thunder Muscle in intense summer heat and wicked cold temps in the dead of winter and just about everything in between. And despite not succeeding, I came terribly close, at least a dozen times. I told myself if I didn’t send the route by June 1st, I was going to have to let go of it til the fall, mainly due to the temps rising and the holds getting more and more challenging to hold on in by the day. On the very last day of May and under near perfect conditions, I came the closest I have come to sending Thunder Muscle but couldn’t quite pull it off. After returning from the Red River Gorge this past March, I pretty much only climbed Thunder Muscle or trained for it inside. Campus board sessions, finger board sessions and lots of lots of bouldering ensued. I did countless 4×4 sessions in the bouldering cave, attempting to build up my power endurance for the route. I was continuously sticking the v 9 crux of the route and falling on the very last move of the v8 section directly after it. A moderate shake in the middle and then some back to back v6 ish climbing to the chains. Doing each boulder problem wasn’t a problem, doing them all back to back and having enough energy to make it to the top proved to be quite challenging. In the end, my elbows starting bothering me for the first time in about 6 years. I believe the consistently hard training for months on end, coupled with more or less only climbing 5.14 when I was outside, was certainly to blame.

Every trick in the book is needed to climb this route successful. Heel hooks, multiple knee bars and every type of hold imaginable for your climbing pleasure...
Every trick in the book is needed to climb this route successful. Heel hooks, multiple knee bars and every type of hold imaginable for your climbing pleasure…

Even though I have yet to be successful, I still have my sights set on returning in the fall when the good weather returns. Until then, I will try to keep my motivation high and ultimately avoid the summertime blues which I get just about every summer. It’s hard to climb at such an elite level when it’s sweltering hot outside, let alone motivate myself to do any strenuous physical activity when the temps soar well into the 90’s. For now, my focus is much less on the grades of climbs and much more about the locations. I have mini projects up at Independence Pass in the Aspen area which I’m pysched to get back to. And lets not forget Tensleep, Wyoming as the season is upon us. There is something magical about Tensleep and a refreshing place to go and visit right at the time when summer burn out starts to set in. I have a project at Tensleep, a route called Hellion, which is one of the best I have tried anywhere in the world. I have gotten extremely close to sending but for some reason or another, I’m struggling to complete this one. Regardless, summer will be packed with lots of climbing trips, new routes, cold beer and the inevitable wait until Thunder Muscle is back “ON”. Looking forward to my next burn on that beast. Knowing that my very next burn could be my last keeps me excited. Despite being super close and feeling very confident, it may still take me another 50 tries. And of course, there is always the possibility that I never get it. That’s the name of the game with projecting though, you just never know…

Insane Seal Rock Super Crusher Posse May 15'
Insane Seal Rock Super Crusher Posse May 15′

Flatirons Magic

A look north from the top of the Third Flatiron...
A look north from the top of the First Flatiron…

Ever since the Colorado Chautauqua Climbers Club formed in the late 1800’s, people have been climbing and playing in the Flatirons. Long before Floyd and Earl Milliard pioneered the first ascent of the Third Flatiron over a century ago, Native American’s roamed the very land that Chautauqua Park was named after, which houses the three iconic Flatiron’s formations that command a presence over the quaint town of Boulder, Colorado. I first started playing in the Flatirons, mostly hiking and trail running, many years before I even lived in Boulder. At that point in my life, I was living in Vail and focused on skiing. However, I ended up dating a girl from Boulder so when we visited the front range to catch up with her family, the first thing I often did was go straight to Chautauqua Park. Little did I know, that nearly a decade later, the Flatiron’s would literally change my life. This is where the story begins…

The full 8 mile panoramic view of the Flatirons sport climbing venue taken from Rocky Mountain International Airport
The full 8 mile panoramic view of the Flatirons sport climbing venue taken from Rocky Mountain International Airport

There is something magical about climbing in the Flatirons that every climber MUST experience at least once in their lifetime. Truth be told, there is so much rock above the city of Boulder that many people are confused with what the Flatirons climbing area even means. Pop open a guidebook for even a second and you will realize how vast of an area the Flatirons make up. Even with a guidebook in hand, a compass, or even a GPS unit, finding a specific route can be quite an adventure. For many of the Flatirons best routes, it would be easier to locate organic food at a 7 Eleven convenient store in the middle of the California desert. But this is what makes the Flatiron’s so special.

