Friday, April 27, 2007


After failing on the last move of my project--twice--last week I opted out of the 50 mile race in Fruita in order to give my project one more go. On one hand, it meant that I didn't have to suffer for hours on end in a race I wasn't prepared for. On the other, I had the mental anguish of dealing with another project. If I failed, it had the potential of becoming a major epic for my psyche. And it's not like I was failing because I was letting go; it's a route right at my current physical limit. But Bob pretty much summed it up for me when he said, "If you go to Colorado, you're an idiot. This is a first ascent. At the Tor!" Ben echoed this, telling me that my priorities were clearly in the right place.

"Sure, for an FA at the Tor, I guess," I said.

"Or ANY ascent at the Tor," he countered. "When you have the fitness to finish a route at the Tor, you've got to try. Because you never know when you'll be at the level again.

He has a point. As a climber who relies on experience and footwork, the Tor isn't exactly a place where I pad my resume. It's brutally physical. Every route requires a maximal physical effort. In short, it's a place where I usually get killed.

My friend Paul Dusatko summed this up pretty well when he did the second ascent of Hell Of The Upside Down Sinners. Rated a pedestrian 12b, Paul's comment upon clipping the chains (after weeks of work) was "now I'm climbing the same grade I was 10 years ago."

When you have a project, the difference between success and failure is miniscule. One mistake and you're off. At the Tor, it's so physical that you're limited--very much so--as to how many decent attempts you'll get in a day. I was pretty nervous on Saturday because I knew if it didn't go quickly, my window of opportunity would quickly slam shut. And I just couldn't extend my stay in California any longer.

First go:

Now it was really beginning to become mental. My only solace was that it had rained the day before and the holds I'd fallen from had been dirty. Also, my tick mark for a key foothold that you can't see had washed away (notice my failing with my feet prior to the fall). So I felt I had a chance. But I very much felt that if I didn't get it second go or I was in trouble. This added to the pressure as I tied in for round two. If I failed, it was going to be a long arduous drive home...

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Experience and Bullshit

In life, experience and bullshit can carry one through many situations that you're otherwise unprepared for. The question this weekend is, can it carry me through a 50 mile race? I'm pretty good at wingin' it, in general. This weekend I may be testing that presumption a little bit. And this time, oddly enough, it wasn't supposed to be this way. My base training was great. Then I got sick.

After spending most of March with some weird illness, my only chance was to quickly build up enough reserve so that my body can handle the pounding of 50 miles. With less than 50 miles of TOTAL training over the previous 6 weeks, here's the plan I've attempted.

April 7 - Ran about 3 miles of flat in support of Sandee's challenge. I'd hoped to do more but illness was lingering.

April 8 - Ran Little Pine mtn, about 12-14 miles of mainly technical trail, with about 4,000' of gain. Felt okay and, on the summit, it was the first time I'd felt "normal" in over a month.

April 9 - went climbing

1oth - easy ride

12th - Ran 4 hours w/ Sandee. Heaps of elevation gain, very technical trail. Fitness is okay given the circumstance but my lower back is hurting from too much too soon on Little Pine.

13th - Ran and easy trail for about 6 miles. Lower back still bad

14th - went climbing

15th - pretty tired, worried a tad about another relapse, went climbing.

16th - tired, so just walked a bit and stretched and iced.

17th - last chance to run. Did 7 miles of easy technical trail and felt pretty good. Back soreness has subsided. No real injuries. Certain that I can handle 25 miles but 50, at any sort of pace beyond survival, seems highly unlikely.

Today off to give my project one last try (climbing) then heading east. The "race" this weekend will be on slickrock, 50 miles, with nearly 10,000' of elevation gain. Normally, this is the type of terrain I'd love, but with two months of soft snow running, a month off, and the above "base" I'd say I'm hoping for a miracle.

pics: Phoebe on the summit of Little Pine, the trail in spring conditions, Phoebe cooling off.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Peaks and Valleys

pics: Bob, Sandee, Ratso and Bobby (Taste of the Valley manager) working on the first few tastings. Sandee somewhere on Figueroa mtn road and finishing her last Peep.

While illness has had me in a deep valley, my girlfriend has been peaking. In a three week span, Sandee did her Birthday Challenge (riding Figeuroa--37miles, 3,700' of elevation gain, swim 3700 meters, 37 boulder problems, and running 37 miles while tasting 37 wines and eating 37 Peeps) which she warmed up for with a relay race where she ran most of three continuous legs (about 25 miles) because her teammate couldn't keep up with her on a mtn bike to run his leg, then warmed down with a 4 hour run over rugged terrain, with me, and with one day's rest a 50k trail race with 5,000' of elevation gain. It was one of those weird birthday challenge combos that's hard to appreciate.

You can read about it when she gets around to finishing her blog:

Sandee's Challenge

I, on the other hand, have been trying to get rid of some neverending virus and have a 50 mile race in the desert coming up in a few days. Hmmmm....

Monday, April 09, 2007


I got on a route last week that I think I'll invest in. Projects were a major part of my life for most of the 90s. This decade, however, I've been involved in too many other sports to get that focused on climbing. Plus, projects have a way of getting in the way of everything else.

I did my hardest route in 1995. It was a first ascent, meaning I'd found the route, bolted it, and then climbed it prior to anyone else. When I bolted this particular route I couldn't imagine ever climbing it. After about a year I could do all the moves but it wasn't until three years later that I actually did the route in one go. As you might imagine, there were a lot of valleys along the road to that peak.

