Season Update

Photo by Taylor Frohmiller

Spring has nearly yielded to the stifling heat and humidity of the jungle-like summer, and I've not posted a single update on how it's gone.  I would apologize, but I don't feel the slightest bit apologetic.  All of my free time has been spent in The Red, rather than writing on this blog.  If that weren't the case, I would expect all of you to stop reading.

If I had to sum up the spring season in a word, it would have to be "momentum".  All of my partners and I have been ticking things off at what seems like a breakneck pace.  It's been incredibly refreshing to have aligned (built?) with a motivated crew who is eager to get out and try hard.  We've tasted success, and that only leaves us more hungry.

This spring we've had a regular crew that consists of  Taylor, Sarah, Dave and I.  After about a month of crushing, it seems everyone in town has wanted to jump on the train, so we've also had a motley crew of hitchhikers that seem to find their groove whenever they make it out with us.  I think we've all surpassed our spring expectations... or maybe our expectations just weren't high enough.  It's a good thing that we can always re-up our goals.

Country Boy on Fuzzy Undercling. 

Dave is the newest addition to the crew, but also the oldest.  He was one of my original trad partners from way back, and only recently returned to rock climbing.  His goal was to use this season as a time to get more solid on the 11's, and get setup to do a 12 in the fall.  After such a long time away, not only had he added some extra bulk to his already muscular country boy frame, but he tended to tighten up when entering a crux or heady section, and had trouble remembering beta.  He steadily worked through these issues, each success fueling more fire.  After a few fast ascents of some of the solid mid and upper 11's, of all styles, he set to work on a 12a, and polished it off in only 4 tries.  It wasn't a walk... a fight definitely ensued, but it showed  a tremendous amount of progress from the early season.  There is still a little season left, and he's close on a 2nd, much harder 12a.  The closer he gets to fighting weight, the harder he's going to pull.  Dave, better recalibrate those goals!

Sarah on Buff The Wood.  Photo Taylor Frohmiller

Sarah started training with us a couple of seasons ago, and has been making steady progress since.  When she came on board the mothership, her goal was to do 12a.  This season she came in having done a handful of 12a's and a 12b.  Her goal was to better establish the 12a's and do a couple more b's.  Out of the gate she chose what I thought was an ambitious 12b, one of the harder ones in my opinion, "Buff The Wood".  The route revolves around a hard lockoff followed by a jump move to a jug.  Sarah isn't exactly the jumpiest climber out there, and being a shorty, the long lockoff move was particularly difficult.  Seeing as how one of her biggest shortcomings has been belief in herself, I suspended my own doubts about her chances, and watched her set to work.  It didn't take long to see that the send was imminent if she could keep it together, and soon she had done just that and moved on to a couple of quick 12a sends.  Back at the Motherlode, where the rest of us had projects, she was all but forced into a route that was her anti style, the pumpy "Ale 8 One".  After 5 or 6 sessions of work, several conversations about tactics in which Sarah's ability to accurately dissect her own climbing showed leaps and bounds, and a couple of nervous near misses, she clipped chains.  It's really just started for Sarah, and I'm excited to see where it goes.

Taylor sending Windy Corner.

Taylor, who you've read about before, had his best season yet.  He got off to a quick start with an early

season send of one of the Reds hardest 13b's, "Cutthroat", and proceeded to quickly take down three 13a's, also completing his 50th 5.12 in the process.  Having already equaled his best season, and with it barely into April, he checked out a few of the 13c's the Red has to offer, but didn't commit to any, moving back to a couple of quick 13a takedowns.  He finished off the season with a suprise send of his first Madness Cave route, "Flour Power" on the same day that he sent his first 5.11 trad route, a steep, burly handcrack called "Windy Corner". This was the season that Taylor really came into his own and began to understand outdoor rock climbing.  Wrapping up with seven 13's (and at least one more coming this weekend), a fistful of 12d's, and his first fall on trad gear, it's just the first of several good seasons he has lined up.  I'm looking forward to the day, in just a couple of seasons, when I'm getting beta on my projects from him, rather than the other way around.

Take That, Katie Brown.  Photo Taylor Frohmiller

I went into this season knowing that I was going to use it as a setup for the autumn season.  I chose an initial project, "Take That, Katie Brown", that was not my style (short, bouldery, and only barely overhanging) and revolved around a couple of enormous reaches that were at my absolute limit.  As it turns out, it's also one of the first routes to get wet... but only in the middle of the hardest moves.  As I got closer, it stayed wet.  The final piece to the puzzle was to link from the wet section, which wasn't gonna happen until it dried out.  I moved on to get some setup work done on a route I hope to put more time into come October, "Supercharger", a slopey, compression, notoriously hard 13d.  I made the progress I had hoped for, settling on beta for the crux section.  On a day that I was scheduled to shoot photos on "Supercharger" with my friend Anne Skidmore, I bumped into my friend Lee Smith.  Lee had been working on his project "Sugar Magnolia", which surprised me... I assumed it would have been wet.

 "Totally dry", he told me, "And if mine is dry, then yours definitely is."

That was all I needed.  Taylor had already sent his project for the day, so I dragged him back to the Motherlode with me, and after a few misfires on the low crux, took down "Katie Brown".  I asked around and consulted 8a.nu, but the shortest wingspan I can find who has sent is at 5'11" (Daniel Woods and Zac Sands).  I'm at 5'8", and can honestly say that it felt closer to 13d than the given 13b, and one of the most satisfying lines I've completed.

After "Katie Brown", I moved on to a pair of easy 13c's, "Buttercup" and "Silky Smooth".  Both powerful, but very different... one more about slopers and pinches, and one nearly all crimps.  Both came surprisingly fast, as well as a classic Red River 13b, "Table of Colors Direct", which put up barely a fight after the success on the others.

Supercharger.  Photo by Anne Skidmore.

It was getting warmer, and I knew the time had come to start laying the groundwork for next season.  14a has been a goal for several years now, and I know that I'm ready.  The real crux for me has been getting motivated to put the time into one.  I had gone up "Transworld Depravity", a Bill Ramsey route on the left flank of the Madness Cave, a couple of times before, and while I thought it was the best I'd been on, I couldn't imagine putting it all together.  As I had nothing to lose, I put all my chips in and decided to spend the remainder of my season on refining beta and making links.  I'd easily done all the moves... the problem was that I'd done them several ways.  After settling in on a couple of key sections, and replacing some worn hardware, I surprised myself with bigger and bigger links.  This thing might actually go!  I'm 5 or 6 sessions into the process, and I feel confident in saying that Transworld Depravity will be the first 14a that I really take a serious run at.

Looking forward to the autumn, when the air cools off and dries out, the leaves begin to change, and I can stare down the final cruxes of a grade that once seemed mythologically impossible.

Little Taylor's first gear fall.