Knee bar Jedi Bart Paul showing us what he does best in the Flatirons...
Knee bar Jedi Bart Paul showing us what he does best in the Flatirons…

I think its important to make the distinction between the actual Flatirons(there are three of them) and the Flatirons climbing area as a collective. In large part, local climbers refer to the Flatirons, as the climbing anywhere in the hills of Boulder between Flagstaff and Eldorado Canyon. Looking above the city of Boulder as you drive on Broadway south from Baseline Avenue(the main access point of Chautauqua Park), there is an 8 mile stretch of rocks that seem to just fire up into the night sky. There is so much rock for as far as the eye can see, trying to distinguish one rock formation from another is like looking into the ocean and trying to distinguish one grain of salt from another. The climbing is endless. But, what most people don’t realize, is that outside the traditional First, Second and Third Flatiron, lies some of the best sport climbing in the entire world. Sure, romping up one of the iconic Flatirons is amazingly fun in it’s own right, but it’s the routes that can’t be seen, the ones the are hidden in the densly thicketed pine forests, that really make the Flatirons special. If it were not for the bolting moratorium that went into effect in 1989, the Flatirons would surely be up there with some of the most famous sport climbing destinations in the United States.

Boulder strongman Dan Levison getting a shake on Choose Life(5.13d)...
Boulder strongman Dan Levison getting a shake on Choose Life(5.13d)…

Every year thousands of climbers from all over the world flock to climb on the sandstone routes of the Red River Gorge in Kentucky and the New River Gorge in West Virginia, arguably the two best sport climbing areas in the United States. But how many people do you see coming out to Colorado to do some sport climbing in the Flatirons? The answer, NONE! Most people that travel to Colorado would rather climb just south of the Flatirons in Eldorado Canyon or if they are a sport climber to make the 3 1/2 hour drive to Rifle Mountain Park on the Western Slope. But, truth be told, most people are simply ignorant when it comes to sport climbing in the Flatirons. For many years, I lived in Boulder and didn’t even know such routes existed. I hiked, trail ran, explored, soloed and romped up so many rocks for so many years that I was unquestionably a hardcore “local”. I lived to climb and spent nearly every second of my free time(which was a lot given that I worked an evening server job), and for so many years I was completely ignorant myself to the gold that was right before my eyes. All I needed was to grab my shovel. Finally, the buzz was out and words of epic sport routes started to surface. I kept hearing the locals talk about this climb and talk about that climb that finally I broke down and had someone show me “the light”. I remember hiking into the Flatirons for the first time to go sport climbing, carrying a full rack of quickdraws, thinking to myself, “What the fuck am I doing here?”. Little did I know, the Flatirons was about to change my life. Now nearly 6 years after ticking many of the routes in neighboring Boulder Canyon and Clear Creek Canyon, the progression and where I needed to go next was obvious. For the lack of quantity of sport routes in the 8 mile stretch of sandstone above the city of Boulder, the quality of sport routes makes up for it. I guess you could say that one of the major drawbacks of the Flatirons sport climbing venue is the lack of moderate routes overall. If you are only climbing 5.10 and 5.11, the number of routes slowly starts to dwindle. But as you start in the 5.12 sector and start working your way up in the grades, the options become much more abundant. Most world class climbing destinations such as the Red River Gorge give routes a 1 to 5 star rating, one being not a great route and 5 star meaning you could drive across the country just to touch the rock on that one single route. If the best of the best areas could award one star higher to a 6 star status, many of the classic sport climbs in the Flatirons would certainly qualify, they are simply that good!

Mid Winter ascent of Discipline(5.12b) many years ago
Mid Winter ascent of Discipline(5.12b) many years ago

I remember climbing Discipline(5.12b), perhaps one of the first “classic” sport climbs I ever climbed in the Flatirons on a mid winter day, with Boulder as the backdrop. There is a school bus size boulder at the base, making the hangout so surreal. I have joked with friends for years that I’m going to cart a cooler full of beer and a charcoal grill up there and throw a massive party. The hangout alone is worth the near 50 minute approach to get to the crag, not to mention Discipline is a world class route. Crux to start and crux to finish with oh so sweet “fluff” climbing in the middle. The position is out of this world. Sometimes when I climb in the Flatirons, I feel like I’m climbing in the French countryside or some place comparable. Boulder has lots of open space that butts directly up to most of the rock formations. Overall, the beauty of this place makes for a special outing. Directly next to Discipline lies a classic 5.13a called Cornucopia, which was the first rap bolted route in the Flatirons. Surprisingly, I haven’t been back in years to give Cornucopia a shot, there is just too much climbing in the Flatirons and my attention was drawn to other crags.

Navigating through blank sandstone in the Flatirons
Navigating through blank sandstone in the Flatirons

The Slab off Cragmoor Street is truly a world class sport climbing venue as well. Located in the heart of the Flatirons climbing area lies this gem of a crag, hosting dozens of amazing and high quality sport climbs. Try your hand on routes like the ultra-pumpy and overhanging Superkreem(my first 5.13a I ever sent), Film Noir(5.12c/d) or Prime the Pump(5.12c). Get your bouldering on by roping up on Sookreem(5.13b) or get dynamic with the crux of Undertow(5.12b). There are so many routes at this crag that most would be kept busy for an entire season of hard sport climbing(or multiple seasons). To the 5.12 and 5.13 climber, this one crag is paradise. Just up Fern Canyon Trail from the Slab lies the classic route Supefresh, which is located directly above the popular Fern Canyon forest hiking trail. Superfresh was literally the route that ended bolting without a permit in Flatirons. I have never been up to it since I’m always occupied with the routes at the main wall lower down canyon.