Projects aren't too bad until you realize that you can do the route. When you can't do a single move or link major sections of a climb, a successful ascent isn't in your realistic mindframe. But as soon as it's sorted out--and you know you'll do it if you keep throwing yourself at it (barring injury)--then they tend to become obsessive pursuits. If you don't get it quickly, it can manifest into something manic.

The problem is that when something is right at your limit it only takes the smallest mistake for you to fall off. And it's pretty rare to climb anything without making any mistake whatsoever. As wired as you get it, when lactic acid begins to build your mental capacity falls off and you get tunnel vision to the point where your holds seem to disappear; it's difficult to keep it together. Dale Goddard was talking about keeping your mindset during hard projects in an old training film when he said, "...maybe you don't climb anything (of note) for an entire season..." exemplifying the type of massocistic sport that climbing can be.

Prior to that ascent in 95, I called my friend Scot Cosgrove, who'd put up many routes, including the first 5.14 in California, because I was having some mental problems linking it all together.

"Projects are the worst," he told me. "The number of ways they can fuck with you is beyond measure. Every time I have one I say to myself 'never again'. Then, as soon as I do it, for some unknown reason, I began thinking of the next one."

So I've been avoiding them and, instead, climbing just for fun with little angenda.

Then, last weekend, I ripped a flapper that rendered one of my fingers useless for the day. Without the ability to try 100%, I decided to get on something beyond my current realm of fitness, just to see what it would look like. In the end, I ended up not just doing all of the moves, but linking sections of a route called Hobytla (or something like that), at the Wailing Wall in Southwestern Nevada. It's a beautiful line on one of the most impressive walls in the western US. It would be a nice "return" to the sport.

Above is a picture of Misty at the crux. A local, she and her husband are responsible for many first acents in the area. Even with this advantage, she has her own epic story on Hobytla. On her last attempt one season, the day before she had to leave the area, she failed on this move and had to think about the route for the entire off-season before getting another chance. I hope that doesn't happen to me. Then again, that's the fun part. We'll see.

Now, so that I don't forget the sequence, here's what I do at the business end of the route.

50' of 5.11 lead to a jug, where the business begins.

R hand up to sidepull.

L to good sidepull, right foot to jug, left on tiny crosly hold below the roof (important).


Right to bad sidepull, step left through to high bit of jug, right foot to ticked sloper, left foot up to edge.

Left hand up to bad pinch, turn body opposite direction, stand and hit tiny ticked sloper w/ left foot.

R hand goes long to wide pinch - 1st crux

Left foot quickly finds good pocket (part of pinch).

Left hand to small, but deep, sidepull pocket. Stand up, switch feet and stab left foot out to ticked sloper.


R hand moves to small undercling (pic). Left foot smears on nothing, body turns to right. Right foot up on ticked hold over the lip. Re-adjust right hand so thumb is in play on undercling.

L hand up and left to tiny pinch - 2nd crux.

Right foot steps through to large hold above left. Left foot move to big hold, adjust body position, move left foot again to small fin.

R hand, huge move (dyno) to positive pinch. - crux crux.

Immediately, since it's slightly off, stab large hold again with right foot to stop swing.

Skip this clip.

L hand moves to small sidepull. Quickly take two small steps in whatever order works, in order to get left foot on to large edge.

Stand and move L hand out left to small pinch, then immediately go again to large pinch. Switch feet on good edge.

R hand up to sidepull. Left foot up on to big stuff. Stand up to great rest.

40' of easier climbing to anchors.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Fast and Light

A new speed record has been set on the Eiger, perhaps the most famous north face in the world. Here's a quick account with some history. Good stuff.

Eiger Speed Solo

As for me, I'm in California and just scouted the course for Sandee's attempt at a Birthday Challenge this weekend. Oh-la-la. 37 miles or running, 9 wineries, tasting 37 wines (whatever they pour, no cheating). And that's just part. Toss in a few hours of swimming, some bouldering, and a ride up the Texan's favorite Tour de France training climb and we've got the makings of an epic adventure. Oh, and she's also thrown in a nutritional obsticle, 37 Peeps (those horrific pink bunnies you see in stores around Easter). Fast and light, indeed.

Check it out

Monday, April 02, 2007

Training Update: Man, March Sucked

Following two good months of base training with a recovery month is sorta missing the whole point of base training. Unfortunately, with the year's first test only three weeks away, that's where I'm at.

Not sure how worried about this I should be but I've been sick; a lot. For over a month now I haven't been 100%. I get well enough to do something and the relapse into whateverthehell this thing is I've got going on. I should be worried, I guess, but I suppose it's just some mutated virus that's killing people somewhere and I'm just making my immune system stronger. Um, yeah, that's it.

With a 50 mile running race three weeks away, it's probably not too good that I didn't manage 50 total miles in March. I probably had only 5 or 6 total runs, maybe, and even less real bike rides, and zero days of skiing. I walked a lot with Tuco, who seems surprised at my lack of being able to keep up with him, and worked a lot, though not very productively as illness always affects my brain's ability to function, too. All I did towards my year end goals was knock off a few 5.12s.

So, April should be interesting. I kind of like getting ready for events without enough prep time. I qualified for the US Team one year on three weeks of training, but that was for Olympic distance, not an ultra. Plus, I had a great base. Plus, I wasn't sick. Oh, well, new challenges are always interesting. That's how we learn. Maybe, at least, it will make for some good blogging since I haven't had much of that lately either.

All I can say to sum up is, in my best Austrian accent, I'll be back.