Endless crimping at Overhang rock on Honey Badger(5.13b)
Endless crimping at Overhang rock on Honey Badger(5.13b)

Let’s not forget about the amazing and historical routes on the East Ironing Board above the third Flatiron. The approach to this little “tucked away in the woods” crag is so long and so strenuous that by the time you actually make it to the crag, you feel like you got done running a strenuous 10k mountain race wearing a 30lb pack. If you have the fitness to actually make it up to the crag, you are then confronted by some formidable opponents including Slave to The Rhythm(5.13b) and Honemaster Lombada(5.14a), which is credited as being one of the very first 5.14’s in the entire state. To add to the excitement, there is really no warmup that exists so after doing one of the most tiring approaches, virtually the only option is to warm up on some chossy boulders near the base or to jump straight on hard 5.13b. Yeah, that’s what I thought! But despite this, the hard work pays off quite well. Slave to the Rhythm is one of the coolest routes I have ever done. It is a severely overhanging burlfest, one of the steepest in the Flatirons actually. The route has become so infamous that every hold on the entire route has been named.  It has a wicked hard boulder problem to start and a tricky technical heart break crux right before the chains. If you don’t know how to knee bar, good luck on that top crux! There is even a famous much needed lie down(sorta) rest called the bathtub right before the top section. Rumor has it that Colin Lantz had it padded out and would lie in it, using Slave as his warmup while working Honemaster. This may be the best route I have done in the Flatirons. It is sooo good! Honemaster Lombada lying directly to the right is potentially the hardest route in the Flatirons and perhaps one of the toughest in the entire state of Colorado. After Colin Lantz sent in 1991, which was cutting edge at the time, many big name strongman followed suit including Alex Honnold, Chris Weidner and Tommy Caldwell. Originally graded 5.14a, holds have broken recently and it has been confirmed by some other local pros that the route is considerably harder than 5.14a and in its current state, has not likely been done. Come and get it. Booya!

150 foot single pitch sport routes on the west face of Overhang Rock
150 foot single pitch sport routes on the west face of Overhang Rock

In addition, Dinosaur Rock has become one of the most popular crags in the entire state, so much so, that you often have to wait in line to try your hand at one of the routes. They are extremely popular. North facing and an ideal summer crag because it stays shaded, Dinosaur Rock houses 4 of the best routes in all of the Flatirons, ALL directly next to one another. The Shaft(5.12b), Patience Face(5.12a), Milkbone(5.13a) and Ultrasauraus(5.13a) are some of the most sought after routes in the Boulder area and for a good reason, they are all super long, super pumpy and have cruxes right before the chains. The rock and position is as good as it gets. Dinosaur Rock is hyper classic and deserves a 5 star status amongst the best walls in the nation. If you manage to send all the routes over time, try sending all of them back to back in a single day, a feat my friend Chris Taylor and I did a few years back, dubbing it “Jurassic Park”. Jurassic Park has become a hyper classic test of fitness for all capable adversaries. To date, it is one of my proudest achievements and coolest things I have done on rock.

Crux #1 of the ultra pumpy Ultrasauraus(5.13a)
Crux #1 of the ultra pumpy Ultrasauraus(5.13a)

Dont’ forget Overhang Rock in the heart of Bear Canyon with the Jimmy Surette classic Snake Watching put up in 1989. Snake Watching has to be one of the sickest routes I have ever done. Its 150 feet long(that is not a typo) and often done in a single rope stretching pitch. A very cool and hard boulder problem to start, then about 100 feet of 5.12- crimping to a 5.12c thin and devious red point crux near the top. 5.11 hero jug hauling guards the chains. This has to be one of the longest single pitch routes in the United States, that is a fact. Most standard 60 and 70m ropes will not even get you to the ground after clipping the chains. To make this wall even more impressive, two new 5.13’s were put in over the last few years and are certainly hyper classic as well. Honey Badger(5.13b) and the newest route Oroboros(5.13a) is surely going to get harder as holds break and things clean up. All three routes approach the 40 meter single pitch mark. They are totally rad!

Homeboy Chris Lee showing how its done on Slave to the Rhythm(5.13b)
Homeboy Chris Lee showing how its done on Slave to the Rhythm(5.13b)

To top off the HUGE list of world class sport routes in the Flatirons area, there is Seal Rock. Seal Rock(which literally looks like a giant Seal from a distance), houses some of the most magnificent and hard sport routes in the front range. Years ago, Primate(5.13b), a deadly trad route which is hard to protect and run out with ground fall potential at the crux, has kept the masses away. To my knowledge, the phenom Matt Samet and Matt Siegel are the only two people to have completed this traditionally protected route. Not to worry though, Seal Rock has been resurrected in recent years and has two of the best sport routes I have ever touched stone on. Choose Life(5.13d), named after the FA parties choice NOT to head point the route with gear, later to be bolted, and Thunder Muscle(5.14a), which climbs a wild tufa feature and has some intensely difficult boulder problems back to back. To add to the excitement, local pro Jonathan Siegrist bolted a new line which was red tagged for quite sometime, before being opened to the public for attempts. I have not been on this route yet, but rumors are its a touch harder than Thunder Muscle, currently the hardest route at Seal Rock. Once sent, this will add yet another world class 5.14 to the Flatirons sport climbing venue.

Cruxing out on Thunder Muscle(5.14a) and a whole lot of climbing to go...
Cruxing out on Thunder Muscle(5.14a) and a whole lot of climbing to go…
Shaking mid route before sending my first 5.13d...
Shaking mid route before sending my first 5.13d…

Along the eight mile stretch of rock between Chautauqua Park and Eldorado Canyon lies some of the best sport climbing in the entire United States. There is truly something magical about the experience around climbing here. There are trails that twist and turn in every direction for as far as the eye can see. The mountains and wilderness that encompass that Flatirons are so vast, that life’s struggles seem to fade away. Eagles soar overhead and other than hearing the occasional “Off Belay” being yelled from another climbing party on one the thousands of traditional routes that surround the area, you really do have the place to yourself. Often times, the long approach in just gets you more and more excited to climb and the hike out often leaves you reminiscing of how great your day was. For me, some of the best climbing experiences of my life have been in the pine forests that make up the Flatirons, a place truly remarkable, a place truly magical, a place I call my home. Damn proud of it too…

Tech Master Jay Park doing what he does best on one of the many world class sport routes in the Flatirons...
Tech Master Jay Park doing what he does best on one of the many world class sport routes in the Flatirons…
Heaven, buried in snow...
Heaven, buried in snow…

Where it all started…

Neo in the Matrix, finally believing he was "the One"...
Neo in the Matrix, finally believing he was “the One”…

Much like the Oracle told Neo in the Matrix, everyone is born with talent, but it’s what you do with that talent that separates you from the rest. In the movie the Matrix, everyone believed that Neo was “the One”. The problem was, Neo didn’t see it. He was insistent that it was not him. Throughout the movie everyone tries to convince him that he is “the One”, but as the Oracle first told him, the only way he would be “the One” was for him to actually believe he was. As the movie progresses, Neo slowly starts to believe that is he. To watch this transformation in Neo is truly powerful. Finally, in one single moment nearing the climax of the film, he realizes he is “the One”. That single moment when Neo finally “believes” is perhaps one of the greatest scenes in  cinema history.

In many situations in my life, I have been both the Oracle and Neo. I have been quite a successful coach and trainer because I always believed in the people I was coaching. Whether they saw it or not, I have always had the mentality that anyone can do anything if they put their mind to it. I believe much like the Oracle in the Matrix that EVERYONE  has talent. But it’s not the talent itself that is important, it’s what you choose to do with it that turns into something special. What happens when you take talent, someone who believes, as Neo ultimately did, and has the drive and determination to bring out that talent? One word- Greatness! For me, I didn’t always believe in myself. However,  I experienced a personal transformation in high school, much like Neo’s, which was absolutely life changing. Now, nearly two decades later, I still attribute every success I have had in life to that single transformation during my freshman year at Schalick High School in the small rural town of Pittsgrove, New Jersey. My personal transformation at the age of 15, much like Neo’s in the Matrix, shaped the person I am today. I hope this story inspires. I hope this story makes you believe that EVERYONE is special and I hope it makes you believe that we are all walking the path of greatness…

Believe

Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to follow in the foot steps of my father and be a great competitor, a great athlete. My father was truly remarkable. He was good at everything he did, played 3 sports in high school, and ended up on full athletic scholarship when it came time to go to college. To top off his athletic greatness, he went on to coach one of the most successful gymnastics teams in history. During his tenure as one of the top gymnastics coaches in the country, his team went undefeated for 7 consecutive years. Damn impressive run if you ask me and a person I will always look up to.

Upon entering high school, I was being pushed by my highly athletic and competitive father to get involved in a team sport. Burned out on baseball and soccer which I played throughout childhood, too small for football and too short for basketball, my father thought it would be a good idea that I try out for our high school cross country team. At least, that was something I could maybe be good at. After a week or two of practice with my team entering my freshman year, most runs were uncomfortably painful and all I thought about was quitting. Running for “fun” was a strange concept for me to grasp. How could something that be so difficult and so painful ultimately bring me satisfaction? I simply just did not get it. However, I didn’t have anything else to fall back on and my coach and my father saw potential in me. Despite wanting to quit just about every day for the first month, I decided to stick it out. At this point in my life, skiing and surfing were just about the only sports I was passionate about but were not offered as a team sport in my high school. I had to do something right? Running on my high school cross country team, at the very least, would allow me to hang out with my teammates who I became close friends with.

From the very beginning, my coach, Steven Pierangeli, believed I was going to be great. Problem was, I didn’t see it. In a way, Mr. Pierangeli, or Coach P as we called him, was the Oracle and I was Neo. He saw the potential I had as a runner and was determined to help coach me until I finally saw it. Most training runs entering my freshman year, were some of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. Each and every run I went out for, firing down the twisty dirt trails at our local park directly across from our high school, I was in last place by a long shot. All the other runners on our team had way more experience than me and it showed. Most of the time, the top runner would circle back to pick me up and help bring me back into the pack. I would stay with them for a short distance and then slowly start falling back once again. It was painstakingly frustrating. I felt like a failure. Why was I going to stick with running if all I did was come in last place every single time? Any normal human being would have quit on the spot. But for some reason or another, I stuck with it. Perhaps if anything, I didn’t want to let my father down. Day after day, week after week, month after month, all I did was run. I woke up when it was still dark and ran five to seven miles before even going to school. Then by 4 o’clock and school was finishing up, I was stretching to prepare for my second workout of the day with the team. I remember feeling utterly exhausted. It was hard enough to focus on my classwork, let alone not fall asleep during a lesson only to have a teacher slap me on the back with a ruler. “Mr. MacNeill, Wake up!” my teachers shouted. All this running was wearing me down. But again, taking advice from my father, my coaches, and my teammates, I stuck with it. The one thing I learned about myself that season, and something that has stuck with me to this day, is that I don’t quit once I start something…

Running as a freshman Circa 1994
Running as a freshman Circa 1994

By the midpoint of my freshman cross country season, the tides were slowly turning. At this point in my season and only a couple months of training under my belt, I managed to lay down the fastest 5k time ever recorded by a freshman runner, in a school that had rich and deep running history. Oddly enough, I started to enjoy the “pain” that came with running and all my hours spent training on the local trails of Parvin State Park became my way to let out my anger and frustrations with life. Everyone seemed to see potential in me from the beginning and much like Neo in his transformation in the movie, I slowly started to believe. I was still a long way from winning races, but I was getting faster each and every day. My team was stacked with good runners, most of whom were in their senior year. They were bigger, stronger, faster and had years more experience than I did. Practically every race I ran, I didn’t even crack the top 10, getting beat by all the senior runners on my own team; not to mention, there were usually a few people who beat me from the other team as well. I must say, that finishing in 10th place every single race did nothing but light a fire under my ass. Despite, losing all the time, I believed that with more hard work and dedication, I could maybe prove to Coach P and my father what they had been telling me all along. I trained harder and harder each and every day and seemed to get faster by the second. My race times rapidly started to drop. I was starting to believe!

By the start of my sophomore year, I finally understood what everyone was talking about with my running talent. Four of the five top guys on my team all graduated, leaving only one person better than me, my good friend Matt Davis. Matt was a total stud, winning many races the previous season in his junior year and putting down some seriously fast times including the fastest 2 mile time since my high school opened its door’s in 1980. He was very talented. Once again, I found myself always “losing” the race and taking second place to Matt. But, I believed in myself at this point. If I could progress so much in my first year of high school, what could I do in my second? I was curious and so was my father, coaches and the community that surrounded me. It’s as if people started to bet on me and I remember the feeling of not wanting to let them down, especially Coach P. He believed in me. I started believing in myself. Most of my sophomore year, Matt and I ran neck and neck the majority of  the race. If anything, he held back to pull me along and to help me put up a faster time. But, in typical Matt fashion, he would pull away from me the last half mile of the race and left me panting in his dust. I just could not keep up with him to finish the race.  Occasionally, Matt would run with me until the finish line was in sight, then he would drop back and throw me a win. For me, the taste of victory was like throwing a juicy steak in front of a dog, I couldn’t help myself and I gladly crossed the ribbon in first. But for every race Matt “let” me win, I had an emptiness that overcame me. Deep down, I knew Matt was faster than me and there was nothing I could do about it. Finally, I asked Matt to stop letting me get the occasional win. If I win, I wanted to do it on my own terms. What my sophomore year taught me in a nutshell, was to try my absolute hardest and try hard is exactly what I did. Each and every practice, I gave 110 percent. I was the first one to show up and the last one to leave. Talent was no longer enough. I believed in myself and I was going to prove to everyone that I had what it took.

First and Second at nearly every race, running behind my close friend and main rival, Matt Davis
First and Second at nearly every race, running behind my close friend and main rival, Matt Davis

Nearing the end of my sophomore season and approaching some of the biggest races of the year, it finally happened. It was South Jersey Sectionals, held on a grueling course at Kinsgway High School, under the lights, with every runner and every qualifying team in the south part of the state gunning to place for the coveted state meet at Holmdel in North Jersey. The gun went off and Matt and I took off. As with nearly every race, we ran side by side for the majority of the time. But something felt different during that race. I believed that I was stronger than Matt. At about the two and half mile mark and about a half mile left to go in the 5k race, I started taking a lead over Matt. I was determined to beat him, and beat him I did. It wasn’t that Matt had a bad race either, he ran a very fast race. I simply had the “race of my life”. I will never forget that moment. That was the moment when I finally believed what everyone was telling me all those years. It was parallel with Neo realizing at that very moment in the Matrix when he knew he was “the One”. Even though I came no where close to winning that race, there were 300 runners in the field, I finally believed! That running race literally changed my life. I spent two long years always finishing in second place to my close rival and finally I deserved to win. He knew it, I knew it, my coach knew it. That single event in the South Jersey Sectionals would be the major turning point in my running career and to this day I consider one of my greatest physical achievements. I ran nearly a minute faster than I ever had in the past.

By my junior year, I had had enough of the second place finishes. I had trained my ass off for three consecutive years, worked harder than everyone else and I finally knew what I was capable of. At the start of my junior year,  I had the confidence of a champion long before I was one. I believed I was the best and just had to prove it. I remember one single moment before my first race of my junior year that has stuck with me to this day. Our team huddled together and put their hands in a pile. Coach P started a prayer as he did the previous 2 years while coaching me. ” Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…….”. When the prayer was done, our team shouted “Schalick” and everyone threw their arms into the air. As the huddle broke apart and my teammates started doing their own individual pre starting line rituals, Coach P walked over to me and smiled. He and I both knew it was my time to shine. With Matt no longer on the team, he graduated, and me with another year of experience under my belt, I was ready to do what I was born to do. I was stronger than ever before. Coach P said three words to me, “Go get it!”. I did a few fast sprints and some fast twitch muscle drills to loosen up my legs and then the referee called everyone to the start line. All the runners lined up, the official raised the gun and fired one shot into the air. I took off like a bat out of hell. I was in the lead within the first 100 feet of that race and I NEVER looked back. For my first race of my junior year, I came in 1st place for the very first time. I will never forget that feeling.

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During my junior year at Schalick High School, I won every single race I entered. I went on to shatter high school records, to shatter coarse records and to obtain the most individual wins in an entire season by any runner in school history.  By the time I made it to Tri-County Divisionals, I hadn’t lost a single race. Even on my bad days I still won by a long shot. The Tri-County Race was one of the biggest events of the year and much more competition that I had previously experienced. In that race, we had hundreds of runners from all the top qualifying schools in the area. I won that race with such a commanding lead from the very start that I could have probably walked the last half mile and still won. I remember finishing that race and having a slight discomfort in my leg. I didn’t think much of it at the time. I had two more big races of the season to go and I was determined to not lose a single race.

When the gun went off in my second to last race of my undefeated season, I took off to move in front like I had in the past, but something felt different this time. I had a pain in my right leg that had started at the end of the race before and followed me with each training run prior to our big sectional race. Even during the warmup that day, something felt “off”. I started the race in first like I was use to, but at about the half mile mark, my leg started to give out from under me. It was a weird feeling. At this point in the season, having won every single race I entered, it was a weird feeling getting passed by other runners. Not by one person, not by two people, but by everyone. About a mile in, I was in dead last, and a strenuous limp started to dominate my stride. I tried my absolute hardest to keep going but the pain became so unbearable that I had to stop. I could barely walk at this point and was carried off the field in darkness. That was not only the first race I ever dropped out of, it was my first loss of the season.  Many x-rays and MRI’s later, it was determined that I had a severe stress fracture in my femur unlike any doctor had ever seen. They didn’t know how I could even walk, let alone stand the intense training my body had to endure throughout the season. You see, everyone has slight imbalances in their legs, one foot being slightly larger than the other, or in my case one leg being slightly longer than the other. Most people would never have an issue with it, the only problem was, I wasn’t most people. I ran well over 100 miles a week for 3 full years and finally the imbalance of having one leg longer than the other caught up to me. After reviewing the x-rays with the doctor, the stress fracture or crack in my leg, looked like a steak knife lodged in my femur bone. Little did I know, I not only wouldn’t be able to finish my undefeated running season, I would never run competitively again…

A quote from one of the greatest runners of all time...
A quote from one of the greatest runners of all time…

I often think what would have happened if I had ran my senior year or ended up going to college to run. The point of this story is not to brag about my talent as a runner nor is about the disappointment of me not finishing what I started. That was my choice. I could have run again, I simply didn’t want to. This story is to inspire people to believe in themselves, as Neo did in the Matrix. We are ALL destined for greatness! Every single human being on the face of the earth has a gift, a special light within. Believing in yourself can take you beyond your wildest dreams.  At the present age of 35, Coach P has been one of the most influential people in my life.  I now realize how one persons belief in someone else can change your life. I am forever grateful to have worked with Coach P and for him to have helped shape me into the person I am today.

Live big, dream even bigger and in the words of Coach P, “Go get it”……

Despite what people say, still one of the greatest athletes of our time.
Despite what people say, still one of the greatest athletes of our time.

Just for the record, I never did run competitively again. But, and this is a BIG but, I got into cycling as rehabilitation. My very first mountain bike race was nearly 6 months after doctor’s discovered the 8 inch crack in my femur and the very race that ended my running career. The race was in Pocahontas County, West Virginia at the West Virginia Fat Tire Festival. I didn’t know what to enter as a category, I had never been in a bike race before, so I checked off “First Time Beginner” when signing up for the race. When I came out of the forest to win my first mountain bike race I ever entered, in the presence of my biggest fans, my mother and father, the crowd lining the race course was going ballistic. “What’s the big deal?”, I thought to myself? I won the weakest category you could possibly put down on your timing sheet. What I didn’t realize, is that my time was faster than anyone in every category with the exception of the Professional race. And so, it started ALL over again…..

Success and Failure

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A 100 year old tobacco barn which local Joe Bowen turned into a charming cabin made the perfect base camp for our ventures…

Success and failure often go hand in hand in climbing. In fact, in many cases, you can’t have one without the other, especially when it comes to projecting. In a nutshell, both are an important part of making a climber who they are. My greatest successes in climbing have come with many failures. But that’s what climbing is all about right? I constantly see people getting frustrated on their projects and I always kind of snicker(to myself of course) as to why they are upset. After all, climbing is supposed to be difficult. If rock climbing were easy, everyone would send every route they got on and climbing wouldn’t be the same. The whole point with projecting is to fail over and over until we eventually succeed. This may sound kind of funny hearing this from me, but I love to fail. There is something in failure that brings out the best in our human spirit, the will to try harder, the yearn to get one inch closer to the goal. What makes climbing so powerful and so gratifying is the failures you have before you are successful.

IMG_0696This March I took my annual rock trip to the Red River Gorge, Kentucky with some pretty lofty goals for myself. The last time I was in Kentucky, I went into the trip with some serious fitness and managed to come away very satisfied. I had a huge tick list and sent nearly everything I got on. But for this year, to be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. In the past year, I took my first “real” job and was making a pretty solid salary. But with the money, came responsibility and long work days which started to take over my life. When I had time to train, my sessions had to be focused. The days of spending 6 hours in the gym before heading off to work for a few hours in a restaurant are long gone. Frankly, I just didn’t know what to expect. My job has taken a toll on my mind over the last year, my climbing training has taken a toll on my body and the weather in Kentucky can be so erratic in March that it could be 70 degrees and sunny or 15 degrees and snowing. At the very least, this trip was going to give me a break from everyday life which I very much needed.

IMG_0701The March rock trip to the Red turned out to be better than expected. Of course, I had some failures along the way but the successes and great times far outweighed anything I could say negative about the vacation. I wanted to suss out Kaleidoscope(5.13c) which I have been obsessed with since first laying eye’s on it back in 2011. I knew when I first saw that thing that I wanted to climb it. Year after year I go to the Red, end up at the Drive By Crag for a single day and just seem to drool over the aesthetics of that climb. For this trip, I feel as though I was finally strong enough and capable of now making some progress on the route and get closer to a send. For the record, getting a send on Kaleidoscope is one of the top things on my lifetime climbing bucket list. It still remains one of the hardest routes at the Red and one of the top lines of its grade in the entire country. After consulting with some locals and others projecting the route, it was confirmed that a crux hold was seeping from the winter thaw and a solid attempt at figuring out the moves would be impossible. Meet failure #1.

The world famous Miguel's Pizza, one of the greatest hangs after a long day at the crag...
The world famous Miguel’s Pizza, one of the greatest hangs after a long day at the crag…

I was also gunning for a true 5.13 onsight during this trip which was a major objective. I have flashed one 5.13 outside a couple of years ago up at Wizards Gate and have a slew of 5.12d onsights and flashes that have been extremely gratifying. But I have yet to walk up to the wall, rope up and send a 5.13 my very first try having seen no one else on it. A true 5.13 onsight has been a goal of mine for a long time. I had a dozen 5.13a’s picked out and was eager to test my “first” try abilities on them. Unfortunately, many of the 5.13’s I had picked out were either wet or conditions just weren’t good enough for a balls to the walls first try attempt. What I love about first try climbing is that when you step up to bat, you have to go into it like you are in a fight for your life. Your either going to fall and be defeated or fight hard, clip chains and walk away victorious. Of the 5.13’s I tried, I fell on most at the crux. Not sure if I wasn’t as “onsight” ready as I wanted to be, or just that some of the routes I got on had not-so straightforward sequences that were very difficult to read on the fly. Bottom line, I didn’t get a 5.13 first try. Meet Failure #2

IMG_0713Climbing trip’s are always amazing. On many level’s, a single rock climbing vacation can be life changing. To breath the fresh mountain air first thing in the morning, to walk away from a cliff utterly destroyed from a day of cragging or simply sipping a beer when it’s all done reminiscing of the good times you had with friends, one single day can leave a lifetime of memories. This trip was every bit as memorable as any trip I have ever taken and there were many great things that took place. Here are some of the standouts for me…

Meeting up with my homeboy Andrew Mathews, who after a winter climbing season spent in Mexico, literally moved to the Red on a whim and a possible job offer at Miguel’s. By the time we showed up, Andrew had been in the Red for several weeks and was settling in to the good ole Kentucky life. Andrew was living out of his van and making pizza’s at Miguel’s. And given that the style of climbing at the Red is one of Andrew’s weakest, it was awesome and inspiring to see him trying so hard on so many epic and difficult routes. You have come a LONG way brother since I started climbing with you many years ago. Keep up the good work and I look forward to sending some hard routes with you next year in Spain. Until we meet again….

Watching Andrew crank on the steeps of Swedish FIsh(5.12b) was one of the coolest things I have ever witnessed in my life.
Watching Andrew crank on the steeps of Swedish FIsh(5.12b) was one of the coolest things I witnessed this trip.

Hooking up with Chaz Ott, a great friend of mine I met traveling and climbing in Mexico many years ago, has become one of my favorite persons to do some crushing with. Chaz is a straight up super crusher, good at all styles of climbing on all different types of rock. The guy can onsight routes like its his job and the Red is his stomping grounds. Chaz and I have shared belays on routes all over the US and Mexico. There is no one that gets me more psyched or fired up than Chaz. He showed up with what he called “not” in climbing shape for the Red and had a typical performance for him, which is to crush. He ended up firing Mosaic(5.12+) at the Gallery in a few try’s and made it look effortless. In a completely tired and burned out body at the very end of the day, he managed to link some good sections on the ultra classic Prometheus Unbound(5.13a). Impressive considering he is only in bouldering shapr.Nice work brother! I look forward to projecting some 40 meter 5.14 tufa route with you in Spain next year!

Chilling with Chaz at the Sanctuary, Muir Valley on a epic 75 degree March day.
Chilling with Chaz at the Sanctuary, Muir Valley on a epic 75 degree March day. The route in the backdrop, Jesus Wept, is one of the most saught after lines at the Red. I proudly fired it second try with Chaz on the belay…

I traveled East with Jim Mankovich, a Boulderite I have known and climbed with for many years now. He had never been to the Red before so it was pretty exciting to show him around. I can’t speak for Jim entirely, but I’m pretty sure he was blown away by the area and the quality of climbing. At 58 years old, Jim has become an absolute force to be reckon with. Over the last few years, Jim lost 20+ pounds, has been doing PMA(an elite adult training program) and has elevated himself to super crusher status despite being “Over the Hill”! It was very impressive to see him cranking on all the 5.12’s that the Red had to offer. I only hope that two decades from now I am still as motivated and psyched as Jim is now.

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58 year old Jim Mankovich testing his fitness on a new 35 meter overhanging route at the Chocolate Factory.
Jim Mankovich looking extremely focused...
Jim Mankovich looking extremely focused…

Overall, the trip was everything I wanted it to be. I sent a lot of great routes, got to be inspired by all the great people I was climbing with and just got more psyched than ever before to travel, train, and climb. I look forward to the next amazing route I get on and to tie in with the next person on a belay. To life!

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Climbing is like a drug. Trying really really hard is what keeps me coming back for more…
Power Pocket Pulling
Power Pocket Pulling
Nate Mankovich is a beast. Played ultimate frisbee for two days in Texas, took an overnight flight to the Red, and immediately got on the rock and crushed. Here Nate works out the moves on Heart Shape Box(5.12c) at the Motherlode.
Nate Mankovich is a beast. Played ultimate frisbee for two days in Texas, took an overnight flight to the Red, and immediately got on the rock and crushed. Here Nate works out the moves on Heart Shape Box(5.12c) at the Motherlode.
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Trying hard at nearly 70 years old! So inspiring to watch Paul Mankovich walk up to the Red for the first time and jump right on a 5.11-. Impressive!

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